Traveling… it is a fine art… all you need to know is that there’s a starting point (the departure) and there’s an ending point (the return)… everything else in between is a giant flexing, unpredictable yarn-ball of waiting… herding lines… unexpected detours…

Day 1… A bizarre sensation hit me as I arrived at LAX… the feeling of… “EARLY.” I was a couple hours early, in fact. I think this is the first time this has happened… a real anomaly… a rip & tear in the time space continuum… I’m usually running for the gate with a personal VIP escort from security, getting hustled to the front of check-point lines, shuttled on a cart, dashing through corridors and jumping hurdles… like a Heisman trophy all-star… But this time was different. The entire airport was sleepy and empty… and I sauntered straight up to the counter to check in for my flight.

After the obligatory pleasantries and happy “bon jours” were exchanged, a major catastrophic dilemma occurred as I slid my passport to the flight attendant… everything instantly became so complicated and confusing. So much so, that 5 or 6 fellow employees, plus a supervisor, had to be called in…

Flight Attendant: “There seems to be a problem. Your passport says that your name is Michael Miller.”

Me: “Yes, that’s correct.”

Flight Attendant: “Hmm, well our records show that your ticket is reserved for “Miller Michael.”

This made me laugh (out loud) except they weren’t joking, and it took 20 minutes to sort out this hellacious disaster… Finally, everything was cleared up and I was all checked in… and then… the supervisor spoke in her professional voice… “Oh, Mr. Michael… one more thing… your flight has been delayed by 5 hours…”

Moving from town to town means checking in to a new hotel at each stop… every check-in requires that you fill out a form, including all passport information, name, nationality, country of origin, previous and next city destination…

There is also a line requirement for “occupation”… so I started entertaining myself by entering (or verbally stating, as the hotel clerk writes it down) my excellent supposed awesome profession. Each time I try to outdo myself, with a solemn and straight serious-faced delivery… as the days have rolled on, my “career choices” have expanded and broadened into quite a colorful resume of experience:

Mad Scientist
Astronaut Pop
Poet Savior
Mustache Designer
Lip Masseuse
Flame Thrower
Lion Tamer
Toenail Clipper
Fireball Juggler
Taco Bell Manager
Human Cannonball
Wallmart Greeter
Dodge Ball Coach
Thighmaster Spokesperson
Hand Model
Amway Team Leader
Tae Bo Instructor (purple belt)

I keep challenging myself to explore new and exciting fields and career opportunities… By the time I return home, I will have worked some fantastic jobs and will have quite an impressive resume…

After a long hard day of surviving myself, I cozied up to my drug habit of choice. While everyone in the hotel lobby was dragging off their hash cigarettes and polluting the airspace, I clung to my coke and snickers and bottle of water. The midnight movie, the film of whatever happens to be playing on the English channel (with Arabic subtitles scrolling and muddying up the screen) became my saving grace medicine… The Love Guru, with Mike Meyers. I had never seen it. I needed to laugh like that, though… at stupid, juvenile, jr. high humor… at American “inside-baseball” gags… no matter how silly and profane and base, it just felt so good to laugh hard outloud, with all the others in the room (from various distant parts of the globe) joining in. I wasn’t sure if all the laughter was true, I mean, authentic, if everyone in the room GOT the jokes… but like being in a movie theater, it gets contagious…. or maybe I looked like a goofball kid, laughing far more than anyone else… the Western humor, mixed with my long-lost English language, was so potent and sharp and pointy and delicious.

I discovered Oum Kalthoum‘s music in Egypt (where she was from), but I hear her pouring out of everywhere here in Morocco… restaurants and cafes… souks… orange juice stands… taxis… mud hut windows… She was a giant star in the 30’s and 40’s and her music is still a big deal today throughout the world. I love her so.

It’s easy to get lost wandering through the souks… such a beautiful hypnotizing maze of shiny, pretty things… like a jungle of bear traps laced with honey and cream-filled donuts… Each shopkeeper sits outside his own shop, the hungry spider waiting for any unsuspecting fly… he prods or lures or begs you in… “Just look. Come.” It’s a fierce and tiresome tug of war, over and over again. “Where you from? Ah, welcome.” “My friend, come in, just look.”

It’s hard not to become jaded and callous and you have to guard your eyes from making any visual contact or use verbal jujitsu to get past. Eventually, I did get caught off guard, or I was too tired to fight, and I got pulled in to the web.

A young jewelry store owner somehow harangued me into sitting and chatting, and we talked about politics, economics, love (“romantics”?), and Moroccan life, in general. Throughout the conversation, he just couldn’t help himself and inevitably (several times) would come back to asking if I wanted to buy something in his shop.

I told him how poor and broke I was… a pauper in America… and explained my ill-fated career choice… the starving artist… and how difficult it is to survive at times. He replied, “No, you are not. You are rich. You can move around and go anywhere. Do anything. The fact that you are here in Morocco means you are rich.”

I felt ashamed… like I was caught out or exposed… he was right. I knew this. No matter how broke or down-and-out I might ever get, I am truly rich. So privileged, so blessed, so spoiled. To live where you can be what you want. Free to move or go anywhere you want. This is not the Moroccan way.

He said Moroccans will always be poor their whole lives. I tried to argue with him, or counter jab… partly from my natural defense mechanism anytime I feel cornered… partly because deep down, I believed what I was about to tell him as I tried to break it down in as simplified terms as possible.

I told him I have seen so many poor people here… yet, they seem happier than many people who live in the West. I said “rich” or “poor” is what is inside your heart. Someone can have all the world’s treasures, and still be poor in his heart… or a man can have nothing, no material possessions, and still be rich in his heart.

It sounded like an American Indian speech in a cheesy western cowboy film… I was winging it, but as it came out of my mouth and off my lips, it sounded too simple… too obvious… but exactly true…. as if I told him how it gets hot in the summer and cold in winter.

There was a long pause, as if he were tasting a glass of wine for the first time, trying to articulate the new flavor of something he’d never thought about before… swirled it around in his brain… processed it… and finally uttered, “Yes, my friend, this is true.”

We went on to discuss and contrast and compare each other’s family life, some cultural heritage, more love and “romantics”… and I could tell we were both pleased with the friendship… a new bond… that would instantly break apart and end as soon as I left…. but it was still worth it… worth the seeds that might have been sewn…

I think I’m getting “museum fatigue.” Like being at the end of a long day at the museum, when I sometimes get so burnt out I start blowing through the last few wings without much stopping to give any art its due. I just want to finish and get to the end, complete it…
I’ve hit that same threshold, but with towns. Flavors are getting dullened. I need a rest from exciting sights and exotic mystique. I can feel autopilot kicking in.

Meanwhile, I am on the night train to Marrakech. Sealed in a boxcar and chatting it up with an Australian, traveling for the first time, out for 3 weeks, a gift from his wife whom he married straight out of high school 13 years ago. I must sound like an Amway salesman with a pitch. I’ve spent the last hour trying to convince him to not let go of the dream he gave up on. It is obvious he tricked himself out of it long ago. Working a manual labor, tiling job, day in and day out, to support his family, like he should, but he self-extinguished his own secret dream… I gave him too many reasons why he HAD to still go for it, and how this dream of his could easily be fulfilled in unexpected ways that he never considered… and how it was his duty, and obligation as a father to hand down to his kids that legacy of his TRYING… even if it doesn’t get fulfilled exactly as he envisioned it, the spirit of him not giving up will plant seeds in his kids to do the same later on…

He seemed changed and excited to try. New light was coming out of him. New fire. Go forth. Right on, brother, right on.

Something hit me tonight… throughout all of Morocco I have not heard a single swear word… a cussword(?)… expletive… Maybe nobody swears or maybe they’re using Arabic swear words that I can’t understand, either way, it’s like I have been living under a cone of silence. Sadly, it did not occur to me until I was eating a late dinner tonight. They happened to have an American movie playing on their tiny 13″ tv, mounted in the corner. It was a Sean Connery film and I was naturally glued and fixated… but after all this lovely filtered air, boy, it poked me in the eye pretty hard, repeatedly, f-bomb after jagged f-bomb…

I wish I could set my brain to mute specific words, like the edited, made-for-tv movies where certain words get bleeped out to please the FCC… someday that should be possible when we start inserting chips in our head… you could apply that to all sorts of likes and dislikes, keywords, tastes… maybe expand it to behaviors and even people… make it into a phone app… that would be sweet…

Being submerged in any country for awhile and only touching and spending their currency, makes it easy to forget actual dollars. Like Monopoly money, once I’ve been buying and selling in that mindframe, all the math and figuring gets lost in the current currency.

Regardless of what currency I am dealing with, my genetically inherited predisposition of hard bargaining, along with the environment and culture that this is (and that it’s expected), I can’t help myself from wrestling and fighting for the deal (it’s the same sport as buying a car or negotiating at the flea market). All I want or expect is the fair Moroccan price… not the tourist price.

Understanding this ahead of time, is helpful and actually entertaining when the dance begins. Knowing I might want more than one thing, I would never reveal this at the start, but let a shopkeeper believe he has talked me into buying more. Naturally, the price goes down with multiple items, but you gotta first bargain hard for the first one, get it as low as you can, look desperate or troubled that you don’t have that much money, start to walk away…
Knowing there are 20 more shops a few steps away, selling the same things, the shopkeeper will try hard to not let you leave, he WILL eventually make the deal.

The thing is, no matter how good of a deal I get or how far I’ve driven the price down, I still walk away with remorse… I still wonder if I just got taken, or overcharged… like he STILL got me… like I just walked away from a grift or con… and there’s no way to know because prices are never marked…

Each battle begins with the shopkeeper asking, “How much can you pay?” or “Make me an offer.” You never know what the true price is.

In the end, no matter how good of a deal I think I got, I have to wrestle with my own guilt for the extra money I might have taken from this family’s living… which is probably also part of the centuries’ old con… and keeps me on rocky footing for the next match at the next shop…

This may be a sign I’ve been here too long… but in a good way…
I’m sitting next to two 20 something British girls at a restaurant. Hearing their ceaseless rapid yappity yap nonstop clucking is ripping into me like machine gun fire. I’m sure they’re nice girls and have wonderful families… but God, make it stop.

Instead of making me crave and pine for English, all this silence and solitude has pushed me further away from humanity. Not understanding a word being spoken in crowds, or anywhere in public, turns out to have been a beautiful dream of insulation… a way of effortlessly shutting out the world and being able to choose not to have to be tuned in… living in a vacuum sealed, soundfree environment these past months has been more a luxury of peace and separation from noise than any curse.

And now, being forced to hear these girls’ nervous, flapping chit-chatter is having the same effect as starting up a buzz saw while dragging a metal chair across the floor made of chalkboard…

On the bus ride from Tetouan to Chefchouan, I got another dreamy dose of the mountain life and green-hilled splendor. I like the feeling of being taken somewhere, or being driven to an end destination without any other responsibilities. There is forward movement, but my hands and mind are free to roam. Nothing to do except sit back and enjoy the ride, watch and notice the details, nothing more…. and so passing through the mountains means a chance peek or unexpected (uninvited) glimpse of secret life in motion.

Little villages and tiny dots of wool (sheep) spotting the mountainside. Boys racing bareback on their horses at breakneck speed, chasing each other and laughing hysterically.
Shepherds herding sheep. A dude peeing on the side of the wall, maybe his own house? Why?
A water well and trails of people walking from miles, carrying their empty water cans on the backs of soon-to-be overloaded mules.
A trickle stream river cutting through the pass. White tombstone road markers with a number written on the side of kilometers to the next town. Families of olive pickers in the orchards of trees. Freshly plowed fields of soil getting seed sprinkled by hand to beat the incoming rain. Bright, colorful chicken wandering, like pecking robots, around the fences (was I not paying attention spending all the summers on my grandparents pig farm? Were they all this colorful?). Lonely whitewashed houses with splashes of blue. Schoolboys arm in arm, loving and chumming each other along the road. A weird valley patch of fog that swallowed up an entire village, but left the rest of the landscape completely alone. A construction team of a dozen men, stacking cinder block for a future house that will never be finished. A lone mangey dog, sitting in the wind, contemplating the meaning of life. A mother corralling her children into their home. These are the things.