Of Marriageable Age: The Long, Dark Wedding Season of the Soul

Doom.

Doom.

The death certificate of my childhood arrived in a crimson red envelope.

I slipped the contents out onto my desk and unsealed them, unfolded them, unclasped them. I had never received a missive so delicate or so complex, and it took several moments for my baboon digits to free the contents to browse. What appeared from within shook my heart with horror. I trembled suddenly for reasons I could not then articulate. The sky outside seemed to darken, the clouds grew heavy with ash and smoke. Everything tasted like salt and copper and purple.

Tina is getting married in August. This was the first wedding invitation of my adult years.

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Horrifying Personal Calamity: A Necessary Ingredient in All International Travel

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Climb on board! Each seat comes with a free serving of despair.

“But did you actually like India?” everyone seemed to ask.

It was a fair question. Every time I described India, I usually started with my first impression of the country. The long, circuitous route from the airport into central Delhi, the roadway thick with vehicles diverse in wheels and dimensions, the cow burrowing her head into the flaming pile of garbage while rummaging for some nosh. I relished the grim, gritty details, the number of times I stepped in feces of indeterminate origin, exactly how many times I contracted scientifically-innovative new strains of diarrhea, the many and various attempts to grift me of all of my money and earthly possessions.

The crowning glory in every string of India anecdotes was our journey to Jaipur. The sojourn was a 17-hour ride crammed haphazardly into glass capsules in a rattling deathtrap manned by a driver with an itchy brake-foot. At the terminus of our jaunt was a series of hysterical mishaps involving alleys crawling with braying goats and half-naked children, each of them screaming at us. We climbed into four different rickshaws, each which was trying to rip us for our dwindling supply of rupees, and as we climbed into the last we were sure we knew the face of madness.

I, in fact, really liked India.

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Flight of the Douchebag

“I heard that Christmas in Germany is lovely,” one of us murmured, his or her mouth pursed, as though brimming full of caviar and Zinfindel and self-satisfaction. “The Germans just know how to truly celebrate. I think we should all holiday in Europe next winter.”

The Peak of Mt. Popa

Let’s weekend in Burma, shall we? I hear the spring there is divine.

What a horrendous, decadent assemblage of words. What a cock-eyed, over-privileged, obscene collection of phonemes, ordered in such a way that their construction seems pornographic and vile. I cringed internally, even as I think I probably said it.

That we could even fathom to use the word “holiday” as a verb seems to galling and horrific that our tongues should probably be taken into custody by government officials. That all of my articulators, my teeth and my cheeks and my vocal chords, should excise themselves from my body and escape to Tijuana. People didn’t say things like that, nor did they squint and primp just so. We barely qualified as humans anymore; no, we were douchebags, anthropomorphic pond scum from another planet far away.

Reorienting myself to view travel so cavalierly has taken time and effort. As a child I watched documentaries about people jet-setting around the world, I sat through countless seasons of the Amazing Race. I envisioned the kind of people who took wing and journeyed through the skies: they always wore scarves. They purchased insanely expensive bottles of cognac, used the contents as mouthwash, and spat the leavings on the people who flew coach. They slept on beds made of chilled Alaskan salmon and cashmere puppies, soft and rhythmic and alive. The people I thought of were not so much people as they were personified luxury, walking and talking chequebooks with no personalities and a constant, burning desire to wear berets and eat large baguettes.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Bourgeoisie

La Valenciana I

Shellack it in gold and ship it to my summer home, will you?

The massage cost the equivalent of 4 Canadian dollars. The young Indonesian man who provided it – sprightly, pleasant, deserving more in life than my tepid fleshy torso – smiled pleasantly as we met, not looking me in the eyes, in case either of us were ashamed of what was to come.

I had never had a massage before. I knew, theoretically, that they were pleasant affairs, and was curious to experience one. However, they occupied a place in my mind that was reserved for people far richer than I. Massages were for the wealthy, for people who swam in Scrooge McDuckian pools of gold, for people who sampled caviar and spat it into their crystal spittoons once their palates had been stimulated.

And indeed it was pleasant: a thorough kneading, ambient south Asian muzaak, the humidity of the tropics. Our masseuses and masseurs even did us the solid of wiping down all the oil and grease we had accumulated so that we left the spa relaxed, refreshed, and even less slick than when we first entered. I was so mushy that my deep, writhing awkwardness, the uncomfortable knowledge that I had paid someone else to massage me and that it was really weird, was a distant emotion, like an anxious sunrise on a faraway shore.

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Ayi Audition: Livecast of the “Michael’s Gross Apartment Maid Invitational”

All right, lady. Do your thing.

All right, lady. Do your thing.

At long last, I had cracked. For months, friends and acquaintances had assured me that life on the other side was something incomprehensibly better. That once you crossed the threshold, going back was no longer an option. That even glancing back at your old life would make you shudder and recoil, terrified that you ever could have lived such an unfulfilled, empty existence. I resisted, mostly out of a strange attachment to the status quo. Change is scary. Change is change.

But finally, I relented. On Sunday, I opened my door and let a pleasant middle-aged Chinese woman in to clean my house. And I don’t think I can ever go back.

12:32 I have been tidying slightly, although I know it is a ridiculous impulse. I am somewhat terrified at what this stranger will think of me, what the state of my apartment will say about my character, my personhood, my lack of culture. I imagine her peeking inside the door, cringing visibly, shaking her head and muttering in Mandarin before trudging back to the elevator in disgust.

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The Adventures of Iron Bladder and Neversleep

Offering

My bank of photos has very little appropriate material. Please enjoy this image of cups of yellow fluid (it’s not pee).

I have always been a bit of a master at not peeing.

The origins of my particular talent lie, I think, within my high school days, a bildungsroman of ureic fortitude. My high school – feculent, dilapidated, filled with drug dealers and vagabonds and scores of teenagers so devoid of vigour and care that we could have doubled as a coma ward. Ceiling tiles regularly leaked litres of aged rainwater onto the floors; whole window panes would be thrown into the courtyard and replaced with wedges of cardboard for months at a time. Of the various school apparatus that had fallen into disrepair, the bathrooms were always the worst.

The bathrooms: acrid, fetid pustules with such dense bioform growth and new bacteria that they could technically be classified as wetlands. Whenever I walked by a bathroom the ambient stench was so powerful that my eyes began to water and my teeth developed cavities. The pages on my books fused together, students’ hair turned white, and car tires would deflate. There were no stall doors and every urinal was constantly caked in feces. When they weren’t designated hot boxes for impromptu circles of red-eyed wastoids, they were assumed to be full of various other illegal activities, from prostitution to thievery to orphan smuggling to the exchange of blood diamonds. People entered the bathrooms and just never returned, sucked into sewagey hell dimensions beyond our mortal comprehension.

I remember standing upon the threshold one day as a freshman and deciding, quite simply, that I would hold it. And held it I did. For 4 years.

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My Biannual Dalliance with Substance Abuse

I’ll have ten packets please. Oh, and maybe some for tomorrow, too.

We had heard that Valium flowed like water through the streets of Bangkok. That every pharmacy was giving them away, that children on the street tossed them like pebbles, that they were ground up and used as seasoning salt in most dishes. They were considered mild anaesthetics and treatments for abrasions and sore throats and were served as garnishes at tea parties. One could get them over the counter, as well as in most reputable supermarkets, and also tumbling out of the pockets of clumsy, unwary people who took no care of their large stores of Valium.

We were staring down the barrel of some serious long-haul travel. There were Indian trains and buses and cars looming in our future—much as we had heard legends of Thai Valium availability, we were also privy to numerous stories about the nature of travel in the subcontinent. Long delays, cramped conditions, thin shaky metallic beds hovering over scores of unattended owls—all the horrors of Hades soon to be unleashed on our trembling, waking forms. We wanted nothing more than the sweet bliss of a murky, fogged-up sleep, the hazy slumber of a questionably legal controlled substance to lull us into dreamland.

Ty and I were both dainty sleepers, easily woken and constantly on the brink of truly zen REM, a gilded cloud always floating just beyond reach. Faith by contrast was a champion napper, capable of dozing through anything short of a category five hurricane or her kidneys being forcibly removed through her nostrils, and we envied her ability to escape the most unpleasant aspects of long-term travel. Nearly seconds after laying her head upon whatever iron slab or spiky, fibrous surface we had purchased for ourselves aboard a hurtling, ramshackle conveyance, she would be off to sleepyville. Ty and I would stew the hours away, wakefulness slowly beginning to converge with insanity, as we hungered for the sweet release of unconsciousness.

How then could we lull ourselves into the kind of necessary calm to allow us slumber? The answer, of course, was drugs.

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