We’re here, and I have no time to write. Every minute has been scheduled. I feel like the President.
I’m starting to get over the whole traveling thing. A minimal night’s sleep before standing in lines all day with our hyper-caffeinated travel buddies makes me wish I were in a retirement home already. I’m a quiet house cat who’s pretending to be otherwise. And I’ve taken enough trips by now to realize that all people, and all places, are pretty much the same. A backpacker in China once said that to me, and I didn’t get it. Then I went to ten different countries and it clicked.
We’re on a beach near Malaysia. I’ll update with more soon because, pathetically, I still harbor fantasies of becoming WordPress famous. And you should update me with whatever the hell you think is going on in that picture down there. Does that elephant have a dragon for a penis?
I thought I was going to get a modeling job, but it didn’t work out, so now I have to teach. Teaching is a thing that I hate, but also a thing I’m good at. I was hired at three different academies. In the evenings I’ll ride my motorbike to one class, teach for two hours, then drive to another class and repeat the process.
I’ll work every day. Not out of necessity. I do need money, but not a whole lot. What I need is enough work to keep me locked away for hours at a time. I don’t like free days at home because I feel like I’m never spending the hours in exactly the right way. And I don’t like being out in public, because most people annoy me. I do like drinking, so I need to make myself too busy to drink. Work is the answer. It focuses me, by leaving me with only enough time for the essentials.
When I’m not at work I’m with my girlfriend. The rest of the time, I’m trying to write. It’s going well. Even though no one knows who I am. When you have a craft you’re blindly obsessed with, occasionally you can feel the gears shifting as you learn a new trick. Those moments are rare, but they do happen. Writing is an absurdly slow evolution. You can become a surgeon in less time than it takes to become a good writer. If you want to be a good writer, you can’t really do anything else.
I’ve realized I really don’t like going places and doing things, and I don’t like going to activities or events, either. Not when I could be spending that time getting good at something. Steve Martin says you should try to be so good they can’t ignore you.
Tonight there’s a performing arts event that I was guilt-tripped into. There will be amateur slam poetry and amateur rapping and amateur stand-up. The kind of thing you have to extort people into attending because you know it will not be fun. I can’t stand being part of an audience. To sit there and feel the time ooze away. But appearances must be maintained. I would rid myself of social obligations, but I need them for creative fuel.
Is art selfish? I think so. You’re spending a lot of time working on your own expression. You can only spend so much time in this selfish vortex before you become insufferable.
I’ll be in the crowd, but it doesn’t mean I think you’re good. This is amateur hour. I can ignore you. I already have a thing, and I don’t have time for yours.
Why would you give it all up and move abroad? Well I did it because I was running away. Definitely wasn’t out of a sense of adventure. And the reason I ran away is because I was too dumb to get into grad school or to get a good job back in the motherland. The reason I know I’m dumb is because I once fell for a Craigslist scam and shipped my iPod Touch off to Nigeria. This guy offered twice what I was asking. I remembered being touched by his altruism.
I was stupid, but when I was in America I could sort of coast by because I’m tall handsome and hilarious. At least I thought I was those things. Someone should have told the girls that, because getting laid in America was harder than becoming President.
Give it all up. I didn’t give anything up. What I gave up was being broke and lonely. I just ran away. Used geography as therapy. You feel like you’re better than everyone else when you’re standing next to a pagoda.
Then the high is gone and you realize you actually haven’t gone anywhere. Every place you go, they have English and Coke and Top 40. And then you start to remember that no matter where you’ve slunk off to this time, you still have to be your stupid self. However you came off the assembly line, that’s who you are. You are the end result of your genetic OS and whatever malware your parents downloaded into your head as a child. Change if you want, but maintaining those changes is like holding a sprint.
What’s easy is flying to a place with cheap beer and no taxes and no laws for white people. What’s brave is staying at home, being a clone who’s unable to play the foreigner card.
Maybe you disagree with me. And hey, you would probably be right. I’m the guy who ships Apple products to Sub-Saharan Africa for free, so what do I know.
Back to the writing thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have staked my entire future on becoming WordPress famous. That was a bad bet. And I made it with such confidence.
I’m desperate to go viral but the reason I haven’t is that I’m shit. The reason I know my writing is shit is because I think it’s good. I’ve met too many bad writers who thought they were good, and now I realize I’m one of them. So — no crowd, no numbers, no traction — it makes sense now.
I’m not going to give up. But goddamn, now feels like the time.
When I lived in Korea I had a friend from South Africa who always wanted to hang out on weekends. Can’t, I would say, I have to stay in and write.
He wrote sometimes. But mostly he just played computer games. Until one weekend he wrote a novella, and then turned it into a script. Now they’re going to make a movie out of it. And good for him.
But what about me. What do I get in exchange for being a self-serious jackoff? I was supposed to be somebody by now. My girlfriend softly suggests I try something else.
I will never quit but, holy shit, now feels like the perfect time.
Creativity may be the cruelest mistress.
Pour your life into football and find out by 22 if you’re going pro. Definitive, final answer. But with the arts, it’s never over. Always another chance. What glorious news. That means you can live in dark suspense and put whiny vibes out into the universe forever.
Is it acceptable to even have a dream? When there’s all these refugees? And all these other people getting shot all the time? And this hobo in my alley with dents in his head? What about them? Where do I get off chasing such selfish fulfillment?
So many reasons to quit, and now would be the time. But no. I’ve been to the edge of the Earth too many times, and made too many people laugh, and come up with too many clever takes on shit for this not to work.
I’ve got it, or at least the seeds of it, and everyone is going to know that. Maybe.
I want to say that my persistence shouldn’t impress you. Work ethic stories always seem weird to me. It’s easy to work hard for yourself. Hey, look how selfish this guy was! Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs: who gives a fuck. They were just masturbating. But boy, we loved to watch.
All right. Speaking of masturbating, back to the writing thing.
Vietnam: I don’t get it. Obama was just here and called it charming. When his speechwriter typed that sentence, MS Word autocorrected it to shithole.
I’ve lived here for a few months, given it some time. But this is a taste you can’t acquire. Vietnam is a savage backwater prison yard with fourth-world infrastructure. And a rush hour that lasts from six a.m. to eleven p.m. And noxious air pollution that makes your skin bubble up and hiss steam like you’re on the Total Recall version of Mars. And bent cops in the same uniforms the Russians wear in Goldeneye N64 who lean out of doorways with batons. And legions of mule-sized rats, apostles of the new Black Plague, who form gangs at night and go looking for ankles. And ashy smoke columns from the trash fires everyone lights at dusk. And a city-wide PA system blasting high-decibel Communist hymns for an hour every afternoon. And goddamn, this place is ugly. Hanoi looks like District 9.
Hard on the eyes, ears, lungs, nerves. This place needs a trillion-dollar infusion of Western cash. The same get-out-of-poverty-free handout South Korea got and then promptly acted like it didn’t. Vietnam didn’t get any money, because they had the wrong founding father. Hanoi is the answer to the question: what happens if we build a city and then let it rot for fifty years. So, pretty much the same thing as Los Angeles.
But I will put up with it all because it’s cheap and so am I. As long as I’m making no money, then I’ll keep acting like it’s cool to be this way.
I hope America fully collapses so I can feel better about marooning myself over here. Hillary and her email servers are too boring to do damage. So, go Trump.
Last night I asked God for help, and today I crashed my motorbike. I’m getting the message.
I heard the taxi coming up a side street pretty fast but knew the driver would brake before he got to my intersection. He didn’t brake. He was making a dumb bet this was going to be the first road in Vietnamese history to be clear of traffic. So there I was, and there he was too. I rammed his door at a cool thirty-five km/h. Which is not fast if you’re trying to get anywhere, but if you’re making contact with an immovable object, then it’s lightspeed.
I bounced off the taxi and then I was on the ground. Kept moving, skidding, felt the bike grinding my leg and arm into the pavement. Then it was over and the Vietnamese just puttered around me on their own bikes. A man laid out on the street is a thing avoided, not paused for. Young expats in sunglasses gave me blank glances, then kept scuffing along on their way to brunch. No one asked hey are you OK, is anything broken. I had a strong hunch that I was inconsequential. But I didn’t need the confirmation.
The bike’s pegs and mirrors were twisted but the thing was still drivable. I pushed it off me and got up. My wounds were so red they glowed. Black gravel was mixed in with the blood. The damage felt deep but it wasn’t, I’d only lost the top two layers of skin. Just a few bubbles of blood. Just God jabbing at me. Not enough of an injury to even glean some sympathy from.
Come on, man. Right after I pray to you. Ask politely and fearfully for just one thing to break in my favor, because it’s been a while. Your response was to send a kamikaze at me. Mysterious ways.
I rode out to the bike shop to get fixed up. Pure sunlight along the way, like you get in fantasies. Lots of shade where I was driving. Lots of fun, high-attendance Facebook events in progress nearby. You could hear the laughter from the beer fest and this big pool party. You could hear a DJ on the megaspeakers chanting let me hear you say: fuck Fred Colton! and the crowd going insane. I used to have too much fun, and do whatever I wanted, and so I hurt people. Now, I atone. Beg God for scraps.
Soon. Statistically, something is bound to work out soon. If I can’t depend on divine mercy then at least I can fall back on mathematical certainties.
Well I got a job. Part-time. Just a band-aid for my wallet. Now I have a schedule again, and enough drudgery to give the rest of my life some perspective…
Wait, no. I only sort of have a job. I’ve already worked. But what happened was: they hired me. Then they asked for my original university degree so I could remain employed.
What about a copy, I asked.
No, the original, they told me.
I said: It’s in a storage unit in America.
We understand, they told me. Can you please get it so we can see it.
You Vietnamese are getting too big for your britches. Stressing me out. I’m gonna go find that taxi again. Hey, remember me. Aim better this time. Steer right at my knees.
This I know: The reason God ignores your prayers and permits genocide and child sex slaves is because he is too busy annoying me to do any good in the world. But then again, what a relief it is to know that this is all someone else’s fault.
HANOI–Jesus. I could be in trouble here. I didn’t expect today to go sideways like it did.
First interview was at 10 a.m. It would have been the perfect stay-just-busy-enough-to-not-shoot-yourself gig. 8 hours or so a week, teaching college kids. Enough money for me to buy milk and rice and whatever.
But I knew when I walked into the place that I wouldn’t get it. High ceilings, fresh paint. Overlit like an Apple store or the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There was a call center run by slaves in headsets and red embroidered polos. This was a legitimate institution, a place of business, where peons are monitored on surveillance cameras and have their keystrokes tracked. No, no, no. I’m not a drone. I left America to get away from corporations. I knew they would not want me. But still, I wanted them to want me. So here goes.
They were escorting me into the room when I remembered this would be my first interview since 2013. I’m rusty. Feel like I just got out of jail and now have no applicable skills to offer the modern world. I could tell by the cut of the guy’s suit jacket – especially the slim collar — that he has money, shops hard, probably has shit fitted for him in Italy. He eyed my own tailored suit (circa the Paleolithic Era of Fashion, aka 2014) with subdued amusement. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, he looked like money because he is a professional educator, the 1% of teachers,having spent six-figures on the acquisition of a bulletproof list of credentials. He had the kind of bio you will see written in hard-to-read font on a very white, professionally-designed university webpage. That’s him. Me, I am simply a journeyman who has earned his bread by playing Powerpoint games with Korean midgets. He knew.
I expected a grilling but this turned out to be psychological torture. I was blown away. He wanted to know: what the last lesson I taught in Korea. I told him I was a little hazy on that; it’s been three months. Tried to laugh a bit, spin it into a joke. He didn’t laugh. He pressed on: Fred, what was the lesson’s subject, the target language. What were the activities, and how many minutes did each activity take. Did you use a fade, or a wipe effect between PowerPoint slides. That last one is barely a joke.
He curveballed me. Never asked for my strengths and weaknesses. I prepped the shit out of the standard questions. I wish he had. My weakness is: not having a flawless photographic memory, I would have said. God, I’ve got charm and wit for days, but only in hypothetical realities.
I left on my motorbike. The heat worsened my mood. The sun just blasts the life out of the city these days. I don’t know the temperature, I just know that the air is sulfurous. If we get one degree higher the concrete will bubble into magma and then suck us all down into hell. The suit was a bad choice. I took refuge in the Lotte Tower café before the next interview.
On to the next interview. Another hour, another meeting in a suit, like I’m Warren Motherfucking Buffet.
It was near West Lake and up a shady side street. A recruiting office, small area with three desks. The guy was Vietnamese. He didn’t smile. Wasn’t impressed with my height as most life forms tend to be. So again, I felt defeated as soon as I entered the room. But my CV passed muster with him. Which annoyed me, that there was even any suspense about that in the first place. My four years of experience count for nothing. Everyone here has that much. We’re clones of each other.
We can get you some work, he said. How is $18 an hour, for a few classes a week.
I see, I told him. Well, I’ve made up to $40 previously. I understand that your pay scale is local, but I can’t work for $18 when I could be devoting my time to a better offer.
I was acting like I had options, trying to radiate ease, as if I were sitting on pocket aces — which was, of course, a fiction. I thought to myself: you are digging your own grave, young man. Who are you to turn down $18/hr. That is technically infinity times more money than you already make. Anyone who does anything at all in this world makes more money than you do. Even kidnapped kids mining conflict diamonds get free room and board.
The guy didn’t flinch. He just fixed me with this feral squint. He’d heard my tough-guy line before, from my many other clones who’d sat on this same couch and radiated the same fake confidence.
He said: perhaps, eventually you can get $19, maybe $20. If the school likes you.
I shrugged. Could end up being my only option. Who am I to try to find better out here. I’ll have to take what Vietnam offers. Vietnam always wins. I know my history.
Our dick-waving contest concluded, I left.
I unlocked my bike and, more out of persistent spite than anything else, I decided to hold out for a better offer. If he emails, I’ll ignore it. It’s OK. I still have some money. But while I have money, I lack luck. Usually I only get one of those things at a time.
Anyway. Two swings, two misses. It’s all right. I’ve failed so many times in life I’m used to it. I’ve failed so many times that when something good happens, I can’t process it.
I rode home. My bike is a semi-auto, so you get that satisfying crunch as you stomp the shifter. As far as simple joys go, that one’s near the top of the list. Today my contentment comes from throwing gears and punching through the red lights. The bike’s a rental and it’s scarred and the frame has been wired back together. I think someone died on it. Of course someone did; the only way Vietnamese traffic could be more dangerous is if they buried landmines in the street.
The bike is beaten up, because it’s taken the damage for all its previous riders like the portrait of Dorian Gray. All the other wandering immortal alcoholics who have had my bike before me, I want to talk to them. Say: you lied to me. You’ve been spreading legends through the expat community for years about how easy it is to get a job here.
There are jobs falling out of the sky! You’ll find work your first day!
I don’t know what Vietnam you were in, but the one I live in is full of tightwad lowballers and professorial Illuminati. No middle ground. It’s tough out there. I’m gonna have flashbacks of this place like the Vietnam vets do.
Job hunting is a curious thing. You work harder, and stress more, than you will when you actually perform the job. For this, you are not compensated. And there’s no guarantee that the nightmare will end. I’m skirting the edge of a panic attack as I extrapolate five years into the future. Five weeks, even.
Well, on the bright side at least it’s Friday. Thank God I drink.
I’m back, I think. Just lost a week to depression, due all the guilt from this thing. The sins of my past life have been uncovered and are here to torture my girlfriend. I have to somehow deal with the fact that I destroyed our beginning. It was a good story, as long as you didn’t know the full story. Every lie has earned us a long day of agony.
Don’t do the wrong thing. The price is higher than you know. The length of your sentence is always exponentially longer than the crime.
I’m spiritually exhausted. Consequently, writer’s block has been so bad I’ve been fantasizing about jumping off the roof. Being a writer, a Z-list writer with a blog on life support, comprises the whole of my identity. If I can’t write stupid shit for three other bloggers to read, then I have no purpose here. (Ah, just re-read that last sentence: look how cool I grew up to be.)
I know that when other people talk about me, they have nothing to say. No idea what my plans or goals are. Because I hide my writing – there’s too much honesty for me to show it to anyone. Actually, that’s not true. I’m just afraid of it being met with a shrug. If that happens, it will make it very hard for me to keep worshiping myself.
But without the label of writer, I’m a non-entity. A pixel. My identity is: just another lazy American refugee. A hobo with a career high-water mark of teaching Korean kids the ABCs.
But whatever. That can change. Especially now that I’m back from the dead, and we are taking the very first baby steps down the long path toward healing, and I can write again.
Or can I. This post took me three days. It’s been true hell, trying to get the words right. Sweet baby Jesus, I forgot how horrible writing is. I think I should go back to being severely depressed, that was better.