Chicago, IL

A Traveling 40-Year-Old Flaneur Wandering for Love

Mr. Mullet

A Traveling 40-Year-Old Flaneur Wandering for Love by fotografierende on Unsplash

“Bank contact?”

“What? No. Credit?” I ask confused.

“No. Only bank contact,” the cashier says.

I stop my cart in disbelief.

“Well, this isn’t good.”

My first day off from work abroad has been a massive failure. I’m shopping at Colruyt (picture a Belgian Sam’s Club), where I filled my cart to the brim with Belgian goodies, and then learned they didn’t accept American credit or debit cards.

Rule of the Road: Always Travel Europe with HARD CASH EUROS.

Instead, I leave my bulging shopping cart in the aisle— full of dark Cote D’Or chocolate bars, Grimbergen Trappist beer, fresh strawberry yogurt, and succulent Liege waffles — as a long line of impatient Belgians ogle me.

How do you not accept credit cards at the Sam’s Club of Belgium — like what-the-actual-hell?

As I walk away, I hear Flemish muttering and an old woman gasp. I don’t look back. This wasn’t my first awkward rodeo of accepting my new life in Europe.

Next, I try ALDI — a (German-owned) grocery store I frequented in Chicago.

“Do you take credit?” is the first thing I ask upon walking into the store.



“Graag gedaan.”

Flemish will take time getting used to. I fill my cart (for the second time) and pack my groceries into plastic sacks, pay with my Visa and hop into my Clio. I flick my wrist — why didn’t I just help put back my groceries at Colruyt?

That was rude.

Bad move, man, giving Americans a bad rap — again.

I get home, unpack my groceries, stop, and stare into the hallway mirror. I’m still dealing with culture shock, having no friends, and wondering why I moved half-way around the world.

Why am I here?

To grow?

To live abroad?

To fall in love?

I hope. I hope it all makes sense soon. I haven’t manifested love, or whatever a soul mate is. I hadn’t found peace moving back home, but it’s been five years since I lived in Europe. I’m pretty happy alone and that’s what I’m scared of — that I keep becoming more emotionally unavailable, slowly turning into the version of the old cat lady (except I’d have dogs).

I picture 39 dogs licking my face. Ohh, that’s cute. That’s not so bad, is it?

My once jet-black beard grows in silver bunches and the crown of my blonde-brown head is becoming like one of those skinless-alien-looking cats from the Austin Powers movies. My left tooth is chipped and when I laugh deeply (or jog), the fat on my belly jiggles. This tickles. I slide my shirt off, growl, and drop my eyes to my stomach. It reminds me of that over-sized ringed bologna I used to eat as a kid. Ironically, my Benjamin Button brain doesn’t match the body of a beast I never intended to inherit.

I’m a perfectionist that doesn’t care about perfection anymore, I just like to complain about it.

I remind myself that I have a date tonight in Brussels. by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash

Later that evening, I drive 40 minutes for a Tinder date. I meet a 5'6 blonde German, her name is Tess. We are in Ixelles, at the Korner Bar, a university area with a young vibe.

“How old are you? My God, you are pretty.”

“30 next month. Thank you.”

“You look so young.”

“Merci. I mean, thank you. Dank u.”

It’s amazing how Europeans can speak three languages with such ease and I’m talking like a donkey, barely writing or speaking well in one. She has perfectly straight white teeth. German dentistry must be better than the Belgian. She slips her thin, long blonde hair across her face and a strand hangs innocently on her forehead and eyebrows. She wears creamy gold eye shadow and dark black mascara. We sit across from each other at a high oak wooden table watching the world of Brussels walk by us. She isn’t interested in me. She scratches her bone-milk white forearms with long eggplant-colored fingernails. She doesn’t look me in the eyes as she talks about her life.

“Why did you leave Germany?” I ask.

“I felt the need.”

“I understand.”

“Do your parents still live in Germany?”

“Yes. My father passed away a few years ago, but my mother and sister still do.”

“Oh wow. I’m sorry. That must be hard.”

“My father was a traveler. He always told me to see the world.”

I nod my head, sipping a drink.

“But still, life is short and we think we’ll live forever. You must do what you are capable of doing… now. There is no better time than that I think?”

“Yes,” Tess says, her gray-blue circular eyes blinking at me. “My dad would be proud I’m here.”

I grin, thinking about my chipped tooth and what it would be like without my parents. by Lou Levit on Unsplash

I tell her about living on the sailboat in the Caribbean two years ago compared to living and dating in Chicago. The simple life. The travel life. The rock of sea sleep. The sun’s heat at midday. The fresh pineapple juice, living on solar power, and eating fresh avocados for lunch. I wasted little and lived happily. Consumption wasn’t a high priority.

“Owww, wauw,” Tess says, leaning forward. “Your life. It’s so, like, crazy. You really lived on boat in South America?”

I nod.

An interesting life helps with dating.

“Why did you leave sailing then?”

“To come back to the crazy working life, I guess. To consume with the world and plug into the matrix again.”

“Yes. I lived in Finland and miss it there. The natural world is better. You can breathe. Walk. I would walk for hours there in the forest. It makes more sense to me,” Tess says, sipping on a Leffe blonde. The white foam hangs on her thin upper lip innocently. A smile is growing inside me.

“And you? How has dating in Belgium treated you?” I ask.

“People leave the city, in and out, in and out. I don’t date people that are here for a short time.”

“It makes sense.”

“Will you stay?”

There is silence. I sip my gin and tonic and wait.

“I have a two-year contract, but I’m not entirely sure I won’t be fired tomorrow. My job is volatile. I came here to grow. And learn. And try something I’ve never done. The job scared me, but I decided a long time ago to always do the things that scare me. Just say yes and figure out the details later. You know?

“Yes. I know. What is the job?”

“It’s top-secret,” I say, winking. “Do you miss Germany?”

“No, I, like, just miss my dad and my sister.”

“Do they travel to see you, your mom, and sister?”

“No. They are not travelers. They never left Hamburg.”

“You have your dad’s genes then — to wander and travel and work around the world like this.”

“ I suppose,” Tess said with her thick German-English-French accent. Her voice is as magical as a Chopin prelude. “I suppose it’s true. I haven’t seen half as many places as you.”

“True,” I laugh. “But I look twice as old as you and forgive me for being optimistic, but not stupid Tess, but I must say, you are much prettier than I am.”

She laughs and so do I. The fat jiggles my bologna belly, which makes me laugh harder. Tess finishes her beer and I gulp down my gin. It’s almost 11.

“You want to go to another bar?”

“Aww, thank you for the evening Tess. No, I have to go, I have a long drive home still and full workday tomorrow.”

“You don’t want another drink?”

“No, no thank you. I really enjoyed talking with you.”

I hug her and thank her for the conversation, turn and walk through the bustle of college students smoking, drinking, and eating spaghetti Bolognese.

I slip into my manual Renault and put it in first. There is construction all over Brussels. Signs. Arrows. One ways. It’s confusing. I drive past the Atomium. The silver orbs hang in the night like levitating alien ships. I roll down my window and the evening air is dank and hot and I want to be home in my bed.

There is a heaviness in my bones, in wanting something familiar.

I will not have it. Not now. Maybe not ever.

Don’t be silly, I tell myself.

Aimlessly wandering is human.

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Mr. Mullet tells us European how pro sports, love to life lessons, wild travel experiences, and awakening the dreams of those stuck in the American Matrix are connected. Most importantly, Mr. Mullet lives his life like a mullet.

Chicago, IL

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