Notes for a Memoir – Part 3

Continued from Part 1, Part 2, and the Addendum

  • Discovering Mexico; Changing My Life (Mexico Trip 1: Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Mexico City)
  • Back to Manila One Last Time, My Friends
  • An Interlude to Discuss the Finer Points of Buddhism
  • The Dissolution of a Friendship, or: Just Admit You’re Secretly in Love With Me, Already
  • Valentine’s Day Regrets, 2017, or: Eating Breakfast Alone at Jollibee on Valentine’s Day Is Not Very Romantic
  • Rooftop Bar Regrets
  • America: Land of Utterly Endearing Insanity (Related posts here and here)
  • Farewell to the Philippines (Hey, I already wrote a blog post about that! Now I just need to rewrite it to include more salacious details)
  • Climate Change and the Inevitable Collapse of Human Civilization
  • G. Bear: A New Friendship
  • The Dissolution of Another Friendship, or: Just Buy Me The Damn Hot Pot, Already
  • You Can’t Go Back: Totally Demoralizing And Utterly Failed Attempts to Recapture Past Glories Around the World
  • Moving to Mexico
  • COVID-19, or: A Great Excuse to Move Further Inward and Also Lose Weight
  • Toronto: The Least Worst Option in the Worst Possible World

Notes for a Memoir – Addendum

So far, I have written Part 1 and Part 2 of my notes for a never-to-be-written memoir. Before I hopefully start Part 3, I would like to sketch out a few chapters that either could be slotted into Parts 1 and 2, or that cover recurring themes that might not fit nearly into any linear chronology. In past instalments, I wrote brief summaries of what each chapter might cover. From this point forward, I would rather leave the chapter titles/descriptions even more vague, in the hopes that sample chapters will actually appear in this blog within the lifetime of the Earth’s Sun. And so, with only a little bit of further adieu…

Part 1

  • Going back to playschool after kindergarten, skipping a grade, and “special” classes, or: How to Disorient the Living Shit Out of a Child
  • Mr. Moskalyk, the Visionary Teacher Who Quite Possibly Left No Permanent Imprint on my Life, Because Life Is Pointless and Dumb
  • My violent mother-abusing alcoholic uncle who is totally dead now
  • My many schoolboy crushes (or: A study in proto-adolescent sexual repression)
  • All about autism, and what it can do for YOU
  • Dogs are, and always will be, better than people
  • Almost every dream I’ve ever been able to remember in my entire life has been unpleasant, or: Dreams
  • My A&B Sound Family (In retrospect, I already wrote at least one chapter of my memoir without even realizing it)
  • Temporary autistic obsessions:
    • Catalan music
    • Trains
    • Hip-hop
    • Terrible early ’90s techno-pop
    • Classical music
    • Cinema (As discussed in the newly-added chapter “My Hot Psychologist”)
    • Learning languages
    • [Redacted]
  • My Failed Career as an Early-Teen Filmmaker
  • Johann Sebastian Bach is the G.O.A.T.
  • Staying Up Til 3 AM playing Nintendo 64, Eating Potato Chips and Drinking Pop: A Study in Friendship
  • Beautiful Lady from the Dollar Store, Beautiful Lady from the Coffee Shop, and Other Beautiful Ladies Who I Spent A Lot of Time With But Was Afraid to Kiss
  • Watching Grandparents Die

Part 2

  • Almost getting shitcanned during pre-departure training for Manila because I was a hot, sticky mess of anxiety; bonding with the cutest gay guy ever during a starry post-training night on Parliament Hill
  • The existential rot of the autistic introvert trying to enjoy nightlife
  • Failed Pygmalion: How an eccentric rich Filipina made me her temporary, honourary son-in-law
  • Five Months in a Dilapidated Mansion
  • Living With Two Hot Sisters, Or: The Worst Mistake I Ever Made
  • Computer Programming: The Least Objectionable Profession
  • How I easily succumbed to shitty alpha male mind games, and hope I won’t again: pre-departure training for Vietnam
  • Loneliness – So, So Much Loneliness
  • That Time My Landlord Tried to Entice Me Into A Gay Orgy
  • Filipino Dentists and the Joy of Unnecessary Fillings
  • My five year pseudo-romance and its nightmarish end (related chapter: Breaking Up in Myanmar)
  • Khao San Road, A Beautiful Blond Danish Girl, and the Dying Gasps of My Youth
  • Am I Gay? And Other Conversation-Starters

A Little Free Writing

With all the things happening in the world, my reader (sic) might wonder why I’ve been so silent. The answer, to the extent that there is one: I had a fortuitously timed surge in my workload – fortuitous because it coincided with the rest of my life becoming boring and sad, like so many other people’s lives starting a few months into 2020. For a time, work for the sake of work became my primary distraction and purpose in life, which had the added benefit of granting me temporary insight into the lives of normal humans. Now that my workload has subsided, I can again return to a mixture of goofing off, acting insufferably entitled, and desperately grasping for meaning, i.e. by writing.

Now, you might think that half a year after my last post, I’d have a lot to share about the state of the world (both outer and inner) today. But, you’d be wrong – or at least, partially wrong. After half a year of letting my hyperverbal inclinations gather dust and gather rust, the first point of order is to clean out those leaf-clogged pipes and let the verbal fluid flow. And what better way to do that than with some cell phone autocomplete-esque free writing? Ha-hem.

Rickety bark snot consumed and complained of pleasant palpitations in its preposterous spleen additive. The thunderous crumpets of wilting agility snuggled up to the dessicated necktie of all things purple. Waggle waggle snorpity dazoozoozip. The cruel steel of the blade tore into his ambivalent protestations. Add three sticks of worry into the bubbling cauldron of uncertain pedigree, lick the fiery nipple six times to the left and twelve to the orange side, twist twice counterclockwise and five-point-Z times atop the translucent polka-dotted side of your bruised and battered Buddha figurine.

Drip, drip, drip – thus went the drooping dripping of the dreadful dreadnaught. Crispy, creamy, crumbling pillars, decaying ruins of a lost civilization of orange Oreo orangutan organisms. Slippery, dripping, persnickety, waffling waffles, wandering wands. The stream of chocolate vomit shot out from his friendship, angrily splattering across the bow of his amazing aunt. Do doodads do what doo-doo does best? Can your uncanny can-can cancel out the cantankerous cancer of the cantilever bridge? Nobody knows the answer, but almost half of everyone knows the question.

Thank you, and elbows.

 

Rushing Regretfully Toward Ivanovo

What follows is a travel story, about a trip where I took a great many photos. However, I may not post any photos in the article. Why? Well first of all, I am a profoundly lazy person, and the drudgery of digging through thousands of photos to find the least blurry ones, cropping them, and then resizing them hardly seems worth the nothing I am getting paid to write these posts.

And second, because photos would only get in the way of this self-pitying reflection on the bitter impermanence of all things.

I visited Bulgaria for the first time in 2016. I staggered in by bus from Thessaloniki, Greece with few expectations, and was immediately charmed. It was my first time in the Balkans, and I was fascinated by the characteristic intersection of the Slavic and Turkic worlds. I was intrigued by the combination of post-Communist stodginess and Mediterranean warm-heartedness. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that all the women looked like supermodels.

I spent some time in the capital of Sofia, where I managed to destroy my new phone while struggling to figure out the intricacies of a Southeastern European washing machine. (In case you’re wondering, you have to, like, put your clothes inside some sort of suspended cage while water sprays willy-nilly in every direction. And while you’re panicking, the lid comes crushing down and smashes the screen on your brand new phone.) And finally, with my barely operable phone, I left Sofia to continue on my journey. Read More

Some Thoughts on Canine Society

I recently took a trip to Zacatlan, Puebla. It’s technically a small city, but certainly feels more like an overgrown country town, in the best possible sense. The town has many delights to offer – Apples, great food, gorgeous mountain views, gregarious locals, apple-flavoured beverages, and apple-flavoured condiments. But one thing I always enjoy when visiting this type of town in Mexico is observing the free movement, congregation, and comings and goings of the local dogs, which wander from sidewalk to street to highway without an apparent care in the world. They gather freely for their inscrutable purposes, sniff each other’s butts, and eventually disperse, heading off on their next adventure.

Some of these dogs may be homeless, and some may have owners who simply let them roam without worry. Sometimes the homeless ones are obvious, and quite a tragic sight to behold. But in other cases, they’ve been on the receiving end of enough luck and/or tasty handouts from the local humans for the distinction to not be obvious. Either way, one of the wonderful things about dogs is that they do not discriminate on the basis of class. They have their friends and enemies, of course, and they choose them based on some mysterious set of criteria, of which smell is presumably close to the top. But happily, it seems that a disgusting skin or eye disease is no obstacle to the formation of a friendship or a strategic alliance. Read More

The Surprising Benefits of An Easy Life

For the last decade or so, I have single-mindedly dedicated myself to maximizing the freedom and minimizing any unwanted obligation in my life. I became a “digital nomad” so that external factors could not control where I chose to live, and so that nothing could stop me from traveling 12 months a year if I so chose. I have avoided serious romantic relationships and having children in order to avoid responsibility for the happiness of another human being.

I have seen how other human lives are weighed down by worry due to duties – Duties that were imposed, in some cases, by not being born into the comfortable middle class life that I happened to be born into, due to a combination of extraordinary good luck and my parents working harder than I ever will. But in many cases, these duties seem to freely chosen for nigh-incomprehensible reasons. Those around me, including many who weren’t much less lucky than me in terms of the hand they were dealt at birth, seemed to slavishly follow the conventional path of self-imposed obligation – Obligation to a full-time job; obligation to their spouses, their children; obligation to maintaining their expensive houses full of expensive things. I didn’t see much to envy in that kind of life, and mostly I still don’t. You might think my aloof freedom has made me arrogant and dismissive of people who choose more conventional lives of family and professional success. You wouldn’t be 100% wrong there; but I’m also keenly aware that having a ridiculous degree of autonomy and control over my own life probably hasn’t made me much happier in the long run.

And therein lie the hidden benefits of having a life free of obvious hardship, free of obvious external challenges to fight, be frustrated by, and push back again.

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Victor and the Void

The sound was awful. Every morning, Victor was awakened by the screaming of the Void – A shrill, overpowering noise whose awfulness seemed to transcend any normal laws of acoustics. And yet, each morning, Victor plodded over to the edge of the Void and dutifully shoveled in a fresh batch of Void food. After that, the Void’s screaming would become marginally less terrible for a time – or perhaps it didn’t, and it was all in Victor’s head, the mildly diverting delusions of a man who had been feeding the Void for as long as he could remember.

Either way, each and every morning, Victor faithfully executed his duty and fed the Void. He did this because the alternative would have been, somehow, even worse than the status quo – or then again, maybe not. And it didn’t seem to matter whether he fed it a few scant morsels of Void food or a big, generous, heaping portion – within a few minutes of feeding time, the screaming seemed to revert to its mean level of intolerability.

No matter what he did or didn’t do – although he inevitably stopped short of contemplating the bold concept of not feeding the Void at all – the Void’s interminable wailing continued throughout the day. Inbetween the daily feedings, Victor busied himself with crossword puzzles, cooking light meals (of human food, naturally; Void food is for void and human food is for humans), and, occasionally, brutal acts of self-mutilation. In the long run, and on average, ferreting out esoteric synonyms and digging up dusty old pop culture references in the crosswords was no more or less effective a distraction than harsh jolts of self-inflicted pain.

Because no matter what, Victor was there, and the Void was there, and the enormous sack of Void Chow somehow managed to perpetually remain half-filled. That tattered old bag was always at precisely 50% of capacity, and it seemed to scarcely matter whether he plucked the morsels of chow out one at a time, making a game of aiming them straight into the middle of the nothingness; or whether he frantically shoveled them into the Void’s insatiable maw, heaving in fresh heaps until he reached the point of exhaustion. Sometimes, as another completely futile act of self-distraction, he would make a game of tossing each tiny particle of Void food directly into the exact centre of the strictly circumscribed nothingness. But in the end, every day was the same, the Void was always the Void, and Victor was always Victor. The sheer sameness of it all was almost more terrible than the horrible, horrible wailing itself. But no, that unending shriek of unfathomable, infinite, and yet somehow abstract pain was probably still worse.

And then the Void burped. There was a brief lull, and then it resumed its relentless shrieking.

Nights of Melrose

As a connoisseur of the Great American Layover, I am always looking for interesting places to stop on the way from Canada to Mexico. Last year, I was lucky enough to find a cheap ticket from Boring City, Canada to Los Angeles, and another cheap ticket from Los Angeles to Mexico City. And so, my latest American adventure began.

Although the United States is not a cheap country, I do find a certain adventurous joy in trying to find ways to travel it cheaply. Perhaps it’s because the country’s seamy underbelly is so utterly enthralling, and there’s no better excuse to come up and close with said underbelly than by doing America on the cheap – which for me mostly means riding public transit and eating gruesome quantities of fried food. Regardless, one crucial ingredient of a cheap LA trip was cheap accommodations. In that regard, I got more than I could ever hope for from my Melrose Flophouse. One of the weirdest Airbnbs I’ve ever encountered, this $25/night West Hollywood wonder came pre-sold with reviews from people who essentially described it as either the greatest or worst place ever, depending entirely on one’s perspective.

And indeed, after arriving at the waking nightmare that is LAX and wading through Welcome Traffic on an airport bus and an Uber, I discovered that the flophouse was all I dreamed of and more. I was warmly received by the host, a woman who appeared to be from mainland China and had limited English skills to match. We had a pleasant chat, and she told me how the flophouse business was more lucrative than her previous business ventures – Truly, living the American dream. Soon enough, I was escorted to my “room”, which was basically a converted tool shed. Compared to the longer-term accomodations offered by the establishment, however, my room was strictly VIP. My neighbours appeared to be sleeping on mattresses on the ground, with whatever privacy they had provided by hanging sheets. Along with the sheets, the common area was scattered with assorted junk, brickabrack and deteritus, although amidst it all, the bathrooms were freakishly clean.

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The Singular Frustration of Putting Your Underwear on Backwards

Sometimes I wear boxers, and sometimes I wear briefs. And sometimes, I wear boxer-briefs. Overall, I’m not too dogmatic about my underwear. When I was not yet an adult, I wore tightie whities as some sort of default, in the same way that so much of what we do at a young age seems to be merely by default. Later on, perhaps after being mocked for my tight white briefs by a sharp-tongued female, I started wearing more boxers. More recently, I have swung toward a combination of boxers, briefs and Mexican grandpa underwear. Now, I call them Mexican grandpa underwear because:

  1. I bought them in Mexico, and
  2. A Mexican person told me that they’re the type of underwear grandpas wear.

Left to my own inferences, I would have assumed they were male stripper underwear – The front part covers only the barest minimum, and the back covers scarcely more. By wearing them, I open myself up to all manner of mockery. And yet, I continue to wear them. Why? Because:

  1. On the not-infrequent occasions when I lack access to free or cheap laundry services, I will buy precious time before my next load of laundry by hand-washing a minimum number of shirts and pairs of underwear. Such revealing undergarments involve a lot less fabric, and are thus much quicker to wash by hand.
  2. I believe anyone who sees you in your underwear is already someone who has granted you enough confidence (and vice versa) that you have nothing to fear from their mockery.

I refer to these underwear as Mexican grandpa underwear because I first purchased them in Mexico, but I have no illusions about them being somehow specific to Mexican culture in the same way that mariachis or tequila are. I was later able to acquire a pair in Malaysia, so maybe these types of underwear are endemic to countries whose names start with M, or countries with spicy food.

One reason I value my Mexican grandpa underwear is because they so proudly display an enormous label directly above the junk area. “Here be junk!”, they may as well say, though they in fact provide free advertising for the underwear manufacturer. Mockable though it may be, it at least reduces the risk of putting your underwear on backwards, which is a serious problem that can afflict both boxers and briefs.

The experience of an accidental underwear reversal would not be nearly so vexing if many pairs did not come so agonizingly close to fitting. Unfortunately, some pairs are only capable of swinging both ways to the extent that you can semi-successfully pull them up before realizing that you are now the victim of an underwear death trap. It is a horribly restrictive feeling.

As an added layer of indignity, the mind wanders into unwanted places while being squeezed by an ass-backwards (literally!) pair. The convenient front flap becomes a back flap of questionable convenience when reversed, leaving one to contemplate the logistics of making full use of such an accommodation.

As with so many things in life, an underwear reversal is the type of situation where partial success is infinitely worse than no success at all. There may be a metaphor buried in there,  and a rather pessimistic one. And indeed, these may sound like the words of a defeatist, but if refusing to attempt to put on a pair of underwear backwards makes me a coward, then baby, I don’t want to be brave.

 

 

My A&B Sound Family

The late ’90s and early aughts were a different time. You had to be at home to receive a phone call. Climate change was merely a minor concern instead of an enormous existential threat. Gonorrhea was easily treatable with antibiotics. And Top 40 music was actually a lot worse than it is now, no matter what you may think. (No, really – I’d take Ariana Grande, Drake and Lil Nas X over Matchbox 20, Puff Daddy and “Smooth” any damn day of the week.)

Another difference is that people bought music on shiny discs at stores built from some combination of brick and mortar. And so it was that I, a lonely, depressed, autistic teenager, made my weekly-or-more pilgrimages to the local music store (which also sold books, for some reason), A&B Sound. With a little bit of allowance and nothing better to do, I would wander over from my mom’s apartment to purchase bargain classical CDs, along with a little bit of hip-hop, and clearance Penguin Classics books. The combination of Shostakovich and Sophocles did wonders for my painfully cultivated self-image as a young intellectual who didn’t have many friends because I was, like, totally too deep for people. But more than that, it gave me an improbable feeling of community.

With the trauma of my parents’ fresh separation, going to a different school from my friends and almost getting expelled, and the overall toxic brew of autism, isolation and teenage hormones, I badly needed something to hold onto. Partly I found that through retail therapy – stretching out my allowance money to accumulate almost a thousand CDs, some of which I never listened to, and hundreds of books, the vast majority of which I never read. In retrospect, it was not an ideal method for filling the great black emptiness of my soul, speaking economically, environmentally, or psychospiritually. But the ragtag assortment of regular staff I interacted with during my visits made me feel, however loosely, like a member of my family. Here are the ones I remember:

 

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