A smoking-hot Shia LaBeouf playing rednecks is getting me through this pandemic

I’ve never given Shia LaBeouf more than a fleeting thought. I am out of the demographic who would’ve grown up with him on Disney’s “Even Stevens,” and the first time I watched anything he was in it was “Holes” due to a friend’s movie pick.

“That kid is gonna be a big star,” he said.

I liked the movie enough, and said, “Uh, OK.”

This was also the same friend who saw Obama speak in 2004 and said, “That guy is going to be the next President of the United States!” I was like, “No way, he just got elected to the U.S. Senate. He’s way too inexperienced.”

The point is: What do I know?

Now, 15 years later, in a hellish pandemic that is sparing no one’s mental health, I have discovered a magic antidote to cope. It’s not getting enough sleep. Or meditating. Or baking fucking sourdough bread.

It’s Shia LaBeouf playing rednecks.

Let me start this by saying I’ve never seen a “Transformers” movie. I know that made him a huge star and bank all those paychecks, but big budget Hollywood action flicks are not my shit at all.

But watching a tatted-up Shia LaBeouf play a white-trash dude looking mangy with a redneck accent? Sign me up.

If you’ve been digging around the dregs of your Netflix, Prime, Hulu, HBO, etc., queues, it’s time to get some serious LaBeouf into your life. These all have the added benefits of actually being good movies, too, with “serious acting” so you can feel like you’re being educated while indulging in your soft-core filth. I’m not going to make you watch any “Transformers” trash, though I might just go back for those, too.

Let’s take a walk through a few of my favorite LaBeouf movies and redneck moments from my quarantine.

1. “Honey Boy” – The gateway drug to modern-day LaBeouf.

I was sick and isolating, waiting for my test results (Covid negative) and scrolling through my newly engaged Prime account when I saw this movie, an account of LaBeouf’s childhood and subsequent adult efforts toward recovery and sobriety. I was more interested in the story than him for sure.

I’ll warn you, this entry point to discovering LaBeouf is not a sexy look for him. BUT you should be intrigued enough by the skills LaBeouf pulls off in this film to want to see more of his work.

LaBeouf wrote the script and plays his own father, a war vet struggling with sobriety overseeing his kid’s career. After getting arrested, the fake young Shia LaBeouf gets sent to court-ordered rehab, where he starts digging into why he is diagnosed with PTSD.

With what you see in the movie — the shitty L.A. motel, junk-food diet, verbal and emotional abuse and more — it’s amazing that the real LaBeouf could put on the bad wig and glasses and play his pops every day, but he does. Apparently, writing that screenplay in rehab just wasn’t cathartic enough.

It’s a good movie that firmly cements the notion that LaBeouf can tell a story (despite his earlier dabbles with lifting other people’s work), and gives a lot of background to his bad-boy behavior and why he was acting out so much.

2. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” – Better than spoonfuls of crunchy, organic peanut butter when you’re high.

From there, my friendly computer algorithm (kidding, they’re not friendly and AI will soon crush us like little ants, according to Elon Musk, but for now here are some other film choices you might like, stupid human!) suggested I might enjoy another fine flick I would’ve passed over: “The Peanut Butter Falcon.”

Holy shit, sad little quarantining dwellers of Planet Earth, see this uplifting, heartwarming little slice of cinematic feel-good heaven right fucking now. It will warm your soul better than a three-day weekend of ultimate hygge buried in Chip and Joanna reruns with Ina Gartner as your own personal chef.

LaBeouf plays a troubled fisherman (nailing his coastal redneck North Carolina accent according to my North Carolina friend) who crosses paths with a young man with Down Syndrome, played by Zack Gottsagen, who has just escaped his group retirement home to pursue his dream of going to a professional wrestling school.

This unlikely buddy movie is absurd as it sounds, but it’s also wonderful. They billed this as a modern-day Mark Twain-type adventure, and it’s filled with pure laugh-out-loud and heart-strings-a-pullin’ moments, which is tough to do.

A redneck LaBeouf is smoking hot despite never changing his dingy white t-shirt the entire time. And the rapport between him and Gottsagen reaches teary-eye levels, especially when they’re shooting the shit around the campfire at night.

This is honestly my favorite thing I’ve seen all pandemic. I watched it twice.

3. “American Honey” – NY Mag‘s Vulture told me I should watch it. You should too.

This is not an easy-to-watch film, filled with hard knocks and depressing scenes with tiny moments of flickering joy and beauty scattered throughout. Like life, no?

LaBeouf plays Jake, the charming co-leader of a merry band of lost white-trash souls selling magazines door-to-door. He’s second-in-command only to his partner, the group’s show-me-the-money leader Krystal. LaBeouf picks up newcomer Star, played by Sasha Lane (her first role ever), in a Kmart parking lot and offers her a gig.

With no other options and a miserable existence, Star joins the kids in their packed cargo van to go tour the Midwest. From Kansas City to the oil fields of North Dakota, the cinematography captures both the best and the most depressing parts of this region, from rolling hills and lush green trees, to bland highways dotted with fast-food joints and truck-stop parking lots. They stay in filthy roadside motels by night, and rove upper- and middle-class neighborhoods by day, seeing what life is like on the other side. It’s the perfect backdrop for kids who are seemingly free to party and live it up, but also trapped in a hand-to-mouth cycle on a road to nowhere, no matter how many fake magazine subscriptions they sell or miles they burn up.

LaBeouf delivers as the door-to-door salesman clearly aspiring to something more in this world filled with despair, as does Star, his new hire and obsession. All he wants is to save enough money for a cabin in the woods some day. Don’t we all, Jake, don’t we all.

Oh, and despite his braided rat tail, the sex scenes are smoking hot.

4. Bonus material on the internets.

Needless to say, after watching a few awesome movies, I started searching for more Shia LaBeouf and quickly got sucked into a pandemic rabbit hole much better than any doomsday scroll. I mean, Shia even adopted a pandemic puppy — how fucking cute is that?

I’ll leave you with this gem that just made me like him even more because a) he can tell a good story, and b) he clearly has a sense of humor about being a jackass. LaBeouf’s retelling of how he got arrested in New York City at “Cabaret” is pure gold.

A Tale of Two Bars and Why the Douchebags Who Frequent One Are the Kavanaughs to Avoid

A talented musician I knew was playing a show in my former undergrad town. After the show, he was just wandering around the downtown area, looking for a nice place to unwind.

Now, there were two popular bars that sat side-by-side in downtown Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa. One, the Sports Column was, you guessed it, a sports bar, filled with TVs, neon, Bud signs, and dedicated to, you guessed it, SPORTS. The Sports Column was to be avoided at all costs. It was filled with drunken, white fratboys binge-drinking and spoiling for a fight, and the sorority girls who put on heels and tiny dresses, tottering through the frigid streets in December, refusing to wear a coat because it would mess up their “look,” to appease them.

The other was the Deadwood, a filthy, dark room filled with sticky booths, pool tables in high demand, and a jukebox that was constantly cranking out James Brown, the Velvet Underground, and classic Rolling Stones songs at all hours of the day. A constant cloud of cigarette smoke hung about two feet above all the tables at all times, and pitchers of cheap Wisconsin beer Leinenkugel’s flowed to keep the liberal arts majors going.

The exit to the Sports Column was right next to the Deadwood, so clearly, if you’d never been there before, you could get easily mixed up on how to get into the Deadwood.

“I tried to go into the Deadwood, and there were a bunch of drunk fratboys rolling out of the door,” my friend told me, who was alone at the time. “They said to me, ‘Where the fuck do you think you’re going, fag?’ ” and pushed me around.”

“That’s the Sports Column,” I told him. “Not surprised.”

My friend did eventually find the door to the Deadwood, and he had a good time. I have tons of fond memories of that place. It’s where I drank coffee and watched “The Simpsons,” which they played every afternoon as a study break. It’s where my writer, arts, theater and science-geek friends–basically anyone who wasn’t a business major or in a frat or sorority–hung out and drank beer and smoked cigarettes and played pool and pumped quarters into the jukebox to hear songs recorded well before any of us were born, and where most importantly of all, we talked about ideas. Works of art. Things were were working on, creating, passionate about, and hopes of what we were going to do after college.

I probably shouldn’t make too many assumptions about the bro bars of the world, but what the fuck, I’ll go ahead anyway. I’m pretty sure those types of convos were not the norm at the Sports Column. And if the one frat party I attended is any indication of that culture–where my friends and I were immediately critiqued out loud on our looks and criticized for not bringing any beer–well, these were cultures we quickly learned to avoid at all costs.

Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa, is perhaps a great example of the stark lines that divide the Left and the Right–even back then. Home to a Big Ten football team and SPORTS, you are constantly in the shadow of these big-money generating items for the school, and all the privileges that come with them. On the other hand, you are at one of the best state schools for writing in the country, home to the Writers’ Workshop, and all the literary giants that come with that.

As a liberal arts student, and a poor white kid, the lines between the haves and have nots, and where you landed was never not in your face. You were reminded on the daily that you were just lucky to be there. Whether your class was being rescheduled to accommodate football players, who never showed up by the way, to privileged white kids from moneyed suburbs of Chicago spouting off in rhetoric class that affirmative action is bullshit, because those poor kids from the South Side got bussed in for one week to try for college admissions, and if they didn’t make it in, it was all their fault and too fucking bad for them.

You never forgot which side you were on.

And the privileged, bro-ey culture reigned supreme. The scariest, most violent moments of my life, either being followed while running, men exposing themselves to me, being yelled at from moving cars and things thrown at me, to outright being almost assaulted, all happened and thrived in this good ol’ college town.

These guys are the Brett Kavanaughs of the world. And, yes, they can sadly be dumped into a few stereotypes: Entitled, probably bored, insecure, they live for messing with other people to elevate themselves. They go looking to start trouble, predators going out for the night. Hence, the barfights.

This statement alone from the NY Times is filled with so many embarrassing moments, he really should be banished to a Chevy dealership somewhere in the ‘burbs.

According to a police report, Judge Kavanaugh, then an undergraduate at Yale, was accused of throwing ice at another man “for some unknown reason” at a bar in New Haven. Chad Ludington, one of Judge Kavanaugh’s college classmates, said in a statement on Sunday that the altercation had occurred after a UB40 concert, when he and a group of people went to a bar called Demery’s and were drinking pints. The brawl began when the group was staring at a man they thought resembled the lead singer of UB40, irritating him.

Let’s just take a collective moment to stop, think, and laugh that Kavanaugh probably spent money to see UB40.

Brett Kavanaugh, despite his academic accomplishments, still is at his core one of the guys who talk about their “Glory Days,” which Bruce Springsteen so poignantly depicts in his song about small-town heroes who grow up to be adult losers who continue to wax poetic about being small-town heroes, who really, were just privileged douchebags who got everything they wanted before they turned 18 and are now bitter that life didn’t just continue to roll out the red carpet forever for them.

The sad thing is, we KNEW who these guys were, in high school, in college, and now in the boardrooms of life, where, no kidding, you are still constantly reminded that you’re just fucking lucky to be there. And we avoided–and continue to avoid them–at all costs.

The unfortunate thing is that sometimes it is impossible to avoid them. How often a Kavanaugh clone injects themselves into our paths to mess with us just to mess with us. A display of pathetic power over people who already have less power to begin with.

To me, this whole Kavanaugh confirmation hearing simply goes back to a tale of two bars in Iowa City over two decades ago. One, a hotbed of white privilege being driven into a needless, fruitless frenzy fueled by beer and boredom and entitlement. The other, a bar filled with all kinds of different people, coming together peacefully to talk about and get excited about ideas.

At the end of every bar night in Iowa City and last call at 2 a.m., I can’t even tell you how many rollicking bar fights came flying out of the Sports Column’s doors as people calmly strolled out of the Deadwood, dodging those bodies on our way home.

I think that behavior speaks for itself.

Shitty guy shit

About a year ago or so, before Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K., and Charlie Rose, and that Today show douche Matt Lauer–who was seeking a $30M golden parachute for, in part, getting fired for showing his penis at work–I was in my therapist’s office grousing about something or other, and all of a sudden, I was like, “You know what it is? It’s just shitty guy shit. Just random, they don’t realize they’re doing it, shitty fucking guy shit.”

She laughed and was like, “You should do something with that.”

So yeah, that was almost a year ago.

Now that all this shitty guy shit and #metoo stuff is coming into the fray, I’ve put off putting anything down. But it keeps coming to mind. Wow, some of that shit really happened to me. And how fucked up was that? Very. Very fucked up.

Perhaps most of all, re-living that stuff in writing is painful as shit. As so many women know, once you bring it up again, you open yourself up to all kinds of criticism, scrutiny, and even, stunningly enough, new fresh, wonderful, personal attacks piggybacking on the old ones.

It pains me to say that I’m not surprised that most of my female friends and colleagues have endured some sort of physical or emotional trauma or assault in their lives. What’s more painful is just how acceptable it has been for men to act like that, get away with it, and often live incredibly rewarding lives while tearing down those around them in spite of their shitty guy shit.

The worst part? I know that most of these guys would claim to be “good guys.” Good fathers, husbands, employers or employees. No self-awareness whatsoever. How nice, how very fucking nice for you all to keep on, keepin’ on.

This is just a list, plain and simple, of the personal shitty guy shit I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Oh, and I’ve omitted the regular shitty guy shit that includes: Lying, cheating, stealing, and freeloading. To make this list you have to have been violent, abusive, or a total creeper. So gnaw on that for a little while.

1. My first high school boyfriend smacked me across the face when I told him I didn’t want to get back together — after he dumped me to basically fuck around with one of my best friends.

2. Same boyfriend also: Slammed me into a set of lockers at school in front of a lot of kids (no one did anything); and also pushed me down at a party. My head landed a few inches away from a rock or tree stump, I don’t remember. I just remember I’m very lucky it didn’t split my head open.

3. In college at University of Iowa, Iowa City, I noticed the same car following me on my route as I was running one Friday afternoon. At the end of my run, the guy pulls up in front of me. He has his pants open and is jacking off.

4. Same guy follows me again 2 weeks later. Also jacking off.

5. Also college: Random dude in apartment across the way is pacing in his apartment, muttering obscenities. It’s summer and our windows are open, and my blinds are slightly open. I’m back from work and want to change clothes so I shut my blinds. He says, “That’s right, go ahead and shut your blinds, you fucking cunt.” I am terrified to call the cops because this psycho obviously knows where I live.

6. My roommate, when I relate this story to her, laughs and says, “Oh, yeah, he did that to me, too.”

7. I am getting a ride home at 2 a.m. from a concert with a work friend (I am sober), when a large roving pack of drunk college boys are walking past my apartment. They start swarming around her car, and she and her friend are thoroughly freaked out. Instead of going around the block and waiting for them to leave, they scream “get out” and kick me out of the car in the pack.

Two guys stay behind. They are wasted and trying to convince me to come to the afterparty. I am terrified and trying not to piss them off, politely declining, saying I have work first thing in the morning (true) and to go ahead without me. One guy is huge, about 6’5″ and 250 pounds. They keep badgering me to come with them to the party, edging me closer to my apartment complex’s brick wall.

The big dude snaps, gets in my face, and yells at me, “You fucking bitch. I’m going to kick the shit out of you.” He continues to get closer and yell in my face, about how he is going to “kill me,” and “fucking beat me to death,” and I think, “This is it. This is how I’m going to die,” and imagine him pushing my head into the brick wall.

The other guy says something, and he stops yelling at me and looks at the other dude. I take off fucking running for my life and dive underneath a nearby car to hide. The two drunk dudes continue to argue in front of my building and search for me for about 10 to 15 minutes, until they finally give up and wander off.

I finally get into my apartment, and am too terrified to turn on the lights, and basically crawl on the floor to bed, where, of course, I do not sleep. The next morning, when my colleague asks how I “made it through that group of drunk dudes to my apartment,” I tell her to go fuck herself.

8. I’m happily walking home from class one day, while a carload of random frat boys catcall somebody, and when I look at them, they yell, “Not you, you ugly fucking bitch.”

This was all in Iowa, BTW.

9. In Las Vegas, as an entertainment reporter, I am constantly asked when I’m going to get a boob job.

10. I am also asked, inevitably when in line at airports headed back to Vegas, by regular Midwestern Joe’s in khakis with their golf clubs, if I’m headed to Vegas to strip.

11. In Vegas, while running one night with my hair up, I hear two pre-teen boys up the street start talking about me, “Is that a girl or is that a fag?” one says, total hate in his voice. “That’s a fag!” says the other one. “Let’s beat him up!” I take off running faster than I can ever remember because I know if they catch me they will either beat me up or worse. I tell my friend, a public defender, this story later that night. “Future clients,” he says.

12. In Vegas, also while running, I had more slurs hurled at me from moving cars than I care to remember. Also, quarters  (which hurt from a moving car), and once, part of a Subway sandwich.

13. In Chicago, one boyfriend often gets drunk and berates me, calling me “ugly, fat, and stupid” on a regular basis. One especially lovely New Year’s Eve, he gets wasted and starts yelling at me for hours, and makes me sleep on the floor.

14. Also Chicago, there is a man assaulting women in the near North neighborhoods. After work, in daylight, walking back to my apartment from the bus stop, I get the weird feeling that someone is following me and closing in. I turn around and just fucking glare at him. The guy following me looks exactly like the police sketch. He and I give each other looks, like we know what’s up. And I just keep glaring at him, like, “Look, you can try motherfucker, but it won’t be easy,” until he crosses the street.

Whether it was him or not, I do not care. I am not willing to “spare someone’s feelings” at my own expense. I wait for him to disappear before I, again absolutely fucking terrified, go into my building because I don’t want him to know where I live.

15. Also Chicago, while walking to bodega to get milk, I accidentally witness a drug transaction in our back alley. The dealers, two dudes in a car, glare at me and slowly follow me in their car to the bodega and sit outside while I am in there for 10 excruciating minutes. Finally, they leave. I walk back to my apartment utterly terrified to go out for milk in the middle of the day.

16. I have no shitty man shit incidents to report from New York City. It was, oddly enough, the safest place I’ve ever lived.

17. Seattle: When I write pro-women, pro-equal rights articles for a popular tech news site, women and minorities are often called out in the comments by tech bros for being a bunch of fucking crybabies who get special treatment at work. Oh, and we’re also taking their jobs.

Are you tired yet?

Northern Thailand and the Best Meal I Had This Year

When you travel you will meet many people, but there will only be a small handful who stick in your mind as remarkable. On my trip throughout Southeast Asia I met two such people: Here is the story of the first.

“What should I do next?” I asked my Airbnb host in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Of course, I had the guidebooks and the internets and my friends’ recommendations, yet what they were all telling me to do next didn’t really jive with what I wanted to do. After the chaos of Bangkok and the still very-white-European experience of wandering around Chiang Mai for days, I was really jones-ing to get away from coffeeshops and dreadlocked Germans.

“Let me rephrase that,” I said. “What would you do if you had a few days off?”

When you travel, of course, you do all the tourist-y stuff. I mean what would be a trip to Seattle without seeing the Space Needle, or NYC without a visit to the Statue of Liberty, or not seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris? Honestly, I don’t really care for that stuff.

I was only Week Two into my big Southeast Asia trip and if I had to take my shoes off and go through yet another temple to look at more gold Buddhas, I was going to go mental.

My Airbnb host looked at me, sizing me up to see if I’d really dig the local stuff. Then he said, “There are two places not too far from here up in the mountains. This one has really cute little huts, and still has some Wi-Fi and massages and stuff like that if you don’t totally want to go off the grid,” he said, pulling it up on his laptop.

“But this other one is really remote. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s incredible. I’ve had families go up, and the kids come back and they were like, ‘It’s boring! I hated it.’ But their parents love it cause there’s nothing up there but the bamboo huts and the woods.”

Kids hate it? Sold.

No sticky, sugary treats? No big-screen TVs? No video games, or internet, or shiny things, or overpriced plastic shit to buy? Done and done.

The place, Bamboo Nest, is about 23 kilometers north of Chiang Rai, which turned out to be a very bumpy four- to five-hour, nausea-inducing bus ride from Chiang Mai.

From the website:

Bamboo Nest , we offer without electricity, fan or air-condition only breath fresh , cool mountain air, live with nature , relax without pressure to buy things you don’t want.
We provide light at nighttime by solar power”

Photo credit: Bamboo Nest

Photo credit: Bamboo Nest

Once I got off the bus and was waiting for someone to pick me up, I found a few other passengers who were clearly waiting, too, including a nice couple from the UK about to embark on a bike tour through Laos, a single woman traveler from Australia, and two charming young couples from Denmark and Croatia.

The place is owned and operated by a pair, Nok and Noi. When the woman Nok rolled up in her pickup to load our bags, then a different open-air truck came to retrieve us, and we started ascending super-steep, bumpier, smaller dirt roads that turned into even smaller, bumpier dirt roads, I was pretty much in heaven. The final road to the camp was so steep that we had to get off the truck and hike up about a half mile.

The road from the village to the camp.

The road from the village to the camp.

Once we got up there, the man Noi, started grabbing our bags and showing us our cabins, little bamboo hits in the hills. I found mine and just left my rollaway outside the door while I went in and started poking around and opening the windows.

Noi came up to the window and was like, “Here, let me get you your bag,” and started to put it through the window. Then, he picked up some stray dead bamboo leaves off the pristine garden outside the window, muttering to himself, “So much to clean up, so much to do!” and wandered off.

This was my room.

This was my room.

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This was my hut.

I was thinking, what a curious little man.

The next day, I signed up for a “jungle tour and lunch then river cruise” along with a few of the other people. I figured we’d walk thru the woods and then stop at a local village for lunch, as did everyone else. That was not the case at all.

Noi, who was pretty much the one-man show of the camp, doing all the construction (I saw him with two huge logs on his shoulders, powering up the bumpy road driving his motorbike with one hand), grounds work, and now hospitality, started leading us up a crazy steep path into the jungle.

“Are there poisonous snakes here?” asked the Danish girl.

“Noooo,” said Noi, then paused. “Only cobra.”

So was Noi’s humor, taking us through the jungle.

After about an hour and a half of steep hiking, we stopped in a clearing in the path. And he goes, “Ok, now we have lunch.”

We look around at each other. Huh?

“This is my second kitchen,” he says.

Then we see where he’s going with this. He takes his machete and starts hacking away at dried, dead bamboo and builds a fire. He then takes huge bamboo leaves to cover what now appears to be ramshackle table made out of dried sticks. He bounds off into the woods, “Now I go get some frogs for lunch,” he says, leaving us there.

“You don’t really think he’s going to get frogs, do you?” said the woman from the UK, laughing.

“Don’t know. Seems anything is possible at this point,” said her husband.

Noi comes bounding back with some huge bamboo shoots. He then starts hacking those up into tubes, and unloads his backpack, which we know see is filled with baggies of egg, rice, chicken and coconut water.

“Ok,” he says. “Now you help make lunch.” He shows us how to tamp down food into the bamboo shoots, filling it with coconut water a little at a time, filling each with egg and rice. Then we stack them over the fire. Next up is spearing the chicken and placing that over the fire.

Noi making a fire in his jungle kitchen.

Noi making a fire in his jungle kitchen.

Noi covering his jungle kitchen prep space with bamboo leaves.

Noi covering his jungle kitchen prep space with bamboo leaves.

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Noi showing us how to put food in bamboo to cook it.

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More bamboo stuffing.

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We eat our meal with our hands right off the prep table. Best tasting chicken, rice and egg I’ve ever tasted.

While Noi is constantly hopping around, hacking at bamboo with a machete, this 90-pound man is chain-smoking cigarettes, and telling us tales about how the locals believe in “black magic,” so if they get injured or “bit by cobra” they drink some potion from a local medicine man, and just pray and do the “black magic” to save themselves.

We don’t know how much he’s putting on a show or not, but he’s a pretty amusing storyteller. But he also tells us that we don’t see any animals in the jungle because the local people have pretty much eaten them all because they are starving, a very sobering thought indeed.

When the food is cooked, we peel the bamboo shoots just like a banana to reveal cooked eggs and rice, which we stand around the table and eat with our hands. For dessert, he pulls out tiny pineapples and chops them up. It is one of the most delicious meals I have ever had in my life.

Later that day, after we discover that Noi himself is a vegetarian — he goes through the woods, plucking plants from the ground and eating them “Oh, this one is good,” he says, like a Thai version of “Survivor Man” — he takes us through local villages with starving dogs, buying a few buns to feed them, spreading a little peace and goodwill everywhere we go from village to village.

At the end of the day, we get picked up by the truck, and there is not enough room for everyone in the front. A former farm kid, I’m more than happy to sit in the back with Noi.

“Where are you from in America?” he asked me.

“Seattle.”

“Seattle…Boeing!” he says, very excited. “What was flying here like?”

“Well, it’s very long, like 14 hours, and they serve you a couple meals and you sleep and watch movies…” I watch his eyes widening. “Have you never flown before?”

“No! That is why I’m asking you!” he says.

So, I try to explain more about what I know about airplanes, which is not a lot at all, in the back of that truck climbing up the mountains of Thailand, and I realize that this incredibly handy man, who engineers buildings and kitchens in the jungle out of next to nothing would probably have made a damn great airplane engineer at Boeing.

“Where would you go if you could fly anywhere?” I ask Noi.

He pauses. “South Africa,” he says firmly.

“Why?”

“I want to see the animals,” he said.

A few days later, as I was packed up and ready to depart back to the Chiang Rai airport, Noi and I had a smoke, a moment and look, and he was like, “You please make sure to come back now.”

I didn’t meet many other Americans on my travels throughout Southeast Asia or Indonesia. One, it’s dang far away. Two, we just don’t get enough vacation time to make that journey work. Three, I believe that, here in the U.S., we tend to be raised without the natural curiosity and openness to experience other cultures, in fact, we are taught the opposite — to fear and distrust “the other.”

If you do not travel or even open your mind and heart to “the others,” you deprive yourself the priceless experience of meeting and connecting with other people around the world who have much to teach you. I did not always understand their viewpoints, or even agree with everyone I met or sat down with, but I think about each and every one of the people who helped ferry me safely along my journey, and especially those who taught me something over a home- or jungle-cooked meal. And for this, I am thankful.

More pics from Bamboo Nest:

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This is the view from top of hill at camp. The roof of my cabin is bottom left.

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The view from my balcony.

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Sunset.

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Ye old fire pit where everyone gathers after dinner to drink cold beers, smoke cigs and talk. My trip, there were people from Australia, UK, Denmark, Croatia, and Austria.

 

 

Headed to a Red State for the Holidays? Here’s a Survival Guide

With the travesty of last week’s happenings behind us, and many of us still shaking from Week 1, aka the Worst Week Ever if you’re that woman who got punched in the face in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, or a kid who had to listen to your classmates chant “Build that Wall,” or just a general peace-loving citizen who’s now being maliciously attacked for just, well, being, if you made it through this week somewhat intact, well, congrats.

Unfortunately, for those of us swaddled in our Coastal Liberal Bubbles of North Face jackets and NPR, we are not totally immune to ‘Mer-Kuh when it comes to that age-old quest: Heading home for the holidays.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it here: It’s painful to dislodge yourself from the land of sky blue waters and intellectual freedom to find yourself in the backdrop to a sadass Alexander Payne movie (is there any other kind?) about Midwestern strife, only to rub your eyes and realize that Alaska Airlines did not drop you in a shitty Hollywood backdrop with Jack Nicholson smoking nearby. It has, indeed, dropped you in Omaha. The real Omaha. And shit’s about to get real, yo.

This year my worst holiday nightmare won’t be enduring a crappy meal at Red Lobster, or sitting around watching my nephew puke up his quinoa in protest while yelling “IDIOTS.” This year will involve immersing myself, still fresh with the very raw wounds of our eventual demise and downfall, in the land filled with the willful ignorance that deposited that troll into our very highest office in the country. And I, too, will be fighting back an undeniable urge to puke on every dinner table and yell “IDIOTS” every chance I get.

But, as they supposedly say, I am an adult. And this year, it’s all about self-preservation. Fuck trying to “get along” and listen to idiots talk about their idiot ideas, which are very likely not based in fact or reason, but in easy-to-repeat slogans printed on T-shirts made in China. I’m taking the Zombie Apocalypse view of heading to a Red State for the holidays. And that means self-preservation at all costs.

Here, my quick guide to surviving the holidays in a Red State:

Photo credit: Cypress Hill

Photo credit: Cypress Hill

Pot

I come from the land of milk and honey and pot that is basically spilling out of shops on every corner. I live directly across the street from one such recreational shop, and may I say that it is better than living close to a bar by leaps and bounds. People come and go, but don’t linger, as this is a quick business exchange of stress relief/happy fun times for money and they respect it as such.

That said, DO NOT TRAVEL with weed. I know several people who risk getting arrested for a $20 spot of the green and let me say, fucking with TSA and the Federal government is not worth it. Weed is pretty plentiful everywhere. And sure, I don’t expect the Midwest shit to be as awesome as the great Pacific Northwest shit, but it will probably be enough to get me through.

Find your local hometown pot connection and makes plans to get some shit ASAP upon landing. It will help sustain you through the next three to seven days, which brings me to…

Don’t drink too much (or at all)

Yep, you heard me right. Want to guarantee you lose your cool and get baited into some dumbass argument over Christmas dinner with dipshit Uncle Ted and his Make America Great Again hat? Drink too much. Alcohol, usually your friend to endure the holidays, is not your friend this year. Save it for when you get back.

Noise-canceling headphones. This should explain itself.

Photo credit: Amazon

Photo credit: Amazon

Netflix. Hulu. HBOGo. And holy-shit-I’m-even-recommending Amazon Prime. 

I hate Amazon, but holy shit, they got good shows. Get your subscriptions. ALL the damn subscriptions. Load up your programs, big kudos to those that champion diversity like Transparent, and prepare to watch the holy fuck out of all of them.

Books by the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Pema Chodron, and every other damn Pacifist/Activist/Buddhist you can think of. Double points if you crack open a book by Barack Obama.

Find the other liberal friends who are either still home or plan to be. Make plans to hang out in a safe zone (not your town’s local bar or bowling alley or anywhere a methed-up someone is likely to pull a hunting rifle on you) and talk shit about the state of the world.

Stay busy. Book the fuck out of this trip back. Is there a tiny goat petting zoo you have always been dying to go to? GREAT. Fucking get stoned and GO DO IT. With your headphones on, of course.

Book a spa day. Seriously, these spas tend to be dirt cheap. Go ahead, get your rub on.

Go thrifting. I love me some thrifting in small towns for a couple reasons. 1. The old people die and leave behind vintage shit that the local Abercrombie & Fitch wearing locals don’t want. 2. See the dirt cheap thing.

Go to Target. I love me some Middle America Target. It’s worth a few hours to kill.

Give the gift of non-hate. I love the recommendation to give gifts to organizations like Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, the Trevor Project and more, per this Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segment, to your Trump-lovin’ relatives. The double beauty of this is that is also makes up for every shitty gift they’ve ever given you.

And, finally, make your place super awesome to come home to. This is your Present Self taking care of Future Self. It’s going to be rough. You’re going to go into the trenches of hate, despair and unlimited buffets. You need to have a safe, warm respite to look forward to when you get back.

Wash your sheets and make your bed pretty. Clean your house. Load your fridge with your favorite foods, buy those fancy-pants artisanal sodas and twee cheeses and crackers and speciality lotions, potions and candles. Your fucking deserve all this locally sourced, small-batch, organic farmer shit. You know why?

You just survived the holidays in a Red State.

Why you should never, ever ride an elephant

Meeting an elephant can be many things—daunting, thrilling, invigorating—but nothing really prepares you for that first up-close encounter. The only word that can capture that is magical.

“Welcome to Jurassic Park,” said an Australian in our group, as we gazed out on dozens of the massive creatures freely strolling the grounds. It will not be the last time the famous dinosaur park movie is referenced at this elephant rescue camp.

Elephant Nature Park is a haven for rescued animals just over 37 miles north of Thailand’s second largest city, energetic and artsy Chiang Mai. The park is home to 66 elephants that have been rescued from brutal trades, including logging in the mountains, trekking camps and circuses.

img_1629Thailand banned commercial logging in 1989, but several businesses that rely on elephant power unfortunately remain and often use abusive practices on these magnificent creatures. “Working” elephants are required to toil long hours, fed too little to maintain a healthy body weight, and many endure the aforementioned cruel physical abuse at the hands of their owners.

The park was founded by Sangduen Chailert, or “Lek,” who was born in a nearby mountain community. Lek, with her husband Adam, created the park in 1996 as a refuge for these magnificent giants, giving them a forever home. She is viewed as a pioneer in new elephant tourism.

“All it takes is one person with an idea to do something different,” said my Dutch guesthouse owner in Chiang Mai. “When she started that camp, people thought it was crazy. They were like, ‘Who is going to pay money to just see elephants doing nothing, no tricks, no performances?’ ”

It turns out a lot of people are willing to pay for that. In Thailand’s January high season, the park was absolutely filled with hundreds of guests on the viewing decks to view the elephants in a natural habitat.

The elephants are left free to roam, each in small herds or on their own. When a new elephant arrives at the park, it chooses a group, usually comprised of three to six animals, and if that pack’s leader accepts the new addition, the elephant has happily found a new family. The park is dotted with different “herds,” each with its own distinct personality—some are quiet, older animals, some packs include babies and teens that are more playful and rambunctious.

img_1514Every elephant has its own mahout, the caretakers carefully watching, feeding and communicating with their animal. It is an amazing sight to watch a mahout instruct his elephant or guide it to viewing spots, like the river to bathe, or the main guesthouse for a hand-feeding of watermelons and squash.

Given many of the animals’ heartbreaking stories, it is a great relief to not see a whip or chain in sight. As you tour the park, guides share the backstories of many of the elephants. One 70-plus-year-old matriarch has a story that is horrid but all-too-common here. Formerly in the logging trade, she had given birth high on a steep mountain and lost her baby as it fell down the hill. In mourning, she could not work, and her owner beat her and took a slingshot to her eyes, blinding her with rocks.

Yet another elephant had stepped on a landmine, devastatingly injuring her foot. Yet others have suffered broken legs and hips, or significant mental and physical abuse. A former circus elephant cannot have a photo taken because the shutter reminds her of years of abuse while performing for pictures. Yet despite these traumas, the elephants show remarkable resiliency and appear at peace, even happy.

The guest experiences involve tending to the elephants’ comfort and needs. Each animal eats about 20 hours per day, sleeping only four. It takes a significant amount of food to sustain each one, Asian elephants eating about 300 pounds of food per day. Guests hand-feed them, placing an abundance of fruit and veg in their trunks to eat, and take them to the river to throw buckets of cool water on them at bath time.

img_1616Standing next to your first elephant for a photo is a simply unforgettable experience—their sheer size, the fluidity of their movements, the way their trunk unfurls to grab a cucumber or watermelon, the thick, rough texture of their skin and the soulfulness of their eyes. Despite their massive size, elephants are superbly graceful. They don’t walk, they almost glide and are so quiet that one weighing two or three tons can sidle up right next to you without you even noticing.

On the last day, as dusk was nearing, and the elephants were leaving the mud hole, a mahout approached his elephant, talking to her for some minutes, touching his forehead to hers. Even from several feet off, you could tell the elephant completely understood, a mutual exchange of respect and adoration.

“I see them every day,” said our guide with a smile, taking in the scene. “And I never get tired of watching them.”

Elephant Nature Park offers several different excursions, starting with day trips to extended volunteer options. Find out more about the park here.

A Prince Moment

If you are like me, your social feeds and your mind blew up on April 21. It was the unbelievable, no-fucking-way day that Prince died.

Everyone over the age of 30–hell, everyone period–should have a Prince story. A moment in time that transcended from good to EPIC simply because someone, somewhere had the wisdom to throw on some Prince jams.

Perhaps the best tribute came from fellow Twin Cities native son, Paul Westerberg of that scruffy bunch of nerf herders called the Replacements. Westerberg simply wrote, “I Can’t Think of Anyone Better.”

My first recollection of seeing him was a dress rehearsal for one of his early tours. I was next to another musician, a couple other guys that were up-and-comers and that thought they were hot shit, and we were watching Prince. The guy turned to me and said, “I’m fucking embarrassed to be alive.” And that’s how I felt. He was so good. It was like, “What are we doing? This guy is, like, on a different planet than we are.”

After reading this essay, I sat and tried to think of one modern-era musician who was/is better than Prince. I can think of no one. Not Dylan. Not Lennon/McCartney, not Jagger/Richards. Not even David Bowie. Prince was all those guys plus James Brown, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix turned up way over 11.

There is no one who had/has Prince’s level of musicianship, composition skills, creativity, style and just the right amount of cray-cray to push a person’s boundaries and buttons. He was transcendent. And every moment Prince touched? It suddenly and magically became transcendent, too.

I was lucky enough to see Prince twice. One was a “secret” late-night show in Vegas at the MGM Grand. I had heard from other musicians in Minneapolis that Prince would often “just show up” late at night at random bars throughout the Twin Cities and start jamming. He also did this everywhere he would travel. And Prince jams. And jams. And jams. He played for like three hours that night. I was astounded by his energy level. But also…

Image via Wikipedia

His guitar playing. I don’t think many people realize what an incredible guitarist he was. I’ve never seen anyone play the way Prince did, and still move around the stage and dance like it was nothing.

“You people want hits? I’ll tear this place down,” Prince yelled during his show at the Rio in Las Vegas during his 3121 residency. “I got too many hits!”

Every musician I’ve ever interviewed? They are completely in awe of his mad skills not only on the guitar but on every instrument. I have never talked to any professional rock star not completely humbled by Prince. No one. They do not exist. He is so universally awesome that it must be agreed upon by everyone. Saying you don’t like Prince is like saying you don’t like the Sky, or the Ocean, or Oxygen. Or being Alive.

Ever have a moment that seemed to transcend all space and time and awesomeness because of Prince? That is a Prince moment. Here are a few of mine:

My trifecta of ’80s top albums goes back to the Big Three, brought to our small, rural farmhouse thanks to the Columbia Record and Tape Club. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” and Prince’s “Purple Rain” fueled many impromptu living room dance parties, but no record felt as fun and delightfully bad as Prince. We didn’t know exactly what it all meant–we were in grade school–and when Little Nikki started to grind it pissed off our mother like nothing else. But, and this is a big BUT, kudos to her for never taking it away. Even Cathy knew we had to kick out the jams.

Image via imdb.com

When I still lived in Iowa, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we were out for the night and ended up at this fan-fucking-tastic gay dive bar. It was karaoke night, and we got on stage and did a bring-the-house-down version of “I Would Die 4 U.” Apparently, we also made enough tip money to go out for breakfast at Denny’s. I can’t remember what we had, but ideally, I would like to say it was pancakes. Prince would’ve wanted it that way.

Speaking of karaoke, the Best Karaoke Performance I ever saw goes to an unknown transgender woman at Carol’s in Uptown, another stellar dive bar on the North Side of Chicago. This performer gave it her all on “Purple Rain,” belting out the long ending with the “Woo, woo, woo woos,” right on time and on key and killed it, which is saying something with Carol’s motley crew of old-timers, cowboys, rednecks, bluesmen, hookers, politicians, hipsters, you name it. Best karaoke drop-the-mic performance I ever saw.

I can’t even count how many rocket-queen party nights in Brooklyn were powered by Prince. One particular evening, I was smoking on my stoop and watching a little kid, maybe 6 or 7 years old, doing sweet moves on this little electric motorbike … to Prince! Back and forth he would zip on his bike, standing on the seat, standing on the handlebars, doing gymnastics, to his little radio that was blasting Prince. I was like, “Damn, that has got to be the coolest kid who ever lived.” The coolest kid since Prince was young anyway.

So, there you have it. Transcendent moments in life brought to you by Prince. I’m sure there will hopefully be dozens, hundreds, thousands more. Sure, he would’ve been the guy who recorded 30, 40, 100 more albums, and toured until they were rolling him on and off the stage. But sadly, we have what we have. And what we have is really so very damn much.

10 things that are better in Southeast Asia

Traveling is a superb way to try on what life might be like somewhere else. And like everything else in life, some aspects are better than others. Here are a few things that Southeast Asia does better than the U.S.

IMG_1478

The good stuff.

1. Mosquito repellent. Several years ago while traveling in Jamaica, I needed bug repellent, but all I could find was Johnson’s Baby mosquito lotion. I bought it figuring, “If it works for babies, why wouldn’t it work for adults?”

Guess what. It does. Better even. It smells great and has a light, non-greasy texture. I loved it, and when I brought it back to the States, my friends at the beach, barbecues and other outdoor shenanigans loved it, too.

I don’t know why our mosquito repellent is so awful — that chemically, greasy, strip-your-skin-off stuff that prevails in most American drugstores — but it is. Maybe it’s because these fancy-pants mosquito repellents have banned chemicals that give kids ADHD, but I could not have been more thrilled when I found Johnson’s delightful little green bottle of baby mosquito repellent in Thailand.

Other countries, like Vietnam and Indonesia, had their own awesome versions, too. In fact, I bought one in Vietnam called Remos thinking it was a light moisturizer and didn’t even realize what it was until it started burning my face off. Mistake noted, it ended up being a great repellent when used properly.

The aloe is deceptive but this is one hell of a repellent.

2. Natural food. Food is harvested, taken to market and served in a pretty tight timeline. When you’re sucking down coconut milk served from a coconut(!!!) for 50 cents and eating fresh pineapple, your digestion system starts to thank you for giving it a reprieve from all the preservatives, chemicals, hormones and nonsense we pump into ourselves in the States — even if we try to avoid it.

Delicious and nutritious.

3. Outdoor showers. Nothing beats washing off a day of saltwater, sunscreen and sweat than an outdoor shower. It’s a luxury every warm-weather place in the U.S. should have. Plus, you can hose your kids and dogs off outside. What’s better than that? 

4. 4G in Thailand. When I popped my SIM card in and fired up my Thai 4G I was blown away by the almost instantaneous speed. America, we got a lot of catching up to do.

5. Paper face masks. They sell these paper face masks in practically every convenience store throughout SE Asia. Having a grimy day? Get too much sun? No worries. For about a buck, you can put on one of these masks that make you look like Jason from “Friday the 13th” for 15 to 20 minutes for a little skin-saving treat. I can’t wait until I can buy one of these things alongside a pack of gum and Lotto tickets here.

6. The idea that you don’t need to work all the time. While it might seem counterintuitive to the way Westerners have been programmed, businesses tend to open and close when the owners feel like it. Are they leaving some potential cash on the table? Sure. But they probably see their friends and family more.

7. Cheap massages. Amazing. $12-$20. Once-a-week treats isn’t unheard of even for the locals. Be sure to tip the practitioner a lot.

8. Cheap food. No meal was over $6 in Vietnam. And believe me, I tried.

9. Little hand-held spray hoses by every toilet. This should be self-explanatory.

10. The “it’s all gonna be all right” mentality. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But stressing out about stuff doesn’t help anything.

Walking into your room to these? Excellent.

Scuba diving, a love story

If you’ve ever been on your hands and knees on the upper deck of a rollicking boat, wiping up your own banana-chunked vomit with a sarong, then this story is for you.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.

I have a love/hate relationship with scuba diving. Unlike its sexier cousin, surfing, I never had any strong desire to scuba dive, and it certainly doesn’t hold the appeal of the rush you get when you catch an awesome wave.

To surfing’s “great kisser, fast guy on a motorcycle vibe,” scuba diving is like hanging out with a cute nerd who can add some awesome new features to your computer — you don’t want to see or care about how he got there, but damn, sometimes the results are great. But most of the time it’s boring. And you just want to see some cool shit and get out of the water.

Besides, I learned how to scuba dive with my ex, and it was always more his thing. In fact, he still loves it and even goes cold-water diving in the Pacific Northwest. There’s only one reason to go diving in murky, unfavorably cold waters as far as I’m concerned, and it better involve looking for a body.

So how did I find myself on a live-aboard dive boat in the Indian Ocean?

Well, as Virginia is for lovers, Thailand is for divers.  I am certified and there is supposed to be world-class diving, so I figured why the heck not? I’m here. I got my Padi dive card itching to get out. I need the practice. Let’s do this.

Originally, I had planned to dive the gulf side by the island of Ko Tao, but a diver friend said that the west side on the Andaman Sea was much better. This was an opinion that was supported by several other experienced divers I met (including my dive master on the boat who’s taught in both places). However, if you want to dive the Andaman Sea, you pretty much have to sign up for a live-aboard dive trip since the islands you dive around, the Similan Islands, are about 60 kilometers off the coast.

I’d never been on a live-aboard before, but since I have plenty of experience on boats and have never once experienced sea or motion sickness, I figured I could handle anything for three days. So I happily signed up for a dive shop that came recommended and looked like they had the nicest boats online.

Right before — and I mean literally 30 minutes before — I was to be picked up for my live-aboard dive boat experience, I was polishing off an espresso and had that dreaded feeling. That “uh-oh, I don’t feel so hot” feeling. At first I thought it was heat and dehydration, so I drank more water, popped a Pepto and did a power lap in the pool.

After the driver took me to the dive shop, I was breaking out in feverish sweats, and I realized I was getting full-on sick. I was met at the dive shop by Mark* (not his real name), a stern-looking, serious, blonde, tattooed German with those disgusting gauge ear piercings that make your earholes really big.

On a side note, I would like to know why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to get these. When you want to take them out one day, and you probably will, you then have these huge gaping holes where your earlobes used to be. Nothing is a bigger boner killer than looking at the sad, saggy lobes of an ear that once was. 

Back to Mark.

“So, it says here that you’re open water certified,” he said. “You won’t be able to do any of the dives on this trip since most dives are around 30 meters, and you need deep water certification. But you can get certified on this trip for only 8,300 bhat (that’s about $230).”

“Ugh, classes,” I say, sweating and nauseous. The thought of taking more diving “courses” even when I’m feeling well would piss me off good, but when I’m sitting there with a fever trying to quell down the vomit train, it was enough to make me want to cut a bitch.

The dive “courses,” btw, are tedious. When you get open water certified, you basically have to take your equipment off and on a million times, and do a bunch of underwater drills. It’s important because it teaches you what to do if things go awry — and they will go awry — but it is a real pain. And I hate anyone messing with my mask and my eyes since I wear contacts and can barely see. It’s my thing. Knock my respirator, aka air, out, the one thing that keeps you alive underwater, and I’m like “no biggie.” Get a little water in my mask? I freak the fuck out like Kanye West at an awards show.

The thing is, Mark, who I later dubbed “Neo Nazi,” was quite adamant about following the regulations, which breaks all the “fast and loose cowboy rules” I’ve enjoyed with former shops, where if the dive master wanders past 20 meters you don’t spontaneously combust and die.

“Well, you won’t be able to do any of the deeper dives, and you’ll miss all the cool stuff and the fun,” Neo Nazi says.

“I’m too sick to make this decision right now,” I said. “I’ll tell you later.” Which was entirely true since I’d already told Neo Nazi that I wasn’t feeling well when I arrived.

From the get-go this dive shop really pissed me off. Not only was I sternly told that I was to be ready for pick up at 6 p.m., which I was. But guess what happened next? I spent the better part of the next three hours at the dive shop waiting for the other passengers to show up and watching a completely disorganized staff try to corral the ensuing chaos.

I also watched the dive shop employee at the counter try to up-sell every single person who came in on buying something else they didn’t need, especially Nitrox. Man, did he ever want you to get your Nitrox certification.

And then he refused to refill my water bottle and told me to go buy a bottle next door.

“I’m a paying customer who’s diving with you for the next three days and have been waiting here two hours,” I said, red-faced with clumps of vomit-streaked hair sticking to my face. “I know you have a water station back there somewhere. Refill my water bottle.”

They refilled my water bottle.

The dive shop also housed a frying station where they were deep-frying everything. Dive instructors and van drivers were chain-smoking cigarettes like, well, like everyone smokes in Thailand, and waiting vans and cars were pumping exhaust fumes into the shop, burning petrol like a Saudi Prince on spring break. All in 90-plus degree heat.

If you ever wanted to know what Hell’s waiting room looks/smells like, you’re welcome.

Fried food. Cigarettes. Car exhaust. I was in that filthy dive shop bathroom throwing up every 15 minutes. 

By the time we got to that fucking boat, it was probably close to 10 p.m. A shattered shell of a human being, I just needed to lie down. It took every ounce of energy I had not to throw up on the van ride there.

“Ok everyone gather on the main deck for the dive boat briefing,” Neo Nazi said.

“Is it Ok if I just go lie down and get the briefing later?” I asked.

He looked at me like I was insane. “No, it is very important safety information.”

I think I just stood there, blinking. After a few minutes, he finally relented, sighed and said, “Ok, you can go to your cabin.”

Now, I realize that boats are very small spaces, and I’ve been on many, and in no way was I expecting luxury accommodations, but when another very nice dive master/crew mate started leading me down to the lower deck, and then headed for the ladder one deck lower than that, I realized I was fucked. Totally fucked.

In other words, this is where they put all the poorest people on the Titanic, who subsequently were trapped below and drowned to death.

She opened the door to a tiny, airless, windowless cabin in the bottom of the hull, with four bunks, humming and vibrating with the sound of the engine.

Oh, HELL NO, I thought.

“Is there a bathroom on this level?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Is there another cabin with a window open?” I asked.

“Let me go check,” she said.

I’ll let you guess if there was a cabin with a window available.

At this point, I just needed fresh air. I’d been puking for about five hours, and it was just painful dry heaves at this point, and I couldn’t even keep water down. After a few minutes in the tiny, airless cabin and after my last bout of dry heaving into a plastic bag, I headed for the upper deck.

“Oh, great, you’re up. Now you can get the safety briefing,” Neo Nazi says.

Do you want to know what the oh-so-important boat briefing was? “Write down what you take out of the mini-fridge, like beer or candy bars, here on this clipboard so we can bill you after the trip.” Oh, and don’t fall off the boat. Because they will never, ever find you in the Indian Ocean.

At this point Neo Nazi points to my plastic barf bag and tells me not to spill any vomit on the deck. I realized I would be getting zero empathy out of Neo Nazi. Ever.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I think I have food poisoning,” I said, vowing to never eat prawns again.

“There’s a virus going around Thailand,” he tells me. “I had it a week or so ago. We had a boat with 12 passengers who had it. It will pass in 24 hours. You’ll be fine.”

The thought of returning to my hellhole below sounded awful. But the main deck had a big day bed, and I spread out on that sucker, the sea air actually doing me good. Turns out, that day bed was also one of the Thai cooks slept (when you travel in developing nations on boats, much of the crew sacks out wherever they can while the guests sleep in their cabins. They don’t even get rooms. Tip generously to these hardworking folk.) She was super nice, asked me how I was, got me a blanket and some water. So it was me and this Thai lady on the day bed. I will forever be grateful that she let me sleep there, remember those little acts of kindness and regard that woman as my own personal savior that night.

The next morning, I met the dive master of my group, a jovial American named Matt. I swear, if I hadn’t been assigned to Matt’s group, I would’ve chucked myself overboard.

Matt was the anti-Neo Nazi, in other words. He asked how you were doing, if you needed anything, you know, like a decent human being.

I pulled it together enough to do two dives that day. But in between the last dive and the night dive, we got some bad news.

“So, the wind is really bad here and where we’re going, so we have to change course,” I heard Neo Nazi tell the group. “So that means we are going to be moving. It will take another three or four hours to get to where we’re going, in probably 3 or 4 meters (9 to 12 feet) of chop, so it’s going to be a little bit of a rough ride.”

I could feel the illness creeping back, but I could not go back to my tiny room. With my handy day bed already claimed by other bodies, the only place to lie down was the top deck, which only had a few mats and partial cover from the sun.

At one point, curled up trying to get out of the sun, and after a few hours of the boat churning through this surf, I started to feel ill again. Then, it came on fast and furious. I was gonna barf and there was no way around it.

Problem was the bathrooms were two decks down. Two very steep, precarious ladder climbs in even the best of conditions, let alone a boat rollicking through 9-12 foot waves.

Fuck me. I knew there was no way to make it to the bathrooms without either A) falling down the ladders and killing myself, or B) not being able to make it and therefore vomiting in front of everyone hanging out on the main deck below me.

Frantically, I looked around the top deck. Not so much as a bucket or a trash can. I looked around the railing, factoring in what would be the best possible position to hurl from — front or back, starboard or port? (that’s fancy fucking boat talk.) I decided, with the wind factor, that the back would be best and to try and projectile it enough so it would move away from the boat.

I don’t think anyone has put as much thought into vomiting as I did on that fateful day in Thailand. Then I let it fly.

After a few heaves, silently hoping that no one below would look up and see a bunch of puke flying by from the top deck — a ridiculous wish, like shitting your pants on the subway and hoping nobody will notice (I’ve not done this btw, but let’s just say you get exposed to a lot on NYC’s MTA) — I hear from below:

“Molly, if you’re going to be sick, go to the lower deck,” Neo Nazi said.

Wow, like that thought NEVER crossed my mind.

Two other guests unfortunate enough to witness my puke fest asked me if I needed help or was OK. It was then I looked at the few chunks on the deck and on the rail and began to wipe it up with my clothes since I had nothing else. I then retreated to my cabin to lie down like an injured animal waiting to die.

The good news? Neo Nazi was right. The virus did pass in a day, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t food poisoning since all I did was puke my lungs out. Thank goodness for small favors. The only thing worse than puking on a boat nonstop would be shitting and puking on a boat nonstop.

Since I was doing all the dives anyway, I figured I’d go ahead and get my Advance certification, which means that now I’m totally badass, or at least half badass, when it comes to diving, and I can roll up anywhere and do your stupid deep/wreck dive and no Neo Nazi will ever tell me differently again.

Here are a few other takeaways from my live-aboard dive experience:

I went from Never Fucking Again and vowing to quit scuba diving altogether at one point, to having a good time and doing some great dives.

I realized that Neo Nazi was in charge of keeping 20 divers from across the globe and his crew and boat safe, on schedule and so on. That’s a hard job for anyone. But damn, he did not have the disposition of a leader. He was certainly “business polite,” but his commanding tone and the way he presented info, like this dive trip was some sort of Navy Seal mission instead of a holiday, continued to annoy me. I also saw him be passive aggressive and condescending to his crew mate Matt in front of us so it only sealed my opinion that the guy was just an asshole to everyone.

Buddhists say that you are confronted with people/things that bring up your own weaknesses so that you might learn from them. I’m taking away that Neo Nazi was there to make me strive to be a more compassionate, patient and understanding person, especially to those who are down and out.

I still like surfing more.

I will never do a live-aboard with a bunch of strangers again. Now chartering a boat with some cool diver friends? That’s a completely different matter.

Stuck in the Middle

“Where are all the people my age?”

“They’re breeding,” a travel friend told me in Vietnam.

Hello! After quite a long hiatus when a shit-ton of life stuff has happened (you’ll get filled in on the details here and there throughout these coming posts), I decided to take the Trip of a Lifetime, or the trip of at least of my midlife crisis, and spend at least three months traveling Southeast Asia.

If you are now rolling your eyes and thinking that I am on my Elizabeth Gilbert ‘Eat, Love, Pray’ Spirit Quest, you can quit imagining that right now. Here are the main differences between Liz’s journey and mine.

I will preface this by saying that I have interviewed Ms. Gilbert about her subsequent book on marriage, and she is one of the most delightful human beings on the planet. Really. So take issue with her writing however you like, but damn, is she a nice, humble person. Just watch one of her TED talks if you don’t believe me.

That said, my journey did not start like this:

Me: “I need a $200,000 advance so I can travel the world on my quest to get fat on awesome food, flirt w/ strangers, achieve enlightenment in a few short months and end the whole shebang by finding the love of my life!”

Book Agent: “Go fuck yourself.”

I’m kidding! I don’t even have a book agent!

My Spirit Journey was financed 100 percent by me. And the hundreds of Airbnb people who paid me to stay in my extra bedroom. I scrubbed my guest toilet for what felt like 1,000 times, wrote what felt like a bazillion blog posts, case studies, Google ads and a whole river of other piecemeal work trying to finance this little sojourn.

So, after the end of 2015, I closed up shop, put everything in storage, quit all my jobs and headed out.

Traveling is quite like a relationship — the first few weeks are glorious! Everything is new! Everything is special and for the Very First Time! Wee!

We all should know what begins to happen next.

Realities start to creep in. For example, I just changed locales yet again, and every time you do this, there’s this emotional dip, like ‘oh, what now?’ that comes with getting the grasp of the new lay of the land. It’s not a big deal, but a few weeks of this can become a little emotionally tiring.

I feel like this might be the equivalent of the “Oh, you again,” look you give/get at breakfast. Or when you ask your significant other how their day was, and they start in with the same tired bullshit of office politics, wasted time in meetings and issues with management. Which is probably a huge reason why I don’t work in an office anymore.

Look, travel is wonderful and glorious and opens you up and makes you be so super self-sufficient — something I’ve spent a lifetime proving and finally realized on this trip, “You know what? I don’t need to fucking prove how self-sufficient I am anymore.” If they gave awards out for being self-sufficient, I would be the Leonardo fucking DiCaprio of self-sufficiency right about now.

That’s when I let the 20-year-old surf guy assigned to me for the day in a strong current drag me behind him. Fuck it. I have nothing left to prove. Especially in heavy surf. Let the kid drag me.

This is a long round-about way of getting to my above point about traveling in middle life — it’s fucking lonely out here. No one — and I mean hardly anyone — travels in middle age. Or at least extensively and in exotic locations.

There are two big universally accepted moments in one’s life when people really grab the horns of that travel bull and go batshit for it — right after college, packed down like miserable, sunburnt pack mules, and when they’re retired and therefore kinda old and cooking themselves like rotisserie chickens on some godforsaken, all-inclusive fucking beach in Thailand.

Now, a few reasons why you shouldn’t put off a journey — a real one, no resorts or cruise ships here — to Cambodia or your nearest national park much longer:

1. Travel is physically hard, yo. Even for me, and I’m in pretty great shape, hiking up and down a lot of stuff, the hot weather, the stairs of ancient temples, the mountains, the ocean, etc. It’s all a grind. And if you leave this shit for the end of your life you will regret it big time. Or not even be able to see it.

2. Traveling flat-ass broke is only fun when you’re a kid. In midlife, I can afford some boutique hotels, nice spots on Airbnb and decent meals. I don’t sweat paying for a sweet 45-minute plane ride instead of a 16-hour hellish bus ride sitting next to a chicken and hungover German. (I’m going to make fun of Germans a lot here).

3. You are actually sober enough most of the time to enjoy it. Aka, you don’t spend every night in a shitty night club and the entire next day fighting a hangover.

4. You are kind of in that sweet spot of knowing better and still being able to have a conversation with whatever smart, worldly people you meet.

5. You can walk into a fancy hotel or restaurant without looking like a vagrant and get served.

6. A lot of this stuff out here in the world is degrading fast — especially the natural world — and will be gone. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer about it, but there you go. Find an environmental scientist to argue differently and I’ll be amazed.

7. You have zero guarantees in life that you will even make it to retirement to see any of this. Do. It. Now.

But Evil Molly, you say, I have jobs, kids, responsibilities. Yeah? We all do. Somehow, it’s important to life engineer travel in — or adequate breaks. In fact, I’ve seen enough nice European couples hauling their well-behaved kids around to think that travel only broadens kids’ minds and makes them better. It always makes a person better when they meet/see/do things different from their native cultures.

I don’t know how you’re going to do it — I hate those whimsical “I quit it all and lived my dream!” travel websites. Unless you are independently wealthy, or just sold a company to Zuckerberg, you’re gonna have to do it the hard way. But somehow I think it’s imperative that we all make time for more travel in mid-life, which really is the best time of life to travel when you think about it.