The Interlink English School on the inside was bare, painted white, with minimal furnishings and a polished granite tile floor. It smelled of powerful cleaning solution and stale cigarettes. This was basically an office with bars on the windows that had been converted into a school. This would be where these Bergamascan suburb locals would come with the belief they would one day learn enough English to venture outside of Zingonia. I thought to myself: who in their right mind wouldn’t aspire to that as I looked through the bars on the window at the graffiti beyond. I would work for an air compressor factory in the export department just down the street from this school that following year. I told a young secretary named Paola in the office once that I was from Montana. “You’re from Montana, in the United States, and you came to live in this toilet?” she asked incredulously in thick Bergamascan Italian dialect. “Yes,” I replied, then hastened, “but only for a while.”
Inside the school there was a small sink, a toilet in a closet, and a single heat radiator on the wall in by the entry. There were two classrooms with doors and then a small upfront office space that also was used as a classroom. Lloyd put some English instruction books on the desk and told me to take them with me to review after I he dropped me back at the hostel. “About that,” I said to Lloyd, “Do you know of anyone with an apartment that I can rent?” Lloyd demurred and said he didn’t, but would keep his ears open. Maybe try the paper. The hostel permitted me to stay a maximum of 3 days, then I was on my own to find lodging elsewhere. I had two days remaining.
Those two days came and went, and just like that, I was homeless in a foreign country where I knew no one. I’ve never written that down before, but it’s accurate. My parent's home in Montana was literally a world away. I missed them terribly. My funds were very finite at this point, but I did have enough for a return ticket. I flirted with the idea of the cash exit. Maybe this whole thing has been a giant idiotic mistake, a folly, and it was time wise up or more aptly, grow up. That moment in my life that I was living was a bit like a dare between buddies standing on a dock talking smack about who could swim across a lake. It all seems entirely doable at 24 years old. But at some point during the swim, the inevitable thought always shows up: God, this is a lot further than it looked. And then on cue: Maybe I should turn around. I was in that place in Zingonia. I was treading water, looking at the pine trees on the other side of the lake and bobbing like a piece of driftwood. In the end, I tried my best to become as buoyant as I could and I kept swimming. It was a decision that I would never regret.
The good news was that I was to start teaching the next week. The hourly rate in 1990 was 18,000 lira/hour or approximately $17.00/hour. This was great money back then and I was grateful to have found the job. However, that paycheck was a sticky source of concern. I had no idea how long that would be, two, three weeks? Again, I mentioned to Lloyd I was without a place to sleep and couldn’t afford a hotel, did he have any ideas? No, he said, but if I wanted to stay at the school that would be fine for the time being. I agreed immediately and he handed me the large skeleton key.
That night as I unrolled my sleeping bag on the main classroom conference table and climbed inside of it, I laid there looking at the streetlights shining through the bars on the windows and took a deep breath. The heat register rattled and clicked off. I sighed, yet I couldn’t help smiling a bit at the irony of it all.