For the month of February, each writer’s post will begin with the same line, which we’ve borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
All this happened, more or less.
It was a miracle that I even made it out of Budapest alive.
Budapest was the sort of town always on the lookout for a sucker to pull one over on. The sort of city where a crooked cabbie could double his fare by pretending to misunderstand where you wanted to go, charge you extra to actually take you there, and threaten to drop you off in a bad part of town if you complained.
I’d seen the aftermath of muggings. The setup was simple – you ask a tourist if they need directions or to spare some change, and when you are in close enough, you knife ‘em and take what you want. Some poor sucker must’ve fallen for it. A whole tram stop covered in blood, piss, and vomit.
Here’s the thing though – I never felt unsafe. As long as you kept your head on straight, you’d be alright. Budapest had a lot going for it –food, culture, nightlife, and all off the beaten tourist track. A little rough around the edges, maybe, but that only added to its vibrancy.
There I am, my first weekend out in Budapest, enjoying an outdoor club. The music is loud, lights flashing, and drinks flowing. I’m separated from my friends, but that’s okay because I’m making new friends. An unhealthy amount of cheap booze has loosened me up so that I’m dancing with anyone. I’m sharing drinks with anyone. It’s a party.
I must’ve looked like the easiest target in the club. Drunk tourist hopping from group to group. Buying lots of drinks. An easy mark to hustle.
So, I found myself in the middle of four or five well-dressed Hungarian guys.
“This is great party,” one yells.
“PARTY!” I and the others respond.
“This is good vodka!”
“We do cocaine!”
“Yes, you come do cocaine with us.”
“I do…cocaine…with you.”
A firm hand on my back, and suddenly, all of us are walking away from the crowd.
I wish there was a term to properly convey the feeling one gets when realizing that suddenly things might not be okay. The creeping dread that spreads throughout your body. The moment fight or flight kicks in. Because as I found myself being marched to a dark and secluded section of this nightclub by five Hungarians intent on doing hard drugs…I had the feeling that maybe things could turn out very poorly for me.
Adrenaline flooded my body, temporarily blocking the dulling influence of alcohol. All my senses were heightened, as my body’s singular focus was to help me get out of this situation.
Only now that I have nature’s fight-or-flight drug coursing through my veins do I realize – that these guys are not remotely intoxicated and seem pretty organized…almost as if I am not the first person that they have lured to the darkened recesses of a club and plied with drugs.
Shitshitshitshit, my brain screamed, what are our options?
1. Make a run for it. Not a viable option because I am in the center of four of the five Hungarians, boxed in. You know, sort of like maybe they didn’t want me to run off.
2. Yell for help. Even less of a viable option as the music is loud and every step is taking me farther into the darkened corners of the club.
That just left…
3. Try to bluff my way out.
We arrive at our destination – a little corner of the club that is very dark and at least a hundred feet away from anyone. My four man escort breaks off to start snorting cocaine as the leader of this gang comes up to me.
“We do cocaine, but first…you pay.”
The rookie move here would have been taking out my wallet and handing him an unknown amount, hoping he is happy with it. But all my instinct is screaming at me to play it cool, to act like this isn’t my first time purchasing drugs from a stranger in the sketchiest possible situation. So I ask, “How much?” He shouted something in my ear, but I couldn’t understand him, so he whips out his phone and writes down a number. I am so flabbergasted by the number he wrote, that I ask him if he means Hungarian forints or US dollars.
He must’ve taken me for the biggest sucker in Budapest because he confirmed it was in Hungarian forints. I did some mental arithmetic and currency conversion, reaching roughly $100 USD. Just how much cocaine is this guy trying to sell me?
But this is my way out! I summoned every ounce of charisma I possess, lean in, and say, “I’m sorry my friend, I don’t have that much money on me. But I’ll be back tomorrow with some of my friends, and we’ll party then, okay?” A reassuring clap on his shoulder, heel-turn, and stride confidently back towards the crowd.
As I turned, I could see a mixture of surprise, anger, disappointment, and greed on his face. I was halfway to the crowd when I heard a shout from behind me. Angry voices. Footsteps?
Don’t look back, keep walking, project confidence, don’t run, keep calm, almost there, almost there, almost there – RUN! Lose yourself in the crowd!
After that night, I never let my guard down when I was out. Never was that reckless. Never got that drunk.
All of this happened, more or less.