I took the regional train to and from Rome every day to go to work at the Internet point on via S. Agata de Goti. It was called Romalife, and you had to descend four steps to enter. The place was painted an angry, dark blue, lit with a 60-watt bulb, and there were six ancient computers set up on cold steel tables: two rows of two facing the door, and two more in their own private cubbies along the right side. I set up my laptop connection at a counter in front of the cubbies, closer to the door. I was the first person you saw coming in, as the register was on the left behind a steel bookshelf filled with dusty computer accessories for sale.
I came in about 1PM every day and worked until about 6:30 – I had to make sure I caught the train that met the last local shuttle of the night in Lavinio at 8PM. If I wanted to stay in town later than that, I’d either have to try my luck with the town taxi driver, who was always either eating or watching soccer and couldn’t be bothered; walk home three kilometers; or spend the night in Rome.
Luckily, I had no friends and nowhere to be at night other than an occasional dinner with Hank and Chiara, so I had no problem getting that last train – until I received a dinner and sleepover invitation from the guy who ran the Internet point.
Marco was around my age and reminded me of an overgrown, mischievous altar boy. He greeted me warmly every day and over those first few months, became my first true friend in Rome. He spoke English pretty well and was patient with our language barrier; he knew when to correct me and when to let me keep talking because it was more important for me to get my message across than to say it 100 percent correctly.
Because Romalife was on a tiny side street and frankly looked uninviting, there were not many customers; Marco and I often found ourselves alone in there. If work was slow, I’d sometimes sign off early and we’d go grab a prosecco, a bite of pizza or a treat from some little place it seemed only Marco knew about.
More often than not, though, his two friends Giovanni and Vincenzo stopped by and hung out, downloaded music, and made each other cry with laughter. If anything makes you want to learn a foreign language, it’s a room full of people cracking each other up.
Giovanni was tiny, cherubic; I came to find that his acerbic wit was a legally registered lethal weapon. He usually stopped at the top of the stairs upon his arrival and proclaimed something in his most serious voice, and they’d fall over laughing. I love people like this, and I wanted to be his friend more than anything.
Vincenzo had kind, dreamy eyes and spoke softly, but had a way of telling a story that absolutely debilitated Marco and Giovanni.
Giovanni could understand most of what I said in English if I spoke slowly and distinctly, but his tendency was to answer in German, which is the only other language he speaks; Vincenzo… well, here is a list I made in my journal one day:
Vincenzo’s current English vocabulary:
Maybe baby shoes
I like you
Please get off
Erotical, eroginal zones
Tank you Indians, tank you Terrence (sung to Thank U, by Alanis Morrisette; the actual words are, “Thank you India/Thank you terror”)
Needless to say, we stuck to Italian.
As we got to know each other better, they were horrified when I told them of my solitary nights in silent, empty Lavinio. Marco hatched a plan for me to come in to Rome on Saturday night, go out to dinner with him and Vincenzo and then crash at Vincenzo’s, where Marco also was living at the time.
The thought of actually spending an entire evening with only Italians and speaking only Italian was terrifying and thrilling; I hadn’t been out in so long, and I was so touched by their invitation. I hesitated and stammered a bit as I accepted.
They misread my reaction as my accepting a date with Marco. And that is when, in one fell swoop, a room full of gay men came out to me.
I already knew they were gay, so I had no idea why they were telling me right then, and I got all flustered and confused. I’m sure you can guess the hilarity that ensued as we cleared up the miscommunication.
We had a great time that weekend, although it was exhausting to concentrate so hard on the language – listening comprehension is my worst language skill. I got home on Sunday afternoon and slept until Monday morning; I arrived at Romalife on Monday afternoon to find that I had become the unofficial doyenne of my very own gay mafia.
Read the chapters that come before and after this charming story by purchasing your very own, shiny black copy of Miss Expatria, now available on Amazon.