Month: June 2014

The Asia Fail

*This piece may have appeared on the web once or twice before, but we’re publishing it again here because we likes it, yes we do.

by Mr. Motgol

In the Old World, people went to the New World to start anew. Once America became settled, folks would head “out West” to shake away their demons, with destinations such as California and Alaska luring folks with promises of riches and rebirth. These were places where no one cared about your history or imperfect past. You were given a clean slate, and only as good as your current effort.

These days, such second chances are harder to come by. Technology and computer data bases have made it much more difficult to shake the specter of previous fuckups. I am told that back home, many shitty, wage-slave jobs now require credit checks, for God’s sake. Big Brother has indeed taken over, which leaves only one choice for the Spectacular Failures of the Western World: Asia.

I was a big fat loser in America. I admit it. There’s really no other way to spin the story. I aimed high and fell lower. Mea culpa.

I came to Korea because pretty much no one else would have me. I was bruised and bleeding–the textbook portrait of a failure–but Korea didn’t seem to care. Her permed hair’d visage looked upon me with kind brown eyes and during my darkest hour, picked me up with her calloused, ajumma hands, and embraced me.

Since arriving on her rocky shores those many years back, I’ve flourished, and despite her many, prickly imperfections, I’m happy to call Asia home. I am grateful every day for the second chance afforded me here, and despite a few major hiccups along the way, I try my best not to screw it up.

However… some of my fellow expats have it the other way around. They come to  Asia, and THEN implode. Whether they blow all their cash, burn their bridges, or just piss the wrong people off, I’ve seen more than my share of expats unravel here. With their tail quivering between their legs they grab what they can, stuff it into their bags, and crawl onto that first plane home. The rest of us shake our heads and wonder how can this happen in Asia, where–at least for us pampered, spoon-fed Westerners–things are just so damned easy.  How is it possible to ASS OUT in a land where Westerners are generally given a berth fit for a cruise ship?

This phenomenon has come to be known as The Asia FailHere’s a list of the main types, in no particular order:

1. THE ALCOHOL FAIL 

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East Asia–with Korea stumbling along at the head of the drunken pack– is a boozehound’s paradise. You can get hammered around the clock for pennies on the dollar. Many countries have NO LAST CALL at the bars. You can booze all night, show up to work bleary-eyed and  reeking of drink, and your boss will congratulate you.

If your friend is already an alcoholic and says he’s moving to Asia, don’t let him. There’s simply just too much product on hand. After all, would you let your cokehead buddy go work in the rebel-held jungles of Colombia?

A friend of mine was such an alkie that he couldn’t even hold down a job in Korea, where a huge drinking habit is almost a hiring requirement. It is so ingrained in the culture that companies often make pissup sessions mandatory for employees. He carried around soju in a water bottle and would puke every time he went up stairs. For the greater part of a year he lived in a bar.  Yes, such a thing is possible in Asia.

When things got bad enough we finally passed the hat, contacted his family, bought his ticket and practically pushed him onto the plane. He’s lucky, because I’ve known of a couple other guys who have died from liver failure here. And they were both kindergarten teachers.

Before attempting a move home from here, writer Ross Gardiner summed it perfectly: “I’m the only person in history who is moving back to Scotland to AVOID being an alcoholic.”

2. THE IRATE WOMAN FAIL

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is a pretty good maxim to live by. Add Asian to the equation and this “fury” has the potential to morph into a Category 5 Typhoon.

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The warning signs are usually there: Ripped up photos of ex-girlfiends, rivers of threatening text messages, smashed furniture, slaughtered pets…

One friend of mine was smart enough to take his Korean wife–who had serious anger management issues–back to Canada before things got bad here. How do I know? One day I saw him at work, with a seven inch scabby gash on his face.

“What happened?” I asked.

“My wife scratched me,” he replied, as if it was an every day occurrence, like walking the dog or laundry.

“Really?”

“Yeah…. she got drunk and scratched me.”  He continued drinking his coffee and making fantasy football trades on his computer.

“Any particular reason?”

“Nah, not really.”

Another guy I know was deported after his notoriously unbalanced ex-girlfriend ratted him out to immigration for some illegal tutoring he was doing. That’s right, she called the teaching cops him. And sure enough, when he showed up to the lesson, two immigration officials were there, lying in wait. They grabbed him and that was that.  He’s since moved on to greener pastures, but let the lesson be learned.

3. THE DRUG BUST FAIL

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No country in Asia takes either possession of distribution of any substance deemed illegal lightly. Your arguments for decriminalization may hold sway ears in Canada, America, or Europe, but Asians generally have no time for such things.  All drugs are thought bad and that’s that. Get caught and pay the price. Like the strength of currencies in this region, this “price” varies greatly from country to country. Get busted smuggling hash in Japan or Korea and you WILL do time in a spartan prison, but you’ll likely count the years on one hand and you’re unlikely to be brutalized or raped. Do the same in Thailand or the Philippines and you may just spend a decade or two living in your own shit and fending off knife attacks from transvestites in prisons not fit for animals. Try it in Malaysia or Singapore and you may not even spend too long in prison before you find a rope around your neck.

Every year or so there’s a drug bust among the expats in Korea, which I don’t understand. I mean, do you guys really need your weed THAT much? Go home and move to Seattle or Denver and smoke away, though you may have to go back to work at Walmart or the valet parking lot you toiled away at before moving here.

There are so many books written about Thai prisons that they practically have their own aisle the the few remaining books stores left on earth. Warren Fellow’s “The Damage Done” is particularly horrifying.

For a clear and sympathetic account of serving time in a Korea prison for drugs, try “Brother One Cell”. He’s proven that the Asia Fail can go the other way around: It can sometimes actually provide opportunities for you back at home. I’ve often thought of purposely getting arrested for drugs in Asia, and serving my time solely in hopes of landing a big book deal. Expat prison memoirs are hot hot hot.

4. THE HATER FAIL

This one usually manifests itself as the midnight runner (suddenly leaving without notice).  Many would argue that this doesn’t qualify as an Asia Fail because by leaving the country with no notice, you are taking matters into your own hands. Fair enough, but to get to the point where you are willing to grab your shit and ditch out on your job without so much a phone call implies a basic lack of preparation for the bumps and knocks of life in Asia.

But even more fail-ific are the people who move to Asia, hate it with their very skin, yet insist on sticking around, grinding it out, and making it awful for the rest of us. There’s currently one sad sack on Facebook who teaches up ino Seoul and shrieks about it every day. His entire posting catalog is a road map of ESL misery. He moans and whines and talks about how is life here is a “living hell”; he talks of how the school he works at could be destroyed by a bomb with everyone–staff and children include–killed and how he wouldn’t. even.  care. (sic)  In desperation for a online hug, he splays his painful, bleeding vagina for all to see; he longs to return to the loving womb of America, but refuses to take that one clear step to accomplish the goal: Actually leaving.

Isn’t such perpetuation of easily-cured pain a kind of fail in itself?

Things are different here. There are cultural barriers that sometimes suck, yes, and in an effort to maintain social harmony, many bosses do have a–how do you say–elastic relationship with the truth.  And the men spit in elevators and the old ladies elbow you in the subway and just maybe they all do hate us.

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And did I mention how expensive cheese is here? Can you believe it? Oh noes. The horror.

5. THE TRYING TO BE FUNNY BUT ONLY ENRAGING THE LOCALS FAIL

This one occurs when cultural insensitivity meets misinterpretation, and one that I was guilty of in 2006. I was arrested and questioned over my role in Babopalooza, an expat sketch-comedy show I helped write and produce. The show made fun of both Westerners and Koreans and nearly got everyone involved deported. One of the sketched lampooned the Korean Immigration Service, which was an idiotic thing to do, since 1: The ridiculing of authorities is frowned-upon in Confucian Korea, and  2. The people we were skewering were also the people who have all the power over our lives: They interpret and enforce the rules that let us stay in the country. Don’t bite the hand that issues the visa.  We eventually got off with a firm “talking to” by the actual police, but “Wonderful Busan, Beautiful Immigration” continued to make our lives hell for years later, every time any of us switched jobs.

There are other examples aside from Babopalooza, most notably Michael Breen’s Samsung Christmas satire, and the forever-instructive “Fancy a bum?” incident, which whipped up the Korean netizens into such an angry, pitchfork and torch mob, that the offending dude (a Busan resident) was literally run out of the country.

6. THE PARANOIA FAIL

No, this isn’t the west, and some of the governments in Asia are downright nasty. This is especially true for the communist ones, who don’t really bother with such pesky things as free speech, habeus corpus, and a right to a fair trial. They’ve also been known to harass and spy on undesirable foreign elements from time to time.

However, most expats–especially lowly English teachers–are barely on their radar and to think otherwise is to only flatter yourself.  That doesn’t stop some folks from convincing themselves that the Secret Police are out to get ‘em, however. A friend of mine was recently living in a Southeast Asian country and posted a sort of real time Facebook meltdown. He claimed he was being watched and followed every step of the way; he told of having his apartment broken into and his computer hacked and tracked. He ended up bolting the country with no cash and barely getting out, subsequently relying on friends chipping in on PayPal to buy his ticket back home.

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Who knows? Maybe he was being followed. Though, having been a dabbler myself years back, I suspect overindulgence in certain substances played a much greater role in pushing him over the precipice than any spooks or security apparatchiks. And is it any coincidence that that this sort of neurosis usually occurs in countries where such substances are widespread and easily obtained? After all, nothing makes gangs of government agents put cameras in your refrigerator like a three-week yabba binge.

7. THE SHITTY TEACHER FAIL

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Let’s face it: Teaching English in Asia is a piece of piss. Could there be anything easier than just talking to people in your native tongue and getting paid for it? Sure, you need a “four-year degree”, and that does succeed in weeding out some of the mouthbreathers, but knuckleheads still abound. Anyone who thinks that a college education alone somehow equals intelligence hasn’t surveyed the Asian ESL crowd.

But let’s face it: Teaching English isn’t for everyone. To do it well in Asia requires a modicum of charm and basic social skills, or at least the ability to shuck and jive and entertain the troops. And if the troops aren’t entertained, they’ll complain, and your ass will be shown the door.

Some folks just aren’t cut out for this gig, yet bounce around from job to job to job, never quite taking the hint that, somewhere along the way, they’ve made a serious vocational error. But the truth is, if you are over thirty and teaching in Asia, you’ve ALREADY made a serious vocational error.

8. THE TEACHING IN KOREA AND THEN GETTING CAUGHT HAVING SEX WITH CHILDREN IN THAILAND FAIL

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This is the worst one, because not only is it morally reprehensible: It just makes living and working here all the more difficult for the rest of us.

Thanks, Swirly Faced Man.

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The Offense Rests: a (Rather) Cross Examination of the Jehova’s Witnesses

by John Bocskay


Some years ago, back when I was single, I had an affair with a woman I’ll call Jinhee. We met in Busan through a mutual friend and had a torrid couple of days together before she had to go back home to Incheon.

We kept in touch, and about a month later, I went to meet her in Seoul for a weekend. One steamy summer day found us strolling along Cheonggyecheon, the revitalized stream that winds through the center of Seoul. Once polluted and covered by concrete, it’s now a clean green refuge from the manic hustle of the big city.

As Jinhee and I walked hand-in-hand along the shaded path, a woman approached me and thrust a pamphlet into my hand.

Jehova’s Witness. I had seen this pamphlet before, around 8 a.m. on more than a few Sundays, handed to me across my doorway when I would rather have been sleeping off Saturday night. The cover was hard to forget: a pastoral scene with smiling people carrying large baskets piled with fruit, while other people stroked the fur ofwitnessheaven wild animals, who calmly sit among them apparently for that very purpose.

Jehova’s Witnesses believe that God and exactly 144,000 of the uber-righteous will rule over the earth from heaven, while the great majority who didn’t make the cut inherit the consolation prize: an earthly paradise without sickness or death. The scene that they depict on their pamphlets is the latter, lowball offer, which in itself ought to straight away insult the dignity and intelligence of any potential convert. I suppose the faithful find that a pleasant enough reward, but I’ve always found this particular version of paradise to be wanting. With pent-up retribution for a dozen shattered Sunday mornings, I started pointing out the logical absurdities of this crudely imagined Eden to Jinhee.

“This shit makes no sense. If nobody dies, you don’t have to eat, but look, almost everyone in the picture is holding a mound of food. Maybe humans in the ‘peaceful new world’ eat for pleasure, but, in a world of no indigestion, heart disease, or gout – in other words, nothing holding you back – you’d expect to see a few fat people in the picture. Where are the gluttons?

“Maybe humans eat out of habit or some kind of vestigial craving, like zombies. Charming, right? Or maybe they really do need to eat after all, in which case you wonder what the consequences of not eating would be, if not death. A perpetual hunger like a vampire? That doesn’t sound like paradise to me. That sounds like bullshit.

“Don’t worry, though, because the peaceful new world is a land of plenty. Look at that pile of apples the boy is carrying, and the blueberry bush in the foreground. Food is just lying around for the taking, nobody has to work for it, and they’re all thin and healthy. It’s a magical, all-you-can eat soup kitchen.

“Still, if this is a place where there is no death and sickness, why bother with apples and berries? Why not Cinnabon and cheesecake and 64-ounce Cokes and all the shit that would normally kill you?”

The night before we’d had a few drinks and a lot of laughs, but our walk today was mostly quiet. With this hokey pamphlet as fodder, I felt myself getting on a roll again.

“I actually like that they include animals in the peaceful new world. And why not? Are they not also god’s creatures? The immediate question though is the same one that torpedoes Noah’s Ark: what do the lions eat? Must they kill the other animals, or, heaven forbid, that cute little Hispanic girl who is scratching his snout? That wouldn’t be very peaceful or new.

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Vegetarian massacre

“Nope, no meat in paradise. That’s why they’re all apparently vegetarians. You’d better like fruit though, because harvesting vegetables usually requires the plant to die. Sorry, vegetables! No peaceful new world for you!”

Jinhee was walking slowly at my side, devouring every word, and at this last comment I felt her stir slightly. I paused to recall if we had eaten any meat. I have an uncanny habit of poking fun at vegetarianism in front of people who turn out to be vegetarians, with predictably awkward results. No, we had had bulgogi the last time we met. Fair game. I handed her the pamphlet and carried on.

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Living the dream.

“Check out the boy wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. How were they manufactured? Are there Bangladeshi sweatshops in the peaceful new world? And how do they wash their clothes? Do they go old-school and beat them on rocks, which isn’t really the first activity that leaps to mind when I imagine the things I would want to do in paradise, or are they machine-washed with powerful detergents that pollute that pretty lake in the background? Seriously, apart from picking fruit, why is nobody working? This kind of leisure time you see here implies a lot of labor-saving machinery, but the most technologically complex device in the whole picture is a wicker basket.

“Think about it: if there’s no death, no new people could be born because it would lead to overpopulation, and the children in the picture will never grow up. How could they? Aging implies dying. They would have to be children forever, at least physically. Imagine being a billion years old, with all the wisdom and knowledge such a life would give you, and having to repeat the second grade. Forever. And what kind of idiot would be smiling about it – or is he just really looking forward to chowing down on his ten billionth apple?”

As I spoke, I became progressively more animated while Jinhee listened in perfect attention. It was fun talking with someone so worldly (She had worked in Germany for many years) at such a high level of English about things I didn’t often get a chance to talk about and hadn’t even realized I cared about so much.

7-bored-with-sex-life“Look at the man and woman walking together. What is their relationship like? Do they have sex? If they do, why? Do they get bored and swap partners, or do they just stop having sex altogether? Who sleeps in the wet spot, and how does he or she feel about it? Sorry, but a peaceful new world would probably have to exclude sex. I mean, sex is fun and all, but it’s not generally conducive to peace in the world…”

Here I felt her stir again. Jinhee and I had slept together a few times, but had never really talked about sex, and I realized that my last comment could be badly construed, especially by someone with whom I was in a budding relationship. I’d been rambling for maybe ten minutes, so I paused again to gauge her reaction.

She looked from the pamphlet to me and said, very plainly but with gentle urgency, “That’s my religion.”

“That’s your what? Wow. Okay. Shit. I mean okay.”

I didn’t know what to say except to apologize profusely. Incredibly, she either wasn’t upset or didn’t show it. She explained that her mom was deeply involved in the church, but judging from the way she didn’t immediately tell me to go fuck myself, I gathered that her affiliation was somewhat less devout. I don’t know if she was trying to make me feel like less of a jackass, but she expressed a genuine interest in my opinions, and said that she’d never thought about those things in that way before. She talked a bit about her beliefs, but it’s hard to reconstruct that conversation now, because it was long time ago, and as she talked I was carrying on an internal monologue that went:

“You idiot. You stupid fucking idiot. I can’t believe you said that you fucking idiot….”

We continued our walk hand in hand, and even enjoyed the rest of the weekend, but as it turned out, that was the last time I saw her. Not long after that I met a charming lapsed Buddhist from down the street, who later became my wife, ’til death do us part.handinhand

The Girl Who Peed In Her Shoe

by Mr. Motgol

I met her at Al’s Bar, which was the greatest place in LA, as far as I was concerned. It was a shelter from the nauseating, status-obsessed banality that made up so much of the city’s night life, an exquisite dive full of honest, friendly people. Al’s Bar also featured live punk rock music most every night of the week, booked by a smiling lesbian named Toast. I fell in love with it the moment I walked in the door.

At that time much of downtown was abandoned at night—if you didn’t count the packs of homeless folks who gathered in the shadows and burned fires on the sidewalks. It was widely viewed as a forbidding, lawless place, more Mogadishu than American Mecca. Because of its unglamorous location (“Isn’t it dangerous down there???”) people didn’t accidently end up at Al’s Bar. It wasn’t just a place you popped into during a night out. You went there intentionally and stayed. As a result, the clientele was largely pack of happy, dedicated wasters who liked their beer cheap and their music loud. It was my kind of place and I was gutted when it eventually closed down.

Melissa was a regular at Al’s. I had seen her once before and had my eye on her. She was a punk rocker through and through, though prima facie she looked quite normal–no visible tattoos, no dyed hair, no Mohawk, no safety pins (trappings of a bygone era, anyhow). She was a petite woman with brown orbs for eyes and dark, wavy hair. Her tight black jeans, leather boots and slightly excessive eyeliner were her only outward nod to “punkness.” Like most folks at Al’s, she didn’t need the uniform, because she raged where it counted: inside.

I stepped out to the covered smoking patio attached to the bar to have a cigarette. She was right behind me.

“Hey lonely,” she said, approaching. “I don’t suppose a tall fella like you would have a light?”

She actually spoke like this. Not all the time, to where it became some kind of annoying affectation, but her speech was often imbued with a cinematic tone, as if she had stepped out of the frame of a hardboiled detective film of the 1930’s. This added to her mystique, for me at least. After all, we were in the City of Angels—Hollywood—and we all had our roles to play.

I lit her smoke even though I was sure she kept a few lighters in her purse.

“You always come here alone?” she asked.

After the bar closed up she invited me to join her and her friend “Badger” at a small party in the residence hotel right next door. Badger was a tall, kind of dorky guy with glasses and a mop of sandy blond hair who did “foam sets” for film and TV shoots. He didn’t have a lot to say to me.

“We’re just friends,” whispered Melissa, as we shared a joint atop the stairwell of the old brick hotel. Two of residents on the third floor had opened their doors and a few folks wandered in and out, drinking canned beer and appreciating the original art on the walls. Badger was nowhere to be seen.

“’Just friends.’ Really?” I said, moving in closer.

“Yeah, no funny business. Promise.”

She crossed her heart with the hand holding the nub the smoking joint and looked up at me with hopeful, glassy eyes. We kissed. She scribbled her number on slip of paper and later left with Badger.

 

*            *            *

 

I had lived in Los Angeles for over a year and hadn’t been on one date. I was there working it with a crew from Seattle—performing shows and cranking out scripts and trying to bust into innards of the Hollywood beast— but my lack of success in “the industry” was mirrored by my lack of success with women. I had broken up with a terrific girl in Seattle to pursue the showbiz carrot, and since then had had a terrible dry streak. I was just another loser trying to make it; the deck was stacked against me and women could smell it a mile away.

After the night at Al’s, I savored the idea of dating Melissa, repeating the scenario in my mind. Here was a hip attractive chick that, despite working and living in LA, wasn’t caught up in the soul-corroding bullshit of the game. And she loved drinking beer and listening to loud rock and roll, pretty much my two favorite past times. So I waited a couple of days and called her, and the next Friday night I was knocking on the door of her apartment (which was covered in stickers for punk bands), located in an otherwise respectable building just two blocks off Hollywood Boulevard.

We grabbed some  burgers and then ended up at an anonymous little dive just a few minutes’ walk from her house. I loved Al’s and often complained about the LA nightlife scene, but Hollywood still had a load of these grubby little scumbag bars–real Bukowski stuff. We hunkered down at a table and proceeded to guzzle pitcher after pitcher of Natural Ice. We were the only patrons in the place. We put AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and old ZZ Top on the jukebox and rocked it, singing along and shaking our heads to the 4/4 beat. Eventually we jumped up from the table, grabbed each other, and danced. We went for it, infused with the energy of American beef, cheap beer and rock and roll, sloppily jumping and spinning and moving hip to hip.

“Hey! You can’t do that in here!”

The fuzzy headed bartender stood in front of us with his arms crossed.

“No dancing. Bar rules. Sorry.”

“Fuck that,” Melissa said, flashing the guy the finger. “We’re outta here…”

I paid and we left laughing, stumbling back to her place, arm in arm. We picked up a half-rack of Natural Ice on the way (she drank nothing else) and sat in her apartment listening to the Buzzcocks, downing cans of the cold weak lager, telling each other our life stories. Eventually the clothes came off and we attempted sex, but the beer had done its work: We were both messy as it gets and soon passed out, naked and snoring on her bed.

At one point in the night I awoke to a rustling sound. My head was hissing and my vision blurry, but I could still make out the silhouette of Melissa, squatting on the floor just in front of the bed. Then I heard the gush of water.

I fumbled for the lamp switch but managed to turn it on.

“Melissa!”

She turned to me, eyes half closed, mumbling to herself. She was clutching a leather ankle boot and holding it to her crotch, while she let loose the beery contents of her bladder.

 

*            *            *

 

Melissa was an interesting character, the child of proper 60’s bohemians. Her mother was a professional lounge singer with actual albums out, and her father was a 60’s radical, an avowed communist who had moved to New Zealand and was granted political asylum, based on his previous hassles with the FBI. As a result, Melissa had grown up in both LA and Auckland. Though she spoke like an American, she could switch into a flawless Kiwi accent at the snap of a finger.

She was clever and funny, with a sharp, wicked sense of humor. She also possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of music and film. While no artist herself (“I’m just a nine to fiver,” she used to say) she loved cinema most of all, and most of our subsequent dates were spent in her apartment, sitting on her bed drinking Natural Ice while watching films such as Welcome to the Dollhouse and Julien Donkey Boy.

The drugs didn’t come out until the third time I came over. The featured film that night was Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky’s otherworldly examination of the lives of two heroin addicts. This is an interesting film because, while it pulls no punches in showing the dark, grotesque consequences of hardcore drug use, it also honestly portrays the pure pleasure that people find in them. I had stopped regularly getting high a while before even coming to LA, but every few months I’d find myself in the tunnel, on a two or three day bender. And that movie, that night, served as a trigger. We were drunk, of course (we were always drunk), and the close-up shots of pupils dilating and blissed out junkies awakened the fiend in me.

“Man, it’d be nice to get high right now.”

“Well you know the rule,” Melissa said. “You can’t talk about drugs unless you’ve got ‘em.”

“Well, I don’t go ‘em.”

She got up from the bed, pressed pause on the VCR (she was old school—analogue only), and went into her kitchen. My eyes stuck to her the whole time. From a hidden space above her little refrigerator, she slid out a large mirror with a huge pile of beige powder heaped in the center. A couple of lines were already cut out. My heart raced and my mouth went dry.

“Want some coffee?”

Meth. Here we go…

I really knew how to choose ‘em.

 

*          *          *

 

In the couple times I met Melissa after that night (and day and next day) she didn’t hesitate to bust out the gear. We’d get high and have ferocious speed sex and tweak around and then go on meandering drives throughout the expanse of the city. At one point we ended up at her dealer’s house to score. He was her ex-boyfriend–a tattooed dude with a shaved head and flinty eyes. He sported that ‘jean shorts and wallet-chain’ look so popular with working class white boys in SoCal at the time. He had done some time and seemed a bit of a hardcase. She told me of how he had taken her looting during the LA riots of ’92. It came as no surprise that his favorite band of all time was Sublime.

Things cooled off for a few months. I didn’t hear from her and figured that was just as good, as I was trying to stay away from nasty drugs, though I did miss her company. I had absolutely zero other action going on as well, so when the phone rang and it was her, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased to hear her voice.

“Hey stranger,” she said. “Wanna come to the Punk Rock Barbecue?”

The Punk Rock Barbecue was a once-a-month, rotating event, always held on Sunday. A different house would host it each time. They would provide the venue and a grill. As the name suggests, bands would set up in the back yard and play. It was potluck, with a 5 buck-a-cup keg, and had only one hard rule: Everything must end by 8 o’clock: the music finishes, the guests vacate. I think the whole thing was organized by Toast from Al’s, which had since closed its doors.

I met Melissa at the barbecue and stood with her in the yard, nibbling on a hot dog and listening to the hyperkinetic buzz of the band. She was looking rough, with yellowish skin and circles under her eyes, but she still had some of her old spark. Aside from our first meeting at Al’s, we had done little socializing outside, electing instead to indulge our passions and addictions within the closed confines of her Hollywood apartment. So I didn’t know anyone at the barbecue, whereas Melissa had basically grown up in the LA punk scene. She was in her element and quickly left me to work the crowd. Then at some point she disappeared. The band finished its short set and began to pack up the gear.

I searched for her to no avail, and decided it was time to split, so I walked down the palm tree-lined street towards my car, which was parked a few blocks away. Then I saw her. She was on the other side of the road, leaning against a familiar car, making out with a tall blond guy: Badger.

I went home, and after a few angry beers, dialed her number, but it just went to her machine (neither of us had cell phones). I left a screaming message, telling her I never wanted to see her again.

This didn’t stop her from calling a few months later.

She came over to my place this time. She wore a mini-skirt with high stockings and a tight mini-tee. Her hair was put up into pigtails and the eyeliner was on extra thick. She joined my roommate Chaz, a couple of friends visiting from Seattle, and me. The five of us put on a stupid comedy—Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy—and sat down to take in the brainless, silly action.

Space was cramped on the couch and Melissa was basically sitting on my lap. About thirty minutes into the film she whispered in my ear: “This movies sucks. Let’s blow this joint and make a movie of our own.” She stood up, took me by the hand, and led me into my bedroom, just a ten second stroll from the couch.

My room had no real door—just a pair of stunted, swinging saloon-style thingies—so it was pretty easy to look in and even easier to hear what was going on. Melissa immediately stripped off her clothes and crawled onto my bed. I followed suit. We made out for a while until both of us were ready to take it further. My friends chuckled in the next room, just feet away. As I went to enter, Melissa stopped me.

“No, not there…” she said, shifting the angle. “Here.”

Massive laughter erupted as we proceeded to go at it.

 

*            *            *

 

Again I didn’t see her for a couple months after that. At this point she was this girl who would blow in and out of my life and I was fine with that, especially since it was clear that the drugs were getting the best of her. That night in my room she confessed to losing her job. She told me that she may have to move out of her apartment. It was clear things were spinning out of control.

One night I came home and joined Larry, one of my upstairs roommates, for a smoke on the balcony. Larry was a burly gay guy from New York, with all the biting wit you’d expect.

“Oh,” he said, suddenly turning to me: “Did I tell you girlfriend stopped by the other night?”

“My girlfriend?”

“Yeah, you know: ‘Sloppy’ Spice?”

A couple of weeks later Melissa stopped by again. This time I was home, in bed. It was 3 a.m. I had just gotten to sleep when I was awakened by the thump of bass from car stereo speakers. I could tell that it was coming from out front of the house, where I could also make out the hum of an engine, idling.

This went on for a few minutes before the front door of our downstairs space creaked open (we stupidly never locked it at night). I heard the uneven clunk of heeled boots on the floor. Shortly afterwards Melissa came staggering through the swinging doors to my room. She stood there in the dark, swaying.

“Hey,” I said.

She fumbled through the pockets of her jacket and then stopped.

“You got a cigarette?”

“Uh…  sure,” I said. “They’re upstairs. On the kitchen table.”

“Okay.”

She stumbled out of my room and made her way back out the front door. I listened as she clomped up the stairs, creaked open the upstairs door, plodded to the table, paused, tromped back, slammed the door, and thudded back down the stairs. Her footsteps diminished in volume as she meandered away from the house, toward her parked, still-running car.

She must have really enjoyed that cigarette, because she just sat out there for another five minutes–engine running, bass pumping away. Then, with a jerking sound, I heard the car engage into gear and she drove away, out into the big dark city, out of my life.

I never saw her again.