HANOI — I do the same things each week, over and over, like I live in a GIF. The weekends are magical because I have sex with everybody. The weekends are worth all manner of misery. They are worth Mondays, which is when the GIF resets and I smash back down to Earth for one more ride around the nightmare circuit.
It is Monday and god damn it’s 2 pm. I always wake up at 2 pm. It will be one of those days where I will spend my waking hours cutting against the grain of the universe. The rain is here, as if to confirm my foreboding feeling, as if to say “No, you’re not getting off easy today.” The typhoons are back and will be here until September. I will need to drive my motorcycle in the rain until September.
God damn, I have to hang up my laundry and I forgot my brush my teeth last night and I’m out of cereal too.
I go online and everything sucks. The news is boring – something about Turkey. I have Facebook messages to read, but no messages from pretty young girls, which makes you wonder what the fuck the point of Facebook is. All the girls from this weekend are playing it cool. Pretty young girls ruin everything. They devalue all messages that are not from them.
What else? My YouTube traffic has collapsed. My first book is out and the publisher just mailed me a stack of eight copies. They spelled my name wrong on the copyright page, which is an irony thoroughly befitting of my awkward existence.
I want people to know I wrote a book but I don’t want them to actually read it. Having a book out feels like you’ve just laid your balls on a table and everyone is walking by with a mallet. What if they judge me?People, just imagine that it’s amazing and let’s have that be the end of it. “Fred is a genius” is all you should think.
Writing and YouTube pay nothing but dopamine and legitimacy. I can’t pay the rent with legitimacy. I remember having more money than this. It was awesome. I’m getting tired of being legitimate and having no money.
I have another message – seems that I might get sued by the publisher due to a clusterfuck with the photo releases. Sue me, see what you get. My budget is on life support. I make $200 a week from my job, which is correcting Vietnamese people’s pronunciation mistakes. Said mistakes are legion. Vietnamese people pronounce “difficult” as “difficunt.” It’s less hilarious after the thousandth time. One girl kept saying “delicious friend” in class yesterday. “I love my delicious friend,” she kept saying. “When I go home, I turn on my delicious friend.” It took me five minutes of linguistic detective work to realize she was trying to say “electric fan.”
You can see that this is a job that will slowly corrode your mind. In exchange for each week of this spiral-eyed torture I am given $200. I am poor. All my pants have holes in them. I am pretty much 30 years old, and still poor. I make no money because salary negotiations with my boss must be handled in Vietnamese, and I don’t speak any Vietnamese. I can’t count past seven in Vietnamese. I have been here an entire year.
Suffice it to say that during the week everything sucks, and life is quite difficunt.
It’s my sister’s birthday. This year she made a change and became a nun who lives a life of service to others. She’s younger than me. 27 today.
I woke up still me. I woke up to the street vendors howling as the cops smashed their stools. I had glitter on my balls. My problem is that I wake up with glitter on my balls very often. Flecks of glitter are fiendishly difficult to excise from the shapeshifting sponge that is a scrotum.
You would think that after a decade of top-gear hedonism I’d be ready to ease up but you would be wrong. I want to go out even more now. I start thinking about next Saturday night before the sun has even gone down on this Saturday. Oh God this thing is never gonna stop or slow down is it?
This week was good. I bought a really tight T-shirt. I realized I think about my biceps all the time.
I’ve ceased my pursuit of wisdom. I forgot how good it feels to buy new shit. I’ve snapped back hard into materialism. I’ve relapsed back hard into wanting to be liked. I started posting on Facebook again. The gravitational pull of corporate dopamine is too much for me. I am an insect and if other insects look at me then it’s Christmas for 5 seconds.
I do not command attention in person. I only exist on a screen. This blog, for example. And then there’s the YouTube videos I make for Vietnamese people. I am literally getting recognized on the street. I am Internet Famous in a Southeast Asian country; this is the type of humorous secret backstory of sitcom characters that their friends don’t discover until Season 3 when the show needs a jolt.
I have ridden the rocket of white privilege to strange new heights. I think the only thing I wish for all the time is to be funnier. Humor is the only way to be heard. Because there are no more sabertooth tigers eating your kids and everyone is safe and fine now and so we would like to hear a joke, please. If you’re not funny then get the fuck out.
But then again, of course I’m not funny. I’m already tall and handsome. Every man only gets two out of three.
There is always a party. I routinely return home at 7 am and go to sleep on Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheets, because these sheets are what the landlord had laying around, and that’s good enough for me. Again, I sleep on Winnie-the-Pooh sheets and I’m 29 years old. Also, I am now down to only three pairs of boxer briefs, which means “Underwear Days” are a thing in my vocabulary. I am probably the most single man in the world.
What else? My travel book is being published next month but I’m hesitant about how to brag about it on social media. I think I have to go sarcastic/ironic with it. It’s a Real Book, but the Communist censors cut most of the teeth out of it. All that’s left of it is the literary equivalent of an in-flight magazine. All that’s left of it is basically a few listicles on where to find pho. Essentially, I have as much bragging rights as the dweebs who edit math textbooks.
Uh well I got a job making YouTube videos, but not because I’m talented. It’s because I live in Vietnam and there’s only six white people here. I am definitely not on camera because I’m handsome enough to be on camera. I mean – I know I’m not a bridge troll. But I’m also not a model. I’m what they call HIV (Handsome in Vietnam). Being HIV, so to speak, allows me to occasionally lure women onto my Winnie-the-Pooh sheets, too. My life is sort of a joke.
I’ve been in Vietnam for a year and I’ve had a few drugs, a few motorcycle crashes, a few thousand drinks and a few epiphanies that didn’t last. For the sake of exploding my perspective and getting inspired, I should leave soon. I’ll make some videos and then I’ll leave. I’ll go to some more parties and then I’ll leave. I’ll buy underwear when I leave.
I remember feeling proud of myself today for not knowing who had been nominated for the Oscars. I then remembered that I hate people who brag about not knowing popular things.
I went to the café and the staff stood up when I walked in like I was the President. I remember this really annoyed me but I’m not sure why.
I keep forgetting people’s names when I go out.
I need to try some new hobbies because maybe there is something out there that I haven’t tried yet that I’m naturally good at.
I mean, probably not but hey.
I have a Rain Man-ish affinity for dates and so I remember this day in 2004 I was in London with my grandparents. I had never been abroad before. I was so excited I was having trouble breathing. I thought that this girl Allison from school was going to like me a lot because I’d been to a foreign country but then I went back to America and she didn’t give a shit.
I’m in Asia now and I haven’t been home in two years.
I was on the motorcycle today and finally felt at peace in the anarchy of traffic, in this seething hardscrabble doomscape where people crash and get hit all the time. I can make time slow down and I can find the gaps and I can predict when someone else is about to do something stupid.
I got to work and took off my motorcycle helmet, which is a helmet that I think looks cool, like something Daft Punk would rock, and one of my students walked by and said it looked like a rice cooker.
I don’t know about this writing thing, or about this reading thing either. I have been reading the same book for like 3 months now and I’m only 40% through. I might not ever read another book. I might be reading this book forever. I might be doing everything that I’m doing now forever.
I have accepted that I’m just a guy. Just an average male with a standard-issue mental hard drive. By now I know that no matter how many influences I shotgun into my head, I’m not going to wake up a genius one day. I can do away with the fury of trying. I feel pretty good about that.
My editor uses words such as digital marketing and platforms. She is in the business of making her bosses rich by farming out the grunt work to me. And it has been suggested that I start a new blog under my real name — a blog which should be fit for public consumption — in order to start marketing my little travel book.
It’ll be a showcase or maybe a portfolio or some other word that’s just as douchey. I’ve taken stuff I wrote a while ago and cut, edited, and focus-grouped it to within an inch of its life. So! You should follow it, like it, love it. Just so when I go public on Facebook, there’s at least three likes on that first post.
(Oh my God, please at least just click. You don’t even need to read it. Just… click. I’ve been slinging words into the empty void for so long now that I’m really not above begging.)
When I date women, I don’t say I’m a writer, I don’t even make an oblique reference to the SIGNED BOOK CONTRACT sitting in my closet. Maybe that’s why Laura didn’t text me back. Maybe she thinks I have nothing going on in my life. Damn! Laura was hot. She wanted to hang out. It was a layup. Somehow I blew it.
So this new blog is the last card I have left. This is a blitzkrieg. I may be underwhelming in person but now everyone is going to see that, in the fake realm of the Internet, I am a genius*. In the back of my mind With all of my mind, that’s what I’m hoping for, I’m pushing all my chips in on this blog. I’m so cool!
Joke’s on me though because I think I remember Laura saying she doesn’t read much.
Fred Colton is a pretty dumb name, I’ve realized. I was watching GI Joe 2 when I was drunk on the couch at 5:00 am on Christmas morning, and learned that Bruce Willis’s character is named General Colton. I didn’t know that! Has everyone been thinking that I took my name from GI Joe 2? Probably not, but hey I’m not immune to a solipsistic worry or two.
My family is of German descent (see: “blitzkrieg,” above) and as of the 80s (after 150 years in America) we were apparently still sticking pretty hard to the ethnic names thing, because I was given the middle name of Friedrich. I shortened that to Fred, because this is 2017 and not The Sound of Music. I picked Colton because I wanted a surname that starts with C, because I used to be a big Michael Connelly and Lee Child fanboy.
One last takeaway: Fred Colton dot com will continue to exist. It’s where I practice writing and it’s where I make my confessions.
All right. Well, that’s all for tonight, kids.
*Although when it comes to expressing yourself, writing is kind of cheating, because you get infinite chances with which to restate and refine what you’re saying.
I’ve been in bed with food poisoning. I’m not surprised, because everything I eat is prepared by unwashed hands in a Vietnamese marketplace that plays host to a population of sewer rats. Every meal, you spin the barrel on the revolver again.
When I emerged from solitary confinement we had a new president. I say that I’m worried, because it’s just something you have to say in social situations. The truth is that I’m too white, too male, too straight and too Christian-adjacent to be worried.
But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not like a savior got shafted. Hillary probably wasn’t going to help you. She was Sameness. She was the perpetuation of this broken machine that crushes everyone and sucks us dry. You were still going to have to go to work on Monday.
Anyway, this is America’s problem. In theory, I care, but it’s hard to. I live in a foreigner’s settlement on a faroff planet, where the headlines don’t really touch us. We’re alien bandits who drive motorcycles, drink all the beer and take all the money. The locals don’t like us much, but they need what’s in our heads.
We know it won’t last. Eventually, the proper dark forces will coalesce over this nation, someone loud will take charge, and we’ll have to pack up and worry about reality again. Until that day, I stay prodigal.
I spent a week walking the city. Saigon was whored out to the West for a long time before the war. As a result she has clean crystal Gucci stores and streets smooth as an NBA court. I deplore American foreign policy, but you can’t deny that we leave some really pretty imperial wreckage behind. If it had gone the other way, and Vietnam had invaded us, they’d have left squat toilets.
My disdain for my Uncle Sam’s foreign engagements aside, I’m still a human with the built-in design flaw of a tribal ego, so I still find it kind of annoying that we lost this war. And I’m hurt for all those penniless draftees from Detroit or Akron or wherever who had to die here so the Skull & Bones WASPs might get bragging rights at the UN. But we lost, so there were no bragging rights to be had, and so all that really happened was that 60,000 boys were sent to slaughter in service of a scheme that didn’t work.
I’d have been one of the dead, were I born a little earlier. I’m pretty sure of this because I was a weak and impressionable boy. I would have made the kind of grunt that brainwashes real well; you can fill up my entire head with just a mantra or two.
Instead, I was born later. And when I grew up the right girls dumped me at the right times, and they freed me from reality. Every rejection was another tumbler of the lock clicking open. No one wanted me, so I was free to go. I got on a plane and now I’m here.
Vietnam used to be a kill zone for the white man, now it’s an odd, pressure-free vacuum. I work enough to survive, which for the average inmate on this prison planet is all day, every day. I work 90 minutes a day. I wasn’t snared up by the nooses that get all the other young men.
You get older, and get to know yourself better. Know yourself, and know that all you are is lucky.
I left. In Saigon’s Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport I read an email from my grandmother. She asked if I knew that my grandfather was on the team that designed this airport when he was there in 1965.
I didn’t know that. He wouldn’t have told me, because he’s never told me a word about himself. He could have been to the moon, for all I know. Supreme, bulletproof, 1930s confidence. What was that like, back when you didn’t have to say a word in order to bolster your existence?
That day I flew down to Saigon, so I’d have the authority to write about it. I had a month left to finish the book. I like the investigative aspect of it. Checking the map, listing the things I don’t know yet, then writing my interview questions.
When you’re in a new place, you should walk everywhere, and walk slow, so that you can slip under the surface of it. The game of the writer is a constant, anxious search for a new insight or angle that no one else has typed first. I’m bad at it. I miss a lot.
It was November, but Saigon is in the tropics, so it feels like the city sits on the rim of a volcano. I was drinking coffee on the street as traffic churned by and eventually witnessed a tableau that could wear the caption “Modern Vietnam.”
A fat tattooed guy, probably my age, cooled at the light in an Audi. He was born here – which is usually a real bad toss of the dart – but he was born to exactly the right parents. Next to him, his girlfriend (or mistress, or side piece) was of such otherworldly, flawless beauty that it actually hurt to look at her. On the sidewalk next to them (and at the opposite end of the spectrum of existence) another woman in a rice hat held a man impossibly deformed by Agent Orange. His head was the size of a beach ball, his body that of a toddler’s. It hurt to look at him.
Backpackers were in the mix too. You can tell how long traveling couples have been together by their proximity. When the hormones are still in full effect, they walk next to each other and jabber and grin, because they’re the luckiest people alive. Then a year goes by and there’s a change in the magnetic fields and they start to drift. She leads and he trails by a few paces, blank-faced, like a POW being force-marched somewhere. A man who would like to be me, the bachelor.
Or would he?
I’m a free man but the price tag for that is being lonely in the margins. Sometimes there’s no one to talk to. I flew down to Saigon and its seven million people, but I didn’t meet any of them for the first two days. I would walk around, then write in the café until late and get back to the hostel dorm and everyone would be dead asleep. I was back in solitary confinement.
Finally, I found some funny people. A guy from Germany, another one from Japan, and a Filipina. I tried to sleep with the Filipina, because I try to sleep with any woman in front of me. The animal within me has not yet received the message that I don’t intend to reproduce.
We walked back to the hostel together one night. She said she was going to stay down in the lobby to use her phone, so the light wouldn’t wake up anyone in her room.
I got up to my dorm. I got up the squeaky ladder to my bed. I was drunk. I texted her: ill come down and keep you company
She texted back instantly: no im good
Smooth deflection – and in her second language, no less. But like all pretty women she’s had practice. By the mid-twenties they’re all shutdown corners. It’s a nice stiff-arm to your delusions.
It was Friday morning. I left the hostel and moved to a hotel by the Bitexco Tower. I could see the helipad in the air above my window. The room had stained-wood flooring and a bathtub and giant windows. There was a doorman in the lobby and the desk ladies wore the áo dài gowns.
I was there because from Sunday to Thursday, I write, but on Friday and Saturday I try to get laid, and you can’t really get laid in a hostel. I’ve stopped lying to myself. I made peace with the fact that I’m a monster. I like women, an endless supply of them. I look at Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods and see men of my stripe. It’s just an excess of the biological urge.
Conveniently, friends of my age are already divorced. My parents were once in love or something but today they savage each other on Facebook. If you don’t break up, you cheat. If you don’t do one of those two things, you still want to. If you put love on trial, how could it win?
All you can do is hope you’re good at being single.
I went to the gym and wrestled with my tribal ego at the museum with the photos of American soldiers shooting little kids. Then I had coffee and wrote for three hours, came back to the hotel at night, did pushups and squat jumps in the room, then showered. By then it was 11:45 p.m.
Game night. Being single, you don’t have that many games. You can last maybe about as long as an NFL player. Maybe more, if you take fastidious care of yourself. Maybe less, if you go bald.
I got down to the street but didn’t have a heading. I just sat and had a Tiger and read the Saigon Times and a guy appeared in front of me and began breathing fire. When he saw me watching, he asked for money.
A bunch of young people went into a club across the street. It was at this point when real life jammed to a stop and a simulation kicked in. From that second onward, nothing went wrong. I put down the paper and walked past the dragon and into the club.
She was blonde and in a dress that was tied off with a sash like a kimono. She was money. She had the socialite demeanor, complexion and posture. Like someone at Wimbledon in the row behind Prince Harry. She was talking to a guy when I walked in, and she looked over. I’m taller; I win.
What you do when you see someone pretty is you don’t approach. You point at her and wave her over. Come here. It comes off as a ruthless power move but inwardly your mind is sparking – what you’ve just done is ultimately surreal. It’s a Hail Mary pass.
If she comes to you, then the game’s over.
She came over. She was from Sweden. When I said I was American she gave me some lip about Trump (people are very predictable). To that I said: I’m really happy for Trump. It’s nice to see a rich white male finally catching a break. By that point it had been two weeks since the election – it had taken me that long to draft the perfect smart-ass soundbite about it.
Now she’s in front of you. One rule: Whatever you do, don’t be nice.
What’s your name? You look like a Gertrude.
How old are you? You look really old… you’re definitely older than me.
We kissed and my hands started following their programming and I felt that she didn’t have any underwear. We didn’t even talk about it, we just left. In the hotel I undid the sash with one hand and pinned both her wrists with the other.
She had shockingly white tan lines. And though she’s been traveling through hostels for months she still prioritizes the behind the scenes chore of waxing.
Four times. I kept flipping her over, pushing her legs up, trying everything, devouring her as she did me. She was perfect. I was still glad she had to leave at 8:00 a.m.
I’ve stopped feeling guilty for indulging. Because I didn’t ask to be here; I was placed, without my consent, on a rock in space, and after this I have nothingness to look forward to. For a full half of my cameo in existence I’ll be too old to have what I desire. Life is a bad bargain no matter how you slice it, and the joys that come with it are but quick blips.
This narcotic dance is one of said joys. I know I’m an addict, but if you have a little perspective, how can you not be?
Saturday was another dream. I put the Swede in a taxi and went to the gym. Then I prepped for my interview with a Vietnamese girl. I got to the café and found her to be a representative for Fossil. She had one of the watches. She had this little clip in her hair and a purple blouse. We brought our coffee out on the balcony. They were doing construction on the new metro line on the street below. Something about her accent just killed me.
I paid for her coffee as thanks for the interview.
“So, I owe you money,” she said.
“No, you absolutely don’t. You gave me so much helpful information, it’s the least I can do.”
“I feel like I do,” she said. “Do you want to meet later and have dinner?”
We got noodles and exactly one cocktail afterward in a jazz club up an alley. She got woozy; she weighs under 100 pounds.
“You’ll have to drive,” she told me.
“Where do you want me to drive you?”
It was 10:00 p.m.
“I’m not sure yet.”
“Let’s go watch a movie at my hotel,” I said.
I needed a visa run so I flew to Bangkok. My old roommate lives there and we talked for two days. We’re similar enough to be brothers. I never had a brother, and his brother is dead now, and so now we’re brothers. He’s the last person on Earth who would have my back, and I his; and yet we’ve still been locked in an unspoken competition for a decade. Success and milestones, etc. Right now I’m winning. But he’s in love. He’s the kind of person for whom love exists. I’m winning now; later on I’ll be the cautionary tale.
Wednesday I landed in Danang. It’s on the central Vietnamese coast and the US military used it a hinge from which to strike up and down the country. The pictures from that museum in Saigon were taken in the aftermath of raids launched from here.
I had a moment of almost unbearable happiness as I unlocked my hotel room. I couldn’t put a fine point on it, but I think it was the sensation of freedom. I wanted it forever.
I woke up in the morning and walked the whole city and didn’t see another expat all day. After dark I went to a pub I found on Google and had a hamburger and drank a lot of beer. It was Thanksgiving Day. I drunk emailed my editor to thank her again for the opportunity. She didn’t respond.
I went back to Hanoi for my friend’s birthday and tried ecstasy. You’ve been in love before, right? An ecstasy tab is like a year’s worth of that – perfect dates and text messages from them! – all crunched into one hour. The comedown is also analogous. Months’ worth of breakup, slammed into forty-eight long hours. I thought about killing myself for two days.
The Filipina texted me again as I was coming back up:
I regret not having you come down that night… I was too shy.
I think the revocation of rejection gives you a bigger swell than acceptance does. There’s something special about people admitting they were wrong about you.
The next weekend I was out and someone called my name. A white girl I thought I’d seen before. She looks like the actress from The Departed.
“Do you remember me?” she asked.
“We were married for a while, right?”
“We met in Seoul two years ago at trivia night. You stopped me as I was walking out and asked me for my number.”
“It’s you!” I said. “You never texted back. I’ve been distraught.”
“No, you never texted back,” she told me.
We both drew our phones to check the record. She was right.
“Maybe if you’d been more interesting, then I would have texted back,” I told her.
She punched my arm. “Wanna dance?” she asked.
Then she said, “Can you drive me home?”
It’s cool to be like this when you’re not lonely, it’s cool to be like this if you’re good at it. Most of all, it’s cool to be like this when you’re young. But time makes fools of us all.
So please, just a little longer. I know that change is the only constant. But just give me this for a little longer.
I’ve been traveling and drinking and eating and drinking and drinking, and I just got home to Hanoi. I miss writing, I miss WordPress, I miss the likes hitting my smartphone, but I had nothing good to write about. Now I do. I’ll be back real soon.
Also, one or two people (out of my six readers — love you guys!) have emailed me through this blog, and I haven’t responded. I’m not ignoring you; I just can’t get access to that gmail account anymore for some reason. Maybe I got hacked! They saw I was boring guy with no money and then moved on to hack someone better. Anyway, I’ll make a new one at some point.
In the meantime, I hope the turkey was good. I hope you won the political arguments over dinner. If not, then you have a full year to research and prep for next Thanksgiving’s debate. If you do that and still somehow lose next year, then I have no sympathy for you.
(I didn’t proof this post so yell at me if you catch a flaw. #fuckit)
Can’t even manage one post a week anymore. I’m gonna have to just write whenever.
Too much going on with the book. It’s been a hard fall so far; I see the deadline coming at me like a Mack truck. Writing a book means signing up for a long era of spiritual darkness. It would be solitary confinement, except your demons are with you. I don’t know why all writers don’t kill themselves.
There’s too much going on for me to blog, and at the same time there’s not enough going on, experientially, for me to write once a day. There aren’t enough sentences that are screaming to get out of me. So I keep forcing posts and it makes me feel like a fake filthy hack. I re-read my site and I’m truly astonished. It’s all shit. Every sentence is shit. This post is more shit on the pile. Writing is darkly fascinating. It might be the only thing you can put thousands of hours into, and still be shit.
The only thing that is real is money. Absolutely everything hinges upon money. I live in Vietnam because of money, because I’m an economic refugee.
I won’t make anything off this book. I didn’t even get an advance. Because this is 2016 and there’s no money anywhere except in maybe five or six Caribbean accounts. If you want money you had to have watched Wall Street at age 12 and committed yourself to learning the practice of legally stealing it. If not, then you’re a wage slave with a bungee cord. One end is around your waist and the other is attached to your office.
So I still have to work. I’ll always have to. It’s a good job and I like it, and I can live off just 12(!) hours a week, but still. I’m over it. This shouldn’t have to be a thing. Working part-time feels like I’ve been sprung from the full-time hell only to be out on parole and have to check in with the overlords.
The world only wants what it can extract from you. You have to give give give until you’re out of steam. Simply existing is not an option. You can’t be defective, and you can’t take a break. You’re either born Bruce Wayne or you have to lie your way into a job, find some stupid socket to plug yourself into.
I’m so tired. I’m 28 but my spirit feels like it’s on loan from someone older, maybe even pulled out of someone dead.
Don’t feel bad for me. I’d have more time, but I can’t leave the girls alone. I’m Anthony Weiner, before the wrinkles. Except he’s better at sexting than me.
Friday night. She was South African, from a Dutch farm village. She was born in 1996. I can’t even begin to process that.
I thought I was the Older Man but she used to have an affair with her boss’s husband. He was 34. Also, Asian. So you know what that means. The only thing loose about her is her morals. We can barely do it. Not sure if I can handle her for long. She’s too cool, too funny, just slaying all the time. She can’t just say she likes me.
Saturday night there was the American. She’s an economic refugee as well but plans on being a trophy wife. I dig how she didn’t sugarcoat it. She has perfect tits, clover tattoos, and a tough clit. My jaw is still sore.
Not sure if I can handle her for long. Not because of sex but what happens after. American girls are traveling princesses and they don’t listen. Pillow talk is like two hours of hosting a podcast that can only book shitty guests.
My priorities are flipped. My free time should be spent on a nice hang with the dudes. That would be more fulfilling.
But goddamn it, what can I do when she texts, and she was born in 1996.
IV. Brain Chemistry
In rare moments of calm, when the static of duty clears, I re-remember that I do need therapy. Therapy costs Western prices here. The fuckers figured out how much the good stuff should be, and charged accordingly.
But I’m bipolar, I think. It gets bad. Saturday there were parties, but for an hour I couldn’t move to get out to one. Just lay on the balcony floor by the washing machine.
I do need help. I’ve been ignoring that for years, because I kept thinking that God, writing, exercise, travel, love, sex, or adrenaline would save me. But nothing did. Until now, I’ve been afraid of empowering the truth by looking at it.
Rationally, I shouldn’t feel this way. Because I generally have my shit together. So it’s gotta be a simple mental deficiency. All right, fine. I’ll get some fucking pills.
I think about the future a lot. I don’t know how I’m going to deal. I’m in my prime and it’s still all I can do to keep up. My body and the world are only going to get worse. Health money and luck are going to disappear. I don’t know what I’m going to do.
V. Your Burden on Society
I was riding home at midnight and a guy was laid out flat in the void between streetlights. His face was gashed up and blood had pooled around his head. No motorbike nearby, so it was a hit and run. Two Vietnamese dudes were milling next to him.
Anh oi, I called them. But that’s all the Vietnamese I had. I pointed at the guy on the pavement and put my hands up. What’s the deal? They Google Translated that an ambulance was coming.
I saw he had rice wine in a water bottle in his shorts pocket. He’d been walking, he’d gotten himself hammered, then gotten himself hit. His footwear had popped off. Those rubber shower shoes, knockoffs of knockoff of Crocs that poor people wear around town.
I knelt and held his hand and kept squeezing it so he’d squeeze back. He tried to roll over but I kept him on his side. I don’t know if I was supposed to do that. But I think I saw on some show one time that you’re not supposed to let people roll on their backs, so they don’t choke on their own blood. Or something? I really didn’t know what to do.
A crowd built up but no one helped. It was quiet. No one was talking to him, telling him help was coming. This is deeply strange, I thought. This is a tableau or an art installation. They watched us as if just for the experience, for maybe the story of seeing a life leave a body.
He looked at me. He couldn’t open one of his eyes. A few of his teeth were chipped. The gash was bone deep. Beneath the injury was an unremarkable face. Definitely a poor face, the living representative of a family that’s been poor back to the Stone Age. He was a pixel, ultimately forgettable, who wears the same clothes for his whole life. Millions of guys just like him.
The ambulance came after a half hour. Casually snuffled up. No sirens. The hospital was a mile away and there was no traffic. Still, it somehow took half an hour. Two female paramedics came over. No rush. They pushed him over on his back, and we all stepped away.
Someone had hit him and drove off. He was walking alone, and he’ll wake up that way. Even though prayer doesn’t work it still feels better to say one. Dear God, please help him, help everyone. Including me.
I answered the Proust Questionnaire. Vanity Fair has famous people take it when they’re desperate for material. Seeing as I’m in the same boat, I had myself take it.
If you’re a writer (and I know you are) and you like talking about yourself (and I know you do!) then give it a try too.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A perfect sentence. Preferably I’m the one delivering it.
Failing that, tits will do.
What is your greatest fear?
Never writing something perfect. Which sounds trite. But it ties into my deeper fear of never being seen the way I want to be.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Persistent, creeping pessimism.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Bland conversational predictability, which I also deplore in myself.
Which living person do you most admire?
Myself in the near future. I never quite become him, though.
What is your greatest extravagance?
A debaucherous food and beverage intake on par with Emperor Nero’s.
What is your current state of mind?
20% Hopeful, 15% Sorrowful, 65% Drunk.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Well, I look like a really tall mouse.
Which living person do you most despise?
Me, in the recent past. I don’t mean like, me in September 2016 but me always in the past. I’ve always felt that way, always broken down the game film and agonized over everything and thought you could have done that better. I’m self-absorbed, basically.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Non-American. American girls are princesses and they live inside apps. That, and they have a grating accent, which to be fair is the same as my own.
But familiarity breeds contempt, and goddamn, if I’m gonna be stuck on this planet until the lights go out, I’m gonna go see what else is at the buffet, ya feel me?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
The word “hashtag,” as in, I use it verbally. But I’m safe because that is always funny and it will be funny forever.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I have to get trite again, but it really is creativity. And the development and struggle therein. It’s an unrequited type of arrangement, because I get it right so rarely.
When and where were you happiest?
There were seven weeks in China in the summer of 2007. I was traveling with the funniest people I’ve ever been around. The dynamics and alchemy were a happy accident, and we all came alive. I didn’t stop laughing the whole summer. Life and the world itself was just a dumb little game back then.
Oh, and then a few years later when I discovered beer.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I can’t shuffle a deck of cards. Is that a talent?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Joke answer: My hammer toes.
Real answer: I actually would change myself so I’d have more of the same. I’m pretty driven and have fewer friends and experiences than I should because of it. But it’s paid off a little. I just want more drive.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In high school, a friend threw a Starburst at me from the other side of the library and I caught it in my mouth. That’s also my best memory from high school, because I didn’t get laid in high school. Or kissed!
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
Well, I’m sort of an international hobo. I have nothing. I rent a place with Winnie-the-Pooh sheets and no AC for a pittance and the motorcycle’s a rental. I can bag up my shit and be on a bus in 20 minutes.
Wait no, I have three tailored suits. They’re my children.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
Does it have to be an occupation I’ve held?
I’m not funny enough to be a comedian but I’d love to have been one. I like listening to podcasts (Joe Rogan Experience, etc.) where they discuss their creative process, slowly building joke after joke until it’s a bit – and it turns out comedy’s similar to writing in a lot of ways. So the answer is: comedian.
Either that or a really sick rapper.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Being the tallest guy you know.
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Stephen Hunter and a little Murakami too.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Because I feel like a widespread cult won’t form around me until after I die, when news of my death will drive people to my blog.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Tom Brady, Bill Burr.* Also Drake.**
*see “comedian,” above
**see “rapper,” above
What are your favorite names?
I really like Chinese and Japanese names. To me they sound exotic and stately. Which I guess is the same thing as a Chinese man marveling at the regality of the name “Bubba Sparxxx.”
But I have a Japanese friend who calls me “Fred-san” and fuck, it sounds badass.
What is it that you most dislike?
Young, attractive people really bother me.
What is your greatest regret?
Any time I’ve lacked empathy while on my conquest for kicks. (I don’t mean sneakers).
How would you like to die?
Painlessly, in the epicenter of a nuclear blast, before the age of 40.
I should come to terms with my own villainy, that is, if my ego will allow.
“You’re the most arrogant person I’ve ever met,” she told me, “but I still like spending time with you.”
(And I’m only like this because women like it. If you women could all get your shit together and, I don’t know, change your wiring and wean yourselves off dark triads, maybe I could be a nice guy and have a nice polite life again.)
But wait, I’ve been there done that – and was it really that great? Does the fact that I don’t miss it mean something? Yes.
It gets dark at 6 pm in Vietnam. We met at 6:15 because after dark felt like the right time for that sort of thing, and I drove her up and around the lake. The hidden road that no one knows about, or at least I imagine they don’t. I just like knowing things other people don’t, so I pretend. On one side of it is the monument to where they shot down John McCain; on the other side is a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
She was on the back of the motorcycle and nibbling my shoulder. I felt the engine vibrations jiggling her pale thighs. At stoplights I put my hands on them. We drove and talked because we couldn’t do anything else. She has a boyfriend.
She didn’t tell me until we woke up last weekend, so how was I supposed to know.*
(*This is what I’d like to say. But it’s a lie, I actually knew before.)
You’re a good guy, people have told me.
Well no, I just look like one, only because I’m descended from one or two and wear collars often.
She did tell her boyfriend about the time when it happened, when I had her in my sweat lodge of a bedroom until 3 pm, and he had a bad week. Must have. I tried to conjure up and feel his agony, but I couldn’t replicate it, even though I’ve felt it before.
But even if I’d been able to, I wouldn’t stop trying to see her. Every man proclaims preference for the right thing, right up until he sees how nice the wrong thing is.**
(**I hope that’s true, anyway, so I won’t be the only one.)
This situation is Exhibit A of selective empathy. If my students aren’t doing well, my heart really hurts for them; I see the guts, and the push, and how they’re literally willing themselves onto a higher plane.
But then this other guy, who made himself vulnerable to a woman and surrendered himself into a love story: fuck him, apparently. I’ve let in the animal and the Darwinian sinner with his killer instinct. So I’m actually a bad guy.
I actually do want her, because she’s ultimately his, and the concept of any man in the world being with any woman in the world deeply annoys me. Any man and woman under the age of 40, that is. After 40 you’re dead so who cares.
I want her because she’s funny, and also I want her because I’ve already had her, and it doesn’t count unless you do it twice, because the second time is confirmation that the first wasn’t a mistake. Every conversation we have is fast and graceful. Makes me think of a nice tennis volley. Her friends hate me though, so it’s game over.
I would be something like a sad indie movie character, a stumbling hero or a redeemable villain, if the situation were actually as clear-cut as I’m selling it. But I want more than her. My portfolio is diversified – this other girl and I send GIFs to each other all day.
The happiest time is now, while we do this great circling dance, getting ever closer like planes settling ever lower above the runway. The best time is now, when they still mostly exist in my phone and I mostly exist in theirs. She’s 20, she looks like Ke$ha. She’s witty but I can keep up. When we see each other and talk I think of it like chess. Her friends hate me too. They’re babies, and I’m a scary, scarred old beast with a bad rep.
At least I keep my mind otherwise engaged.
The book. I don’t tell anyone about it now because I want it keep it in the chamber for when it comes out next year. Surprise, and then watch no one give a fuck. But I’m trying to savor the process, because who knows if I’ll ever get another deal.
I get it, if not. I wouldn’t hire me either.
Endless amounts of work. I interviewed a photographer, and we were talking about local crime. She’d had a vintage film camera stolen.
Did they catch the thief? I asked.
No, she laughed. But I don’t worry about him, because we believe in rules and respect, and no one can break the rules forever.
When I left the coffee shop, there was an origami bird on the seat of my motorcycle. Blank white paper, no note. No note, so I was supposed to infer something from the mere presence of the bird. But I was missing a piece of the puzzle, because I didn’t know who it could have been from.
They probably got the wrong bike. Probably a sweet gesture meant for someone else. A nice little thing someone else should have had, but I got it instead.
A South African guy proffered two fat Everests of it on the tip of his bike key and I killed them both. Let’s go dance, someone said. I wanted to but it felt like I was a walking paraplegic. My feet felt like nothing, like prosthetics. I couldn’t push myself off the bar. If I’d fallen into a kiddie pool I’d have drowned. I also couldn’t talk. To organize a sentence felt like trying to solve a crossword on shit I’ve never studied. My dick was dead too. I paid 300,000 VND to turn into an unfuckable mannequin. I tried to act like everything about the trip was great and interesting but I was actually furious.
Who invented drugs? We don’t need them. Have you ever been drunk? It’s really great. Why get weirder than that.
The night’s a scratch. Fuck you all, I’m out.
After the spell broke I went back out and saw the ex at the market. We ignored each other. She was with friends, and I was ashamed because of the Rubicon I’d crossed earlier in the night. Actually that’s not true. I just didn’t want to exchange pleasantries.
I’d seen her the day before. We’d had to team up and play hardball with the realtor of our old place over a lease clause. We lost, and had to pay more. Vietnamese can be slimy weasels when there’s money on the line. I’m saying that as if they’re the only ones who are like that. I know they’re not, because everyone in the world is like that. But I was angry enough that I needed a racist stereotype to process the loss.
When he left we fucked raw on the couch because well, what did you think was going to happen. Did things we never had before. She put on a show. We dove into new levels of filth. It was hotter, because we don’t own each other anymore.
We’re cool now. I love myself and being alone more than anything and anyone. But she’s the one I’d call if I were dying. When she finds a better version of me, I’ll say that that previous line was sarcastic.
III. Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting
Saturday night I put up 700 words on the manuscript and threw on a suit. At the party an Italian kid mixed up a jar of glitter and water and poured it all over my jacket and tie and pocket square. If you’re friends with someone, maybe this is acceptable, maybe. Maybe. But we’d never met before. So this was as acceptable as 9/11.
I tossed my beer in his face, he danced back and threw his vodka in my eyes. Vodka really burns when it hits your eyes. Who knew. I couldn’t see but I broke for him anyway. In movies when something like this happens, everyone opens their mouths and stares. In real life this happens too. I got my right fist ready but his friend got in my way. Laughing about the whole thing. As if what I was doing was just ridiculous and unfounded.
These guys won. That’s the genius of glitter. It’s so silly and twinkly that you can only lose if you retaliate for it. And plus, I can’t fight. I’m from New Hampshire; I’m as white and soft as cream cheese. So I definitely can’t fight two people at once. I let it go, because I had to. Be cool and be the bigger man, said the pussy within, the voice of the guy who can’t fight.
I made a crack about how handsome I looked in glitter. They said something back, but it was funnier than what I said, so I don’t want to write it here. They won.
So I walked over to the pool and listened to my buddy’s fuck story from that morning. Pretended to listen. Stood there pretending to listen for ten minutes. The emotion wasn’t ebbing.
I gotta get another drink, I said, and went back to the bar. Came up on the Italian from his blind spot as he was making a circle of beautiful cosmopolitans laugh. He’s a funny, handsome, popular kid. He gets away with everything. But he’s a foot shorter than me. Be the bigger man, my inner voice said again. Well I am the bigger man.
I was going to sucker punch him in the back of the head but I didn’t think I’d be able to hit hard enough to drop him. Instead I clamped his shoulders. Got a wide stance and launched him with everything I had. I tried to put him in orbit. He was gone. Tripping and stomping and staggering, arms flopping and slapping cups loose as he hit knots of people. He ended up all the way back where I’d just been. Bounced off my buddy, who was still telling his fuck story.
You want a drug, try giving someone a righteous hit. Everything went movie-party quiet again, and what I said was perfect: You were in my way, Luigi.
He charged back. I stood ready to pop him with the right. Never done it before, but this was a good time to start. Then his buddy railroaded in from the side, got a fistful of my tie and another on my throat. Caught me off-balance and jacked me back into the bar. The Cuervo bottles tinkled into each other and I wanted to grab one to lay flat into his temple. I wanted to hit him so hard his brain shot out his other ear like a cyst popping.
I didn’t have time for that because I saw an opening; I grabbed at his neck to get a nice choke on him, but I missed and got only collar, fumbled, tried to shove him back but didn’t have the footing for it. By then the first kid was almost back on me. Then the birthday girl was there, breaking it up, telling me: You ruined my party. I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you’re an asshole, leave my fucking house.
I did ruin her party. I wanted to fight. I wanted to break tables. I wanted to see teeth sprinkled among glass shards. But then again — you don’t go 9/11 on an American and expect a picnic after. I hate Cheney and Rumsfeld and the whole gang. But now I’ve been in their loafers.
The Italian kid was restrained and screaming at me. Too angry to use English. The cool Milano sheen was gone. I winked at him and said: Have a good night, little boy.
I walked out, still in a movie, feeling fifty eyes on my back as I straightened my jacket. I was so glad I’d had the cinematic presence to actually wink. I don’t always get things right. But sometimes I accidentally get them perfect.
Fuck. Wait, no. It actually would have been perfect if I’d winked and said have a good night, little boy in Italian. Wait, no! It would have been 1000% perfect if I’d winked and said have a good night, princessin Italian.
Whatever, life is a first draft. Let it go.
I kickstarted and roared off on the bike, found a dark gap between streetlights, killed a street beer. Drew the phone and got the link on another spot.
IV. Slicker Than Your Average
Occasionally, years of random hobbies and interests culminate in a brief flash of glory. That’s what happened at this next party I rode to.
You might be surprised by this, but being 6’7” and in a tailored suit covered in glitter gets you a lot of attention at a party. It was me and one other guy. And fifteen feminists. And not the green-hair kind. The pretty kind, with shaved armpits.
You want attention from fifteen feminists, try being the visual manifestation of the patriarchy when they’re drunk and have their axes out. I got sniped from all sides with barbs about male privilege, and white male privilege, and white male American privilege. It was Californication-level banter, in both speed and content. It was P90x for the wit. You handle the battle like this: every time someone digs at you, you agree with them, and then amplify it with a better joke. I’ve had fun things happen before, but this was beyond fun. He has an undentable ego, said one girl, when she thought I couldn’t hear.
3:00 am and I was under siege at the dining room table, five of them screaming at me because I said I wasn’t going to vote. And because I also said that Hillary was not the same thing as Jesus. I had an answer for everything. Years of mainlining political and historical trivia paid off fully and absolutely. I have never stood on top of Everest. But I’m pretty sure that proving a woman wrong while making her blush at the same time is better.
The dust settled. One of them had the eye-fuck on point and said: that suit is a very good look on you. I wanted to do it, wanted to begin pre-coital negotiations. But it was politically and strategically impossible. I’d already tagged another girl in the room, a little while back. If I hurt her then she’d stop inviting me to shit like this. You can’t have everything.
What’s the moral of the story. Basically, be a tall handsome college-educated white male. Basically, nothing you can be proud of in 2016. Unless you’re proud on a blog no one reads, which is what I do. I’m really cool.
The French girl wanted to come over and I said she could, but she had to leave right afterward so I could write. Thought she’d be cool with it because she treats me like she’s having an affair. I say affair because sometimes she comes (heh) on her Saturday lunch break. But mostly I say affair because she reminds me of someone’s wife. I say wife because she’s old. I say she’s old because she’s my age. My age is old if you’re a single girl, but a very nice age if you’re a wife. I’m 28 years old. I’m sort of young for a single man. When my friends get married, I still see it as a tragedy. Gone too soon.
Anyway. I told her it was cool if she came through, if she left after. She went feminist on me and refused. I shot back a Kanye West shrug GIF and that was that. I’m 28 years old and I still kill a fling with my thumb instead of an adult conversation. I know it’s wrong. I also know I’ll never change.
I couldn’t find the bag of almonds I’d put on the desk. Then I saw the trash can had been knocked over and realized it was the rats. They dragged the almonds out of the balcony door when I was out. I’m single and free but goddamn, the squalor is too real at times.
I once read something about Pablo Escobar losing a million dollars a week because the rats chewed it up. My entire net worth is in paper form, and is hidden in this very room, in a very obvious place.
I realized that I live in the past. In that I have the exact same life my grandfather did in 1965. He lived in Vietnam too. Air Force. Has never told me a single thing about it. But I know that he came here by plane and lived in a place he unlocked with a physical key, and he paid cash for everything. Nothing has changed. The bright, promised future never arrived.
One day, people who haven’t even been born yet will sniff dismissively at the passing thought of this entire decade. Our iPhones and news stories and presidents are all primitive shit. We know nothing and we’re prehistoric jokes and still guide our lives by comparatively Medieval superstitions.
Open mic last week in the Old Quarter. Went well. I wish it hadn’t, so I could have quit. Because I have too many hobbies. I don’t have time to sleep because I’m too amazing, seek out too many influences, too much progress. This is actually a problem. I don’t like to just hang out. My life is spent stuck in a frantic gear as a result.
If only I had the time for boxing. I have all this misplaced, negatively-charged masculine energy. Every evening I’m stuck in heavy traffic. Land warfare, battling for inches. The nuclear-hot tropical sun and the smog. I visualize cracking noses, chokeslamming a motherfucker or two. I think about filling a backpack with bricks so I can shotput them into some foreheads. Hear the muted crack and see the crimson spray.
A drunk guy with ripped clothes was laying on the horn while were all stuck in the 5:00 gridlock. Hundreds of us, legions of us, just gutting through it. Absolutely impossible to move but he was just laying, laying, laying, laying on the horn, making us all wince. He wasn’t in our reality. Had a horrible pitted face that said he’d gone the last 20,000 days without love.
I still wanted to hurt him. So badly. I screamed shut the fuck up! Big pulse of energy bursting up from deep in my torso, shredding my vocal chords. Felt like I was freeing a demon. Praise God I’m not in America, where you can get sued for bulging your eyes out at someone.
I take the Donald Trump, Fox News, 1820s approach to gender roles. I believe men are bigger, stronger, and that they’re killers. I believe this because they are. Every army in human history = men. I have this masculine energy but no script, no safety valves. The Clinton years failed me. And there’s no one to kill these days. The future has actually come. And it failed us. Things are too safe.
Instead I just put all this energy into thinking about getting girls pregnant. Not because I want kids. Just for the biological thrill of it. She doesn’t even have to be someone I like.
This is all a roundabout way of letting you know that Tinder’s really cracking these days. Jesus. This is my second tour of duty on it. A few tweaks to the playbook, and it’s really started clicking. And I’m only going to be young and virile for about five more minutes. If only I had the time to dive in.
I carried a garment bag there with my suits in it. If I was going back to the first world then I’d need my first world uniform. Fretted in the airport the whole time about wrinkles.
In the city I went up the three-foot wide sidewalks with all the paper lanterns and bamboo scaffolding. My conduit into this foreign world is the cool British sheen overlaying everything. MTR stations and stoplights keeping everything flowing smoothly through the grid. Such a woozy relief. I’d been too long in the wild.
My 20th visit to Hong Kong. Or something like that. The point is that I’ve lost count. The first time was six years ago. I was pretty young then. Feels like I’ve been young forever.
Half of my DNA is elitist Northeastern Ivy League jackoff, and the other half is impoverished Jack-in-the-Box Florida Everglades con artist. The cheap side won out as usual, and instead of a hotel I stayed in a dorm with six hirsute Europeans. Shared the floor space and the shower like refugees.
As the day turned golden I did my Tabata sprints in the lane in front of the Coach store. It rained and I fell and split my knee open. I let it just bleed down into my sock and hobbled two blocks to the bay for a look.
The cityscape is narcotic and so beautiful it’s actually hard for me to look at. The capital megacity of an alien empire. It gloats at you.
Rich blue water with 100-mile tall supertowers casually scattered along it. Curved glass panes keeping you away from the mannequins and Jaguars. Energy sucked out of Kowloon villages to keep the AC pumping for a mere 70 people out of the 7 million who live here. Energy appropriated to keep that clear high-wattage light exploding out of every crystal tower from now until forever. A light that serves as a snide reminder that you weren’t invited into the Illuminati. This is the kingdom of the orphan-killers and dark gods.
And who can blame them. I’d been in Vietnam too long. I forgot what money looked like.
II. Up All Night
I got suited, then went to Western Union to launder some of my dirty money back home. Then I went out. My American friend lives there and makes good money consulting. Whatever that is. Just sending vague emails all day. Saying empty phrases like project specs into the speakerphone and getting paid a king’s ransom for it. The longer I do it the more I realize writing was a waste of time.
We spent too much. But I like spending money, because I work a lot. Purchasing something feels like a validation of my diligence.*
We were out in Lan Kwai Fong and so were all of the other people in the world. When movies show festivities, and the best times of someone’s life before it all fell apart, they show a party going on in a place like Lan Kwai Fong.
Several people are very angry at me, because I keep deciding to be single again. They’ll be happy to know I do get lonely, more often than I care to admit. They’ll be less happy to know that when I go out, I have an amazing time.
A decomposing band of expats was playing Mr. Brightside when my buddy’s friend from South Africa came around. He let slip that he’d been working on her for a while. She winked at me while he was paying for something. I kissed her. And would have gone home with her but I didn’t want to lie to him about it later.
Actually that’s not true. What really happened was: I would have gone home with her but she turned out to be a Christian. Weird to stumble upon one of them. I’ve been out of the cult for so long I forgot they existed out here in the wild. Like sleeper agents.
We rode deeper into the morning. I was glad to be alive. Some things happened.**
III. The Help
Later on in the trip I walked two hours from Causeway Bay to get brunch at a place in the Midlevels. I was sweaty and wearing Ray-bans like one of those assholes I hate because I’m afraid they might be more handsome than me.
In Central the Filipina housemaids had their blankets spread out on the overpasses and under bridges. Thousands of them. They have to leave the penthouse sometimes so their Chinese owners can have iPhone time with their families.
I was going to take some pictures of them all sitting by the fountains near the Mandarin Oriental and the Gucci store. But some of them saw me and covered their faces. Not because they were camera shy. It was their way of asserting that they were humans and not a feature of the landscape.
I put the phone away and sat down nearby. Fat British men were out there, trying to pick up the Filipinas. Their moist Guinness belly rolls jammed into polos, their smartphones drawn, their thumbs cocked back over screens like cobra heads, asking hey how do you spell that funny name of yours again, love?
I at least have the decency to fuck above the poverty line.
I watched the PRC flags snapping above, occupying the exact midpoint between my face and the top of the Bank of China Tower. Perfect cool fall sun above Victoria Peak. A deep, deep quiet sitting in the shady city canyons.
I thought abstractly about punching someone. Every now and then these days I start spoiling for a fight. I think it’s road rage from Vietnam, activating dormant Neanderthal brutality. I left the area.
IV. With Love and Apologies To Those I’ve Hurt Before
I got up the mountain to the diner and read the Communist propaganda paper where China was still gloating about repelling a Japanese invasion in 1945. Come on guys. Not even us Americans jack off to World War II this much.
I sat at the same table I used to with my ex-ex-girlfriend. Four years ago we used to come here all the time. She was boring. Started strong, but burned through all her good stories within the first week. There was a reason I was her first. But she was really nice and for that reason I couldn’t dump her.
She extradited me back to America and her Reaganite parents. At their house I’d trip over the hints they kept dropping about me going to grad school. They worked 70 hours a week and the way that they saw it, Obama was the one and only reason they weren’t trillionaires yet.
I wasted years being nice to her. I almost married her, just as a favor. I hate her for being boring and wasting my time when it was my fault. I should have just killed her earlier, when my instincts told me to.
I circled my hands around my coffee mug, closed my eyes and willed myself back to the last time I was at this table, her across from me. I hijacked my younger self and had him do the cold, honest thing: tell her it was done.
When I opened my eyes I was back in the diner at the table by myself. Almost trembled with relief.
V. The End of History
I ate. $200 HKD for eggs and a waffle and bottomless coffee. I’m boring too, I realized, as I sat there with a goddamn newspaper. So, that little ritual was cruel of me.
I do get lonely, which makes people like her happy. I have enemies who used to love me, but hate me now because I was too nice to hurt them. It’s weird and unpleasant.
But that doesn’t bother me as much as writing does. The only thing that bothers me in life is that I’ve never quite nailed it, never written something perfect.
I worked on the book for a while. Having to do a lot of historical research for it. Tens of thousands slaughtered in every paragraph as dynasties bubble up and heave into each other. Blood and tragedy used to be the absolute default.
Now, it’s some weird historical aberration that we’re all currently alive. Now, everyone has to really reach to find something to be scared of, and the best they can come up with is a vague threat of Muslim Mexicans. Or something. Some imagined tertiary threat to their SUV life. Meanwhile the older generation who fought to make the world safe and comfortable now berate us for enjoying safety and comfort.
After two hours I closed the laptop, refilled the coffee again.
Here you are, man. All you’ve ever wanted. Minus the having-a-lot-more-money part. Just for kicks, I fired up Tinder. I’m ugly and boring so Tinder never works. But sometimes you still have to play.
VI. Hail Mary/The Thing With Chinese Women
I need beginnings with women, only beginnings, because nothing ever goes wrong with beginnings. I don’t do middles and definitely don’t do ends. Middles, you can start to feel the magic go and it’s quietly horrifying. Ends are so painful they leave you feeling torn on a psychic level. Go beyond a beginning, and it fails 100% of the time. But beginnings are nothing but sweet beautiful promises.
When this happens, it’s like someone in the office put a piece of birthday cake in front of you unexpectedly. You didn’t look for or hope for it. But there it is. If cake presents itself, you should have some cake. Someday you’re going to be dead, after all.
I only go for locals if they’ve lived in the West and have perfect English. Or at least 95% perfect English. Mistakes are cute after all.
They have to be able to understand you well enough to know if you’re weird. They have to have that comprehension, in order to put up the same barrier Western women have. And you have to make it past that barrier. Not satisfying any other way.
If they don’t have that barrier, then any man with his weak sperm can make it past. And I have to be able to hurdle barriers that weak men can’t, in order to maintain the delusion that I’m the greatest man who ever lived.
(^^This is how a single white man under 40 in Asia thinks because he has the luxury of doing so. After 40, when the face bubbles and sags like they’ve been hiking in the Martian atmosphere from Total Recall, they start slyly dropping pro-prostitution arguments into political conversation.)
Just beginnings. She was in North Point, where they just put luxury towers in the hillside. Buildings with uniformed staff and flower vases the size of Panzer tanks. She’d studied in England. Her parents are traders. Vacationing in Germany, left her home alone. We met at the MTR station and she took me up.
It was more fun than I hoped. She’d come up on the same porn I had.
It happened twice and then I left and the beginning was over. It meant nothing. But not in the sad poet way. It meant nothing in a good way.
VII. Your Regularly Scheduled Disaster
I only had time afterward to shower before my sushi date with a Chinese-born Swiss banker. I was punching above my weight; I shouldn’t have asked her. I’m an English teacher with a minor book deal and nothing about my existence impressed her. She was too smart for me. Too rich.
Actually those are excuses. What happened was she didn’t laugh at the first story I told her and inwardly I panicked. I was on the back foot the rest of the time. Walked her back to her flat on the bay but she told me stay downstairs. She said I was nice to chat with. But she didn’t want more.
It hurt for a while. I went to get coffee at McDonald’s, because it was the only place open and I didn’t want to drink. It would take a while for me to remember it’s good for you to hit the barrier. Wakes you up a little. No man is a cock superhero but all men sometimes forget this.
VIII. A Relative Lack of Motifs & Symmetry
Coming back to Hanoi is like unplugging from the Matrix. Like living past the end of the world. Ever-present smoke hovers like a huge bomb went off a few hours ago. Stupid buzzing bikes and horns and speakers.
I landed and immediately had to motorbike across the city to work. Longest day of my life. Finally got to release some Neanderthal pressure, though. I got into a scuffle in the parking garage with a Vietnamese man who cut me in line for a ticket, and ignored me when I tapped his shoulder. I’d been rushing all day. In lines and in the air. All day since 8 am in another country. Fuck him.
I jerked him backward by his backpack and said he’d been rude to slide in front of me. The veins in his neck swelled up and his eyes beamed hate at me. But then he nodded and got behind me. It felt amazing.
At home, I was thinking about this post. I couldn’t figure out a theme or a Big Statement for the end. To tie it all together. Because there’s nothing. It was simply a trip to Hong Kong. My activities, my life are too messy for a theme. My life isn’t a story. No one’s is. You have to lie to make your life into a story. I don’t learn lessons or achieve growth in a way that dovetails with an itinerary.
We don’t live in stories, we’re stuck in limbo, in survival, and just doing things and going places to kill time while we are. We are not going to figure anything out. I know this because I don’t have things figured out and I also don’t know a single soul who does.
The theme is this: that none of this means anything. And not in a sad poet way, but in a good way.
*This is the exact thought the dark corporate gods want me to have.
But I specifically like spending Hong Kong dollars and I like how they feel between my fingers. It has a texture like canvas and it’s wide and stout, like how old bills in movies look. HSBC paid to put their stamp on every bill. A level of blatant capitalism not even America has reached yet.
**first time I’ve forgotten someone’s name the next morning.
My students are pretty much all 20 year-old females who are all ovulating unceasingly. I didn’t like Vietnamese girls when I first got here, but let’s just say my views on this issue are evolving. When they look up at me I know what it’s like to be a cult leader. In the classroom you can literally see electricity arcing between pheromone clouds*. Pheromone clouds. Change genders if you want. More power to you. But you can’t fake that.
Some men would be plowing through this roster but I know better. I’m not saying I know what will make you happy, but I am also saying that impossibly tight young snatch won’t do it.
I usually wake up at noon. My life feels stressful but it’s not. I have to go out and manufacture stress if I want it. God bless the Socialist Republic of Vietnam for providing the freest ecosystem a man could dream of. Expats exist in a gray zone with no cops or taxes. Motorbike costs a dollar a day. I’ll never go home. Every morning I watch the West burn on my smartphone. Shrug and have coffee. This election horseshit feels like it’s unfolding on the other side of the galaxy.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’m white trash who’s made all the wrong turns. I’m supposed to be selling Amway in Stratham, NH right now. The force that got me here was luck, multiplied by luck and then compounded by even more luck. I feel guilty about it all the time. Like: good times are only temporary, this is all going to fall apart tomorrow. You have to worry if you’re in a good spot, because if you act like a complacent cunt, your luck disappears. Then I realize that is a stupid way to expend your emotional energy. Look at the news. Bankers never run out of luck, and they’re demons. They expect luck, and so it’s always there for them.
I just re-read those two paragraphs above. I’m such a prick now. Probably the worst byproduct of freedom.
Young snatch used to be a remedy. Way before that, loving God was, and then hating him was too. Loving someone always starts well but then is also always a disaster. Writing can work, but writing is mostly torture. Booze has its moments but that shit’ll hurt you. If you’re free for a little while, you figure out that nothing works for long.
We rode out onto the marshes at midnight and drank beer under a tree fit for a lynching. Too far away to see lights of the city. A monsoon hit with lightning bolts stabbing down every twenty seconds. We had to drive back because it was just getting worse. Our tires weren’t gripping the reeds and kept getting sucked down into the mud. No idea which way to go. The riverbanks were starting to overflow and cut off out options. Too much rain to hear shouting. One of those times where you’re thinking: this isn’t a joke.
I was scared. So scared the only thing I could do was laugh hysterically. I imagine that’s how most boys have died in battle, laughing like that, because screaming would validate the fear.
Some women are tender and hold your head while you fall asleep. Other women won’t kiss you much and cover their nipples after you’re done, as if now’s the time for modesty.
The younger ones, from across the generational divide, are straight-up slayers. They pick up their phones right afterward and lie on their bellies pecking away. Messaging other dudes. Every girl who texts you is doing so from another man’s bed. His jizz still in her navel. Intimacy is dead and it’s not coming back. This is the world now. If love’s the sort of thing you’re into, just know that your one shot at it was the last one you blew.
I do miss my girlfriend my ex-girlfriend. The one who’s a model and is seven years younger than me. She was great. But I lied too much and caused too much damage.
I had five days off work for the holiday. Too much unstructured time, so I was forced to think about her. And it’s really sad. It feels like we both died.
I spent three of those days in the mountains. Motorbiked 100 miles south on the Ho Chi Minh Highway to stay with a family in a hut underneath a waterfall. Woke up with the chickens. Detoxed from modernity. It was boring. I privately expected a cinematic experience whereupon some of my crippling character defects would be healed by the tranquility. Instead I just sweated, read Murakami, and counted the seconds until it was over. Fuck the cinema and its tropes. I couldn’t wait to ride back to the city and go to Starbucks or something.
The ride back to Hanoi was unbelievable. Never done anything like that in my life. My buddy drives fast and I had to stick with him because I didn’t know the way. 50 mph the whole time, which in Vietnam might as well be 1,000 mph. It’s the jungle. You go hammering down cliff roads with pits deep as asteroid craters, every one of them trying to throw you over the handlebars. No cops or rules. People constantly shoot out of blind drives. Other people kamikaze straight at you on the wrong side of the road. There’s no reaction time.
My buddy would lean low and slide between trucks and I had to follow. I only know how to drive like that from movies. Purely terrifying. But also the most awesome scene I’ve ever been in the middle of. The clear hot sun, the blindingly green mountains, the smoke pillars on the riverbanks, the flooded cemeteries, the crazy whipping dust and the pebbles flying up and spraying you hard as paintballs. Chopping through it all for two hours on a hot engine. This is the sort of thing I’m into now. It’ll make you feel something.
A tour bus jumped a red light and I was going to hit it. I tried to react. Squeezed the handlebars and my front brake bit the wheel so hard it tore off. I skidded out and somehow caught a sand patch and slid past the nose of the bus. That was death right there. All luck that I made it through.
I was surprised that nothing profound came to me as my survival registered. What did come to me was the acidic throb of adrenaline, about a minute later. That’s something you should feel, if you can.
Back in the Hanoi Starbucks I read a missed email from two days before. An offer for a podcast appearance, listenership of a half-million per episode. Would have been a huge boost for your boy Freddy C. over here. My readership would have grown into… double digits maybe. But I didn’t respond in time, and so that ship has sailed. All because I was up in the mountains with chickens.
It’s OK. I actually don’t care. I had convinced myself that missing this email was another sign that my life is nothing but a tragedy, but that’s just the Murakami I’m reading. He makes me think it’s OK to slump through life bearing a cross of emotional agony.
But feeling like that is not OK, because it’s not true. Not so much anymore. What’s true is that I’m all right. I’m glad I didn’t die. I’m glad I’m still here to have my tiny pile of money and also my coffee and some good songs that I can pull over me like a woozy blanket. That’s my life, that’s me. That’s what I’ve got. I’ve transcended a few things and escaped a few others. So I’m all right, no matter if she holds me or turns away. Or if she lights up her phone. She thinks she’s hot shit. And she is. But then there’s me.