by Niall Doherty


One hundred and fifty-nine. That’s how many messages she’s sent me these past three weeks. Teary emoticons, pics of her on a beach, multitudes of miss-you’s. And I’ve responded to exactly none of them. I figured she’d just move on to some other dude if I stayed patient and silent. Perhaps I underestimated her. Eight more beeps from the girl since I began writing this.


New apartment. I like to eat at home so I just dropped $34 on a convection cooker. It’s not the price that bugs me; it’s owning another thing, a thing I know I’ll have to get rid of in the not-too-distant future. I’ll end up donating rather than tossing it, but it still feels wasteful. Settled folk can tell themselves that whatever else happens, they’ve got that convection cooker problem handled. But not me, a man with a mind for motion and no fixed abode.


Maybe we should never have got back in contact, left our relationship as a memory fond and incorruptible. I remember staying at a guesthouse in New Orleans six years ago and meeting an old riverboat captain. We used to sit on the porch and chat to a back-track of crickets and jazz. He was a good listener and told warm stories, like a wise uncle sitting fireside the day after Christmas. Then one day he was gone. No goodbye, no let’s keep in touch. It was perfect.


Shakedown. They were licking their lips as soon as they saw us pull up to the traffic lights. Easy money. I get the breath test but there’s no drug check. I show photocopies of my passport and driver’s license. Big surprise, they’re not good enough, originals requested. When I can’t produce, the tubby one tells me I’ll have to go to the station. I decide to call his bluff and shoot back with a shrug: “Okay, police station. Let’s go.”


I’m scared to tell her, so I know I have to tell her. “Well, there is something else,” I begin. Her eyes search mine for a long second before prompting me on. “I’m a bit intimidated by you.” Her why is a whisper, long and apprehensive. “I guess it’s because I don’t often have a chance with a girl like you, and I’m worried I might fuck it up.” I try gauge her reaction in the heartbeats that follow, somehow knowing that everything will be okay.


Three sessions in with the personal trainer, and my mobility seems to be improving steadily. It’s a bit ridiculous how tight my hips and shoulders are. Stand with your back against a wall and then bring your arms straight up until your knuckles hit brick. That’s a simple movement you’ll see me struggle with. I was getting a little ahead of myself trying to master a handstand. First things first.


We only have a short time together. I had to sleep on her question, wasn’t sure if I should see her again. In the end I decided I owed the girl at least one more meet. So here we are, sharing lunch. Her flight leaves in four hours. I wonder what I could have done better. Did I mislead her, make unspoken promises? No, my conscience is clear. I’d do it all over again if I had the chance, and I’m pretty sure she would, too.


Put on the spot, Marco Polo was the first game that came to mind. Dwight was all for it, and so within a minute I found myself blindfolded and stumbling around a small room with arms outstretched trying to grab one of a dozen giggling children. This and other games we played with wide smiles for a half hour or so. I took note of how good Dwight is with those kids. What he’s doing here in Bangkok is nothing short of remarkable.


It’s 2 p.m. on a Thursday. I’m at a mall, reading a book, waiting for a friend. I sit on a bench across from a fancy ice cream place. A good-looking chap mixes frozen treats in a large steel dish. He’s about the same age as me. He’s working hard. I wonder how much money he makes. I wonder what kind of life he dreams about. It’s 2 p.m. on a Thursday. I’m at a mall, reading a book, waiting for a friend.


I take the scooter out and back to the immigration office, inconveniently located an hour from the city center, as if some bigwig wanted to make it as tough as possible for foreigners to stay and support the economy. I weave in and out of traffic jams and ignore the no-motorcycle signs guarding tunnels and flyovers. My phone feeds me directions and long sleeves protect my arms. But not my hands, which have turned bright red by the time I’m home.


Day has become night. Night has become day. We awake at two in the afternoon. Flash forward to evening breakfast, a mahogany table and plush leather chairs. Cut to tiny cakes and lazy escalators. Jump to a midnight theater, the last of several, finally alone. Swipe to a cop looking hopeful as he empties my pockets. And finally, fade us back to the dawn, lying in bed, four eyes wide.


I remember hearing a story about Tim Wheeler, frontman of the Northern Irish rock band Ash. They appeared destined for greatness after dropping their debut album back in 1996, and were playing gigs in New York City soon after when Tim disappeared for a week. Legend has it he met a dominatrix and spent several days stumbling around the Apple in a sex-fueled haze. Given the weekend I just had, methinks I can finally relate.


I track a lot of things. I can tell you every dollar I’ve earned and spent for the last 2.5 years. More recently I’ve been tracking daily habits. I can tell you, for example, that I awoke last month at an average time of 8:50 a.m. after 7.4 hours of sleep. I exercised nine days out of thirty, stretched seven, and my daily productivity averaged out to 7.5 out of 10. I’m not sure if knowing all this is actually beneficial. Maybe I’m just a control freak.


Thing I love about self-employment #721: Having a flexible schedule. I like to hit up a nice lunch place a couple of hours after the noon rush, or the barber’s a couple of hours before. It’s 11 p.m. as I write this and I’m about to head to the supermarket. Should be nice and quiet at this time. I don’t have to be up early in the morning. If I don’t feel like working I can chill for the day, go wander around a quiet museum or catch a matinee.


I also track contentment every day. How happy or content did I feel today on a scale of one to ten? So far this month I’ve never scored below a seven. Three of my last five days have been a ten. This morning I had a solid workout with my trainer. This afternoon I cut the bullshit, knuckled down and got some good work done. This evening we cooked dinner and talked and laughed and went to bed. Life is pretty damn good right now.


In the comments below, let me know which of the above vignettes resonates with you most.

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