Posts by justin bang

kid wonder – professional dreamer. sadboi raconteur. part-time superhero. thereverie.me

wounded animal complex – a lament

// preface –

In light of recent – and not so recent – traumas, here is my personal piece of lament. Birthed from a place of anguish and hopelessness, this is an attempt to make sense of the pain.

This is the tale of a loved one I had to euthanize. The one I watched grow up.

This is the sad story I’ve decided to stop writing.

 

wounded animal complex

// part i –

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.

And neither can my friends.

“This has never happened to anyone of us before…”

We’re walking through the thick Bangkok summer heat, trudging our way to Victoria’s small shack in the neighboring swamp. It felt nice, taking a break from our grueling day-to-day scene. Change of swamp scenery for once. Visit a friend. You know.

“Sa wat dee krop!”, we bow and greet Yaai Noi, who is squatting on the creaky floorboards of her less-than-humble abode. She is Victoria’s host for the summer.

We chat and laugh with the sparse, broken Thai that we have, and Yaai insists that we sit down and make ourselves at home.

So we try. There’s only one chair, so I take the floor and sit cross-legged. Yaai’s hospitality is remarkable; she points the only fan she has towards us.

The heaviness of this strenuous summer is suspended and the air is filled with laughter and good energy – but only for a moment,

until an 8-inch long, black centipede crawls into my pants.

At first, I do not see it because it is so fast but within a second, my body somehow still registers that something is wrong. Dangerously wrong.

Without thinking, my hand immediately shoots for my left leg. My body is in defense mode, doing all the thinking for me and it has only one thought in mind, “Stop the danger from going further up my pants.”

Finally, my brain catches up.

“OH FUCK –”

The beast – feeling my hand smash over him – likewise panics, turns on its survival mode and bites down, hard. I feel its pincers sink deep into my flesh.

Searing, acid pain.
I can hardly speak.

“WHAT IS IT?”, my friends look at me, concerned and confused.

“I… don’t.. know…
…poison……”

“Is it a spider?!”

“…No……”

“Is it… a snake??”

“…noooooo……”

It takes a second bite. I feel the poison, surging into me.

I am determined now, to kill this thing. Whatever it takes to keep it from crawling up.

I squeeze with a strength I did not know I had. I’m not sure which is worse, feeling the venom burn my insides, or feeling the thing squirm in my pants.

I am squeezing so hard I can barely breathe.

“…Is it dead..?”

I catch my breath. Afraid to let go.

“I.. don’t know…”, I manage between breaths.

At this point, I’d been squeezing so hard that I can kind of make out its texture and details through my pants.

Not a spider. It’s too long.
Not a snake. I can feel legs.

Oh no.

“I have spare pants”, Victoria hastily offers. “You can change in the bathroom and get rid of it!”

I think about it. I’m pretty sure I squeezed it to death. But if I didn’t, it could escape my grip and crawl up.

This is life or death, I think to myself.

“…Okay.”

I get ready. Just have to hobble a couple more feet over and close the curtain. This is the moment your whole life has been leading up to. This is your greatest battle.

I stand up slowly, and of course,
it escapes my grip.

But apparently, there is this thing called mercy, and the gods decide that today is not my day of reckoning.

It crawls down, instead of up.

It is only until now that I actually see what it is, and my fears are confirmed. It shoots out of my pants and snakes its way to safety.

I had never seen a centipede in real life until that point. And if I had, then they were just lame, fake-ass wannabes. This was the real thing. Despite all that squeezing, I didn’t even put a dent into it.

Next thing I know, I’m being carried to a hospital and rushed into the emergency room on a gurney.

Apparently, I’m on a six-week Christian mission trip or something.

But now, I’m staring at cold ceiling lights while doctors shoot antitoxins and morphine into my leg,
and I’m screaming at God,

“Why am I here?”

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.

I’d only been in Thailand for three weeks, but this trip had unfolded itself in such dramatic, storybook fashion.

That summer, I met my supervillain.
And he came in a form of a grumpy old grandpa.
We called him Daa.

When I wasn’t out visiting Yaai’s and dodging demon centipedes, life was slow at home, taking care of my host Daa and doing chores with him.

I knew that from the beginning – he wasn’t the nicest person – but as the days dragged on, I knew there was something else. He had something against me.

For the summer, he adopted me under his care and everyday, taught me to run errands. Cleaning, cooking, and the sort.

I was slow to learn and he figured that out pretty quick. Getting a “good job” from him was seldom, getting him to yell at you came easy.

Within a week, I became his favorite target to yell at.
Which is tolerable, until he sets you up for impossible tasks. Until he sets you up for failure.

Within two weeks, I became an object of humiliation.
Anytime I messed up, he not only yelled at me, he would ride me mockery and shame me. He turned my incompetency into a laughing stock. Within two weeks, I learned how to say “mental” in Thai.

Within three weeks, I became an object of scorn.
He was on the lookout for my mistakes. Just so he could punish me. Any small thing he could yell at me for. He was out to get me. Within three weeks, I learned that I could be punished for scooping rice “the wrong way”.

Somehow, he had gotten underneath my skin and found my deepest childhood wounds. Somehow, he turned cooking dinner and doing laundry into a test to prove my own worth.

Within four weeks, I was starting to believe the messages he gave me.

“Maybe he’s right. Maybe I can’t do anything right.
Maybe… whatever I do, I always will end up disappointing him.

Maybe he deserves to punish me.”

So I let him.

We were wounded animals – creatures of matching scars – trapped in a cycle of wounding. Our insecurities fed into each other. We unlocked each other’s worst sides.

We were the perfect duo.

“We’ve never had this happen to an intern before…”, the staff would tell me.

I became that guy.
Always getting attacked by monster centipedes and grumpy grandpas. Always getting hurt.

I came home from Thailand in pieces, not knowing how to live life in its wake.

He was my worst enemy.

There is a phenomenon that I like to call the Wounded Animal Complex.

“Say you beat a dog once on a Wednesday night.
The dog winces and whimpers, maybe even bites back.

Say you beat the dog, every Wednesday night.
Then, the dog will eventually expect it as a part of its weekly routine. At some point, the dog will stop fighting back.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of normal life.”

This type of thing doesn’t just wear off on its own. Being in Thailand began to feel like I was just waking up for my daily beating. This is my life.

It took three months, 8,000 miles, and another human being with a license for me to realize, “Oh, that was abuse.”

Oh. I’m depressed.

I’m not okay.

It is not that depression is so terrible because you feel sad, but because you feel nothing. The world loses its color, and everything is grayscale.

The first time I felt like I saw color in my life after Thailand was our Thailand trip reunion. For once, I was with the people who understood. People who were there and saw what had happened.

Minus the grumpy grandpas.

I am cooking, cutting vegetables for our pad khra pao moo. Classic Thai street food. It is my first time cooking since living with Daa.

But it is as if his eyes are still watching me.

Don’t mess up.

I stop. Take a look around me and breathe. Just my own head.
I keep cutting.

Don’t mess up.

I ignore him, and continue chopping away,
slicing and slicing,
scooping the chopped greens into a bowl with the knife,
slicing some more,
being careful not to make mistakes,

– until I really do mess up
and accidentally cut through two of my fingers.

Oops.

I rush to the bathroom, seeing vivid colors for the first time since Thailand. Deep, dark red – gushing out of my hand and into the sink.

But only for a moment, before I black out.

And just like that, I’m on my way to the hospital again.
I’m sobbing in the backseat on the drive there, feeling all sorts of things. Mostly shock, thinking that I had died. But also, just feeling stupid. Maybe a bit mental.

Of course, this would happen. Today of all days. On our reunion.
And of course, it would happen to me.

It’s like I’m a magnet for crisis situations.
I had come back from Thailand for some months now, but now, I really am in pieces.

The next day, my friends leave,
and my life becomes grayscale again,
with the occasional dark red.

“I’m never healed really. I’m some sort of walking wound.”

I’m counting up the months I’ve left from Thailand, because sometimes, time digs a greater rift of separation than distance does. Sometimes, 8,000 miles is not enough.

It’s around the 3-month mark – I’ve already lost most of my friendships and quit all my leadership responsibilities on campus. I don’t know how to live my life before Thailand anymore.

Month 4 comes, and I barely pass the two classes I’m enrolled in. I figure I need to do something to sort my life in order, because there is little to look forward to.

Graduation comes in another semester, and I’ll lose the few friendships I have left. We will all go our separate ways. Then, I’ll really have nothing to look forward to.

Then, the idea of Oakland comes to mind – a dream I had long given up on years ago. I think of moving far, far away into an exciting new land. Starting a new life.

And the idea excites me, because if I have a life here, it’s been crumbling, at best. And coming home to a place that no longer feels like home is one of most unsettling feelings.
So maybe finding a new home will do… something.

Maybe sometimes, 8,000 miles is not enough.

Month 6 comes, and I discover something that injects color into my life.

Dreaming.

Inventing something to look forward to when there is none.

So I feed this idea of starting a new life like I feed a dog. I nurture it and watch it grow, painting detail to it as I go. Where I’ll live, which coffeeshop I’ll work at, what non-profit I’ll volunteer at on the weekends.

I watch wide-eyed as this fantasy grows, until it is bigger than me and takes a life of his own. I start to develop an affinity for it. The more I feed him, the more comfort he gives me. The more hope he gives me.

Year one comes, and I’m filling out applications. Doing interviews.

As my dream grows and matures, so does my anxiety.
What if it’s not real? What if it is?

My care for the animal intensifies and I become increasingly possessive of him. I’m sensitive to anything that may threaten his safety. He is all I have.

Month 13, my insomnia is full-fledged and I literally cannot dream now. I am keenly aware of the other creatures that have birthed in this process. And these animals are not so kind.

Month 14. I think I am losing my sanity from the scarcity of sleep I’ve had in the last few months. I don’t know what is a dream, what is real.

Month 15.
A job offer.

I sleep like a baby that night.

// part ii –

I can’t believe my life sometimes, because I’m living my dreams.

Month 17, I move to Oakland.

I end up in a year-long internship with a missions organization. It’s been 17 months, so I figure I give this Christian missions thing another chance.

Weeks of job-searching later, I find another part-time that helps with the bills and I’m doing the adulting thing now. Living outside of home, hustling my own money, etc.

My ass is broke as hell,
I’m so lonely it hurts,
I haven’t the slightest clue what I’m doing,

but I’m here.

This is the return. I’m back on my feet. This is my life now.

I have never been so sad, yet regretted so little.

Maybe things will be better now.
Maybe this time will be better.

It’s not quite a cafe job, but boba is close enough for a first job so I take what I can get. Rent is coming up and I just need something for the time being.

So each day, I take 12th street deep into the heart of Chinatown to make tea drinks, eager to receive my first paycheck. It’s not quite minimum wage, but I take what I can get.

This is the first time I’ve worked in a kitchen setting in a long time. Say, something like 17 months.

It is also the first time I’ve worked with knives in a while, and the fingers on my left hand twitch involuntarily several times a day. As if some glitchy defense mechanism is kicking in after being buried away and dormant for so long. When it wakes, it is a tad over–caffeinated. Even the thought of scissors causes my hand to recoil.

Get away. There is danger.

Flinch.

“Shut up. It’s not the same thing.”

I spend my mental energy – the little I have left from communicating in broken Mandarin – forcing my fingers to sit still while I cut fruits and vegetables.

Most days, the job is grueling.
There are roughly 80 menu items to memorize and my boss does not properly train me. She just sort of expects me to know. I also do not know how to speak Cantonese, but she just sort of expects me to know.

And I am slow to learn, so when I mess up, she yells at me.

I know that she is a loud woman, so maybe she isn’t mad at me. But most days, I cannot tell.

I work harder and harder, because I just want to do a good job. I just want to do it right.

Don’t mess up.

Flinch.

“Shut up, it’s… not the same thing.”

One day, a customer walks in and orders in Cantonese. I apologize and tell her I can only speak English. The expression on her face changes, as if she is displeased, but she orders anyways.

I start making her drink,
being careful to add the right toppings,
being careful not to make any mistakes,
until I really do mess up and put in the wrong type of tea.

She loses it.
“What is wrong with your brain? Why can’t you speak Cantonese!?”

My boss takes her side, and proceeds to yell at me.

So much yelling.

Within three weeks, I learn how to say mental in Cantonese. Within three weeks, I become an object of humiliation.

Every day, I clock in and accept that this is my life now.
Every night, I go to bed wondering why my centipede bite is itching so much.

Maybe some scars don’t heal so easily.
Maybe 8,000 miles and 18 months is not enough.

Every now and then, I start to wonder if the dark fantasies and creatures I invent in my mind are actually real. But there is no time for such ponderings nowadays.

My life is going at 100 miles per hour.
I’m living the dream, or something. Doing the Christian mission thing, making boba drinks on the side, starting my new life.

It isn’t until my friends visit me – friends from Thailand – that my life finally slows down. There were only a few of us, but I guess you could call this a reunion.

We’re driving 20 on the freeway –
weaving through afternoon traffic,
taking our time as we catch up on life,

– but someone else is going 60 and decides he cannot miss the freeway exit, today of all days.

My life halts instantly.

In the 2 seconds of chaos and thrashing, I ask God, “Is this it?”

I snap out of it, and my body does all the thinking for me. My hands grab the steering wheel, my foot slams the breaks, and keep us from rolling back into traffic.

My mind catches up.
“Oh fuck.”

It is almost a complete T-bone, driver’s side. I get out of the car, my body shaking.

I’m not 2 months into moving to Oakland, and I almost die.

My life is going at 100 miles per hour, and it is when my Thailand friends come visit that life slows down to a violent, abrupt stop. Today of all days.

So I guess you could call this a reunion.

The car is totaled.

On the outside, it looks kind of okay but on the inside, it is damaged beyond repair.

At this point, this is how I feel about my life. Okay on the outside, damaged beyond repair on the inside.

I take a day off work and spend the little time I have with my Thailand friends before they leave. I am determined to have at least a few hours of quality time without some crisis rudely interrupting us.

Now that things feel 0 miles an hour, everything else catches up to me and when it does, it hits me hard like a T-bone collision.
I spill out my guts to them. Snot, tears, and all.

It hits me, why I’ve been coming home from work each day, hating myself. It hits me, why it seems the world has lost some of its color lately.

It takes a life-threatening car crash and other human beings who were with me in Thailand for me to realize, “Oh. I’m not okay.”

Oh. This is about… him.

Somehow, an older Chinese woman yelling at me while I’m making boba drinks rubs salt in past wounds. So naturally, I let her. Because, I just want to do a good job. I just want to do it right. I just want him to see.

No, this is not the same thing. No, this is not abuse, but it still is not good for me.

My friends leave the next day, I make it my resolve to fight for color in my life.

I quit my boba job.

“Not this time.”

I think I have some sort of Wounded Animal Complex.

I keep getting hurt all the time. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m sensitive or if things actually keep hurting me.

But it seems that all the terribly-timed misfortunes and random crisis situations always happen to me.

“Say you beat a dog once on a Wednesday night.
The dog winces and whimpers, maybe even bites back.

Say you beat the dog every Wednesday night.
Then, the dog will eventually expect it as a part of its weekly routine. At some point, the dog will stop fighting back.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of normal life.

You beat the dog every Wednesday night, the dog will start believing that being hurt is a part of who he is.”

I look up from my journal.

No. This can’t be right.
It’s… not the same thing.

That was 18 months ago.

I start scribbling out the page, hoping it would make what I wrote less true, but my hand stops.

It’s not the same thing.

…Is it?

“I’m never healed really. I’m some sort of walking wound.”

For two months, I don’t drive a car.
I’ve only just gotten accustomed to cooking with knives. One step at a time.

I have all my limbs, but I feel like I’m in pieces again. Back to square one. No car, no job, no friends. But I make it my resolve to fight for color, to keep moving.

By now, I know all the coffeeshops in Oakland from all the resumes I’ve sent out. Slowly, my labor pays off and I’m getting calls for interviews.

Month 19 comes, and I get a job offer. Barista position.

Month 20 comes, and I have a car now. Insurance covered.

Life gradually picks up to a solid 70 miles per hour. Things are going okay, even if I am afraid to admit it.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it isn’t the same thing.

What a curious feeling it is to hope again.

Wednesday Night.

I’m walking down my street to my car, on my way to church.

It’s 6:45 in the evening,
still plenty of sunlight to burn,
still angry drivers zooming past on Foothill Ave,
still kids playing in the neighborhood.

I walk past a row of parallel-parked cars, looking for my own as I hastily scoop a couple spoonfuls of dinner from my tupperware into my mouth. I don’t make it 100 feet outside of my apartment when one of the parked cars opens up its doors and out comes some four or five guys, quickly approaching me.

The first one looks straight at me and mumbles something to me. I hesitate. Before I have time to think, he lunges straight for my legs and pulls. I’m on the ground now, and the other guys rush.

The beating begins.

They target my head, 4-5 of them throwing their fists and kicking. When you are about to die, your body does all the thinking for you. Arms up. Cover the face. Fetal position. Smallest target possible.

I hear them yelling to each other to hurry up, and yelling at me to mock me. So much yelling. I don’t even notice my phone missing from my pocket.

My mind catches up.
fuck…

But I cannot fight back, or they might hit harder. I can’t afford to move my arms away.

When there are five of them, all you can do is wait, and hope it ends.

I notice that my keys are now gone.
It’s been about a minute. They’re struggling to snatch my wallet, but at this point I want them to because two minutes just might kill me. At this point, I also want to yell at them to hurry up. Just take the damn thing.

Finally, they wrench it out my pocket.

They throw a last couple kicks before hopping back into their car, and take off.

Apparently, I’m doing a Christian mission thing. Apparently, I’m out here in Oakland starting a new life.

But now, I’m lying on the ground with my own blood on the sidewalk and I’m screaming at God,

“Why am I here?”

I can’t believe my own life sometimes.
And neither can my mind, so it replays the scene. Over and over again.

“Did you recognize the guys?”

“No.”

“You’ve never seen them before.”

“No.”

“So they just jumped you for no reason.”

“Yeah.”

The nurse looks away.

“Wow, that sucks… but I mean, welcome to Oakland.”

Thanks, man.

Cold ceiling lights. That sterile smell. Metallic carts being rolled around.

Here, once again.

They tell me that there are no fractures in the skull, no swelling, nothing broken.
On the outside.

I walk out the building with a bag of analgesics in my hand.

On the way home, my roommate tells me –
“In the year plus of living here in Oakland, we’ve never had anything like this happen to us… and in the 3-4 months that you’re here, you’re the one who gets mugged. It’s just crazy…”

Later that week, my internship staff tells me –
“In all the years we’ve been working here, we’ve never had anything like this happen to us. At least not this bad.. and not to an intern…”

One day, a neighbor who I’ve never talked to before, but witnessed the attack, tells me –
“I’ve been living on this street for six years and I’ve never seen anything like that happen… This is a pretty good neighborhood.”

Of course. Of course it had to be me.

Because wounded animals are easy prey.

I can’t believe my life sometimes.
And neither can my mind, so it replays the scene. Over and over again.

“Wednesday night.”

Truth is a slowly-sinking dagger you cannot stop from reaching your heart.

It is now month 21.

A little girl who lives next door says hi to me one day and asks, “Are you the guy who got mugged?”

I don’t know what to say.
“Yes. I am.”

I am that guy.

It seems that all the color I spent the last couple months trying to fight for is draining from my vision again. Life is slow, dragging along at an agonizing 5 miles per hour. My emotional capacity is near nothing, so I drop some commitments. After a few weeks, I drop some more.

I kind of want to do.. nothing.

Each day, I look out the window for a few minutes before going outside. I give an extra glance before crossing the street. I check every white sedan parallel-parked that I pass by on the sidewalk.

When I’m not calling credit card companies or standing in line at the DMV, I spend time staring into space at the park or local coffeeshop, unsure of how to live life now. Unsure of how to pray after you almost get beaten to death.

Unsure if I even want to pray. I don’t think I want to talk to God.

Some days, the silence is unbearable so I fill the void with more noise. TV shows. YouTube. Anything.

Month 22 comes, and things are still grayscale. I don’t know when I’m going to have an emotional breakdown. Going outside is like walking in a minefield of triggers. Thinking too much is very much the same.

My staff encourages me to take time off work and get away for a bit. Take a personal retreat, get away from Oakland.

The idea is appealing, yet unnerving at the same time. But I’m not sure why. Do I really want to go there?

I book a trip anyways. Three nights.

Month 23.

I’m driving up the Pacific Northwest Coast, snaking through Redwood Forests, trying to escape from everything. I glance over at my phone every now and then, watching the bars on my phone drop slowly.

I feel a similar sinking feeling somewhere deep inside of me.
Fingers on my left hand twitch.

Shut up.

I turn my music up.

A few hours of driving later and I’m in the middle of nowhere. Spotify offline only lasts so long when you forget to download enough playlists. I soon realize what is making me so uneasy.

Silence.

I get to the campgrounds, check in, and cook a quick dinner. I haven’t even finished unpacking myself, and I’m already cringing. Already holding my left hand and clutching my itchy centipede bite. Already grimacing and holding onto all my scars.

I go back outside because I’m not quite ready yet. I don’t want to go there yet. I’m not quite ready to confront what’s actually inside of me.

I’m not quite ready for the silence, because in silence, I can hear everything.

Perhaps, this was not the escape that I was envisioning. I’m not just in the middle of nowhere.

The next day, I figure that there is little use in trying to run away. I already did that. Here I am.

Out here, there is nothing to fill the void with. No Netflix. No YouTube. No one to turn to. Except God.

I pace around my cabin for a good hour,
biding my time and preparing myself,
until finally, I pick up the pen.

“You know what I’m feeling right now?

I feel like there were a lot of things that didn’t have to happen.

Things that cause unnecessary emotional stress and needless pain,
Things awfully timed,
Things unfolding in the worst way possible,
Things beyond my control that I could not prevent,
Things that no matter how much I prayed against,

still happened.

None of this had to be this way.
But they are now. And I got hurt.

You know what I’m feeling right now?
I feel like all those things that happened, You could have stopped,
but You chose not to.

That perhaps, the demons are out to get me
and You’re letting them.

I was afraid to come here, out in the middle of nowhere. In the middle of my nothingness. I’m scared of what I might find there. I’m scared of what lurks in my own darkness.

As much as it hurts to say, I kind of hate my life. This “dream life” I’ve created is not anything I had hoped it to be. As much as it hurts to say, all it’s been is a continuation of the series of unfortunate events in my life.

I may not be suicidal, but in many ways, I’ve already given up.

Because this is how I think of myself.

I keep separate clocks for the six different traumatic events I’ve experienced in the last two years. This is my obsession.

I am that guy.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.

And if that is true, is life really worth living?
What is there to look forward to, other than more trauma? Other than the next event?

I know this is about him.
The monster living inside of me, two years in the making.

I don’t want to admit that I had fed him and let him grow bigger than me. That he’s eaten me alive, consumed me.

At last, I fed him my heart.
I have forgotten who I am, without my scars.

If you don’t show up now, God,
I don’t know who you are.

I need you to set me free.
I need you to save me from who I think I am.

I need you to kill the Wounded Animal.”

.

wounded animal complex

where is kid wonder?

I’m looking for someone.

A childhood superhero of sorts. Maybe he wears the cape and mask and all.

I don’t know.

My memory is fuzzy, at best, and I’m not sure how I ended up here. Or where I was before this.

All I know is I am here,
looking for someone.

I think.

He’s supposed to have actual superpowers. Like, he can control gravity or something. Bend light and warp time.

Or so they claim.

I don’t know if I buy into all that, but I suppose he’s all I got right now.

Because, more importantly, this man’s got some secrets. Secrets I am keen on finding out.

This man is supposed to show me who I am.

So that’s why I came here, to Oakland.
To find him. To find myself.

They call him Kid Wonder.

the siege of wonder

“Sometimes, it is more painful to dream, more disheartening to hope, more demoralizing to imagine.

Sometimes,
it is easier to open your eyes and never sleep,

sleep but never dream,
grow up and never look back.”

The mission is over, but one mission just un-dramatically bleeds into the next, much like how our days pass here. 

The journey has been taxing, and it is no simple sluggishness to sleep off, but an insomnia of both flesh and spirit. A monster of its own nature.

The Kid is alive, but he is losing his magic.
The reverie – it has been too long.

The Kid needs to return to his sanctuary of wonder soon, lest his world loses its color and becomes gray again.

 

-Eli Bennette [09.06.2017]

4 dollar day

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet when I walk to work each day.

Chinatown is a loud place.

I quietly pass through, keeping my head tilted down as I weave between pedestrians and rowdy vegetable sellers.

My boss is a loud woman.

“Yelling” in half-Cantonese as she takes orders, and half-Mandarin as she gives me orders.

I’ve been getting quieter and quieter at work lately. Mixing up ingredients, forgetting a topping, confusing one tone for another.

Overall, making more mistakes. Overall, getting scolded more.

“I’m sorry.”

I leave work feeling let down, having let down someone.

I walk out the door and head towards a shady parking lot tucked in beneath an underpass. I see the guy.

“How much?”

“Mm… 4 dollars.”

Parking usually costs 3 dollars a day but I’m starting to suspect the guy sort of just makes up his mind on the spot, depending on his mood.

I take out my meager tip money earnings of the day and hand it all to him.

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet.

On this side of town, the BART runs underground so I figure it must be the trains. It’s funny because normally, people would complain about the disturbance it causes. But this is the city, so no one complains.

Life on the surface is loud enough as it is.

I move briskly, weaving my way through the Chinatown labyrinthine and picking up syllables and words here and there. Catching fragments of meaning in passing.

One of the telltale signs that I’m emotionally shutting down is silence. I won’t always respond to you, even if I hear you loud and clear.

I keep my head down and work harder.

I have to get good.

I’m starting to understand a little more Cantonese now, enough to use context clues to fill in the blanks. There is just enough overlap with Mandarin to make close guesses, but also enough overlap to make embarrassing mistakes. Confusing one tone for another, and such.

“Sorry about that. I can make another drink for you.”

I only get 3 dollars in tips today. Seems about right.

I pray to the parking gods as I work my way through Chinatown and back to the underpass.

“How much?”

“Mm… 3 dollars.”

Whew. Close one.

I am Taiwanese. Or, a child of Taiwanese immigrants. Taiwanese-American? Something in between.

Traditional Taiwanese folk are a hearty and rambunctious bunch, so family gatherings are loud and rowdy. Sometimes, it’s real easy for me to just keep quiet and slip into the blurry peripherals of family photos.

I’m not like them,
yet I am,
just enough, to blend in.

I weave my way through the Chinatown labyrinthine, being careful not to get in the way of elderly Chinese people and their grocery shopping spree. Keeping my head tilted down, I quietly pass through and get to work.

I’ve been kinda sorta getting better at my job. I still don’t know how to make half the menu but hey.

I’m getting the hang of this customer service thing. You know, like making small talk and faking smiles. That sort of thing.

When my boss yells at me,
I am able to piece together the syllables, the words, the fragments of meaning,
to make the right drinks,
to do the job well,
to understand that yelling doesn’t necessarily mean she’s mad at me,

– at least most of the time.

If culture is a labyrinthine, I’m starting to draft a rough sketch of something that resembles a map.

Parking usually costs 3 dollars a day. But today was a 4 dollar day.

I can feel the ground trembling beneath my feet.

I could tell it was building up throughout the day,
no, throughout the week,
that something inside me was shutting down.

“I’m sorry I don’t speak Cantonese. I can take your order in Mandarin or English.”

So I get quieter and quieter.

I’m not responding to everything she’s saying. I keep my head tilted down, and work harder.

But she is very particular this day, because depending on her mood, she adjusts her expectations of me.

Today was a 4 dollar day.

The yelling grows louder and louder, only this time, she is definitely mad. This isn’t just yelling, this is scolding.

And the scolding leads to other things,
like mixing up ingredients,
forgetting a topping,
confusing one tone for another,

– overall, making more mistakes.

Which only leads to more scolding, and more mistakes, and more scolding. I get quieter and quieter, trying to shrink and retreat inside of myself where no one can hurt me and I can’t hear them yelling at me.

Then finally, a customer loses her temper and I set off her age-old, well-rehearsed tirade.

“I order green tea, not black tea, okay? Is there something wrong with your brain?
My god, why can’t you speak Cantonese??”

I am Taiwanese.

But there is enough overlap, I guess, to make some mistakes.

And my boss turns on me, takes her side, and shames me publicly.

“What’s wrong with you. Why can’t you get it right.”

Something inside me snaps. Shut down.

“I’m sorry.”

I leave work feeling let down, having let down a people group. Once again.

5PM comes and I walk out the door without saying goodbye.

I’m moving quickly, weaving in between Chinese grandmas and my inner demons, making my way home.

I’m adjusting to the fast pace of the city, but if I stop myself,
just for 2 minutes, just enough time for one red light,
I can feel something trembling beneath the surface,

screaming from within.

Chinatown is a loud place.

I quickly change out of my work clothes and into my regular clothes. I am breathing heavily.

It’s been about a month and I kinda sorta know my way around now. I know which sidewalks are less crowded, where to find the cheapest parking, and where to sit during lunch break without getting penalized for loitering.

If culture is a labyrinthine,
there have been days when I could draft a rough sketch of a map,
and there have been days when I felt hopelessly lost.

There have been days when I could hold a decent conversation in Mandarin, and there have been days when I worked in silence.

And though I am Taiwanese, there is enough overlap to make some mistakes, on both sides.

It’s been about a month now.

I finish changing and collect my things. I put my working clothes in my locker, one last time, and my boss hands me my final paycheck (which in Chinatown, is wad of cash).

She tells me to be careful on the road, take care of myself, eat more food because I’m too skinny, and thanks me for working at her shop.

“Thank you. Bye bye.”

I think I mess up the tones a bit, but close enough.

She’s not an evil woman.

She’s just… her. She grew up learning and living the labyrinthine, then plunged into another completely different one. Just like my parents.

I grew up trying to learn both, and only got half-good at each.

“Wait!”, she stops me. “Here’s something for you – ” 

She reaches in her purse, digs around for a few seconds, and hands me a red envelope.

“新年快乐!”, she says in Mandarin, with a smile.

She messes up the tones a little bit, but close enough.

You’re not an evil woman. But I can’t work for you.

So I leave the job.

No dramatic plot twists, no life-defining lessons learned. Just a sobering acceptance that we haven’t changed all that much and this isn’t going to work out between us.

Maybe our relationship would be best kept from at a distance.

I forgive her, and spend my evening commute trying to figure out how to forgive myself for letting them down yet again.

I’m walking through the loud and rowdy streets of Chinatown, weaving between grandmas and vegetables. I make my way to the shady parking lot tucked beneath the underpass.

“How much?”

“Mmm… 3 dollars.”

// originally published on the raconteur collective.

langston presley – the genius who almost was

“I just wanna be somebody.”

I just wanna be… a rockstar. No, too ambitious. Maybe a low-key SoundCloud artist that only true hiphop heads know.

15 – 20k followers.
Mmm… 5 – 10k.

If only somebody would notice. Look my way.
I am so close, yet so far. Talented, but not quite enough.

I walk across the platform to the edge, past the yellow paint and caution signs. I stare into the gaping darkness ahead of me. I think of jumping. Just fantasize the idea.

Where am I going?

I am here, just waiting. Too much waiting.
So close.

Then the wind picks up and I hear a distant howling in the tunnel in front of me. It picks up and the howling becomes metallic, growing louder and louder, closer and closer, and the wind blows my overgrown hair aside.

I close my eyes, and jump on.

Post-grad life is riding a crowded subway train that only goes one way, and the lights are turned off. The passengers hardly talk to each other, and when they do, they somehow convince each other that everything is fine, even though we are all begging the same question – “Where are we going?”

When does it stop?

I lean my forehead against the glass and watch the florescent signs flash past me. The train sways side to side and groans.

I just wanna be somebody.
I just wanna be… a renowned short-story writer with at least one Ted Talk under his belt. Or Moth StorySlam winner.

No, too ambitious. Maybe an underground Medium blogger with 10k followers. Mmm… 5k.

So close, yet so far.

But what about low-key, hip SoundCloud producer?
School taught me few things, but multitasking was not one of them. I have tunnel vision, like subway conductors.

I just wanna be a writer,
but also a musician,
that I’m afraid that I will be neither.

That I will be nobody.

I jump off the train.

The light is blinding, so I squint as I step out into the arid LA-summer heat and frantic, fast-pace LA pedestrian traffic. Even the pedestrians have sidewalk-rage here.

I am weaving, and from the clamor of sirens, angry drivers, and stereos attached to bikes, he calls out to me.

“Young man! How you doin’ today?”

I slam the brakes, and look in his direction. Middle-aged, clothed in tatters, cigarette in mouth.

“Doin’ alright. How bout yourself?”

I shake his hand; his skin is wrinkled and cracked.

“Alright. Can’t complain, ya know?
About to buy me some more cigarettes.”

“Fosho.”

“Whatchu up to? You a working man or what?

“I uh – I just graduated”, I deflect.

“Ah graduated, hah! You got plans?”

I did at some point, but I don’t know anymore.

“Yeah uh, I wanna be… a writer. I think.”

“Writer! Okay, I write stuff, too.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Oh, just whatever inspires me. You just have to channel that inner-energy, you know, that inner…”

He puts his head over his heart. Gives an ugly face, like when musicians play jazz.

“…of ribbiting passion and…”  – he contorts his face again – “…You feel me?”

“Uhh… yeah. Sure, man.”

“Here, I wanna show you something. You got a pen on you? You know, true writers keep a pen on them at all times.”

I feel around in my bag and pull it out.

“You got paper?”

I feel around again and hand him my journal.

“Haha shit, you are a writer!”

“You got time?”

I glance at my phone. I think about the overpriced espresso drink with my name on it, waiting for me just 6 blocks away.

I shrug.

“Yeah. I got time.”

“Give me a topic.”

“What?”

“Just give me a topic, it can be anything.”

“Uhm… outer space.”

“Space! Mkay, I can do that.”

He scribbles away, transcribing his thoughts as they come, pausing ever-so-often to mutter ideas out loud.

“Orion belt… cycle of.. captivated, eye-boggling wonders, because – execute patriotic… new found life.”

Sounds promising. He stops and puts down his pen.

“See, take a look.”

I read his piece. It almost makes sense.

Almost.

“See I’m a writer, but really, it’s all just in here.”

He puts his hand on my chest now.

“You a writer, too. And true writers already have it inside… that ribbiting passion… that nature of ribbiting..”

“…Riveting?”

“Here, gimme the pen.”

More scribbling and muttering. I can’t stop staring at him, like he’s some mix between mad scientist and mystical pokemon creature. He finishes another paragraph-long sentence.

“Check this: Black holes!! – who knows, can say?”, he recites to me proudly. “Bottom line it is, amazing with motomic essentials – and this part is important, listen here – motomic essentials that brings nature into a *reality*.”

What the hell is motomic essentials?, I’m wondering.

But instead, I just say, “Whoa…”

So close to making sense, yet so far. I don’t know whether to disagree with him or simply be fascinated by him.

“And that’s the thing – nature to a reality…”

He picks up the pen and he is off again.
The more he writes, the deeper we descend into his mind.

“Reality factual… brings out of a.. beehive – no, not a think, not a thought… however a working grade.. of a solution… yeah, solution. That’s it.”

This goes on for another 30 minutes. I get tired of standing but I cannot leave now because there’s something curious about this man. Like there’s some hidden treasure inside and I want to be the one to find it.

Like despite his clear lack of coherent thought, deep down inside, he just might actually be a writer. And I, his audience, am hooked. I am captivated.

I am… ribbited.

He looks up from my journal and shouts, “HEY BENNY!”

Benny looks over at us and quickly looks away.

“AY! Benny!! How you doin’?!”

Benny, who has a lady friend walking closely beside him, looks clearly embarrassed and walks faster.

“Let’s go say hi to my friend”, he says enthusiastically.

He takes my journal and pen, and I follow behind.

“Hey Benny, come over here! I’m doin’ a writing class right now. Come on!”

Benny gives him a glare and says through clenched teeth, “Not now, man…”

“Ahh okay. Benny on a date, I’ll teach him later haha… Where was I…?”

“Motomic essentials??”

“Ah yes, of course, motomic essentials – ”

He picks up the pen and our lesson continues.

“Inside that space that journey… above that footprint in the sky.. is unknown, however…”

He mutters, writes, puts down the pen, picks it back up, mutters some more, and I lean in to try to catch everything. Our elbows touching, I catch a whiff of alcohol from my teacher’s breath. I lean closer anyways.

On and on he goes, often taking detours in thought, like weaving through LA traffic, as if his mind is one long run-on sentence. He talks just like he writes – mostly illegible, but full of resolve and conviction. Things I haven’t had much of in the recent post-grad wake.

Though he holds wild notions and his mind seems fragmented, like broken liquor bottles, he speaks with unapologetic passion that even incarceration, addiction, and homelessness could not shake. And I have an ear for that kind of passion.

So I let him ramble. I figure I can’t do much for the man right now, but I can listen to him and say, “I believe you.”

“You went to college, yeah? You show this to a college professor, and damn, they’re gonna flip. Ha! They won’t be ready. This – ”

he points to my journal.

“– This is gonna change the world.”

I feel like a parent, looking down at a child’s sloppy crayon drawing.

“Yeah, man. I think so, too.”

30 minutes stretches to an hour and one hour quickly bends into two. I figure out by now that if I let him, two hours can easily turn into four. So I gently hint to him that I should probably get going.

“It’s been an honor, man. Thanks for sharing all that. Oh, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Ah yes, gimme that pen again, let me sign it.”

In elaborate cursive lettering, he graces my journal with his insignia.

“Langston. Langston Presley.”

“Justin. Justin Lee.”

We shake hands, and closing words quickly turns into more writing, a personal dedication, another signature, and a P.S. note. Some final ribbiting thoughts.

We finally part ways.

I’m walking the six blocks towards my 4.5 star coffeeshop, but my mind is already buzzed and racing. As I walk, this feeling of longing looms in and though it is not my own, it is close enough to tickle some nerves.

This feeling of “so close, yet so far”. Like I just listened to an almost-professor teach an almost-lecture with knowledge that was almost-groundbreaking.

“Cappuccino, please.”

“Can I get a name for the order?”

“Lang- …Langston.”

Langston Presley. I like saying it.. just the sound of it has a certain flair to it.

As if he is half-way one legend,
half-way another,
that he is neither.

So close, yet so far.
But something happened and his mind was shattered. Now, nobody bothers to look his way, and notice his potential. Or what used to be his potential. 0 followers.

I sit down with my drink and it’s hard to down. But I don’t think that it’s necessarily guilt – just this awareness that just a few blocks away is Skid Row, and it’s probably teemed with other almost-Whitney’s and almost-Hemingway’s.

I feel my muscle memory reminding me to open my laptop, check my SoundCloud, and work on my music.

But instead, I pick up my pen and write in my journal –

“Langston Presley, the genius who almost was.”

 

The following piece is what Langston wrote in my journal the day I met him

1983 the ineact (pirates of silicon valley) <–2–10–> They sometimes call when pieces never look the fit, however it work. No this is not a blessing, not of …

The orion belt next to a wirlwind on a cycle of captivated eye bogling wonders because we only understand the things seen not the things that can write and execute patriotic newfound (history) life. Expessions with minds that understand what science presents in a sum that brings enlightenment to a need from long ago problem with a thumbs up of loss.

“(Black holes)” who knows, can (or) say? Bottom line it is, amazing with motomic essentials that brings nature to a reality. Reality factual brings out of a beehive not a think not a thought however a working grade of a solution. Why (definition?) (a thought is only a sentence you tell yourself)(Does that work?) No. Look it up nothing is faulty with imagination than what brings us the conclusion and the ribbiting facts of what is inside that 1) black hole.

2) that persons mind (behavior) 3) does this count, thought, know thing thoughts are back to this a (thoughts definition) means a sentence you tell yourself. Inside that space that journey above that footprint the sky is unknown however a place that presents a high grade of what brings the galaxy of inlightment, wonders, to a new found glory that gives one space to fly, passionately, to roll with a rythym that brings ideas to a place that is not normal however inventions like persay the internet. my friend what is above in that start is life. bringing us to now. Just go.

Placed by this person who will execute a tale that illuminates immaculately introducing a new found journey of ribbiting history Justin. In space your future is not a thought it defines passion. I see you now glory by capturing the ride the pen or keyboard introduces to you, 

Looking forward to your journey.

-Langston Presley 

9/24/17 / Just do write it

In the shadows of one there is redemption, a new found “glory of life”
know this is the journey only you can bring a nature of production working the your stage into passionate equal rights to all.

-Langston Presley 

First fact.

On Hollywood and Normandie – Look at that wall.

the anniversary effect

It still feels like summer.

 

I’m walking down Marine at Balboa Island, savoring new flavors with old friends. Frozen bananas with other confused postgrads.

It is October, but it still feels like summer.

A new season, but still tinged with things of the past. The air is light and brisk, filled with small talks and old inside jokes.

Spirits are merry and things feel almost “just right”,
when all of the sudden, a small party of pigeons flies out of nowhere and swooshes right in front of our party of friends.

I freeze in my steps.
The muscles in my body clench, and my heart races, as if trying to outrun danger.

Time glitches, and for that moment, 2 seconds become 2 minutes, 2 minutes become 8,261 miles, and now, the pigeons are already long gone.

What.

“Hey catch up, dude! We’re gonna check out this shop!”

My head snaps back to the present, and I realize that I am alone,
standing in the middle of the sidewalk.

It still feels like summer.

We are standing outside the shop, the small talk and inside jokes continue, but all I can think about are pigeons.

I thought things like this only happened in movies.

“I need to go.”
Take my mind off things.

I get to my friend’s apartment. It’s been almost a year since the last time I stayed the night here. I turn on Netflix and pick my poison – Stranger Things Season 2, which, while we’re on the topic of trauma victims, couldn’t have been more fitting.

Episode 3 or 4 finishes – I’m all Netflix-drunk now and headed for the bathroom. My friend is already asleep so I sneak out with toothbrush in hand.

I open the bathroom door, turn on the lights, and it happens again.

I freeze.

My momentum dies completely, like a car running through caltrops. My left hand tenses up, my heart races to outrun danger, and two seconds feels like two minutes, because the earth just stopped spinning.

It’s only two seconds,
but time is glitching and I’m sucked deep into a memory I’ve thought a lot about, but not in a long time,
when I was staring down at the same white sink bowl, but it was filled with a pool of my own blood,
draining dark red from a finger I almost cut off by accident,
draining colors from my vision and looking at my fading reflection before everything got quiet and dark,
and i wake up next to a car escorting me to the hospital.

Another second passes,
and memory becomes feelings instead of visuals,
and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where I wanted to cut myself again and create another little “accident”,
because I was alive but life was draining and draining away from me
and everything in life had lost its colors,
except maybe dark red.

Another second passes,
and the sink is empty now. My finger is still attached.

Time resumes at its ordinary tempo,
but now I am brushing my teeth
very, very slowly.

I thought that stuff like this only happens in movies, but now I’m not so sure, so I google away and find some theories and best guesses, which is basically all what the study of psychology is anyways. I have my own suspicions, which PsychologyToday – and even Teen Vogue – more or less confirms, so I decide, “Okay, maybe this is a thing.”

It just might make sense.

It just might make sense of why earlier today, I was hanging out with friends when a flock of pigeons glitched me back in time –

and all of the sudden, I’m thinking about street vendors, and honking tuk tuks,
walking the busy streets of Bangkok, tasting familiar flavors with new friends,
the air is thick with humidity, small talk, and future inside jokes,
and a new friend grasps onto my arm when pigeons fly by because she has a paralyzing fear of birds.

Another second passed,
and the memory became emotion instead of visuals, and the feeling of the times was sickening to the point where
I wanted to throw up from street food poisoning and an abusive relationship I felt trapped in,
and my will to live was draining and draining away from me,
like dark red funneling into a whirlpool down a white sink bowl.

Another second passed,
and my friends are telling me to catch up,
but I cannot because for the rest of the day, my mind is stuck in a memory, thinking about pigeons.

It just might make some sense of why,
it’s already October but it still feels like summer.

I’m brushing my teeth slowly and thinking about how pigeons, bathroom sink bowls, and a character in Stranger Things I can very loosely relate to all acted as triggers within a span of the last 24 hours, and I think I get it now.

It’s about that time of the year.

home is a vacuum

Home sucks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner.

 

I can’t breathe here.

Like literally… I can’t.

I think I might have bronchitis. That might just explain a lot of things.

That might explain
not being able to sing for the past three weeks or so,
not being able to sleep on my back without choking,
not being able to talk

to them,

makes me feel far away and distant

in outer space,

just floating

with bad communication and hairline fractures

gasping for air.

 

I don’t know.

Just my best guess,
which is the best I ever get
nowadays.

 

just keep swimming – a journal excerpt

Grief sometimes comes in waves,
and today was the high tide.

Day by day, I feel its ebb and flow, oscillating like the tide.

Some days, it is calm and still enough, I can see my own reflection on the surface. Other days, I wake up with the water up to my neck and the sadness gnawing at my insides.

Man was never meant to swim the ocean. Man was never meant to say goodbye.

Yet we swim,
our hearts at the mercy of the seas.

I first felt it come when I was walking down College on my morning meanderings after breakfast. It came up on me by surprise and one of the first thoughts I had – as if bred from instinct – was,

“What did I do wrong?”

As if I made a mistake by being sad.
As if I was responsible for the waves.

Remember it is the ocean you are swimming in,
Remember your helplessness in the seas,

and remember, you have a rescuer.

Some days, the high tide will come and you will have to swim for your life.

And when it does, always remember –

“It is not your fault.”

 

gorgeous white couples

that one time i was almost cool

I am coming back to this coffeeshop.

I just spent an afternoon working on a track for a beat tape that I’m putting out in November. It’s called Innamission, and it’s kind of a big deal.

Not that it’s super good or anything, but I’ve never done anything like this before. Half the time, I don’t know what I’m doing, which is kind of a fantastic and terrifying feeling.

The barista mixes my drink,
I mix my drum samples,

– two artists, busy refining their respective crafts.

Half an hour passes, and he walks over to me.
“Hey man, I got a question for you.”

I pull out my earphones.
“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Do you make music?”

“Yes.. *ahem*, yes I do!”

I quickly fix my hair. And my posture.

“Nice, what type of music do you make?”

“So I’m really into hip hop and R&B – I’m making a beat tape right now.”

Whoa. I get to say that.

“Oh nice, man. That’s sick. Can I hear some of it?”

Mom’s spaghetti.

“Err yeah uhm sure! I’m not really done with this track yet so I’m not sure if it sounds good yet… Wanna listen?”

“Sure!”

I hand him the headphones quickly, attempting to hide my palms sweaty. Haven’t been this nervous since I don’t know.

I can’t hear what he’s hearing, but enough hours of staring at the same MIDI drum patterns, I know when the beat drops, just by looking at the tiny grids and colored blocks.

And when it does, I catch him nodding silently, at 86 BPM, in the corner of my peripherals.

“This is dope. I can totally hear this on SoundCloud.”

HELL YEAH IT IS, I scream out loud, my voice echoing off the cement walls of the coffeeshop.

“Thanks, man”, I respond timidly, way too quiet for him to hear through the earphones.

We small talk for a few minutes. The whole time, alls I’m thinking is,
plug the beat tape. Just plug it, dude.

But in walks a young and hip-looking, gorgeous white couple and I lose my chance.

“Gimme a minute, gotta take care of these guys.”

That’s okay. He’ll come back, and when he does, I’ll plug my beat tape. Maybe I’ll even plug my SoundCloud, I think to myself, ignoring the fact that there are only two songs on there, neither of which are very impressive.

Only he doesn’t come back. But more customers do come in. More gorgeous, hip, white couples.

His shift ends 20 minutes later, and so does my short-lived moment of almost-coolness.

“Nice talking with you, man. Hope to see you back here some time.”

I pound his fist.

Oh you will, barista friend. You will.

 

looking for Job

a journal excerpt

You know what I’m feeling right now?

I feel like there were a lot of things that didn’t have to happen this summer.

Things that caused unnecessary emotional stress and needless pain,
Things awfully timed,
Things unfolding in the worst way possible,
Things beyond my control that I could not prevent,
Things that no matter how much I prayed against,

still happened.

None of this had to be this way.
But they are now. And I got hurt.

You know what I’m feeling right now?
I feel like all those things that happened, You could have stopped,
but You chose not to.

That perhaps, the demons are out to get me
and You’re letting them.

Because maybe, they have this idea that if You let them torment me, I will fall out of love with You. So they go after what I treasure the most.

My dreams. The magic. The wonder.

Disenchant the Kid.

And maybe,

You have this idea

that they are wrong.

 

#Jobsearch