Discover more from portrait of a body (in pieces)
8. A convivial approach to fraternity
March (part two)
Last time: French arms dealers, lessons in the skin trade, idiots without borders.
I’m sampling a smooth twenty-one-year-old Japanese whisky when a man in a gimp suit walks in handcuffed to a woman in a wedding dress. A joint bachelor/bachelorette party. Their friends have abandoned them and taken the key. They seem to be in good spirits, not least because of the Ziploc bag of ecstasy she doses them both from at regular intervals. I offer to buy them a drink. The bride-to-be opens the groom-to-be’s mouth-zipper and pushes in a straw, through which he chugs a taster tray of six single malts in quick succession. Pete, who is drinking a beer, and Mr. Gimp, who it turns out is a schoolteacher named Wouter and is, in Pete’s words, a really sound guy, are having in-depth chats about the state of education. Brandon is talking to the very patient bartender about Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is an animated show about the unrelenting despair of existence masquerading as a show about depressed teens who pilot giant mechas. At midnight, the bride-to-be, Agata, slides the remaining contents of the Ziploc bag across the table towards Pete and says gefeliciteerd! We cheers to nuptials and birthdays both and drop a pill together. I wash mine down with the last of a Hibiki 21, followed by a Yamazaki 18. This is thirty-nine.
We find another coffeeshop, where Pete makes up for lost time with spliffs nine-through-eleven. To say we’re twins we don’t share much. I never had a taste for the wacky stuff, and he doesn’t care for therapy. He’s the same height as I am, but doesn’t have the shoulders, and bears more of a resemblance to Liam Gallagher, both in style and a convivial approach to fraternity. We used to get along better but then I lived in his house for several months. Brandon shouts the name of the bar we’re sitting in into his phone several times then leaps up and throws his arms around a petite woman he introduces as Saffron. She’s a former colleague of both of ours, and though I recognise her from around the office, we’ve never met. Happy birthday, she says. Who’s older? She’s Belgian, but her accent is the kind of porcelain-cut posh that suggests boarding school in England. Pete and I stand next to each other to try and prove we look somewhat similar, the way distant cousins might. We take it in turns, I say.
McDonalds is happening because it would be rude not to. I hold the table while everyone orders. Pete (Big Mac meal), is on the phone to Heather. Brandon (McRib) and Saffron (fries and a diet coke), are talking shop. Brandon and I met because we both worked at the same digital media outlet in the mid-teens, and we became friends because we both like to get drunk and discuss pop culture marginalia in exhaustive depth, usually involving early-noughties emo bands, streaming TV series, and straight-to-streaming action films starring Gerard Butler. He moved back to the states last year and now runs his own media outlet covering internet culture, Personal Brand, which is incredibly popular with extremely online people and is like reading an argument for unplugging the internet written by a sentient panic attack. He and Saffron are discussing what former colleagues are doing now and their various successes, prizes, and podcasts, which seems like a good time to grab myself some food.
I’m three courses into a five-course set menu at a late-night Indonesian restaurant when I remember I’m supposed to be on a night out with my brother and my best friend and that they’re probably still waiting for me in McDonalds. My phone has fourteen missed calls.
The line to the club Brandon has decided we must visit is about thirty minutes deep. I’m passing the time by smoking and trying not to freeze to death. Saffron bums a smoke and asks what I’m working on these days. Have you seen those lists of time stamps underneath YouTube videos, I say, like the review starts three minutes in, or the spoilers start at six minutes, ten seconds? She’s either nodding or shivering. Then you might have seen some of my finest work, I say.
It feels like the LSD and the ecstasy are fighting a battle in my brain and cancelling each other out. The result is I don’t really feel high in either direction. Just a little drunk. Saffron likes whisky too and I order a round, even though the club only has blended or bourbon. Any well in a drought, she says. The club isn’t overly crowded, which means the line was just for show, but fewer people suits me fine, and the music they are playing, some kind of Japanese emo, suits me fine also. Pete and Brandon are making conversation with a woman with pink-hair dressed as a nurse. Between the Japanese music and the fact that we are the only ones not dressed like cute cartoon monsters, it clicks that this appears to be a party themed around a popular Japanese video game. Brandon, who knows this song and probably once saw the band play the basement of a Denny’s in Framingham, sprints the length of the dance floor and leaps onto my back just as the chorus hits. We nearly get kicked out when I lose my balance and fall backwards, landing on top of him, right in front of a bouncer whose previous job title was Berlin Wall. He helps dust us off. Careful boys, he says. The Dutch are very polite.
In the smoking area, Brandon sucks on his vape and asks if I’m okay. Like, really okay, he says. I tell him I finally figured out Vanilla Sky but in my subsequent and vomitous excitement, forgot. Dude, wait, he says, and pulls up our text thread. He scrolls back until he finds what he’s looking for. You don’t remember sending this? He shows me his phone. It’s a short message I sent in late December: Vanilla Sky is about the death of physical media. I hand him back his phone. Well in that case, I say, I’m fine.
Peter is falling behind his target and to help him reach it Brandon ferries them both to a small row of coffeeshops in Centrum, while Saffron and I lag behind smoking and talking. She’s telling me how she wants to be a war reporter. I start laughing and when I tell her why she screws up her face in mock horror and slaps me on the arm. I am nothing like TinTin! We are interrupted by a group of men trying to restrain their friend, who is rolling around on the floor screaming WAKE ME UP! WAKE ME UP! WAKE ME UP! at the top of his lungs in a thick Yorkshire accent, followed by NO! NO! NO! MUMMY! as he’s dragged into a waiting ambulance. Can’t hold his drugs, his friend says to the paramedic, and proceeds to list an after-school special’s worth of pharmaceutical substances. It was about the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen. The question I can’t shake is: Did the drugs create the dream he was trying to wake from? Or did they lift the veil of reality and show him the construct beneath? The next shiver I feel is not the wind.
When we catch up with them, Pete and Brand are sharing a spliff and watching a young American tourist toss his guts into the nearest drain, ably supported by a young Brit giving him a motivational speech about getting it all out. It seems they just met, which is nice. After witnessing all this drug misuse, we all decide it’s only reasonable to drop one last pill each. I order a double espresso and wash my pill down with it. Brandon and Saffron are huddled together laughing about something I don’t understand when Pete stirs from his stupor and puts his arm around me. Listen, he says, lips pressed directly on my ear. We don’t say it enough, but I love you. I’m high as fuck but I love you. And shit, I hate to have to do this. But the kidney. It means you can’t live with us anymore. The weed has loosened his mood and the ecstasy his words and now he’s setting a boundary and enforcing it. Happy birthday, he says.
The sun is rising and Saffron is kissing me and when we finally part I ask where that came from and she says: You’re pretty good company when you’re not talking. She takes me by the hand and leads me past a row of small banquettes filled with shisha smoking Spaniards. In a quiet corner she presses her body into me, the angles and shapes of her finding mine through the layers of fabric between us. She pulls my mouth down towards her. And not kissing you would be a waste of good ecstasy, she says.
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Big robots controlled by people. There are whole genres of Japanese fiction devoted to it, including titles like Gundam, Macross, and Evangelion. Think Pacific Rim, but more emo.