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.