Well maybe this actually started in California in 2009. At my Bible college we signed a contract vowing we wouldn’t drink or have sex. Or dance. A Big Night Out in La Mirada, CA was when you drove to the swing dance club in Whittier and hoped no one found out. Upon graduation Lauren left me for a better swing dancer. That does odd things to a young man’s ego.
I thought: this is bullshit. We had a deal, Jesus. I did you a solid and kept my dick dry for 21 years; all you had to do was not make this other guy good at swing dancing. On to the next deity.
But first, beer.
China has beer. For fifty cents you get a 22 oz. Tsingtao in a stout green bottle you can knock out a rhino with. I had loans. Sounded like my kind of party.
I flew to Beijing with a hundred Americans. My second time there. The first time I was a missionary. A trip I went on to impress girls from church. It didn’t work. (See: “swing dancing,” above.)
Beijing is what you think it is. The image in your head right now is accurate. All the great trappings a capital should have. Fountains and a hundred million cars. Oppressive humidity so you carry around an extra shirt with you. The Olympics stadium which is bigger than you think. Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City which are more boring than you think.
This time I got off the plane with a pretty liver and the determination to do something about it. Everyone was 22. Everyone had a BA in partying except for me. The oldest rookie there ever was. I was an alien driving around a person costume. I almost blew my cover on day two when people discussed a bar crawl in Wudaokou. Some people asked what Wudaokou was, while I was the only one who said: what’s a bar crawl. An eternal quarter-second elapsed as faces turned toward me. Then it was like a movie scene where everyone laughed because they thought I was being sarcastic. This fucking guy, someone said. This fucking guy right here.
Well Wudaokou is where the student clubs are. We’d pregame after classes and then finagle some taxis over there. Partying in the West is merely an exercise in hedonism. Go east, though, and multiply your hedonism by anarchy. No open container laws and nothing is ever closed. A cop having a bad night isn’t going to hogtie and taze you because you’re hooting outside a bar with your shirt off. Instead he’ll ask for a selfie.
In Propaganda we danced. I danced but it couldn’t have been pretty. These were the days when I resembled a white Gumby. Didn’t matter, it was enough for Alex. She let me know she liked me by putting her ass on me, as a dog would. I think she was a purse model or something. Southern belle. When we landed in Beijing she wondered aloud if a “Chinaman” could carry her bags for her. All her lacrosse guys were 7,000 miles away. I was her best option. The last guy on the depth chart. The inverse also held true. Adam was grinding hard on a girl with thighs like Christmas hams. Beer goggles, and also China goggles. You get off that plane and lose your mind.
Midnight. Continue the crawl. There was a line outside of GT Bananas. Jeff went to the front and yelled at the bouncer: I am a famous American and I am not waiting in this line.
Very sorry, sir, please bring your friends inside.
Thirty friends came inside. The dance floor was bouncy like a trampoline. They gave us glow sticks and shot off fireworks inside. I began to run out of money. The RMB bills are colored like Monopoly money and they all have Mao’s face on them. The pipeline was about to be cut off. And you thought you had problems.
Fortunately I’m tall and I was with Cameron and he spoke Mandarin. Probably still does, too. In VIP he told businessmen I played for the Lakers and he was my manager. Every table, same reaction. High fives, rounds of whiskey mixed with tea. Thank fuck no one did a quick fact check on their iPhone.
Some people were drinking baijiu they’d smuggled in. Rice liquor. It’ll melt your brain. Then they were dancing on the bar. Which was both a bad cliché and a bad idea. Chris fell into an ice bucket. Meanwhile I was on the dance floor trying to weasel something with Jenna. I wanted to kiss her but she had a boyfriend at home. I knew it was wrong to kiss her. I kissed her. Because all boyfriends deserved to be hurt. Everyone needs an excuse, the swing dance guy was mine. I still blame Jesus.
2 a.m. We laid siege to McDonald’s. Then got dumplings afterward because we didn’t remember we’d gotten McDonald’s. Back on campus we realized that half of the group was lost somewhere in the city. Eh, fuck em. We were laughing because James got hit by a motorcycle so hard his shoes came off. He was eerily devoid of scratches. 22 and he was demonstrably immortal, just like the rest of us.
I got in bed. Tomorrow beckoned but that was a fact I couldn’t fully process. Being 22, you lack the ability to project yourself forward in time and space. Morning’s arrival shocks you. A dark plot twist from way out of left field.
Noon. Everyone was going to the Great Wall but I’d already seen it. I went out to perform my penance. Four mile run. The air felt like you were sucking straight from a bus tailpipe. I liked taking the overpasses strung between the towers. Trains next to you and the highways underneath. These days that might be enough for me, to feel the huge city roar around me. Back then I was just angry that it wasn’t already night again.
Now that I’m older I realize what happens after a Big Night Out. The sun comes up and burns everything away, and none of it ever happened.
But being 22 I didn’t know that. So I did it all again, a few hundred more times.