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Light Your Dick On Fire

Image result for the deer hunter

Friday night we got hammered and stole a Vietnamese fisherman’s boat from a hamlet on the Red River and went out floating. It was 3 a.m. We got down to boxers and unlashed it from the bamboo pylons, then slid it silently through the reeds like Navy SEALs. The boat was made of hand-cut planks and had an aluminum roof. Probably been in the family since the French were here.

I spent the whole time in abject panic. Imagined rowing back and finding the cops arrayed on shore with floodlights. Had visions of life in a Vietnamese prison, being power-raped by all the rice dicks. You know the terror you feel when you’re skidding in a car and about to hit something. This was that terror, but sustained for about forty minutes. Like you’re on fire inside and out. I enjoyed it.

I’m rich white and fat: the essence of fulfillment. I want for nothing, but still gotta do something. There’s an obvious parallel to Ryan Lochte/Rio to be made with this.

***

Being boring is a sin. A famous man said that, and I am in agreement. So, do more things so you’re not boring. Live while you can, basically. Because who knows how long that will be. I think about cancer all the time. Mostly because of the air here in urban Vietnam; you sit there boiling in motorbike traffic and breathing in the little smog particles. Trillions of them every second. They accumulate deep in your nasal cavity and over time form a semi-hard gob that you’re always kind of vaguely aware of, that ever-so-slightly changes the timbre of your voice. Every three months it accumulates enough mass to suddenly break loose and slide down your esophagus. It’s pure poison death. Also: salty and kind of satisfying.

Since I’m still alive and can do things, I’ll go hike this weekend, because Vietnamese Independence Day is this weekend, and everything is closed so they can gloat about the war. And you know what? Good for them.

But. It also happens that when I read about said Vietnam War, I fantasize that if Nixon had authorized just a few more bombing raids, it would have all turned out differently. Because the only thing I hate more than America’s deplorable foreign policy is knowing another country can say they’ve beaten us.

***

I work on my book in expensive cafés because I’m an asshole. It’s going pretty slowly. But these other goddamn writers keep me motivated and chopping away at it. This girl I know writes for a magazine and drops little writerly phrases into conversation like, I rested last week, and feel like I’ve recharged my personality and allows herself a smile afterward.

Other people wouldn’t catch that the phrase recharged my personality required some brainpower, but I’m a writer, and I sure as hell fucking did. That right there is purposefully refined thinking. I know exactly what happened. She wrote that line down in a journal and workshopped it. Then slyly deployed it while out at the bar. Don’t do that. Leave your shit at home. Have the decency to do what the rest of us do, and pretend we don’t even write. You’ve got to hide your writing like you’re Batman.

And this British kid with Leo Titanic hair who read a Brexit poem at the open mic on Sunday. Kept intentionally stretching and warping words because he thinks that’s how Artists are supposed to talk. Kept the mic close to his mouth like he was giving it a blowjob and kept hitting the p’s too hard so they detonated in the subwoofers and made everyone wince. But the poem itself was good. Kind of. Good, but only on a basic level. He’s not a genius, like I am. Like I think I am. Really I’m just mad when someone else dares to do the same thing I do. No matter what that thing may be. It’s always such a rude shock when it happens.

The Gentleman

Still in Vietnam. Still on a bender. Four straight weeks of too much to drink and too few vegetables. I’m aging by the second; under my eyes it’s just lizard skin. If I smoked on top of all this then I’d look like Tommy Lee Jones already. Too much poison and sugar – I gotta downshift. There should be an app that shows you your liver damage in real time.

I have a long nasty beard that looks like a toilet brush and I piss in the sink in the hallway of my boarding house because the bathroom is one floor down. This is what a man looks like in the aftermath. When he does the right thing, or maybe just the more honest thing. Maybe there is no right thing. I hope she’s OK. I know she’s not, but I still hope it anyway.

***

It’s not as bad as I make it sound. My Puritanical background keeps me from sliding too far into hell. I have good habits. I get home from this stupid fucking glitter club called Hanoi Rock City and watch action movie clips on YouTube and drink water until I’m sober. I floss and moisturize. Then get eight hours of sleep and then 90 minutes of exercise and then study French and Vietnamese. Then I read Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle before I go to work. At work I am white and therefore collect more money in 90 minutes than the locals do in a full week and blah blah…

All right. Let’s get to the sex stuff.

***

Put my jersey up. I could just retire from sex now. I’ve fucked enough for an army. Plus, I’ll be 30 soon, and I’m white. Past my prime. I have no business being naked anymore. White guys are gross when they’re old and naked.

I still have a high sex drive but just jack off constantly. I prefer jacking it to actual women now. I’ve come (heh) full circle, am 14 again.

There have been a few women who made it clear that they were down, who I could have smuggled up to my 5th floor flophouse. But the problem is that they wouldn’t cease to exist as soon as I came, which is what I want, which is what all men want but just won’t say. And there’s an added dimension of difficulty when it comes to kicking someone down out of a 5th floor walkup. That requires a level of finesse I don’t have the energy for. So, I jack it.

***

I keep forgetting I’m a legitimate, professional human now. I’ve finally started working on this Vietnam book I’m contracted for. It is a real thing; no longer can I just jizz all over WordPress and call it a day. Writing nonfiction is mental crossfit. You’re questioning, arguing with each sentence.

It’s also inauthentic. The style is not me. The tone is not me. I’m just sitting down at the keyboard and lying.

It’s due in four months. I’m a little worried, but I’m also not. I’ve been writing for so long that it doesn’t scare me anymore. If something isn’t working, I try it again. I know I’ll figure it out. Writing is about the only thing I’ve figured out.

A Single Man, Part II

Still no fucking, sorry. (A bit of porn, though.)

***

So concludes another day as an over-privileged white man in the Far East.

I found out some of my students draw a salary of $0.85 an hour. That’s the level of income that forces you to make your budget tighter than a cat’s asshole. Even for Vietnam. The company they work at is Japanese. They outsourced their plant over here because they can get away with paying slave wages. (It’s not only the Long Island Illuminati tycoons who do these things). And these workers are smart. The corporate complex is like a sweatshop for geniuses. I make 40 times what they do. They’ll work triple-overtime, save 100% of it, and still never escape.

Not even thinking about this makes me feel lucky. To be human is to be an animal and to be an animal is to be unaware of your advantages. We just happen to only be aware of what we lack. That’s the evolutionary force that keeps us moving.

I drive past a bunch of Vietnamese bricklayers on the way home. They’d all kill their own families to be me. Tall white hilarious cisgender American male with a book deal and cash in the bank and heaps of pussy waiting for him whenever he gets out of his funk. I am to them what a Saudi prince is to me. But then again, when I look at them and their low-BMI manual laborer bodies with the eternal six-packs, I’d kill to be them. No one gets it all.

***

Not that I’m fat. I’m gaunt, even though I drink too much.

About drinking. I can have a good time without it. I was raised in preparation for a lifetime of sobriety; I grew up Southern Baptist and was told having a Bud Light was a Satanic ritual. So I can go out sober and laugh until I cry. But I’d still rather do it while drinking.

I don’t gain beer weight because I work too much. My schedule is such a Bataan Death March that I’m inadvertently forced to fast most days. And it’s also because I work out like Michael Phelps. Except it’s worth noting that I’m better than Michael Phelps, because I still put in the hours even though no one will ever give a shit.

It’s OK. The workouts and the workaholism are working for me, they’re getting me through the emotions of the breakup, or past the emotions of the breakup, without having to confront them. Helping me neutralize thoughts of her in the future having nice sweet moments (or sweaty, naked moments) with other dudes and their dicks (even though I let her go and therefore I have no right to whine about it). The mental image I have of myself these days is that I’m holding on to a bomb really tightly so it won’t explode (because that is a thing that’s possible to do), and if I hold it long enough it’ll deactivate and I can put it down. That’s not how human emotions work, but I’m trying it anyway.

It’s not just the breakup. In general, I don’t really like myself, thanks to whatever chemical soup is in my head. I have to hype myself up to start thinking kind thoughts about myself, and it’s unsustainable. It’s like an arranged marriage. I don’t think I’m alone in this. I think everyone is like this. But that doesn’t make it easier.

***

Anyway, it’s summer in Asia. That means we either live in an end-of-days downpour or nuclear-hot sunlight. Take your pick. No middle ground.

These days it’s the rain. It always hits while I’m driving my motorbike. Never before, never after. Always exactly during the time when I’m driving somewhere.

Saturday I got off work at 9:30 pm. At 9:31, the typhoon hit. I was going to have a night out but Mother Nature said otherwise, reasserted her existence, sliced through everyone’s neatly knotted little plans. Whenever the rain comes I glare at the Vietnamese like it’s their fault. As if monsoons are a feature they opted in for.

***

The rain keeps me pinned down inside, where I don’t write, and instead wrestle with the Y2K-speed internet connection. But tonight it let up. I went out and let people annoy me. The other expats. They’re loud jackoffs, bargain-bin degenerates, white trash cretins. Their noise fills up my head. It’s loathsome. It’s irritating. It’s insipid. It’s what I need.

 

A Single Man

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Now I live in a hot room in Vietnam, like the guy in Apocalypse Now. Except I have Winnie-the-Pooh bedsheets. Landlord went shopping and chose them, for some reason.

The AC gets fixed, works for a day and then breaks again. Spews flaming F-16 exhaust into the room while outside the sun blasts the life out of the city. The heat is such that it wakes you up at 5:00 am. It’s the only reminder I need that God doesn’t exist. Because there’s no reason for it to be this hot. For the sun to sear and boil you and melt your DNA strands down into cancer. An intelligent designer would have modulated this shit a little.

***

This breakup burns. Even though I was the one who did it. I see her around the city all the time. She’s alone, and she doesn’t want to be. It’s not fair.

I have too much history now. Too many cute, flirty stories racked up by this point for me to offer someone something genuine. And too many fuck stories for me to offer someone something innocent. Dating gets sick and nasty after a while. We wouldn’t buy a car with fifteen previous owners, but we’ll take a person with that many.

When I go out girls ask me if I have a girlfriend, if I want to go somewhere with them. I don’t. Which only makes them ask again. They only want me because I don’t want them.

That’s the only thing you need to know about life. By the time I decide I want one of the girls, they’ll all disapparate. Look at me with disgust for having a desire.

I’m worried about my empathy levels, I’m worried I’m too detached. I’m outrunning my emotions. I never sit down; there’s always something pressing. I exercise and then I go to work and then after work I have some drinks. Then I pass out and purposefully wake up late enough that I have no time to do anything but get ready for work again. Which leaves me no time for anyone’s bullshit. Vietnamese managers ping my inbox with threats in Google translate-level English: “you sending the spreadsheet now.”

I say no. And they apologize for asking. I’m Genghis Fucking Khan. On Gmail, at least. I keep hoping they’ll fire me. But they can sense that I don’t care, so they keep me around.

***

Someone stole my helmet from the bar parking lot last week, because that’s the kind of thing happens in Vietnam. If it’s not cemented to the Earth, it vanishes. I didn’t get a new helmet. But it’s safer to ride this way, because I’m far more vigilant. I treat every ride like it’s war.

I saw a dead guy on the bridge near my work. The side of his head was smashed flat. Motorbike crash, no helmet. I know that that’s not going to happen to me. Not these days, anyway. I’m safe and I’m lucky. And things will stay that way until I get more excited about life.

Change

Everyone recognizes that my book deal is significant, except for my mom. She said it sounded “neat.” I’m not sure if she knows what a book deal is. That it’s a hard thing to get. For most people.

For me, it just fell into my lap. I knew a guy, that was it. I didn’t knock on a million doors for this. But I still congratulate myself as if I did.

And I have proud thoughts such as: hey man, see, life will work out. God will give you your dream, your hard work will pay dividends, and brilliant joy will be yours. As long as you’re white.

Jesus. I’m getting pretty cocky over what will just be a travel book. Cocky that someone, anyone!, who works in an office has told me that I don’t suck.

They’re lying. It’s all business. They just need a semi-literate ape who’s willing to only use chopsticks for a year and sign a lowball deal in exchange for his name going on something.

And with me, they got it. I’m a millennial; I would rather have attention than income. I spent three days working on the Facebook status. And now I keep re-reading the list of people who liked it. People from high school. Allison and Erin who both married other dudes and had kids. Now everyone knows. They were wrong about me!

Besides that guy from high school who was like 5th employee Uber ever hired or something, I’m now the most successful person from my class. But come drive through Hampton, NH and you’ll see why. Not a lot of sunlight, jobs, or teeth.

***

I’m single again. Although that hasn’t stopped me and the ex from fucking three times, including once on the glass tabletop in the kitchen. I just noticed we haven’t wiped up the sweat smears yet.

Tomorrow I move into a 5th floor room with a busted AC in a house filled with seven other rootless wanderers. $180 for the month. In September, I go to Saigon. She’ll keep the apartment. Have Couchsurfers keep her company. I’d rather not describe the composition of the emotional cocktail my brain has been marinating in since the breakup, but I do know these things:

  • I don’t want this to be ugly.
  • I want her to win.
  • This is the kind of thing where even though she’s going to fuck other guys, she’ll still always be mine.

She’s afraid I’m going to go fuck everyone I can now. Well. don’t worry love. The women of the world have not been waiting for this day. They’ve all been too busy fucking. And not guys like me. I’m traditionally handsome. But every girl now only wants to fuck guys who look like they live in caves. Topknots and pale inbred visages. No longer do they respect a precisely-tailored suit and a visible bicep vein. The sloths now rule. The world changed while I was away. She’ll find dudes, I will find no one.

Friday night my friends wanted to go to this bar that’s out in the woods by an ancient Confucian graveyard. I had to give this girl a ride on my motorbike and she weighed more than me. The springs under the seat kept giving out and I was paranoid about the tires. She dropped a hint like an anvil: “my boyfriend and I are open.”

Later on as we all ate at the flower market she told me to check my white male privilege because I said something about not being turned on by lesbian porn. That made me angry. And I’m still not even sure what it meant. The world changed while I was away. I’m old and white and I don’t know how to connect. It’s enough to make a man vote Trump.

The next night I went out for an hour. I spent thirty minutes of it in the club bathroom flushing out of my eye after a drunk girl threw glitter in it. The other thirty minutes I drank on the stage by the speakers while a Vietnamese club rat with huge cheeks hit on me. I wanted to leave, but I felt like I had to stay at least an hour, so the night felt like something.

“What do you do?” she asked.

Hey! I thought. You’ve been waiting for this. Now you can say it.

“I’m a writer.”

“Wait, so that’s your job?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

And she meant it. I think.

The world changed while I was away. Everything that used to be cool is now shit. Everything except the thing I love the most.

Breakdown

It’s Monday. I told my readers I’d post every Monday. I had some good shit ready to go. But we broke up this morning. 4:00 a.m.

It was me. I wanted to. I wanted to be alone and miserable again. I had to tell you that I love you. I love you deeply and it burns to watch you struggle. I love you. But I love myself more. And I have to let someone else love you, and hold you, and fuck you, even though that will burn me too.

Truth is agony. I’m so tired, so weary of hurting people. But there’s no way not to. When I lie, I hurt someone. When I tell the truth the same thing happens.

***

You said I was going to get a good blog post out of this breakup. I did. But it’s not for me, it’s for you. It’s your tribute.

***

In the morning the sun was bright and clean and hot. Like the afterglow of a bomb. First day of a new life. I felt drained and dehydrated.

We’re both still in the apartment; lease complications. We ate cereal and acted like pals who’d never fucked before. Talking to you is soothing. Even when we’re trying not to cry.

I did cry. When I was in Starbucks later with the laptop open, drowning in work. Too much work to be sad. Or so I thought. I had to put my sunglasses on, but people heard me sniffing. They kept staring; people loathe you when your emotions leak out in public. Sometimes you actually feel yourself breaking.

I got back home. Rested my head on your lap. We have to wean off each other. As I got dressed to go to work I got the email from the publisher in Singapore. They’re going to give me the book deal. No contract yet. But it’s going to happen. They said, “We’re definitely keen to have you on board for the book, what do you think of the submission deadline?”

So what if it’s a tiny book about Vietnamese culture. It’s real. I’ll leverage it to get more real books printed with my name on the front. They picked me. My dream came true.

The message that changed my life, it had to come today, the day I left you. I read it and felt absolutely nothing. But you cried when I told you. You’re so happy for me. When I think of that I break down again.

I’ve never had a day like today. I can’t imagine I ever will again. I’m stunned.

***

I’m going to move to Saigon to finish the book. I want you to be there with me. But what I want more than that is to do it alone.

The right thing is to let you go. So you can get your old self back. Be a girl again, find some virile little boys. Me, I’ll just turn 30. Get worse hangovers. Become professional. Stay stuck in 2011 for the next 40 years. Blow out a hip, devolve into a potato, become one of the old white guys in Asia who young white backpackers make fun of.

You meant everything. Please remember that. Take me back in time, I’d do it again. Thank you.

***

We promised to get back together in 10 years if we’re both single. You won’t be. I will. I’m building a romantic career out of being the ex-boyfriend the husbands hate. And they should. I’m special, I’m talented, I’m lucky. I’m going to get what I want. Whether that will satisfy me or not, I don’t know yet.

Back when it ended, early this morning, I held you. You came to me. Wrapped up in the comforter. You can’t sleep without me, even when I’ve just killed you. When I held you, I forgot I killed you. I forgot that I had already left you and that I loved myself more than you.

And while we were about to fall asleep, I was truly, desperately in love with you. You’re my girl. It was simple and obvious. If I could, I’d stretch that moment out for the rest of our lives. I closed my eyes and tried to do that, one more time. But when I woke up it was gone.

 

This Post Is Pretty Good

For the rest of 2016 I’m only going to be posting on Mondays. No time to do any more than that. I have three jobs. And also I’m writing a new book.

I have a memoir/travelogue I need to get out of my system. Pretty much all my Asia stories. What happened to the dumb little boy who broke up with God and moved abroad. I wanted fun, adventure, money, girls, respect, money, girls, attention, money, girls, fulfillment and peace. And also money and girls*. I thought that living in China (and then Korea, and then Vietnam) would be a shortcut to these things. I was right. I’ll tell you all about it. I thought: why tell a story or say something meaningful about the world and the agonizing problems it faces today when I can just keep talking about drinking beer under neon lights?

I’ve been in the East for a while. Living through every possible story there is. I’ve been a king and a slave. I’ve also been dumb and smart, adored and reviled. Also a booze-blooded heathen and a spiral-eyed fundamentalist cult member. It is literally impossible for my story to not resonate with you. I mean, we all have the same life and live out the same stories. Except I feel the same feelings you do in Tokyo or someplace like that. I imagine that makes them more interesting. And it kind of does?

Despite that fact that my debut book (and also my debut novella) blew up on the launch pad, and that my readership shrinks by the second, I’m still going to spend an unforgivable amount of time and money on this new book. Everybody should be allowed one stupid thing to waste their lifeforce on, and this is mine.

I’m stuck on some of the details, including what to call it. But for now the working title is This Book Is Pretty Good: Stories by Fred Colton. You’ll have to take my word for how good it will be, because I know you’re not going to buy it. That’s OK. I’m not doing it for the money. When you weigh my bills against my income, I already make more money than almost every other person in the world. I know this book will not save me, this book will not kickstart a hallowed literary career. That’s OK. This book merely needs to exist. And it will. I want to put it out (read: probably won’t have time to put it out until) early next year. Just in time to miss the holiday shopping season! I never said I was good at marketing.

Until then: Mondays. I’ll use the little writing time I have to edit my posts more, make them as tight and bright as possible, because most blog posts are pretty bad.

Maybe everyone should do that. I mean, have you been on the WordPress Reader lately? Jesus.

***

*Dear Girlfriend: now I only want you. Mouah.

What Happened in Thailand

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were mostly bad things. We got scammed by two tuk-tuk drivers, then my girlfriend’s jewelry was stolen, and then I lost my ATM card. Then the monsoons washed out a few of the good days and kept us trapped inside, ordering coffee refills and running out of stories to tell each other. Good practice for being retired.

Our indecisive travel buddies vacuumed up the rest of the time. Instead of saying what they want to do, everyone instead insists they’re down for whatever. What is whatever? “Whatever” is nothing, “whatever” is evil; stop saying you’re down for it.

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At least my girlfriend got to see Bangkok. I’d been there once before, five years ago, but I didn’t own a camera back then, and I was usually drunk during that trip, so most of the details have dissolved. But remembering less makes the return a little more vibrant. On the bus ride into town from the airport I saw the PC café where a pickpocket lifted $200 off me back on my first trip here. I figured later that he had cased me as I was leaving the ATM across the street. And you know what, good for him. I hope it turned things around for him.

I mean, I certainly wasn’t worried about myself. I had white parents; I was going to be fine.

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I won’t talk about the many, many golden palaces and temples in Bangkok, because average writers would latch onto those details, and I am not them. Instead I’ll tell you about the thing you see the most of in Bangkok: British men with Man Utd jerseys from 2001 who have pierced eyebrows and leathery skin that could stop bullets, who drink beers at the airport at 11:00 a.m.

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Also I’ll tell that you can find lizards and birds hanging out on the sidewalk by the Grand Palace. And that the top of the city’s tallest building has a scrolling neon banner that says LONG LIVE THE KING. The King’s portrait is truly everywhere. Some people have Instagram; he has a country. He ascended to the throne after his older brother died of a gunshot wound in 1946 under mysterious circumstances. I got curious and read a little about the situation. I’m not saying that the current king killed his brother to become king. But I am saying that he was, according to palace logs, the last person to visit his brother in his quarters before the murder. I had to wait until I left Thailand to type those sentences. People go to prison for less. He’s ruled longer than Queen Elizabeth. He’s always frowning.

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Told you, about the lizard.

We were down in Krabi most of the time. Up north, it’s Buddhist country. Down south, where we were, you see a lot of Muslim Thais. Or is it “Muslim Thai”, with Thai being a collective term, like fish. I don’t know. I don’t go to places to learn.

What’s in Krabi? Well, lots of beaches and Asian-esque rock formations. Endless miles of oceanfront property crammed with tour company kiosks, which all manage to stay in business. I don’t know what else to say. There are pictures.

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like this motherfucker right here

But overall the trip was a fail. The rain. We went to Thailand to do pretty much nothing but live in backpacker purgatory for a week. I was fretting because I was relaxing too much. But I also didn’t feel like not relaxing — you don’t go to Thailand to run around all haggard. Do you? Eh, who fucking knows.

It went so badly that my girlfriend wanted to break up. We didn’t get out enough when the weather was good. I would have taken more initiative to go do things, but I was depressed again. It comes and goes. It’s terrible. It’s like my mind gets hijacked by a teenager. You wish you could schedule these things, so you could not be depressed while in the tropics, but that’s not how it works.

Endorphins weren’t even an option. I hurt my foot when I was running, and had to stop working out. A week of the vacation diet made me hyper-aware of the fat in my neck when I turn my head.

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Not having a smartphone for a week reminded me how boring and frustrating life is. Escapism is a multi-million quadrillion dollar market for a reason. Maybe if life were a little better and smoother, we’d be able to stay off our phones.

A smartphone is better than a trip to Thailand. Don’t listen to anyone who has been anywhere. They’re lying to you to protect their investment – they at least had to get some bragging rights out of their $4,000 trip.

The curse of fancying yourself a writer means you only go places or do things so you can have the authority to write about them. To go places and do things requires money. Which brings the budget for this blog post to somewhere north of $400 (we flew in from Vietnam, stayed for a week). So all I have to say is that you better have fucking enjoyed it.

 

 

The Workaholic Manifesto

Freedom will not make you happy. Don’t listen to anyone who says so. If you have to keep your Instagram fresh as a reminder of how good your life is, then maybe it’s not. Your social media game is the equivalent of North Korean propaganda.

I had a pile of money and was free for a while, and it wasn’t that great. All you do is ruminate over the myriad ways you could possibly lose your freedom. Lightning could hit me and I’d be bedridden. Or my mother and grandparents and siblings and cousins could all die on the same day, and I’d be stuck raising my nephew. Once you start doing that, your freedom is already gone.

Freedom is not the magical time you hope it will be. But there’s still magic to be had in this life. It’s just that the only people who experience it are the guys in Dover, NH who have fed themselves into the blue collar maw, wear flannel, and have feet so swollen after thirteen hours on the clock that they have to cut their boots off. Quivering with joy on the drive home just because they’re sitting down. Floating down the river of the sweet narcotic that is the first beer from the fridge. Getting into bed and being too tired to move your jaw to say good night, that’s magic.

***

The dream is dead. I no longer exist as an artist. I’m working again, every single day. I come home so tired I fall asleep halfway through taking my pants off. No more Saturdays, but that’s all right. I can’t remember the last time a Saturday actually lived up to the hype.

What I do is teach IELTS English exam courses for Vietnamese adults. Lots of security guards and college students and some doctors and soldiers and managers, too. The salt of the earth. I interact with them in the way that politicians pretend to. And I care about their success in the same way that politicians pretend to. They work hard. If I close my eyes I can hear the gears in their heads turning. They bleed from the eyeballs as they try to memorize our idioms. Native knowledge of English is a golden gift. And what have you done with it, other than run around creating perversions like bae.

It’s nice to arrive at work and not want to die from the minute you punch in. Nice to feel valued. It’s also pretty nice to get paid. I make more money teaching a single 90-minute class than I have from an entire lifetime of writing. All cash, under the table, no taxes like I’m a drug dealer.

Not that it’s amazing money – nightclub bartenders still make more money in a night than I do in a week… except wait, actually they don’t. You have to apply the exchange rate. A US dollar earned in Vietnam is like three US dollars earned in America. Because in America you have eight kinds of taxes and three kinds of insurance, and also car payments and gas for the car and probably a mortgage and a nonzero amount of credit cards. And plummeting stocks courtesy of the financial fuckery of Brexit. And probably kids. Not having kids is like writing your future self a check.

Don’t listen to the artists. You should just go to work and stay there forever. Expression feels good but the pleasant simmer of having stockpiled money is much, much better. It’s definitely preferable to writing yet another gorgeous blog post that’s simply here and gone like a firework.

Just be at work, always. Be too busy for anyone else’s bullshit. Be a pillar of virtue, be a bitch in a building. Be like Jay Z and not even notice the money piling up. Be grateful that your long shots didn’t work out and you don’t have to worry about sustaining your impossible luck.

I finally have this life thing figured out. And all shall continue to be good, as long as I don’t get inspired again.

 

Back to Vietnam

Tomorrow I’ll write about my Thailand trip. I’m too tired this evening. We spent last night homeless on the leather benches of the 24-hour Burger King in the Bangkok Airport. There was a FIFA match playing and these two Chinese cunts kept all us backpackers wide awake by hooting every time Ronaldo was on screen. So I got a series of mico-naps; maybe 20 minutes of sleep in total. Then I couldn’t sleep in coach on the way back to Vietnam, and I had to go to work after I landed. I was drifting across lanes on my motorbike, knowing I had to turn the handlebars but finding myself physically unable to. Driving drunk is easy.* Fatigued is where the trouble’s at. I remember swinging easy all-nighters at 22. Fast forward to a mere 28, and you already feel like an invalid when you’re sleep deprived. In summary: I’m fall-down tired. 

Well, this post is pretty bad but I get anxious when I don’t write something. See you tomorrow for some more.

*what my friends tell me!

In Thailand For A Week

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We’re here, and I have no time to write. Every minute has been scheduled. I feel like the President.

I’m starting to get over the whole traveling thing. A minimal night’s sleep before standing in lines all day with our hyper-caffeinated travel buddies makes me wish I were in a retirement home already. I’m a quiet house cat who’s pretending to be otherwise. And I’ve taken enough trips by now to realize that all people, and all places, are pretty much the same. A backpacker in China once said that to me, and I didn’t get it. Then I went to ten different countries and it clicked.

We’re on a beach near Malaysia. I’ll update with more soon because, pathetically, I still harbor fantasies of becoming WordPress famous. And you should update me with whatever the hell you think is going on in that picture down there. Does that elephant have a dragon for a penis?

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Work

I thought I was going to get a modeling job, but it didn’t work out, so now I have to teach. Teaching is a thing that I hate, but also a thing I’m good at. I was hired at three different academies. In the evenings I’ll ride my motorbike to one class, teach for two hours, then drive to another class and repeat the process.

I’ll work every day. Not out of necessity. I do need money, but not a whole lot. What I need is enough work to keep me locked away for hours at a time. I don’t like free days at home because I feel like I’m never spending the hours in exactly the right way. And I don’t like being out in public, because most people annoy me. I do like drinking, so I need to make myself too busy to drink. Work is the answer. It focuses me, by leaving me with only enough time for the essentials.

When I’m not at work I’m with my girlfriend. The rest of the time, I’m trying to write. It’s going well. Even though no one knows who I am. When you have a craft you’re blindly obsessed with, occasionally you can feel the gears shifting as you learn a new trick. Those moments are rare, but they do happen. Writing is an absurdly slow evolution. You can become a surgeon in less time than it takes to become a good writer. If you want to be a good writer, you can’t really do anything else.

I’ve realized I really don’t like going places and doing things, and I don’t like going to activities or events, either. Not when I could be spending that time getting good at something. Steve Martin says you should try to be so good they can’t ignore you.

Tonight there’s a performing arts event that I was guilt-tripped into. There will be amateur slam poetry and amateur rapping and amateur stand-up. The kind of thing you have to extort people into attending because you know it will not be fun. I can’t stand being part of an audience. To sit there and feel the time ooze away. But appearances must be maintained. I would rid myself of social obligations, but I need them for creative fuel.

Is art selfish? I think so. You’re spending a lot of time working on your own expression. You can only spend so much time in this selfish vortex before you become insufferable.

I’ll be in the crowd, but it doesn’t mean I think you’re good. This is amateur hour. I can ignore you. I already have a thing, and I don’t have time for yours.

An Idiot Abroad

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Why would you give it all up and move abroad? Well I did it because I was running away. Definitely wasn’t out of a sense of adventure. And the reason I ran away is because I was too dumb to get into grad school or to get a good job back in the motherland. The reason I know I’m dumb is because I once fell for a Craigslist scam and shipped my iPod Touch off to Nigeria. This guy offered twice what I was asking. I remembered being touched by his altruism.

I was stupid, but when I was in America I could sort of coast by because I’m tall handsome and hilarious. At least I thought I was those things. Someone should have told the girls that, because getting laid in America was harder than becoming President.

Give it all up. I didn’t give anything up. What I gave up was being broke and lonely. I just ran away. Used geography as therapy. You feel like you’re better than everyone else when you’re standing next to a pagoda.

Then the high is gone and you realize you actually haven’t gone anywhere. Every place you go, they have English and Coke and Top 40. And then you start to remember that no matter where you’ve slunk off to this time, you still have to be your stupid self. However you came off the assembly line, that’s who you are. You are the end result of your genetic OS and whatever malware your parents downloaded into your head as a child. Change if you want, but maintaining those changes is like holding a sprint.

What’s easy is flying to a place with cheap beer and no taxes and no laws for white people. What’s brave is staying at home, being a clone who’s unable to play the foreigner card.

Maybe you disagree with me. And hey, you would probably be right. I’m the guy who ships Apple products to Sub-Saharan Africa for free, so what do I know.

(P.S. You’re welcome, Samuel Babatunde.)

All Me

I.

Back to the writing thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have staked my entire future on becoming WordPress famous. That was a bad bet. And I made it with such confidence.

I’m desperate to go viral but the reason I haven’t is that I’m shit. The reason I know my writing is shit is because I think it’s good. I’ve met too many bad writers who thought they were good, and now I realize I’m one of them. So — no crowd, no numbers, no traction — it makes sense now.

I’m not going to give up. But goddamn, now feels like the time.

II.

When I lived in Korea I had a friend from South Africa who always wanted to hang out on weekends. Can’t, I would say, I have to stay in and write.

He wrote sometimes. But mostly he just played computer games. Until one weekend he wrote a novella, and then turned it into a script. Now they’re going to make a movie out of it. And good for him.

But what about me. What do I get in exchange for being a self-serious jackoff? I was supposed to be somebody by now. My girlfriend softly suggests I try something else.

I will never quit but, holy shit, now feels like the perfect time.

III.

Creativity may be the cruelest mistress.

Pour your life into football and find out by 22 if you’re going pro. Definitive, final answer. But with the arts, it’s never over. Always another chance. What glorious news. That means you can live in dark suspense and put whiny vibes out into the universe forever.

Is it acceptable to even have a dream? When there’s all these refugees? And all these other people getting shot all the time? And this hobo in my alley with dents in his head? What about them? Where do I get off chasing such selfish fulfillment?

So many reasons to quit, and now would be the time. But no. I’ve been to the edge of the Earth too many times, and made too many people laugh, and come up with too many clever takes on shit for this not to work.

I’ve got it, or at least the seeds of it, and everyone is going to know that. Maybe.

IV.

I want to say that my persistence shouldn’t impress you. Work ethic stories always seem weird to me. It’s easy to work hard for yourself. Hey, look how selfish this guy was! Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs: who gives a fuck. They were just masturbating. But boy, we loved to watch.

All right. Speaking of masturbating, back to the writing thing.

One Man’s Trash

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Vietnam: I don’t get it. Obama was just here and called it charming. When his speechwriter typed that sentence, MS Word autocorrected it to shithole.

I’ve lived here for a few months, given it some time. But this is a taste you can’t acquire. Vietnam is a savage backwater prison yard with fourth-world infrastructure. And a rush hour that lasts from six a.m. to eleven p.m. And noxious air pollution that makes your skin bubble up and hiss steam like you’re on the Total Recall version of Mars. And bent cops in the same uniforms the Russians wear in Goldeneye N64 who lean out of doorways with batons. And legions of mule-sized rats, apostles of the new Black Plague, who form gangs at night and go looking for ankles. And ashy smoke columns from the trash fires everyone lights at dusk. And a city-wide PA system blasting high-decibel Communist hymns for an hour every afternoon. And goddamn, this place is ugly. Hanoi looks like District 9.

Hard on the eyes, ears, lungs, nerves. This place needs a trillion-dollar infusion of Western cash. The same get-out-of-poverty-free handout South Korea got and then promptly acted like it didn’t. Vietnam didn’t get any money, because they had the wrong founding father. Hanoi is the answer to the question: what happens if we build a city and then let it rot for fifty years. So, pretty much the same thing as Los Angeles.

But I will put up with it all because it’s cheap and so am I. As long as I’m making no money, then I’ll keep acting like it’s cool to be this way.

I hope America fully collapses so I can feel better about marooning myself over here. Hillary and her email servers are too boring to do damage. So, go Trump.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

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Sunday

Last night I asked God for help, and today I crashed my motorbike. I’m getting the message.

I heard the taxi coming up a side street pretty fast but knew the driver would brake before he got to my intersection. He didn’t brake. He was making a dumb bet this was going to be the first road in Vietnamese history to be clear of traffic. So there I was, and there he was too. I rammed his door at a cool thirty-five km/h. Which is not fast if you’re trying to get anywhere, but if you’re making contact with an immovable object, then it’s lightspeed.

I bounced off the taxi and then I was on the ground. Kept moving, skidding, felt the bike grinding my leg and arm into the pavement. Then it was over and the Vietnamese just puttered around me on their own bikes. A man laid out on the street is a thing avoided, not paused for. Young expats in sunglasses gave me blank glances, then kept scuffing along on their way to brunch. No one asked hey are you OK, is anything broken. I had a strong hunch that I was inconsequential. But I didn’t need the confirmation.

The bike’s pegs and mirrors were twisted but the thing was still drivable. I pushed it off me and got up. My wounds were so red they glowed. Black gravel was mixed in with the blood. The damage felt deep but it wasn’t, I’d only lost the top two layers of skin. Just a few bubbles of blood. Just God jabbing at me. Not enough of an injury to even glean some sympathy from.

Come on, man. Right after I pray to you. Ask politely and fearfully for just one thing to break in my favor, because it’s been a while. Your response was to send a kamikaze at me. Mysterious ways.

I rode out to the bike shop to get fixed up. Pure sunlight along the way, like you get in fantasies. Lots of shade where I was driving. Lots of fun, high-attendance Facebook events in progress nearby. You could hear the laughter from the beer fest and this big pool party. You could hear a DJ on the megaspeakers chanting let me hear you say: fuck Fred Colton! and the crowd going insane. I used to have too much fun, and do whatever I wanted, and so I hurt people. Now, I atone. Beg God for scraps.

Soon. Statistically, something is bound to work out soon. If I can’t depend on divine mercy then at least I can fall back on mathematical certainties.

Wednesday

Well I got a job. Part-time. Just a band-aid for my wallet. Now I have a schedule again, and enough drudgery to give the rest of my life some perspective…

Wait, no. I only sort of have a job. I’ve already worked. But what happened was: they hired me. Then they asked for my original university degree so I could remain employed.

What about a copy, I asked.

No, the original, they told me.

I said: It’s in a storage unit in America.

We understand, they told me. Can you please get it so we can see it.

You Vietnamese are getting too big for your britches. Stressing me out. I’m gonna go find that taxi again. Hey, remember me. Aim better this time. Steer right at my knees.

This I know: The reason God ignores your prayers and permits genocide and child sex slaves is because he is too busy annoying me to do any good in the world. But then again, what a relief it is to know that this is all someone else’s fault.

The Job Hunt

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Why can’t I just be handsome for a living. Fuck you, Vogue Magazine.

HANOI–Jesus. I could be in trouble here. I didn’t expect today to go sideways like it did.

First interview was at 10 a.m. It would have been the perfect stay-just-busy-enough-to-not-shoot-yourself gig. 8 hours or so a week, teaching college kids. Enough money for me to buy milk and rice and whatever.

But I knew when I walked into the place that I wouldn’t get it. High ceilings, fresh paint. Overlit like an Apple store or the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There was a call center run by slaves in headsets and red embroidered polos. This was a legitimate institution, a place of business, where peons are monitored on surveillance cameras and have their keystrokes tracked. No, no, no. I’m not a drone. I left America to get away from corporations. I knew they would not want me. But still, I wanted them to want me. So here goes.

They were escorting me into the room when I remembered this would be my first interview since 2013. I’m rusty. Feel like I just got out of jail and now have no applicable skills to offer the modern world. I could tell by the cut of the guy’s suit jacket – especially the slim collar — that he has money, shops hard, probably has shit fitted for him in Italy. He eyed my own tailored suit (circa the Paleolithic Era of Fashion, aka 2014) with subdued amusement. Or maybe I’m projecting. Anyway, he looked like money because he is a professional educator, the 1% of teachers, having spent six-figures on the acquisition of a bulletproof list of credentials. He had the kind of bio you will see written in hard-to-read font on a very white, professionally-designed university webpage. That’s him. Me, I am simply a journeyman who has earned his bread by playing Powerpoint games with Korean midgets. He knew.

I expected a grilling but this turned out to be psychological torture. I was blown away. He wanted to know: what the last lesson I taught in Korea. I told him I was a little hazy on that; it’s been three months. Tried to laugh a bit, spin it into a joke. He didn’t laugh. He pressed on: Fred, what was the lesson’s subject, the target language. What were the activities, and how many minutes did each activity take. Did you use a fade, or a wipe effect between PowerPoint slides. That last one is barely a joke.

He curveballed me. Never asked for my strengths and weaknesses. I prepped the shit out of the standard questions. I wish he had. My weakness is: not having a flawless photographic memory, I would have said. God, I’ve got charm and wit for days, but only in hypothetical realities.

I left on my motorbike. The heat worsened my mood. The sun just blasts the life out of the city these days. I don’t know the temperature, I just know that the air is sulfurous. If we get one degree higher the concrete will bubble into magma and then suck us all down into hell. The suit was a bad choice. I took refuge in the Lotte Tower café before the next interview.

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***

On to the next interview. Another hour, another meeting in a suit, like I’m Warren Motherfucking Buffet.

It was near West Lake and up a shady side street. A recruiting office, small area with three desks. The guy was Vietnamese. He didn’t smile. Wasn’t impressed with my height as most life forms tend to be. So again, I felt defeated as soon as I entered the room. But my CV passed muster with him. Which annoyed me, that there was even any suspense about that in the first place. My four years of experience count for nothing. Everyone here has that much. We’re clones of each other.

We can get you some work, he said. How is $18 an hour, for a few classes a week.

I see, I told him. Well, I’ve made up to $40 previously. I understand that your pay scale is local, but I can’t work for $18 when I could be devoting my time to a better offer.

I was acting like I had options, trying to radiate ease, as if I were sitting on pocket aces — which was, of course, a fiction. I thought to myself: you are digging your own grave, young man. Who are you to turn down $18/hr. That is technically infinity times more money than you already make. Anyone who does anything at all in this world makes more money than you do. Even kidnapped kids mining conflict diamonds get free room and board.

The guy didn’t flinch. He just fixed me with this feral squint. He’d heard my tough-guy line before, from my many other clones who’d sat on this same couch and radiated the same fake confidence.

He said: perhaps, eventually you can get $19, maybe $20. If the school likes you.

I shrugged. Could end up being my only option. Who am I to try to find better out here. I’ll have to take what Vietnam offers. Vietnam always wins. I know my history.

 

***

Our dick-waving contest concluded, I left.

I unlocked my bike and, more out of persistent spite than anything else, I decided to hold out for a better offer. If he emails, I’ll ignore it. It’s OK. I still have some money. But while I have money, I lack luck. Usually I only get one of those things at a time.

Anyway. Two swings, two misses. It’s all right. I’ve failed so many times in life I’m used to it. I’ve failed so many times that when something good happens, I can’t process it.

I rode home. My bike is a semi-auto, so you get that satisfying crunch as you stomp the shifter. As far as simple joys go, that one’s near the top of the list. Today my contentment comes from throwing gears and punching through the red lights. The bike’s a rental and it’s scarred and the frame has been wired back together. I think someone died on it. Of course someone did; the only way Vietnamese traffic could be more dangerous is if they buried landmines in the street.

The bike is beaten up, because it’s taken the damage for all its previous riders like the portrait of Dorian Gray. All the other wandering immortal alcoholics who have had my bike before me, I want to talk to them. Say: you lied to me. You’ve been spreading legends through the expat community for years about how easy it is to get a job here.

There are jobs falling out of the sky! You’ll find work your first day!

I don’t know what Vietnam you were in, but the one I live in is full of tightwad lowballers and professorial Illuminati. No middle ground. It’s tough out there. I’m gonna have flashbacks of this place like the Vietnam vets do.

Job hunting is a curious thing. You work harder, and stress more, than you will when you actually perform the job. For this, you are not compensated. And there’s no guarantee that the nightmare will end. I’m skirting the edge of a panic attack as I extrapolate five years into the future. Five weeks, even.

Well, on the bright side at least it’s Friday. Thank God I drink.

Consequence

I’m back, I think. Just lost a week to depression, due all the guilt from this thing. The sins of my past life have been uncovered and are here to torture my girlfriend. I have to somehow deal with the fact that I destroyed our beginning. It was a good story, as long as you didn’t know the full story. Every lie has earned us a long day of agony.

Don’t do the wrong thing. The price is higher than you know. The length of your sentence is always exponentially longer than the crime.

I’m spiritually exhausted. Consequently, writer’s block has been so bad I’ve been fantasizing about jumping off the roof. Being a writer, a Z-list writer with a blog on life support, comprises the whole of my identity. If I can’t write stupid shit for three other bloggers to read, then I have no purpose here. (Ah, just re-read that last sentence: look how cool I grew up to be.)

I know that when other people talk about me, they have nothing to say. No idea what my plans or goals are. Because I hide my writing – there’s too much honesty for me to show it to anyone. Actually, that’s not true. I’m just afraid of it being met with a shrug. If that happens, it will make it very hard for me to keep worshiping myself.

But without the label of writer, I’m a non-entity. A pixel. My identity is: just another lazy American refugee. A hobo with a career high-water mark of teaching Korean kids the ABCs.

But whatever. That can change. Especially now that I’m back from the dead, and we are taking the very first baby steps down the long path toward healing, and I can write again.

Or can I. This post took me three days. It’s been true hell, trying to get the words right. Sweet baby Jesus, I forgot how horrible writing is. I think I should go back to being severely depressed, that was better.

Lazy Fuck

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Our Vietnamese cleaning lady comes in the morning and I had to get up so she could clean the bedroom. Once I’m up, nothing to do but sit on the sofa like a colonist, wearing my elephant pajama pants, nodding appreciatively while she works. Gotta do that — it would feel too cunty and detached to be on Facebook or eat some cereal.

So, I got only seven hours of sleep last night, and it feels like a crisis. I almost passed out on the motorbike this afternoon. I’m used to nine hours of sleep minimum. Bad habit. Arose from my goal to not work at all, whatsoever, when I arrived here in Vietnam for my long-overdue vacation. Or maybe what this is is my retirement trial run. Or my escape from the West and its capitalistic rhythms. Whatever it is, it’s already been two months. Two months that I’ve blown.

I thought I’d come up with a business idea or some shit. My golden ticket. But you need passion for that, for the twenty-hour days of bootstrapping, and I simply cannot focus on anything except writing*, and being the best there ever was at writing, and this is a bad thing, someone needs to stage an intervention. I can’t stop wasting my time on this, letting my girlfriend go to bed alone with all her worries while I stay up on the laptop and get ball cancer and let the blue light melt my eyeballs. This is killing me. What did I do in my past life to deserve such a counter-intuitive, counter-productive addiction in this one. What karmic debt am I paying off. I was probably a colonist.

So — I have to kill off these anxieties. Which means I have to start paying for therapy. Which means: back to work. Which is good. I can’t be trusted with freedom. I’m not a conqueror. I don’t wake up naturally at 3:45 a.m. like Jeff Fucking Bezos, high off the concept of outmaneuvering and torpedoing Netflix just because. No, what I do is sleep until 11:45 and then loathe myself for it. Spend the afternoon in the choke of anxiety, trying to catch the day as it rolls down the hill. I was born to be a slave. Without work, nothing short of a gunshot gets me out of bed.

Time to go back to work. I am not ready yet, but I still need to go. All right. Back to Linkedin. And all the other careerist sites that I forgot my passwords for. I will make money. At least AI hasn’t gotten here yet, I can still sell my English. Tutor for $25 an hour or go to an office. Where my destiny lies. Because while I’m tall, I quit basketball. No NBA. I’m hot but juuuuust shy of model hot and I have beer fat; no photoshoots. So, back to the cubicle or some other place of equivalent subservience. Which is an inevitability unless you’re Prince Harry, or these twats.

I already have the globetrotting life that they make inspirational think about what you’re going to regret on your deathbed! videos about, and it’s not that great – it’s painfully finite. And think about it, no one’s going to pay you to hike those fucking glaciers, dickhead. Money doesn’t just materialize because you decided to go see the world. You can leave. But you always have to go back. Just remember that everyone making videos telling you quit your day job is making money off those videos. Don’t fall for it. Hm. I should make a de-motivational video about this. Maybe that could be my thing. I certainly have the pessimism for it.

***

*And you, bebe d’amour (WINK)

Fragile

I’m in the Hanoi Starbucks, where I’m supposed to be Googling expat therapy services. One of my girlfriend’s conditions for taking me back. She’s right, I do need therapy. I’m a tall handsome funny man who gets invited to shit all the time, yet I’m still convinced that everyone despises me and wants me to die. Failed writer, so of course I need therapy. The wholesale rejection of your best output is impossible to internalize. Why did I ever try to do this, I keep asking myself. Why does it feel like I’m cursed to have to keep trying. I need an intervention to make me stop blogging.

Being a failed artist is like getting dumped every day. Who can blame Hitler for blowing a gasket after the art school thing.

I do need therapy, which means spending money to pay someone to listen to me. I’m furious that that has to be the case. I am the most hilarious and interesting man who ever lived; I should not have to pay for someone’s attention. Fuck it – I don’t need therapy. My problems are complex Gordian knots yet they have a simple solution: everyone in the world just needs to read all my shit, and never stop, and then I’ll be happy until I die. None of this posthumous fame shit, I want it right goddamn now. Any therapy session will be me just restating those last two sentences over and over for an hour. Every thought or insight you’ve ever had, I’ve stated it in clean, perfect simplicity. The right words in the right places. But it’s not enough to be perfect. Too much crap out there, impossible to rise above it all. You need luck too. And I already received my entire cosmic allotment of luck at birth, when I was born to white American parents. Already got my boost. I’ll spend the next 50 years trying to process that.

Anyway: if you don’t read me, drive off a bridge.