Finding my Spirit

20 01 2014

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

It was Christmas actually, and I wanted to catch some spirit not so easily found at the bottom of…well, you know. San Diego started to feel stale and I was a year older. The cool air from the west made my skin crawl as I contemplated 2013. I felt the horizon closing in, so, I headed east.

Grafitte

Just the sound of Detroit from my silent Insatgram photo was enough to warrant strange questions from people who find no need to investigate a city that recently announced its bankruptcy. Point taken my friends. But this isn’t about Detroit or what’s broken or damaged in Michigan. Detroit just happened to be were my plane landed—about 30 minutes east of my destination, Ann Arbor. It’s the worst of times for some people in Detroit. For many, their pensions are gone, entire futures missing—the cold, hard reality of a story made of cold, hard American steel. I was just passing through.

I didn’t have to look hard for Yuletide. That’s all over the place this time of year in Ann Arbor. Downtown’s Main Street was decorated in lights and green wreaths to ensure good will towards men or perhaps to encourage boutique shopping. Long scarves—not the decorative kind—were tied-up tight around people’s faces, as hands swung free in mittens and gloves. Intellectual conversations chirped away about city council and various governing bodies responsible for public art commissions.

A short car ride away from Detroit there seems to be no sign of disadvantage, no sign of loss or sadness over things not yet collected. For the townies and students of Ann Arbor, it’s always the best of times. Sure, expect to freeze your ass off in the winter, but what else is new in the Midwest? And what else is there to do when said ass is freezing? Brewery tours, of course.

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Ann Arbor Brewing Company

The Michigan campus employs nearly 60,000 people and educates (presumably) approximately 40,000 students. Campus sits in the middle of everything and includes dozens of satellite locations for particular departments, miles a part from each other, in a spooky, omnipresent kind of way. And betwixt all the busy intersections of academia, world-class museums and North Shore apparel, there is an unbelievable thing happening—some of the most educated and community-minded people I have ever met, are getting hammered and eating some incredible food.

The notion seems counter intuitive that someplace so close to a city nobody wants to visit, might actually be thriving in culinary wonderland—literally, some of the best food I have ever eaten. Something so strange could only mean one thing: I was in the right place.

For example, the complex and Polish, Dill Pickle Soup from Amadeus Restaurant on Washington Street. House-brined grape tomatoes in spiced vinegar from Mani Osteria & Bar on Liberty. Ever hear of something called Lardo? It’s cured fat from the back of a free-range pig and they cut fresh slices to taste at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, world-famous delicatessen. The bounty of fine dining and craft beer and cocktails was ripe for the picking in the dead of winter, and although I had come to recharge my weary spirit, the spirits themselves where enough to take me away. So, away I went.

The butchers at Zingerman's Deli.

The butchers at Zingerman’s Deli.

The talent in Ann Arbor is surprisingly young, cool and way more into sustainable farming than any hipster I’ve ever met in Encinitas. The chefs, farmers, manufactures and brew-ha-has are doing a lot more than talking about what they eat and where it comes from—they’re actually making a difference in the way people consume their food. Walk down Main Street and you won’t see much of corporate America. These restaurants are one of a kind and a result of two important things: the city’s close proximity to major foodie destination, Chi Town, and the steady economic lifeblood pumped by Michigan University.

I sat down with Frank Fejeran, executive chef at The Raven’s Club—one of downtown’s newest additions—to learn a few things about how he ended up in Ann Arbor. Turns out Fejeran trained under Grant Achetz, decorated chef and culinary mad scientist based in Chicago. Coincidentally, Fejeran also worked briefly at 150 Grand in Escondido, Cali., a restaurant from my hometown, before he finally opened up shop in Ann Arbor. We exchanged euphemisms that implied the world is a rather small place to live and laughed at how ridiculous the traffic is the San Diego. Long story short, when the competition gets tough, the young professionals got moving, and many educated and talented people have wound up in smaller towns like Ann Arbor where it’s easier to make a go of things in such tough economic times. Rent is certainly cheaper.

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“Professional” beer tasting at Wolverine State Brewing.

Another thing people in the Midwest seem to be really good at is making beer. San Diego receives accolades for being the mirco-brewing capital of the country. But that doesn’t mean s*** to the people of Ann Arbor. And I’ll bet these corn-fed, bearded worriers could drink any frat-boy from San Diego State under the table with one of the high gravity beers their brewing in old bourbon barrels and wine casks. Seriously. Have you ever had a sour beer? It’s delicious. It’s weird. But it’s good. From light to dark, IPA to stout, there is something for everyone who enjoys a cold glass and good head. Some of the best advice I got from the brew master at Wolverine State Brewing was that everyone can enjoy an IPA, “…if you drink the right one.” I was skeptical, and already buzzed. But even this half-drunk, SoCal stranger found a hoppy friend to call her own. Bells, Two Hearted. If you ever get the chance, drink it.

And if you ever get the chance to eat Cuban food, I mean, really good Cuban food, do that too. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Ann Arbor on this culinary adventure, but I was deliciously surprised not once, but twice, and in two very different food joints. Lena, an art deco, flash-back and cocktail factory, offered up a variety of Cuban confections like Ecuadorian Humitas. Holy corn cakes batman! Lemongrass-tomatoe stew, chimichurri and melted queso fresco? I was literally burning calories as I ate it. For dinner, I ordered a traditional Cuban Sandwich, press-grilled on Avalon Telera bread with smoked ham, braised pork shoulder, manchego cheese, pickles and mustard aioli. Yep. I’m a traditionalist. After a long day of brewery tours, nothing is more satisfying than food without pretense. Nosce te ipsum, sandwich. The Cuban was the perfect accoutrement to my Hot Pepper & Peach Margarita, infused with hot pepper and peach tequila, fresh peach puree—house-made to order, which I did, twice.

The Cuban at Lena.

The Cuban at Lena.

Adding a little celebrity to the  culinary scene in Ann Arbor, is chef Eve Aronoff, a Top Chef contestant and owner of Frita Batidos on West Washington. Casual picnic tables lined the interior, encouraging group dinning and stranger conversations. Blue Ribbon cans in the cooler and real guacamole served alongside seriously addictive Cuban fried plantains was about all it took to make my list. Each picnic table came standard with a set of dominos, so plan on staying a while for happy hour. Hands down, a must eat in Ann Arbor—I tired half a dozen menu items and everything was superbly fried and awesomely terrible for you.

Freelance writing doesn’t pay well. One of the few, if not the only perk to the job, is getting sponsored to travel to obscure places and explore the people, the food—the alcohol—the history, and the amazing things that are happening simultaneously all around the world, all the time; existing regardless of our appreciation or acknowledgment, while we all continue to live our proverbial, self-absorbed lives. I like being a stranger in a strange place—it reminds me to stop being such as a** hole.

A rainbow of colors at Ashley's.

A rainbow of colors at Ashley’s.

If you get full on the fried stuff you can do one of two things. One, go to another brewery and drink light beer. Or two, keep eating, but get the salad. If you need a beer and you feel like mixing in with the 20-somethings, the best place to go is Ashley’s. This is the college go-to joint that sits across from the busiest intersection of campus. It’s old, it’s packed and it’s got more beers on draft than anywhere else in town. They’ve got beers you’ve never heard of and mixed with other beers in ways you didn’t even know where possible. This is where the last week of finals, ends. I had the privilege of sitting down with local beer historian, David Bardallis, to discuss his book, Ann Arbor Beer: The Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing, to discuss how such an amazing brew scene could go so unjustifiably unnoticed by alcoholics the world over—disregard the inherent problem with that statement. He was a really nice guy and I wish I could remember more of what he said, but we had sampled near 40 beers that day and I was lit up like a Christmas tree. I think the gist of it was, “Cold weather equals drinking beer,” or “Major university plus college students to the power of hops.” Oh yeah, and a lot of German immigration.

Who am I kidding? I didn’t order any freakin’ salads. I was working, okay! For Ann Arbor’s version of Asian fusion a la Midwestern style, seek no further than Melange Bistro & Wine Bar on Main Street. This is where the far east meets steak and potatoes—a fine dining experience set in sexy lounge-style ambiance that makes you want to drink too much and kiss with tongue. I ordered the nachos—duck confit glazed in hoisin and served on a crispy wonton chip. The Duck Nachos were topped with manchego cheese, guacamole, fresh tomato and sriracha sour cream. Don’t worry, I ate them with my pinky up. From steaks to sushi, the menu is a globally influenced symphony of too-hard-to-pick main courses with a unique southeast Asian flare. After informing all of my dinner company that I would require a sample from each of their main course plates, I settled on the Short Rib, flavored with Asian accents and slow braised for 8 hours. Served with a natural braising reduction, yuzu daikon salad and whipped potatoes, I was not sharing. Paired with a glass of Clayhouse Malbec, I practically fell off my chair from sensory euphoria. Quite simply, perfection.

Short Rib at Melange.

Short Rib at Melange.

Small town America is a seductive mistress. Places like Ann Arbor romance the spirit with slow changes like the seasons—a tender leaf segment barely able to cling to the graying tree. Ann Arbor’s like a lot of hip, young cities: Portland, Austin, Asheville and so on—insert mustache and flannel joke here. It’s slow, it’s quirky and the community is fairly integrated economically. The result is more cooperative and less cannibalistic—though arguably there may have been some of that going on 30 minutes away. It remains unconfirmed.

The bad news was that I had fallen in love, again, with a place that discouraged the social  idiosyncrasies I dislike about southern California. Travel has that effect on me. The good news was that I had collected my sanity in an otherwise crazy time of year. I had gained some perspective on things—a real Christmas miracle. After my week in Ann Arbor, I was ready to go home and crawl back into my self-absorbed sand castle, this time a little wiser, a little happier to not live in a place that snows. And like all the amazing things happening in Ann Arbor, culinary or otherwise, this trip was a clear reminder that I set the table for myself each and every day. Somewhere, it’s the best of times. Somewhere else, it’s Detroit. The nice thing is that we all get to decide for ourselves.

Stay strange Ann Arbor.





Prose: Alone at a Café in Paris

19 01 2014

The seductive sounds of a four piece jazz band—a scat-cat afternoon buzzin’ on too much caffinee.

If there is such a thing.

Thank God I’ve got this music to fill me up.

I feel so empty.

I can’t believe I left him standing there—in the rain.

It rained last night.

It’s very sunny today.

The weather irritates my mood with its inconsistency.

How can a person be less predictable than the weather?

I’m a mess.

This trigger steadied by a shaky crook-hand up my back side and I feel angry.

What did she ever give him other than his drink?

A stiff drink is nice but not nearly as nice as her sex.

I can’t figure it out.

I kissed him!

And for what?

To discover that he had shaved himselfby coincidence?

I doubt that.

I wonder what it’s like to be a man? To make love to a woman…

I wonder if he thinks… what I think?

I doubt that.

I’m a mess.





Smells Like Teen Spirit

4 01 2013

 

My New Year’s Eve celebration was a metaphor in a long flash of intoxicated vignettes all laid out in a neat line. Inside the belly of an old bar I waited for something to happen.

“It smells like a strip club in here,” said Raymond, enthusiastically. And because I’ve never had the pleasure of watching naked girls dance, I believed him.

There wasn’t enough room to entertain myself on the dance floor, so I played a game with my glass, emptying its contents as quickly as I could swallow. And when boredom became overwhelmed by brute intoxication, I went about introducing myself to strangers while wearing a glowing New Year’s crown. In this crowd of sweaty people no one thought my behavior odd.

On the way home and from inside the car, my sober company could hear the sounds of my game splashing onto road pavement. You know something needs to change when you find clarity in vomit. I had indulged — taken too much of too much, and now my salutation to 2013 was covered in vodka.

Yes. I’m sure this all reads like the first 15 minutes of every Intervention episode ever recorded, but sadly no, I am not an alcoholic. Please pardon the dark satire, but you must understand that sometimes I think addiction would be much easier to deal with. At least with addiction you can look at the problem square in the face and tell it to fuck off. You can hug a 12-step program and find meaning in worship, and when you finally figure out your life, you’re a better person. I know lots of happy people like this.

I have no problem passing on a beer, missing out on casual drinks with friends or taking time off from whatever scene I happen to be associated with. I drift. I’m so comfortable being alone that from time to time I force myself to be social. Shit. Maybe I am an alcoholic, and this is all just a dream within a dream. At any moment Leonardo Dicaprio will burst onto the scene and tell me I have to save the world. To which I will stoically reply, fuck yes.

I’m not going to list off a bunch of ridiculous resolutions here. No doubt the blog-o-sphere is full of that bullshit and I don’t care to waste your time. Besides, your problems and goals are probably wildly different from mine. You probably need to work on sobriety and I encourage you to do this. I do too, I guess. But more importantly I need to work on listening to my instincts. I knew I would get out of control at that party, because I knew they would let too many people into the building, thus crushing the dance floor. And when I can’t dance at a party, I get bored. And when I’m bored I come up with solutions, all of which are illegal, none of which are a good ideas.

I remember kissing a man with a beard and long hair at midnight. It could have been a girl with a beard I guess, but like I said, the night was more a metaphor than a real experience. Like this anonymous person I will never see again, I don’t really know or understand what my problem is, so I can’t very well stare it in the face. Are you a boy? Or, are you a girl, strange addiction? I don’t know, but you tasted like alcohol.

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Happy New Year 🙂

 

 





Leave It To Portland

28 08 2012

Since I started working in San Diego I have been obsessively trying to mold myself into a business women the only way I know how: working insane hours for little pay, neglecting my social life and buying all of my work attire at Express. I knew I needed to switch gears and get out of my mind for a while so I decided to go where nobody knows how to dress like a business woman, Portland, Oregon.

Portland is the place young people go to retire. It’s pedestrian and creatively weird. Nobody cares if you wear makeup or how much money you make because in Portland people actually talk to each other, which means you had better have something to say about the social injustice article in last week’s Mercury. Their neighborhoods look like the streets parents talk about growing up on, safe and quite and sweet.

People drink beers on patio sidewalks and listen to street musicians that look like Kurt Cobain. It’s not for everyone but for this tired pony, it was everything. I drove up the I-5 and caught up with friends in Seattle, another hip spot, separated by the wealth that circulates in the IT industry. I think every person I met in Seattle worked for Microsoft.

My trip to Portland and drive through Seattle was a grand week of beer tasting, food indulging and unadulterated hipster style, exactly what I needed to realize the following things.

I am never going to write a literary work that changes the world, solves a problem or is used in a college class to discuss literary genius. It’s just not going to happen. I can see by the last few posts that melodrama looks about as good on me as a hot-pink string bikini. It’s really very simple, when I’m happy, my writing is better and I see more traffic on this site. Most of that traffic is my mother looking for errors and poor spelling but also, so she can text me at 11:20pm and say something like:

Do U have 2 say fuck so many timz lamb-chop? :/

To which I reply:

Fuck-yeah, mom! : )

This trip to the Pacific northwest allowed me to remember what I love writing about: People in places – particularly myself, but other people too. I have been so consumed by my attempts at looking like I belong in a black Express suit that I have lost my voice altogether. My perspective in San Diego is nearsighted. Everything up close is stressing me out because it’s all I can see.

In the foreground is a beautiful, diverse, crazy-big planet covered in rock and water and it’s fucking flying in ellipsis through an endless black void – I don’t want to debate if the universe is expanding or not, so just go with it. I know who Steven Hawking is, alright! And compared to the shit going on out there, my life is as about as uncomfortable as a brown leather La-Z-Boy.  So, thank you Portland, for being a hot metaphorical shot of heroin to my brain and waking me up from this comatose I’ve been in for the last 8 months. I didn’t actually do heroin while I was there, but the 90’s are alive and well in Portland.

On another evening, while drinking Rudy draft beer (subtle hint of apricot, very good) I decided I should be writing more humor.

Guy in baseball hat: You’re a lot of fun, really upbeat. I like that.

Me, between sips of my beer: Yeah. Life’s too short. To be. Downbeat.

I didn’t realize what I was saying until I said it and you know what? I’m fucking right! It is too short to be crying over spilled milk, bad haircuts, and dead hamsters, lost shoes, or being broke. The only thing crying is good for is making people uncomfortable that don’t like crying.

Dictionary.com says:

Upbeat

adjective: it’s nice to read an upbeat story for a change: optimistic, cheerful, cheery,positive, confident, hopeful, sanguine, bullish, buoyant, gung-ho.

It’s true; I am surprisingly buoyant in water, especially in a string bikini. I haven’t felt gung-ho or sanguine (who has ever used that word before?) in a long time. Case-in-point, My Personal Apocalypse. I’ve been more or less blarrug. That’s a word I just made up to describe my personal denial, irreverence for being an adult and getting a 9-5 job and extraordinary talent at hiding all of this from the world. It was very important that a stranger remind me that under all of my Hemingway inspired melodrama I’m actually fun to be around.

Happiness is not something that passively happens to people, well, at least not writers. It’s something I have to work at, and a huge part of achieving it means finding a space both internally and externally that facilitates a desire to be myself and feel accepted. I don’t think moving to Seattle, growing a mustache and dating a bearded lumberjack named Chandler is going to make me happy. But leave it to apricot flavored beer and a week away from my boss to reveal the simple truth that something isn’t working for me in San Diego.

And that leads me to my final drug induced realization: My ego is enormous, and not in a way that makes me pretentious or rude (well, we all have our moments.) It’s in a way that’s limiting only to me. I am so worried about appearances that I often won’t make risky but potentially awesome decisions because I am afraid of social, financial or emotional chaos.

Perfect example:

I drive a beautiful 68′ Mercury Cougar (how hip of me!) It’s the only car I’ve ever owned and I love it like a family member. I refuse to let her go so that I may purchase a more practical and economically feasible car because I am convinced that Edith is part of who I am. Driving that car has contributed to several developing aspects of my personality. I have learned patience in mechanical failure, how to change oil and I have street-cred in my city because she sounds like a bat-out-of-hell. It makes me tough and cool and different. While I’m sweating my balls off in the summer on black leather seats and no air conditioning, people pass in Prius’ often smiling and waving at me like there’s a huge golden retriever named Rex hanging out of the window. Driving in the car with a very happy dog means the whole world smiles with you. My car is like riding inside a happy golden retriever named Rex. It makes people smile and I like that. But it also makes people flash gang signs on occasion. Those I don’t like as much, unless the guy is hot.

Wes-side!

In Southern California this ego-bulimia is an epidemic. For a lot of us it’s just easier to shut-up and deep-throat all the dumb shit we have to put up with in business, finances and relationships, but never-ever good food, that will make us fat. I feel stronger than ever that I’m not deep-throating anything that doesn’t return the favor.

I have this weird fantasy now of moving to Seattle and becoming queen of the hipsters! One Hipster to rule them all! I would wear Ray-Ban sunglasses and not wash my hair everyday and only wear red lipstick and I would develop some weird special dietary need like being a vegan.

 

I guess that was another revelation.

I’m a total hipster.





Piñatas And S&M

16 03 2012

I may not speak Spanish, but I’m fluent in having a good time. My friend gave me a discretionary warning when he asked if I wanted to go to his niece’s birthday party.

You’re going to be the only white person there he said.

Yeah, okay.

I can’t be held responsible for what they say he said.

Sure.

My sisters might be mean to you he said.

Whatever…Will there be a Mariachi band!?!

No he said.

Damn.

I had always wanted to go to a real Mexican party. White people think that if you mash some avocado into a bowl, throw out some flour tortillas and drink margaritas, it’s a fiesta. I didn’t see any of these things on Saturday.

funny blog

There were children everywhere, running around the inflatable jump-house in the backyard, which kept the little maniacs occupied while the adults did what we do best. I think I might have been the only female enjoying a cocktail, or seven. But I’ve never been intimidated by a set of balls holding a Pacifico, so there was no need to slow my buzz.

The highlight of the evening was the piñata spectacle, something I thought might have been too cliché for a real Mexican Party, but wasn’t. I was holding my sides with laughter watching my friend work the piñata; swinging the rope like a drunken desperado. He controlled the smirk on his face while the kids got hit in the mouth with a swinging star of cardboard and staples. It was hilarious.

I guess all that laughter got me tense, because I made an appointment the following Monday for a Chinese massage. Everyone knows that eastern medical practices are far superior their western counterpart. They’re more natural and  seem more at peace with the earth or whatever. Plus their culture is like super old. So, I signed up for an hour with the oldest guy in the spa, he would surely be the best.

After the kids destroyed the piñatas and collected all the candy from the grass it was time to test my white girl pallet on the Mexican treats. Everyone stared curiously while they collectively picked out random candies for me to try, candies that didn’t even taste like candy because they were spicy and savory. Everyone laughed at the face I made trying to push chili paste out of a neon tube and onto my tongue.

My friend brought out a huge bottle of Tequila and set it on the table. Everyone played it off like taking shots of tequila was out of the question, but leave it to the elderly man in the corner to instigate some crazy shit. Next thing you know the uncles are buzzin’ hard, and I’m having deep conversations about the economy with the borracho next to me.

You know, you’re pretty cool for a wetback. It’s cool that you’re so open, one uncle said to me.

Huh?

Clearly I had them all fooled by my freshly colored blond hair. I had come to party. I was down for anything they could dish, minus the pasole, that had all kinds of animal parts in it. But as far as they were concerned, I was a wetback; for a converse moment the minority of an all too common exchange, and they had no problem letting me know it.

My sister and I went to our appointments early. I quietly looked around the spa, noting the books on meditation and ancient art scattered about the space with almost staged precision. I’ve never had a professional massage before but I figured it would go down similar to what I had seen on TV or in movies: calming candles, relaxing music and not a care in the world. But instead, the whole time this old man was rubbing my body with cold lotions I has fighting an anxiety attack over why the blanket was pulled so far down my ass. Why is so much attention being paid to my buttocks? Is that were I carry stress?

At one point it stopped being a massage and started to feel more like an S&M experience. He was hitting me, and grinding my shoulders so aggressively that I thought for sure I would look like I had been assaulted, which at this point felt pretty realistic. So much for Chinese medicine. I was going to need a doctor after this, probably a psychologist.

I almost lost my shit when he asked me to turn over.  Am I supposed to be relaxing? As he rubbed  my inner thighs I couldn’t help but feel totally molested, simultaneously wondering how I had let this eastern disguise fool me into thinking that I would feel comfortable with some eighty-year-old man breathing down my décolletage.  I could feel the blanket slip further and further down my chest as he worked. Holy shit. This is not happening right now. Millimeters away from a  nip-slip, it was over. I felt like smoking a cigarette. I didn’t say a word when I left the room and walked with my sister to the car. Inside her vehicle where it was safe, I had to ask her: So, what regions did your masseuse primarily focus on? Apparently she also caries stress in her ass. So much in-fact that the Chinese woman got on top of the table for better ass-mastery. At least my sister remembered to wear underwear.

We all carry assumptions about people that externally seem to come from a place dissimilar our own. But it fascinates me how easy it is to break through those assumptions when you just sit down and talk to people, drink a beer, or have them rub strange elixirs all over your naked body. It’s ludicrous to think that this Mexican uncle had never met an open-minded white person before. I know that’s not true, but the fact that he said it reminds me that just because I’m okay with being the only white person at a Mexican party doesn’t free me from my own biases, nor does it reflect a common disposition among my fellow gringos. For as ‘open’ as I am, I still thought there would be a mariachi band at the party.

I will never get a Chinese massage again.





Feliz Navidad: Catching the Spirit in Mexico

13 12 2011

Nothing says Christmas in southern California, like a visit to Mexico. You’re reminded of the spirit of giving because most of the people there live well below the poverty line, so you can’t but accept humility and appreciate everything you have that’s separated by the iron wall cutting through the natural beauty of the Pacific Coast. Crossing into Tijuana, my cell phone lost signal faster than the drug cartels push a kilo of coke. Which is pretty fast I hear. My best friend advised me that driving down to some remote spot between Ensenada and Rosarito was not a good idea. She reminded me that there have been repeated stories of violence and gang warfare all throughout Mexico for the past decade. But where she saw an intimidating and potentially life threatening experience, I saw a chance to embrace my perpetual masochism, and get my third world country on. This certainly wasn’t the first time.

There are several ways to tempt death in Mexico. Driving is a huge one, people down there don’t give a damn if you have insurance. Eating the food. Sanitation standards are different if not nonexistent. Drinking the water is not advised so I stick to beer, which might lead to the ingestion of small amounts of rust, or other carcinogenic impurities because they reuse glass bottles and don’t clean them. And then there’s the police force, who are bent, twisted mo-fo’s that’ll take you for everything you’re worth. Useful tip: keep an extra forty bucks in your shoe. So whether you buy useless trinkets from an eight-year-old peddling the street, or you’re forced to give a cop everything you have, the spirit is all around you in Mexico.

But I’m not an idiot. I would never go to Mexico by myself, or with a group of white people. Instead, I went with three Mexicans. If you don’t have any Mexican friends I recommend that you get some or at least hire some for the trip, it makes life a lot easier and you’re in for a good time. Mexican people love to socialize over long meals and exponential drinking.

We played chicken a few times with oncoming traffic, escaped collision by mere inches. We rolled past check points where soldiers stood at the ready with semi-automatic weapons, loaded or not, they made you stare. And about an hour after we crossed the border, we crept slowly down the dirt road that lead to our destination, a seaside spot that felt like a secret.

The view was spectacular, tide pools framed in black rocks lead our eyes out to sea, the sun slowly setting into a dark wall of clouds sitting on the horizon. A man in the distance was scouring the rocks for muscles or clams. The sun, on fire, echoed the heat coming off a green chili and shrimp dish that I pretended wasn’t so spicy. We drank with the waiter, who was probably underage, and told embarrassing stories about each other. The sun went down and we all stopped.

It’s moments like these, when the world seems to stop spinning, that I feel the happiest. I love the ocean because it’s a natural reminder of how small we are. Waves crashing onto rocks supposes a metaphorical perspective. A cleansing of the old, and hope for the future. It’s something you feel, not something you can ever know. This is what the season is all about. So forget the gifts, tell the people you care about, that you care about them. Make some Mexican friends and go to Mexico.

Happy Holidays everyone. I wish you love and beautiful sunsets.





Insurance Cult

3 12 2011

I should have known god was trying to tell me something this morning, when in a haste, I realized I had locked my keys in my car. Fantastic. Somehow I managed to struggle my right arm in through a crack, jump the jam up, and unlocked. So against the universe’s attempt at stopping me from going to this interview, I willed myself determined that this interview would be both successful, and worth the effort at 8 in the morning. I don’t believe in fate, but I’m beginning to question my beliefs.

I decided to wear the nice Ralph Lauren outfit that makes me look expensive and smart. I had opted-out previously and learned that interviews are the kind of deal that befit from some sparkle, so I left the leather behind. I didn’t have time to do my hair which really pissed me off. I really like wearing my hair down when I need to do something important. I like the way it feels on my cheeks, and more importantly I like the way I feel when I know I’m having a good hair day; which is pretty much any time I wear my hair down.

So, I hop in the car and head for Sorrento Valley, with no reservations. After a few of these things you start to lose the jitters usually induced by too much caffeine. But I resisted my anxiety over one minor detail: I didn’t really know anything about this company. I was just going to wing it.

The second I walked into the building, something was clearly amiss. The building looked to be under construction. It was cold, I imagined somewhere a plastic tarp was fluttering open and letting that cool air in. A makeshift sign at the end of the gray atrium pointed to suite 206. I followed. Six or seven people were behind the door I pushed open, filling out forms on clipboards. I told the receptionist I had an appointment with Kristen at ten. At this point I’ve completely checked out. It was a frenzy. People were coming in and out, one at a time being called to the back by various people I assumed were conducting interviews. Everyone was in their Sunday best. I knew I should have done my hair! But the more I sat there, the more I got the feeling that these people had just been picked up from downtown, I thought maybe Occupy had found somewhere else to occupy. Something was up. This was bullshit. But that’s the funny thing about unemployment: I have nothing better to do than stay in potentially time-consuming, superfluous activities, that wont help me get ahead in the slightest.

Whitney?

I ran up to the woman who called my name, deciding I was really going to give it my all, and by that I mean I clearly had nothing to lose.  As far as I was concerned there was nothing professional happening in this building. We sit down and she asks for my resume. Wow, you worked in South Korea?! This woman was not Kristin. Did they even look at my resume? She continues to ask me questions that were completely irrelevant my skill set, focused more on personality traits. Another red flag. So, when she asked me to describe my dream job, I just let it fly. I want to be a writer! I love creativity and being part of the creative process. I love to travel, so if I could fit that in there somehow that would be awesome. Oh! And I want to make a lot of money, I also really enjoy working with social media and networking. Kids are great too. I like leadership rolls. Anything creative. She just looked at me. Well, you wont be doing any writing with us, and I wouldn’t call what we do creative. I grin. I tell her that that’s perfectly fine because I know that writing isn’t going to pay the bills and I understand that working in the insurance business must also be personally rewarding. They weren’t the only ones full of shit. Then she proceeds to tell me that she would like to move me through to the next step of the interview, which at this point could have been a pit with a bunch of snakes in it, I don’t know. We walk down a long hall to a conference room where she says I am going to have an orientation, so that I can get an idea of what the company is all about. I wait, and I wait, and I wait. Free coffee, thank god. The room slowly filled. Ten, fifteen, forty people.

I was kind of hoping that the presenter would be dressed like a wizard, or something more impressive than a middle-aged man in a cheap suit. For forty-five minutes he explained life insurance policies. He used the phrase, ‘mortal remains’ several times to describe dead people who need to be buried or whatever. Something about that phrase gave me the creeps. He talked about his love for all people; his greatest joy is seeing people happy, he’s a people person, and so on. What the fuck planet are you on? You’re in the business of making people pay for medicine so they can stay alive. He showed us something called a ‘decline certificate’, which basically alleviates a families burden to pay the people who get rid of dead bodies. I guess usually these companies want the money up front, and expect the insurance companies to reimburse the family. I mean come on!  Nothing about this guy said to me: You know what? He must really care about people. I hope my mortal remains are as well taken care of as those he looks after. I was beginning to think that this guy didn’t want to offer anybody a job, but instead, had cleverly gathered an audience of forty people into a room and was actually selling life insurance policies. Some of the people in the crowd looked like they could use it.

But it gets better. He asks his staff in the back to come up and introduce themselves. He consistently refered to them as ‘managers,’ which was also the way he described the job being offered. How cleaver I thought. Build everyone up with a fake ‘manager’ label and watch them drool over the bone. No thank you. I’m totally not into that. The managers come up to the front, and the freak show continues. But because I myself am a freak, I can’t look away. Six young-ish looking people stood in their Sunday best. What followed were six short introductions into these people’s lives that went way too deep for professionalism. She’s a single mom, and he hated his job, and he was a bartender through college, and her life has never been the same since, blah, blah, blah. But they spoke with such conviction that I almost believed them. Good god. At this point, I was pretty sure I’d figured it out. This is a cult. These people could not be seriously that jazzed about selling people life insurance, going door-to-door with a memorized script like some Jehovah Witness. At least it all made sense now. We were all going to go to a happy place together, drink pink punch, watch the sunset hand-in-hand, and die with really good life insurance polices. Utopia. My mortal remains were saved.

I got up. He was talking about salary and inflating the hell out of commission. I left. I don’t know if anyone starred me down, gave a shit that I was leaving, because I never looked. I just felt really bad and wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. Not only had they wasted my time, but even worse, I had finally seen my people, people surfing through unemployment. It was depressing. I drove home with the radio loud enough to blow your eardrums, I’m use to it.

This was the first time I had ever gotten a good look at someone who, like myself, is unemployed and looking for work in a down economy. It was uncomfortable sitting next to people who I knew were out of work and in hard times. I’m in hard times too. But I got the feeling that hard times was relative depending on the circumstance. We can’t tell in daily life who has a job and who doesn’t. Who wants one, and who needs one. I thought about the people I see in Rancho Bernardo, signs up asking for money. How are they any different?  Here we were all together: young, and old, black, white, asian, mexican. This is my competition. This is who we are.

At about 6:30 that night I got a phone call. I didn’t answer it. I knew it was them. The cult was clearly out to get me for human sacrifice, or maybe they just weren’t going to take no for an answer and I would purchase a life insurance policy. It didn’t matter. But I was rather surprised by the message they left: they were considering me for hire and requested another interview. Are you kidding me? They don’t know anything about me! They have no idea that I’m putting them on blast right now, and they think they want to hire me? What kind of company hires people so recklessly? If I wanted that I would go back into sales or customer service, where tolerating alienation is standard practice. Fuck that.

I didn’t call back the insurance cult. And I’m relieved I didn’t do my hair, that would have put me over the edge, as if I wasn’t there already.

 
Edited by
Rachel Bates and Nicole Rork




Unemployment Soup

21 11 2011

I have officially moved back to San Diego. I live in a house with three roommates. One of which happens to be a one-year-old. There’s nothing sexy about living with a teething toddler, but I myself am dealing with wisdom teeth pushing through my gum line, and with no dental insurance to cover the cost of the minor surgery, I’m in the same boat the little one is: reduced to screaming and crying, annoying her parents, my other two roommates. At least it hurts to eat.

I am currently looking for work in the general field of my degree, mass media, which includes anything from public relations to sign spinning. I’ve sent out about 20 applications and see only about one interview per week. It’s a slow process, but I feel optimistic. I’m holding out for something that really rubs me the right way. I’m not looking for some one-night-stand. I want to take root somewhere, grow and reap the harvest. This is my full-time job right now: looking for work.

But I guess that’s not just it. I’ve also been babysitting for my roommates when I can; learning that small children are not at all as scary as I thought they might be. We actually have a really good time together, singing and dancing in our pajamas while mommy and daddy are out working and being adults. I’ve started my first book, a memoir, and I’m about 50 pages deep into it as of today. I’ve been running, a lot. I’d like to get back into long distance running, and though it’s been absolutely revolting, the thought of 4 to 5 miles a day, I am pushing past it and finding myself totally consumed by runners high. I sing every Wednesday in Carlsbad, I walk the dogs, and I drink tons of coffee. I checked out the complete collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s work. And when I have time, I write college papers at competitive prices for students. Some people seem to think there’s an ethical problem with this activity, but I disagree.  As long as University of Phoenix is in business, I have no problem helping people achieve a bachelor’s degree. If we’re talking standards of excellence and intellectual achievement, today is not the age to argue over who wrote a silly paper about trade, deficits, and misconceptions in our political economy. I’m just saying. I write almost everyday, but lately it’s been geared towards finding employment and impressing those people with the way I use the word. Funny story:

So last week I had an interview with a reputable travel/timeshare company here in San Diego. Now, this was a very important interview because the job itself seemed almost too perfect. I was interviewing with a woman over a position that would basically require me to manage social media projects for resort destinations in Mexico and Hawaii. Writing stories about travel! Yeah I know. Needless to say I was very excited and didn’t want to mess it up. But I was nervous as hell, and totally sweating as I walked down a long hall to the reception desk where the woman sitting there had seen me coming for at least 2 minutes. The eye contract was weird for that length of corridor. Anyways, afterwards it was really hard to say how it went down, because I didn’t do a whole lot of talking. The interviewer talked mostly about the company, citing the abundance of intellectual capital established within the team of people who had been there for decades, which to me translated to: Everyone here is old, and you…you are very young. And I get that. I just turned 25 this month (thank you all for the birthday wishes), and to an established company with lots of money on the line, I don’t know that I would hire some hot-shot who struts up in a leather jacket. Yeah, I did that. I actually changed my outfit in the last seconds before I left the house because I didn’t think the blue Ralph Lauren oxford was an accurate representation of who I am as a writer/employee. So I threw on a yellow blouse, stilettos, leather jacket and eye liner and headed for the door. I thought I looked pretty cool, which in my opinion, is important for any marketing professional. If you don’t look cool, how is anyone ever going to believe that you’re capable of creating coolness? Which is essentially what we do.

Like I said, the interview went okay, but it was hard to read the woman across from me, a woman who I had done extensive Google searches on in the hopes of gathering any personal information that would give me a leg-up in conversation with her. So when I mentioned that I knew she enjoyed photography, and shoots with a Canon DSLR camera, I wasn’t sure if she was impressed or ready to call security. In this economy, even the person being interviewed should come prepared. Know who you are dealing with. Be ready to make small talk if the opportunity presents itself. But with the interview not affording many opportunities to reveal what a super-secret-internet-detective I am, much of what I learned fell flat. At the end of the conversation I had with her, I didn’t know if I had been interviewed or If I had just had a 45 minute anxiety attack; both were possible, but I wasn’t sure. But then, I was totally surprised when the woman brought up this blog. She said that she had seen it, enjoyed the writing/story and gave me the opportunity to meet with her because the blog ‘stood out’ to her. I thought that was awesome. The pet-project I started over a year ago is now working to get me interviews with perspective employers. Who would have thought? In retrospect, it reveals my growth as a writer in an almost tangible form. I can see the transitions, the shifts from one thought to another, and I’m just glad I was able to write it all down. To keep it as record the things that I have done, the  ideas I’ve had, and the dreams that I hope to accomplish in the future. I’m still not sure if I got this job yet, but I have another interview tomorrow, and so on. Maybe it’s not a funny story, but it’s pretty cool I think. And since cool is part of the business, I guess I’m on the right track.

So that’s it. That’s where I’m at. It’s not as adventurous as I wish it was, not as inspiring as living and working abroad. But it’s a new kind of adventure, one I look forward to sharing with all of you.

The man checking me out at the grocery store yesterday says to me, “You sure are buying a lot of soup.”

And so I say, “Well, it’s cheap. And my erupting wisdom teeth make chewing difficult. And, oh yeah! I’m poor! I’m unemployed, and I have no income and can’t collect unemployment! So yeah! I’m buying a lot of fucking soup!”

I have my bad days too.





Don’t Stop and Never Run

21 09 2011

Part VI: The gypsy

I like to shower twice a day. And I’m okay with that.

I woke up to sunlight and rice patty fields. It was morning. We were alive and as far as I could tell I didn’t have lice. Somehow I had fallen asleep with my head in my lap. My butt was asleep and my back hurt. Are we close? We stopped to go to the bathroom and stretch our legs. It was 8:00 a.m. and from  near-by conversation I gathered only about an hour or so away from Nha Trang. Anxious, time passed quickly as the scenery unfolded. Slowly, we crept down the side of a mountain covered in green jungle. To the east, an unobstructed horizon of ocean, gray with mist. A black water buffalo pulled a man driving a broken wagon; following the road down into a marina of torn and  faded fishing boats. We had arrived.

Mike and I were exhausted. It was plain to see on both our faces. I had been extra weight the whole night, and we were both getting sick of this tedious pace. The sleeper bus catastrophe mixed with the final bits of medicated delirium still working its way out of my system, were pushing us towards a schism.

We were sitting across from each other, bowls of pho steaming up my sunglasses. It was breakfast time and I was in the mood for a fight. Before our trip, Mike had gone through an emotional break up. But while adventuring through Vietnam, he had expressed some revelations about his feelings, and was determined to confide in her face-to-face today at the airport in Nha Trang; a meeting that seemed romantic and coincidental, but wasn’t. Shut up Mike. He had been practicing his lines over and over. I’m really over hearing about this Mike. Justifying his mistakes and calculating his comeback. Mike, I’m not sure this is a good idea. Like Richard Gere in Pretty Woman, there would be Italian opera, and doves would fly. His mind painted pictures of grandeur that made me want to vomit. SHUT THE FUCK UP MIKE! I lost it. I need some space. I needed some time to myself. I told Mike I would find him in two days, and we would go from there. What are you going to do? At that point I had no idea, but I looked out at the crystal blue water and had a good feeling that I would be fine.

Alone in a bed, I slept the most glorious sleep of all sleeps. I splurged a bit on the room, but I didn’t care sprawled out on the king bed of cool cotton sheets. I turned the air-conditioning down so low I asked for more blankets. Yes. This is vacation. It was night when I woke up. The streets looked less crowded from the 14th floor window. I wandered through the neighborhood lit up in neon lights, cracking and buzzing, flickering on and off. It was raining, but it was so hot that nothing was wet. I had no idea what day it was or what time of evening, I just walked until I got hungry, sat down at a cafe and ordered an espresso. The hot sting of caffeine felt good. I listened to some French men on the patio speak the romance language, as the rain kept coming down. I wrote in my journal, listened to some music and paid my bill. I bought some ice cream around the corner and tried to eat it before it melted all over my hand. This was my pace.

Sometime the next day, after sunning too much on the beach and shopping, the phone rang in my room. Come have coffee with us. Feeling fixed for company, I was all for it and bounced down to the lobby ready for the beach. Romeo and Juliet were downstairs with someone I didn’t know. A young Vietnamese/American man who spoke natively, and had been gypsie-ing around Vietnam for almost a year, pausing the last few months to call Nha Trang home; Juliet apparently had a friend in Vietnam. I enjoyed him right away. He was well-traveled and educated, on the edge of being a hipster, but without the Rayban sunglasses and meaningless tattoos. He’s so pretentious. Mike didn’t care for him, but I was sure that had more to do with Mike’s romantic rendezvous including another set of balls.  Or maybe the doves didn’t show up. I don’t know. Over coffee and cigarettes the four of us exchanged funny tales of travel, taking in the beautiful scene from a garden table.

The gypsy promised us an authentic Vietnamese dining experience, so again we braved from sidewalk to sidewalk. Don’t stop, and never run. Huh? That’s how you should cross the street. He said it so matter-of-fact that I was almost insulted. But the gypsy is an experienced backpacker and knows what he was talking about. It worked. All of a sudden the stream of motor bikes didn’t seem so intimidating. I watched him and pretended to have the same confidence in my flip-flops. He was right. I thought this trick was spectacular. Mike was rolling his eyes.

We moved up a tight alley and stopped at a busy corner. An old washing drum had been transformed into a fire pit under a chicken-wire  grill. Now we’re talking. Rocky shell-fish was poured onto the flames peaking up thought the wire, snapping and cracking the sand and weeds from the clams, muscles, and snails. Dry and wet seasoning buckets were scattered about the sidewalk while a quick-handed old man artfully pinched out just the right amount onto the steaming meat. The smell of smoke mixed with salts, garlic and fresh-cut lemon grass meant one thing: this was going to be good. We sat around a small platsic-tea-party-table, Mike’s legs almost to his chest, and waited for our first course while we enjoyed a cool, sweet beverage made from seaweed. Intimidating in dark green, the gypsy said it was a health staple for locals and a popular dinner drink. It definitely tasted healthy, I’ll give him that. An old woman placed a bucket under our table and dinner was served. Small plastic plates covered in newspaper soaked up the runny juices and flavored oils spilling out the shell beds. Grilled muscles and oysters on the half shell, delicately dusted with crushed cashew and green onion. I burnt my lip a little as I sucked one down. Fantastic. It had the simple taste of ocean that all shell-fish possess, but rarely keep after freezing, or over-saucing. The lemon grass, oil, and garlic covering the clams and mussels was amazing, clearly from the hand of a cook who had been doing this a very long time. Next, sea snails served in a bowl of warm coconut milk. The trick is to suck it out really fast, and really hard. The sun was going down behind the buildings. Our bucket was getting full.  We ate and laughed,  savoring a truly unforgettable meal.

Nha Trang is gorgeous through and through; it penetrates with a gritty vibe of  lazy beach living. Time is lost under warm waves of ocean, the sun and tide a useful reminder to put on more sunscreen. It’s a beauty that teaches you to tell time with your body and not through the electronic extensions that define our modern time. Sleep when you’re tired. Eat when you’re hungry. Get wet when you’re hot. After the first night I thought: I could stay here forever. But I knew that wasn’t true. I could never be like the gypsy. As romantic as the idea sounded, I could never go long periods of time without work, without order or routine. I’m a creature of habit, not one of vicarious adventures on sleeper busses. I don’t need designer hand bags, but I like to shower twice a day, and I’m okay with that. Our adventure in Vietnam was coming to a close. Mike and I had seen some amazing places, faced relative uncertainty, and met wonderful people in the mix of disaster. The hectic race down the coast of Vietnam finally silenced by the stillness of Nha Trang; the timeless experience of sharing a slow meal, watching the sunset, smiling with strangers, and in the most simple way of expressing: just being alive. We run because it feels safer than looking around to consider where we are. We miss moments between the places or things we run to. Miss it all because we were so sure the grass would be greener in Nha Trang. And sometimes it is. Sometimes when we get there it’s everything you thought it would be. But likely, we soon find ourselves running off again, looking for something that keeps us moving all the time. And we can’t stop.

The gypsy had one more trick up his sleeve. We are going to a party. Where? On the beach. The night was cool in breeze, stars out in purple sky. Tall palms swayed in a seductive motion towards the shore. A huge white canopy had been erected like a circus tent over a large circle of beach, connecting a bar from the street down a dark path to a crowd of people dancing barefoot in the sand. It was like zion had moved off the hill and taken three hits of ecstasy; if God is a DJ, He was throwing this party. The tent glowed purple in black lights while colored beams of all kinds shot across the night air, arms reaching up, down tempo to an electro/house beat. There was only one problem. Mike and I had to catch a train to Ho Chi Mihn city at 7:00 a.m.. We both knew there was only one thing to do, and it started with a bucket of Long Island Ice Tea. Romeo and Juliet grabbed at each other playfully, while I toasted the gypsy to a wonderful evening. The four of us danced on the beach flipping up fans of sand. Mike put his arm around me and we smiled, laughing about our argument the day before. We raised our glasses. Well, at least we can sleep on the train. I laughed and pushed him to dance. Tomorrow could wait, right now all I could think about was how awesome it was that they were playing Daft Punk.

 

 

 

Dedicated to Michael Peterson. Thank you.





Don’t Stop and Never Run

23 08 2011

Part II: Sanitation is Overrated

This would be good for me: I would train my immune system to withstand third world bacteria.

Motor bikes zipped through intersections, up onto sidewalks, and through alley-ways. Are they honking at me? A friend had warned me about crossing the streets in Vietnam, and within the first 30 seconds of seeing the chaos I understood why. As we dodged, stopped, took two steps forward, one back, and ran our way from sidewalk to sidewalk, I was wondering what else here might exceed my expectations.

Wandering about District 1, known mostly for being the most expensive ward in Ho Chi Minh, we finally came into one of the city’s notable crossings: Ben Thanh Market. There was nothing comfortable about shopping in this fair. People everywhere, pulling and pushing you to buy trinkets and knickknacks of every variety. The air was hot and unfamiliar smells lingered around every pile of souvenir t-shirts. But the bustle was lively, foreigners and local merchants mashed up against each other, shouting prices back and forth in a rise of noise. The make-shift  booths were so packed together I could barely make it through an aisle without my backpack taking down a tower of knock-off sunglasses. Through the maze of fabrics, jewelry, and wood carvings, we finally came to one side of the building that opened  to an outdoor  aquarium. The alley smelled of dead fish and other ocean life still swimming in tubs lined up along the walkway. Small fish, squid, crabs, you name it, where splashing around as men and woman cut and cleaned unidentifiable parts; washing the guts down onto the floor and into the sewer. I saw rats the size of possums ducking in and out of view as I clicked away on my camera. This is awesome! In the adjacent building the same seafood was being prepared in steaming bowls of soup, rolled into rice paper, and layered into fresh baguettes. It was time for lunch.

I’ve always been pretty adventurous when it comes to cuisine, but the adventure in Vietnam surely begins with a lack of sanitation standards. This is not your mother’s kitchen. It doesn’t smell like Lysol and lemon, no one wears gloves, and you feel like an asshole for requesting a napkin. We looked through the dingy plastic display cases for something to strike us, and after a few rounds about the different bar top kitchens, we sat and pointed to our lunch. One bite in, and I quickly stopped caring that the woman behind the counter was washing her dirty dishes in a tub on the floor with water that was cold and questionably without soap. I resolved that this would be good for me: I would train my immune system to withstand third world bacteria. Plus, the earthly sweet spring rolls and peanut sauce were too delicious to stop eating.

For dessert I was immediately drawn to a counter serving what appeared to be hot-pink and acid-green in a glass. What is this?  Though found in other Asian countries, Vietnamese Che is known for being particularly sweet; a blend of coconut milk, molasses, yogurt, and a rainbow of exotic fruit. I was feeling bold and asked for the dreaded durian, a fruit known for its pungent smell and acquired taste. The fruits and preparation vary depending on the season and location. A woman poured and layered her way to the top of the glass.  It was heavenly. The soft fleshy body of the fruit was custard-like, and complimented the crushed pomelo and banana oil. Chilled with shaved ice, the drink looks amateur but has an elegant taste and texture. Refreshing and fun, I was already trying to figure out how I could get these ingredients back in California. I could make a fortune!

Happy and full from our tour through Ben Thanh Market we decided to take a break in a dark, smoke-filled café with free WiFi. This is perhaps one of my favorite things to do while traveling: people watching and getting high on caffeine. And from the tinted panoramic window it was a first-rate show. A young Vietnamese boy was playing with his older brother in front of an electronics store. Used-looking cordless phones, alarm clocks and tape decks were spilling out onto the sidewalk like a 90’s plastic flashback. I think I use to have that CD player. The tanned boy was maybe four or five-years-old and unusually porky. His round cheeks and cherub belly were fun to watch as he ran after his equally porky brother. They threw rocks at each other, garbage from the street. Then, the young boy walked to the edge of the sidewalk, lifted up his shirt, pulled out his penis and pissed into the street, fully exposed while he watched his brother run back and forth. I couldn’t stop laughing as no one seemed to notice or care. Good for him. I’m sure there comes a time in a young man’s life when this type of display becomes inappropriate, but in this moment I was glad to be in a place where children enjoyed such an unusual freedom.

As evening fell, it was time to move. We headed to a domestic terminal where we had a flight to catch into Hanoi. While waiting to pass through security a cockroach the size of a mouse ran onto the floor, scaring the waiting people into a frenzy. Finally, a man with closed-toed shoes kicked it across the room into the other line. Good. It was their problem now. Our flight to Hanoi was delayed, which again sparked my anxiety into flashing images of me panhandling in rags to replace the passport I had lost after being robbed at gun point… under water. After remembering to breath, I decided to count cockroaches while Mike read his book.

About an hour before departure we took seats in the cafeteria and fueled up with some instant noodles. I had my feet up on a chair, hugging my knees and resting up for what I knew would be another long night. I noticed a man eyeing me a few times from across the tables but thought nothing of it. I was sure I looked amazing; fatigue and sweating has that effect on me. Mike went to the bathroom, and the man approached me. You should really get your feet off there. It’s incredibly rude you know. People have to sit there. I was shocked. Not because he said it in English, but because he made me feel like a jerk. And why? What had I done but rest my weary backpacker body! But shock soon turned into anger. I was pissed. How could someone be angry with me for leaning my feet on a chair when there where monster cockroaches about? How dare I? How dare he!  Even though it’s far from the cleanest or most sanitary country, the Vietnamese have serious respect for cleanliness and social grace, at least, the outward appearance of such. Mike came back from the bathroom. Did you wash your hands? No. Why would I?








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