Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wearing A Swim Cap to Wrestling Practice...Redux

The two guitars collecting dust in the garage? Those would be mine. How about the tennis rackets hanging on the walls with their strings bent and twisted? Mine as well. And who used to play that keyboard standing in the hallway by the heater? No one, actually. My mom has always been 100% supportive of my various activities no matter how half hearted they were undertaken or how untalented I was while doing them. She always wanted me to follow my dreams and try everything. Some experiences turned out better than others.

League Basketball

I don’t even remember how I got involved with the Jetts Storms community basketball team. I never wanted to play basketball, I wasn’t particularly athletic, and the practices weren’t even near my house. But somehow my mom managed to sign me up and every Saturday I attended a 2-hour practice in some school gym to prepare for Sunday morning games. I was just awful I tell you. I hated getting my hands dirty by touching the basketball, I couldn’t shoot, I was not an aggressive defender, and I couldn’t run more than a few feet without my sides aching. My teammates were a bunch of spoiled girls whose mothers gossiped about each other and belittled their husbands in public. On the first day of practice my coach asked me if I was “quick”. I shrugged. He threw a basketball in my face and I cried all afternoon.

I continued playing league basketball for a couple of years and I really hated going to practice. Games were even worse. I think the only points I scored were from free throws I was awarded for tripping over my own feet. I was a bespectacled child and one day someone threw the ball in my face and broke my glasses right at the bridge. I couldn’t play without them so I quickly taped them up with white athletic tape turning me into a proper nerd. During one game my coach decided to sub me in and I accidentally ran right onto the court in the middle of game play. I had totally forgotten to wait for the referee to call me in. Because of my interruption a technical foul was called and my teammates looked at me like I was Judas himself. I ran back to the bench and buried my face in my hands. Shortly thereafter I was able to convince my mom to let me quit basketball.

Tae Kwon Do

When I was 8 years old I decided to enroll in Tae Kwon Do classes because I wanted to learn how to “beat people up”. I had watched enough Jean Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan movies to know that fighting was fun and hurting people was even more fun. My mom reluctantly signed me up for classes taught by a visiting Tae Kwon Do instructor from Taiwan. In the first class Master Wang made us swear an oath never to cause harm to another person or show off what we learned in class. I was immediately disheartened but I continued with the classes anyways. I really enjoyed Tae Kwon Do and Master Wang was a great teacher. He eventually opened his own studio and after being promoted two belt levels, I started attending classes regularly at his school. I gained a lot of confidence by studying martial arts and was able to get over my shyness by sparring with other students once I reached more advanced belts. Some of my classmates were scary motherfuckers. As a skinny little girl I had to spar with boys my age. The problem with boys my age at that time was that they were much stronger than me physically, but not mature enough to realize it so they would spar with me as if I were another equal-bodied boy. I can honestly say I’ve had my ribs kicked and shins bruised more than the average first-world-country 12 year old. The girls I had to face were sometimes scarier than the boys. I remember this one girl, Roxanna, who was such a sweet natured person one moment then turned into a scary, high-shrieked, warrior woman the next. I was deathly afraid of her. When time came to switch sparring partners I always tried to avoid her. There was another girl, Samantha, who was very quiet and unassuming but once geared up and ready to spar, moved at rapid speed and had the force of a fully-swung baseball bat.

After 7 years of training I reached the level of first degree Black Belt. I took regular exams where I was able to spar with boys and girls of varying ages, break wooden boards, and memorize long forms from each belt level. I worked hard and pushed myself but eventually tired of Tae Kwon Do and stopped rather abruptly when I was 16.

Piano

Like every other Asian kid I went to school with, I played the piano. Every Saturday my mom dropped me and my sister off at the house of our piano instructor, Mrs. Kubo. She was an old Japanese woman whose children had grown up and moved out. She had a cluttered house full of mementos, souvenirs, pictures, and knick knacks collected over a lifetime. She was nice, but strict. She had a huge white dog named Yuki that used to frighten me and she collected those “Love Is…” cartoons from the newspapers and stuck them on her refrigerator.

Volleyball

“She can’t serve for beans”, my 5th grade teammate’s mother observed rather accurately summing up my volleyball skills. I played a few meets and was laughed at when I confessed I didn’t wear a sports bra. I didn’t have to. I weighed about 80lbs and was tiny as a stick. But all the other girls wore one so I begged my mom to take me shopping for my first sports bra. I couldn’t even find one small enough to fit but I desperately had to have one so I bought a size XS that looked more like a tank top when I wore it.

Cross Country Running

Remember that girl who couldn’t run a few feet without getting intense side aches? Nothing changed. How I ended up on the cross country team was more a scheduling mistake than anything. It was the only way I could fulfill my PE requirement freshman year and all the other sports were full. On the first day of practice I reported to my coach and asked him what I should do. He told me to run 4 laps around the track. “Without stopping?!” I gasped.

When I finished my body was aching and tears were rolling down my face. Now that my “warm up” was over, I could start practice. I had to run around the block to a nearby church and back to the field. I began to think what would happen if I just opted out of PE altogether? Could I take a music class instead? Anything else! I began jogging away from the field but once outside my coach’s eyesight, I sat at a bus stop and waited for my teammates to return from their run. Once they were nearly back to the field I got up and walked after them.

One of my toughest cross country meets was the Mt. Sac Invitational. It was a 3-mile course spread over hilly terrain in the hot summer heat. I made the mistake of not going to the bathroom before the race because I wouldn’t pee in a port-a-potty. I ran the first mile without stopping but the hills became too much and I had to start walking. Some feet ahead of me a girl tripped and fell. In a total “Center Stage” moment, I wished it were me who had fallen instead. How I wanted to find a nice clean bathroom and end this damn race!

Wrestling

Oh yes. I was a high school wrestler. It was as planned as a teenage pregnancy. My 9th grade history teacher Mr. Williams doubled as the school’s wrestling coach. One day in class he asked how much I weighed. I told him 95lbs and he asked if I wanted to join the wrestling team as a featherweight. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t.

I walked into my first practice wearing glasses, sneakers, and my hair down. Coach Suarez was going to be my trainer for the season and his first words to me were, “Take off your glasses, put your hair up, and go buy wrestling shoes this weekend.” He began to teach me various wrestling positions and moves and explained the rules of a 2-minute wrestling match. When I showed him my newly purchased shoes a few days later, “Bitchin’” was all he said. He was a man of few words. The other boys in the JV team were assholes to put it mildly. They didn’t appreciate that I pranced into their macho world of swinging dicks and “girls are sluts” talk. They resented my presence and let me know it. Because of my long hair I had to wear a swim cap that the boys always pulled causing me to be blinded by my own hair. It didn’t take much effort to pin me since every single boy outweighed me by at least 20-30lbs. Sometimes for pure amusement they’d throw me into a headlock and hold me there as long as they felt while I squirmed like a fish out of water. I cried a lot during those practices. Not because of the physical pain but because of how mean they were. None of them wanted the possibility of losing to a girl so whenever they had the chance to wrestle me, they’d use extra force just to ensure their physical superiority. One day a new kid named Carlos joined the team. He weighed the same as me so Coach Suarez decided we’d be wrestling partners for the season. Carlos was a little bitch when he wrestled. He used every dirty trick he could find and slapped me in the face while taunting “don’t cry” every ten seconds. I hated Carlos immediately. He was friends with the rest of the boys so they always cheered him on when we wrestled. The things they said were so demeaning and inappropriate I’m surprised any of them ever had girlfriends. The amount of locker room talk I was exposed to was unsettling. It became blatantly clear just how much teenage boys lie about sex. If the old wives’ tale is true that your eyes could get stuck from rolling them, I’d be blind by now. Even the fattest, ugliest, pimply faced boy had some story about a “girl” who really “wanted” him and he only “gave it” to her because he “felt sorry for her”. Whatever. I also learned that one of my older teammates was in the closet. It was surprising because he was a very popular jock whom many girls liked. By the end of the school year however, he would attend Prom with a male date.

The Varsity wrestlers were like older brothers to me. Once they saw I lasted longer than a week they became a dependable source of encouragement. They told me to toughen up around the JV guys and offered to kick anyone’s ass who gave me trouble in school.

Before matches Carlos and I had to wrestle each other to determine who would compete in the match. I usually lost so Carlos got to compete before I did. In every match he got pinned within seconds of starting. It was actually pretty embarrassing and the other guys gave him a lot of shit for it. He took his frustrations out on me and his dirty tactics became increasingly sadistic over the weeks. I finally had enough of his cap snatching and face slapping that during one practice I dove right into him, slapped him in the face and put him in a full nelson—a move illegal in wrestling. He whined, “Ouch, you’re hurting me!” and I called him a pussy. I decided I was done taking shit from him.

I won our next wrestle and got to compete in the following day’s match. It was my first wrestling match and I was up against a boy who weighed 107lbs to my 95. I was frightened. I was more than frightened. I knew there was no chance I could win but my only goal was to not get pinned and to last the entire 2-minute match. The Varsity guys wished me luck but the JV guys messed with my head, reminding me how weak I was and how I was going to get pinned in seconds.

The match felt like an eternity. My opponent wasted no time in taking me down. He was 12lbs heavier and in no mood to lose to a girl. He moved quickly and aggressively and threw me around like a ragdoll. Coach Suarez coached me through the whole thing from the sidelines, giving me step-by-step instructions to get in and out of the various holds I was stuck in. My brain stopped working and strategy went out the door. My body just kept fighting and struggling, refusing to wind up on my back. I never felt so tired in my life. I had surprisingly survived the first round. My teammates were both ecstatic and shocked. Coach Suarez advised me to just “stay alive” and “don’t get pinned!” The referee asked me if I wanted to continue. I just stared at him then nodded. Once round two began my opponent took me down right away. My muscles were aching and I wanted to give up but I knew that was exactly what my teammates expected me to do. In one big “Fuck you” to the haters, I stayed alive and didn’t get pinned. My opponent won, but I was no loser. Mr. Williams, Coach Suarez and my Varsity teammates shook my hand, a major sign of respect in boy world. The JV guys just laughed at Carlos telling him, “SHE didn’t get pinned.” I managed to survive 2-minutes of mind and body numbing hell.

My confidence was lifted and I could see my teammates looking at me differently after that match. Mr. Williams started to acknowledge me in practice to the jealousy of the JV boys. Coach Suarez lowered his guard and was able to joke around with me.

One day in practice I was wrestling with a tough guy named Jose. Overall Jose was an immature asshole like the other guys but as a wrestler he was dead serious and dignified. I was certainly intimidated by him. He was a lot stronger but knew not to use full power against me but I got sloppy on this particular day and next thing I knew I was on my back gasping for air. I could neither inhale nor exhale and I literally felt paralyzed. I thought I was going to die. Coach Suarez came running over and told me to keep breathing. When I was able to breathe normally he carried me off the mats and gave me a big crooked smile. “Congratulations, you just got the wind knocked out of you.” Some of the other guys shared their stories of how they first got the wind knocked out of them. I guess I had lost my wrestling virginity and could join the ranks of the initiated.

My experience as a wrestler was a character-building one, no doubt. I toughened up both physically and mentally and I had no idea at the time that my training would one day prepare me for an even tougher type of training—as a dancer.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Moysha-leh. Davka him.

It was a rainy, wet day and she knew she had to proceed with caution. The last time she rode her bicycle too fast in this weather she nearly rode into oncoming traffic. She didn’t believe in god but knew that if she did, she would have guessed he made the downpour just to slow people down. As if people weren’t slow enough…

The streets of Antwerp were dimly lit and the only significant source of light came through the bright illuminations from inside people’s homes. The streetlights flickered in the rain and cars drove past slowly. Occasionally she would get splashed by the passing of faster cars. She did not like when it rained.

Heading southbound along Lange Leemstraat, she entered the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Sivan was born a Jew in Israel but never really felt connected to her religion. If you asked her today she’d tell you she was an atheist. Despite being exposed to the intricacies of the Orthodox and having two baal teshuvah cousins, she really couldn’t explain the reasons behind their rituals to anyone, least of all to herself.

When she moved to Antwerp she was surprised by the amount of Orthodox Jewish presence around her. In westernized Flanders, the people of this esoteric community stood out for their black clothing, long beards, covered heads, long sideburns, and multitudes of children. Back in Israel they were part of the population contributing to a sort of Chex Mix of Jews and Arabs. But in Antwerp they were more like the raisins in Raisin Bran cereal.

Sivan was Jewish by default. She celebrated her bat-mitzvah, she attended Passover seder meals every year, she ate donuts during Hanukkah, she sang the songs and spoke the language of the Torah. But she also knew that the Orthodox Jews of Antwerp would never see her as one of their own. In fact, no one in Antwerp would see her as a Jew. She smiled to herself as she saw Jewish children dressed in costumes over Purim and felt a small sense of connection to this tradition. Just the year before she dressed up as a flower for this very occasion. But who in Antwerp would know this?

That night she noticed the men were wearing thick, furry hats instead of their usual full-brimmed hats. She remembered that it was Friday night, Shabbat according to the Jewish religion. The streets were a bit more crowded with bicyclists and pedestrians heading to synagogue. She continued to ride her bicycle leisurely along the street when an Orthodox Jewish man and his two sons rode across her. The father and older son crossed her path long before her arrival so she didn’t feel the need to slow down. But as she neared the intersection the younger son slowly approached. He wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. Sivan deduced that at his young age, he already knew that god was by his side. She tried to slow down to avoid hitting him but he rode in a zigzag pattern. In the blink of an eye she collided into the little Moysha-leh.

Upon impact she knocked the boy off his bicycle. Her right leg was caught between her bicycle and his. When she managed to free herself from the entanglement of tires and wheels, she immediately offered to help the little boy. He screamed in pain and shock and blood was running from his face. She couldn’t believe what she saw and felt immensely horrible. His father had rode off quite a ways but returned as soon as he heard his son’s screams. He got off his bicycle and went to pick up his son. As he held him in his arms, Sivan noticed the boy’s cheek had opened revealing a large show of red. She felt horrified that she caused this little boy to be in so much pain and began to weep.

When she was finally able to catch her breath she asked the father if she could do anything. He ignored her and she asked again. He kept ignoring her and she worried that he was really angry. She expected him to glare at her with rage and shout at her for being so careless then demand she stay and wait for the police to arrive. Instead, he remained calm and ignored her presence. When he noticed she wouldn’t stop asking he muttered “His mother is coming” without looking at her once. Sivan turned and saw an Orthodox woman pushing a stroller with two babies slowly walking towards them. She didn’t seem alarmed or in a hurry even though she could see from where she stood that her youngest son was hurt. Sivan thought she might not have been in a panic because she had at least 3 other children and more surely on the way that it didn’t matter if she was one child down. She thought of these women as baby factories, constantly reproducing one after the other from young adulthood to middle age.

She suddenly realized that the man wasn’t looking at her or speaking to her because she was a woman. She backed off and stood silently waiting for the boy’s mother to arrive. She knew there was a good chance these people understood Hebrew and she felt the urge to speak to them in her native tongue for maybe it could ease some tension and they’d see that she was one of them. She decided against it and knew it wouldn’t make a difference anyway. The boy’s mother told Sivan in English that she could leave if she wanted, that they would call a paramedic. Sivan decided to wait until the paramedic’s arrival before leaving.

Within a few minutes an Orthodox man on a motorbike arrived with a first aid kit. Was this the paramedic they called? Sivan had expected an ambulance with blaring sirens packed with two EMTs and sophisticated first aid equipment to arrive. But instead she got this. She almost wanted to laugh but continued to cry. Tears of shock and guilt. She stood there crying with the little boy, overwhelmed by everything that just happened. The paramedic got off his motorbike and attended to the boy. The parents continued to ignore Sivan so she picked up her bicycle and walked away.

When she passed them she began to cry uncontrollably. The tears came flowing with weeping moans. The past few months had been rough and she felt everything come to an explosion when she collided with that boy. A little Jewish boy probably heading to synagogue on Shabbat. After some minutes she stopped crying. She noticed the irony of the situation and couldn’t help but laugh a little. She didn’t believe in god but if she did she wondered what he would think about all this.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sophie et le Canard

Like the aftermath if God himself coughed up some phlegm and spit it out onto the earth, Amsterdam was covered in a thick discoloured haze and an extremely overcast sky.

Sophie wandered the streets alone with only 20 euro and a lighter in her pocket. Full from breakfast that morning she thought of where to go next. She was expecting her friend Courtney who was arriving by train from Paris but was hopelessly delayed due to some poor nutcase’s decision to lie down on some train tracks in Belgium. It would probably be another few hours until her train arrived to Amsterdam. What a story she would have to tell!

With a few hours to kill until her friend’s arrival, Sophie found herself walking on Oudezijds Voorburgwal, otherwise known as the “Red Light District”. Windows displaying eager and not-so-eager women selling themselves lined the streets of this dubious neighborhood as young lads clad in tacky high street brands ogled and fawned over them. Sophie tried not to make eye contact with anyone for she knew it could only lead to miscommunications of epic proportions. She passed a thuggish-looking Eastern European lad handing out brochures for a live sex show. Two doors down another man, this time of Arab decent was doing the same. Sophie stopped and remembered her lighter. She wanted a cigarette. She safely deduced that this young lad probably had cigarettes on him, but whether to ask him or not was the dilemma. Pourquoi pas? she figured.

Hello? Do you have a cigarette? May I have a cigarette?

The man of Arab decent stared at her blankly. He held out a brochure.

No, no thank you. Cigarette? Do you have…Avez vous un cigarette? She didn’t know why she was speaking French to this man.

He stared at her suspiciously. Sophie suddenly realized she didn’t want that cigarette so much after all. She turned on her heel and quickly walked away.

***

The sweet smell of French fries filled the air and Sophie’s stomach began to growl a little bit. She had eaten a large and filling breakfast but was tempted by the lure of hot, fresh, fluffy French fries as only the Dutch know how to prepare them. She walked to the nearest frituur and pulled out her 20 euro note. She ordered a small fries with curry ketchup and onions, really, the only proper way to do it.

As a European Sophie knew she should stay by the frituur and eat her French fries unlike those stupid American tourists who take their French fries and walk away as if they were holding an ice cream cone. But she felt the urge to keep walking instead, even if it meant looking like a stupid American tourist.

***

She turned down a side street that was more like an alley and passed a few DVD shops selling illicit films and video-booth shops. She wondered why Amsterdam was so sleezy. She also wondered, What would Courtney think about this place?

She kept walking at a brisk pace and emerged from the seedy alley onto another main thoroughfare but was taken aback by a bicyclist coming towards her at an alarming speed. She heard the ring of his bell before she saw him. She jumped backwards to avoid getting hit and some of her French fries spilled out from the cone. She frowned. Although she spent most of her life in Belgium, the pure amount of bicyclists in Amsterdam always surprised her. The warning bell on a bicycle was a sound that made her hair rise. Add to this the traffic of trams and cars, Amsterdam was just another giant death trap for unsuspecting pedestrians.

Sophie put her free hand in her pocket for a moment and felt the lighter and suddenly remembered her desire for a cigarette. When she removed her hand from her pocket, she accidentally pulled some money out with it. Her cash slowly flew to the ground and as she reached down cautiously to pick it up, some more of her French fries fell out the cone.

Quack Quack!

Sophie turned her head and saw a small duck approaching where she dropped her French fries. The duck stopped and made eye contact with her immediately. Sophie stayed put but threw another small French fry to the duck to let him know she was a friend and meant no harm. The duck looked at her suspiciously and waddled forward slowly, cautiously. When he realized his hunger outweighed his personal fear he went straight for the French fries.

Bonjour monsieur. Avez vous faim? She asked the duck.

Quack! Oui! Oui! The duck responded.

Sophie’s heart skipped a beat. Did the duck really just say yes to her? Surely this was impossible, a duck cannot speak, it cannot do more than quack.

I must be going crazy she said aloud.

No! Quack! I can talk the duck responded in French.

Sophie stared incredulously.

Oui, oui, c’est vrais. Quack! I can talk and I’m starving! Merci beaucoup mademoiselle! Quack!

Do you like the fries? Are you full enough? Sophie asked.

Oui, it’s perfect! Quack! It’s a tough life for a duck in this city, you have no idea!

Comment vous appelez vous monsieur?

Je m’appelle Henri, but people call me Porno.

Porno?! How on earth did you end up with a nickname like that?!

Porno finished the last French fry and took a breath. He seemed very tired, like he had been awake for hours without rest. Sophie sat on the ground next to him as her comfort grew. She was happy to help him if she could and she was curious as to how a French speaking duck came across her path this gloomy day in Amsterdam.

You see, Porno began to explain, I was actually born in France but then my family migrated to the Netherlands when I was very young. We couldn’t find good work and many of the Dutch ducks did not accept us because we were different. My parents could not learn Dutch and I struggled with it for many years until I finally gave up. Because of my inability to speak Dutch, I had to find lower-level jobs aimed to attract tourists. That’s how I became known as “Porno”. I started to pass out brochures for live sex shows in the Red Light District.

Sophie felt very sad for Porno and his family and wondered why they left France for the Netherlands. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t her business unless he wanted to explain. But he didn’t, so she didn’t ask.

She only smoked a little bit of weed the day before so surely she was not high anymore, yet here was a talking duck right before her eyes. And not just any talking duck, but a French speaking duck called Porno. She wondered if Courtney would believe her. Then she checked her cell phone for messages and received one a few minutes earlier from Courtney that read:

IDK whats going on cos everyones speaking French or Dutch but I think we will start moving again soon now that the body has been moved. Be in AMS by the PM. Hope youre having fun so far!

***

Sophie and Porno began walking northwest towards the Jordaan district. Porno had just been working nonstop and was ready to go home. Sophie was actually heading to a cat shelter on a boat known as “de Poezenboot” and invited Porno to join her. It was a strange idea to bring a duck onto a boat full of cats. What if they don’t get along? What if one of the cats tries to eat Porno? What if Porno tries to eat one of the cats? Porno didn’t mind to make a short detour on the way home so he agreed to join her.

As they walked along Amsterdam’s narrow streets crossing many bridges, they passed a few window gals of various shapes and sizes. Porno was unfazed by it all, naturally. Sophie just felt awkward and wondered how any man could find some of these women attractive. Porno reminded her that there’s something for everyone. She couldn’t disagree but when she passed a morbidly-obese woman with an obviously painted-on mole and armpit hair, she had to truly question the desires and kinks of the typical man. How much would a woman like that charge? And why on earth would anyone want to pay her for anything? Porno seemed to read Sophie’s mind and offered one bit of perspective. She didn’t always look that way. She probably started doing this when she was younger and prettier and this is all she’s known how to do her adult life and cannot stop now. She probably has regular customers who over the years have also grown in size and wrinkles and they might just like her company at this point.

A few minutes later they reached de Poezenboot. True to its name it was a medium-sized boat tied to a post by the quay. Inside were over fifty cats of all ages, colours, and conditions. Porno waddled behind Sophie feeling unsure of his welcome in the boat. The old lady at the entrance was enthused by Sophie’s entrance and immediately began to explain to her the mission and philosophy of de Pozenboot. She asked if Sophie was interested in adopting one of the cats. Sophie confessed that she didn’t live in the Netherlands but the old lady reassured her they could provide the necessary paperwork for Belgium. Sophie considered it for a few seconds then realized she really could not be responsible for a cat at this time. She politely declined but expressed interest in supporting de Poezenboot and meeting some cats. Absolutely! the old lady exclaimed. She led Sophie into the main room when she noticed Porno standing near the door. She tried to shoo him out but Sophie interjected. He’s my friend! He came with me. The old lady looked back and forth at Sophie and Porno suspiciously. Why would a young lady want the companionship of a dirty duck? And from the looks of him, a French duck no less. She tried to mask her disgust and welcomed Porno onto the boat.

From floor to ceiling were cats. They were climbing all over the place among cat obstacle courses and playing with cat toys. Some cats slept in their cages while others hid under the shelves. A few cats hissed at Porno and ran off. One chubby cat crawled up to Porno and sniffed his feathers. Porno felt uncomfortable and dreaded the thought of all the cats deciding to turn on him. But he also felt protected in Sophie’s presence and felt she wouldn’t let harm reach him.

Sophie stopped at the cage of a fat and friendly cat named Chewie. He had already been adopted and was going through final medical checkups before being released to his new loving family. Chewie was a fluffy and loveable cat and Sophie felt the sudden urge to take him home. I see you’ve met Chewie here. He’s such a charismatic cat and we will sure miss him when he goes the old lady said upon noticing Sophie’s enthrallment. As they continued to talk, Porno waddled out to the boat’s porch overlooking the calm canal. He saw a small family of ducks swim by and he felt a strong longing to be back in France as a duckling again with his grandmother. But life had changed so much since then and now he was nothing more than a poorly-named sex show promoter in a country whose language he couldn’t even speak. He worked 7 days a week rain or shine and constantly dealt with drunk and high foreign lads in search of a good time. How did life come to this? He was already starting to feel old and weak but he couldn’t possibly retire. He had a family to support and could barely afford to live as he did. He wished he could be adopted by a loving family just like the orphan cats in de Poezenboot. But he also knew that nobody wanted to adopt an old, French duck called Porno. As his thoughts continued to trail he felt a strange presence creeping upon him. He slowly turned his head and saw a giant cat inching towards him with hunger in her eyes. Looking for an escape route he saw that the porch was fenced up to keep the cats aboard so he couldn’t fly away. He knew Sophie was still inside talking to the other cats and that she wouldn’t be able to come to his rescue. He waddled slowly backwards into the fence when the cat pounced at him. He quickly flew up towards the roof but hit a small hanging lamp. The cat jumped onto a nearby shelf and sprung from it at an attempt to catch Porno. Porno began quacking uncontrollably as he flew in circles hitting everything in his way. Sophie and the old lady heard the commotion and ran out to the porch. Stop it! they both shouted. The old lady was able to catch the cat and Porno cowered behind Sophie’s feet. Sophie smiled apologetically to the old lady and offered a small donation of 5 euro. The old lady thanked her. Sophie and Porno quickly left the boat but not before saying goodbye to Chewie.

***

Porno apologized to Sophie for causing trouble. He knew it was a bad idea all along and he felt bad for ruining Sophie’s afternoon. Nonsense, Sophie reassured him. Porno quickly realized how late it had gotten and needed to return home for supper. Sophie, it has been a most pleasant afternoon but I must return to my home and family now. I thank you for the food and company. I wish I could offer something in return but I’m afraid I cannot. Sophie was sad to say goodbye to Porno. He was a nice duck and she had so many questions she wanted to ask him but knew she would never get to. Au revoir Monsieur Canard, have a nice evening and say “bonjour” to your family for me. Porno smiled awkwardly then waddled away.

Sophie turned around to head back towards the center of the city. As she did, a man smoking a cigarette walked by. She quickly stopped him and asked for a cigarette which he was happy to oblige. Finally I get my damned cigarette!

***

Courtney sent Sophie a text message that she would be arriving to Amsterdam’s Central Station in a few minutes and was starving. Sophie knew of a good cafĂ© near the station and sent Courtney the address and directions to meet there.

They met over some Dutch pancakes and coffee. Courtney seemed amazed and tired at the same time. While sitting on the train I got to talk to some of the other passengers and they said a Flemish guy killed himself because the Flemish government deported his girlfriend back to Morocco because she overstayed her student visa. He was on his way to the Moroccan Embassy in Brussels when he realized no one would help him so he decided he was tired of the bureaucracy and wanted to make a grand statement. I wondered how they could possibly know all this but apparently he left a message with a TV station about his plans and once the train killed him the news broke and everyone was able to read it on their iPhones and started talking about it to each other. Of course I was so curious but I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying! So I asked the guy sitting next to me to explain what was happening and he told me everything. It was like something from a movie, you would just never believe it! How was your day? Courtney asked.

Well, Sophie began, I had some French fries then met a duck named Porno.

How much have you smoked today?

Nothing today! I was just walking when this duck came to talk to me. I couldn’t believe it either but there he was, speaking French to me.

A French speaking duck named Porno?

Yes, it’s crazy, I know. And I haven’t smoked anything today.

Amsterdam is a fucking weird city. Did you know that you can buy a prostitute from a window? Like it’s a vending machine?

Sophie laughed and imagined an actual vending machine filled with prostitutes. She imagined rows of similar looking girls separated by metal coils that rotated each time a prostitute was purchased. There would be a row of blondes, a row of Asians, a row of black girls, a row of skinny girls, a row of old ladies, a row of Arab girls, and a row of short girls. She laughed at the thought that one could press a letter/number combination and select their prostitute for a few minutes then dump her in a recycling bin for cleaning and re-stocking. She thought of the morbidly obese woman with the fake mole and armpit hair. She decided that woman would be in a row all to herself, the last of her kind with a slowly approaching expiration date.

Courtney and Sophie continued walking around Amsterdam. They walked though Chinatown and passed the numerous Chinese restaurants lining Zeedijk street. Sophie was distracted by the cooked ducks hanging in the restaurant windows and immediately thought of Porno. She knew that no matter how hard his life was, he had certainly fared better than some other ducks that came from afar to find a better life in the Netherlands only to meet the butcher’s knife.

***

Late into the night Sophie and Courtney bought some French fries and walked along Oudezijds Voorburgwal for a good laugh. As Sophie predicted, Courtney was shocked by what she saw. They ignored the young lads passing out brochures selling sex shows and lap dances but Sophie couldn’t help but search for Porno in the crowd. After all, it was only one block away from where she first met him. She also knew she couldn’t ask the touts about him, she thought about how it would look for a young lady to walk up to one of these guys and ask for Porno. You want porno?! I show you porno, come this way for porno, right here for the best porno! No. She couldn’t simply ask. She resigned her thoughts and continued talking with Courtney. Suddenly she stopped walking. She kneeled down and dropped a few French fries to the ground. Noticing the look on Courtney’s face Sophie responded, Just in case…

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Vingt Cinq Ans

If I can make it to 30, I deserve a fucking gold medal.

Monday, March 12, 2012

They Will Be Honoured That I Will Hate Them

As I sat alone in the tiny Westwood restaurant slurping a bowl of steaming hot ramen and collecting my thoughts about everything that’s happened in the last couple of months, my delicious bowl of 20-hour boiled pork bone broth met a new ingredient—my tears.

It was a long Saturday. I woke up at 6am to work at a local farmer’s market. Some days are more pleasant than others. The sun was shining and the locals were out in full force. I also work around a bunch of middle aged hacks who offer home-grown food items and bad attitudes. Maybe in this sense, I fit right in. Each week I get verbally accosted by one vendor or another for some inane reason. Saturday was just another day to add to the list. After a short verbal altercation, I sat shaking and fighting tears. When was the last time a grown man yelled at me and made me want to cry? I recall 5 years ago just before I was about to move to London. I got called in for jury duty about a week before my departure. I reasoned that I couldn’t stick around for the trial because I was about to move across the ocean for a year. No one bought it. When asked if I could make a “fair” decision, I said no. I said something along the line of, “I’m about to move to London and I’m so focused on that that I will agree with my fellow jurors on anything just to get the trial over quickly.” The judge slammed his fist and chastised me. Of course I felt bad about the whole thing and I do have slightly more respect for the judicial system than I let on, but I needed a way out that wouldn’t involve going on a racist or homophobic rant. And I remember fighting back tears as the judge raised his voice at me and leaned over his podium. When I was finally dismissed, I walked out the court room promising I would never allow myself to be so shaken by anyone’s verbal assaults, whether deserved or not, ever again. And I kept my promise since then. Until Saturday.

I finished work and went on a photo shoot at UCLA. In between set ups I casually observed the young students around me. Why are you at school on a Saturday? Lab hours? Studying at the library? Extra curricular activities? I never had the whole “college” experience. I received my education through the University known as the world. But I don’t have a nice piece of paper to show for that. Sometimes I wonder what my life might be like if I had done the 4-year university thing. What would my college experience have been like? Would I have lived in a dorm? What clubs would I have joined? What kind of grades would I get? What would I have majored? And what would I be doing now?

The shoot took longer than expected. I was not pleased.

And then I found myself sitting in that ramen restaurant. I knew I deserved that bowl of ramen. Every bit of it and every dollar and cent spent on it. I felt emotional and lonely. I felt tired. I knew I was forcing myself to keep moving. Every hour of every day. I was invited to go out that same evening to some trendy night club and I knew I didn’t want to go, but I thought I should go because that’s what people my age do. I was exhausted and drained. So I finished my ramen and headed south.

I could smell the ocean as soon as I got out of my car. The salty air passed through my nostrils and into my brain. I walked directly to the water. Night had fallen long ago and the beach was deserted save for a few homeless people. I walked onto the sand with my eyes straight forward and accidentally caught my jacket in a fence wire. It tore straight through leaving a huge hole in my left jacket sleeve. I was so distraught. I had this jacket for 6 years, it was my favorite. It’s still my favorite but now I have this hole to remind me of my turmoil. That I didn’t even see the fence stretched across the sand running parallel to the water’s edge. I kept walking until I reached wet sand. The ocean has a different voice than the sea. When I used to stand at the Mediterranean, I used to marvel at its enormity and my tininess. But the waves were gentler and I always felt that if I really wanted to, I could just reach out and grab Cyprus. But the Pacific Ocean is a different body altogether. It’s massive and endless. I can’t shout over to Japan.

I turned and walked back to land making sure not to hit the fence this time. And I did not walk back into civilization. What an awful place. I had to break my non-alcohol pact to get through the awfulness. Then I went home, never happier to crawl into my bed.