Anybody who traveled overseas 30 years ago is probably familiar with the phrase Ugly American. 

As a teenager, I was advised to avoid being one by a fixer in Italy. I was there playing soccer with an American youth team, and when he wasn’t driving the bus, negotiating hotel room damage, or apologizing on our behalf, the fixer taught us inappropriate phrasing to try on unassuming, uninterested, and never-going-to-happen Italian women.

On a bus ride from Verona, a team member expressed his frustration with the seemingly inverted result of revulsion that his actions seemed to have on the opposite sex.

The fixer shook his head. 

The key, he said, was not to be an Ugly American.

“What the f is that?” asked Blaine, the concerned, mulleted sweeper from Gainesville.

“That you,” replied the fixer in stunted English.

Blaine was handsome, with pubic hair in all the right places. He was also loud, entitled, and never wrong.

Like many of the voices coming at us, from all angles.

Blaine stalked down the aisle to his lair in the back of the bus, where his sycophants (all but one of the team’s defense) encouraged his ignorance of what the fixer had actually been trying to say.

The sole holdout was the goalkeeper, Fabio, who raised his eyebrows at me as he climbed over my stick legs, from his window seat to the aisle.

He came from Kansas, and was by far the most talented player on the team. Fabio defended our goal against the punishing strikes leaking through the back line, which was anchored by Blaine, who spent more time complaining to the referee than doing his job.

Fabio squared up in front of Blaine and crossed his arms.

“Look man, can I give you some advice? Honestly?”

Blaine squinted at Fabio, sizing up the offer. Fabio was the only guy on the team that had taken girls on long romantic walks through small Italian villages, and Blaine knew it.


“If you want to get the most out of this trip, just don’t be an asshole. It’s that easy.”

Blaine leapt from his throne, caught a belt loop on his seat’s plastic armrest, and dropped to his knees.

A string of expletives poured from Blaine’s wet lips, as both the right and left fullbacks scrambled to unhook their leader’s belt loop. Fabio climbed back over me to his window seat and the fixer turned up the radio, which was playing a cassette tape that the right forward had brought.

The band was called The Origin, and after everybody else was asleep, I walked to the front of the bus and asked the fixer to rewind the tape to the song I liked the best. 

How many times have you lied outside
To make yourself feel fine?
How many times have you cried inside?
I’ll tell you I’m not growing old

And we talked in stunted English about the secrets to life, all way the back to Rome.

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