Imagine me at the Platzl Hotel in Munich this past Sunday. I had just wrapped up the European swing of the Peace, Love & Postcards World Tour and I thought I’d cool my heels in Bavaria. Plus, it was a special day.
I checked with the front desk to see if I had any messages from OG. The receptionists were dressed in dirndls and they politely stifled a laugh at my German accent. Nein, Mein Herr. Sie haben keine Nachrichten, they told me. Vergelt’s Gott, I said as a word of thanks I learned in Bavaria. Again, that twinkle in their eyes.
No messages in hand, I went to the Kafffeehaus outside the hotel. It was a beautiful spring day. Plus, I loved wearing lederhosen and sipping coffee and a tiny glass of water (just one, because not unlike in Vienna, the waiters in Munich will bring you a single drink, then ignore you for the rest of the day).
I had just gotten my cup of coffee and starting reading the Süddeutsche Zeitung, when I heard the clopping of horse’s hooves and the jingling of bells. OG was shouting to me from the carriage. Time for a birthday adventure, I heard OG yell as the horses pulled up right in front of my table. Jeztz gehts los — let’s go — she said. She didn’t leave a message at the front desk. She was the message.
Now, imagine for a second what all the people at the hotel were thinking. It was the quiet of a Sunday morning. Then OG pulls up in a horse-drawn wagon and says we’re going on an adventure. That was a lot of excitement for the center of Munich on April 24.
It got better.
You see, April 24 was OG’s birthday. And she was carrying an armload of birthday flowers her friends had given her during her all-night birthday party. And she wasn’t ready to stop right then. I asked for two coffees to go, pulled my keys out of my pocket, and OG hopped down from the carriage.
Let’s take the Bulli, she said.
Since the Peace, Love & Postcards World Tour was just wrapping up its European swing in Munich, what better way to have an adventure than to take that old Bulli van out for a spin on the Autobahn? But OG had other ideas in mind.
She directed me to a throwback petrol station on the outskirts of Munich, and told me to park the Bulli. Then she gestured to the classic Mercedes sitting there. If we’re going to go for a fast ride, we’re going to go fast. Really fast.
OG climbed behind the wheel of the big car and turned the radio up to full volume. You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones blared from the open windows as OG told me where we were going. I could barely hear her, but what I understood was that we were headed to the Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in the Bavarian Alps. Normally, that drive takes 90 minutes. OG drove us there in half that time.
My heart thumped when OG skidded into a parking spot at the base of the mountain. You see I’m super afraid of heights. OG isn’t afraid of anything. OG said we were gonna scramble to the top of the mountain. She wanted to be at the top of the world on her birthday. I nervously agreed.
It was quite a trek. And OG wanted to go fast. Adventures with OG are like this. She was gonna enjoy every one of the 24 hours of her birthday on the 24th. And she did.
Here’s the birthday girl swirling some rope while she stood on the edge of the peak. I took this photo while I had one arm and both my legs wrapped around a railing on the hiking trail.
You can’t always get what you want. But on Adventures with OG, you get what you need.
It’s 2003. OG and I just finished our 13-hour shift painting a giant mural of the world’s largest lobster on the side of Lobster Shack, when my flip phone rings. I look at the caller ID: European Space Agency.
“You’ve been chosen,” the caller says. “We’ve been chosen,” I yell to OG from my lounge chair at one end of the wall. “Chosen for what?” OG yells back. I shrug. Then ask a few more questions. Very few. The caller isn’t in the mood for chatting.
“We’ll send a car. Be ready in an hour,” the caller says sternly. I look at OG. “We got it. The painting job. In Paris. Only thing is we have to go right now.”
OG and I had applied for a painting job for the European Space Agency (ESA). We thought it would be fun to get a new experience for our fledgling painting company. Even if it meant painting office walls. After all, ESA’s headquarters are in the City of Lights. And we could advertise that we were painters in Paris.
I know, I bet you’re thinking it’s a bit strange that the European Space Agency would send a car for us, just two unknown mural painters who were hired to paint office walls. We thought it was strange, too. But we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Our other option was that OG would have to pedal our only bicycle with me sitting on the back rim holding our bags. And that’s a long bike ride from Ogunquit, Maine to an international airport.
The car they sent was a VW Microbus. “A Bulli!” OG said as a big smile appeared on her face. She yanked open the driver’s door and gestured for The Chauffeur to move over. “I’ll drive.”
OG didn’t exactly drive to the airport. The steering wheel was just for show, and the guidance system in the Microbus took us to a trailer park.
“What is this?” I asked from the back seat. I was cranking the camper top up and down and not paying attention to where we were going. “You’ll see,” said The Chauffeur. Then she told OG, “Stop here.”
OG switched off the engine, and we just sat there for a minute. Wondered what in the heck was going on. An hour ago we were painting a lobster on the side of a building, and the next hour we’re sitting in a Bulli in Alquitran Vista Trailer Park.
The Chauffeur moved her eyes to one side, and with a tilt of her head indicated we should get out of the VW. “You both go in the Yellow Trailer. I’ll bring your bags in a minute,” she said. OG and I looked side-eyed at each other. We were getting a little suspicious. What was going on here? We thought we were going to Paris. Did we get hired to paint the inside of a trailer in rural New Hampshire? That wasn’t gonna do much for our advertising or our reputation.
When we went inside the Yellow Trailer there was nothing but barrels upon barrels that were labeled BLACK PAINT, a few large paintbrushes, some bins labeled SPACE FOOD, and two tilted chairs with lots of seat belts.
“Um, did we just get kidnapped?” OG asked as we stood in the middle of the Yellow Trailer. After a few minutes, The Chauffeur rushed through the door. She wasn’t carrying our bags. But she was carrying spacesuits. “Put these on,” she said, as if it was every day that we used spacesuits for painting.
“Is the paint toxic?” I asked as I struggled to pull on the spacesuit pants. ‘We usually just wear painting smocks when we paint.” Actually, I usually wore lederhosen, but that was too much information.
“Hurry up,” The Chauffeur said. “We don’t have much time. You’ll get your instructions after blast off.”
“Blast off?” OG and I asked at the same time. “Blast off?”
“Put on your suits. Fast. You only have two minutes. Then sit down in those chairs. And pull the seatbelts tight.” And with that last instruction, The Chauffeur ran out of the door of the Yellow Trailer. We could hear her lock up from the outside.
OG and I liked adventures. But we thought we would be painting in Paris. Now we were strapped into easy chairs and wearing spacesuits. We were waiting for our friends to come in the door and laugh and say it was all a big prank.
TEN-NINE-EIGHT-SEVEN. A countdown was coming over a loudspeaker. “I don’t think we’re going to be painting in Paris,” OG said over her communication headphone.
SIX-FIVE FOUR-THREE-TWO. “This is gonna be a heckuva story if we live through it,” I said to OG as the Yellow Trailer began to shake violently. I wasn’t sure we’d be alive to tell the story.
We could feel the Yellow Trailer liftoff. OG and I looked out the windows. There was a black dog wagging its tail. That was our last glance at Earth and Earthlings for a long while.
When we were in flight, we got our instructions. “We’re sending you to Saturn, to paint the sky,” said Intercom Voice. “Space has suddenly turned a strange shade of green, and we need you to get up there and paint it black. Yes, I started singing the lyrics. “No time for frivolity,” said Intercom Voice. “You need to concentrate. And get to work.”
I took that picture of OG when she first started painting the night sky near Saturn. She was the best large format mural painter in the world, and now I told her she was the best in the universe. Also, I liked her focus on safety; even though we were in zero gravity, she still used scaffolding.
As you can imagine, painting space can take a long time. Space is vast. And it’s lonely out there. After who-knows-how-long, we started to get a bit nostalgic for the Lobster Shack. We would send radio transmissions to Intercom Voice from time to time, updating our painting progress. But all we ever heard back was, “Keep going. We’ll let you know when your work is complete.”
I was getting tired of this endless task. And I was getting tired of eating space food. Sure, it was fun eating Space Ice Cream for the first few months, but then I was getting too fat to fit in my spacesuit. But the alternative was bad. Have your ever tried Space Broccoli? Trust me, you don’t want to. I just ate less Space Ice Cream.
“We got a postcard!” I heard OG shout one morning as I was waking up. (It was zero gravity, so we slept anywhere we wanted in the Yellow Trailer. That morning I was sleeping on the ceiling. “It’s from Earth,” she said. “Or at least closer to Earth. It’s from the Moon.”
WISH YOU WERE HERE. That was the message. We looked for more clues. None. But we were running out of paint, and figured our job must be coming to an end.
“Who do you think it’s from?” I asked OG. “Not sure,” she said. “At least someone knows we’re here.”
Just then, we got a transmission on our video system. It was the first time it ever came on.
“You. Will. Be. Transported. To. Metropolis.,” the Copper Robot said.
“Where’s Metropolis?” I asked. “Are we done here? Did we paint enough of the sky?
“All. Will. Be. Revealed. To You. Fear. Not.”
“Well, I’m scared,” I said to OG. “I’m a little worried myself,” she said. And this is from someone who was always up for a challenge and an adventure. And never scared. “We’ll be okay,” she reassured me. I wasn’t sure.
The next minute we felt our Yellow Trailer being lifted up. And then things went blurry.
When we woke up, we were on a tightrope with a weightlifter dressed in a flower petal tutu.
“I hate heights,” I said out loud. “You’re fine,” said the weightlifter. “We’re in zero gravity. You can’t fall.” OG let out a little laugh.
“Did you need a painter?” OG asked the weighlifter. “Otherwise, what are we doing here?”
The weightlifter just smiled. Flashed a red paper heart at her, and said, “I’m a Magical Faerie. My task is to transport you to our leader.” And at that moment, the Magical Faerie tossed aside his barbells, fluffed his flower petal tutu, and said, “Follow me.”
OG and I walked across the tightrope, and on the far platform was a set of guys drinking coffee and eating bits of burned bread. I wanted some. Remember how I said I was sick of space food?
“Are you the leaders?” OG asked? The men just grunted, and the Magical Faerie tittered. “We are just another door you have to open on your journey to the Great Blue One,” the one in the beehive hat said. And with that, he waved us away. “Follow me,” said our Magical Faerie. “We’re getting closer.” I grabbed a bit of bread on my way out.
I have to say, when we entered the next chamber that contained this creature, I was quaking. Scared. Wondering what was gonna happen.
“Can you speak?” OG asked the vermicular creature. “Are you the Great Blue One?” A high and sharp sound emanated from the yellow part on its body. We both thought that must be its mouth.
“The Chihuly doesn’t speak,” the Magical Faerie said. “It just is.”
“Take us to your leader,” OG said. Even though I was nervous, I laughed. She said it like she was starring in a science fiction movie. I was just hoping we wouldn’t get probed by aliens.
When we entered the next room, we both knew were were with the leader. “The Great Blue One will speak,” said the Magical Faerie. And with that, he fluffed his tutu once more, and waved goodbye to us with his red paper heart. “It’s been a pleasure to be your Magical Faerie,” he said as he danced across the tightrope.
“YOU WILL PAINT A MURAL THAT DISPLAYS MY GREATNESS,” bellowed the Great Blue One. “NOW, PAINT.”
OG picked up a brush, and before I could even move, she finished the mural of The Great Blue One. She even wrote her nom de plume below it: Kayla Nicolaso.
“YOU HAVE DONE WELL, YOUNG SPACE TRAVELER,” the Great Blue One said to OG in his James Earl Jones voice. “YOU, ON THE OTHER HAND,” it said to me. He shook his giant head. Then the Great Blue One waved his massive hand and the eagle on his head brought us a Saturn V rocket in its mighty beak. (Did I mention the Great Blue One was huge? I mean like space-sized huge.)
“YOU MAY GO HOME NOW,” the Great Blue One droned. “TAKE THIS ROCKET. AND PAINT MY IMAGE ON A WALL IN AN ALLEY IN SAN FRANCISCO. AND PAINT THE SKY ON YOUR WAY HOME. NOW BE GONE WITH YOU.”
On our way home, OG and I splashed colored paints out of the rocket as we were flying over the North Pole. And even though people thought they were seeing the most spectacular Aurora Borealis ever, what they really were seeing was the handiwork of two space muralists. But we’ll never tell.
OG and I were lounging after a long day at Oktoberfest, watching Aliens for the 37th time, when the phone rang. Blocked caller. Reluctantly, OG answered her phone and immediately looked like she regretted it. She grimaced. Waved her free hand in the air.
Yes. Okay. Understood. Those were her one-word answers as she listened to the person on the other end talking at a staccato clip.
I didn’t understand a thing, but from the look on OG’s face, I knew it was serious. Deadly serious. Like, “In space, no one can hear you scream” serious.
“We have an assignment,” OG said as she tossed down the phone. “We have to go. Now.”
“Go where?” I asked. “We haven’t even gotten to the part where where the alien pops out of Kane’s chest. That’s the best part.” I pleaded. I was whining. And pouting a little.
“SCHNELL,” is all OG said. I hopped up. Pushed pause on the movie. And grabbed my coat.
“Where are we going?” I gasped as I ran to catch up. OG was already sprinting down the stairs and vaulting into an idling SUV. One of those official-looking government vehicles. You’ll see,” she said, mysteriously. “You’ll see.”
An hour later, OG and I are in spacesuits on top of a hot rocket. We’re strapped in and ready. And at the last second before the technicians close the cargo bay door, Hal, the lead technician, leans in and hands OG a large mechanical device. “You’ll need this up there,” he says as he backs out of the capsule. “Take good care of it. We’re counting on you.”
And an in instant, they lit that candle and OG and I were blazing at warp speed out to the Kuiper Belt.
Turns out, OG and I were tapped to vacuum space. We had become internet famous for our YouTube channel, This Sucks, where we tested all kinds of home and industrial vacuums. One of our most-watched videos included the time we went to the original Legoland in Denmark and I lost control of a giant industrial vacuum we were testing, accidentally sucking up a million Lego bricks that were being used to build a replica of The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen. The Danes were not amused. But you really can’t tell with Danes. They have a particular way about them. They don’t react much.
OG and I were also were internet famous for using a Dustbuster to vacuum a 100km stretch of the Autobahn. We cleaned the lint traps in all the clothes dryers in laundromats in Brooklyn. And in our most famous test, we tried out 43 types of vacuums to clean up after a crafter in Tierra del Fuego dropped a bottle of glitter on her desk. Nothing worked. We failed. (An Argentinian PhD student did her dissertation on The Mathematical Distribution of Micro-glitter from Tierra del Fuego to the South Pole and the Effects of a Glitter Bombs. Trust me, glitter goes everywhere. Her research shows we all are likely to encounter that glitter sometime in our life. It’s more pervasive than stardust.)
After OG and I got done vacuuming the Kuiper Belt (I could tell you why we had to do it, and why so quickly, but that’s classified), we were granted a little time off. And since it was still Oktoberfest, OG and I thought it would be fun to meld our love of Star Wars with our love of dirndls and polkas. Plus, in space, no one can hear anything. (It’s the vacuum of space!) So we could blast our music as loudly as we wanted. What? Were our neighbors on Neptune gonna complain?
The best part about that cleanup of the Kuiper Belt, besides the fact we had a killer YouTube video to show, was that we got to stop by Moonbase on the way home. And I mean, Vespas are fun, and so is driving trains, but look at OG and me as we zipped around on those Moonbase Patrol Scooters.
Well, all good things have to come to an end. But as a special thank you, the People-Who-Called-OG-and-Will-Remain-Nameless asked us what we’d like to do back on earth. OG said she always wanted a ride on the Concorde. So they got one of the SSTs out of mothballs and gave us a ride. OG sat in the same seat where David Bowie sat years earlier. We ate canapés. And flew from New York to London and back to New York. Because…why not?
I asked for a Dick Tracy watch. “Um, how about an Apple Watch?” said the head of People-Who-Called-OG-and-Will-Remain-Nameless. “More features than a Dick Tracy watch.”
I nodded. And OG looked over at me. “Wanna watch the end of Aliens?” I asked her. “Yeah, let’s do that,” OG said as she flipped on the video player in the Concorde. “In space no one can hear you scream.”
Did I ever tell you about that? Nah, I probably didn’t. So, here goes.
Our adventure starts with OG and me as we meandered through the labyrinthine side streets of Fez, Morocco. We had just arrived in town a few days earlier after we spent a year working at an archeological dig at the Capitoline Temple in Volubilis. Our visas were due to expire.
I wanted to visit the Fez’s famous leather shops, and even though OG doesn’t like leather, she agreed to join me as long as we could do something to overcome the acrid smell of the tanneries. First, we stopped in a spice shop in search of ras el hanout — the exquisite Moroccan mix of salt, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, allspice, black pepper, and ginger. And, I was looking for mint sprigs to hold under our noses for the tannery visit. Alas, that would have to wait.
We heard a massive ruckus. Men screaming and cursing in Arabic and Berber and French. Children crying. And the thumping and crashing of pottery smashing on the ground in the claustrophobia-inducing bazaar. Just then, OG poked her head out of the spice stall we were in and yanked in a tall, thin man with orange hair who just a second before had been scurrying and scampering around the mass of bodies in the street.
The thin man went nearly vertical as OG pulled him into our shop. She directed him to scrunch down and urged me to help stack spice sacks around him. As I added the last burlap bag to obscure him, he looked up. The thin man had one brown eye and one blue eye.
A huge mass of people came dashing past, screaming and shouting. Ziggy. Ziggy. Ziggy. There were hundreds of them pulsing and pushing through the souk. Half a dozen of the crew crashed into the shop we were in.
Ziggy, they yelled, imploring us to tell them if we had seen the man.
Who’s Ziggy, OG asked, first in Arabic, and then in French.
Ziggy. Ziggy. ZIGGY, an unbearded man said, breathing heavily. Ziggy Stardust. ZIGGY.
OG shook her head. No. And she waved the mob off.
After another 15 minutes passed, the medina quieted down. OG bent down to let the thin man out from behind the spice sacks. He got up and brushed cumin from his hair. And dusted cinnamon from his shirt.
And just then, it dawned on me. The eyes. David Bowie looked right at OG admiringly and said this:
OG was a hero. And for her smart and strong move, we got invited to be on stage at the thin man’s concert in Marrakesh. And Bowie sent OG a poster to commemorate her heroism in saving him from the mob in Fez. Here’s a postcard OG made from that poster to help me recall another Adventure with OG.