The plane landed at dusk onto a runway damp with the usual monsoon-season rain from earlier in the day.
Down the gangway I went, aware that I was stepping into a reality that had heretofore been strictly virtual. This trip had been a long time coming – a few months, looked at one way; a lifetime, looked at another. Regardless, finally, here I was, and Xsplat’s rantings were about to get a whole lot less random.
Crossing the tarmac, I entered the terminal building, and, after a nerve-wracking gauntlet of queries and searches – welcome to a tropical republic with a history of militarized government, I guess – I cleared immigration.
X’s [then] live-in M was waiting for me in the arrivals hall. I recognized her from the photos on the site. She led me to the street and into a taxi. During the 20-minute ride, she was friendly and talkative, although I had difficulty understanding her at first (can I blame her braces for her poor diction?). She was charming and likeable, and evidently sexy and sweet, too, but she gave no clear impression of her deeper character or personality.
After pulling up outside X’s four-storey headquarters, M paid the taxi driver as I retrieved my bags from the boot. Then we walked through the front door into X’s business office, which occupies ground level of the compound.
From a sofa to my left, X rose to greet me warmly, glass in hand (I’ll explain the glass in a minute).
Though I had never really formed a clear image of what he might look like, I’d somehow pictured X differently. For one, he’s nothing like as ugly as he makes out. There’s an absence of classical handsomeness, perhaps, but it doesn’t add up to physical repellence. He is slender and wiry, as he says, and not tall; he’s fit, and looks younger than he is – no surprise there – and is less physically imposing than I would have guessed. If you can morph Angus Young and Steve Buscemi in your mind’s eye, you’ll get an image that resembles X.
Significantly, from the moment I crossed the threshold, I felt at home and amongst kindred spirits. Right away, X introduced me to Cody and other members of the crew and gave me the grand tour of the compound. Essentially X’s house is the tree fort of a grown man who has retained his childhood capacity for wonder and play; it’s a remarkable abode, not fancy, but functional and fun.
As I settled in, we sat around talking, and munching sushi (plus the brains out of some chicken heads M had brought up for a snack; they tasted like chili-flavoured toothpaste). The vibe was congenial, right off the bat, and the conversation crackled.
That night we all went out to a Halloween party in the city. M and X were inseparable the whole time, but I noticed they didn’t really talk. She stuck close to him, but wasn’t clingy, and X wasn’t showy about his dominance toward her. His body language and demeanour were quiet; he doesn’t go for the grandiose take-up-lots-of-space AMOG style, and makes no demands about being the centre of attention.
We sat on couches in the nightclub and, in a low-energy way, present but not participatory, we absorbed the scene around us: the live Filipino cover band, the half-assed costume contest, and the frolicking teens and twenty-somethings. The mood was one of contentment not excitation. The next day, I heard X tell Cody that he’d been doing chi kung while he was sitting at the nightclub, enjoying the sensations up and down his spine as an adjunct to the socializing.
After an hour at the party we grabbed a taxi home. M went to the kitchen and, with her brother as assistant chef, cooked up a late-night dinner for the clan. The rest of us sat around talking. We all went off to bed around 4am, although I think X stayed up even later to play the piano and do more chi kung. He mentioned that he’d been doing around three hours of chi kung daily lately. And he’s a night owl.
Not surprisingly, the first half of the next day was given over to sleeping. I arose in the early afternoon to a surprisingly quiet house; others were sleeping even longer, it seemed, or else had gotten up long ago and were out and about. I threw on shorts and a T-shirt and took my laptop to a café across the street to get an espresso and do some work. Two hours later, Cody and X, rested and cheerful, sidled up to my table. “We’re going over to the new building. Do you want to see it?”
Of course. So off the three of us went.
Remember I mentioned a glass in X’s hand? Almost always while at home, and whenever he leaves the house on foot, X has with him a glass stein filled with a concoction of Coke Zero and green tea extract. This open-containered strolling, he explained, is the new, improved and healthier version of a habit from his rum-drinking days. He simply likes walking around with a drink in his hand. Always has.
Anyway, the new building, three blocks from the current compound, is going to be a bachelor heaven on earth, but it’s pretty much empty now; it used to be a language school or something, and has a lot of funny posters on the wall (one exhorts pupils to avoid Facebook and instead put their “face in a book” – probably sound advice).
For an hour, we traipsed up and down the five levels fantasy-planning what domestic and professional installations could go where. I suggested an aviary, and a RC helicopter aerial dueling zone – a literal playground for man toys. X liked both ideas. Most of all, the party areas were identified, and the rooms where work equipment could be set up. Indeed, our collective imaginations got so lathered up envisioning all the fun and profit this new building was going to provide that as X shut the grate on our way out, all three of us we were practically giddy. Turning the key in the lock, X said: “Hey, do you want to meet [N17]?”
As we walked the few minutes to X’s other apartment, I thought X might call his new girl to say he was coming over, and particularly to say he was bringing compatriots with him. But he didn’t. We just showed up. I thought that might have been a touch inconsiderate, but it’s how he does things. Or maybe he didn’t have his phone. Come to think of it, through the three days I spent with him, I never once saw X use a mobile, or carry one. Presumably he does own one, but the way he leads his daily life is endearingly 19th century, where all that matters to him is “right here, right now,” and he is surrounded by all the things and people he needs to be satisfied and productive. I also never saw him schedule anything; all activities were spontaneous. (I know he used the occasion of my visit as something of a mini-vacation, but I’m pretty sure his normal life is mostly undertaken with the same ease, grace and nonchalance.)
After knocking loudly on N’s front door, X went into the apartment first, finding N in the midst of a shower. I heard him tell her something along the lines of “hurry up, you have guests” before gesturing for us to sit down in the small room (it’s just a studio flat). Cody took the desk chair, and I took the chair beside the bed. King of this castle, too, X sprang onto the bed and propped himself up comfortably with cylindrical pillows, hands folded behind his head.
Ten minutes passed, and I began to grow self-conscious as we watched the two flat-screen TVs, both showing stupid – but different – cartoons, both on mute. I’d like to say that even if X has no guilt about the two-girl situation – and clearly he doesn’t (nor should he, necessarily) – I always knew that in visiting him, I would become privy to some of the, ah, secrets of the temple, shall we say. I accepted this mantle avidly, of course, as it was my primary motive for coming, but there were moments during my stay when I felt awkward at having become X’s confidante, not merely on his blog like so many of us are, but for real, in person.
Finally, hair sopping wet, eyes darting, N came out in a towel. Beautiful and with dark skin, she seemed more pleased to see us than I’d expected she’d be, and realizing that put me at ease. From his perch on the bed, X had N perform a fashion show (tastefully – she was never naked in front of us or anything, and she was clearly enjoying the attention of X and his friends; she’d met Cody before). In due course something shiny, and short, was selected for her to put on for the evening. Flitting about her little room in her little dress, putting on her makeup, doing up her hair, N actually seemed extremely pleased to have company and attention. She’s a little lady, albeit girlish in the extreme. And once or twice I heard her call X “Daddy,” unbidden.
With N dolled up, the four of us took off together into the balmy night.
Dinner was at a comfy Western-style place. Cody and I sat on one side of the low table, with X and N on the other, sometimes cuddling, sometimes goofing around. N is lively and inquisitive, and has traveled the world a bit with a previous boyfriend who was a pilot. She may not be a brainchild, but she is not as ditzy as X has suggested in his writing. In my limited exposure to her, I found her sassy and sultry and engaging to socialize with and talk to. She’s had an interesting life so far. She shares her experiences openly and meaningfully, and has an instinct for the give and take of conversation; she asks and answers non-boring questions.
At this point in my narrative, I want to say that neither X nor anyone else in the gang, female or male, including me, consumed even a drop of alcohol during my visit. I got the sense this is the norm at in X’s circle. I can’t speak for the girls in the frame, but the men around X all seem to wish to maximize their mental and spiritual powers at all times, and are sufficiently happy and effective in their own skins that perhaps they find booze superfluous or counterproductive (as I do). But that’s speculation on my part, for the subject never came up.
After dinner, X paid the check for the group and took off with N on his arm, leaving Cody and me to a deep discussion of enlightened womanizing and the examined life.
Three hours later, Cody and I were back at the main house, in the living room, still engrossed in conversation, when X came upstairs after a tryst with M. With a big smile on his face, he announced that the Dexedrine tablets I’d supplied him at dinner earlier had fueled his lovemaking with greater than the usual ardour. “I came three times with N” and again at least once with M, he reported, beaming.
Laidback and happy (as he consistently seemed to be), he was, on this occasion, also pleasantly keyed up. He admitted as much, and challenged me to a game of ping-pong, which he went on to win handily, surmising that the Dex had provided him with a higher “mental refresh rate” and sharper reflexes than usual; I retorted that he damn well should win anyway, since he owns the bloody table and I hadn’t played since I was 13 years old. (X, I want a re-match, by the way. I’ll be practicing.)
At some point, Cody went home, and X and I stayed up by ourselves till 5am, casually pummeling the punching bags that hang from the living room ceiling as we swapped life stories and anecdotes (some harrowing, some tragic, most with ultimately happy endings) with gentlemanly bonhomie. Having two days of rapport built up, along with some chemical stimulants in our bloodstreams, this was the most intimate time that X and I shared together, and for me, and I sensed for him also, it felt both cathartic and motivating, both validating and uplifting. I won’t forget this encounter, ever. It affected me. Maybe it’s what I came for.
The next day was my last. After once again sleeping until the afternoon, in the evening we reconvened the gang, including M and her brother, and took a taxi to the shopping mall. I bought a dress for somebody, and some souvenirs for myself, and Cody approached girls whenever the spirit moved him. As we all ambled in a loose grouping, M tended to stay on X’s arm, and with that peculiar Asian sensibility regarding photo opportunities, she requested that group pictures be taken of us in front the WIN A CAR! sports car parked in the middle of the mall. We obliged. We were pretty aimless in our walking, yet X was never in a hurry, always sanguine, never sharp, never barking, never bored. Just as chilled out and with it as can be. His years of meditation practice are readily apparent – at least that’s my interpretation – and keep him happy-minded and on an even keel moment to moment to moment. (Note: X has written that he does lose his temper and get angry, but I did not get even a glimpse of this side of him, and I have difficulty imagining what he is like in such exercised states.)
Back at the compound, a movie night was declared. We watched “The Source Family” documentary about the 1970s L.A. spiritual cult, which had been recently recommended by a commenter here. Afterward, X was tired. He hugged me goodbye and retired to bed with M. Then Cody and I, neither of us ready to break the spell of an extraordinary few days of camaraderie, stayed up through the wee small hours engaged in the kind of quality conversation I’d gotten used to having with him. Eventually, he got tired too, though, and headed back to his apartment a few blocks away.
A couple of hours past dawn, with the sun still too tepid to melt the alternate-reality bubble of my shared adventure with X & Co., I crept down the stairs with my bags and squeezed through the front door (passing M’s brother asleep on the same sofa from which X had first risen to greet me three days earlier). Punch-drunk from a combination of sleep deprivation and peak experiences, I trundled up the already bustling street, awakening to the exotic sounds and smells of this hidden gem of a city.
Reaching the main intersection, I caught a cab to the airport, feeling more like this was the beginning of a journey than the end of one.