Part II of a Novel:

Feeling Saigon




      Warm hues wash out dilapidated storefronts and crowded sidewalks, the sun shining down on throngs of motorcyclists, the pulsing and purring of traffic, engines expelling exhaust, the air thick and full of buzzing culture shock. Vietnam. I'm in a taxi like a whale, forage fish swarming it, shoals of them at every angle, agile, revving, honking, whizzing by, death-defying teens and elderly alike, moving in schools of camaraderie. Everything is red and yellow and brown and shabby and exciting.

I forget the dull pain of immigration, the dilapidated interior of the airport full of scotch-taped Comic Sans notices, long queues of tired people and general oppressiveness. I forget the incessant waiting, the moving of money through labyrinthine bureaucracy, the authoritarian architecture of windowless banality, my own financial insecurities. I forget the particular knot in the middle of my back, forget the stress. I'm done with travel. Now I'm traveling.

The shrill taxi radio blares through Saigon. It ceases as we reach Jane's place. She's there to greet me. “There he is!” she says with a big grin. We give each other a big hug, hold it, each trying to fit our excitement into it.

            We walk up to Jane’s AirBnB; it’s modern and luxurious. I’m impressed. I drop my bag down by the couch, drink some bottled water she offers me. We chat inanely – the content doesn’t matter at this point – just the relating. We could take the conversation in any direction, but there’s no rush. This isn’t an hour-long meet-up for coffee. It’s a weeklong stay. 10 days. The way we start talking – the cadence and intonations – matters more than what we actually say, and I don’t want to jump too eagerly into a major topic. I just want to relax and take things in for a second. Jane reads me. I stand up, look out her window and take a deep breath.


            I exhale as a woman walks on my back. We’re in a dark room now, getting massages. We each let out sighs as our limbs are pulled and bodies cracked, our musculature worked by experienced hands, the room full of natural soundscapes. There’s so much physical evidence of stress and anxiety in my body. That specific knot in the middle of my back has been worsening for who knows how long and it’s such a true pleasure to have it addressed. She digs her knuckles in, massaging it with intense focus. I moan. I wish she’d stay right there, work it all the way out, but she continues to the rest of my body, which also feels good. There are still more knots – small, tight, stubborn ones. I definitely want more of this.

            Jane treats and then takes us to this cool place up the way, a hidden bar down an alley called Pasteur Street Brewing Company. It’s a microbrewery started by expats, flush with waxed birch wood and salvaged beer taps, a place I feel like I’ve been in before, in Chicago or Seattle or Brooklyn. It’s relaxed, dim, the afternoon light muted, the stools not quite comfortable but cool enough to pretend.

            “Cheers to Ho Chi Minh City!” I say.

            “Cheers! Nobody calls it that, by the way – It’s Saigon,” Jane tells me with a wink.

            We drink, talk about the beer as beer drinkers do: the notes of spice and orange and oolong and whatever else. I myself am happy with cheap domestics. This craft sampler is good, but somehow wasted on me.

            Jane tells me about her dissertation on propaganda art of the 1960s, about being here to research it. “Grant money, man – the best way to fund a trip,” she says.

            The bartender gives me the wi-fi password. I don’t plan on being on my phone, but connecting brings me comfort. I open Instagram.

            “So what are you up to these days?” Jane asks me. “Are you working on a video project? Have you been exhibiting?”

            “I had a show at a little gallery in Berlin.”

            I want to confess to Jane that the gallery isn’t very impressive, that sales were weak, that I feel like giving up pretty often. But I also have an urge to sell myself, assure her that things are good, that my career is solid. I describe a dual channel video loop of establishing shots I had created.

            “How’s life back in Chicago? Everything smooth with Justin?”

            “Yeah, smooth enough.”

            “Yeah?” I give Jane a slanted look, ready for her to crack. She spills.

            “I want a baby!”

            “And Justin’s not on board or what?”

            “The timing is never right, or something…”

            “Right, that’s what they say,” I agree.

Jane stretches, seems exasperated. I have a feeling she has this conversation often.

            “We don’t have to talk about it.”

            Suddenly my problems seem less significant. I want a family too, but I totally relate to Justin – I don’t feel ready. Of course, as men, we don’t have to worry as much. I still would rather give birth to a successful career. Time, nonetheless, is scary.

            For a moment we’re quiet. The silence expands and suddenly I feel a sort of dread: I prioritize convenience over work, leave my equipment at home so I don’t have to carry it around when I travel. I leave town instead of being productive, take this trip instead of advancing my career more traditionally. In Jane’s silence I hear every judgment from my parents, my friends who expect more of me, my business connections I fail to email, the galleries I could approach, the life I could have if I would just live it. Instead I’m here, nowhere. I chug my beer as if it can bury my anxiety, try to drown my own disappointments. I get a bit despondent and tell Jane a little about Annie as I order us more drinks.       




I want to be the kind of guy that can sleep anywhere, through anything. Jared was like that. Steve and Ryan too, and Anish pretty much, can handle anything without fuss. For me, I guess I’m more high-maintenance. I like things to be just right, to feel perfect. I tell myself I’m easy-going and chill with everything, but it’s not quite true, if I’m being honest. Friends give me a hard time about it. Steve thinks I must suffer as a result. Ryan thinks I’m too entitled, like if there’s a bed somewhere, I think I deserve it. Maybe it’s true. I do basically feel that way. I’m working on it.

            Jane and I came back home, enjoyed a drink and changed our mood by watching videos on YouTube. First I showed her some interesting clips about death and love on The School of Life channel, then general stuff about space and time on V-Sauce, and then we made it to comedy clips of Nathan for You. A nice arc of philosophy and laughter – laughing at the abyss. Then Jane went to bed. I messaged Lily that we weren’t up for clubbing.

                Now I’m lying here on the couch, comfortable enough. It’s not too small, not too stiff. I’m proud of myself for being happy with it. It doesn’t occur to me to be envious of a bed. I’m grateful to have this couch to call my own for the week, to be put up in Vietnam in this fashion.

Even though my body must be exhausted, I’m not yet sleepy. Maybe because I’m staring at my phone screen, scrolling through Facebook, the blue light of the phone mimicking the sun. The cord from the wall to the couch just barely reaches. I just have to position myself on my side, which is fine. Being on the phone is an emotional activity, but it’s also physical.

        I’m thinking about Annie. I want her to like me and I want to say something that makes her like me. This is ridiculous. Must I acknowledge her rejection? How do I best do it? Am I okay with just being friends? I need to think about this. I decide that ignoring her for now is probably my best move; no point in rushing a response. It’s her loss, damn it! I can focus on other things, on “myself”.

            I think of Julie. It was nice sleeping with her – the last time I really laid down. I feel like she likes me, will continue to like me no matter how much chatting with her I do. Genuine physical attraction is nice like that. You can count on it. It’s not just going to disappear. I don’t have to tend to it. Maybe I take it for granted. I wish I could transfer my feelings for Annie into Julie. I can’t do it.

            I’m not horny, thank god. I don’t want to figure out how to watch porn in Jane’s apartment. I mean, her room has a door, but still: she could walk out at any moment. Best to be as safe and passive as possible, especially this first night here. As a guest, this is a responsibility I assume.

            I’m tiring a bit, getting more complacent. It’s warm but not too much so – the air on my feet is pleasant. I think of Lily, about today’s conversation and wonder if and when I’ll see her again. I count girls in my mind like sheep, lulling myself to slumber by dreaming of love.


Being There


I don’t understand how people wear clothes they don’t love, drive cars they don’t identify with, accessorize with things that they don’t fully relate to. When I get on my bike, it’s an extension of me. I love my suitcase because it’s akin to my haircut. I guess I take my role as consumer seriously – I am my things. So it gives me great pause to behold a motorbike that doesn’t fit my style, even if I’m renting it just for a week. I’m in Phạm Ngũ Lão, Saigon’s backpacker district, comparing scooter options. Nothing’s perfect. Everything is tacky. I stare at this electric green bike – it tries so hard to be cool, like a trapper keeper from the 80s, and I’m trying to contort my ego onto it. I step away, breathe, walk the block, shake this perfectionism out of my head enough to test drive this thing. Looks aside, I’m nervous – the area is super congested. I sit on the seat, put my hands on the throttle and the brake, and take it down the alley. No problem. Then I enter the major street and take it around the block. Immediately it feels awesome. I blend in right away with the masses of other electric bikes, which mostly look as cheesy as mine. This is just this world’s aesthetic. I can accept it. I pull back into the alley, park it, and feel convinced – this will do just fine. I convince the shopkeeper to match the price of another place and hand over my passport. Then I meet Jane for a coffee.

            “450,000₫. How much is that?”

            “Like $20,” Jane says. “Not bad for a weeklong scooter, right?”

            “Yeah, pretty amazing.”

            “Vietnam, man.”

            “I feel so weird giving them my passport. So scary not to have it, you know?”

            “Yeah I feel you. But it’s how it’s done here. Don’t worry about it.”

            We’re at the i.d. Café. I have a smoothie and a sandwich. Jane leaves for the city archives. I should also be productive. I have my laptop with me, take it out of a backpack Jane has lent me. Oh, this is what I’ve forgotten: a daypack for my computer and things. Of course I don’t love this bag I’m borrowing. It’s beige, full of ties and things. But this is what I’m stuck with. I sink into a couch, try to breathe through my silly pickiness. I don’t know why it matters what backpack I use or what bike I ride, but it does. I try to let it go. I am not my things, I tell myself. I’m not convinced though. A tool in your hand is your hand. Your glasses are your eyes. Everyone sees it. I’d go further: the landscape I behold is me as well. I am my environment.

            I open my laptop, sign into the wi-fi, organize my calendar and Instagram a pic.

            What should I be doing? I don’t really know. Nothing is pressing. I have no assignments, no work for hire, no pictures that anyone expects to see. I guess I want to edit video from Iceland – this is the next thing. I open a finder window, find the files, stare at them. I can’t think. Ok, put them through MPG Streamclip, convert everything to ProRes. Easy enough place to start, all this mundane business. Ok, that’s happening. I stare out the window at the green leaves swaying in the warm wind. The sunlight coming into the café is indirect, pleasant. I feel like a cat. I could take a nap. Time passes.

            Eventually I get restless again. I exit.

            I get on my motorbike. Suddenly I feel alive, awakened by speed and the breeze on my face, along with the music. I’m listening to Crystal Castles. I have nowhere to go, no direction, but I suddenly feel liberated, riding. I relax my body & mind into the energy of movement. I throttle, weave, acclimate to the engineering of the bike and into the rhythm of the traffic.

            I, This time, I  Alive, Live, Lie, I I, Arrive, I –  


                  I am there. I zoom to the front. I explore the streets of Saigon with diminishing caution. I feel the energy of the masses, everyone whirring and whizzing in unison, packing tightly together at stoplights that count down, looking around. My headphones are firmly in my ears, my iPhone in my pocket. I take it out often, carefully, when stopping. I take pictures and video, trying to find the perfect moments to capture, to express this sensation I’m loving. I park at intersections to record the frenzy but I’m never quite satisfied, always searching for a better representation. I yearn to share this, to keep it. The lens just doesn’t encapsulate enough of it. You have to be there, to use peripheral vision, turn your head, be immersed in the experience. I put away my camera, concede that some things simply cannot be captured. I’m invigorated enough as it is, driving without a destination on a dérivé through the city, experiencing the geography psychologically.

            God I’ve missed driving.

            The road is a metaphor for freedom. Driving is a liberating act – it crushes the limitations we grow up with, completely transforms the scales of time & distance. American cities were built for cars, so it’s no wonder that getting a driver’s license is such a rite of passage – the world is simply not accessible until you have wheels. In Europe it’s different – cities with much more history were built on the human scale, could be traversed largely on foot. Driving in the big cities of Europe and America’s East Coast, driving isn’t freedom. It can be a trap – an annoying, cumbersome hindrance. Bicycles are better – their size and mobility match the contemporary scale of big cities. And mass transit.

            Being in Asia feels like a whole other thing. This is new. Saigon is similar in some ways to what I’ve grown accustomed to: a busy metropolis packed with people and tall buildings. But this isn’t a car city like LA or a mass transit city like New York or Berlin. It’s a motorbike city, and it feels so perfect. A scooter blends the unencumbered vision and compactness of a bicycle with a car’s raw speed and engine. A car, while more powerful, confines you, puts you in a box, transforms you into a passive viewer somehow, the world like a movie playing on your windshield. On a bike, motorized or not, the world is right there in front of you, all around you, in your face. A motorized bike is the best of both worlds, really.  And I feel connected to Vietnam now, learning the language of the traffic.

            After some time I end up at Enjoy Massage. I enjoy it.


New Moon


            Cheers. Eye contact. The clinking of glass. The beer is warm and cheap and I’m fine with it. The waitress wears a provocative beer-sponsored outfit. She brings a bucket of ice and Jane convinces me that this is the norm as we put it in our glasses. The moon is just waning over Vietnam, the light reflected from the sun outdone by the incandescent lamps of the street. Our moods respond accordingly.        

            We’re at a bia hơi – a casual open-air pub full of boisterous locals. Night has fallen and I’m starving. We order bar snacks, sit in plastic chairs at a short table next to the busy neighborhood street, moms walking by us right beside cargo trucks, mopeds narrowly whizzing between cars and bicycles and pedestrians, young children darting unsupervised through the frenzy. Jane and I are both staring at the scene. I look to her with raised eyebrows.

             “I wonder what Claire would think of all this.”

            “What, like kids running around through traffic? God, I guess she’d freak out.”

            “She would, right?”

            “Sure. I mean, I guess Claire would be more typical of Western over-parenting culture.”

            “Yeah? Is that how you think she’ll be as a mom?”

            “Oh god, is she pregnant too?”

            “No, not that I know of, but you gotta figure she’s hoping for it.”

            “So I’m not the only one. Ha!”

            “Haha, far from it, I’m sure. But can you imagine her as a mom?”

            “Hmm, she’s progressive in many ways but also traditional… She’s traveled too… Surely she’s seen something like this, in Africa or the Middle East.”

            “Right. But somehow I can only imagine her scolding her kid for running in the street.”

            “I know what you mean. But wouldn’t you do the same as a dad?”

            “Perhaps. It’s hard to tell… I guess I’m just appreciating how there’s so much trust going on here. It’s like the children and adults all understand the traffic patterns, and the traffic understands them. It’s all one big hive community.”

We drink. I’m thinking. I’m thinking a lot of thoughts, but they’re muddled, confused, entwined with my empty stomach. I like seeing this new culture, the way things operate, how much more frantic and loose life is. It pleases something in me, even as I’m unsettled by the commotion, the loudness, the visual messiness. It feels just very natural, of nature. And I, robotic, want to wash everything in minimalism. I think Claire and others are the opposite: they don’t mind visual chaos, but they want everyone to behave safe and orderly.

            “The world doesn’t need to be controlled so badly.”

            “But Ethan, aren’t you sort of a control freak?”

            “Haha, that’s a good point.”

            Jane goes on about something – something about order, planning, our friends, adulthood, responsibility. “Maybe people behave cautiously because they’re invested in their futures…” I’m tuning it out. I feel a sadness about something, a sort of loss for a youthful feeling I once shared with these friends. I feel a bit betrayed by their newfound life decisions, their new commitments to taking less drugs, drinking less, less getting together for long stretches of unplanned time to just sit around and explore life – all of that. Chilling and stuff was easier in college. And our 20s. I feel like we all debated real things and were trying to figure things out together, bounce ideas off each other. Now it feels like everyone is choosing their sides, taking on these life positions, and talking about them is so much more difficult. Taboo. Like, you can’t question people for getting married, even if you genuinely do wonder if it’s what’s best for them. You can’t inquire too deeply about settling into a career, or choosing one city over another. Questions are more pointed now. Our lives are more devoted. We build houses made of cards and resent the winds that shake them. I still feel like questioning things so that I can build my own house more resistant to the wind, or to be that wind.




            The wind in my face, the sun shining, music in my ears: The Strokes at the moment, playing energetically. I’m in a groove, riding over the Saigon Bridge as fast as I can, speeding on this largest of highways, seeing how fast this bike can get. 55kpm, 60. I blaze right down the middle of the road, gliding around other bikes. I can feel the motor and the wheels on the pavement – they begin to vibrate a bit, rattle at full throttle, lift off. I want this bike to take off into the air, to just soar upward into the sky. I dream about this sometimes. I’ll be in a field and just leap up in the air and take off, unhinged by gravity. I soar for moments, then long stretches, exploring the world from above, just looking. This is my favorite dream. I close my eyes.

            ♬ Some people think they’re always right. Others are quiet and uptight. Others seem so very nice. Inside they might feel sad and wrong. Oh no!

            I want the wind in my hair. Instead I wear a helmet. I wish life was how I dreamed it. I’ll accept the world’s limitations, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I fret; I worry about stupid things too. I worry my phone will fall out of my pocket. No, I don’t have a case on it. It’s so nice without one.


Life Like a Movie


“The Vietnam era” has passed, and yet there remains a certain nostalgia for it, for a time we didn’t actually live but is part of us nonetheless. I feel its presence here, like it’s floating in the air. There aren’t any visual cues, really: no choppers or army jackets, no polyester or protests. America’s military forces are long withdrawn, the USSR collapsed. Those contrasting influences that practically tore this country in half have each abated, have relaxed into a sort of magical hybrid. In that sense, Vietnam is not unlike Germany, Saigon like Berlin – a special blend of East and West. I can feel the history and the attitudes and the global politics in the air, compressed into this moment, hovering around me – I could practically touch it. Maybe it’s in my head. Maybe it’s from all the movies I’ve seen on the subject.

            “I feel kind of stoned, like I’m in a movie from the 60s or 70s,” I say to Jane.

            “Nice,” she says back. “I’m perpetually in love with the cultish burnout of the post-Vietnam era – it’s the setting for some of my favorite books and movies of all time. That feeling is part of what convinced me to come here myself.”

            “An interesting, exciting era, that’s for sure. Though I’m more prone to romanticizing Paris at that time, like in The Dreamers.”

            “Nice. And appropriate.”

            She says so because we’re eating bánh mì. Saigon is famous for these baguette sandwiches: bread, mayo and pâté from France, blended with local veggies and spices – a true product of colonialism. I remember having my first one in Brooklyn with Danny and Ryan, hesitant of the pickled carrots and daikon – the odors put me off – but Danny told me to just go with it, and I did. It was a sort of life-changing moment, my culinary boundaries expanded. It’s nice to have one here, where it all started. Jane takes a selfie of us and instagrams it.  

            “Damn you, French imperialism, but thanks for the great sandwich!” she exclaims.

            “Haha yes.”

            She captions her photo with that.

            I take a picture of the horizon framed by trees, the color of a sunset gradient from blue to red, a sort of establishing shot to this cinematic moment I’m feeling. The sun is low. It’s 7pm.

            “I love this time of day…”

            This near-dusk, this light, this feeling. We’re enjoying the food, the setting, the conversation. But there’s more to it: there’s the way my brain focuses on certain aesthetics, combines my perceptions with thoughts about war and global politics, with girls and art and daydreams. It’s like art, but introverted.

            “Maybe we should go to the movies tonight,” I hear myself suggest.

            “Yes, let’s!”

            “I wonder what’s playing here.”

            “Speaking of the post-war vibes, you saw Inherent Vice, right Ethan?”        


            “I might be in the minority on this one, but isn’t it amazing? I think it’s PT’s best yet.”

            Inherent Vice is the seventh film by Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood and The Master. This is probably the strongest filmography of any living director. I watched this latest with Celine in Amsterdam; Jane saw it in Chicago with a few friends, none of whom understood it. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I didn’t either, really.

            “Somehow, no,” I say with some anguish.

            “What? Really? You don’t like it? I was sure you would. Isn’t it totally your kind of flick?

            “It is. I’m a bit disappointed in myself,” I laugh, “but also disappointed in it. I mean, I love the photography, the set design, the editing, all the filmmaking stuff as usual with PT Anderson. And there are so many cool elements, like the last supper pizza party and general stoner vibes… But it’s also… I don’t know…”

            I want to say how stiff and inchoate it is, how its foggy non sequitur quality isn’t exactly brilliant. It’s so meandering, the plot so vague and pointless and long-winded despite the bright glimmers of the director’s typical genius. The characters seem great, but I don’t know what they’re doing. The pacing is jarring – dazzling scenes followed by a static camera sitting on impenetrable conversation.

            “It’s kind of boring.”

            “What? But the trippy, surreal elements are so damn entertaining! I thought it was hilarious!”         

            “Yeah, there are definitely cool parts, and some good comedy,” I happily concede.

            “The book is also one of my favorites. I think Pynchon's point that PT picked up on brilliantly is that hyper- and surreality – sense and nonsense – are much more related than disparate. Trying to make sense of that will send you down the rabbit hole. So you can coast on it, or you can dive in to it, but either way it's going to get a hold of you, even if you’re not aware of it. It’s all a metaphor for insanity, and you can feel it.”

            “I mean, that sounds great when you say it like that, Jane, but I just got so uncomfortable in my seat while watching it. I want to like it. I’m just not fully on board yet. I need to see it again.”

            “We should! You wanna?”

            “Sure, seeing it here would be cool!”

            “Totally! A story of America’s Vietnam fallout while we’re in Vietnam! Let’s see if it’s playing,” Jane says as she takes out her phone.

            We look.

            It’s not.

            My mood sinks. I wish things were perfect.

            “Oh Chappie is out. We could go see that?”


            We go to the Thảo Điền cinema in a building straight out of Emeryville, CA, a suburban complex dropped into Ho Chi Minh City. They take AmEx. We drink Coca-Cola.

Two hours pass. The credits roll. We slowly gather ourselves and start talking again, negotiating that moment of delicate silence.

            “Well, that was a movie,” Jane says drolly.

            “Yep,” I say, stretching.  

             “It had the whole dystopian future aesthetic thing going. But that CGI, man, why?”

            “Right. I was entertained though,” I say as we walk toward the exit.

            “Hmm,” Jane considers as we seek a common understanding.

            “The symbolism was laid on a bit thick. Was all a bit campy, but that’s still fun.”

            “True. I liked seeing Die Antwoord,” she adds.

            “Yeah. It’s weird that they were cast in that. But I guess it makes sense, since they’re South African and so is Neil Blomkamp. It’s like they have a J’burg/Cape Town scene.”


            We’re back on the street, harsh fluorescents spotlighting the dirt and detritus around us.

            “It kind of feels like we’re still in the movie...”

            “Yeah, a bit," Jane says. "South Africa and Vietnam do share a certain aesthetic. Developing world chic.”

            “Haha. That’s good.”

            I kick a rock into some trash. Dust spreads. Life feels like that. My thoughts drift, relax into a haze of uncertain regret. It occurs to me that nothing's perfect, and that I wish things were different. This street, my life – I really feel it. I feel tinges of frustration and jealousy.

            "Why didn't we do something like that? Like out of Berkeley?"

            "What do you mean?” I can hear trepidation in Jane’s voice as she asks.

            "You know, we were both doing creative things in the Bay, along with Steve and Ryan and everybody. We could have made a movie as good as that one, don’t you think?”

            "Oh man, Ethan, I don’t know. You wanted to move to New York! We all ended up doing our own things. I mean, you're an artist now living in Germany – that's cool, isn’t it? You’re living the life man. Don’t worry about it.”

             But I do worry. PT Anderson comes from LA, moved to New York as well, but he took his NYU tuition money and made his first film with it. I relate more to the slacker stoner burnouts of Inherent Vice than to the director, whose drive eludes me. I want more in life but fear the effort. I crave love, security, more attention. But I dread the hard work necessary for it. I can’t even face this directly myself, let alone say it out loud.

            My last exhibition was a mild affair, sparsely attended, one sale. No further opportunities have since come of it. I feel like I could be doing so much more, like Erik or Chuck, but their work is so full of hustle. They’re plugged in so much better, are so much more adept at playing the game: the self-promotion, networking that may or may not lead to a thing, the right emails and phone calls, the organizing of portfolio reviews, navigating the world of managers and agents, studio visits, fundraising and grant-writing and crowd-funding, somehow exploiting all connections. It’s all so exhausting, and there’s so much luck involved on top of all of it. Can we at least admit that? I just wish someone would notice my talent, the actual work I do. And since so few have, I wonder if I even have it, or if my 20s have been basically worthless – chasing a dream so damned evasive on wings of wax and an underdeveloped business acumen. Maybe I delude myself, think I’m more talented than I actually am. Maybe I exist in my own movie, that I’m not necessarily the character I think I am. And I think this as I stare off at the darkness, the warm wind of the orient surrounding me like a blanket, waiting for me to just give up, give in and accept the sweet death of the ego, submit to the awesome power of NO, take the rejection of the world and settle in for an anonymous life away from it all. Jane puts her arm around me and I let my body fall into hers.

            “I’m thankful to be here, at least.”

            “Yeah man, what more can you ask for?”



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My last orgasm was six days ago. Tomorrow will be a full week. Is it silly to make it a goal of going a whole week without coming? It’s silly – I don’t need to prove anything. I have the date with Phuong tonight; I could be super optimistic and plan on ejaculating then, but that’s a lot of unnecessary pressure and expectation. No, it’s probably best to go into that unburdened. And that is how my semen feels now: burdensome. It clouds my mind, makes me more anxious. I’ve got to expel it. It’s the healthy, prudent thing to do. It’s morning. It’s hot out. I have the apartment to myself and nowhere I have to be or go. Suddenly I’m full of excitement.

            It doesn’t occur to me to use just my imagination. All these girls on my mind and I just want to see new ones, naked. I open up my laptop, open a private tab and type my search words into PornHub. I look for just the right clip, ignoring all the junk in the way – most porn is rubbish, let’s face it – everyone else’s tastes are so irrelevant. I sift through the countless images, click on thumbnails that fail to live up to their promise; eventually I find what I want and turn myself on with it. Is it possible I forgot how much I love having an erection?

            Stroking myself while looking at my laptop – it’s odd, this self-gratification so fulfilling and yet so terribly banal, tinged somehow with a sense of sin. I guess it’s odd to experience sexual release in such a tech-centric way, and to watch porn at someone else’s place. I look at the people in the video clips, wonder about them, look around myself, consider my form, my position, the windows, the volume, the sightline in case someone walked in. I manage to consider all of this while not overly dividing my attention. There’s an added layer of self-awareness, of shame perhaps, of transgression – the commercial acts of real bodies for my consumption, and my consumption of it, so ritualistic. It’s odd, being an animal so conscious.  

            I become hyper-aware of my desire, chemicals in my mind coalescing into a lust for something so specific. I want sex and I want it just so, this certain kind of girl in a certain context, dressed in a certain outfit, these sex acts in these exact positions. The things we lust for… And it’s quite remarkable that my fantasies have such visual representations, so easy to find online, my hunger for imagery so attainable. What a time to be alive. I enjoy it.

            It’s a good orgasm. The semen shoots out and there’s a lot of it. I breathe heavily, don’t worry about keeping quiet or anything. I feel better. This mess I’ve made is a testament to it. I’ve taken precautions like a responsible person and the cleanup is easy. I flush the tissue and then attend to the rest of my body, expel more fluids from within me: mucus, urine, feces, perspiration. This living organism takes so much maintenance. Humans are a bit gross, I guess, with all this stuff. I think my body is a good one, at least, quite in order, everything properly working. I bathe, preen, take care of myself, put myself together for the day and feel settled.

            The rest of the day passes without much interest. It’s a hot Wednesday, nothing much worth noting. I get another massage. My solitary sexual escapade is the standout event. Is that funny?