4 Bottles of Red Wine in Montmartre

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montmartreOn my third night in Paris, I met a heavy metal dude from Scotland. He had long hair that covered the top third of his Iron Maiden t-shirt and hand rolled his own cigarettes. I’ve always secretly wished to be a heavy metal guy myself, to say “screw it all!” and walk around looking like I was in a Motorhead cover band. This guy I met in Paris was super cool. Laid back, with an intensely thick accent. We sat in the hostel bar and ordered bottles of red wine. One, two, three. The wine was causing us to be loud. It was after two in the morning and the hostel kicked us out, shoeing us off. We bought another bottle of wine and staggered down the streets of Montmartre. It was raining, lightly. The metal dude took out his phone and started playing “Surrealistic Pillow” through its small speakers. The music was soft, like we were in the parking lot of a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1968. We drank and sang. Ohhhhh you’re my, best – you ARE my best friend – we slurred the lyrics and swayed. Nobody else was out on the streets and it was dark. He smoked another cigarette and then he sat down on a bench and starting vomiting. I swigged from the bottle and told him it was okay. Halfway through the bottle, drunk as hell, I sat on the bench myself and puked wine all over the street. The metal dude laughed and we drank until the bottle was empty. I talked about going to Scotland. Why not? I’d always wanted to go to Scotland. And I’d have to see my new best friend in the whole world, the metal guy, couldn’t abandon him. He was thrilled. We started making plans. The rain picked up a little bit and we began walking back to the hostel, holding each other up. The next morning my head pounded, wine slamming my brain against the walls of my skull. The metal dude was leaving Paris, and he wrote his email on a little slip of paper, gave it to me, and about twenty minutes later he was gone and so was that little slip of paper because I’d lost it.

Ah well. Friends always seem to fade away, I’d just accelerated the process by losing his contact information. I didn’t even remember his name. I’ve had a lot of friendships drift apart after two, three years…this one was kaput after two days. Is there really that much of a difference? It occurred to me that I wouldn’t be going to Scotland, but damn, that was a hell of an exciting trip to plan. I went and saw Rodin’s Thinker and then the Eiffel Tower, and when it got dark, I sat in the hostel bar and found new people to drink with.

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Endings at a Park

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The list of unspeakables had gotten long.  Ashley and I sat in the park near Incheon’s Arts Center, eating sandwiches and watching the children play in the enormous fountain.  My chicken wrap dripped mustard sauce like sweat; it was a Sunday and the sun was bright and warm.  Summer was just stepping to the front of the line, the heat of the days making things like breeze and shade more valuable.  The children in the park ran through the fountain to cool themselves off.  Ashley and I sat right in the sun.

“Have you noticed that we’re the only non-family here?” she asked me.  It hadn’t dawned on me, but she was right.  Everyone in the park was either a parent or a child.  When a little girl fell down, there was always a mother there to pick her up.  Boys played catch with their fathers.  Sometimes the children would walk past us and, seeing the lightness of our skin broadcasting that we were from somewhere else, they would wave to us and say “hello.”

A relationship between two people – whether it be friendly, romantic, or some sort of mixture of the two – is only as good as the list of unspeakable things is short.  Ashley and I sat in the sun and talked about movies, feminism, and childhood.  We laughed when a small boy took off his clothes and urinated in the fountain.  Still, our list was there and I could feel it stuck between every pause in the conversation.  It was all the bad things that had happened between us – the people that couldn’t be mentioned, the nights that had gone bad.  Certain words, like “lawyer,” had grown fatter in meaning because of the things I’d said.  Simple questions like “what’d you do last night” changed into inquiries, switching from conversation to control.  Those questions weren’t simple any more.  Questions have memories, and my questions were filled with the memories of those nights when she’d left me alone to go off with other guys.

But there had to be something that brought us to the park on a hot Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t coincidence, or boredom, or the allure of eating a chicken wrap and getting mustard sauce all over our fingers.  It was the three months we spent together, talking for hours every day, making each other laugh and becoming great friends.  When there’s a list of unspeakables, something must be there to keep two people pushing past it, making conversation in the face of it feeling forced and awkward.  Or at least a person likes to think so anyways.  Like every sentence she said told me that no matter how much she might have hurt me, she was still there.

Every now and then, the water in the fountain would stop, and the children, their wet clothes soaking up the heat, would wait anxiously for it to start again.  Some of the little ones would wander around, confused.  Still, they seemed to know where they were, aware that they were inside the confines of something – the park, the fountain, their families – and if they would wander away from the collection of children at the fountain’s center, they would never have walked too far away.  Not so far, they seemed to know, that they couldn’t turn and come running back to the water when it started up again.  It would only take a few beats to rejoin everyone, in the heart of the fountain, where all the complexity of the world was washed away by giant geysers of white water shot five feet up in the air.  I wondered if, at the end of their day, headed back home to dry off and get ready for school the next morning, those children, thinking back to their Sunday in the park, would feel like smiling or like crying.

Monday morning I called Ashley.  I was exhausted.  I told her that I cared for her, and then I told her that I couldn’t handle having her in my life anymore.  Our list had gotten too long, the hurt too much.  Strange, isn’t it, how empty one can feel when they know they’re doing the right thing?  It must’ve felt, I imagined, the same way those children felt leaving the park.  I suppose the end to anything, no matter how good or bad the events that preceded it, is always at least a little bit sad.

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Friends in Low Places

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At the height of the WikiLeaks scandal, I was spending a lot of time with a lovely and intelligent young woman who was very interested in what was going on.  She would try to talk to me about WikiLeaks, and I would do my best to contribute even though I didn’t know the first thing about it.  One night she even sent me links to news stories, which I didn’t open or read.  Granted, I considered clicking on the links, but then I decided to shift my focus to the new Beverly Hills 90210 being broadcast on Korean television.  WikiLeaks be damned; I needed to know if Navid was going to take Adrianna back.

The truth was, I didn’t care one bit about what was happening with WikiLeaks.  Even though I understood that it was an important story, I was entirely apathetic towards it.  I consider myself to be a pretty bright person, and yet somehow learning about WikiLeaks didn’t appeal to me at all.  I was far more concerned with 90210, K-pop, and status updates on Facebook.

In fact, I hadn’t given much thought to the news at all until the recent turmoil in Egypt.  That said, my interest wasn’t perked by the violence in Cairo or my stance on whether or not President Mubarak should resign.  Nope.  See, I have a friend named Choua who had planned to go to Egypt for winter break.  At the beginning of the protests, when I was on an island and had limited access to the Internet, I thought Choua was there.  Not as though I expected to see her in any news footage, being ridden over by a crazed Mubarak supporter on a camel, but just the idea that I had a friend in the middle of this mess caused me to pay attention.

It was a huge leap from 90210, where the characters look like people I’ve met, and the problems are things I can relate to.

If Choua was what caused me to initially tune in, the story itself was what caused me to stick with it.  I became fascinated.  I watched reports and read articles.  Even in parts of Thailand where there are no English channels, I kept the television on so that I would know what was happening.  I was, thankfully, acting like a smart person again.

And that made me think that the apathy of the American public could change for the better if there was some sort of buddy system put in place.  If everyone had friends overseas, we would care more, right?  Isn’t that the knock on Americans?  We’re ignorant and we don’t care?  Well, since not everyone has a large circle of worldly friends, we could start assigning people foreign buddies.  It’s brilliant!  The Anti-Apathy Buddy System could be a perfect.  At birth, each American would get assigned a number of foreign buddies and the correspondence would start.  Think of how less ignorant we’d be.  Instead of Chile just being some place that sounds like a food, it could become “the place where Adelmo lives.”  In time, Americans would start demanding assistance be made to Chad, because Dahab’s life is hell.  Watching the events unfold in Egypt, I thought about how apathy doesn’t really come from a lack of interest, but instead from the impersonal nature of politics, combined with the safety of knowing that the people killed in war are just names, the children dying of hunger in third-world countries just bones.

Choua never made it to Egypt.  She spent her vacation in Germany instead, away from the protests and the curfews, the tanks and the planes.  I watched it all on TV, finally concerned with people who looked nothing like me, with problems that were so much more important.

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