1990. My best friend JJ and I were in the midst of our Euro-tour backpacking adventure. We arrived in Salzburg, Austria - home of the The Sound of Music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and his balls. It was also home of one of the most popular youth hostels in Europe, according to the backpackers' bible, Let's Go. As backpackers, we were more interested in the legendary party status of the hostel than the other attractions.
The hostel did not disappoint. It had clean rooms with bunkbeds (don't ask if I had sex in one of them. Yes.) and was situated right in the heart of town. But most important, it had a fabulously cheap little pub right on the first floor. It was like hanging out in your friend's basement, and everyone staying there congregated in the pub day and night.
Understand that backpackers are, on the whole, slobs. We are budgeters, living off very little each day in order to stretch out our adventures for as long as possible. Our clothes are usually dirty and rumpled. Our hair is messy and free of mousse or gel. We drink cheap beer and eat cheap food. It's a glorious existence. As we sat in our new favorite hang-out our first night in Salzburg, a decidedly unbackpack-like figure came into the bar. He was tall and pale. He wore a long tweed coat and dark sunglasses. His dark hair was slicked back, and his high chiseled cheekbones made him look like he had been cut from stone. He was completely out of place, and yet his presence was so commanding that he fit right in. His eyes scanned the crowded tables and settled on JJ and me. The next thing we knew, Jeffrey was heading towards our table carrying three glasses of fine red wine.
He proved to be an interesting character. He was charming, chivalrous, and had impeccable manners. His accent was indiscernible. He was vague about what he did for a living and where he lived. He bought us lots of wine and kept the conversation lively and fasinating. He spent the entire evening with us, and then suddenly he said he was hungry and had to go. He did not invite us to go with him, but he promised to come back to see us the next night.
As we got ready for bed, JJ asked me what I thought of our new friend.
"He's a vampire," I responded.
"I know," she replied, not in the least bit surprised by my statement, "what tipped you off?"
"He never took one sip of his wine the whole night," I noted.
"Do you realize he called you by your full name, and you hadn't told it to him?"
"Fuck, I didn't even notice that."
"I can't wait to see him tomorrow!"
The next day, we met two pretty Australian boys on The Sound of Music tour (someday I will blog about that). We spent the day with them, and then met up with them for dinner downstairs as they were - conveniently - also staying at the hostel. As we sat on the floor of the crowded pub eating our dinner of Weiner Schnitzel, mushy potatoes, and Austrian beer, we told them about Jeffrey the Vampire. The boys thought we were wacked out Yanks who had read too much Anne Rice (I admit that we had read the Vampire Chronicles obsessively). And then Jeffrey arrived.
He was clearly disconcerted when he saw the boys there, and the boys seemed just as uncomfortable with his appearance. We knew that Jeffrey wouldn't leave because of the boys, and we also knew the boys were hoping to get lucky, so they weren't going anywhere either. We were curious, dying to find out more about him. I remember him smiling at me in a knowing way when he brought me my wine. He was completely focused on JJ and me, barely acknowledging the boys.
"We know," I said.
"I know," he replied, not in the least bit surprised by my statement, "what tipped you off?"
He laughed and pushed his glass to me. "No point in keeping up that appearance anymore," he said.
The boys were freaked. They started to back their chairs away, but Jeffrey insisted they had nothing to fear. We spent the rest of the night grilling Jeffrey about his life - or rather - his life of being dead. Again, while he gave us details about himself, everything was vague, surface, glossed over. I remember him telling us that we intrigued him, and that he never hurt anyone who intrigued him. The boys did not intrigue him, and he made that clear. But they were with us, and that was enough for him. The boys, still disbelieving, got up and said they needed to use the bathroom. Jeffrey stood up and leaned on my boy's chair. When he returned, Jeffrey asked if his sister enjoyed hearing about him. I thought the boy was going to shit himself - he had been on the phone with his sister back in Australia - telling her about Jeffrey.
Jeffrey finally decided it was time to go. I'm assuming he needed to "eat." Before he left, I insisted we take a picture together. He agreed, and posed with me and the boy. The flash went off, but then Jeffrey shook his head.
"No," he said.
"What's wrong?", I asked.
"That won't work. Here let's try it again," he said. He reached into his pocket and put his sunglasses on, and then pulled me away from the boy, so it was only the two of us in the picture. When the flash went off again, Jeffrey smiled.
"Better," he said, and then hugged us goodbye. We never saw him again.
We always sent our film home while we were backpacking. Having it developed in Europe was expensive, and we didn't really want to carry around all those pictures. When I got home several months later, I couldn't wait to finally see all the fabulous shots we had taken. As I looked through the Salzburg pictures, I noticed something odd.
The picture of Jeffrey, the boy, and me did not come out. It was completely black - even though I specifically remember the flash going off and how he blinked at the brightness. There was nothing there, not even an outline or a hint of something in the shot. It was just inky blackness.
The picture of Jeffrey and me came out just fine.
Believe what you will.