1 - And So It Began...
Spurred by insatiable curiosity and pathological wanderlust, I set out on a two and a half year sojourn across the globe…
by The Nostomaniac
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
NON SEQUITER... Maybe that word sums me up. Maybe it sums up the whole shit show. Maybe our lives are nothing more than a string of ‘em held together by the cosmic glue left over from the bang that lead to all the other banging. So bang me. Bang me. They ought and take a rope and hang me. A conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement. Sapiens. That’s us. And me. I don’t logically follow, but I sure as hell don’t lead either. What to do in the Upside Down? Or is it the Downside Up? If you’re going to be driftwood, might as well drift in the largest pond you can find. So, drift I did…
I’m not sure when the drifting began. In utero? Let’s go with Spain, 1996. A semester abroad in Seville. Ahhh, Sevilla… me recuerdo todo. I spent five months living there and a month doing the standard American College Student Asshole Tour of Europe. Back then it was the most exciting thing in the world. I was hooked… or more like infected.
I guess that’s where the addiction began. Something told me to go to law school, so I did. I’m confident it wasn’t Satan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a cousin was involved. I spent a summer in Kenya betwixt my first and second year. The program had something to do with the law, but I’m at loss to remember the connection. Hiking Kilimanjaro was vital to my legal career. East Africa blew my mind. Now, I was chasing the dragon.
Who needs a summer when you can spend a whole semester at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia? Resistance was futile and so was any attempt at responsibility. No longer chasing the dragon, I was now riding that sumbitch. I celebrated the 2000 Sydney Olympics by skipping them entirely. The only logical alternative was a twenty-two day trip to Papua New Guinea… naturally. It was then I knew two-week vacations to the Cape and a bi-annual cruise to St. Thomas weren’t gonna cut it.
My Australian legal adventure ended the only way it could—A three-week detour to Thailand followed by a drive up the Australian east coast. Good on ya, mate.
Ruined? A fitting adjective regarding my psychological suitability for a legal career. My final semester in law school was ignominious at best. My grades dropped. My enthusiasm cratered. Not just for a legal career. Any career. I wanted something else. Something different. So, I did what you might expect: I enlisted in the army.
Nobody alive or dead can fully explain that decision, least of all me. I can only make a stab at it...but not right now. Something told me to do it. This time I believe Lucifer was directly involved. I thought, Travel the world? Learn a language at the military language school? Get in tip-top shape? Fire guns and shit? Pay off thy school debt?
When I graduated from the law I was into Uncle Sam for some serious coin—approx $135,000. All that for a 165th place finish at Tulane. Well done. Well done, indeed. The army offered to repay $65,000 of my loans AND I didn’t have to be lawyer. So, I just yelled, “Fuck it!” and dove in. I’ll save the particulars for a rainy day, but let’s say the sailing was less than smooth. I did get to live in Korea for over a year, but Sam did everything he could to keep me from enjoying it.
To make transition to military life as challenging as possible, I deferred my enlistment for six months following law college so I could take the bar exam for shits and giggles and then scoot down to South America for a three-month spell. How else should you prepare for basic training? Peru-Bolivia-Venuzuela-Columbia. (Amazon Basin, anyone? For a riveting narrative of a nine-day jungle time extravaganza as told by my coconspirator, see here.) Good trip. Now I was riding the dragon bareback one-handed while flipping off the moon.
Something odd happened whilst in Bolivia. A bunch of fanatic douchebags flew planes into buildings. No backing out then. That was as patriotic I was ever going to get. Within a week of flying home, I was off to basic training.
Somewhere along the way they granted me a Top Secret Clearance. After I separated, I used it to acquire a job in the one place you might expect. Yup, you guessed it… Baghdad. I spent two and half years living and working at Camp Slayer on the outskirts of Iraq’s capital. One nation under contract. How was it? Wellllll…interesting? And, yes, there's probably a hole in my soul for the role I played in the shade of the trade that I made.
During that time, I paid off my outstanding loans and squirreled away a few nuts. Vacation adventures included a trip to Uganda for misty gorillas and a Corsica getaway I can’t speak about without parental consent. And then I quit. Cold turkey. Out. This, too, was unwise. Remember when that amorphous cabal of greedy fuckbags nearly destroyed the world economy? Yeah, I quit right after that. No plan. No schedule. No itinerary. If I were to diagram my master strategy on a whiteboard it would’ve read: “Fly to Bali. Do shit. Veer west.” And that, I suppose, is where this shit begins…
*Most of the photos below were taken before the ascendency of digital photography. Some are nothing more than scans of printed photographs or, dare I admit, postcards. I've utilized filters to hide my shame. In the digital era, statistical probability affords any Tom, Dick, or Mary the chance to capture the magic. No skill required. Add the user-friendly software angle and even the morons can feast. I am one such moron. The photography will improve as the band plays on...or so I like to tell myself.