I can never set foot in New Zealand again. I am not sure why I am writing this, although I guess I could say that about most things that I do. It is a compulsion. I also put on weird and different clothes when I sit down to write. Not anything too strange though, just a weird assemblage that seems conducive to whatever I am going to write. I am wearing a pink knit hat, two pairs of pants, a long sleeve shirt, and an unbuttoned dress
shirt right now; all are grey besides the hat. I am going to tell one of those stories that many of us have, ones that have changed our lives irreparably, that we simply don’t talk about it. These are often sad, but grow in hilarity with time. Maybe a side of ourselves that is deeply unsettling was briefly exposed or maybe we simply hit our nadir? It seems inevitable and significant as I look back, although there is no one who actually knows exactly what happened, not even myself as the dissolute wretch who supposedly did all of these things. Certain events undeniably occurred, and regardless of how this night unfolded in its entirety.
There were many things that happened beforehand, years beforehand, that set the stage for what may be my most amazing of performances. I firmly believed that I was going to die young for a long time. I used to drink a lot and take drugs. I aimed for the sun.
I had just quit taking Paxil, Wellbutrin, Trazodone a few weeks before we left on this trip, a cocktail that was the result of years seeking to fix myself that began with continually increasing doses of Prozac when I was a teenager. I had generalized anxiety problems. I had depression problems. I was a problem. These prescription drugs were the gateway drug for me. I was diagnosed as having a brain chemistry imbalance, something that needed to be addressed by ingesting things in order for me to function properly.
Nepal was the first place that I ever bought drugs on the street. We arrived in Kathmandu and before we even had found our hotel I was offered hash by a man who smelled of urine and was swaddled in rags. I might have even initially taken this as an auspicious sign that I wouldn’t overpay. I handed my backpack to my friend Anthony, who I was traveling with, and followed the strange figure into a damp alley strung overhead with clothes lines. I am not even sure how we communicated as I look back, but I guess there isn’t too much to communicate. Hash, money, exchange. I passed over the money and then he reached into the rags near his waist, behind his back, and then his hand delved lower, reaching into the most foul of crevices to pull out a small tinfoil wrapped bundle. I thought of the owl pellets that we dissected in elementary school. The warm, moist bundle was deposited in my open palm. Out of some strange respect for this man, I did not throw it on the ground or make a disgusted face. Or maybe it was because I really didn’t care; I just wanted to get high. In hovel of a hotel room, I opened it and it even looked like a little black turd composed of small hand rolled droppings. I never smoked that hash. It could have actually been feces for all I know. I found a better supplier later that day, who kept the hash in a less intimate place.
I had money, time, and exploring the world was a time tested rite of passage. I would leave my white bread existence behind. I would grow spiritually, culturally, intellectually and I could do nothing wrong. Everything was novel and brilliant. I just needed to quell my broken mind, to keep it at bay. It only seemed right to start smoking cigarettes, but not the industrially produced ones, rather I would roll each one with my own hands. Smoking hash would allow me to break out of my square, humdrum perspective and take in the vast and varied expanse of the world. Going out drinking would let me see the underbelly of the city and meet new and different people. We did some cultural exploration, The Monkey Temple, Durbar Square, ect. But much of our time seemed to be spent in bars drinking or wandering about high on hash.
We quickly became bored with this existence and planned to leave for the mountains to go trekking, but travel often makes people constipated and I am one of those people. My stomach was engorged with five days of dal bhat and momos. I decided to take some laxatives and clear myself out, something that I had not yet done as the thought of explaining what I needed to a Nepali pharmacist seemed embarrassing and difficult. In reality it was really easy: I did a phenomenal pantomime of taking a pill, squatting, making farting noises, and rapidly gesturing from my butt to the ground. The pharmacist almost fell on the ground laughing and I was handed some strange Nepali laxatives. They looked like little balls of tar, almost like the aforementioned turd nuggets of hash. I didn’t read the instructions and took two. Nothing happened that afternoon and we were leaving the following morning. I took two more.
We started out trekking under monsoon rains that should have dissipated weeks beforehand. It steadily fell down upon us and quickly crept in through our layers. There were trees full of monkeys that we taunted who jeered back. We walked through a few small villages that were carving out an existence on the steep mountainside. I remember vividly when the pills took effect: we were climbing an endless series of switchbacking stairs. Also: there were leaches, on the leaves, on the trees, on the shrubs, on the grass, everywhere. I ran into the trees in a deep seated Freudian anal panic and I pulled down my pants and the rain fell down upon my bare thighs, the leeches crawled onto my arms and up my legs. I pulled out the toilet paper and that got soaked. This was only break of the initial dike that held back the long pent up flood that flowed over the rest of the day. On two instances villagers giggled and laughed at me as I clenched my cheeks and ran, only to fall short of any privacy. A few days later we got lost in the fog and rain, hundreds of leeches made it to our skin, we pulled them off, their anticoagulant caused blood to keep running, and we eventually arrived at a hotel shivering and covered in blood.
After the monsoons washed us out of the mountains we decided to head to India until the season passed. Our flight was delayed for hours. Upon asking what time the flight would arrive, I received the unperturbed answer of:
‘Where are you headed?’ A heavy English accent from across the way inquired. I looked up to see a shiny headed bald man in his early forties dressed in the colorful hippy garb of Thamel.
‘Why the fuck would you do that?’ His harsh tone took me aback a bit.
‘Oh… Well I guess since it is the capital city and we want to see some of India and the monsoons are still dragging on.’
‘Delhi is a shithole. You should spend one day there seeing the sights and then get out.’
‘I am doing a motorcycle trip starting from Delhi.’
We talked for the next hour about our respective lives and travels. Mark was from New Castle, was newly divorced, owned his own company, and seemed hellbent on living out his lost years. We boarded the plane and headed to our respective seats when he proposed the following before walking away:
‘You should come along with me on the trip. It will be unlike anything you have ever done in your lives.’
We sat in our seats and don’t say too much at first, both of us pensive.
‘That guy is a little crazy, huh?’ I broke the silence.
‘Yeah. That trip sounds cool though.’
‘Definitely. I wish we could go, but it really doesn’t make any sense.’
We continued talking around the point for a bit.
‘It would be really incredible. Maybe we should think about it. Do you know how to ride a motorcycle?’
‘Yeah, but not a proper one. I have ridden dirt bikes quite a bit.’ This is an outright lie. I had never been on anything with two wheels other than a bicycle.
‘Me too, I used to always ride my dad’s motorcycle around the neighborhood.’
‘Well, let’s just talk to him and see what his plan is. We don’t have to commit to anything.’
We rented motorcycles that night in Karol Bagh as the days light turned deep red in the smog. I did not know how to shift a motorcycle, nor brake. Anthony and Mark rode their motorcycles back to the hotel, but I said that I was uncomfortable riding in the rushhour traffic of Delhi. I paid one of the guys from the bike shop to ride the bike to the hotel while I took a cab. I made a plan.
‘What time are we getting up tomorrow?’
I woke up at 6:40 quietly and snuck out to my bike. I quickly familiarized myself with it and then rode it around the parking lot a few times before riding it around the circles of Connaught Place. Mark and Anthony woke up and we started riding. Within the hour I was weaving between cars, laying on my horn, dodging cows, swerving around trucks headed the wrong direction on the divided main artery of Highway 1 as we rode towards Amritsar.
Every day for the next few months as we rode around India and Nepal seemed scintillating. We were riding a high that we kept pushing on our travels. I drank and smoked and drank and rode. I blew through police roadblocks, I got beaten with a nightstick, I got thrown out of a Bollywood party, I toppled over my riding my motorcycle drunk and high through sand the night before some Englishmen intended to accomplish one of the strange and meaningless feats they do for bragging rights: loading a motorcycle on an elephant and riding it across the river, nearly killing myself countless times, getting thrown out of Gandhi’s grave/memorial… It goes on.
I awoke on the morning of the day before my 22nd birthday in Bangkok, in a minimalist, blindingly white hotel room in Khao San Road. The time we had spent in Bangkok was a much welcomed reprieve from months spent dirtbagging around India and Nepal. I was living life. I was walking the face of the earth living out the life that I had been denied in all my preceding years, the life intended for me. Unfortunately, our arrival in Bangkok seemed to illuminate the impending end of the trip. This served to fuel my wanton desire to do something, for something to happen. I never knew what, but going to seedy locals and badgering my mind with substances seemed to be the conditions that I determined would be fortuitous for it to happen. I just didn’t want the wave to crest.
We boarded a Thai Airways flight to Auckland that night. My birthday arrived at midnight and the airline had a policy of free cocktails on all international flights. I made the flight attendants aware that it was my birthday and they fed me whisky at a rate befitting of this momentous occasion. I passed through customs in New Zealand, indifferently answering questions regarding what environs my boots had tromped through, what microbes that they may be carrying. They were not concerned about my current state or where I had been, what malignancies were growing within me.
Auckland assailed me as the jet lag set in and the drinks wore off. The day passed in a frustrating blur of expenses and uncertainty about our plans. Anthony had been sick with stomach parasites for some time and was weary of continuing on. I did not like this place. It was hostile to my bohemian lifestyle. It impinged on my craven consumption through expense and customs that were more clearly articulated in my native tongue. The drinks were too expensive to get properly drunk. An old proper bitch of a lady informed me that I could not enter her restaurant wearing sandals. My freedom currency was not good everywhere.
Anthony and I found a place that believed that as long as we had money, we had class. We drank and ate. We amassed a proper tab before our night even began. I needed to rein in my spending. I had brilliantly bought a fifty or so Xanax at a pharmacy in Bangkok in anticipation of an event such as this or the potentiality that I would need to sedate myself in response to any one of the intrusive strains of thought that challenged my current form of existence. This is called ‘anxiety.’
I washed down one Xanax, then two with gulps of cheap, golden whisky. The pint was gone before we left for the night. We set out for a place called World Club, some backpacker hotspot. Bottles of champaign were only $20 or so. I ordered one and drank it straight out of the bottle. Anthony felt sick and did not want to accompany me on my journey into oblivion. I indifferently let him leave the bar, thinking that it was his choice if he wants to miss out on what was sure to become the most spectacular night of my life. The stiff collared patrons seemed timid, unwilling to listen to my riveting stories from the other hemisphere, and revel with me. I needed to get this party going, kick things up a notch. I was twenty-fucking-two years old! I was fucking traveling the world! I ordered another bottle of champaign and set foot on the dance floor. All of the girls were strangely dancing with men who were not me, something that I had to change through gratuitous exhibition of my dance moves. I moved quickly and unselfconsciously. They were coy. I drank more to relax a bit and seem more approachable. My memory started to relax at about this time as well.
Then I was standing out on the street. It seemed strange to me how lively the streets were in such a backwards country at this late hour. I stood on the curb contemplating a variety of options in my dulled brain. Maybe I can get a drink somewhere? Or maybe I should go to bed? Where is the hostel? What is its name? Where should I go?
A boxy old bread truck suddenly pulled up in front of me to drop bread at a convenience store. The driver hopped out, grabbed a palette out of the open back door, dropped it off in a convenience store and then got back behind the wheel. The back door was still open. As he pulled away, I ran up behind and swung in using a handrail through the cloud of diesel smoke.
There were so many people on the streets. The lights streamed by. I was likely the most intelligent, interesting, and controversial man on earth. The people that we were passing on the streets seemed to look on expectantly with hungry eyes, likely in need of sustenance at this hour. I had hundreds of loaves of delicious, fortified white bread at my disposal. I also had an arm like a cannon, which I never employed in sports out of a deeply ingrained disdain for the brutality and degradation of the human spirit that resulted from such competition. I was not opposed to using it for benevolent purposes though and this seemed like a propitious occasion. I would be a modern day Robin Hood, both despised and revered. I cocked my arm with a loaf loaded in my right hand. I released the first loaf with perfect timing at a couple at we balled past. They were amateurs and failed to received the pass and seemed confused rather than grateful. No thanks, no wave.
I began indiscriminately distributing loaves. I wasn’t in this for the praise; I was doing it on principle. Teenagers. 12 loaves. A couple with their arms locked. 17 loafs. A man in a tuxedo. 24 loafs. A couple of girls laughing and stumbling about. 27 loafs. A derelict. 31 loafs. A car suddenly appeared close behind us. Perhaps he would like a loaf. There was a windshield between us, but it is the thought that counts. I aimed a loaf right for the figure behind the wheel. He showered praise upon me with the golden lights that sat upon his car. The bread truck slowed. It stopped.
I giggled, hopped down, and began teetering away. There was yelling behind me that quickly descended upon me with blows. I obstinately resisted; my lizard brain was alarmed. Who dared to challenge my right to free living? There were two hitting me and then there were more in uniforms. I fought back and then everything went black. I was just trying to…..
I awoke with a start. There were alarms going off in every part of my body. The walls were white. My bed was nothing but a stainless steel shelf attached to the wall. My clothes were shredded and I was covered in blood. I had no clue where I was, but luckily I could lie on my bed and kick the steel door. Guards arrived and warned me to stop. I continued. I wanted an explanation as to why I was in this box and in this condition. Where was I? What happened?
I was finally led to the desk of the arresting officer. He filled in a few gaps, memories began trickling back. I was charged with theft of 32 loaves of bread and assault. I tried to explain that I didn’t steal the loaves, that I gave them away. I explained that I was then forced to defend myself as the truck driver and I had different perspectives on private property. These were halfhearted attempts as we both knew the condition that I was in the night before.
‘Well, where do we go from here? What are my options?’
‘You basically have three options. One. You plead not guilty. We take your passport until your trial and a verdict is rendered. This could take a while. Two. You plead guilty. This would be quicker. There is a chance that you would receive community service, which could take several months to set up and complete. If you don’t complete it, we would put warrants out for your arrest. Three. Your pretrial hearing is in a week. You book a ticket to leave the country before your trial and enjoy your last week in New Zealand. We will put out warrants for your arrest if you miss your trial and you will be arrested if you return.’
‘Which option would you recommend for someone in my position?’
‘The last one.’
The wave crested and I washed up back on the shores of reality. I arrived back home in a sorry state a week later and began fighting to regain myself. I had walked one path to its destination and it was time to start down another one. I would no longer just loaf my life away.