Archive for September, 2011

This Story Has Nothing To Do With: Trouble & Bass 4th Anniversary Edition

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 by SLUTLUST

I arrived to Martignettis on Broome Street about an hour late. It was the opening night of the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” party I was co- hosting with Brendon James; a good friend and a well known “Door God” based in Downtown Manhattan. My 7am hang outs with the Upper West Side rap group known as Team Facelift had introduced me to Carolyne, a designer/ socialite type from Texas, who was convinced we could throw a party better and exclusive enough to compete with Butter’s world famous Monday night party. Back then I was soooo high (and art struck) I’d follow any girl that owned an original Andy Warhol… or four.

I would share in hosting duties while she and this kid named Varick would DJ whatever the electro dance hit of the day was. Our door would be tighter than double knotted shoe laces on a pre-schoolers sneaker. Our party was located underneath Martingnettis in a speakeasy designed club aptly named Bella’s, complete with a dance floor and wide booths perfect for “who has the bigger dick” bottle service. Our bartenders looked like blue blooded Hamptonites that had more money than the people they served. Everything about the venue screamed “exclusive”- including our doorman – who took 30 minutes to let me into my own party and only after burning the letters off my Sidekick cell phone keypad in an attempt to find a resolve.

By then my 1st guest, who was entertaining a bunch of vendors from her fortune 500 company, had left. No one wants to be first in an open space with more staff than clients. She apologized over the background noise of her co- workers riding the mechanical bull at this other bar called Mason Dixons. Fuck. My chain smoking was now a Cuban Link of anxiety. Is anyone going to even come to this party? And if so will the black Cerberus (3 headed dog that guarded hell in Greek mythology) with a walkie talkie let them in?! My fingers were cramped from trying to re-invent the mass text message in order for them to sound personal (or conniving). By the time I send my 200th text I was halfway through a Jack Daniels on the rocks and trading horrible one-liners with my bottle girl who kept asking me for a “twenty”.

His build was slim and angular like a sketch a fashion major does. He wore all black with a little chain hanging on the outside of his buttoned up collar. He matched his European cut suit with a black tie and a gold capped smile that could only say Brooklyn. He was known in most music circles as Drop the Lime, but I knew him as Luca. He arrived with Vivian – known as Star Eyes – a DJ and a member of the internationally known Trouble & Bass crew Luca headed, and Giselle, his absolutely stunning girlfriend at the time. Both of them wore all black in these unique neo-gothy fashion get ups that complimented him like a prostitute’s outfit compliments her pimp in any blaxploitation movie. Years later I would see this style copied by indie retailers such as Oak and Seven. There was no way the door hound wasn’t letting them in. If they would have showed up with a fog machine then that would have completed the look and made it perfect for the runway or an 80’s video depicting fashion in the future.

He doesn’t wait for me to order a bottle and buys us a round of drinks. Coolest motherfucker on the planet I tell you. By then Carolyne is train wrecking on the turntables (she gets better, eventually) and people are slowly starting to trickle in with a confused look as to what they were supposed to be experiencing. I hide my humbling anxieties behind my sporadic conversation skills. Soon Luca is telling me about touring Europe and the rest of my 7th grade social studies map and we joke about when he used to wear street wear clothing back in the Brooklyn House days at the Mckibben Street Lofts in Bushwick. We knew each other before in small doses from around “the scenes” but by the time my bottle came we had become pretty good friends. He promised to DJ my party one day and I promised to do mushrooms with him and his girlfriend.

Oh, yeah – during our conversation I learn that they knew someone with mushrooms and could get me some. Earlier that year I tried them for the first with my friend Frog and my only complaint was that we couldn’t find someone immediately to get me more. My opening night at Bella’s turned out to be a huge success but fuck that shit I was getting mushrooms.

Our party held its own against Butter for pretty much most of that summer of 2008. I managed to annoy Steve Aoki and several other celebrity DJ’s, Lydia Hearst made out with Varick and forever broke my cocaine enlarged heart, and our party got the coveted Page Six mention. The Page Six mention alone got my dick harder than using rubber cement as a sexual lubricant. Soon everyone wanted to be a part of our little Monday night venture. My wallet started to explode with business cards of people I would never ever call unless we had the exact same number and I was checking my voicemail, and I never checked my voicemail. Personally, my name went from “I’m on the list” to “I don’t need to be on any list, you tried to get into my party”.

By the middle of September everyone was clamoring to get on the list for the Mishka 5 year anniversary party during New York Fashion Week.  Mishka is a street wear brand that did amazing things with an eyeball logo, seducing Hipsters and Hip Hoppers with the same look book without compromise. The RSVP list was closed a week before the event which had everyone sucking off whoever was close to anyone organizing the event in order to get in. I didn’t have to; Lucas – who was headlining the evening with Diplo – invited me to walk in with him.  Alright-y then. This was also the summer I learned how to walk by my friends waiting on any line when I knew I couldn’t persuade the door people to allow them in with me. So chic.

The Red Bull Space – located on the west side of Canal Street where Tribeca meets the Holland tunnel – was showroom bright with nothing but a small makeshift stage and a catered bar. It was also the location of the party, with an area holding over 1,000 goodie bags and floor to ceiling speakers. Although the sun didn’t shine down there, the bass shattered the walls of your asshole. The music, along with the fashion snobbery “cool people” exude, filled the room like a foam party in a snow globe.

The crowd was a mix of Williamsburg lumberjack school drop outs peppered with the Reed Space/ Supreme/ Nike Dunks sneakers street wearing enthusiast. After a few moments of my eyes adjusting to the color blindness of everyone’s outfits I found Giselle standing next to the DJ booth near all of my Never Scared Brooklyn Kick Ball teammates. We all traded pleasantries then traded baggies followed by currency.  Then we all simultaneously checked out of Hotel Reality together, one gross bite of fungi after another. After 30 minutes of gagging and several hours of Diplo and Lucas trying to out-bass each other, the entire event turned into one gently shaken snow globe – with colorful garments floating and haunting the white rubber room of a location we all were dancing in like maniacs in slow motion.

Here’s a trick Lucas and Giselle taught me that night– at psychedelic gunpoint: If your friend is tripping balls and it’s obvious, make him look at you directly in the eye then put your palm on your face and drag it down – like your face is melting. Be sure to add mummy noises for added freak out effect. You can repeat this over and over throughout the night, it’ll never get old, no matter how prepared you are.

The night was one uncontrollable laugh attack. Everything fluctuated in and out like someone was pressing their fingers on and off an old lap top screen or a 3d movie of 1000 party people sitting on rocking chairs. For some reason I remember a lot of dry humping  and face licking but I’ll assume that was  Brooke – one of my kick ball (and best) friends- making my high as tenderly awkward as possible.

Then FUCKED UP got on to perform. FUCKED UP did rock & roll/ punk like loud stereo feedback can ruin speakers. Everything went from a calm strawberry vanilla frosty swirl in a cup to a strawberry and “what the hell?!” daiquiri chopped up in the most violent blender ever. Beer, then beer cans started flying from one end of the room to the other as the event security slipped and fell trying to control the free alcohol charged and “ironic” mosh-pitting crowd. Even the girls dressed in delicate heels and outfits they wouldn’t drink red wine or eat chocolate in jumped into the middle of the fray like it was a sample sale at Marc Jacobs. The speakers screamed obscenities at me, intensifying my trip into an uncomfortable paranoia. I no longer felt safe, it was no longer fun, and I hid in the bathroom – that kept melting before my psychedelic eyes – until the band was kicked out by an exhausted security team.

I stepped out of the bathroom to a party that collapsed under the weight of its own excitement. Everyone I knew was trying to figure out how to get to Brooklyn for the Flashing Lights party Jess Jubilee (who up until this point I swore she hated me, hindering my cool points) DJ ayres, and DJ Catchdubs was throwing at Public Assembly (a venue on North 6th Street in Williamsburg). This is where my memory gets blurry. By the time we all found each other in the middle of the chaos outside of the Red Bull Space our group had ballooned up to 13 people.  Yellow cabs only take 4 at a time. The scene outside was a frenetic pace of everyone up streaming each other for cabs making the yellow more coveted then the last napkin at a BBQ. Never mind the riot controlling tactics of the police who had arrived on the scene after several fights. We needed at least 3 cabs. We had the price gouging Lincoln Town Cars circling us like sharks near an underwater blood bank with a BP oil type of leak. Yeah we weren’t taking one of those. Then my warped mind comes up with what I felt was a brilliant idea. I persistently tapped Luca on the shoulder like a curious child…

“Yo let’s get a limo…”

“A what?” the group universally responded.

“A limo, we have enough people, let’s grab a limo!”

“Ok.” Responded Luca, “Let’s grab one of those…”

“No…”

“Why what’s wrong with that one?”

“We need a navy blue limo.”

“A what?! OJ we are not going to find a navy blue limo, this isn’t the 80’s”

By this time the mushrooms had fully devoured whatever remained of my perception and my stomach was completely poisoned.

“Yes we will, watch…”

“Can we take that white one, get it? White. Limo. That’s cool right?”

“Hahahahahahahahaha. Nope.”

“How about that one then?”

“It’s black.”

“OK you’re bugging out dude, everyone try to grab a cab…”

All I remembered from that moment was Luca’s gold teeth gleaming under the pulsating street lights as he vetoed my idea and all of the girls darting in different directions through the movie premier levels of traffic on Canal Street.  I never wavered. The mushrooms had given me a conceited amount of confidence no man should ever entertain without being a billionaire or a magician. The first group had finally found a cab and was halfway inside when they heard my “STOP!!!” crack open the midnight sky…

The insides were a worn grey with jagged cracks in the leather that had foam and a spring or two creeping out of it. The décor had hints of fake mahogany wood grain and antiquated/ broken machines to match the smudges of dirt and desperation. The side doors had and empty bottle of champagne and a few dirty glasses that probably weren’t washed since Mayor Dinkins was in office. The door handle on the left side was sagging under its own weight, poorly held up by an overuse of silver electrical tape. The rest of the inside was filled with glittery Lisa Frank stickers and perfumed like stale cigarettes or a cheap 70’s coke dream.

“This is like the limo he takes his family to Costo!”

“Or to drive around Craigslist hookers…”

“Not even Craigslist, Hunts Point!”

No one could stop laughing. No one in the car could believe it… but I did. Years later I would wonder if Oprah’s “The Secret” worked like this as I would ponder the astronomical odds.

But yeah, I got my navy blue limo.

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The Long Walk Home The Day After Tuesday (SGU WTC Re-edit)

Posted in Uncategorized on September 14, 2011 by SLUTLUST

September 12th 2001 started with a hangover – and my usual unemployed search for loose change in the couch so I can buy a newspaper, coffee, and buttered roll. I started every morning that way since I got my working papers at the age of 15 -minus the hangover – well, most of the time.  I was 25 and recently laid off from some internet company that promised high end fashions and a digital concierge with more computer bugs than actual worth. I was also a brand new father – unemployed with a baby mother in the New York City shelter system – riding it out until her section 8 came through so I could pretend I was a family man.

Every day of my life was me trying to stretch out my unemployment benefits to cover whatever needs my son had and my selfish need to pot smoke myself into complacency. I didn’t want this life. I was sleeping on the top bunk I grew up on back at my mother’s apartment. I had a girlfriend I was pretty convinced didn’t love me and was only playing the role of a responsible person with an unplanned pregnancy. I matched her with the crazy Latin boyfriend routine from the projects, acting out whatever he learned about relationships from the blunt guts and 40oz covered benches in his communal backyard.

Needless to say we didn’t last long.

I woke up on September 11th at exactly 9:03. My baby mother called me to let me know she would be late because of some activity at the World Trade Center. I adored my son, and most of my days were spent with them until their shelter imposed curfew was up. It was a beautiful and yet tedious time of my life. There I had this woman making the ultimate sacrifice in order for me to have a chance to be a doting father and all I wanted to do was walk away and go to sleep. She gave up a private and exclusive university – I couldn’t even give up smoking. Her eyes reminded me of every single thing I hated about myself. Every disappointing decision I made compounded itself in every diaper I changed and every bottle of milk I made. I hung up the phone and prayed she would be late forever.

Then I turned on the TV.

The shelter was nice enough to allow my baby mother and son to spend the night with me at my mothers.  We all slept together in a twin size bed. It was the first time since my son was born that I wanted the both of them so close to me.  No one could have imagined something so amazingly catastrophic. When you grow up in NY the first thing you do it look up at the sky scrapers. You have a trust in them. The steel behemoths of success and power filled with the white collars that run them and the blue collars that maintain them – they don’t fall on you, they won’t. Trucks can’t knock them down. Planes don’t run into them. The city as one living organism – somehow works. Planes don´t hit buildings, they wave hello and goodbye as they surf the clouds and dance around the sun and the moon.

The skyline loves you.

My corner store was on edge. The streets of the Lower East Side where empty and eerily quiet. From every open window all you heard was the news blaring the same rhetoric over and over in a million different languages. Every newscaster in the world was trying to win a Peabody award or an Emmy, putting the events of yesterday in some sort of poetic and defining context. I just wanted to buy a news paper.

“Mafeesh (some derogatory arabic word we would shout at eachother) where’s the Post?”

“No Post today”

“What do you mean?”

“It didn’t come, no deliveries”

“So let me get a coffee light and sweet and a roll”

“My friend nooooooo deliveries”

Then the reality started to hit me. There was no traffic outside minus the fire trucks, police cars, news trucks, and ambulances. Then the tanks started to roll in, and those big military trucks that you would only see in a episode of MASH or whatever war movie that might have been on HBO. My deli guy, a young dude from Afghanistan, was holding a bat. He was visibly nervous. Every Puerto Rican junkie with a brain cell left to watch TV was entering the store and throwing sly and loaded threats at him. Some were funny, others were too real. We knew this guy all our lives and everyone was looking at him like he was the enemy. The air in the bodega was suffocating with this newfound xenophobia aimed at Muslims, or anyone with a tan not brought on by rice and beans or the sun. I left him in his paranoia and proceeded to walk north in search of a newspaper.

When the first tower collapsed I cried. I thought about the day cares that were in those building for all those working moms. I didn’t even know if there even was a daycare there but for some reason that thought took me from smug educated Palestinian sympathizer to a wounded New York City father.  When my baby mother and son arrived I did the whole cliché-ish touched their faces to see if they were really alive thing then ran outside once assured they where safe. I wanted a rooftop. I wanted to see the most amazing thing ever. The first thing I saw was my best friend Cynthia – Covered in ash – crying hysterically. She would later tell me of running from downtown as the tower collapsed and how the plane flew right over her head and into the south building that was right across the street from where she worked. She would tell me of seeing people jump, some on fire, all of them with no hope for survival.

I never told her how jealous I was of her.

After her one by one everyone I knew started to show up. Even kids that I hated or could never get along with came around – everyone with an excited bewilderment about the day’s events. No one could believe it and everyone had a theory. After the initial shock and awe we all stopped talking about it, like a life changing secret no one wanted to share because of the consequences. Everyone just wanted to get fucked up, smoke a shitload of weed and drink a beer or 5. We all had found each other in front of my building on  5th street and Avenue C when the block could no longer carry our curiosities or vices we all went to a rooftop on East 4th. By then the 2nd tower had already fell and lower Manhattan looked like the boiling top of an erupting volcano.

I never saw the towers on fire, and secretly envied everyone who did.

As I arrived to 14th St. I realized what was going on. My entire neighborhood had been quarantined. Anything that needed to be carried and couldn’t fit on a bike wasn’t making it pass 34th St. The police combined with the M-16 carrying military was asking for ID’s from anyone trying to return home or going and ogle the wreckage. If you worked downtown you needed to show a work ID and if you were visiting someone they had to meet you at a checkpoint and come and get you, frustrating everyone.

And then the military tanks… So many tanks. The only time I’ve ever seen a tank was when I went to the Smithsonian in DC. There they where, armed and ready and on my street.

The mood on the rooftop was oddly festive. Everyone from my 501, PTA graffiti – and strong arm any Chinese person with an orange bag crew – days was there. We were a motley bunch of cantankerous frenemies, and there we were, breaking bread like we had never decorated our own backs with knives. No one dared to mix politics and religion about what had just happened to our city. Everyone just smoked and drank until their walk home became an amnesia filled stumble. Some of us brought our dogs while others had their roller-blades on. We all laughed and shared. Everyone hugged. Everyone called their families and told them they how much they loved them. No one even looked at the smoke rising from the pile of rubble downtown – except for a set of brothers sitting near a ledge comforting each other.

This was their rooftop. Their sister had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and if it wasn’t for her alarm clock mysteriously failing that morning she would have been in one of  those towers. A week before that, we had our annual BBQ in our backyard and I met several of her co workers. The story was that they all had made it to work on time that morning – and were never to be seen again. How do you thank God and curse the Heavens in the same breath?

By the time I found a newsstand with a newspaper to sell I was well over 34th street. By the time I was walking back to the Lower east side the first of the missing person posters started to go up around Union Square and Bellevue hospital. My entire city started to look like a ride share bulletin board on a college campus – except sadness was the only passenger. Random strangers were comforting each other in the street and everyone was lighting candles and organizing vigils. The crowds near the check points became bigger and bigger as the day grew longer it started to resemble the opening bell at the stock market. Everyone claimed to have known someone who died that day. The entire city had the same tragically romantic heartbeat. That, for some reason, had me increasingly jealous.

I started to compare the event to the story-line in the graphic novel The Watchmen – Some ruse by our current dimwitted President to get the people of the world to like him or some power move by his Illuminati filled family. Pure hate and envy on my part. All I had was the day’s historic newspapers and a gallon of milk that I was hoping wouldn’t spoil on my long walk home.

The closer I got to my house the quieter the streets became – minus the noise of emergency services and the smell of burning asbestos or whatever those building where made of.  The streets somehow became a playground due to all of the missing traffic. Children riding blissfully on their bikes while the drug dealers hugged their corners and the junkies shuffled along . It was a beautiful summer evening. The neighborhood drunks got drunk and the old ladies that gathered in front of stoops had a new fever to their eternal gossip. I walked my baby mother and my son to the train station as the shelter wouldn’t allow her another night out. I didn´t want to let them go, but I had too. Poor me. Everything was always so fucking  unfair. I had my family, and a beautiful sunny day with every single friend that I grew up with and a mind that could sleep at night because it didn’t witness 9/11.. and there I was, Mr. “Unfair”.
Several months would pass before my baby mother finally get her Section 8 (we were due an apartment that October but because of 9/11 our paper work was lost in the chaos and had to wait longer) and I scored a job at New York Filmworks running the Audio/ Visual department. Once in a while I would peruse all the scraps thrown out by the photo department. Here is where I found all these random photos taken by people in or around Ground Zero. In that pile were a couple photos of Arabic men, armed and proud to be on the front line of whatever cause they where fighting for. I wondered if the see-saw of middle eastern politics and the harsh realities of every sunrise could harden a soul to the point that you could walk away from your entire family and die for a regime.  then I brushed it off… I was living in America, and never had to make that choice. As beautiful as it is to stand for something… I did not envy them.

Due to pro tools and other new technologies, my department didn’t have much of a workload as it used too – so I would help out by doing local photo pick-ups and deliveries. One of my stops was the Chief Medical Examiners office. By then what was a small building next to Bellevue  looked like something out of a horror movie where the government tried to quarantine an outbreak or kidnap E.T.. After going back and forth for a while I asked my boss what was in the black containers I kept picking up and dropping off and why was he on my ass every time I was a half hour late to that one place.

I wished I didn’t.

I was responsible for picking up and delivering the slides that countless 9/11 family members depended on to identify their loved ones remains for burial. Every single workday was another face I saw loaded with hope twisted in deep sadness and despair. A sadness buried in confusion and anger with questions even god shied away from.

I no longer envied anyone.


The Human Minimart: Cambodia Part 1

Posted in Uncategorized on September 9, 2011 by SLUTLUST

Sooooo OJ just jumped on a motorbike to buy some green. Will I ever see him again? #lockedupabroad #cambodia” @Scarlettsmithin

Ever wonder what type of sound metal and steel makes? Or would make if it could? I thought it would be like a low hum, a persistent “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH.” Something quiet yet enough to annoy a puppy with sensitive ears. This is what I was listening to now, in the middle of Hanoi international, hung over like a towel left to dry on a rusty metal shower rack. My forehead drenched, mixed with the tropical city humidity and droplets of common sense (or lack of) slipping from my eyebrows. Somehow we managed to pack, order a car, and find our gate with about 1 hour to spare. My throbbing head and stomach ache shuffling in between being prepared and being frantic. There was no way I was taking Kara’s yellow mellow in good faith. Even after finding a smoking lounge inside the aipport and sucking down a sake shake I still couldn’t relax. I catch myself asking a cardboard cutout of an Asian stewardess if I’m at the correct gate.

The flight was a 3 hour tray after tray of eastern delicacies shrink wrapped and in courses. By the time we land in Cambodia the remaining alcohol in my system is drowned by my love of hospital food. My food baby was a full 5 months and perfect for my walk off the airplane on to the tarmac. This is what movie stars must have felt like in the 50’s. Kara didn’t disappoint with her long breezy black dress and her Jackie O sized sunglasses. I, as expected, acted as excited (entitled) and immature as ever. The arrival gate at Cambodia was an amazing mix of iron, bamboo, and a million Buddha statutes. It was also clogged with old Chinese and German tourist waiting on one pen to fill out their visas. I don’t do the waiting. I skate through the Cambodian Zen on the back of a luggage cart – always the American idiot.

The outside of the airport was nothing like cash and grab atmosphere of Hanoi. Sure there was a few people trying to hustle up carfares but everything seemed more still and organized – surprising considering the security personnel’s average height is about 5 ft nothing. I don’t even remember having to remove my shoes when I passed through security in Vietnam. For a country in constant border disputes with Thailand this airport had the security of the Regal Union Square movie theatre back home

Phanna introduced himself with a smile that could have convinced me buy a tube of Colgate toothpaste filled with shit and even more shit. His offering to be our driver to our hostel in Siem Reap sounded like our respective mothers had called ahead and had him handpicked for just for us. His Altima was a pristine late model edition that came with tissues and a scrap book filled with all the compliments he’s gotten for his service over the years. He sells us his personal driver and tour guide services for a mere 30 dollars a day – the entire day. We were only staying for 3 days and Trip Advisor website had told us to be wary of the drivers that vulture on tourist and not to take unlicensed ones. This – along with the glowing reviews in his composition Yelp notebook –we ate up like a couple in a pie eating contest.

And then he turned into our tour guide.

He begins to tell us of the immense level of poverty, how the average family of 4 in Cambodia can, and most do, live off less than1 American dollar a day. As if Sally Struthers was invisible sitting in the passenger seat, he told us things a breath short of a Unicef commercial treatment:

The land mines left over from all of the wars fought, many still active and unaccounted for.

The deviant levels of sexual tourism.

The orphan population.

My Cambodian cab driver was like a sumo wrestler’s dominatrix, satisfying every one of my brutal curiosities with a spanking of facts and numbers and plenty of hand motioning to scenes of historical horrors. OJ couldn’t just enjoy the scenic route of the electric jungle he was being driven through, OJ wanted to hear about every ball shriveling detail and the demons that orchestrated them along with the demons bio and an address in case he wanted to stop by and chat. OJ wanted to be scared. OJ wanted the adrenaline. Kara just looked out the window and did the sarcastic agreeing hum people do when they don’t want to talk about it anymore. Kara just wanted to lie down, and maybe for OJ to calm down and shut up.

Our hostel was in the middle of a dark alley in the middle of a rain forest. A friendly staff dressed in what I jokingly called “traditional” Buddhist monk attire greats us at the door. They take us to a tiki hut themed dining hall on the side of the hostel and gifted us with the “traditional” greeting treats of Thai lemonade and roasted peanuts. The TV was on BBC World News. It was nothing but “Osama bin laden is dead” 24 hours a day by this point. One of the news reels was about the porn he had in his fortress. It reminded me of the time a good friend was describing how much porn he had and I asked to borrow one. He told me I was “bugging the fuck out” – that a man’s porn collection should be as private as his personal thoughts. His denying me a peek of his stash didn’t make sense to me then, but it sure as hell did now.

Our room was smaller than the one we had in Vietnam but creatively designed in a minimalist Asian fashion. The bathroom was small and was pretty much a stand up shower with a toilet and a sink inside of it. It also had one of those water hose bidet things for when you did number 2. This fueled my theory that the third world was bit more efficient and advanced than us – or at least a bit more hygienic. The bed wasn’t a stiff board as the one in Vietnam and it came adorned with a romantic canopy. The air conditioning was backed up by an overhead desk top fan glued to the wall. The room looked like someplace a Bollywood couple would escape for an epic nooner. Kara was more impressed by the 3 dollar massages our hostel offered. If Harlem had 3 dollar 1 hour massages the crack epidemic would have never have happened. This hostel was doing everything short of dropping rose petals at our shoes – which we probably weren’t supposed to wear inside the hostel out of respect.

Namaste.

After the pre requisite jumping on the bed and the opening of all the drawers most childish travelers (or just me) do, we decide to hit the market place our driver recommended earlier due to its safety. He also recommended not looking the “street urchins” in the eye and not to buy drugs or bang the underage hookers – which is always great advice to give a visiting couple from the New York Cities. 7pm in Cambodia was like a midnight in a dark Bowery Street alleyway. As beautiful as the walk was the pep in our step was now a paranoid skip followed by an anxious sprint. Everyone started offering us “mardyjuana” and “coka”. All the little kids kept calling me “Yoyoyo”. The weed I understood, because the guy that kind of looks like Bob Marley has to smoke, but some of the stuff I was being offered was pure junkie shit. My repeated no’s were followed by trinkets being offered to buy and street soups and meats to try, everything we were told to avoid. Our sprint turned into an offensive run for a touchdown.

The market place looked like anything you would see in a city where there’s an Italian street festival. “Traditional” crap for westerners looking for “culture”. On one end there were stands loaded with weird looking Super Mario video game fruits and on the other it was friendship bracelets and garments worn by the Gods. One table had wooden dildos with a finish so smooth I don’t know why I’m even talking about it. Ew. I try the flesh eating fish pedicure in one of the booths and scream like a little girl – prompting the locals and a few random tourist to bust my balls. Ha ha it was flesh eating fish! Kara got some parachute pants with elephants on it while I got some liquor with a scorpion inside of the bottle for my son. It’s supposed to be magical or something. I like to give him weird gifts. After perusing aisle after aisle of fancy scarves and bamboo puppets it happens: From a distance I spot an all too familiar hand to hand movement and start salivating. Fuck all this cautious bullshit. I wanted to buy weed.

The walk back to the hostel consisted me of “G Checking” every random alien dealer on the street. In New York there’s this saying; “real detects real.” – this meant me looking at every stranger in the eye for something close to the looks I would get in front of the bodegas of my urban upbringing. Soon enough I found one I felt I could trust. I don’t know if I could really, it was just something in his eyes. Very aware of the police check point across the road he motions me on to his motor bike to commence the transaction. Kara gives me the “are you sure?” glance but I was too focused on pot to be concerned with her motherly worries. I motion her back to the hostel with all of our valuables just to be on the “safe” side. In hindsight I owe her an apology. She saw me hop on a bike with a drug dealer in a country where they jail drug abusers for life.

The bike dipped down one dark alley, then another while I negotiated on the quality and quantity of the product from the back of his bike. His English was fair but my nerves were turning out to be the definitive language barrier. Plus: I felt I was on the back of this guys bike way too long. Once he put the contraband in my possession my cool demeanor almost turned into a last quarter/ last minute fumble. On his last turn we ride right into a check point. My Spidey Senses are tingling on a 1000 different sensations. Fuck it it’s about to be day old Pho and being chained to a bear trap for the rest of my life in a Cambodian prison. I’m compelled to just jump off and run but I don’t. I tuck the bag of fuckery into the cuff of my jeans. My dealer speeds up and does a sharp Dukes of Hazards cut right pass the policemen and into the shadows – almost like we slid under an umpire to tag home plate. My lungs breathe out an electrified “HOLY SHIT” as I jump off the back of his bike and into the safety of the dark. I fumble through my pockets for the required currency. My shaking hands short him about 3 American dollars. It doesn’t take me much to convince him that I’ll pay him once I find my girlfriend as he’s also visibly nervous and quickly speeds off. I run back to the Hostel triumphant and temporarily traumatized.

Kara bear hugs me at the door, her arms turning into the desperate comforter my frazzled heart calmly snuggles in.

The smoke was brown and chunky with highlights of green sativa sprinkled around it. It reminded me of the premature weed a grower friend of mine would give me for free. I didn’t give a fuck. I locked myself in the bathroom with the water running and with a towel aligning the bottom of the door like I was back in college. I used the lighter I borrowed from security to fill my lungs with the foreign fog I just risked my freedom for. The tiles surrounding me began to bead with steam from the running water. My eyes lowered like the night at sundown. I put my hands over my heart to make sure the sensations I was feeling were familiar.

Yup.

They were.

I was stoned in Cambodia.

I was thirsty; I needed to do something, anything. Kara, tired of waiting for me to smoke, definitely wanted to do something. I dusted the weed cloud off my face and we head off to the local 24 hour mini mart I remembered being around the corner from my ride with the dealer earlier. Everything about it reminded me of a 7’11, complete with the uniforms and bright colors that didn’t make sense. The outside had tables filled with young Tuk Tuk (moped driven carriages) hustlers waiting for their next fare over Cokes and European men entertaining the local Cambodian currency with their stories of international bravado. The women looked on, smiling when required with their eyes drifting to a time where the night is already complete and they have the amount of money they needed to survive. Some of these girl looked no older than 15. The older women watched on like pimps, waiting for a piece of the action, shouting directions and providing “protection”. And then you had the children beggars. It must have been around 11pm at night by this time and there where the streets, filled with children – children carrying babies. I put my camera away out of the shear horror of what I was witnessing and the burning desire NOT to document it. My eyes started to swell up while my nauseated and defeated stomach sunk into a shameful empathy. Damn. That was some really good Cambodian weed.

The Photo I Couldn’t Take.

One of the little girls comes up to Kara carrying an infant and begs for a dollar to feed the baby. Was this her baby?! I look away in utter heart break. Kara tells the girl – due to our driver telling us how some people use children to collect money or rob for them – that she won’t give her money but she’ll buy her baby food instead. My paranoia quickly takes a backseat to embarrassment and charity. She takes the girl by the hand and walks into the minimart. While I’m waiting for her outside my midget dealer from earlier pops up out of nowhere which surprises me like a 3-D movie. I pay him the money I owe him with a little extra and he smiles, bows down, and disappears. Bowing would soon become my only form of communication.

Kara comes out with a 17 dollar can of baby formula and a smiling, and very tiny, family. This overwhelms me with emotion. Then Kara takes out her camera and takes a picture of the girl. To her credit, the little girl was beautiful – but I get defensive of the girl and reprimand Kara for taking the picture. I ranted how I didn’t want us to be those “people” exploiting the local for the poverty tourism companies sell to us as “culture”. In reality the weed had turned me into a housewife sitting in front of a soap opera filled with the saddest things on the planet.

We buy 2 large bottles of some Cambodian beer/wine combination and find a Tuk Tuk driver with a (sort of) trust worthy face and what we would later find out to be his government issued Tuk Tuk license number. The idea behind this was is if something happened to us then we had a number to give the police. I wondered what good that number would do if he killed the us both. Whatever, we negotiate a price and he takes us on a small ride around Siem Reap. In my mind I was thinking this stoned carriage ride would be a relaxing psychedelic trip through the neon jungle similar to what i saw on the ride there. I was determined to explore all of this though my glazed over eyes.

Wrong.

The further we got away from the market the darker the streets became. Our nice ride turned into a subtle panic. The streets where eerily quiet with only the dimmest of lights silhouetting the palm trees that surround them. Soon the flash from my camera was the furthest I could see without the little flash light the motorcycle had as head lights. Kara and I peppered each other with assurances that we are both in control, ok, and this ride wasn’t as scary as we felt it was. Our driver tries to be friendly and explain some of the sights we couldn’t see at all with small historic anecdotes but his English sounded like a baby seal squealing. Soon an Israeli couple pulls up next to us with the same problem. We sarcastically suggest they should trade drivers with us. Our plea for help was lost in translation and they ride away. I snap a photo of our apprehensive faces and drag Kara off the Tuk Tuk the minute I recognized a familiar land mark and walk away from our over eager to please driver. He follows along and apologizes in broken English about for 5 minutes until I raise my voice with a solid “NO THANK YOU GOOD NIGHT PLEASE GO.” Maybe he had the best intentions; we were not waiting to find out.

It’s around 2am when we make it back to the mini mart. Next to it there’s a bar with a pool table adorned by a group of scantily clad Cambodian women. Kara and I decide a shot (or 5) was in order after our Tuk Tuk ordeal. We bee line to the first open couple of bar stools. The one thing I noticed was the scent. Every sex worker smells the same no matter what country you’re in – like cheap Victoria Secret perfume. The European men and lonely expats hovered around them like UFO’s, convinced they were entertaining them with their drinks and inaudible conversation, but they were only listening to the rustle of the money they were liberally unfolding. The little beggar children were still in the street, approaching every drunken foreign passerby with the fervor of a NYC flyer distributor. My Jack on the rocks cost me 2 dollars… these kids were begging for just one. Between that and the teenage prostitutes my stomach gives way to the expected food poisoning white people with weak constitutions get when traveling abroad for the first time. The even younger bartender sheepishly collects my guilty over tipping and we make our way back to the hostel.

The foreign weed and cheap alcohol mixed with the tropical humidity induced a euphoria twisted in nostalgia and sadness. I hold my lovers moist palm while walking to our hostel and wax poetics on what little I remember from the couple of trips I took to the Dominican Republic back in my formative years. All I could think about was if my mother had never had the balls to leave her country – with me in her belly to go to a country she didn’t know – my life would have been just like one of those beggar children. My smiling eyes watered with gratitude as I wrote the mother’s day email I was planning to send her the next day in my thoughts. My thumb presses deeply into Kara’s palm one more time and caresses it with the realization as to how perfect my life was. My son – thank God and the fate that guides us – did not have to live like these kids. My stomach then starts to upstage my serenity, but I could care less. I yell at Kara about the perfect wedding proposal I have planned for her – while painfully shitting out whatever I ate on the plane – from our weed ash filled bathroom.

This is the photo I couldn’t take: