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There have been 32 mass shootings in this country in the last 30 years. Maybe that’s why we’ve gotten so numb to the tragedy. Maybe that’s why these things don’t shake us to our core, as they should. I don’t know, I’m not an expert.

What I do know is a few nights ago a man named James Holmes walked into a dark movie theatre, threw smoke or tear gas bombs and then, while dressed in head-to-toe body armor, proceeded to kill 12 people and injure more than 50 more with his Ar-15 assault rifle, a Remington 870 shotgun and two Glock .40 pistols.

I think it’s wrong, even criminal, to associate the killers motives with some kid of political attachment. Maybe he was a registered Democrat, maybe a Republican, does it matter? I think not. I think it’s wrong that the media tends to cover these things like a distant, masturbating, voyeuristic chimp instead of as a diligent and proactive watchdog. I think it’s wrong to ascribe the political views of anyone else as the sole motivator, the cause, behind this nightmare.

Of course, the person to blame first and foremost must be Mr. Holmes. Unless he is found to be deeply mentally unbalanced, then he knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew it was a sick and vicious thing to do, and he did it anyway.

What I want to talk about for a moment isn’t James Holmes. It isn’t event he 2nd Amendment. I want to talk about America, violence and the art of escalation. Plenty of people in recent days have called for a new national debate about guns (I have been one of them). Others have argued that this is the time to pass a real restriction on automatic weapons (I have been one of them). And yet, this response has been met with a kind of hardened resistance from what I can only vaguely refer to as “The Right.”

First, there is the hesitation to politicize the tragedy, to force a seemingly partisan agenda on a country not prepared for it would not be responsible governing. So it won’t happen. Trust me, there will be no new laws banning assault weapons anytime soon. There won’t even be a discussion about guns, not a real one, because like almost any other social issue, it has become a subject which is impossible to discuss with those that disagree, because both sides treat their opponents like half-stupid tyrants and brutal animals.

Keep the guns, don’t keep the guns, it all makes very little difference, and here is why: Someone will always have a bigger gun. Someone will always have more bullets. Someone will always have better aim. We live in the country of escalation, unlike any before us. We like to take things up a notch.

Why do you think Holmes was dressed in full body armor? Because he knew in this country, in Colorado, that someone else in that theatre might be packing heat. They weren’t, and thank God, because one shooter was about all we could handle, I suspect. Holmes knew that typical citizens are likely to defend themselves, so he took it up a notch. He waited until they were alone, comfortable and trapped in a small, dark room. He used smoke, to blind and disorient. Then, his coup de grace, he used an AR-15 with a drum magazine holding more than 100 rounds to insure that nobody would get away or get in a lucky shot while he reloaded.

Normally, this is where I’d really launch into my standard liberal tirade about the dangers of guns not designed for hunting. But I won’t. I’ve had enough of that. Normally I’d say that violence only begat’s more violence and allowing bigger guns just means allowing BIGGER guns, but I’be had enough of that. I look for someone to blame, but I can’t, because I’ve had enough of that. I’m filled with such rage and sadness that I search every inch of the story and myself for some kind of answer, some way to ease the tension and soothe my soul, but I can’t. I’ve had enough of that. Too many times in a short life I’ve found myself staring in awe at a television screen while stretchers took away bodies covered in white sheets.

There is an answer, but I don’t know what it is. People in this country say we can’t take away the guns, that guns are meant to defend agains thieves and invaders of all kinds. Normally, I’d kindly point out that no AK47 has a chance against the invading Chinese or a corrupted US military complex and their tanks and fighter jets, but I’ve had enough of that. I’ve had enough arguing and fighting and waring. I’ve had enough violence and retribution and escalation. I’ve had enough bickering and pandering and moving speeches and press conferences for a lifetime.

What I know is that there are places in the world where children don’t get shot. There are places in the world where the schools don’t have metal detectors and where machine guns are restricted to the movies and the military. There are places in the world where men don’t wear body armor so they can shoot women and children. Those places exist, and some of them are Democracies with healthcare, infrastructure and freedom of religion and speech.

Maybe this is what the founders wanted, maybe they imagined an armed citizenry never to be commanded by an oppressive government. Or maybe they meant to arm select members of the community to act as a militia. Or maybe it was a stupid fucking Amendment written before we had streetlights or armed police forces and nobody had the technology to fire 100 rounds per minute. I don’t know, I’m not an expert. What I know is that I’ve had enough.

This country, this land, is the only place in the world where these things happen on such a regular basis as to haunt the mind and tarnish our very souls. We declare as indeed we are the defenders of freedom around the globe, and protector of the little guy. This country is an idea, one that has lit the whole world for two and a half centuries. And yet, it’s the only country where people occasionally snap and kill a few dozen innocent people while the rest of us watch and, while choking down our hamburgers say “How tragic.”

I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t care. I know that everywhere else isn’t like this, and I know my country can do better. That’s all I know.


It’s an Easter holiday in Vienna and the streets are, if you’ll permit the cliché, silent as the grave. The Vienna Universities are on a two-week extended break for the Easter Holiday. Without the climate and absent a fine, warm beach, the Viennese lack the traditional American Spring Break festivities, which elevates them in some respect over the pure Sodom and Gomorrah horror show typical of our spring sabbatical. No break in March, just lots of grey days and a spot of sunshine before April, and then 14 days of school-free euphoria that empties the dormitories by the first Saturday. Of course, Webster is a good-old fashioned patriotic school, and our students linger behind, along with the stragglers from the local institutions, too poor or too far from home (or both) to bother heading back. So the halls are particularly silent and the shops are closed for a few extra days and half the population seems to vanish overnight. Maybe they just bunker down for a fortnight and drink heavy German beer and eat until they fall asleep, only to wake in the morning and gorge again.

Maybe they do it with their whole families, camped for two weeks in a single gathering like an old-fashioned European shindig without enough provisions for a ground war in Asia and sleeping bags right off the dining room. I have no idea, these are just the speculations, as I’ve not yet consumed enough beer to go randomly barging into the homes of the locals and inquire about cultural nuisances. But the stores are all closed so you figure they must have saved the food to prepare for whatever efficient, sulky German festivities are taking place in those spacious apartments they all live in.

So you meander outside for a smoke and imagine where everybody is that you normally see in this neighborhood. Like a proper low-income area, there is no official silence on the streets at any point. There’s always some strange local with a scowl meandering one way or the other down the sidewalk, a car zipping by with comforting regularity, and the tram gliding around the bend silently with a cross-section of late night weirdos and strangely dressed teenagers. But on Easter, everybody evaporates, and on today — the Monday after, a state holiday — the city kind of groans down into 2nd gear, showing its age and heaving from the normal pace of the populace. Much less stimulus on these days, and you start to look around more than normal, because you can suddenly see the little details.

You notice all the graffiti in any part of town, and you notice the pigeons, which surly must outnumber the Austrians 2-1, if my study is accurate. You notice how the air is thin and cold and has that familiar wet pinch of any breeze that blows near a large body of freshwater.

You notice that there are lots of trees and shrubs and bushes, but few patches of grass save for the obligatory sidings around the churches. Sure, the parks are all grass but the city itself, where the population lives and breathes, is a veritable cocoon of concrete, marble, glass, steel, asphalt, lime, granite and brick. Everything is hard surfaces and reflections. Other than the afternoon hours, this creates spots of shade during the morning or evening hours. You’ll be walking for a mile in the sun with a cool breeze on your chest before rounding a turn where the sun is blocked out and the alley narrows and funnels that breeze into a hellish wind that numbs your face and pushes you into your own chest. Turn a corner and the entire climate can shift; an unpredictable problem in this kind of place.

You know, I had to do it once. I had to involve myself in at least one or two strange political diatribes with some bizarre foreigners and document the whole thing so as to chew it around and taste it.

I had to.

The whole thing started with a map of the US, and my Indian-born, African raised, English-accented roommate asked me which parts of the ‘States had the fewest “natch-rul disasters.”

To be fair, we had been discussing Tornados and Hurricanes, so I guess that’s the premise for a question that implies some great fear of our bizarre landscape.

So I pulled up Google Earth and started showing him how the really safe spots were right in the middle, north of Tornado alley and west of the New Madrid fault line. You know, Montana, the Dakota’s, Iowa, Minnesota and so forth. The boring shit.

He asked about the Rockies and the various other geographic hotspots. We zipped over to Africa, where he showed me Malawi, his home for most of his life. He’d been born in India, but the native tongue of former British colonial Malawi was English, British-flavored, which accounted for this bizarre mixture.

We spoke of geopolitical issues at the moment and the conversation landed somewhere familiar, Iran. Iran is a subject that arises almost instantly with any foreign student as an American taking various courses on government and politics. It is, for the Russian, German, Austrian, Indian, British, Serbian, Czech, Turkish, Pakistani and Spanish students, THE issue to prod any nearby American with.

When issues of the current Presidential election, or America as a foreign existence arises, they always ask some version of the same question:

“Is President Obama going to bomb Iran, and if so, what the hell, man?”
Usually it’s more broken, with heavier accents and the one atypical word that gives away their grasp of the language. And usually they say it with light in their eyes and with a little fire in their lungs, like they’re addressing a crowd of fervent supporters.

An Austrian economics student down the hall asked me the same thing, —in his own way — while we chain-smoked in the rain under our little concrete outcropping. He spoke of it like a certainty.

“And what is happening when you fight Iran? What is going to be consequence of that?”

“A complete fucking nightmare,” I said. “But don’t worry, Obama won’t do it, he isn’t completely incapable of reason.”

He laughed and turned, nudging me with his elbow and only half kidding as he says, “Ahhh, come on. You guys always fighting someone, and someone will need that oil, right? Valuable resources always will start war.”

I took a drag and laughed. He knew the oil argument was silly, he’d said so, himself twenty minutes before. He was a serious student of world economics, and he knew that most American oil came from Canada, and that Iran had to sell the stuff as much as anyone needed to buy it, and that it was going to hurt them not to sell it more than us not to buy it.

But he was serious in his tone about war, and I understood why. It hit me in a real way that Iran wasn’t exactly scary to me. St. Louis is 6,700 miles from Tehran, and the Iranians can’t hit me with an Intercontinental Ballistic Anything at that distance. Their technology hasn’t evolved to the level of global strikes.

But Vienna is barely 2,000 miles from Iran, the geopolitical equivalent of “across that pond and behind the tree.” Iran could do all kinds of damage in this part of the world by sheer proximity to its madness. Wounded animals, rabies-infested wild things, do plenty of damage just flailing about — it doesn’t have to be trying to hurt you in order to do it.

And that’s why everybody talked about it, like they’d be able to hear the gunfire down the street if we started a fight in their proverbial backyard.

I appreciated, for a moment, the wonderful comforting feeling of the two very large oceans separating me from the majority of violent organized enemy militaries. We have an incredible fortune, as Americans. With no major economic or military threat in North or South America to contend with, the United States effectively exists on an island, the most defensible natural position in the world.

Combined with our unsettling global-nuclear-strike capability, we essentially have established the safest sovereign nation in the history of mankind. A friend, just returning home from a 3-year stint stationed in South Korea, once told me about the sheer scale of our nuclear power.

“We literally have enough active nuclear subs in the water to level every major city on the planet a few times over,” she said this, laughing over a beer and a half-eaten roll. She looked up at the sky for a minute, like someone fighting the urge to laugh instead of throw themselves in front of t a bus. “It’s comforting, you know? I mean, it’s comforting as long as you don’t think about how many subs the Chinese, or the Russians or the Israeli’s must have, swimming around down there.”

“It’s amazing they don’t bump into each other,” I said gloomily.

“They will, eventually. That’s when it’ll stop being comforting.” She finished her beer and smiled. It was a hollow smile.

And yet, despite our world-wide-web of nuclear payloads, we still spend half our days acting like strung-out, coke-sniffing mosh-pit types leaving some raving underground punk concert at dawn, drunk on paranoia and sniffing around for a scuffle.

I never got worried about the nightmare scenario, because it doesn’t really exist anymore. Sure, Russia could nuke us back into oblivion, but we’d kill them with a massive, dying swipe of our nuclear paw before tumbling into the blackness. We’d wreck the whole place, nuclear winter and savage nightmares of a globe without any future.

But that scenario is gone. Russia doesn’t want to obliterate mankind because of some argument over Karl Marx that everybody would just rather forget about. Sure, they don’t like us, but we don’t like them either, and it’s all kind of about avoiding the kid at the party that we don’t enjoy.

With Kim Jong Il dead and his regime crumbling, his missiles with them, we can’t get all freaked out over the most dangerous peninsula in the world anymore.

The only real fear is some freaked-out religious radical with a big suitcase filled with awful stuff smuggled out of the old Soviet Union twenty years ago and rigged up by some East German car maker with glue and shipped to the highest bidder.

And we’re back to Iran. Iran, getting nuclear, and the people who live on their street have a bigger problem, because Iran doesn’t HAVE to get nuclear to mess with their worlds.

American Accidentalism, I like to call it: the unintended consequences of completely benign and occasionally benevolent actions. Totally separate from our tangible, obvious failures and crimes, this is the stuff we’ll never really notice unless we try.

It’s the difference between understanding why Japan might not be totally peachy-keen with us (hint: it starts with lots of burning American ships and ends with a mushroom cloud) and understanding why the 22-year-old Austrian economics student thinks America should reign in its “spread of military bases near the Black Sea.”

He doesn’t find America suspicious or potentially dangerous because he thinks we might wander into his country, plant a flag and pick a fight. He worries about us because he thinks we’ll blunder into the house across the street, accidentally set it on fire and then flee the scene of the crime in sheer terror, hoping his house doesn’t burn down too.

Vienna is a quick place, small and agile like the tiny European cars they drive. The public transit system is the model of German efficiency, all clockwork and pre-recorded announcements and idiot-proof maps of the city.  The underground runs with a pleasant hum at all hours, pushing big gusts of wind from the pressure up the escalators and out onto the streets.

I’m standing at the UBahn station near Webster University. My backpack is clamped to me, and I’ve got bacon and cheese and jalapeño sandwich concoction from the local bakery in a paper bag in my hand. When I get home, I’m practically fetishising the upcoming toasting and eating of this wonderful treat.

I’ve got a cigarette in my mouth. In the underground station of the Ubahn, there is a strict no smoking policy, one of the few places in Vienna where you won’t see a handful of locals taking long, selfish drags. But here, at the above-ground platform, I see no signs prohibiting, and I’ve smoked here everyday, waiting for the trains to and from my housing complex.

So there I stand, with my food and my pack and my smokes, lost in my daydreaming and oblivious to the man who approaches me so fast on the open platform that I barely notice him until he is there.

Suddenly, he is 2 feet from me. He’s an older, scraggly looking man. He could be a shopkeeper at the convenience store downstairs. He wears plain blue jeans and a tan jacket a decade out of style. He’s unshaven and painfully plain looking. His hair is thinning and brown and unkempt in the wind. He would be too plain to notice, were he not staring right at me speaking in rapid German in a tone that one might describe as “less than welcoming.”

He quickly flashes some kind of ID at me, not police. It’s the kind I’ve seen on the public transit before, the controllers, the folks that work security, mechanics or randomly check passangers for their tickets.

“Kien Deutsch.” I tell him. “No German. I don’t speak German.”

He continues for several seconds in German, oblivious, gesturing and, I realize, pointing at my cigarette.

“You cannot smoke up here,” he says to me, far angrier than I thought rational for this part of the world.

I apologize, profusely in slow English. I lift my left foot and drag the smoke along the sole, knocking the cherry out and trashing what little remained. I flicked it into the can behind me and apologized again.

The ID he flashed is back in his pocket, and it occurs to me that he isn’t wearing a uniform. Is this normal? The others, the technicians, wore obnoxious yellow and orange uniforms that could probably be seen from space. Did the controllers, whom I knew only by reputation, dress in plain clothes, so as to move undetected?

Before I can formulate this thought in a proper way, his temper flairs. He steps so close I raise my hands up, palms out, in reflex, certain he is about to reach and grab me and that I’ll have to push him backward onto the tracks and suddenly explain to the Polizei why a local tourist killed a government employee. He’s barking again in German he must know I can’t understand.

I tell him I have no idea what he wants, and that I don’t speak German, doing my best humble-foreigner routine, as a crowd is beginning to gather and the train I was waiting for zips by.

Suddenly, this man’s English gets much better.

“You are throwing this into the trash? You can start fire, man. What are your problems?”

I’m suddenly very angry. The man’s English is mostly fine, passable, at least. He’s yanking me around, barking in German and then English like he is performing some hidden camera routine.

“I put it out, you watched me,” I say, raising my own voice and realizing that we are beginning to cause a scene. “I’m very sorry, I didn’t know I couldn’t smoke.”

Then, like they were teleported by aliens, two slightly larger men suddenly appear on my left. There are now three men speaking in angry German in a semi circle around me and my back is against the rear wall.

“What is problem?” The new man says to the old, plain-looking controller. “You are not smoking here. 50 Euro.”

“What?” I say. “I don’t understand.” Now I’m just being coy. These two new men haven’t shown me ID, and are just as plainly dressed as the first. 50 Euro is not something I’m just going to hand over.

“You must pay 50 Euro fine.” The new man — who is much taller than I find comfortable — says again, English improving like the man who came before.

Here now a multitude of thoughts run through my head. It is possible that one or all three of these men are legitimate members of the local government enforcing public transit regulations. Afterall, controllers can catch free-loaders on the train easier if you can’t see them coming.

But maybe not. Maybe this is some twisted creep who lifted an ID (which do not have pictures on them) and is scamming gullible tourists. And these two knew fellows, larger, more frightening, and clearly deriving pleasure from my language barrier, don’t seem like upstanding men at all.

I look back at the first, plain looking man who came at me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know, but I’m not paying a fine to this him.” I point at the tall one, realizing it is entirely possible that I’m giving him an excuse to do any number of unreasonable things to me if I have misjudged the situation.

“I don’t know this place,” I say, dropping any hint of humility and adopting the American swagger of self importance that I find might suddenly be useful. “I’m very sorry, but I didn’t know. I don’t have 50 Euro.”

Suddenly, Plain-Looking man addresses his enforcer buddies in German, low and cautiously like he’s whispering on stage.

“Ticket,” the Plain Man says. I display mine immediately, knowing it is still valid.

He looks at it closely, like he is searching for an elaborate forgery. He barks at me again, high and mean and loud and all in German, which does me no good. I’m assuming he is just repeating himself for the crowd, or any eavesdroppers enjoying my plight.

He hands the ticket back and says “No smoking again, ok?”

He moves away quickly, barely letting me snatch the ticket and respond, the two big men following in tow. They get mere feet away and begin chuckling to themselves. It wasn’t until we got on the same train a few minutes later and I saw the Plain Man don glasses and gently ask for the tickets of everyone in my car like a genial grandfather that I understood the situation.

He was legitimate, and so was his tallest friend, who I also watched check tickets. The brief moment of mentioning a fine had been their little game, a way of making me nervous, to see if they could get me to fork over cash on reflex. A half-assed shakedown, and an embarrassment to real corruption. He just enjoyed hassling strangers, young people and presumably tourists, coming into his city and gawking and riding for free. Seeing him acting so pleasant toward my fellow passengers after he’d publically admonished me like I was some blithering schoolboy spitting off the bridge boiled my blood a little.

There was a sudden desire to walk over to him and shout in loud, wild English that “Asshole” was a universal language, and that clearly we both spoke it fluently.

I got home and ate my sandwich. It was a heavenly thing, and I forgot all about the plain little man and his hulking buddies back slapping and chuckling like high-school lacrosse players.

It’s about noon in the Naschtmarkt, and people are teeming in close-quarter crowds like Catholics waiting for the Pope’s blessing in Vatican Square. The Naschtmarkt — an open-air market that stretches nearly half a mile in the 3rd or 4th district of the city — is a bussling sea of life and commerce. One end is almost entirely made up of Café’s and restaurants, where diners sit mere inches from the throbbing masses, bumping and pulling each other around. Past the eaters are the markets themselves: endless aisles of shops with awnings to guard their trinkets, treasures and otherwise from the hard sun.

At first it is food — butcher storefronts with massive slabs of raw meat on display, waiting for some fat, hungry carnivore.

“I’ll take that side of beef, and make it snappy, I’ve got a small dragon to feed.”

Everywhere there are fruits and spices and booths for schnitzel or falafel. Pears, apples, dates, strawberries and peaches, a multi-color heaven of freshly grown produce is just part of the experience. Watermelons, oranges, grapefruits are everywhere. Fish markets with massive whole fish laying dead-eyed on cubed ice stink the air and people jam like crazy into narrower and narrower alleys of goods. The stores become so close that awnings from adjacent stores collide covering the entire thing in a faux shade and funneling people, hungry and wallets bursting, into packed crowds so harsh that turning in place is no longer an option.

After a few minutes of this crowd I’m about ready for alcohol or dangerous chemicals. Everything of value I have in this country is zipped in my backpack, which is being yanked and bumped with every step. This is the place one worries about pickpockets. Nobody wants to be robbed in a foreign country and a crowd like this must be ripe with half-wit crooks with light fingers.

I’m tempted to do something radical and give myself some breathing room — do something drastic at the next tug on my bag — just to show the crowd I’m not messing around. I’ll wait for some poor sap to push on my bag or jostle me from behind. Then, I’ll spin hard at the waist 90 degrees sending my elbow flying back behind me, high, aiming for the temple.

Crack some poor fellow right in the skull and send him crumpling to the ground with a whimper. Then, turn and become sincerely distraught by his injury.

So sorry, chap. Thought you were some no-good thieving little punk trying to lift my pocketbook. Boy, the sun and the crowd here must really have my nerves on edge. You know, a man can’t be too safe in a foreign country, with all the beggars about. Don’t worry my poor fellow, we can get that swelling down with a fine slab of meat.”

Yep. Send a violent, sudden message and get myself a nice wide berth for the rest of the afternoon. The two other  girls from St. Louis — Emma and Kim — who have accompanied me to the market for advice and consent purposes, are ahead of me. Having already helped me select a gift for my girlfriend, they’ve decided to move deeper into the market, on the western edge where the food stands end and low tents sell goodies, antiques and handmade knickknacks like Tijuana.

I spend a few minutes haggling with a South American woman over the price of a plain, ancient silver ring I have a powerful desire for. After a few moments of broken-English debate, we settle on the price and I slide the old thing onto my finger, enjoying the weight of it. Soon, we push on to another tent a few yards away were a stern-looking Arab sells sunglasses and jewelry. I examine a few pieces before moving on, only to be issued a sharp rebuke from the owner.

He looks down at his felt case and sees a ring missing. He sees the ring on my finger, which I am still toying with, and a look starts across his face that says he’s about to call me a thief, and maybe crack me in the skull with some wicked looking weapon he has stashed behind his table.

In a dark, ominous tone he points to my ring and says “You pay.”

“I already pay.” I respond, falling into that tragic habit of speaking incomplete English to someone who first address you that way, as if it will help his understanding. I point vigorously to the tent with the South American woman and explain that I already bought this damn thing and that maybe he should keep a closer eye on his merchandise.

He doesn’t seem to believe me and I’m becoming genuinely overcome with fear. Another Arab man — who I imagine is some kind of enforcer for greedy American punks trying to lift merchandise from the hardworking people of the market — appears and I suddenly imagine myself locked up by the local Polizei as I try in vain to explain that I didn’t steal, and that I detest such allegations. Emma and Kim materialize next to me and help ease the tension, insisting to the stern man that I didn’t take it.

He seems to believe them, or maybe he simply has a policy against disagreeing with young, pretty women who are potential customers. He waves distractedly, allowing me to sulk away to the next booth.

Deeper into the market the goods become less impressive. We’ve reached the outer edge, having long-since passed the point of no return. There are no tents now, just cheap plastic tables with bizarre collections of goods, some of which surely must be stolen.

A man with one leg and a face like the side of the Grand Canyon shows off his wide array of electronics. Cell phones of every kind, car batteries, clock radios and music boxes are just a few. I see fine speakers, a car stereo and what I am certain is some kind of toaster oven. I consider briefly accusing this man of thievery. I could really freak him out, wander over and demand he return my property.

“My car stereo!” I would screech like a banshee. “You hop-along little twerp, you didn’t think I’d come looking for you because of your sorry state, eh? Well I know that’s my damn radio, and I’ll have it back before you shill it to some passing tourist for 10 Euro. Hand it over before I have the Polizei come down here and break your fingers!”

But no. Such pranks are irresponsible in a foreign country no matter how certain I am that this bizarre, obviously pilfered collection is less than admirably gained I must admit with some reluctance the balls that it takes to sell it in the open street.

I see knives, too. One, a big, silver, gleaming thing with a CCCP engraving makes me want to gut one of those massive fish in the booths far behind us, just to test the quality of the blade. It is a brilliantly clean piece of metal in a high-quality, tan, leather holster.

“Russian” the woman who owns the knife says to me. “Russian. You like?”

“No, I no like Russians,” I say, forgetting that she probably doesn’t really get sarcasm coming from an English speaker.

I find an Iron Cross, dated 1939 and I nearly buy it, but I can’t quiet reconcile the strange look she gives me when I handle the thing as I consider it. I inspect it in the sunlight, admiring the age and history of the trinket, but I can feel eyes on me and suddenly I imagine airport security rifling through may bags upon seeing the little guy winking at them on the XRay Machine.

“Search this Nazi fuckers bag,” they say, in stern, foreign voices. “Filthy racist swine, coming into our country just to bring memories of Adolf and his little war back to the U.S. to sully our fine name. Cavity search the owner of this bag, make him suffer.”

I don’t buy it. I set it back down on the table, next to some chipped tea pots and an ancient looking China set. I try to ignore the other little trinkets daring me to whip out my money. Among them: a blade engraved to an “M.H. Peloe. In Service to the Royal Navy, 1902.” There’s a long, steel cane with a handle made from animal bone and another with a broken compass on the grip.

I spot a typewriter and nearly demolish several people making a beeline for it. A fine piece of essential equipment, I think to myself. It looks like it could handle being dropped out of an airplane — hulking out of a massive black box. I touch the keys gently, mentally calculating the weight of it, and wandering if I have the moxy to buy it can carry the brute all the way home. Then I notice that it is a German typewriter, and I light a cigarette and curse at no one in particular.

The girls are rifling through piles of clothes in a thick crowd of women like shoppers on Black Friday. Two Arab women pile four or five tables with random clothes like an outdoor Goodwill. They are cheap rags but relatively clean. Passers dig through the pile of cloth, occasionally holding something up to the light or pressing it against their figures to determine proper size.

I stand and watch them for several minutes as one of them refuses to pay more than 4 Euro for a black tank top with frills. Money is exchanged and they meet my eyes, jerking their heads to the side indicating I should step to the side of the street with them and out of this mad crowd and the hot sun.

We cross the street, leaving the crowded market behind and work our way into an antique bookstore where I contemplate for several minutes inquiring about an old copy of Mien Kampf.

Then, I remember that the man who owns this bookstore probably won’t enjoy my fascination with that part of his history, and the image of airport security explodes into my head again.

No historical paraphernalia. Not today.