Aaron Ragnarson

January 15, 2018

San Clemente, California

9:00 pm

Aaron goes to the local grocery store and sees a beautiful woman in the produce aisle.

There is always a beautiful woman in produce aisle.

Before he can strike up a conversation about avocados, boyfriend rushes in from left field to mark his territory (an annoyingly frequent occurrence at Aaron’s local Ralph’s).

Aaron has moved to a Couple’s Only town.

Aaron walks away vexed, feeling sorry for himself, dreaming of Spain in the frozen food section.

Fifteen minutes later, as Aaron checks out, previously mentioned boyfriend walks to the counter, visibly frustrated. Asks clerk, “Dude, do you know where the damn vegan butter is?” looking sideways as his girlfriend nips at his heels, barking about ‘non-dairy almond cheese.’

Aaron pays for his steak at the counter.

Aaron goes home.

Aaron eats his steak and watches Vikings.

Aaron smiles.

 

 

 

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fiddle me this

at what point does celebrating the past become Spitting on the present?

when does sweet nostalgia sour into Depression or Unhappiness.

when are you officially in a Rut?

i’ve become that Annoying dude who never shuts up about his “travels to nepal,” or whatever.

a monotoned sensation.

one hit wonder.

Fuck you.

i’m not tone deaf.

i just need a new fiddle.

 

Win it for Carlos

I believe in God.

Yes, I believe in destiny.

I am a growing anomaly in a secular society with an answer for everything that fits in our back pocket.

But I am also a romantic; a man who lives for the underlying story. Tales of synchronicity that cannot be explained.
Improbable and impossible ironies.
Magical moments that raise the hair on your arm.

We live in a world void of magic.
Void of faith.
An age of facts and happenstance.
Chance.
At best, we get serendipity.
Divine intervention? Providence? Don’t even think about it.
Nietzsche was wrong, God isn’t dead.
But we like to pretend He is.

When I was abroad studying in a graduate program, a professor openly mocked the concept of angels and people who believe in them. All of my classmates laughed.

I didn’t.

I believe in angels.
I am from the city of angels.

I once read that “it is right to chide a man for being blind to divine coincidences in his daily life. For he thereby deprives his life of a dimension of beauty.”
The passage struck a chord, so I took it with me.

Thankfully, there is a sport for people like me. A game where rituals and pre-game ceremonies thrive in abundance. A sport where grown men wear dirty socks and grow hideous beards for good luck. Bats are licked, bubbles are blown and coaches are kissed all in the name of superstition.

Baseball.

The game’s best, Clayton Kershaw, is a man of superstition and faith.
Every fifth day Kershaw eats the same meal (cereal, fruit, and a sandwich), warms up with the same amount of pitches (34), walks to the dugout at the same time (8 minutes before first pitch) and uses the same tattered glove he’s owned since he became a Dodger.

He also cites his faith as the most important thing in his life. Kershaw is not alone in his religious convictions. Next time you watch a game, pay close attention. Watch as the hitter steps into the batter’s box and blesses himself with the sign of the cross.
Nothing makes me happier.

The era of advanced statistics and saber metrics in baseball has arrived, but the element of the non-quantifiable will always survive.

My family bleeds Dodger Blue.

Anyone who knows a Polanco knows where his loyalty lies when it comes to the diamond. But our allegiance transcends the sport. It is our passion, our identity. We have a dog named Koufax and worship Vin Scully. When my mother passed away, Steve Garvey called to extend his condolences.

We.

Bleed.

Blue.

The Dodgers’ magical 2017 season continued on Tuesday night with our first berth to the World Series in 29 years. The first since Gibson limped to the box and fist pumped his way around the bases of Blue Heaven on Earth. Our family was elated, exchanging text messages throughout the week to keep in contact with a group spread across the country.

In the midst of the excitement hovered heartache as our minds turned to beloved family members who were no longer with us. Uncles, brothers, sons and mothers who had cheered with us for years. We finally made it, we thought, if only they were here to see. For me, and for most of my family, one name rose above the rest… Carlos.

My Uncle Carlos was different.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia midway through high school, my uncle was frozen in time. He forever lived in the era of Garvey and Lopes, a time when he excelled in sports and got all the girls. The age of Aqua Net, Stacy Q and cruising Whittier Boulevard. A day didn’t pass without him mentioning his Volkswagen bug and the “pretty girl with big boobs” he kissed driving through the hills of Elysian Park. I forgot her name.

He loved Art Laboe, hamburgers, and adored his family. But above all, he worshipped the Dodgers.

For most of my life my uncle’s condition was stable. Often, the only manifestations of his illness were visible through small quirks and hilarious commentaries. A poke to the shoulder here, a strange question there. His memory was surprisingly sharp, but he always mixed up details in the best of ways. In college, I had a girlfriend named Autumn. He would remember small particulars about our relationship, but could never get her name right.

“So, how’s Odom, bro? Does she still work at that pizza place?”

Lamar Odom was the power forward for the Lakers at the time. I would laugh and respond, “She’s great Tio, thanks for asking.”

To me, there was no better company. I loved driving to my grandmother’s house and watching games with my uncle. Out of selfishness, I never called before coming. The best moment was always ringing the bell and watching him run to the door with excitement through the fogged window.

“Aaron! I knew you would come!” he exclaimed as he hugged me, smelling of musky aftershave.

My abuelita would smile as I entered the living room, happy that I came over to spend time with her son. “Tienes hambre mijo?” She would ask in Spanish.
Siempre Abuela.
My grandmother would serve us mounds of hot, delicious food as we cheered for Matt Kemp and laughed at my uncle’s crazy stories.

The last time I saw my uncle was after an evening together at Dodger Stadium. The crowd was unusually large for a midweek game. As the fans roared with each hit, my uncle would stand, cup his hands around his mouth, and yell.

He laughed as he returned to his seat, “Bro,” he said, “you can yell anything you want, no one can hear you!” The next hit he stood up and yelled, “I’m Tony Montana, say hello to my little friend!”

He was a big Pacino fan.

I laughed and joined him, imploring the crowd to “say goodnight to the bad guy,” at the top of my lungs. That was my uncle Carlos. His quirkiness and child-like innocence had a way of injecting you with happiness.

We drove from the stadium to the sounds of eighties disco pop, dancing and happy after a Dodger victory. As my uncle opened the door to leave, he hugged me and said, “you’re a good nephew bro.” Two weeks later I got the worst call of my life and learned of his passing. Our family has never been the same.

We lost our levity.

We lost our lightness.

As the playoffs progressed, mentions of Carlos increased in my family’s group thread.
This one’s for Carlos!
Thinking of Charlie tonight!
We shared photos of my uncle, forever in his Dodger hat.
My aunt found an old picture of him in his little league jersey. I don’t need to tell you what team he was on.

Once the Dodgers clenched the pennant and ticket prices soared, the realization that most of us would be watching from home sunk in.
Fortunately, one member of the Polanco clan, my younger brother Daniel, secured a seat. He would serve as our family representative during the first World Series game played in Chavez Ravine for nearly three decades.

An hour before first pitch, Daniel messaged the group with a selfie from the stadium, wishing we were all there with him. Responses from aunts and uncles poured in.
How many Polanco’s can we fit in one seat!?
Let’s go Blue!
I sent a selfie from Minute Maid Park in Houston. I was in Texas for work and figured the Astros’ home turf would be the second best place to take in the game.
True fan right there!
Be careful Aaron!

My brother followed up by sending three words to the thread…

Oh my God.

What? I thought. Houston fans were mellow in comparison to the more deplorable sections of the Dodger fanbase. As I typed a response, another message from Daniel came through…

Guys! A representative of the Boys and Girls Club just threw out the first pitch. His name is…

CARLOS POLANCO!

Tears immediately filled my eyes as my phone began to vibrate uncontrollably. Streams of messages came in as my family members expressed their dismay.

I let it buzz.

As I sat in Minute Maid Park, surrounded by orange, my mind drifted to memories of my favorite Dodger fan. I heard his laugh and smelled his cheap aftershave. I was in disbelief. What are the odds? I thought. Perhaps my brother was mistaken. Midway through the second inning broadcaster Joe Buck confirmed my brother’s report.

‘Throwing out the first pitch tonight was the Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year,

Carlos Polanco.’

My uncle was watching the World Series after all. I cried like a baby. Right there in Minute Maid Park. Tears came and I let them flow.

We can’t lose tonight. I thought. And sure enough, we didn’t. Fueled by an angel’s namesake and a magical red beard, the Dodgers marched to victory in their first World Series game in twenty nine years.

Talk about cosmic poetry.

Now, if Carlos can come back and throw out the first pitch for the rest of the Series, that would be great.

Go Blue!

Win it for Carlos.

 

 

Destino Conocido

 

I have returned home a stranger,

Forever changed by distant lands and smiling faces.

Yet, as I approach familiar harbors, I sense that my voyage has just begun.

What a sight it was to watch the wind come and catch the breadth of my sails.

How I yearn for those glorious gusts to howl once again and carry me off.

I am restless and uncertain, tempted to turn the ship ’round and sail out to the uncharted vastness of the blue.

 

Homage to Barcelona

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Fifteen months in Barcelona.

Fifteen months are not enough.

Perhaps no amount of time can quench the thirst the city of Gaudí inspires.

Insatiable lust for a city with a million lovers.

My plane soars ‘cross the vast North American continent, each mile blazed brings me closer to home… to the salty shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Closer to family.

To friends.

Closer to the comfort and confidence that only home can bring.

California.

As a Spaniard told me, no es mal destino.

Yet my heart yearns for Catalunya, my elusive mistress.

I close my eyes and I am there.

My toes dig deep into cool sand as I look east over the sea. The Mediterranean blends into cerulean skies as the sun sinks below the horizon. Delicate wisps of low lying clouds take on pink hues as I sigh.

The saddest, softest blue twilight.

My skin feels the warm summer air as it crawls through winding allies.

Stifling humidity.

The city smiles as she sweats.

Happy perspiration.

I smell her dusty squares filled with laughter and cigarette smoke. The locals, with their oval faces and light brows, gather in camaraderie. Un-rushed yet always moving.

Sin prisa pero sin pausa.

A street vendor offers respite from the heat, “cerveza, beer?”

No gracias, amigo.

I see the bronzed beauties glistening in the moon light, sun-kissed from long days at la playa.

I smile as they walk past.

They wave, teasing, wild and free. Untamable.

Fuck.

How I will miss my time in Barcelona.

Words cannot describe the emotions that stir within me as I reflect, strapped into this fucking plane. Taken against my will, gagged and bound in a low-budget flying prison.

It took me 15 months and two days to read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. Whilst in Barcelona the book served as a sleeping pill. Two paragraphs and I was out. Effective medicine. But once removed from the shores of my favorite city, I clawed and scratched to feel her warm waters again. The book took on new life as I read with heavy heart and twinkling eyes.

The sparse Englishman captured my angst with prophetic precision.

“I suppose I have have failed to convey more than a little what those months in Spain mean to me. I have recorded some of the outward events, but I cannot record the feeling they have left me with. It is all mixed up with sights, smells, and sounds that cannot be conveyed in writing…”

You said it George.

Adéu Barna… te echo de menos.

 

 

Right Swiping Your Way to a Second Language

Well guys, I can officially call myself a paid writer. Honored and humbled by the opportunity to write for Listen & Learn. Here’s my first blog post for them:

Allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Aaron and I am an American living and studying in Barcelona, Spain.

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Ever since moving abroad, my answer to the inescapable “de donde eres” question has strategically shifted from ‘the U.S.’ to ‘California.’ I must admit, it’s a great strategy. As soon as the word leaves my lips, smiles ensue. The Golden State truly is a golden word that invites much more, well, pleasant and often hilarious queries, like…

“OMG do you surf?”

Or

“Why would you ever leave Cali?” (People who aren’t from California love saying Cali)

And

“Why Barcelona? What do you love about it here?”

My answer is always the same: options.

Barcelona offers so many options. Whether it’s visiting an art exhibit or museum, sunbathing on the beach with friends, catching an outdoor movie on Montjuic, or dancing the night away at a free concert, Barcelona is a cultural and social goldmine. Throw in the fact that the most expensive event I listed will cost you a whopping six Euro and you can start to see why I’m on the constant lookout for a wife with an EU passport. I never want to leave.

Unfortunately, for those who come to immerse themselves in a second language, speaking Spanish is also an option in this great city by the sea. One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe, Barcelona is teeming with English speakers and a local population whose native tongue is Catalan, not Castellano (Castilian Spanish). Even the courses at my university, Pompeu Fabra, named after the linguist who developed the Catalan language, were offered in English.

Want to check your skill level before heading overseas for study? Take a free placement test to see how your level measures up!

One month into my stay I realized that if I wanted to improve my Spanish I would need to make a conscious effort to capitalize on every speaking opportunity afforded. For some examples and tips on how to make the most of your language learning experience while abroad checkout fellow blogger Katie’s post. As Katie alluded to in her piece, the most progress comes when stepping out of your comfort zone and staying there. And what’s more uncomfortable than an awkward first date?

With over 50 million active users, Tinder is one of the most popular dating applications in the world. Let’s pretend you’ve never heard of it so I can give you the basics.

Pulling bio information and pictures from Facebook, Tinder users sift through profiles in their vicinity, swiping their way to romance through their smartphones. A left swipe on a profile means that you are not interested or simply “nope.” A right swipe signifies interest. When two users ‘right swipe’ each other, a ‘match’ is created and a lovely push notification is sent to your phone. The process is a bit shallow, I know, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to doing a little dance every time my phone lights up and says “Congratulations! You have a new match.”

No rookie to the dating app scene (I once met a girlfriend, now ex-girlfriend, through a similar app called Bumble. Heeey Nikki), I initially used Tinder to engage with other Americans living in or passing through Barcelona. While abroad, there is a level of comfort that comes from spending time with people from ‘back home.’ But in the spirit of growth, and like Katie already told you, FORGET your comfort.

Determined to shake off the shackles of complacency, I updated my Tinder profile, switching all of my bio text from English to Spanish. I began left swiping any user from the U.S. or England. I never thought my quest to perfect a second language would lead me down the dark path of racial profiling, but hey… by any means necessary, right? If I got a match, I made sure to always send my first message in Castellano, establishing my ability and desire to communicate in Spanish.

And it worked.

I soon found myself sipping café con leche and speaking Spanish through entire dates. Initially, I was a sweaty mess, stumbling over words as I struggled to communicate with the vocabulary of a nine year old. I’m sure the double shots of espresso didn’t help. However, a couple of months into my Tinder experiment, I noticed that my confidence had greatly increased while speaking Spanish. I am proud to say that my vocabulary grew from that of a nine year old to the level of pubescent teenager, one awkward Tinder date at a time.

Interestingly, my language skills were not the only thing that Tinder helped to improve. As I connected with more local girls, my cultural experience in Barcelona was also enriched. I gained insight into Catalan traditions, cuisine, celebrations, and festivals. Catalans love their festivals. I’ve even managed to learn a bit of the Catalan language through the process.

Yesterday I was giving a tour through the Barrí Gótic (I give street art tours in the city center in an effort to support my Tinder coffee date habit), when I met a beautiful and very Ukrainian looking gal by the name of Justina. I know, I know, racial profiling. Since Tinder has yet to teach me Ukrainian, I addressed Justina in English. Her face strained as I spoke, clearly struggling to interpret my Californian.

I stopped mid-sentence and asked, “Hablas Español?”

“Of course,” she replied, relieved. “I feel much more comfortable speaking Spanish,” she continued in perfect Castellano.

Surprised, I asked how she, a recent arrival from the Ukraine, had learned the language so fluently.

“My husband of course.”

“Oh wow,” I responded, “and how did you meet your husband?”

Justina blushed and replied through grinning teeth, “Tinder.”

The Terrible Towels

My abuelito thinks I’m gay.

“When I was your age I already had 7 kids!” He teased me in Spanish.

No gracias Abuelo.

But in his defense, it has been a long time since I’ve brought a girl around the family.

My younger siblings getting married and having babies doesn’t help.

Thanks a lot guys.

The final straw took place in January when I went home to spend time with family. Trying to show off my improved Castellano,  I made the mistake of lisping the “c” in Barcelona in front of the old man.

He slapped his knee and pointed his finger, letting out a laugh that I’ve never heard him make, like an ‘I knew it!’ kind of laugh.

I thought it was hilarious. 

Don’t get it twisted guys. This isn’t some homophobic rant, some of my greatest friends are gay. Like they say in Spain, me da igaul. But I know my old man doesn’t like his old man thinking his eldest young man is gay.

Ever-cognizant of this antiquated yet completely hilarious quandary I’ve put my pops in, I wasn’t going to tell ya’ll about what happened to me last month.

But here we goooo.

Sharing a living space is never easy.

After spending my first eight months living in the Barri Gótic with some of my best friends in the city, it was time for me to find a new flat. After a month of some serious searching, I finally found a room in the beautiful neighborhood of Gracia. Although Gracia is often considered the most gentrified neighborhood in Barcelona, a certain charm of authenticity remains. I hit the narrow streets during sunset as the locals take their evening stroll around the neighborhood. The paseo is a delightful tradition, bringing a strong sense of community to the barrio. Young parents chat as their children laugh and play in the street. Sometimes I sit and watch the old men play their pick-up games of bocce ball in the dusty squares. 

The neighborhood more than makes up for the size of my room. “Shoebox” is an upgrade. And I haven’t had a bed so small since I was eleven.

“We’ll share the shelter of my single bed?”

Bob Marley was full of shit on that one.

But I have my own terrace that gets amazing sunlight and a cool breeze. I even strung up lights and bought some flowers and aromatic plants from a local nursery. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

I share a wall and a huge bathroom with Melissa, a rad chica from the U.K. who’s in Barcelona for hairdresser school. Our bathroom has a bidet and I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long without one. So fresh and so clean clean.

My two Italian roomies, Franceso and Andrea, best friends since childhood, share a room and a smaller restroom down the hall. After about a week, I noticed that they had begun taking the liberty of utilizing our more spacious lavatory. ‘Not a big deal,’ I thought to myself, ‘mi baño es su baño amigos.’ I’m prone to fits of claustrophobia myself so I understood their need for ample leg room whilst handling their business.

I forgot to mention that our apartment is technically a student housing unit of sorts. I was leery upon finding this out, but essentially the title is just… well… a title. A way for the management company to assuage a community that has witnessed rent prices skyrocket in their neighborhood over the last decade. But the title does come with some perks. Basically, any appliance or piece of furniture that we need is a simple text message away. Need an iron? Text our landlord Sebastian and you’ll have it within a day or two. More plates and silverware? How about a fan in my room? No problemo.

When I noticed some new hand towels hanging in the restroom near the door, I smiled and thought, ‘Sebastian… what a guy.’ 

For about a week I used those lovely little towels with gusto. I preferred the green towel, which was bit more course, for drying my hands.  I reserved the white towel, which had a higher thread count and much finer fabric, for my evening face wash. One night, after plunging my face in that lovely white cloth, I noticed a hint of funky smell emanating from the fabric. ‘Hmmph,‘ I thought, ‘must be time for a wash.’ After finishing up with the green towel, which still had a sweet fragrance, I took the white towel, along with some other clothes that needing cleaning, and started up the washing machine.

A couple of hours later, Andrea returned from work after a long day at the pizzeria. He changed clothes and made his way to my (our) restroom, newspaper in hand. But before the door closed Andrea muttered something in Italian and remerged into the hallway, angry, quite uncharacteristic of the ever-chipper and gregarious Italian. “Aaron, what has happened to my towel? Have you been using my towel?”

Taken aback by his aggressive tone, I responded in a like manner, “What are you talking about, bro?”

“If you mean our hand towels in my restroom… then of course I have.”

Clearly frustrated by my response, Andrea barked back in Spanish (his Spanish is better than mine, another fact that would probably make my abuelito laugh and point in my direction), “you should not use other people’s towels Aaron.”

“Listen buddy, you and Fra have been using my restroom for weeks and I haven’t said a word. And now you want to claim our community towels too?”

“No. You do not understand. Those are our towels. From Italia. They are for the culo. You have been using our ass towels.” The anger in his voice had subsided into a menacing laugh.

“What?” I asked, feeling a bit light headed.

Apparently, a bidet is no mere luxury for Italians. Nearly every home in Italy has a washroom fully equipped with toilet and bidet. Next to each bidet you’ll find a rack with small “hand” towels. DO NOT use these towels. Like, ever. Don’t even look at ’em.

For Francesco and Andrea, pooping in my restroom was not about leg room. Utilizing a toilet without a bidet would be outright barbaric for them, and leaving their ‘booty towels’ on the rack near the bidet was nothing out of the ordinary, something they never even thought to warn their ignorant roommate from the USA about.

Awesome.

After regaining my composure all I could do was laugh and tell Andrea how Francesco’s booty had a much sweeter fragrance than his. Like fresh lavender and honey.

You can laugh, just don’t tell my old man.

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