First World Problems with Roger Waters and a Pair of a Pair of Shoes by A.E. Pole
I was having a first world problem; I had eaten too much. So, there I was standing in front of the old, wooden table in my basement selecting a youtube video to watch while I exert my body and burn off the excess calories I had recently taken in. There were many dazzling, even shimmering colors on my screen to choose from. After looking, weighing, and considering my choices, I decided to select a recording of a podcast of an interview with Roger Waters of the rock band Pink Floyd fame. (If you still don’t know who he is, please google it.)
It wasn’t too long after listening to the podcast that Roger Waters was talking about traveling with his buddy across Europe and into the Middle East in the early 1960s; I think it was 1962. They had planned to drive to Afghanistan but had stopped in Beirut, which at that time had been a pleasant little holiday destination on the Mediterranean Sea. (This was followed by some discussion about how much the world had changed since the early 1960s.)
There I was huffing and puffing and listening: The ocean was blue and beautiful and we were having a good time playing around in the surf when I saw a boy take my shoes on the beach and run off. It was not easy walking through the surf and return to the beach. By that time, the boy had disappeared into the crowd.
Lebanon in its brilliance had decided to hire special police just for tourists. I looked around and spotted one and quickly went up to him and hurriedly jabbered about some kid stealing my shoes. The police officer just nodded. Soon, we were on this wild chase to find a needle in a haystack. And, much to my surprise, I saw him, the boy that had stolen my shoes. I pointed him out to the police officer and he ran after him and actually caught the boy. I watched him jabber away in some language I didn’t understand , point at the kids shoes, which were my leather penny-loafers that looked totally out of place on the young boy.
A few minutes later, he brought my shoes back to me. But, I was shocked. Why hadn’t he arrested the boy? I mean he had stolen my shoes and that was against the law, so I asked the police officer. This was the first time the police officer actually spoke to me in English. Before, I had spoke English to him but he never spoke back to me. He just nodded and used other body language and it seemed to work well.
But now, he spoke to me: He’s poor.
I stopped huffing and puffing and instead of exerting my body, I exerted my listening, even my thinking.
To Roger, this was instant enlightenment. His whole worldview changed with these two words.
Roger then talked about his song “Us and Them” and discussed what the fighting was all about, which to him was about those who have and those who do not, or as in his song, “with and without.”
And, it is not that in anyway did I disagree, but my mind started to reflect on the power of travel, the power of experience and the power of stories. And, that we all have them, we all tell them and we all enjoy them. We may not all pick up pens, or more likely peck at buttons on keyboards connected to computers, but we all tell them and listen to them. And, they are important. And, they tell us so much.
It is cliché’ today to say that travel broadens your horizons, but maybe we should say it anyway. Where would young Roger be without his experiences traveling across Europe and the Middle East? Where would the world be without the songs that these experiences had inspired in Roger?
I returned from my thoughts back to the world. The interviewer was now asking Roger if he had been poor, too? I listened as Roger reminded the interviewer that his father had died in World War II when he was just one years old. He grew up in a household with a single mother. He said that he never thought of himself as poor because there was always food, but in a relative sense he was.
But, my thought was how important it is that we give people a chance to discover the world…and hopefully the only casualty is a person’s shoes and their innocence.
And, the reward is a new worldview.
I had my shoes stolen once. It was in Kyoto, Japan. It was the famed Uno Guest House, which I probably only was able to get a room in because the Nagano Olympics had not just yet ended. A day later the place would pack out with mostly European travelers who had been in Nagano the previous day.
It was even an act of kindness that had gotten me there. The guest house was located in a warren of back streets that were not easily navigated. I had never been to Kyoto before and I was turned around and clueless where I was and feared the Japanese prices of a taxi. I stopped a young person, with my guidebook in hand, to ask directions. But, the poor guy would open his mouth and no words would come out. This happened a couple of times and then the words, “Follow me,” came out.
We walked down the street but not to Uno House. We went to his house, where his car was. And, he drove me there. I guess it was easier than trying to give me directions. And, considering everything, he was probably right. It was at least for me. And, like that I was able to check in to the famed guest house.
What did I learn? At first that old homes in Japan don’t have centralized heating and it is pretty damn cold in winter. After that, there would be more.
And of course, it would end with the theft of my shoes.
The best part was meeting people from all over the world. Some of them had even worked at the Olympics as part of a television crew, I forget from where, maybe Finland. Many stories were swapped.
On my last day, I entered the bathroom and was caught by a massive gust of steam. Someone must have been showering. I said sorry and ducked out quickly. Soon, a young woman, wearing a towel walked out and passed me. Then, she turned around and looked at me. My heart stopped.
“I plan to tour Kyoto today, would you like to accompany me?”
My heart started beating.
“I’d love to. Actually, today is my last day here and I have yet to have a real Japanese meal.”
“Yeah, I could help you with that. Give me a minute to get dressed.”
We were soon out and about in Kyoto. She told me of her life. She was from England. She had been an English teacher but had drifted in hostessing since it made more money. She said Japanese men would pay her to hang out with them. Sex was never involved, though she told me she knew women who had abided. After visiting some temples and zen gardens, we found ourselves at a nice restaurant. We ordered food and when it came, we realized it was Chinese, not Japanese. My dream of a proper Japanese meal had been thwarted. But, it was nice, and we enjoyed. She even paid.
I had to go to the airport that evening and we headed back to the guest house. I went up to my room and packed my bags. I went down to the vestibule, where you had to take off your shoes, before entering the guest house, and I realized my shoes were gone. I was in a panic. I had to go to the airport. I had to board a plane. But, I had no shoes! What was I suppose to do?
I went to the guest house clerk and I told her that my shoes had been stolen. She expressed her surprise. She asked me if I were sure because this had never happened before. I led her back to the vestibule and I looked again but shaking my head, I told her definitely, my shoes are not here. Then, I added, I am going to the airport. I don’t have time to buy new ones. And, how am I to enter an airport and an airplane without shoes? (You know – first world problems.)
She then led me to the office. She opened a large box. She told me that people leave things here all the time. You can take whatever you wanted.
And much to my surprise there were all sorts of shoes in there.
She told me there must be one your size in there.
I tried on a few but none of them were my size but at least they were shoes. I cannot express to you my relief at having something on my feet to travel to the airport and board a plane with. I was actually embarrassed not to have shoes.
They didn’t fit but I didn’t care. I realized the importance of with, rather than without.
Everyone has problems. But, some problems are more serious than others. I could go on and on.
I had exerted my body. My mind went in and out to the fascinating stories Roger Waters was relating on the podcast. My body felt better after having eating too much. It was a serious problem. I mean it could lead to a heart attack and early death. But, I guess everything is relative. I thought how glad I had been to travel, to meet people and to experience something different. And, to reflect and think about it all. I am glad to have written a novel based partially on my own travel experiences, titled “You Can’t Get Jack Out of This (The Story of Language Whore).” I’d love it if you gave it a read. And, if you have a travel story, you would like to share, please leave it here. I’d be curious as well!