Of Age in the Airport

Don’t ask me why but I wasn’t allowed to leave Narita. I pleaded with 3 desk agents, “can’t I use my 8 hours to explore the city outside?”… “And why not?” They smiled and shook their heads, gave short explanations I could not understand. I resigned myself to a miniature Terminal experience and decided to relax and reflect on the journey that led me.

After a bus from Chiang Mai to the tiny town where my crush was teaching English, a night drinking, dancing, and ignoring everyone around us, we hopped hungover onto a bus. We passed the long ride chatting over life and nothing, and the minutes began to drag painfully on as I realized there was no bathroom. After one fortunate stop, we arrived in Bangkok on April 19th, 2013.

I was still 20 years old. To celebrate I got a cheap bottle of wine and a boutique hotel near Sukhumvit, the area surrounding Bangkok’s longest street. I picked a place away from the red light districts and busier shopping streets, but close enough to hit a mall for last minute travel supplies. I enjoyed a private shower after months of communal and wander the neighborhood while she was off doing something for her visa. We spent the night together and she tells me why she left England. I admire her, knowing I’ll miss her red hair and reservations. She leaves early in the morning and I stand her up at MBK later that night. Perhaps I’m a flake, maybe just terrified of feeling and goodbyes. I never saw her again.

I took the Sky Train to Suvarnabhumi, fully packed and wearing brand new orange pants. Realizing I miscalculated a time difference, I went to sleep on a balcony among a throng of backpackers for the 4 hours until I was allowed to enter the terminal.

After a hazy eternity on the floor, I climbed out of my sleeping cocoon to admire the circular soaring ceilings and prepared to leap forward. I was heading to Paris with a stop in Tokyo Narita. Originally the plan was to visit old friends in Seoul but a missile threat frightened my mother to pieces so I agreed to let her change my ticket. My mother’s quiet charm somehow resulted in an upgraded ticket, and as I boarded I found myself directed left into the front of the plane. After enjoying the six hours reclined instead of squeezed in my middle seat, I arrived in Tokyo Narita feeling refreshed.

I had hoped to go out and see any bit of Tokyo I could, with only No Reservations informing my Tokyo travel itinerary. As these hopes were dashed, I set off to fill my belly and pass my last few hours of being 20 in all time zones with a buzz. I tried to remember what time it was at home, if I were old enough yet to drink there.narita.jpeg

I had been away from home nearly 5 months. With a cold Sapporo in hand, I sat for a moment of reflection. I thought about how far I had come in a year, all the ways I’d grown. I still struggled to leave my room some days and nights but the fears of what I’d find in the world subsided. I had learned to find all the different directions getting lost could take us and I mastered walking into a hostel and making a friend. I still got occasionally distracted from my goals yet my steps forward were my longest strides. I was headed somewhere

The airport sushi tasted no better than what I got at the Siam Paragon Mall but the people watching was excellent. Small well-dressed families running frantically about, grimy starry-eyed backpackers, business people and salarymen stuck in cell phones narrowly avoiding the throng of obstacles. Eventually, I met a guy named Ugo and we exchanged stories. I told him about the notebooks I lost and their contents, my plans to someday finish a story, and he told me of his travels and his work, a start-up in Atlanta. I was full of optimism and we eventually decided to go explore on our own. I wandered to a cigarette vending machine, bought some and looked interestedly at the change as I puffed half of one in the enclosed smoking section. I decided to finally meander my way toward my gate. As I approached I saw signs for the Delta Sky Lounge. I went to investigate the power of my new ticket. A lady smiled at me and waved me in.

I found ample, plush seating, huge windows overlooking the gates, a small buffet, and a machine that pours perfect glasses of beer for you (for free)! I sign up for a time slot to shower and go befriend the beer machine. Hours pass smoothly and quickly as I sip and message all the friends I’d made. 21 years old, next stop: Paris.

the escape artist (early 2013)

The escape artist was practicing his disappearing act in his head, slightly distracted by the heat of his room, even more distracted when the fan turned to send its chill. He could relate this infrequency with the air to his own nature. In one idle state of being, usually pressed in by some warm force seeking to hold him still, until the wind came and he blew away with it. The thought gives him pleasure, never one to stick too long to any single idea, his mind moves on to a few of his favorite sayings. “Variety is the spice of life”.
He was trying to put together a better one. A combination of all his favorites boiled down to their essence and mixed together like an old mashed soup: Everything in moderation-including moderation. Fame and fortune are predestined, of what use is a guileful heart? Rather, constantly seek the truth, maintain your discipline, and preserve your dignity. Fortune favors (s)he who dares. Nothing Gold can stay.
Now the escape artist had his ideals in life all narrowed down to words spoken or penned by people he greatly admired. This brought satisfaction of a confirmed ideal; an acknowledgement of the fact that most everything worth saying has been said in some way before, but there still exists the option to rework some of those truest to you, to put your own mark to them.
And here the young scatterbrain tries to return to his initial thought of how to leave this heat. Recently he’d been trying to learn to leave without burning bridges, realizing a bit late that it only increases this hated heat. The heat has a tenacity to it, as it’s much easier to collect something than to do the Bruce Lee and work towards nothing. A favorite school lesson-cold is merely lack of heat.
Now there are a few things anchoring the escape artist to this current set. Bear in mind, most everything is a prison of sorts. Your body keeps you wanting and needing-food and water, a place to dump them. Money gives a queer sense of freedom yet brings the ever increasing desire for more. We get into relationships with others to be free from ourselves, but become slaves to their desires, needing to be ever present in their lives. The escape artist wonders; does any person really know freedom? He should like to meet them. Perhaps there’s a google search to find them.

-Letter From A Stranger (fiction)

I used to look forward to going there every day. It used to make me feel…important. Like I was a recognizable and necessary player in this vital game we call “business”. I thought, maybe, if I worked hard and smiled at the right people, kept my handshake good and firm, I could steadily climb hand over hand up the corporate ladder. I used to volunteer myself for projects in meetings, not realizing this defined me not as a leader, but as a pencil pusher, a drone.

I try to make it comprehensible. Call my career the girl I wanted to go on to marry; somehow I showed myself to be fit only for friendship, a steadfast acquaintance resolved to their will. I equated work with my love life and forgot completely about pursuing a real one. Weren’t all things meant to work out if I worked with the system?

Sometimes I wake up at 3:00 a.m. feeling more alive in the darkness than I do between cubes and beneath fluorescents. I turn my bathroom light on, put on my pants and jacket and the scarf my father left me, and go on a walk outside beneath the oak trees. I like the way the cold air infects my lungs and stings the tips of my ears and nose.

Three weeks ago I heard meowing. I turned around and saw the grey cat that I sometimes have to chase away from my car in mornings. It came up to me and began to brush itself against my leg. For some reason I decided it must be cold so I picked it up and carried it back to my empty apartment. I fed it water and shared the bland chicken I cook for myself, it scurried off to test its nails on my bed-frame.

Now three weeks have passed and she’s thrice bathed. I let her sleep against my arm every night. I put my face in her fur and realize abruptly that the feeling traveling through my chest all this time, all these nights and days, has actually been loneliness. It washes away against her like the grime leaving her fur in the tub.

At last, I wonder; how can I run away from life while staying right here? I skipped work two days ago to build her a step and a window sill and no one seemed to notice I was gone. If you’re already invisible, is there any need to disappear?

Anthony and Me: Puerto Rico Condensed

Anthony and I met in Bangkok. We played a drinking game with a group and then piled into a cab together. We talked about A$AP Rocky and he tried to call “dibs” on the hostel worker as she climbed onto my lap and kissed me. We liked each other immediately. When I made it to Paris, he’s the one who came down from London to bring me a jacket and help me get my bearings. He was in Miami at the end of my time in Lauderdale. I invited him up for a party. He made me watch the Rum Diary and a trip to Puerto Rico planned itself. I packed and shipped my things home, spent a tired weekend partying with him in Miami, and then began.

We got to the security line at the Fort Lauderdale airport and the TSA agent gave Anthony more trouble than his hairline was giving him, as if it was crawling away from that badge authorizing daily molestation (I do not like the TSA), as if it wanted no longer to stay a part of this vile man with his purple specks blotching his white face as it grew in confusion. I had walked right through the line with barely a glance to my passport, and although Ant’s was more tattered than mine, I suspected that was not the only reason he was being stopped. The agent moved Anthony’s picture back and forth under a blacklight, complaining about a missing hologram even though he had likely never seen a British passport issued the same time as Anthony’s. He called another agent over to check, a younger black girl, nearly pretty with an angry jaw and eyes like a dying fire. She stared at the passport momentarily, flicked an angry glance at the grey haired man, waved Anthony quickly through.

We were on our way, nothing to prevent us from reaching the island but cramped seats on a nickel and dining airline with advertisements filling the few gaps on the plane.

I lived another 10 days an informal vagabond. After a discourse on which hostel to stay at we decided on The Palace Hostel in Miramar. A quaint little place filled with 6 unpaid workers who exchanged 24 hours of their time a week for a bed, a band of Norwegians and Canadians taking a break from an Atlantic sailing trip, some solitary odds and ends filling the gaps of rooms, nameless.

Our ride from the airport was easy, even after we got lost. The neighborhood felt more “third-world” than the parts of America I knew, a dirty park inhabited by neighborhood men playing dice and a few drunks squatting amidst the trash piles left around trees like auxiliary roots. We immediately met a girl with a striking resemblance to a friend of mine, who told us of how she had just been robbed and assaulted: She was sitting alone in a park —pale, tatted, conspicuous—when a man came and sat next to her. She got confused at this point in the story. She tried to move away from him but he followed. Somehow the man got a rock and tried to hit her with it, got her money off her somehow, let her go. We offered her some of the rum sitting between us and she poured herself a steep glass, asked us to accompany her to the corner store, bought a Bacardi to compliment our Don Q, leaving Ant and I confused about the safety of the island, but happy to finish the bottles in each other’s company. In the middle of our drinking a man named Omar came and introduced himself to us, we poured him a glass, and he told us the story of chasing off a thief who had attempted to steal a tire off of his rental car. Puerto Rico was presenting an interesting first impression

I awoke the next morning, the after affects of rum throbbing through my head, and we went to spend our first listlessly overlapping day at the beach, with all days after threading in and out of it like a reflection between mirrors. I went out looking for an excellent burger and 2 oz bottles of rum to emulate Rum diaries (the book/movie that led Anthony to suggest this trip). My first success.

I rubbed my face in sand while diving beneath waves and enjoyed the cool rocking of the current, emptied my lungs to lay against the ridged floor of the ocean, let my fingers crawl against the rippled ground, admiring the waves made beneath waves. I loved the dark peace of being willingly submerged, have loved it ever since I fell in my grandfather’s irregular shaped pool as a bright eyed young boy. I am never as content as I am underwater.

There is a saddening rate of obesity in parts of Puerto Rico, and an enduring poverty that may look as ugly, but if you find yourself lounging outside in a seemingly typical neighborhood, enjoying the breeze at 7 p.m. on a Saturday, you may become acquainted with the sweetness of it all (like learning how to eat durian). Neighbors talk and drunks sing, a trumpet blares from a nearby house and the whole city shifts to a new gear. There is life and there is warmth and the city erupts in the pervasive thumps of bass and bachata, inviting you to come be alive amongst smiling strangers.

We made friends. We saw Pacquiao win. We danced in a bar until 6 in the morning. I left my good friend Anthony to fly back home, to reinitiate myself to Cincinnati.

-Maxwell

The travelogue: Part I (2012)

I had been home from Israel for 2 weeks. Taglit was exhaustingly illuminating. I immediately wanted to go back to Tel Aviv, sort of wished I had saved this trip for a time in my life where I was feeling better, could have been more confident, more social, more outgoing. Better. The end of the trip was exhilarating. Five others and I decided to stay a few extra days in Tel Aviv. We befriended some marooned pick up artist who’d had all of his bags stolen and was waiting to go on an archaeological dig somewhere up near Haifa, the very north of little Israel. He joined our group and showed us his tricks. They failed invariably but we bought him drinks anyway, for the sheer fun of it. I admired his willingness to approach anyone, his unshakeable confidence. He attempted to give me advice on flirting with the Israeli girl I had developed a crush on in our first few days there. Early one night I had introduced all the israeli guys to Irish Car bombs and, committed to showing them how to drink, I managed to get stupid, stumbling drunk. No girl worth impressing is impressed by this. I got to the point where I couldn’t pronounce her name and she still put up with me, good-naturedly teaching me random Hebrew. She tricked me into telling all the Israeli guys I was gay and they would all burst out laughing. I was not to be embarrassed, smiled and accepted their explanations and a few embraces. Our group of American college students and Israeli army members stayed up all night laying on the monuments in some park in the middle of the city. A monument to Ben Yahuda maybe. We walked back to our cheap hostel near the beach with the drunk that comes as the sunrise makes you forget about the alcohol. I was tired but clear, hooked to the lifestyle. We slept three hours then went to the beach.
I stayed in Tel Aviv a day longer than everyone in the original group, walked around the city and went shopping to replace the khaki shorts our pick up artist kept making fun of me for. I thought about how I had worn pink pants in the desert just 5 days prior, drinking arak, laying on stranger’s stomaches, talking about conspiracies and the stars. It was good to be alone, good to be alive. I slept most of my flight home, woke up with my head on my neighbors shoulder. Apologized, went back to sleep with my silent friend for four more hours.
When I got home I realized there was nothing for me there. I began thinking of what to do with my time, with the $15,000 I had saved. When I was 15 I spent a month in Costa Rica with a group called Wilderness Ventures. I met one of my first role models, a 30 something year old man named Joshua, who had a penchant for rapping up advice in tall tales. He taught me how to take the ginger out of a flower, told me to eat half the ginger and put the flower behind a girls ear, handed me a second flower and pushed me towards the girl he had seen me looking at throughout the day. Somehow my sheepishness dissolved under his assured gaze and I put the flower behind the girl’s ear. She kissed me, the next night, as everyone went to sleep. Two days later we went surfing and I got up on my first try, surfed all day, then had my board cut me on the top of my ankle. I still have a small crescent scar which reminds me of Joshua and the rainforest. A friend from that trip told me he’s dead now, of some rainforest disease. I remember him when I can and try to be courageous.
So after Israel I decided to push my courage and go on a surfing trip.

Until then.
-Maxwell

Late Nights, Early Flights (2014)

I never sleep well before I travel somewhere. Doesn’t matter how far I’m going, a creeping anxiousness comes between me and my blankets as I try to get well rested before sitting on a plane. I’m done living in Lauderdale. Tomorrow I’m flying to Puerto Rico with my British friend. I don’t know how long I’ll stay or what exactly I’m doing there. I assume going to the beach and drinking. Going on tours of San Juan and the surrounding islands.

I sent home all of my things I brought down to lauderdale, save for a few changes of clothes. I buried the broken record player, last remnant of the car wreck. Not even the pain lingers. I suppose it didn’t want to leave Lauderdale. I didn’t touch my short story once while down here. So much for that plan. At least I read a few good books and met a lot of good people. It was fun to watch the city mutate as different crowds came and went, to watch the locals move like the tides in and out of certain bars, tourists pushing and pulling them like moon gravity. I sat relentlessly through it all, a rock on the beach.

I’d like to be able to sit here and wax on about what I’ve learned in the last few months but nothing really comes to mind, just the specifics of a few people I met (shoutout to Scary Jerry) and moments I spent with them. This is all a life lived in the moment really is. I plan on moving past it now, into different ones, and I’ll let thoughts of the past infect my mind, I’ll do my best to try and diagnose them with reason. For now, I have diagnosed myself as needing sleeping. My pillow has much to tell me.

Greetings from what’s no longer my room. More on Puerto Rico and America, soon.

-Maxwell

Fragility

I like watching Kung Fu movies. You focus heavily on the humanity and movements of one character while everyone else-excepting a few skilled oppositional characters-are just pawns to be broken. I watched Kill Bill and thought about death, how such a nuanced art form of heavily complex movement yields to one (or one hundred) player’s immobility. A simple moment, tempered steel through a heart, leads to everlasting darkness. Stillness. Nothing. After the dance is over, all is done.

I digress. If you don’t fight in a karate movie, you live in the real world. You decay everyday. Many people do so purposefully, drink and drugs and sluggish lifestyles, as if moving slower or being less aware will keep death at bay. Maybe the huddled masses don’t think about their end. I wouldn’t know how to ask them. I just see death at all ends and find some sadness utterly senseless, sticking to you like burrs after a walk in the woods. My mind wanders but it’s all the same.

I want to go walk in the woods. In the fall, with leaves crunching underfoot. The fall is death that leads to life. Nature’s bed time, leaving only the evergreen insomniacs to watch over the rest of the forest. I want to feel the chill of fall and get lost in the trees, follow a creek for a mile then sit on a rock and watch the water carve ceaselessly all around it. I want to be water. Freezing and thawing, moving south to warmth then south to the cold again. To be a single drop and an entire ocean, to feel the life of fish wriggling through me, moving along their own chain and web. To feel the unknown depths, the mysterious contents along the crusts of the earth while reverberating the songs of lost whales against the hum of all the ocean’s freighters. Ahhh, to be water. To be all and everything, the known and the unknown. If I were water, I’d be the blood in your veins and the raindrops on foreheads. Creator of canyons, glacial companion, melted but never destroyed, burnt off to fall elsewhere. Water is life, water is earth. I want to be like water.