Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Walking Wounded

Jack Knife, Portland, 8/26/18

"I was stuck here in the ground / Like a passion fruit til someone found me / Appetizing / Like candy."

I came here to break up with myself.

I am drinking tequila mixed with ginger ale and passion fruit juice. Vice device is the name of the drink. Seemed somehow to fit my current mood.

The quote is from a song I wrote called a long time ago, called "Candy". I still enjoy playing it, even though I hate remembering the time period that it's from. I purposefully wrote the line that way, to reflect a passive stance: I couldn't help it that I was always approached by vultures and vampires. I was just a girl stuck in the world, rooted and blooming, waiting to be plucked like a juicy fruit.

That's one of the aspects of myself that I want a divorce from.

So why did I come here, to this dimly lit lounge, to do the deed? Well, there is a story here, and like many stories, it has three acts.

Part 1: "Well, the shark has pretty teeth, dear / And he keeps them pearly white."

Every time I passed Jack Knife, which is in my neighborhood, I thought I should come here. It looked sexy and reminded me of a speakeasy somehow. It also always made me hear the song "Mack the Knife" in my head, because it almost rhymes.

The first time I came here was on a Tinder date. It was a first date with a man I'll call Rodney.

Rodney was about my age and even more gorgeous than his pictures on Tinder. He was tall, dark and handsome, and from some foreign country that I found exotic at the time. In other words, I thought he was just my type.

We were here at Jack Knife for two hours. The first hour flew by, and was rife with pleasantly innocuous getting-to-know-you type questions. When he was about to excuse himself to go to the restroom, he leaned in for a kiss first, one that I was happy to accept. I texted half of my social circle while he was away from our table, to let them know that I was having a remarkable first date. "I love him!" I gushed to my friend, her husband, my ex-brother-in-law, and my attorney. (I'm just kidding. About the last two.)

When Rodney returned to the table, he asked me if I have any children. "Yes, one," I told him. He informed me that he has four children.

"Wow, that's great! Big family!" I raved.

"Yeah, it would be," he complained, "if my ex didn't make me pay child support!" He went on to explain that he was working two jobs and never got to see his kids. "I told her, 'Hey, either I can spend time with them, or I can work all the time and pay child support!'"

"Oh, I see," I responded, and then dove back into my drink.

Somehow he rapidly switched gears and asked me if I wouldn't mind letting him kiss my toes some time. It's not really my thing, but it also doesn't bother me, so I said "sure."

Rodney then asked me how I felt about rim jobs. I decided then to call it a night. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don't consider that first date talk.

Part 2:

Next, I came to Jack Knife on a second date with Jim, a local writer. I'd seen him around, heard things about him. His reputation proceeded him - but in a good way. I knew that he was tall, lanky, grungy, and kept busy with multiple creative projects - and multiple relationships. In other words, it sounded like he was just my type.

Our first date had been promising, as I had learned more about his polyamorous nature, and listened to him assert that he didn't like to go all the way on the first date. I appreciated that we shared the same values. However, I was eager to throw myself at him on our second date!

We had good drinks, food and conversation, until Jim slipped and mentioned an incident in his past that involved some domestic violence. To be fair, he did explain that there was violence coming from both parties in the relationship, but he was the only one who got caught, and subsequently, he went through a batterer's intervention program. As much as I appreciated his honesty, I had to end it there. Historically I've had a thing for abusers, and I have to protect myself, and my child, at all costs.

Part 3:

"Now my life is sweet like cinnamon / Like a fucking dream I'm living in / Baby, love me 'cos I'm playing on the radio."

My pen ran out of ink. What kind of a writer doesn't bring extra pens to a writing session?

I walked up to the bar to borrow a pen. Fuck this place, I thought: Lana del Rey is playing on their radio.

I love Lana but her music is inextricably tied to several memories of the love of my life. We spent many nights talking, dancing and listening to Lana all night.

The love of my life is tall, with long hair, glasses, and an encyclopedic memory regarding music, art, history ... in other words, he's just my type. We have been off and on and on and off for a long time.

After my date with Jim, I had begun to suspect that Jack Knife was cursed for me. Every time I brought someone I liked here, we never went out again.

But when I started dating my ex again, I thought for sure that our love could withstand a visit to Jack Knife.

My ex is sober so he drank ginger ale and ate French fries while I sipped on whiskey. Unexpectedly, he told me that he'd met someone else and that they were really hitting it off. He said that he wanted to keep seeing me, too, but somehow I sensed that he was moving away from me. The next time I saw him, he broke up with me. I had already started crying in my whiskey about it that night at my unlucky haunt.

Denouement:

I also like to date women, but I have never brought a woman to Jack Knife before. Until now.

Now that I'm done with my Vice Device, I'm imbibing my regular poison, whiskey, again. So that brings us up to speed. Somehow I thought that maybe it was myself that I really needed to break up with.

But I started thinking about some things that I've read, and some things that my therapist has told me. Integration, not abandonment, seems to be the only way to heal the wounded parts of ourselves.

So there is this woman inside of me who is drawn to anyone who will pay her attention. She is especially fond of people whose affection you really have to work for. Also partial to punishment, she feels that these things equal love.

She is impulsive, emotional, trusting, vulnerable and sweet.

Some men and women want to tame her. The real me is wild and free, but this girl inside of me thinks that it's love if someone wants to control her. That is how she was shown love for most of her life.

I don't think that I can help her by breaking up with her.

I am stronger now than that girl who I sometimes catch glimpses of in the mirror. Maybe if I hold her and show her compassion, she will grow up, too. Why should I kick her to the curb? Isn't she the kind the person that I've always had an affinity for: the walking wounded? I think that instead of dumping her, I could love her.

In fact, I think that she is just my type.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Splendor

This is how I spent my last day in Paris: woke up late, ate leftovers for breakfast. Scurried over to the Palais Royal, where I had my photo shoot, right near the Louvre. After a fun and inspired shoot which took place mostly in the rain, I scampered into a nearby cafe to warm up with an Irish coffee, and have a late lunch. There were only outdoor tables available so I shivered over my salmon, eating quickly, but still enjoyed the opportunity for people watching. From there it was just a few hundred feet to the Louvre, and I had planned to go in, but the line was too long, so I wandered outside and snapped a few pics, before taking the metro train to the Eiffel Tower. I viewed that quickly in the rain as well, and then ducked into a souvenir shop to procure a couple of t-shirts that had been requested by friends back home. Then I headed back to the hotel to empty my backpack and fill it back up with my laptop.

There is a cafe around the corner from my hotel room that I had been eyeing, and so I made a plan to have dinner and drinks there while I work on the novel that I'm writing. In the cafe, I enjoyed my purchases and snapped a couple of more pictures for posterity. The writing didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped, but I got some done. I have been writing some difficult scenes for one of my leads, and, although I love her, she is the one who most resembles me, and so she must go through some hardships, in order for me to work through mine. It isn't easy to write about, but I know that it is what I must do, in order to heal.

Suddenly I remembered another French word: ennui. It means a restlessness that comes from despair. Do I need to force myself to face the darkness and write it all out, while I'm on vacation? I asked myself. Perhaps not. I unplugged and adjourned to my room, for chocolate, television, R&R. For my last night in Paris, I give myself these gifts: relaxation, indulgence, and confidence in myself that I will make more time to tame this beast later, back in the real world. For now, I will enjoy the remaining glass of the wine that I procured here, and raise a toast to all of the beauty that I've taken in. I remember now that I shouldn't feel ennui: I should feel only gratitude for all of the splendor that I have taken in over these last few days.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Glass Half Full

I woke up this morning shortly after 9 AM and had the sense that it truly was about 9 AM. Mission to get on Paris time completed! What shall I do today? I wondered. The day was wide open, since I am not shooting until tomorrow.

To have a day completely free of plans is a sweet luxury for me.

I looked up directions to the Pere Lachaise cemetary, and made plans for some shopping at Forum de Halles, a mall in the first district. I threw my journal in my backpack and headed off to write and drink coffee at a little cafe in the neighborhood where I'm staying, before beginning my metro train journey. I decided against lugging my laptop around town.

My French is definitely improving: I was able to order a shot of espresso without using any English! I would still say that I don't know it, speak it or understand it; I merely employ it from time to time, like magic.

After visiting the cemetery, I sat at Le Pere Lachaise Bar, across the street, ruminating on what I had just experienced. It was a stately cemetery with ornate headstones and monuments. It took me nearly an hour to find Jim Morrison's grave, but it was worth the hike. Gathered around it with a dozen other people, I thought about how cool it would be to be a poet who had an affect on so many people.

After my long walk in the cemetery I decided that I had earned some fries and a drink. The bartender didn't speak much English, but, through many gestures and a few words, I showed him how to make a bloody Mary. The drink is marvelous, and life is good.

Snails and wine for one, but my glass is still half full, I thought to myself later, after shopping for hours, while I sat and had a snack at L'Escargot Montorgueil. I never feel sad about being single: I feel sad when there is love and then suddenly it's gone. But after a day of shopping, exploring, sightseeing, and indulging in delicious foods, I am not feeling sad. I have walked six to seven miles each day that I have been here so far. Imagine if I had had some boyfriend or girlfriend trailing along, complaining about their feet and holding me back! Snails are delicious whether shared, or devoured by one person, and there's a little wine and a laptop waiting for me back at the hotel, novel waiting to be written, and that is precisely why I came here, besides the photo shoot, and, oh yeah, the vacation.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The World is for Lovers

After just two months, I am single again. Single, and on my way to the most romantic city in the world: Paris. Not that I would know, but I have been told that people hate being there alone. I can remember going to restaurants when I was on a week-long tour in Vegas by myself, and every hostess asked me if I only needed a table for one, and then, after I confirmed their suspicion, they asked me, "Are you sure?"

"No," I wanted to say, "I am not sure. Let me go outside and see if some desperate man or woman wants to be my last-minute date. Maybe I can rustle someone up."

Will Paris be like that? As I write this, I am sitting in a diner at Dallas-Fortworth, where I have my layover, and no one has approached me for service even though it's pretty dead. Am I giving off too sad of a vibe? The world is built for lovers.

Break ups are hard, sometimes even when you are the one walking away.

I need to concentrate on my last-minute French lessons. I always learn some basic phrases to get by in other countries. Before I went to Bali last year, I had ten sentences down and I could ask if something was vegetarian and where the bathroom was. My French lessons have not gone as well. And my Indonesian was mostly wasted: everyone I met spoke English.

People tell me they speak English in Paris, too, but that most people think it is rude for an English speaker to just waltz up to a French person and start speaking English. I get that, and I agree. Sitting in an IHOP in Texas, I went over everything I could remember how to say in French.

Pardonne mois.

Parlez vous English?

Bon jour.

Je m'appelle Amy.

S'il vous plait.

Merci.

Au reviour.


It's a good thing I am not performing music for any French audiences. I always like to talk in between my songs, but evidently I wouldn't have much to say. I will be shooting street fashion with a local photographer, but we've already corresponded in English, so that assuages my fear of speaking with her in person.

There's a sadness in my gut, that will soon undoubtedly be replaced by culture shock and anxiety.

***

On my next flight, I watched a movie called Happy Death Day. The flight attendants had served dinner and I was drinking a glass of wine. I told myself that I would only have one and then try to get to sleep so that I could wake up in France the next morning and be on Paris time. Happy Death Day is a horror flick, and, although there was a romantic subplot, it isn't the type of movie that would normally make anyone cry, least of all me. I have cried at maybe three dramas in my life. I become indignant when the music swells and I get that feeling that the producer is trying to elicit tears from me. "I do what I want!" I say firmly, in my head, to the imaginary producer.

But I digress, Happy Death Day has a scene in which the protagonist eschews her stuck up persona and kisses her love interest in front of her sorority sisters. She smiles a goofy smile and throws herself into it. It took me back to that feeling of shrugging off all of my concerns about getting into a relationship, smiling at someone and telling myself to just dive in. Of course, that didn't work out well for me, seeing as how I am now single, and, at this point, crying on the plane, and waiting for the drink cart to come back around so that I can say "fuck it" and order another glass of wine. I turn to my left, helplessly searching out the aforementioned drink cart, when the stranger I'm sitting next to, a young French woman, looks at my tears and offers, "Would you like my pretzels?"

I thanked her but declined the pretzels, and received another glass of wine shortly after my seatmate's touching display of concern. I drank up the red wine and then dozed off. When I awoke, the flight attendants were back with breakfast and coffee, loudly saying "good morning" to announce their arrival and get all of the passengers into our upright positions in our seats. Drinking coffee, I gazed out the window and realized that I would soon be in Paris. I've never been before, despite having lived in England for two years, and having come back to Europe to travel around other parts a couple times since then. I breathed deep and let hope and wonder fill me. How lucky am I that I get to come to a beautiful city to heal my heart? I asked myself.

***

After two train rides and a long walk to my hotel, I had finally made it to the 17th district where I will be staying all weekend. There are cobblestone streets, and a park, many boutique shops, and a plethora of Italian restaurants for some reason. I dropped off my suitcase at Hotel Le Trente, as it was a bit too early for me to check into my room. I walked around looking something French to eat that might be dairy free and gluten free, but I knew that my options were limited with my dietary restrictions. I had trouble finding anything that looked authentic anyway due to the overabundance of Italian eateries in the neighborhood. My phone was dead at this point so I was unable to do any online research, and I didn't want to wander too far since I couldn't access my google maps app and didn't want to lose track of where the motel was.

I was tired from the jet lag, and so hungry. "Merde", I said to myself out loud, realizing that I do know how to say one more thing in French: shit.

I almost passed another Italian kitchen, and couldn't bare it. If I was going to break my diet, I may as well go whole hog, consume the paragon of cheesy, wheaty foods: pizza!

I drank a glass of chianti and ate my pizza while squished with strangers in a row of small tables. There was a plug behind my seat and I had purchased an adapter on my way to the hotel earlier so I was able to bust it out and get my phone some juice. I took in the sounds of everyone speaking French around me. So far, I had done a good job to say "Bon jour" instead of "hello" and then ask cashiers and hostesses if they spoke English before expressing my needs. I left the restaurant when it was time to check into the motel, saying "thank you" and "goodbye" in French to the wait staff.

After I finally got to take a shower, I put on clean clothes and went shopping and took a walk through the park. I bought a bottle of wine and some snacks and told myself that it would be OK to retire early and have a chill night before exploring other neighborhoods and doing some sightseeing tomorrow. My plan was to take the perishable snacks back to the hotel room, maybe have a bite of them, and then go get a little souvenir shopping done before bedtime. It was five pm, Paris time. I ate some chips, hummus and olives, watching French rap videos on TV in my room. The next thing I knew I was waking up from a five hour nap. Oh no! I will never get on Paris time this way!

I have a propensity to try to stay in a bad dream and wrong the rights, instead of waking up when I'm nearing consciousness. That is how my nap turned into a coma: I kept dreaming of the events leading up to my break up. Now I am soothing myself with snacks, wine and the Simpsons in French. Earlier in the week I had no appetite at all so I am happy to be in the next phase, of eating at all times of the day. Despite having goofed up my sleep schedule, I am feeling grateful that I was not accosted by a sense of culture shock today and that I was able to remember to use my basic French when speaking to strangers. I am so thankful to have this time to write in my hotel. Writing was the main thing I wanted to do in Paris. Perhaps tomorrow I will move my laptop to a cafe. For now I am hoping that the wine I am imbibing will help me fall back to sleep, so that I can attempt again to wake up on Paris time, tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day.

Monday, September 18, 2017

It's Always Sunny in Frisco

It's always sunny in Frisco - at least, it is, when I visit. "Have you been to Frisco?" I asked the gentleman who picked me up from the airport in Sacramento. "Yeah, I've been Fresno, once," he replied. "No, Frisco," I said. "Oh, is San Francisco called Frisco for short?" the photographer asked me. I nodded and shook my head somehow at the same time. Until earlier this evening, I had thought Henry* was younger than I was and I would have chalked up his ignorance to Bay-area-specific vernacular to his youthful naivety. But as he'd informed me on this balmy evening, he was 40 years old.

Henry took me to my hotel which doubled as a photo studio. I had one more photo shoot scheduled, early afternoon the following day, in Concord. Then after finding my hotel in San Francisco, and changing into my show clothes, I was to head to the venue, where I'd be putting on a different kind of show. The photo shoots usually paid for the trip and part of my monthly salary, and then any cash proffered by a venue owner would be just enough to buy me the rest of my drinks for the evening (the ones not covered by the two drink tickets most clubs supply us musicians with), or some late night food, or my last BART ride back to the airport. But this trip was different: my shoots did pay as handsomely as ever, but the club I was going to be playing at was going to compensate me and the other acts on the bill generously. But when it came time to head out of my hotel room for the show, I began to feel like an impostor.

When I had told my friend, Kim, who lives near SF, where I would be playing at, she responded that El Rio was "kind of a big deal". I had been excited but it subsided as I got back into the routine of doing other jobs until it was time to leave for the Bay. An uber driver picked me up the night of the concert, in front of my hotel. He saw my guitar and asked me if I was playing at the famous gay bar that he was driving me to.

"I am," I replied.

"Oh, then you must be good! That place is kind of a big deal!" he exclaimed.

Oh boy, was I feeling nervous now? I told him this, and he suggested in his thick accent, that I relax and have fun. "As long as you're having fun, the crowd will have fun"! he reasoned.

I thought about people who were technically skilled, getting up on stage to perform music, and sometimes being tired of touring, or maybe just tired of life, and they sing and pluck their notes flawlessly but they don't put out any magic. It is like they are on E. Not the fun kind of E, no: empty. They have no energy to give the crowd, and the crowd wonders what they came for and why they are feeling disappointed by a night of music that was presented without any flubs, simultaneously. So perhaps I'd be alright even if I flubbed some of the chords or lines in the songs, as I was giving out the right vibe to the crowd.

Renaldo, my driver, had changed subjects and was offering me suggestions for dinner. I told him I had been hoping to find tacos near the venue. He stated that the Mission was rife was Mexican food, and I told him that I'd written a song about the Mission because I love so many things about it, including all of the delicious Mexican food. He told me that he and his family live in the Mission district and that they were from Mexico originally. I was his last fare, he told me, before heading home. He told me he'd listen to my music on youtube, and asked if he could open the car door for me when we arrived at El Rio.

He held the door open for me and I climbed out, feeling electricity run through my veins. I took a picture of myself, guitar strapped to my back, standing in front of El Rio. And then I quickly left on my quest for tacos.


The taqueria didn't have any tacos I could eat, only a burrito, but I had no complaints. I dashed back to the venue after devouring half and placing the other half in my purse (carefully wrapped in tin foil first). My stomach went from full to tight as I entered the club. I found the other musicians on the bill fairly quickly, a couple of whom I'd already met. One was telling me he admired the way I did things, with my weekend tours. He already knew that I was also a model. But somehow I went back to that feeling of being a fraud, someone who'd eventually be found undeserving of decent pay and a regal stage. Musicians back home paid me similar compliments and spoke of how they longed to get out on the road and get paid for playing music. Every once in a blue moon, on a drunken night, I'd tell them, "It's easy, but you might have to let people photograph you in your underwear sometimes."

I am grateful to have my modeling to bring me extra income and to pay for my trips, but I would love to be able to say one day that it was merely my music that was enabling me to hop from town to town. I'd say I'm retiring that old corset and those treacherous stilettos in favor of folking up more bars -- but in truth I know I'd still be using the stilettos to climb up on stage and tap my tambourine beneath my foot.

The person who booked the venue had listened to my music, and had ostensibly enjoyed it. Why are you sitting around questioning your ability to rock? I wondered. I had not only booked El Rio, famous Mission-area dive that had originated as a bar for leather daddies in the seventies, but they had asked me to build the entire line-up for the night. It was to include other artists who were good, who were LGBT-identified, and who could bring a crowd. And the night would be a success. I could already tell that before the opening act even when on, as people began to saunter in during his sound check.

My friend Kim was one of the wanderers who wandered in. We got a drink and then I showed her to the back room behind the bar, where all of the shows were held. We caught up a little. I was so excited to see her. I told her that if all the people who had filed in to see Eli stayed and watch my set, I would pee my pants.

After Eli's solid set, I climbed up onto the stage and assumed my position in front of the mic. I started out with my popular song, Not the Girl Next Door, and the audience's chatter quickly subsided. I felt that rush you get from pulling from all sides of the room the eyes and ears of everyone. I mentally crossed out some of the songs from the set list and inserted some others. When you have them right there with you, you do your best to intuit how to keep them there.

The crowd stayed with me til the very end, when I slid off the stage, just a melted puddle of love. As I made my way back to my friend, people stopped me to tell me they loved my warble. I thanked them and felt appreciative of them, and of my warble. Someone stopped me and told me he loved the song I had sung which I had prefaced with a comment about my grandmother saying it was her favorite tune even though I thought it was kind of dark. He explained that he liked what I said about my grandmother, because she was also his aunt, and "my name is Tom by the way," he added. My long lost cousin!

"I've heard about you! I'm so glad we're finally meeting!" I exclaimed.

"Well, actually I met you once, but you were in diapers. You've definitely upgraded your wardrobe since then!" he said, gesturing toward my little red dress.



After thanking him, I introduced him to Kim and we watched the Sweet Trade play a killer set. Tom let me hit his weed pen. He bemoaned how watching Jeopardy with my grandmother, a card-carrying MENSA member, was maddening as he had never gotten any of the questions figured out before she threw out every answer. I nodded and laughed, told him I knew what he meant. We all got download cards for the Sweet Trade's enchanting album, "the Huntress and the Gardener". After getting paid and saying goodbye to everyone, Kim and I rushed off for a nightcap at the Royal Cuckoo. I had seen it on the way to El Rio, had looked online to find that its staff only spun vinyl, and I liked the name of the joint, so I had suggested it. Kim's eyes lit up upon entering the place: some players were blowing horns and pecking out piano notes and making jazz. "Dude! How do we always find the coolest bars?" I asked her. Last time we'd left a gig together, in Oakland, we wound up drinking Sazeracs at a New Orleans-themed bar. Jazz and the Bay Area fit together in my head romantically, as I had grown up reading Kerouac and Ginsberg.

Outside on the patio, we met a couple from Mexico City and a man who was originally from Alaska but now lived in the Mission. They asked me to play my guitar so I did, and then they never let me put it away. After enough drinks, I managed to cajole Kim into playing the tambourine for me. It was a lovely evening even as a chill set in. The winds picked up and blew us back over to the taqueria. Kim bought a burrito for herself and I ate the leftover half in my bag, while we made more plans for beatific adventures in Frisco. I'd been so many times, but this time, I let myself feel as if I'd really made it. And I knew that I'd be back.


*All photographer and uber driver names changed to preserve anonymity.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

There's No Sorry in Bali

4/11/17

We are leaving Bali today. I can't believe the trip is almost over already!

As I looked over the edge of the cascading pool one last time yesterday, I meditated on some ideas that I would like carry home with me. First, I noticed all of the greenery in front of me and I thought, I want my inner life to be as lush and fecund as all of this. Then I thought of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god who removes obstacles. He is everywhere you look in Bali. I decided that I wanted to be my own Ganesh, removing all the obstacles from my own path.

We are in Ubud now, and we arrived last night from Gili Trawagan. On our first night in Gili, we were invited to join our hosts and fellow guests of the Guava Garden hotel for a home-cooked meal in the lobby. One of the staff found us playing our ukes on our porch and asked if we'd also bring a ukulele. Jenny brought hers, as mine was being finicky in the tuning department. The hotel owners were a husband and wife from Gili and Sweden, respectively. They had a little girl who was less than 1 year old, who sat in a high chair, and everyone else sat on cushions on the floor. We were each given a Bintang beer and a glass of mineral water to drink, and the dinner was served buffet-style. The cook explained that everything was vegetarian except for the chicken at the very end of the table. There was lots of tofu and tempeh, and sauces like peanut sauce and coconut curry. For dessert they served watermelon.

Jen and I sat across from a woman and man traveling together from Australia, and one of them had brought their parents along. They were all originally from England but living in Australia now, so they traveled to Bali quite often, they explained. Next to us on my right sat a soft-spoken man from Singapore, and to Jenny's left sat our hosts. Next to our hosts sat a couple from France. We all chatted with each other in English. Our hosts told us about how much the island had changed over the years, and all of us guests traded stories about where we had been and where we were going.

After dessert, the hosts brought out a guitar, and asked us to play. I played "I'll Fly Away" on guitar, which I had been learning on my uke ever since I arrived in Bali. Then Jenny played "Folsom Prison Blues" on her uke, followed by "Bad Moon Rising", and we backed each other up on vocals. We were still tired from our long, scary boat ride, so we excused ourselves after those few songs and got up to head back to our room. One of our hosts began playing "Three Little Birds", which Jenny taught me to play a couple days ago. We both like that song, so we had to linger a little longer so that we could sing along with everyone. It was such a lovely and perfect evening!



The next day didn't start as well as the previous one had ended. I awoke with a deep sadness in my chest. There had been a heart break in my life recently; it stuck with me. I had managed to move from the crying-every-morning stage to the keep-on-keeping-on stage in these last few weeks since my break up. But suddenly the pain found me again.

After a lazy breakfast on our porch, we walked to the beach. We were starved for exercise, as we'd spent so much of the previous day stuck on a boat or a shuttle bus. So we walked as far along the dirty beach as we could, until it was even dirtier. We reached the filthiest part of the beach, where we found free bean bag chairs to sit in, and tried hard to ignore that they were covered in ants. We cracked open the beers we had just purchased at 10 AM. The sun was hiding behind thick gray clouds; the sky was reminiscent of Portland. Cats crawled around us without tails. One scampered up to us, flea-ridden, eyes squinting against the bright silver sky. "Oh kitty, you need sunglasses!" Jenny exclaimed.

I lit a cigarette even though I usually only smoke when I'm really drinking and that's usually at night time. I felt despondent, and I let it all out to Jenny. She let me cry it out. She asked how to make it better. I felt a little better already.

We decided that swimming in our hotel pool might cheer us up. It certainly sounded more appealing than swimming on garbage beach. As we walked back to the hotel, the clouds parted and the sun peeked its face out. He was fully revealing himself to us by the time we reached the pool. We drank of a couple of whiskeys by the pool and then began swimming, until we were both giddy. "See, this was all we needed!" Jenny cried. "I mean, how can you be happy on garbage beach?!"

The clean side of garbage beach

We went to lunch later and formulated a plan for that evening. I decided that I was in the right head space to drink a mushroom milkshake now. I mean they were served openly in bars on the island, and I didn't have my child with me, and I was cheering up from my heartache and having fun with my friend, so why not? It struck me as a once in a life time opportunity, like when people try weed when they normally don't smoke but they find themselves in Amsterdam. I knew it was little emotionally dangerous to throw mushrooms on top of a heartache, but how often in your life can you walk into a bar and order mushrooms? I wanted to take advantage, and tonight would be our last night in Gili.

After a nap, we went to a bar near the beach and got a light dinner and had a drink. I hadn't wanted to eat too much in case I got sick later from the mushrooms, and also hadn't wanted a full stomach to dampen my high. We weren't sure exactly where to buy the aforementioned mushroom milkshakes. We had been told by one bartender on our trip that he could make us one later for 250,000 rupiah (about $18.80 in US currency). That sounded a little steep to us for one drink. After dinner, we passed a bar that had a disco ball and a black light and we knew that they had to have mushroom milkshakes there. We walked in and I sauntered up to the bar, and try to sound casual. "Do you guys have... the shakes here?" Jenny thought that I looked like I knew what I was doing, but I thought that I sounded like a narc in an after school special.

"Yeah," the bartender said, nodding.

"How much?" I asked.

"One-fifty," he replied. One hundred and fifty thousand rupiah was the equivalent of $11. Jen and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement. Jenny only drank 1/3 of the shake because she didn't feel like tripping too hard. I drank the remaining 2/3, and then we walked across the street to the beach in an attempt to watch the sunset. The sun had already gone down so we actually just watched the sky get darker, as our bodies began to tingle with the excitement of something about to happen creeping into our veins. I was hopeful, as things already seemed a little bit funnier than usual as we began our walk home.

By the time we arrived back at our hotel, things were really funny but no visuals yet. We got into the pool, figuring that it would be a great place to come up. My legs looked strange to me by the light of the pool, underneath the wavy water. Suddenly the trees around me began to look fake and plastic. My stomach felt a little queasy. I knew then that it was really coming on. I told Jenny that I needed to go back to our cabin, in case I got sick. The hotel owners and staff were hanging out at the front desk which was right near the pool too, so it was kind of messing with my buzz a little bit.

Jenny followed me back to our cabin and we sat on the soft bench on our porch. I curled up inside a wet pool towel. I felt like one of the mangy cats on the island: dirty but resigned, and cuddly toward myself. We listened to some '70s rock. Then Jen played ukulele for me. She said she wasn't high. There were wicker blinds covering the front porch, and I watched them dance and breathe and melt into one another. The last call to prayer came and the chanting started up suddenly on a loud speaker somewhere in the distance. Soon we could hear a man somewhere to the left of us joining in. I'd heard the chanting all weekend, but it sounded different now. It felt different. I could feel every tone going through my body. Jenny stopped strumming the ukulele and we focused on the chanting for a while.

As the chants faded out, Jenny got back to playing her music, or tried to. She was fiddling with a song I had taught her, and then she was cracking up and flubbing some chords. She thrust the uke toward me and insisted that I play it instead. I protested that I was too high. It was only then that she admitted that she was also high. I gave it a shot, playing an old jazz song, my fingers full of electricity.

Jenny said her high was coming and going. Suddenly, darkness covered me like a tangled blanket that I couldn't find my way out of: my recent failed relationship came to mind and I wondered if everything that had gone wrong in the relationship had been solely my fault. I told my friend and she didn't know what to say to try to help me feel better. Maybe she was higher than she'd thought. I just flipped the thought over and over like a coin in my mind, until I could get to the positive side of it. I knew that my ex, one of my best friends, would've told me that there are two people in every relationship, so all of the problems could not be caused by just one of the people in the relationship. This provided some consolation.

Then Jenny insisted that she needed to go for a walk in the dark, back to town for more whiskey and cigarettes. I asked her not to go. She insisted that she would be fine. I was stuck to the bench on the porch, wanting to protect her but feeling helplessly sunken in. The sound of my protesting voice was as weak as the instant coffee that was served everywhere in Bali. She insisted that she would be safe. She leaned her faced towards mine and stuck out her tongue and hissed, and then slithered off like a lizard.

I still unsettled by the Thought. Not to mention my friend's lizard tongue. I missed how my ex and I were able to pull each other out of strange turns, so I sent him a text. He responded with: "You should think about anything that comes up, anything you want to think about at all, and remember that it doesn't have to ruin your trip. And remember that I'm always going to be around, and I'm happy that no matter what happens, you'll always be my best friend."

This made me feel much better. I went inside our room and laid down in my bed, watched music videos to keep my happy vibe going. "Down Under" by Men at Work, followed by "Don't Come Around Here No More" by Tom Petty, was a good combination. Jenny returned and used the restroom, then retreated to the porch. After checking in with her, I went back to my bed to lie down and sink into the come down. I closed my eyes and watched strange animals and insects dance inside my mind's eye until passed out.

The next day, sadness met me again with the dawn. I sat on the porch again, writing and eating breakfast, thinking about my ex again. There is no other person like him, I thought. He is the only version of him out there. The thought that he wasn't going to be in my life in the same way anymore broke my heart all over again. As I sat out on the porch and cried, Jenny came out and offered me a hug. I thought I'd begun to feel better, but later, when we sat on the beach, waiting for our boat back to Bali, I heard a bar near the beach playing the album, "Born to Die", by Lana del Rey. I thought it was a strange choice for beach music. It was an album my ex and I had listened to together quite often. I started bawling on the beach. Oh god. I was bawling in Bali. I felt like a pathetic mess. "I'm sorry," I said to Jen.

"Don't be sorry! There's no sorry in Bali!" she insisted. With that, I began to cheer up.

Our boat ride to Ubud was much smoother than our ride to Gili, but our shuttle ride took forever. It was only supposed to last about an hour, but we got stuck behind a festival, so for a couple hours we just moved about an inch every five minutes. Our driver got out and smoked a couple of times, until finally an Australian passenger got out as well, in search of beer for herself and her partner. She offered to buy for everyone else in the shuttle, so Jenny and I took her up on her offer. She walked across the street, up it, and down it. Jenny got out to have a cigarette. An English man and Lithuanian woman who were a couple were sitting next to the Australian's woman's boyfriend. We had all lost track of her. "How far will she go?" one of them mused. "Well, she is an Aussie," her boyfriend joked.



Everyone was hot and tired from the long ride. It was inconvenient but the good mood that Jenny had helped me find on the beach persisted nonetheless. I was taking in all the sights on our slow ride. We saw a woman holding a toddler and sitting topless in front of her home. The little one waved to all of us. We sipped our Indonesian beer. Finally we began to really move, though it still took another hour to get to Ubud. Green countryside stretched out for miles as we finally left the beach.

I looked at Jen and felt so grateful for her. She'd invited me and she'd picked out all of the accommodations. If it wasn't for her, I might never have made it to Bali. The next night in Ubud, I promised her then, I would take her out for a big, fat drink, knowing that she would probably try to keep her eyes open as late as she could that first night but would tired from the long voyage from Gili.

She couldn't wait for me to finish my drink after dinner that first night, before she headed back to our hotel to lay down. I couldn't blame her: the local wine was very bitter but I was determined to finish it after our long day. "I'm sorry," she said, her voice feeble but sincere. "Hey," I reminded her, "there's no sorry in Bali!" She cares for me and I care for her, and I'm learning when to let her go her own way. I think she will always come back when I need her.

Now I'm in a bathtub in Ubud, remembering that I deserve better than what I left behind in America, that maybe there was a reason my ex and I worked as friends and not as lovers. That's where this trip started, and also where it ends.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Braving Boats, Beaches and Bracelet Ladies

I awoke to the sound of a rooster crowing. A sticky heat crept into the room to dominate the air conditioning. I saw some bright colors out of the corner of my left eye and turned my head to find that my friend Jenny had left a few festive flowers right beside my pillow. Everything in Bali so far is different and lovely to wake up to. Portland, where I live, has been full of dreary winter and rainy spring days so far this year, with only a couple of brief, sunny reprieves.

Jenny was in her bikini and putting her face on. She was readying herself for a busy morning of lying around by the pool. After telling me where to find breakfast and coffee, she joked, "the Australians take all the cream though. I like to blame everything on the Australians." They were an easy target, I already knew, even though I had just arrived in Bali the previous evening. The place was rife with Australian tourists.

Bali is also lousy with street merchants, who stand in front of their shops trying to lure you in, desperate to relieve every tourist of all of their rupiah. We bobbed and weaved our way through them as we made our way to the beach later that day. "Hello, my friend," they all said to either one of us. To me, they always said, "Hey, green hair!" or "I like your hair!" and a couple of them just exclaimed, "Lady Gaga!"

"You're the bell of the Balinese ball, Amy!" Jenny said. "Damn, if I ever want to get laid in Indonesia, I'm going to dye my hair purple or something!"

We got down to the beach, each of us a sweaty mess under the glaring sun. We rented chairs with umbrellas and then all of the beach merchants descended upon us, in hopes that we'd buy their sunglasses, ice cream, or drinks (we acquiesced and bought a couple of cold beers). One man came by to try to sell us hats. Jen told him, "I spent all my money already!"

"Ahh," he replied, "tomorrow, if you want to hold onto your money, beware of the massage ladies! And the bracelet ladies! The bullshit-talking bracelet ladies."

Naturally we were intrigued, but we were also distracted by the funny ring that "bullshit-talking bracelet ladies" had to it. A woman walked by shortly after, her voice beckoning, "Massage?" I had to grab Jen's towel and cover me face to stifle my laugh.

After our one hour was up in our rented chairs, we walked from Kuta beach to a beach in Seminyak. We'd planned to eat on the beach and watch the sunset and hear live music and we found a bar where we could do all of these things. I like it here, even though it takes some getting used to that noodles are served for breakfast. The only dairy I get each day in the cream in my coffee, but I don't miss the sluggish feeling that plagues me when I've had too much dairy. Most places only serve instant coffee though, so that is another adjustment. But rice, veggies, fresh fish and Bintang beers are readily available everywhere and have pretty much become my diet here, and I can't complain.

The next day, we found a place that served real cappuccinos, for which we were eternally grateful. After lounging around by the pool for a couple hours, we headed back to the beach, where we played our ukuleles. People wanted their pictures taken with us as we played. Jenny pointed out that I had pictures taken of me for money back home, as a model. "Hey," she quipped, "she gets paid like, a thousand dollars an hour for this normally!"A man was lying in the sand just a few yards away from where Jenny sat. He kept smiling and staring at her, ostensibly enjoying the music. I went out to swim in the Indian ocean. Someone came by and started taking video of Jenny while she played more music. Then, she recounted to me later, the man lying in the sand nearby unbuckled his belt and took liberties with himself while Jenny played on. He was just fastening himself back up when I returned.

Today we took a long boat ride to one of the Gili Islands, where we'll spend the next 48 hours. The waves were prodigious and choppy. The boat ride felt treacherous. Jen gave me the Mexican equivalent of dramamine, stowed away from one of her other adventures, before, and during, the boat ride. I still felt a little queasy, especially when the two women in front of us started taking turns vomiting. Mercifully, Jenny and I kept our breakfasts down. I clutched my belongings or Jenny's hand in fear every time the boat shook, but finally, after an hour and a half of rocking back and forth, we arrived.

After we climbed out of the boat, scaled the side of it to get back to the front of it and jump off, we made the rest of our rainy voyage to the hotel on foot. We stepped mostly around, but sometimes through, big muddy puddles, as bicyclists and chickens scurried by. There are no cars on the island, only bikes and horse-drawn carriages. The rain and mud sticking to us, we finally found our little, rustic hotel, complete with an outdoor shower and toilet. I felt happy to take a tepid shower before lunch. I reflected on how I'd woken up today feeling sad that I was halfway through my trip to Bali already. I counted the days to see if I was wrong and if maybe I had more time ahead of me.

On our scary boat ride, I started counting the days before I leave Bali.

Now that I'm rested, clean and fed, I am happily between those two extremes: grateful for what I've experienced so far, and excited for what lies ahead, but relieved that I'll get to return home next week and see my son again.

As we'd traipsed through the mud, hauling all of our luggage to our hotel earlier today, a Australian man saw me struggling with my suitcase and offered to carry it over the mud puddles for me. I thanked him and he kept my bag from getting wet and filthy. "See Jen," I thought to myself, "there's something you can't blame an Aussie for: good old-fashioned chivalry." I can't wait to see what other kindhearted or bullshit-talking people we will meet on our adventure.