I like to think that my life is just a collection of in-between stuff that doesn’t count, while the times that I travel are when I am truly alive.
Or is that my real life is simply peppered with the travel episodes, which are more like fill-ins that don’t count towards the greater narrative arc?
In any case, after some unimpressive hookups, I was ready. So ready. Travel.
America (plus Canada)
My biannual trip back home. Every other year, that’s plenty for me. And, my best friend was getting married!
I was the best man. It was a big deal.
I seem to always travel for weddings these days. That’s cool; it’ beats funerals.
So, I flew to Seattle. My first time in the Pacific Northwest. Over the next few weeks, I would travel to Portland and Vancouver as well (being my first time in Canada). As well as stopping by my hometown Cincinnati, of course. It was right at the cusp of 2012 and 2013, and it was damn cold. I saw winter snow again after years on end in the tropics, and I’m not quite used to it. For the most part, like the last time I went back to the real world West, it wasn’t that big a deal reacclimating.
Seattle seemed surprisingly average. I expected it to be more liberal and crazy. I don’t mean grungey stoners everywhere, but a few more rock show flyers and headshops would have been nice. Mostly it was average white people and average suburban settings, the kind the world imagines from American television.
My best friend picked me up and I proceeded to stay at his place in Tacoma. We went out to bars there, bars in Seattle, as I met his lovely fiancé and social group as we traveled around Pike Place Market, home of the world’s first Starbucks, and further lame tourism.
We celebrated New Year’s watching fireworks explode atop the Space Needle among the office workers. 2012 had come and went and the world did not explode as much as I’d hope. Sure the world is always evolving, however slowly, yet cosmic paradigm-shifting Singularities may be asking for too much.
Going to my hometown to see my family was uneventful. I took a week out to fly to Cincinnati, Ohio to see my mom and dad and sister and brother and several old friends. Ate food. Saw live music. Went to more bars. Some of which in Northern Kentucky which is still greater Cincinnati. The old friends who stayed in Cincinnati tended be the kind of people who just never leave home…
Remember Gwen? It was nice to see her again. She drove me around and invited me to her house and we caught up. Hung out with her growing son… And then met her new boyfriend. I sure didn’t have the confident swagger I had back in 2010. But good for her. Since then she isn’t the most active Facebook user to keep in touch with, but I have heard that she moved to the West Coast and I support her for that.
When traveling back home, it’s all about the people you meet. Still, when traveling back home, for me, a lot of it involves bookstores. To be more specific, a lot of it involves reading comics at booksstores. One of my favorite things to do in America is to simply go to Barnes & Nobles and sit down and catch up on graphic novels.
Naruto, One Piece, 20th Century Boys, and more manga. Transformers, the classic sort. I started to get into Judge Dredd. Fables, for Vertigo fix. Justice League & Aquaman by Geoff Johns, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Wolverine & the X-Men as authored by Jason Aaron. The indie masterpiece Habibi by Craig Thompson was a favored read.
Then I flew back. The wedding was underway. My friend immediately took me to Canon Beach, Oregon. Famed for that scene in the Goonies. A beautifully scenic beach town, though too bad it wasn’t the summer. We took residence in the hotel and rehearsed and set everything up, met some familiar faces and many more new ones. It was weird to see his family in Oregon, his mom and sister who were mere background when I was a teenager and we played video games in his house. It’s weird to meet your friend’s parents when you are an adult. I never know whether to call them by their first name or not.
It was good as weddings go. I can totally rock a suit, it’s a shame I wear a tie so seldom. There was the big party. Dancing. Photos along the shore. High-pressure afterparty. Staring at the stars at night. I made a brief speech, as my duties pertained. Now, according to movies, weddings were supposed to be a good place to meet girls. Let us just say it didn’t work out that way at all for me. I was not at all at the time of my so-called game. I’m not complaining, simply taking note.
And that was about it for Canon Beach. There was another old friend in town for the wedding, a great ol’ companion who followed me to Southern California and the place ended up suiting him more than it did me. He’s still there, living the good life.
While in Oregon, me and old friend decided more travel is always a good idea and went out to explore Portland. There was the proper super-liberal town I was waiting to see. Vegan donuts and graffiti and homeless people. I really loved Powell’s Books! Funny thing about Portland, it has the highest per capita of strip clubs of any city in America. Strip clubs where couples go and girls enjoy having a drink and it’s like a normalized bar-restaurant. With naked lady dancers. Contrast that with the gay bars there; while everywhere else I’ve lived has gay bars full of hip straight people, in Portland the gay bars are for real gays only. That’s the core of what I made of the city: strip clubs full of women patrons and gay bars with men only, and I found that odd.
Moreover, don’t you love the show Portlandia?
An interesting anecdote crossed my path. At a certain strip club, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face that I swore I recognized from the news. It was MCAFFEY, the antivirus entrepreneur who was accused of drug-crazed murder in Belize and had recently escaped back to the United States. I was so starstruck, and I freaked out. It’s one thing to see a random B-list celebrity on the street in Los Angeles, it’s another thing to see someone fromthe news in real life. My friend made fun of me for shrieking and making such a big deal about it. I didn’t go up and ask for a selfie together, and that may have been a bad idea considering he had probably recently killed a man. Or he would’ve hacked my phone or something.
McAfee really was in Portland in January of 2013. Look it up.
I took a train back to Seattle-Tacoma, and by then my best friend was too busy entertaining his visiting family. He seemed very overwhelmed and stressed with the whole wedding. It was certainly a happy occasion, but I know that I’d never want to have a big wedding and go through all that trouble. That may not be romantic of me but that’s how I feel. Weddings aren’t even for the married couple, they’re for the visitors. Is that selfish of us visitors, to put the couple through that?
Anyway, we had talked about going up to Vancouver, British Columbia to complete the Pacific Northwest triumvirate of cities. I’d never even been to Canada before, I really wanted to go. Unfortunately, there was no way he’d have the time. So for my last days, I took care of myself. I found a Couchsurfer who wanted to hang out, and we drove up for the day.
Canada (at least the English-speaking part) is, as we all know, basically culturally the same as America. The main difference being the currency and French translations everywhere. I did like Vancouver and wished I could have been there longer. I met a comic artist at an indie bookstore, got to know the new Couchsurfer, and saw various other sights.
Funny thing, I was questioned far more stringently at the America-Canada border than I ever have been in my constant crossings over to Hong Kong.
And that was it. My month-long sojourn was nearing its end. I had been to four states and one province. Pretty epic for me.
And no dating stories whatsoever.
I hugged goodbye as my best friend dropped me off at the SeaTac airport. Who knows when we will see each other again. He’s been my best friend almost my whole life – he likes to point out that we’ve known each other since before puberty. Now he’s starting his new life with a family. I wish him the best, and I hope I can meet him and his future offspring somewhere out in the world. I’m sure I will.
A little lonely, I flew back. Transferred to Beijing. Back to China. Back to what I’ve been used to, my own version of normalcy.
Again, I should stress that I was somewhat lonely those days.
One of my friends I liked to text & email was a very cool girl who lived across the river in Hong Kong. Back in South China with little to show for myself on the romantic front, I got to talking with her about our various relationship issues.
Suddenly, she mentioned that she was currently into NSA – No Strings Attached.
I was intrigued by her openness. I decided to throw caution to the wind, and actively flirted with her. It can be a very dangerous game, to throw away a platonic friendship for the sake of getting off.
The next time I was in Hong Kong, we met up for dinner. I had bought a boardgame at Toys R Us whilst shopping, and she’s into boardgames, and suggested we play at her apartment.
Now here comes funny part. At the time it really bothered me, but you know what they say about tragedy plus time. It really did seem like a profound psychological scar at the time.
The setup: See, the dinner we had included a some Thai raw shrimp sushi kinda dish. I don’t ever recommend that in any dating/hooking up/NSA scenario ever.
The punchline: It went well at her house, I wasn’t even that nervous, although my stomach was starting to slightly bother me. That bother would grow. One thing led to another and we abandoned gaming and kissed and there were further bases and clothes had unraveled… it should have been awesome… it was hot, it was sexy… and yet I could not complete the deed.
THE HORROR. Perhaps I was intimidated by her high class. Perhaps other psychological issues especially pertaining to that lonely, insecure time in my life. Perhaps I was physically ill.
Considering I was soon in and out of the bathroom multiple times after that, as embarrassingly as possible, it was likely due to physical illness.
It was rather humiliating. But hey, it happens. I tried to play it cool, and we watched some TV, and then she sort of kicked me out and I took a latenight but back to Shenzhen.
We were not meant to be friends-with-benefits. We clearly didn’t have chemistry. It was an experiment, a failed experiment, just worth a try.
I did try to meet up with her again after that, begging for another chance to prove my manhood or whatever, but life kept getting in the way. We probably did need several months of not seeing each other for our friendship to recover. After something so horribly awkward, especially awkward things that involve nudity, it takes time. A lot of time.
Although she’d never get to learn firsthand of my skilled love-making prowess (if I may be so bold. Hey, I’ve had practice. I read articles.), we are still quite good friends, my HK buddy and I.
Lesson learned, don’t ever eat raw shrimp.
After this episode, I wasn’t at my highest of points. In fact, I was totally desperate to prove my own masculinity to myself. I considered pills, but I’d never allow myself to rely on that. Still to this day, the little blue pill of the few drugs I’ve never tried and honestly I’ve never even thought of the need again.
My parts still worked. I still had some moves. But who to share such with?
In an absolute time of weakness, I lowered my standards like never before, for the shallowest of reasons.
I leapt into the arms of POF, and I let it toss me aside to first woman who would have me. I’m not proud. I know I deserve whatever I get. I know I sometimes don’t deserve any better. I know I can be a terrible person at times. It’s just what happened, I’m just telling it.
It was one of my biggest regrets of all.
This was it. The most. Epic. Clusterfuck. Year. Of 2013. Had begun.
Next: the Stalker