Perfect Teeth Pothead and The Glare Of Doom And Gloom

My life is back to vacation within North America, road trips and domestic flights where I don’t need to pass through customs or have to exchange currency or get to eat street food on the other side.

This weekend in San Francisco will be about renting cars and packing duffels and booking hotels in the 3-figure price range (ugh). Eating at restaurants with tablecloths and probably shop during the day, not because San Francisco has shops that Los Angeles doesn’t, but because we will be in Vacation Mode and that’s what you do in Vacation Mode – you spend money.

(This sounds like I’m complaining, like I prefer my life in Southeast Asia where vacationing is less about spending money and more about collecting experiences – but I’m not. I love spending money, I fucking love the fucking shit out of it, which is why I go out and make it.

While living in Southeast Asia, the act of not making a shitload of money was an enormous stressor; I don’t mean not making enough to get by – which I did – but I mean making such an extravagant amount of money that I couldn’t possibly spend it all and so it went to my stock trading account where it would make even more fucking money. I also miss having 23 pairs of shoes.)

***

The last time I was in San Francisco was during New Year’s Eve 2007. I went through two breakups in one month, and this is how.

The first breakup was this girl with perfect teeth. She was a dental hygienist – one of the three I’ve dated, I don’t know why this occupation is trending for me – and so teeth was a priority for her. She wore invisalign when she didn’t have to and the result was her perfect teeth that matched the rest of her perfect face with sharp angles and deep tan.

Holy fucking shit, her face. Her outstanding Laotian face coupled with blunt bangs and large breasts and skinny legs and perfect teeth. Anyway, she cracked up on drugs and was sent to the mental hospital and shortly afterwards left Toronto back for Vancouver and I never saw her again.

I liked her so much. I liked her for so long, months before she even knew that I existed, from seeing her photos first. So although we dated for a short 3 months, I had maybe 8 months invested into her, 8 months of dreaming up the future with her, as I normally fucking do, like some goddamn teenager lying on her bed staring at the glow-in-the-dark star stickers affixed to her ceiling.

So I liked her so much but we were the worst match ever – she was a pothead, I was an alcoholic, which is also the dynamic of me and The Comedian, which is why we probably won’t work – and we had an explosive break up in a public park in Toronto’s Chinatown.

We were walking south on Spadina, holding hands. At this point I was already fed up with her, those selfish antics of most potheads. You know? Their brain is focused on one thing: finding somewhere to sit, getting stoned and eating chips. We had met up around the corner where she lived because I was on my way to run errands on Queen West. I called her up, asked if she wanted to come along.

Perfect Teeth Pothead showed up wearing dark sunglasses and a hoodie wrapped tightly around her face. She was obviously hungover and I was immediately irritated, knowing that she would slow me down, drag me with her into her black hole of marijuana-induced unproductivity.

“Stop walking so fast,” she said. I was walking so fast. “Where are we going, anyway?”

“I told you, I have to go to Queen West. I have to return a shirt at Zara and get some gear on John.”

“Wait, no. I just want to chill. Why can’t we just chill. Why can’t you just relax?”

“Because I told you I was running errands,” I said, pissed. “You don’t have to come. You can just go home now.”

“Ugh, you’re so by the book. You have so many fucking rules. Why can’t you just lighten up and …”

There’s this glare that I do when I’m exceptionally pissed. I don’t do it on purpose – my brain just tells my face to move this muscle here and this muscle there – so I have no idea what it looks like. But in the three times that I’ve ever done it in my life I can remember, because whichever girlfriend was arguing with me (and it was always girlfriends) would look at my face, widen and then divert her eyes from mine, and immediately shut up. All three times it would frighten the girl to shut the fuck up and take two steps back – and the girls I date are usually these loud, sassy and fearless girls who never back down. Except to this glare that I don’t know because I’m too pissed to register what my face is doing.

So I glared and we broke up and I got to finish running my errands.

 

Valentine’s in Vietnam

Last year on Valentine’s Day, I was on the island of Phu Quoc off the southern tip of Vietnam. I was in Saigon for 6 weeks at this point, every day writing my book, the collection of short stories that’s almost finished – like 85% — and remains open in the Scrivener app on my laptop screen.

The app’s been open for over a year now, but I haven’t touched the fucking thing since last June when I was back in Saigon. I got writer’s block trying to piece together the story of Tall French from the scribbles I had here and there. The plan was to combine them all into one long narrative, and then split them up where logical and scatter them throughout the entire collection of short stories.

So I found everything I ever wrote about her, copy and pasted it into a Word doc with some small semblance of an order, then went to a local print shop and printed it out, which was like 16 pages and cost $8. (These 750 word entries seem small, but man, I must’ve written four fucking novels by now.)

It was a good plan, but I get writer’s block when trying to write long stories (like I had for the past decade) and realized I’m a short-story guy. So although I was on a streak, writing 8 hours a day for months, the tale of Tall French fucked me up and now it’s 6 months later and I’m still fucked up.

But last year on Valentine’s Day, I was recovering from the most recent breakup, who is now, like, 6 girls back. It was a breakup that I didn’t agree with and so went down fighting – scowling – and I keep dating more and more girls just to push the experience even further back into my history until it’s a miniscule fucking dot on the horizon (done).

So I didn’t want to be in civilization in Saigon and so I jumped on a $30 plane ride to Phu Quoc because I needed a beach but didn’t want to leave Vietnam. For a week, I wrote every day, designed and illustrated for other clients, and stayed on different parts of the island. Every few days I would strap my backpack to my motorbike and drive down the dirt streets and check into another hotel in a dark corner where no one would find me.

(It’s absurd how good my memory is these days. If I just focus on any day in the past few years of traveling, my brain will go to the back room and access the necessary files in order to relive that particular day.)

One hotel in particular, north of the city center, I remember vividly. It was a shitty two-story walk-up. Upon entering the room I was underwhelmed. It was the standard shitty hotel, damp and dark with the showerhead over the toilet. But it had a small window that was perfectly aimed at the sun at a that perfect time of day, and a ray of light bounced off the shitty wooden end table and to the floor, creating an environment that looked underwater.

You know?

So I stayed for a few days. I went downstairs and found a collapsible table and asked if I could bring it up, and I brought it up and put it under that small window and used it as my desk. I switched between working an illustration project on that desk and writing at a local outdoor eatery across the street, where I’d point at the meats I wanted and they’d stack them on a plate for me.

The women working at the eatery wanted me to marry one of the workers. They teased at her, trying to get her to join me at my red plastic table. She blushed and continued washing the dishes in a large paint bucket filled with suds. Everyday this would happen; I would show up at 1pm and point at food and they would give it to me and then harass the worker that she should marry me.

And then I would walk across to the giant outdoor café and drink Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk and write my daily 750 words here and then work on my collection of short stories until the sun set. I’d motorbike somewhere for dinner, sometimes eating local com suon and other times inhaling an entire pepperoni and sausage pizza. Three beers and I’d head back and fall asleep under my small window.

 

 

K-Village and Mimi

The iPhone 6 on my desk, I bought it just less than two years ago from K-Village, a shopping mall down the street from my apartment in Bangkok.

It was May 2015 and I was waiting for the 6S to launch in September to upgrade from the iPhone 5S that I was using. I was desperately waiting and repairing my achingly old 5S on a near-monthly basis, whether it was swapping the battery or fixing the screen or replacing the camera. In the end, it was a Frankenstein’s monster of a phone with different parts, none of them original.

What finally did it was the camera; it broke and I took it to the top floor of the Terminal 21 shopping mall where they had an I.T. center. The shop I normally went to replaced the camera with a cheap Chinese version, then a fake American version, and finally a real Apple component but all of them failed and he couldn’t get it working.

The entire phone was fully functional, but the camera is the most important feature to me, the one part of the iPhone that I can’t live without, so right then and there, I left the repair shop at Terminal 21, drove to K-Village where they had an Authorized Apple Dealer, and slapped down $1K for an iPhone 6 – a mere four months before the next reiteration would launch.

K-Village became somewhat of a landmark in my life in Bangkok. It was where the closest Villa Market to my home was, where I could get more Western groceries like Cole’s Hot Mustard and these fried onion things that I sprinkled onto everything. It had a Wine Connection, a Daiso (Japanese dollar store) and most importantly – the reason I would frequent K-Village the most – Kim’s Korean, a legit Korean all-you-can-eat buffet for $10.

But it wasn’t just a buffet of barbeque meats; they had mandu and kimchi pancakes and a bibimbap and shin ramyun station off to the side, all for $10 which is cheap even for Bangkok. It was always close to empty, maybe 3 or 4 other tables among the 30 there, and I would always show up with my classmates or friends from out of town.

It was also where I would eat with Mimi, the psychopathic UN Worker with a pretty face and a head full of (unnecessary) lies. We met there half a dozen times, mostly to eat at Kim’s Korean, other times to drink a bottle of Shiraz at Wine Connection before retreating to my apartment to drink my cheap boxed wine. (The good thing about Mimi – and what we had in common – was our abject alcoholism coupled with an indifference for quality alcohol).

She once told me that she knew the family that started Shiraz.

“You mean, like, the wine?”

“Yes,” Mimi said. “This family was the first to make wine from the Shiraz grape. I know them, they are my dear friends.”

“Okay,” I said, at this point already automatically dismissing 85% of the things that came from her mouth. There were some good things about Mimi. There were honestly some really great things that had me thinking, Maybe I should make a run at this, maybe she’s the one for me. I mean, she was intelligent, well put-together alcoholic who worked for the United Nations, flying into developing countries to help and protect the women and children from abuse. But all the lies and bullshit in order to seem impressive, it just poisoned all of that, poisoned the rest of her.

The last time I saw her was in my bedroom at my apartment down the street from K-Village. I knew it was the last time that I would ever see her. She met me for dinner earlier and showed up drunk and I was aghast at her behavior. So we ate at Kim’s Barbeque and she I had to endure her drunken antics, then walked back to my apartment. I wanted her to leave so I sat on my couch silently, as we watched Arrested Development on Netflix.

“Aubrey Hepburn’s niece knitted me this sweater,” she said. I don’t even know if she was wearing a sweater.

“That’s nice,” I said, with my eyeballs firmly planted on the TV set.

This Muji Packable Backpack

On my desk is my backpack, the kind you can fold into itself and turn it into a small, packable pouch.

I bought it at Muji in Bangkok, the minimalist Japanese lifestyle store, in the Silom district. It was a whopping 1000 baht – roughly $40, a fortune in a city where a locally made backpack would be $3 – so it took me some time to decide to purchase it.

I was probably at this shopping mall in the first place for my dentist who’s around the corner. That’s the only reason I ever come to this area in the first place, this neighborhood of massive hotels and whorehouses and touristy ping pong shows and rip-off taxies. And the only reason I even chose this dentist was because five years ago I was vacationing from Toronto and staying in the area, at my friend’s suite in the Sukhothai Hotel around the corner. I walked up and down the alleyways and walked into this dental cleaning and five years later I’m still coming here for $40 cleanings.

So I bought this expensive backpack because I was constantly motoring around Bangkok on my Honda Click scooter, with my laptop in one of those shitty drawstring backpacks. The previous one I had bought in Saigon a month before, on the way back from the second best Pho joint (Pho Le) and my coworking office downtown.

The thick, quarter-inch drawstring of the backpack is seemingly unbreakable, but it’s in fact easily breakable, and so it snapped at some point in some harrowing scenario, like I was motorbiking over a bridge in the rain or something, and the cheap drawstring backpack swung to the side and almost leapt from my shoulder and to the ground – with my MacBook Pro and external HD and other peripherals inside.

I decided, I’d better get a good, motherfucking backpack.

But you see, I already had a backpack. But it was more of a carry-on, made to be as large as possible to fit your shit but small as possible to stuff into the overhead compartment of a plane. So it was too large for daily use, to take with me between my apartment and whatever coffee shop I was writing in that day.

So on my desk is my backpack, the kind you can fold into itself and turn it into a small, packable pouch. The label also bragged that it was made from Parachute fabric, parachutes needing to be invincible and all, lest it kill the parachuter wearing it. Good enough for parachuting, good enough for motorbiking, I thought. And so I bought it after doing another lap around the mall, wondering if I should spend that kind of money.

This stupid-looking bag that no longer matches my office attire here in Los Angleles, this dumb-looking thing that has no features or textures or colors, that I carry with only one strap, that clashes with my wool coat and tailored shirt and plaid pants and pointy-toed shoes – it’s now been with me everywhere, from Bangkok to Bali to Kota Kinabalu to Saigon to Taipei to Toronto and to Los Angeles.

What the fuck am I talking about?

My Blue- and White-Striped Shirt

I’m at work wearing a blue- and white-striped dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to just under my elbow and the top two buttons undone.

I had this shirt made in Bangkok when I was living there and attending Thai language school. That was two years ago, now, which seems impossible because back then I was just so living in the present that I never even thought that two years later I’d be looking back at that time like it was some extraordinary time of my life. 

(Holy fucking shit, it was extraordinary.)

Every single time that I wear this shirt, I remember why I had it made, why I chose this style of shirt. It’s because I saw The Girl With The Extraordinary Face wearing it in one of her Instragram photos. She was at work or at a conference wearing the same blue- and white-striped dress shirt, while hunched over a desk or table at a restaurant with her perfect hair falling down to her shoulders.

Years later – months ago – she told me that her mom was a hairstylist and I said, “Oh, that’s why your hair’s always perfect!” Her hair was always perfect – well, physically, she was always perfect, always clean and neat and buttoned all the way up.

Anyway, I saw her Instagram photo of her in the shirt and she looked great and I remembered I owned a shirt in this electric, navy-blue hue back in high school when everyone owned at least one shirt in this color (I bought mine from Tristan America and would wear it with brown pants). So I wanted to have this shirt for both reasons of nostalgia, and because sometimes you imitate those that you have a crush on.

(This girl at work, she’s talking like me, now. My words and phrases and speech mannerisms. To the point where it’s pointed out, “Hey, you talk like Alex,” and I’ll smirk and ignore it, but I know the truth, I know what it all means.)

So now I’m wearing this blue- and white-striped shirt and whenever I wear it, I’ll take a tightly cropped photo of it, just enough to show a few stripes and a wrinkle and maybe a bit of background for context, and I’ll send it to The Girl With The Extraordinary Face just because I can. Because I’m amazed that we’re friends, this girl that I had (have) an enormous crush on, who I could see one day becoming my wife, based on nothing but her looks and a small bit of her personality.

(All I know of her personality is that she’s nice and can be funny. Also, that she’s a hard worker. Probably smart and resourceful, enough to start her own company and move to another city on her own. But I don’t know shit like, does she talk during movies? Does she spend recklessly and have massive consumer debt? Does she not want children, does she hate dogs, does she misspell words, does she correct people? I don’t know these things but I still think that what I do know is enough to form a life-long, holy matrimony with her.)

So I’ll message her with the photo and say something dumb like, “I hope you’re not wearing the same thing today, or you’ll have to go change!” I sometimes type to Thai locals like they’re children, like they’re dumb. But they get it, they get these fucking things.

Like I kept telling Rose Tattoo Alien Face, “I’ve been waiting three years to see you again!” I’d say it every chance I got, like if she was trying to get out of plans or didn’t want to dress up. “But you have to dress up – I’ve been waiting three years for this!”

One day I was irritated, lying on the bed of her studio apartment waiting for her to get ready. “Holy fucking shit, it’s been two hours! Hurry up and change!” and she responded with, Listen, Mr. Waiting-Three-Years-For-This. You wanted me to be pretty so I’m getting fucking pretty for you. So you just calm the fuck down, Mr. Waiting-Three-Years-For-This and it was so fucking funny that I chortled and guffawed until snot ran down my cheek and down my chin and dripped to the fucking floor.

The Comedian, Part 5ish

She kept bailing. The Comedian kept planning things and then bailing, each time sending me on an emotional roller coaster while I’m pretty certain that she was leaning back in her driver’s side car seat, a lit blunt between her fingers and exhaling the smoke into the air of her rental.

“Argh,” I would type.

“Sorry!” she would reply.

There’s only so many times that that can happen before I take a final sigh, drop my shoulders and give up. And I gave up, sometime after she canceled for the third time, but not even a real cancellation but almost as if we never planned anything in the first place, or the plan was always tentative, like, “Hey, let’s go eat two days from now, if neither of us have anything to do and the time and weather and traffic and all of these other millions of pieces fall into place perfectly. Then let’s go eat.”

I thought the plan was, “Hey, let’s go eat two days from now.” So already there’s an imbalance of power, a disparity in the attraction that we have for one another.

“Food?”

“I’m gonna go fix my computer.”

“Argh,” I would type.

“Sorry!” she would reply.

So I changed the plot. The Comedian, we were going to write together. We were going to spend weekends draped over my 8’ picnic table – her writing scripts and me writing books, throwing lines at each other. We’d take breaks and she’d smoke out and I’d drink wine, and we’d regroup on my couch where we’d make love on the sticky leather while watching Border Wars on Netflix.

After midnight, we would roam Hollywood looking for open mic nights and jazz bars. I’d begin to smoke up; she’d begin to drink wine. Those are the compromises we’d make to each other, the substances that we’re addicted to, that we abuse nightly. She’d get up on stage and I would give her notes after.

The Comedian and I would eventually collaborate on a project and pool all of our resources to make it happen. She would be the star and I would support her quietly from her trailer on the lot, where I’d be banging out stories on the keyboard, a hairline away from my own goals. “It’s better if you appear single,” I would tell her. “You need your legion of male fans.”

But I had to let go of that storyline, it wasn’t happening. For an entire month, she kept bailing, kept making plans and then bailing, and I was finally exhausted.So I stopped and let go and rewrote my brain and dated this and that girl, dropped by a dance club at 2am on a Saturday to say hello. Blasted messages on dating apps, to a middle-aged white TV exec, a Taiwanese girl who hunts down bottles of rare wine for her wealthy Chinese clients, a side-smirking woman who creates branding for Korean rappers. I began to flirt with the girl at work, the Most Beautiful Girl I’ve Every Seen In My Entire Life, the perfectly sculpted Fem-Bot from the future, sent back in time to distract me every time I go to the office kitchen to refill my water. I walk by her desk and she throws me furtive glances and I gasp and hyperventilate and am completely astonished that I might actually have a goddamn chance with her.

So I started new storylines, invented new plots, and I was immediately myself again – hopeful. Everything is possible, everything is awesome; that is my default state of mind, and I fucking earned it with nearly four decades of forcing things to be possible, manipulating things to be awesome.

And letting go of the things that are not. You can’t control everything but you can choose to not care about them.

So I stopped responding to the Comedian. Or I stopped responding in the way that I was responding, all of these heavy paragraphs to her three-word statements. And she probably understood what I was doing. She got it, she knew that I was exhausted of the empty chase, of waiting in vain, of taking blow after blow of canceled pseudo-plans — because finally, out of the fucking blue, she messaged that she was hungry and would I please take her to a hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant with good kimchi?

And so I did and so we ate and talked and laughed and I looked directly into her eyes for the entire night and wondered how much of the plot I’ve already rewritten.

Taiwanese Hostess, Part 2

Her – she – was a slim girl with thin, light-brown hair and bangs that swept across her forehead. She had a disproportionately large head and I like disproportionately large heads, and was wearing a plain white t-shirt and blue jeans and I like plain white t-shirts and blue jeans. She just looked super chill and relaxed in a sea of scenesters and clubbers, myself included.

Taiwanese Hostess – because she was a host on a local TV show, not because she’s a hooker; let’s just get that out of the way now – was a friend of somebody at the dinner party, and met us at the club after. This is hands-down the best way to meet women: through other people. It’s also the best way to meet quality women who are seemingly out of my league or out of my range. You can’t just walk up to a pretty local TV host and start talking to her, you can’t cold call that shit. You need a way in, even it’s something as small and silly as a mutual acquaintance whom I sat three seats down from at dinner and said, “Hey, can you pass the butter?”

I introduced myself, Hi, I’m Alex, I’m friends with so-and-so and leaving for Los Angeles in a few hours where I’ll be living for the foreseeable future. Whatever, something benign, something to kill the time. I didn’t think much of her – Taipei is chock full of beautiful women – but I brought her over to the bar and bought her a drink just because she was around.

We sipped our cocktails and she told me that she was a hostess, actress, model and she was launching a cosmetics company. Her face was super fucking fresh looking, like a dewy meadow in the Appalachians. “Yeah, that’s the perfect business for you, your face is amazing,” I said, and then asked about the logistics of her company – where she was manufacturing, how she was distributing – because that shit seriously makes the blood course right to my brand spanking new erection.

“It’s good you’re doing this now while you’re young,” I told her. “I mean, how old are you, 24? 26?”

“I’m 40,” she said.

And that’s what did it for me, that’s how I fell in. I don’t know what it is about older women – middle-aged women – a switch just turns on inside of my head and I think of all the calm and quiet nights we’ll have on a couch with three throw pillows and a plaid comforter dragged from the bedroom.

So I kissed her.

I told her, too, while we were drinking another drink from the bar. “I’m going to kiss you,” I said. “I need to kiss you.” I like doing it this way, coming in from this angle. I probably saw John Cusack do it in a movie and now it’s buried into my subconsciousness. Taiwanese Hostess looked around, anxiously, at the crowd around us, perhaps looking for recognizable faces that could report us. I don’t know, these semi-public figures are antsy about this kind of shit.

(I didn’t know at the time, but there was a guy there – also at dinner – who liked her. Or she liked? I don’t know the story, my friend started with “Don’t cause drama, she and that guy….” and I interrupted her with Listen, I’m about to leave for Los Angeles, I don’t care, and went back to the Taiwanese Hostess to look into her eyes and talk an enormous amount of shit.)

“I don’t think…” she started, and stopped because I grabbed the back of her head and kissed her firmly on the lips. She didn’t kiss me back

“Come walk me to the elevator,” I said. The club was on the 14th floor of a building in downtown Taipei. I held her hand to the elevator with more partygoers still coming than going. I pressed the elevator button and spun her to face me, then leaned in. She reached up and put her left hand on my cheek and kissed me in the way that only a 40-year old could, a girl brought up on Hollywood melodrama and Chinese rom-coms.

I left the Taiwanese Hostess, stepped outside into the electricity of Taipei. I stepped into my Uber and went back to my AirBNB where I packed my bags for the last time while messaging with The Comedian. I’ll be there in 16 hours, let’s go on a date.

Taiwanese Hostess, Part 1

Taipei was mostly ordinary. It’s been too soon since my last visit back in May, when I was trying to live there but in the end retreated back to Ho Chi Minh, on account of the shitty weather and even shittier laws of the road that are followed and upheld.

See, if you’re driving a motorcycle, you get fucked: no right turns on reds, no left turns – period. Making a left involves making a right, then a u-turn, then straight. That’s not a big deal, but the fucking lights last for 120 seconds, so that’s 240 seconds (4 minutes) to make a goddamn left turn. My gym was 3km from my apartment, but it was taking me 20 minutes to get there.

This in conjunction with the weather – is it just always monsoon season on that godforsaken island? – made me pack up and leave, back to Saigon where the weather was hot and the road rules negligible. You did what you needed to to get to where you were going, even if it meant driving in the wrong direction, even if it meant barreling down the sidewalk.

So I landed in Taipei and it felt ordinary and normal, like a city that I used to live in and knew all of its nooks and crannies because I suppose I did. I went from the airport to my AirBNB, filled up the fridge with Guiness from the 7-Eleven on the corner, unpacked and then walked to the 101 Tower to meet friends at the food trucks beneath.

I met up with that girl. I’m not sure what to think about her. She’s pretty and smart and we get along very well (“Wow, you guys have a really good rapport,” someone once remarked after seeing us together) – but I never tried anything with her and never felt like trying, which I suppose means that we’re meant to be just friends.

But I always think, I should be trying to like her, and so I would make plans and plant some seeds beforehand (“Hey, our children would be beautiful…”) and then meet up with her and the same thing would happen, we would talk and laugh and slap each other’s backs, but the mood would melt into the warm, comfortable blanket of friendship. Like it did that night, even though we were up until 3am at speakeasy, long after everyone else had left for home, experimenting with cocktails and taking selfies together. Any romantic attraction just dissipated into the air, and she walked me home and then jumped into an Uber.

There we were, two 30-something singles at 3am and drunk and she didn’t want to come upstairs and I didn’t want her to come upstairs. I mean, that’s the surest sign of a platonic relationship, isn’t it?

The next few nights were the same – ordinary – meeting with friends in recognizable places, cycling through the must-eats and hiking up Elephant mountain and shopping at Zara (after Europe, the Taiwan Zara is the cheapest in the world). On the last night, I went to a fancy restaurant with a group of people I’d just met, whom I didn’t know aside from the one friend who connected us all. One of the girls, it was her birthday, so I wore my suit and we sat there for three hours and eight courses, eating classical Taiwanese dishes turned into something modern. The Connector Friend remarked to the entire table, “Alex doesn’t normally eat like this, so you should all feel special,” and I laughed politely while actually cursing everyone in my head. This is my last meal in Taiwan for god knows how fucking long, and I’m eating what appears to be grass and mist.

We went to a new club after, opened by a friend-of-a-friend who owns clubs in Taipei. My flight to Los Angeles was at 7am so I packed beforehand, ready to leave from the club to home to airport. I had some shots and a few drinks, then mingled with the rest of the guests who made it from dinner. I kept my eye on the time and was ready to ninja out the second I became bored.

But I wouldn’t become bored and would instead make a mad dash home and then a mad dash to the airport, because I saw Her.

Squinty Ed Burns in Sidewalks of New York Changed My Life So I Now Get Hurt In The Most Terrible Ways, And It’s Been Amazing

There was this scene in Sidewalks of New York that completely changed how I handle certain situations with women.

To the best of my recollection, this is what happened (I’m too lazy to confirm the plot, and anyway it’s no longer the factual plot that matters, but what my brain has processed and taken away from it): Ed Burns met Rosario Dawson and they went on a handful of dates. Two or three, not too many, it didn’t run too deep. They slept with each other on the last night and in the morning, hugged and kissed. “I’ll see ya later,” he said, as they walked in opposite directions.

Throughout the day, Ed Burns phoned her and left messages: Had a great time, can’t wait to see you again. How’s little Tammy doing on her ABCs? Wanna get some dinner tonight? Normal messages, appropriate timing, suitable speed for two people who’ve been on a few dates and had slept with each other and by all means should be starting a courtship.

But Rosario Dawson didn’t pick up the phone. She didn’t respond. She had some issues going on – her ex-boyfriend wanted her back, etc. This went on for weeks, Ed Burns trying to get in touch with Rosario Dawson, and Rosario Dawson too scared – or something? – to pick up the phone and explain her situation to him. His last message was something like, “I thought we were having a good time, you know? I thought this was something – but I guess I was wrong,” said in his Brooklyn accent with his squinted eyes.

A short time later, Rosario Dawson discovered that she was pregnant, and the only possible father was Ed Burns. This put her life into more of a tailspin and she stressed over telling him or not – although she’d already decided to keep the baby regardless. Then she decided that she wanted him in her life, as a husband and the father of her child.

Rosario Dawson seeked Ed Burns out at his apartment. He was on his way to work, busy and walking at a fast clip, and she tailed behind, meekly, trying to tell him about the baby.

“I need to tell you something,” she said. “About us.”

“Listen, I gotta be honest,” said Ed Burns, about to change my life. “I can’t say I’m interested in this anymore. I called you a bunch of times, and I never heard back from you. Ever.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry for not calling you,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m sorry, too,” he said.

She looked at him, into his squinty Brooklyn eyes, and knew it: I fucked up. She walked away without telling him anything, why she didn’t call him back, that she was pregnant with his child – and he would never, ever know. He’ll just always know her as a flaky bitch (which isn’t completely right but nor is it completely wrong).

So this changed me in multiple ways:

1. When a girl acts like she doesn’t like me, I don’t assume that she actually doesn’t like me. So I’ll prod and dig and push the girl until she says with absolute certainty, unequivocally, that she does not like me. I have a 50/50 record of survival, but even if just one single girl slipped between my fingers because of a misinterpretation or circumstances that could be controlled, that would be a horrendous, tremendous loss.

So my rejections are brutal and harsh, but that’s exactly how I need them to be, because I cannot have any misunderstandings. (And even after a majestic rejection that leaves me bloody and limping, I’ll still go back in one more time, just to make sure.)

2. It’s okay – and actually preferred – and maybe even fun? – to tell a girl that she fucked up.

“Can I see you in Los Angeles?” she asked.

“You bailed on me in Bangkok last April,” I said. “I waited for you all weekend.”

“Sorry about that. But let’s face it, you were probably too busy to meet me anyway,” she countered.

“That’s fucked up, we had plans and I waited.”

“Sorry, I really didn’t think you would wait. So can I see you in Los Angeles?

“Never.”

3. I squint as much as possible in order to look like Ed Burns.

 

The LadyBoy

(Bangkok)

The LadyBoy in Bangkok, I couldn’t get her out.

She’s this fierce looking thing, this tall, statuesque, absurdly gorgeous creature who looked perfectly sculpted because I suppose she literally was. That’s the thing about ladyboys: they can choose to look exactly how they want to. They’re unwilling to let genetics and heredity dictate how they look, or what goddamn genitalia they have.

This lady boy – The LadyBoy – chose to look like the most perfect human woman, ever, and her version of the most perfect human woman coincidentally matched my version of the most perfect human woman.

Her face was all angles, a sharp jawline and triangle chin; high cheekbones and a pointy nose. Her lips were thin and when she smiled they joined at a tight angle and dug deep dimples into her cheeks, perfectly symmetrical with the rest of her. Her eyes were large and her lashes expertly separated and swooped.

Her body, her ridiculous body boosted by the hormones that she (probably) took for years, for a decade, to achieve that small waist and curvy hips, the thin legs and toned arms that only female anatomy can achieve. Her flat stomach and strong collarbones and breast implants and fashion sense and her ever-changing hairstyle, from blond curls to red bobs to jet-black and straight.

So, so dangerous.

I found her on Instagram somehow, years ago. Followed her, liked her photos here and there. Eventually she followed me back and we took the conversation to Line a few weeks before I landed in Bangkok. Her first message was, “Alex, you know I’m a ladyboy, right?” and then I replied and she replied and I replied and then she sent a flurry of emoji stickers.

See, that’s the thing about ladyboys: they’re not out to trick men. They’re not out to pick up drunk men and bring them to hotels and then fuck them in the ass and in the morning have a big reveal, “Joke’s on you, I’m a ladyboy!” No, they would literally get beat for that. Probably even killed.

So The LadyBoy told me that she was a ladyboy and when I didn’t scram and instead asked her questions about her hormones and if she was post-op and if she was planning on the operation – The Operation – and whenwhenwhenwhen so I could fucking entertain thoughts of marrying the most Perfect Human Woman – she shed her defenses and talked like a regular person.

…well, talked like a regular girl. I swear, the hormones that these ladyboys are on makes them even more girlier than the average girl. Emotional, jealous, possessive, competitiveness — all magnified by a factor of 200x.

But in the end, I couldn’t get her out. The one night I had free, she called in sick. And I’m not sad about this because I’m not sure what I would have done. I have absolutely no idea what I would have done with The LadyBoy who resembled the most perfect human woman – but who still had her penis.]

What does that make her, like 10% man and 90% woman? That’s not bad, is it? Also, the hormone pills would have shriveled her penis to something miniature, something the size of a cashew. I mean, there are probably clitorises that are just as big.

What would I have done with her? Would I have held her hand? Would I have led her through the alleyways of Silom with my hand on her waist? Would I have been anxious about the first kiss? Would we have made love? Would I look only into her eyes? Would I ignore and deny and conceal and obscure and bury and suppress?

Would I have liked her, would I have fell in fucking in love? What would I have done and who would I be now?