We are all in this together now.
Trina shook my hand. Her flight left in 30 minutes, mine left in 40.
We were both in the depths of the sprawling monstrosity that is the Houston Airport, a space designed by Daedalus utilizing the kind of alien geometries that typically characterize HP Lovecraft novels. We had just passed through the hour-long immigration line required of those squalling unfortunates and huddled masses seeking entry into the United States, and were trying to get through the customs area of baggage claim to make our connections. Things were slow moving, we were tired, and everything sucked.
I didn’t learn much about Trina beyond her previous location (Costa Rica), and her eventual destination (L.A.), nor did she get much beyond my parallel travel facts. She was a woman, maybe in her 20s, and blonde. Perhaps she was a nuclear physicist, or maybe an ice cream flavour designer. One or more of her limbs may have been prosthetic. She was maybe secretly a KGB agent? There are a few gaps remaining in my understanding of her biography. But I felt an instantaneous connection with her, a sweaty-browed union of souls that bespoke our mutual desperation and our shared disgust for this godforsaken airport.
Freed from the clutches of immigration, we charged down a hallway and made it to the next line-up to be molested by the TSA. Elderly succubi screeched at the prone, quivering crowd to remove their watches and wallets, to rend their flesh from their aching bones, and to prepare their tired, weakened anuses to be prodded by the slovenly hands of a 300-pound wage-slave named Gus who probably hated his job.
I hated everything about this airport, and this process, but I didn’t hate Trina. She was about the only entity within the entire facility that I could mentally process as a human. I advised her to stuff her belt into her carry-on bag so that she could simply jog on once she had passed the screening, and she scouted out which direction each of us would need to sprint after our mandated proddings.
If contestants were chosen for t-shirt cleverness, we would have been shoe-ins.
I present to you, gentle readers, a timeline exploring how my life in between teaching jobs has become kind of a cartoon without me noticing.
10:24 a.m. I arrive at the Sony Centre with my cousin Zack, and meet several friends already in line. We have tickets to the Price is Right, and have heard that you have to show up disturbingly early in order to secure your position in the draw to be a contestant. We are in line between two elderly people in wheelchairs, and four young people conversing suspiciously in Czech.
10:43 a.m. It is fairly cold outside, and we send off members of the group for the first of several coffee runs of the day. Hannan was brought several camping chairs and we begin huddling together with them.
11:02 a.m. We have discussed it in line, but several people were not previously aware that this is The Price is Right Live. Drew Carrey is not present, nor are any of the remaining Barker’s Beauties, and no matter how memorable we act when we are called down for contestantship, we will never be immortalized in daytime television history. Deep disappointment washes through the line-up, which has ballooned to 17 people.
The bathroom of our guesthouse was spacious and was home to a perfectly reasonable number of dragonflies. It had a bathtub, though I don’t think anyone had ever used it, as I’m fairly certain a wild boar had lived in it at some point. Still, we were in the middle of the jungle, and it was the nicest bathroom we had seen in a while. There were four of us using it, and even that wasn’t a problem: after long enough together, you form a mutual, unspoken agreement that bathing is a suckers’ game. The real issue was that it was kind of an echo chamber.
Indonesian food, as it turned out, was a wonder: delicious, spicy, cheap, and plentiful. Our favoured hobby in Bali was eating, and our other activities for the day took on an air of going through the motions before we could engage in our next round of local delicacies. We hiked and toured and photographed, but our minds were always fixed on curried tunas and goat meat dripping with blood-red oils. Travel is food, and food is travel.
But eating that often, and that cheaply, did not come without risk. Every time you entered a restaurant was a gamble you decided to make, a game of southeast Asian roulette. (In this metaphor, “terrifying intestinal parasites” takes the place of the traditional bullets in a game of Russian roulette.)
Together forever, girl. Probably.
My backpack was growing absurdly heavy. I had been cavalier and ruthless about clothing, toiletries, first aid–it was only four months in Asia! Bandages were for the weak. I didn’t need more than one pair of pants, or three shirts. Razors were for job interviews. Dental floss was for date night. If it meant I was going to have to carry it through Thailand and India, I probably didn’t want it.
The only item that went uncompromised, the only objects so necessary to my continued biological functioning other than the goopy organs already locked in my husk: my books. I wasn’t going anywhere without my books.
It started simply enough. I made dire, brutal calculations of space and weight and airline bag regulations. I considered pace of reading, total page counts and the relative difficulties of style, likely downtime, made equations to include the variable of a rainy day. My travel compatriots were also packing books, and I took theirs into account, too. I slid 5 books into my backpack, cradled them in the precious central core where they could be buffeted by soft underpants, where they could be shrouded in t-shirts to keep them from the dangers of the outside world.
These were my paperbacks. Nothing would befall them. And I had all I needed.
Leave a light on for me.
Over a Skype call one day, my parents talked to me about a conundrum. Feeling a bit empty nest and wanting a change, they needed to decide whether to renovate the family home or pick up and move. I tried to be civil, to be cool and unbiased and give them my opinion in terms of finances, convenience, and property values. I think I tried to make mention of the housing market. I stroked my chin thoughtfully, as grown-ups often do, as though I was deep in consideration. As though I was weighing benefits and costs. I attempted to take part in the conversation as an adult among adults.
I tried, because in my head, I was sniffling like a little boy.
Can’t I just say that I’m from Earth? That’d simple it up some.
The immigration officer was getting more and more agitated. “Why didn’t you list the flight you left Canada on?” he growled. A vein bulged in his toady forehead, and I tried to will it to burst through telekinesis. I was coming back for a funeral and had been on a plane for 13 hours, my butt ached, and was not really capable of overwhelming him with charm and pleasantness.
“Because I don’t remember. It was about 7 months ago.”
“Well, what have you been doing for 7 months?!” he asked testily. He seemed to be implying that I must have been running drugs or had packed several Korean orphans into the depths of my suitcase. I told him that I had been living in Korea, and he practically screamed to the heavens, castigating me as to why I had dared to write my Canadian address instead of my Korean one. Was I dumb? Did I not understand my own country’s notions of home and which one to write down on immigration form 38-C?!
Kindergarten: tiny adults in training.
It was a local news story about Halloween safety. Stock footage of adorable tykes marching up and down halls played: Spidermen and fairy princesses and home-made crafty monstrosities constructed by invested parents. Soon we rushed to a classroom where concerned grade ones looked into the camera and handed down safety advice to their peers so that they could enjoy their Halloweens in comfort and without fear. You never know which piece of candy is filled with razorblades and spider eggs, their shining eyes seemed to say.
Suddenly the camera cut to Charlie. Charlie was a kindergartener I had taught two years before – a Chinese immigrant who spoke only Mandarin at home. A respectful tot in the midst of a silent phase, he showed his appreciation for our snack choices, enjoyed Wednesday afternoon baking projects, and loved the water table. He looked into the camera, wizened almost, as though passing down knowledge from generations past, unearthed from ancient tomes in tongues only he could read. “Always make sure your parents check your candy.” He gave a serene, concerned nod. Don’t fear. Charlie knows what you need to do. Charlie has lived some life. He’s been in the shit.
Enjoy your battery acid, grown-up.
I remember the very first time I tried a sip of beer: it was cold, out of the bottle, my father’s brand. I was young, and as with most young boys had a vague idolization of everything my father did as the epitome of adulthood. Beer, I thought, was certainly a part of adulthood, and I was a big boy. I deserved to drink the big boy drinks. After enough pestering, and with a knowing eyeroll, my father offered me a sip.
I may have spat it on the ground. Beer sucked.
I found this obvious and unhidden wizard time-portal in Busan. It was just lying there for anyone to use!
There are times when I imagine a rending of the universe, like a zipper coming down in the thin sheen of reality. The fabric of space and time rips open, and out pops me: a me with more years, with more miles. He would be drenched in a coating of intertemporal vernix, because that’s what happens with time-travel. There would be lines on his face, scars on his skin, and also a time-machine, because I like to think I would have found access to that sort of technology. He would be coming back to talk to old me with news of great import, if he had bothered to travel back at all: grave danger or some sort of quest. But I also wonder at what kind of look he would give me. What kind of advice he would give me.
I wonder if he would totally hate my guts.
Shinto might have a dearth of street preaching, but it at least provides some nice photography.
“Do you mind if we sit with you?”
I was outdoors, minding my own business, but being as precariously white as I am, this alone can attract attention. Looking up, I took an inventory of the sudden, unexpected English producers. They were young, younger than me; their hair was prim and jaunty, their grins placid and probably genuine. They wore short-sleeved dress shirts with thin black ties and nametags. They seemed happy and unlined, their skin baby-smooth and pallid, their teeth numerous and straight and enormous. It looked like they had never touched a cigarette or a drop of alcohol or anything particularly fun beyond a board game in some time, or maybe ever.
There was no way they were not Mormons.