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The Worst American I've Ever Met

Oh boy, this one's a doozy

By Steven Christopher McKnightPublished about a year ago 11 min read
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The Worst American I've Ever Met
Photo by Ignat Arapov on Unsplash

I’ve been waiting for a good time to write about this; as an essayist, perhaps I wanted to find a good thematic through-line to assign to it. But, I don’t think I want to wait for inspiration to strike anymore. Here’s your thematic through-line, Steve: there are some real stinkers out there in the American expat community. I’m going to tell all of you a story about a man I met abroad, a man who at one time I thought could only exist in the microcosm of sitcoms and sitcom-adjacent media. Let me tell you, dear reader, about the worst American I’ve ever met.

I spent a semester as an English teacher in western Slovakia, in a small town called Zlate Moravce. I had a friend in Brno, so I hopped a bus, booked a bottom-bunk in a twelve-bunk dormitory, and enjoyed a long weekend in the picturesque southeastern Czech Republic. The hostel was near the city center, which I greatly appreciated, but it was also on the top floor of some medical offices, which I found confusing and a little jarring. Nonetheless, I scaled four flights of stairs, opened a door that looked like it led to a broom closet, and stepped into this gorgeous hostel lobby. At the front desk sat a guy who didn’t look much older than me, and the gentleman talking to him was the subject of this story.

I don’t want to use the guy’s real name, so I’ll call him Fred; I don’t know anyone named Fred, so I hope that draws the least amount of backlash. Anyway, to paint a picture, Fred was a gangly bald man, about six feet tall, in a black newsies cap and black trenchcoat. He looked kind of like the Nostalgia Critic. His voice was deep and raspy, and the moment I entered the hostel, he pointed his long arm in my direction and said, with certainty, “Jimmy Carter.” Taken aback by the fact that a person had observed me, I completely forgot that I was, in fact, wearing my vintage Jimmy Carter campaign t-shirt that I bought to piss off Trump voters after the 2020 election. (“I heard you like one-term presidents!” But that’s not important.) Ultimately, this man made his presence known.

In the lobby, this man spoke at me—not to me, mind you, just at. Over the course of thirty minutes, he meandered through dozens of topics: Jimmy Carter (to start), Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, hating America, renouncing US citizenship, his BITCH of an ex-wife, the Irish Constitution (upon hitting this beat, Fred conjured a pocket-sized Irish constitution from inside his black trenchcoat and read passages from it out loud), sneakers, Bugattis, Bugatti-brand shoes (I ask you, dear reader, remember the Bugattis; they are important for later in the story), his BITCH of a daughter who wouldn’t talk to him because of his crazy BITCH of an ex-wife, wanting to move to Brno, the peerless beauty of the Czech woman, the Irish Constitution again (complete with more passages). In this monologue, I contributed maybe a thought and a half; there was no off-ramp until the hostel clerk called me over to check me into my room. I excused myself from the hostel after locking up my valuables to meet a friend, barely managing to reject Fred from tagging along. That was the last I heard from him that afternoon. That night was a different story.

I returned to the hostel at 11:00, went right to bed; the bunks had curtains we could draw for privacy. I liked that. I slept an uneasy hostel-sleep, for necessity and not pleasure, the way one sleeps in a hostel. Around half past three, I awoke to the sound of heavy footsteps in the room. In that deep Fred-rasp, he yelled, “Where the fuck are my shoes?” And then there was a dry thud, as if someone had flopped over onto the floor. I dared not draw the curtain back on my bed to see what was the matter. Rather, I reserved myself to my own restless slumber. Whatever business there was outside my little corner of the room, it was not my business.

Morning came. I brought my laptop out to the lobby to work on the minor things, largely to occupy the time between the morning and the Tinder date I had scheduled with an aspiring botanist. I made small talk with Garrick, the retired film professor who was also vacationing in Brno for the weekend, and as we did so, Fred came out to talk at us. He recapped for us the events of the previous night: going out, drinking, smoking weed with some friendly Czech strangers, whatever it was Fred did to pass the night. He also reminded us of a key tenet of his personality: He valued, above freedom, above family, above life, his Bugattis, his luxury shoes of which he owned two pairs. Dear reader, you should have heard the way he said “Bugattis,” like the word itself brought him to climax, like he was trying to seduce the world with that one word, and though it wasn’t working, he would not stop trying until it did. Anyway, dear reader: One of his treasured pairs of Bugattis had vanished the previous night. Fred had awakened that morning shoeless, his socks the only things standing between his expatriate feet and the ground beneath him. Side-note: This is not a sponsored post for Bugatti.

Reader, this is where Fred went from quirky to dangerous, for a man of Fred’s caliber separated from his shoes would do anything to get them back. Somewhere in his head, he’d concluded that the women in the private room down the hall had swiped them. Fred begged the hostel clerk to give him the key to their room so he could search; he screamed profanities at the women as they passed by as well to go about their daily business. There was sincere ferocity in the way he told these women, “You’re crazy,” and called them heaps of nasty things. Then he realized it was almost noon and asked me and Garrick, “Does anyone want to go get some lunch?” Nobody wanted to, but nobody wanted to tell Fred no. There were five minutes of hemming and hawing until Garrick finally fell on that dagger and relented. (Garrick, if you’re out there, thanks for taking that bullet. It could not have been easy.) In parting, Fred mocked me for being on my computer all the time, and also made the hostel cleaning lady cry, but that is a side story that has no natural place in the progression of this narrative. For the story’s sake, that was the last I saw of Fred that day. I helped the cleaning lady get through the day, went on my date, returned to the hostel at a reasonable hour, and spent two hours watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine like a normal human being.

I woke up the next morning, rolled out of bed, grabbed my laptop, headed out to the lobby. Dear reader, what I found there will shock you, but to understand it, here’s a little bit of context: The day prior, one of Fred’s main concerns, on top of the alleged theft of his shoes, was that he had been renting his bed in the hostel on a night-by-night basis. That night, every bed in the hostel had been booked. Said Fred to the clerk, “No worries; the lobby is large. Just give me some sheets, and I will sleep on this floor.” Said clerk to the Fred, “No, you cannot do that.”

My friends, I wish I could tell you that it was just Fred that I found on the floor early that morning. I wish I could tell you that I stepped over him, sat down in that hostel lobby, and got right to work. But there was someone beside him: a woman, facedown, naked, makeup smudged on a pillow stolen from the hostel’s linen closet, next to Fred who, naked as he was, was also thankfully wrapped in sheets. His eyes fluttered open when I sat down; they locked on me and he said, proudly, “She’s a lady of the night.” A pause. “I got one.” And then his interest turned to spooning this poor woman and I, adamant on staying in the space I paid for the right to use, began typing away at my lesson plan for Monday. An hour later, Garrick entered; an hour more, and the clerk came in. He appraised the scene in front of him, sighed, and stooped down to stir Fred awake.

“We need to talk,” he said, and Fred stood up, got dressed as minimally as he could get away with, and stepped outside with the clerk. Garrick and I could only pause and listen to the snippets of the argument we could hear: “You can’t bring a hooker into a hostel!” “She’s not a hooker! I found her! I saved her!” “You can’t do that!” “It’s not like I fucked her or anything!” The woman on the floor stirred once or twice during this, but her eyes hardly fluttered open. She did not seem to have a problem with the situation; it was too early in the morning for her to care. At one point, it seemed like she had gotten up to get dressed, but as soon as she had put her dress from the evening back on, she lay back down on the nest of pillaged sheets. She acknowledged nobody in the room, not even Fred when he came back in proclaiming that he would sue the establishment.

Fred’s departure was a fiery one. As he left the hostel, he took time to disparage each and every one of us for the faults he perceived; the veracity of these insults still shake me to my very core. He reprimanded Garrick, for instance, for his sense of moral superiority. The clerk of the hostel, he tore into for his insistence on mindless rules and regulations, called him a communist, reminded him that the Cold War was over, and that fascism lost. And to me, well, I can only remember it word-for-word: “Wahoo!” he mocked with his approximation of my voice. “My name is Steven! I’m always on my computer! I’m such a straight edge! I’m so boring! Yippee!” I am forever scarred by these words. Never before has my character been so brutally assassinated. Nonetheless, with those words, Fred was banished from the hostel, and we never heard from him ever again. The young woman—Anishka was her name, I think—was asked to leave, but did not seem to want to wake up. The clerk kindly carried her to a bed, and she stayed at the hostel at least until after I left.

I am not sure what lesson to learn from this. Upon recounting this story to my aunt who lived in China for a time, she told me that there are three different types of expats: the ones who are just doing their jobs, the ones who are abroad because they enjoy it, and the ones who are abroad because they burn all the bridges behind them. I think she wanted to turn it into a cautionary tale, but I was never at risk of becoming a Fred. Whatever lesson I could have learned had already been installed by the sense of basic human decency I grew up with.

Garrick also shared some parting thoughts with me the afternoon I left Brno. He told me that typically a hostel is a liminal place, a place to occupy only out of necessity while the adventure of travel happens outside of it. Garrick considered Fred an inversion of that, that Fred made the liminal space a dramatic chapter in its own right, which eclipsed the dates and adventures I went on and the ossuaries I visited. I’m not sure how much credence I lend to that idea. It’s a fascinating thought to keep in mind, though.

I don’t really have a conclusion. Seven months later, I came back to Brno to visit my friend, and I stayed again at that hostel. The staff remembered me, and we reminisced a little bit about the trauma we shared. It was nothing substantial. I guess characters just kind of pop into our adventures when we least expect it. There’s no way to plan for it. Awful people exist. You will interact with awful people. I know that all too well; I worked in retail. But even that doesn’t feel like the right conclusion to draw from this story.

Maybe there are no conclusions.

Remember to like and share! And if you feel like I need to be compensated for emotional damages wrought by Fred, be sure to leave a tip! I might as well profit a little bit off of this guy.

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About the Creator

Steven Christopher McKnight

Disillusioned twenty-something, future ghost of a drowned hobo, cryptid prowling abandoned operahouses, theatre scholar, prosewright, playwright, aiming to never work again.

Venmo me @MickTheKnight

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Comments (2)

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  • Mackenzie Davis10 months ago

    Indeed, he sounds like the worst American, like ever. At least by all my personal metrics. Okay, probably not *ever*. But maybe close. I cannot believe how calm you seemed to be in every interaction. What a drain that must have been, not to react to this man. I applaud your stoicism and confidence to use the hostel as it was intended, and not let Fred ruin the experience beyond all utility. I don't think I could have behaved as such. I would have avoided him at all costs. I like the way Garrick interpreted the experience. Liminal spaces becoming dramatic...now that's a very thought provoking concept. I agree with him; if this is a story you tell more than the rest of the stories of your trip, then Fred was a true inversion of a liminal space. How interesting! This was a great read, Steven. I always enjoy your humor and dialogue with the reader. And yes, I've been bingeing your older stuff. But only because I have nothing new of yours to read! Sorry to be crowding your notifications with my comments.

  • Cathy holmes12 months ago

    Oh, what an aggravating SOB he was. Love the humour in your piece. Well done.

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