POV

The Time David Hasselhoff Saved My Ass in Budapest

It’s kind of creepy: wherever you are in Budapest you aren’t far from a McDonald’s.

Story and photo by Phil Sick - frankymachine@hotmail.com
Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

I’ve visited Budapest several times. The very first time, I was a stupid kid, wandering around the set of the movie my mother was working on (“My Dear Dr. Grassler”), speaking English to these bewildered ladies that looked a bit like extras from a movie where people wore old clothes and smelled like onions. They weren’t extras, and I was moronic enough to ask where I could buy a soccer jersey. The old ladies smiled, spoke some weird language (so did I after all) and caressed my head. So, I went back to the movie set. Keith Carradine was there, dressed like a Viennese doctor from the end of the eighteen hundreds, playing the Nashville theme on his acoustic guitar just outside his trailer. Pretty fucking surreal. The rest of the trip went by pretty fast. I remember the great room service in this Hotel called Beke Radisson, a place that seemed to ignore communism at the time, namely because it had cable TV, and I consoled myself about the soccer jersey I never found by watching my very first porn. In the end, what would I do with a Hungarian soccer jersey? They stopped winning in the 1950s anyway. I indulged in goulash and local porn stars. What a little capitalistic shit I was back then. If I wasn’t too busy gorging myself, I would’ve stood in front of a firing squad. Right. Well, it didn’t last long, since my grandma (god rest her party-pooping soul) feigned a sudden illness, so me and my aunt were forced to flee from Budapest like some enemies of the state or a couple of regular western spies.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

“Goulash?! I bet mine was better anyway…”

“But, Grandma, you seem to have recovered rather quickly…”

She gave me a stern look and went back to her solitaire. I should’ve told her that I had had enough Goulash to last me a while… But, how good was she with a guitar? Could she possibly kick Keith Carradine’s ass? Plus, if she really loved me, how ‘bout some of that cable TV, it’s a scientific fact that Hungarian porn cures jetlag in twelve year olds.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

My mother stopped working a few years back. So, with a little money, she bought a two bedroom flat in Budapest very close to the Jewish quarter that is a pretty cool area to live in; lot’s of cool bars, a pretty amazing synagogue and lots of friendly Hassidic Jews. Almost thirty years after mother worked on that movie (there were some heavy weights among the actors, Max Von Sidow, Keith Carradine, Christine Scott Thomas), she still had a thing for the city. Also, on Granny’s mother side, we have some Hungarian origins that go way back, like a couple of hundred years back. That must be why Grandma kicked ass with the good old Goulash. It was in her blood; actually her blood was thick with it, that’s probably why she died at a hundred and two.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

I often come to Budapest now. It’s a pretty nice city and it’s got that Mittel-European swing that I find quite fascinating. Budapest is a gold mine for antics and great architecture, and there are many bars, hotels and teashops that immediately take you to the early 1900s. I find it quite impressive to sit down at the Gerbeaud (Where princess Sissi used to go, just to give you an idea) for tea and perhaps a nice slice of cake. Served by an impeccable waiter, engulfed in an art nouveau setting, that here is actually called “secession style”, something Budapest and Vienna had going on after a bunch of bright young men decided to give art nouveau a Mittel-European kick. That is why many films were being filmed here, even back in the days when the good old wall was still dividing Europe in two. Hungary was never a fanatic communist country. The Russians had to invade them in 1956 to shape them up a bit. Nonetheless they always tried to be pragmatic and as open as they could be to the west.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

But how did Budapest change in all these years? The first thing that shocked me was the number of McDonald’s. There were so many, I had to go on the internet and see how many they had. More than a hundred, and, mind you, Budapest isn’t even half the size of New York. It’s practically an invasion of bad taste. I don’t mind a cheeseburger every now and then, mostly when I’m hangover and okay if there isn’t any family run business, and if I’m not in the U.S. I’ll even hit up a Burger King, but damn! It’s kind of creepy: wherever you are in Budapest you aren’t far from a McDonald’s. There are quite a few Burger Kings and the other most popular American fast food chains rival the many kebab joints and pizzerias that, luckily, are still pretty popular. Another thing I noticed was the increasing number of North African people, which is kind of weird in an Eastern European country. Something you’d never see back in the cold war days, unless it was a Cuban, or communist African student in Budapest for some exchange program. Then again, things are changing. Minorities seem to be going through some rough times nowadays. Hungary has taken an abrupt right turn, and its prime minister, Victor Orbàn, makes Mit Romney look like a gay rights aficionado, commie leader, pinko supremacist in comparison.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

Besides Orban, who is said to be crippling the media’s freedom of expression, the whole country seems to have gone hardcore conservative. I reckon it must be tough being an immigrant in a place like Budapest. For starters, you have to learn their language. Hungarian is a Finno-Ugric language that seems to pack more consonants than vowels, and it is said to be as difficult as Japanese and Arabic. After you finally master it, you must face discrimination and restrictive laws. Gypsies seem to be one of the main targets on this new regime. On my block there are quite a few, and they seem pretty darn friendly. Lately, more and more people are learning English, and whether it is for business and to pick up tourists or to finally know what Shakira is yapping about, it sure makes it easier for foreigners. Nonetheless, you can still experience going into a barber shop and risk communicating, via sign language and lots of laughter, how you want your hair cut. I did it and it was fun, not to mention ridiculously cheap. The only English word the man knew was Rock and Roll, and it was more than enough for me. See, I got this thing when I travel. Wherever I go, I want to get a professional haircut. All of those over-paid celebrity foodie guys on television will tell you that food is what really sends you right into the hard belly of a culture, and to some extent they’re probably right, but hang out in a barber shop in Tijuana or Bombay, if you’re not an asshole and tip them right you’ll probably find the best place to eat. Whether it is in Chang Mai or Budapest, I like to sit back and enjoy the universal language of scissors, while people around me speak in Thai, Hungarian, German or Swahili throwing in a couple of words of broken English here and there. That’s when I feel at home.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

On my street there are several bars and pubs. It is a narrow street, which connects two big avenues. Further down, heading towards Kiraly, the bars are more refined, sometimes too much. But right next to my building, there are a couple of seedy places were only hardcore Hungarians go. In one, I only ever get the occasional staring contest by a drunken local, but people mind their own business and the girl that gives you drinks looks like she’s been teleported directly from a “Supercar” episode, the blond vaporous hair, the make-up. All pretty cool, but I gotta remember not to stare as they might mistake my anthropologic interest for plain rudeness. Too late. Her friend started calling me names in Hungarian and another two dudes started coming my way. I downed my beer quickly, raised my hands and started saying something about how cool I think they are, the girls’ hairdos, how much I love Puskas (Famous Hungarian soccer player from the 1950s), the 1980s and then I say what seems to be the magic word that saves my life… David Hasselhoff. The local drunks start beaming and raising their pints, patting me on the back and repeating like a mantra “David Hasselhoff… Good”.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

Wow. But, it wasn’t over yet. There is another bar, on the very same block, that serves an older clientele. We were talking about prostatic jobs and acute cirrhosis. I walked in and, luckily, knew how to order a beer in Hungarian, because they don’t speak English and never will. At that age, it’s an attitude I respect. They served me my pint and it’s quite odd because you gotta drink standing up. Everyone seemed to know each other, the place was packed and the geriatric bunch was rowdier than you’d expect. So I casually turned to this old TV in a corner and guess what? It was an episode of “Supercar”, and I pretended to enjoy it while I drank my first and last. Yup, the lady that served me made me understand that the beer was on the house, but then I had to leave. I was too young and too foreigner-like. So that’s exactly what I did, although the next day I went back in there, rather casually, since I spotted a different lady behind the bar. History repeats itself. I ordered a beer, when I started fishing for my money they said it was a freebie, but then they’d appreciate if I took my overly healthy liver somewhere else. Maybe someone roofied me, I came in here and made a gruesome show and simply didn’t remember. Thing is I’ve never been roofied by anyone in my life. I’ve probably roofied myself a couple of times, but never in Hungary. I thought about this thing over and over. Maybe the bar is a front for some nasty activity they carry out in the back. Those old geezers? Give me a break. The answer was probably simpler than I thought. A bunch of old timers who simply didn’t want their small little island to face the overwhelming changes that were basically turning their quarter into something else; more modern, more trendy, but probably with less soul and charm. It’s basically like a plastic surgeon going up to Lauren Bacall and telling her he’s going to make her look thirty years younger. Sure, trade all those interesting wrinkles and creases to look like the other million plastic Barbies. We’ll eat the same food in the same places, and we’ll all look the same. I held no grudge what so ever with the locals, and, after all, they didn’t want me to pay for my beers. Sure, beer over here is cheaper than water, but so what? As much as didn’t like it, I was an intruder.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

Despite the “Supercar” mania, sometimes I picture myself moving to Budapest. People are quiet and discrete, often good looking, and I think it has a lot to do with their baths. The two main ones are the Gellhert and the Szechenyi. The first one is a feast of mosaics and art nouveau, it is indoors and trés chic. I prefer the Szechenyi, which are the largest baths in Europe and have an indoor section as well as an outdoor one. There are all sorts of pools, from freezing cold and “I’ll turn your balls into fucking peanuts” to boiling hot and “you’ve just turned into a giant fucking red lobster”. There are saunas and spa treatments, and the architecture, once again, takes you way back, since the complex was built in 1913. But, I’ve been told it’s neo-baroque and not art nouveau, for a change. The cool thing, apart from the fun pool outside, is the bar. Reasonable prices, as most Hungarians always come to the baths once they’re finished working. That explains why they look so chilled maybe, slightly melancholic even. I mean, you spend a couple of hours in there, when you come out you feel like you popped a couple of Percocets. The other reason I like to go to the Szechenyi is because they’re in the middle of this nice city park with a little artificial lake that has this slight sewer tang to it and some brave swans that swim in it. To get there you can hop on the Octagon, which is the coolest subway ever. They have these little cars that look like updated toys of another era. Unfortunately, an old lady told me that they were going to replace them with more modern and efficient ones.

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

“But why, nice lady? These things are so cool, and they seem to go pretty fast to me…”

She shakes her head, smiling. Maybe I better get a grip with reality, I was being nostalgic for something I didn’t grow up in. The lady that could’ve been my grandma wanted something newer, something modern and who was I to know better. For one thing, at least I know they won’t tear down the beautiful “West Station” of Pest (Nyugati pàlyaudvar), which was designed by the same guy who made the Eiffel tower, Monsieur Gustav Eiffel. But, the real reason I’m here is something else. I’m in for another kind of tourism. Nope, it doesn’t involve lap-dances and high-tech whorehouses, and maybe I did mislead you earlier on with my cable porn experiences of the late 1980s, and after all Budapest is one of the porn capitals of Europe. Yet, I’m here for something different. I’ve come to Budapest to do some dental tourism. Pretty exciting, I know. Well, after you do a lot of tourism in places like Amsterdam, Bangkok and Mexico, let’s say a few years of it, then you inevitably have to call it quits and pass on to the dark side. Dental tourism. With the money I’ll save, including air fare, I can still go to the baths every day, eat goulash in supercool markets that look like a chunk of the Tour Eiffel filled with knick knacks, sausage stands, touristy communist memorabilia, bags of paprika plus all the beer I want. It’s a pork-beef-alcoholic Walhalla, and luckily all my vegan friends have taken too many synthetic drugs to mind and they usually don’t read the stuff I write as a principle. As for the vegetarian ones, they’re simply a tad more reasonable. I’ve come here, to get a couple of new molars and fix a chipped tooth which wasn’t the result of a bar brawl, though it does make me look like a fucking hillbilly. I think my deaf dog did it. He was welcoming me home, hopping like a Kangaroo, but miscalculated and basically head-butted me… He’s a hyperactive albino freak, but that’s another story, plus he didn’t come to Budapest with me. Now that I think about it, I wish he did. Deaf Albino Border Collies are huge pussy magnets…

 

Photo © Phil Sick

Photo © Phil Sick

9 Responses to “The Time David Hasselhoff Saved My Ass in Budapest”

  1. Keith Gillespie says:

    No way dude! Yes, I must admit I’m still a vegan – sometimes vegetarian – asshole, and I also must admit I’ve probably taken too many synthetic drugs to distinguish art deco from secession style. But I surely do swear I read every single fucking article Sick writes on this blog, website, or whatever it is….Phil my dear, you definitely missed the trip of the (last) century to Budapest, in july-august 1999, on our way back from the superwasted solar eclypse teknival on Lake Balaton -the Hungarian version of Friday 13th’s Crystal Lake…the Roman dreadlocked Jason was in our pack, you know who I’m talking about – where gypsies offered us money to buy our beloved albino boxer dog (R.I.P. good ol’Ricky-Freaky Monster). I should have tried dental tourism with Scipio, Pette, Wonderboy and the other techno-Baracus freaks I tripped with, it would have fitted perfectly with the LSD we did those days, hanging out on Hungarian night buses all night long…

    You piece on the Italian Five Star Movement was awesome and none of the Italian retard journalists who spent the last two months looking for the right metaphore or similitude to discredit at best the spooky bastard named Gianroberto Casaleggio never got even close to your spark of genius, when you depicted him as the Italian side-show Bob, for his haircut and above all for being the real puppeteer behind the clown… Grillo is also a cheap version of Mr Herschell Krustofsky a.k.a. Krusty the clown…
    We ended camping

  2. phil says:

    ahahaha… In fact the original title was Guy Fawkes meets Crusty the Clown?

  3. mtld says:

    Aha! what you gotta do on the first biatch!?! don’t be the usual party-pooper!
    😛

  4. Phil says:

    I’m gonna hang out with ponies on the first. That cool with you?

  5. Keith Gillespie says:

    I’d rather recommend parrots, sir….

    Hanging out with ponies (“nun era ‘n cavallo, era ‘n pony…si popo volemo mette i puntini sulle i”) would require being the usual party POPPER (the world renowned, award-winning vasodilator…)
    David Hasselhoff would be proud

  6. Keith Gillespie says:

    Sorry, of course I meant Davis Asshellof, or hell of an ass if you prefer…

    P.S.=Am I making you feel ashamed of the comments you get, boy? I promise I’ll watch my language…

  7. President B.A. Baracus ObamBa says:

    Sounds kinda weird you didn’t shout out the name of glorious Budapester Ilona Staller – Jeff Koons’ Hungarian ex-wife, as you wrote in another article – while you were in deep shit. I’m curious to know if it’d have worked as fine as David Hasselhoff to save your ass from those raging Huns.
    The picture of the dental center’s pop art-like sign is the shit! You can almost hear the eerie noise of clattering jaws and clenching teeth and figure out why you needed dental care in Budapest…

    Another ergot-eating ol’pal of yours

  8. phil says:

    You forgot Bela Lugosi. But right now I’m loosing my sleep over Snoop Dog becoming Snoop Lion. I don’t know why, but it bugs me…

  9. Calabrian Ganjaman says:

    You are the light!
    You are the Lion!