Drink, Play, Fuck: The Other Side of Enlightenment

As anyone who has lurched along the narrow seams of the craggy sidewalks in the quaint Indonesian town of Ubud can attest, Eat, Pray, Love is the commercial spigot that swells the cities coffers. 

While Ubud might be the spiritual and cultural heartbeat of Bali, the ancient hamlet landed it’s biggest role on the world stage as the theater of romance for Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestselling memoir that was followed shortly by a Hollywood feature film. In both versions, the author Ate in Italy, Prayed in India and Banged in Bali. Or so it’s being explained to us by the girl sitting across the table whose name I haven’t the foggiest.

For our purposes here, we’ll call her The Jeweler, and she was a local, I don’t know how exactly I knew this, but I did. She had glided into our conversation effortlessly like a long tailed skiff boat onto a soft landing pitch.

“You can even rent the guesthouse she stayed in.” The Jeweler made a gesture with her voice that caused me and Cornelius both to look in the same direction out the window of the side street we were on. When I returned my gaze I realized she’d maintained eye contact with me the whole time.

To describe the Jeweler as “beautiful” or “exotic” would be too simplistic. She eluded such breezy chop-shop portrayals. She was olive skinned and petite but held a kind of kinetic command of her surroundings that gave her a considerably larger presence than her small size would indicate. Her striking looks were contrasted with a quirky choice in homespun apparel that bestowed an art school DIY sensibility — like a regal Raggedy Ann.

She had large almond eyes that changed colors constantly and captured light like polished silver. Her bloodline was undetectable and accent untraceable — she might actually be a mix of Italian, Indian and Balinese for all I could tell. Somewhere along the line she’d fallen under the spell of enough western influence to punctuate her perfect english with surfer-dude-bro-talk that contrasted amusingly with her deadpan delivery.

When speaking, she remained sphinx-faced, but didn’t need much expression given all she was saying with those mirror ball eyes. She picked something out from her small tasseled purse and continued, “It was in Ubud where the protagonist found the hunk played by Javier Bardem in the film”.

“The guy from no country of men?” Interrupted my table mate Cornelius. Spitting the words out like a mid-digestive alligator.

She turned her head, removing her gaze from mine for the first time, and looked at him with a fey, bored stare, “I’m getting there. Chill.”

She started rotating what she’d taken from her purse around in her left hand but I didn’t dare divert my eyes.

“Your friends right, in the film he was played by Javier Bardem, from No Country for OLD Men.”

“He’s not my friend.” I said, testing the waters, and unsure what all this eye contact meant. “Dude!” said Cornelius, in a hurt tenor that contained the vocal force of a forearm shiver to my clavicle. I didn’t have time for his feelings. Surely he could see I was locked into something with this girl. Everyone in the room could sense it.

Ubud, on first glance, felt a lot like a place in America I used to know by the name of Portland. There might actually be more yoga studios, vegan restaurants and sanctimonious tattoos per capita in Ubud than its western counterpart. The biggest difference is that Ubud makes you feel like you are perpetually tip-toeing around in a giant temple — and also boasts a 14th century public park packed with 700 monkeys.

It probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise that an ornate village with a monkey forest and a reputation for romance became a tourist trap. Or that the trap has a spattering of ramshackle low-end bars. The dives in this corner of the world  tend to be of two types. The bad ones – run by foreigners who cater to their clientele. And the good ones — owned by locals, who don’t. Mind you, the locals cross-stitch a half-assed approximation of what they think foreign patrons might want, but they are off by a country mile. This serves a valuable purpose of repelling the traveling type that doesn’t actually want to travel. They just want a slightly different version of home. Give them a boutique hotel near a craft brewery that serves farm-to-table and so long as there is “local art” on the wall, * boom *  call ‘em Kerouac.

We are at the latter type of dive, the good kind, and it is here where Yukon Cornelius and I first squared off a few nights prior. Cornelius had the jawline of a musk ox and the brain density of a shelled pistachio. I informed him of this to his face, braced by too many Bintang, after he kept interrupting my mothers day phone call. The bar had the only working wifi on the block and I was using it to call mom and fabricate an explanation on why a 14 hour time difference had somehow caused me to be a week tardy with my mothers day wishes. Once Yukon stopped interrupting, I was surprised to find him a good listener, and we developed an informal routine of meeting every night at the bar to compare notes from our daily exploits. 

But he wasn’t listening well now.

“This place is dead.” Muttered Cornelius, glancing at the mostly empty tables. His disinterest derived not from the room’s capacity but from jealousy at the fact the Jeweler wasn’t paying him much attention. I had no idea why she was focused on me, especially since Cornelius, despite having red hair, was more attractive and muscular than myself. Neither of us knew where this girl arrived from nor why she felt so comfortable joining our conversation, but we were delighted by her presence.

“You’re not gonna meet a chick here, bro.” Said the Jeweler, with the same flat tempo and cadence of her storytelling voice. “But you aren’t far.” She relaxed her narrow shoulders and gestured with her head down the street. “Hit the nearest yoga studio. Got a 10 to 1 ratio on the mats.” This last line felt rehearsed, as if she’d said it a million times to a million different men. 

Cornelius raised his eyebrows as the idea registered with the velocity of an antique elevator reaching the top floor. He smiled.

“Just have to compete with all the yogi-bro’s and fake guru’s.” She added.

“I’m worried about men.” Said Cal, by way of salutation, slapping her whiskey-filled lowball glass down with one hand and reaching between her slender legs with the other to pull up a stool next to the Jeweler. There’s nothing sexier than attractive girls who drink whiskey. 

“I wouldn’t worry much about him.” I offered. “He stares but he’s harmless.”

“No, not your friend.”  The Jeweler cut me off by narrowing one eye, informing me she caught my humor but wouldn’t be laughing. “Cal’s been reading again. She’s worried about men in general. More your kind. Not his.”

Cornelius was squinting at the chalkboard of beer specials and didn’t realize he was on the conversational menu.

“My kind.” I repeated. What did she mean by this?

“What do you mean by that?”

“The sensitive type.”

“I’m not sensitive.” I said. Exhibiting my sensitivity.
The Jeweler and I had a playful dynamic that felt familiar.

“You ever read ‘Drink, Play, Fuck’?” Cal continued.

“Sounds more fun than Eat, Pray, Love.” Said Cornelius, suddenly engaged now there was a new addition.

“Yeah, well, that’s what the writer thought. He was a comedy guy and thought he’d do a clever parody about Gilberts’ book, but write it about men traveling to Vegas and Thailand and shit.”

“Like he had some kind of chivalrous responsibility to mock it because the book was popular and women found it empowering.” added the Jeweler. The two girls vibrated to the same tuning fork and had a knack for finishing each other’s sentences. It made me miss my friends back home.

“The dude, the writer, I can’t remember his name,” continued Cal,  “said his book was intended to be parody, but while writing, realized a straight parody wasn’t going to work. He found himself breaking away from the joking material and exploring the differences between the way men and women problem solve and communicate.”

“He realized men don’t have any, like” The Jeweler waved her free hand around like a fishtail, as if it might waft the right word to her brain,  “social models, or stories or something.”

“They don’t have good scripts for how they can come together and talk about their shit.” finished Cal.

“Sounds like you read it too?” I said to the Jeweler, trying to make a side connection. I noticed her foot was getting closer to mine with each sip of her beer.

“No” She didn’t look at me, glancing instead towards the bar. Her mug of beer was empty, which she raised when she got the bartenders attention, and tilted slightly, exhibiting its state. “We’ve just been talking about it. She’s worried about men,” the Jeweler looked back at me and stopped rotating the object in her other hand. “I’m not.”

“So in this book,” Cal continued, ignoring us. “This dude says that due to this vacuum, men have decided to substitute experiences such as those he writes about in ‘Drink, Play, Fuck’ – sex tours to Thailand or reckless weekends in Vegas – for their lack of connection. Like, in these Vegas trips, men attempt to forget who they are by pretending to be somebody else….in order to…… find themselves, I guess? Or something?” She looked to her friend.

“I don’t know, I don’t get Vegas”.

Both girls both looked at me.

“Never been.” I shrugged.

“Seriously?” Cornelius snorted incredulous.

For the first time the Jeweler seemed mildly impressed by me.

“All major historical changes happen because a generation has too many sons.”  The bartender entered the conversation and handed a beer to the Jeweler.

He had minimalist tattoos, a cool accent, and no money. An instant threat.

“It is the second and third sons who don’t inherit anything that start revolutions and world explorations.”

Every bar has a bad place to sit. This ones happened to be wherever the barkeep could eavesdrop.

“They are the class of disrupters and destroyers.” He continued, unprompted, while wiping the drink rings from the table with his towel. “These sons with no birthright decimate civilizations by trying to find their place in it, hay.”

“Meanwhile, the birds” he winked at the girls and grabbed our empties, “have always had better models for dealing with this unease than us brutes.” He furrowed his brow and puffed his cheeks like they were filled with marshmallows when he said “brutes”. “Chaps’ been having these issues for some time now.”

A FAKE GURU OF UBUD (who might double as your bartender)

“Where are you staying tonight, boy?” Asked the Jewler, using the bartender rearranging his towel as distraction. “Not too far,” I started, then hesitated, “What do I call you?” She took a long pause and her eyes changed colors again. They were searching, then withdrawing to some place we’d both been together that might not exist anymore. “Don’t think too hard on it.” She said finally, while pulling both her feet directly in front of her and facing out the window.

Had I met her before? 

The smell of incense entered the bar as Cornelius went outside to smoke. Little hindu gratitude offerings, are constantly being lit in the pathways of the city.

“So did you guys get caught swimming at your guesthouse last night or not?” Asked Cal giddily and leaning in close as if sharing a secret. “We were Druh-huh-hunk.”

Cal sing-songed the word “drunk” and her eyes twinkled at the recollection of our apparent state. I could feel the Jeweler’s big albedo eyes boring into me. Neither of us said anything.

“Are you still staying at the Kunang-Kunang? ‘The hotel so nice they named it twice’?” Cal laughed at her own joke.

I felt sweat forming at my brow.

‘Time traveling’. That’s what my friend Wara calls it. Or more colloquially “blacking out”.

If there was a captain of time traveling: well, call me Ahab. 

By conservative estimates, I’d spent anywhere from 2-6 months of my life surfing those dark, choppy seas. I blamed it on some combination of age, medications, and the Koreans, but who knows exactly what’s caused the condition to befall me. It remains an under-discussed medical marvel that we can inhabit ourselves fully for hours on end while no one, including us, knows our brain is powered down. Some sort of pre-historic protection mechanism invented by the cells who shuttle information along the brainstem – where they all hold hands and collectively yell “cannonball!’ while lurching off a beer soaked bridge in protest of our consumption – leaving our bodies to giddy-up around town like a headless horseman without them.

Once realizing the tenuousness of my predicament I reverted to my training. Okay, settle down……I’d been here before…. go through the checklist:

  • Probe for context clues on how I’d met these girls. Cal was apparently with us. That’s why I knew her name was “Cal” before she even sat down. Could Cal help? 
  • What about my phone?  I scribble all kinds of crazy shit in my notes to remind me of things I learn or names I instantly forget. It can work like the movie Memento where I can reverse engineer previous encounters from random factoids I shorthanded the night before. 
  • Contacts. Were there new ones? If I could get away for a minute I could check my phone.

Problem was, the Jeweler was sharp as a stiletto and had been looking straight through me since she sat down. The spy in my body would surely recant under any more pressure.

“Your empty, Cal” I changed the subject, “another whiskey?” “Yep. You know my brand.” She added unhelpfully as I escaped the interrogation chair and headed to the bar. 

I grabbed the ridge more to steady myself than to stand. The bartender came over. “I’ll grab another one. What’s she drinking again?” I asked. “Same as last night, mate.” God, was there no help in this world? “Good, right,” I nodded knowingly at the bartender with a forced smile and used my periphery to watch for what he grabbed. So we were here last night? I searched my contacts at the bar for “recent”. There was one: “The Jeweler”. Fuck. That wouldn’t help. Had we texted? Yes! A clue! “goodnight american boy”. 3:04 AM. That was it. Jesus. The message hadn’t uploaded until I was back at the bar with decent wifi.

He poured some Bulleit bourbon in a glass and added a splash of soda. That’s right. That’s right. That’s ringing a bell. Sort of.  He put it down in front of me and leaned over. “They’re hot, hay.” He smiled, looking at our table. “And smart.” He added, almost disappointed.

I returned to the table to see Cornelius and Cal chumming it up. There was something on my seat next to the Jeweler’s empty chair. Cal noticed me picking it up and I gave her a quizzical look. “She said she forgot something important.”  I handed Cal her bourbon and opened my notes app.

As I walked home through the monkey forest that night fiddling with the piece of jewelry that was left on my chair, I was struck again by how social the little simians were. Always in groups. Unlike most men, they were willing to admit they needed this connection. “The genetic differences between humans and chimps is ten times smaller than between mice and rats” was a note I had from the previous night, courtesy of the Jeweler.

There were security lights on in the forest so you could catch them, well, monkeying around at all hours. Occasionally one would break away from their clan. A rascally fella sat atop a tall gate with a giant aerosol bottle of RAID. He pretended to take hits off of it, then blew smoke rings in the sky after each puff. Another jumped up a tree, jockeyed to get right in my sight line, made eye contact, then showed me his nuts. As he was guffawing at my reaction I realized how very similar these guys were to my friends in the states. 

Cal and Cornelius had left the bar arm in arm after their next drink, shouting something about needing to prepare for sunrise yoga. The Jeweler never returned. It was probably for the best. There is no way to salvage a magnesium flare once its been extinguished. There was obviously a hot light that existed previously and we’d intended to expand its warmth into this evening, but I’d smudged the edges and now the story was indecipherable. We had come to a common, disappointing understanding, born from the mutual references that went zinging past my head at our high top bar table — that I was no longer a participant in our narrative. You can’t unbreak the bones or retrace the steps of a transgression that belittles shared experience. I’d wasted humankinds only non-renewable resource: time.

After the note in my phone about monkeys and mice, there was only one more entry from the previous night. A single line Id put in quotes to signify foreign authorship:

“Try not thinking so much.”

Walking back to the guesthouse, it felt like the opposite was true, I wasn’t thinking enough. There had become too many nights like this in the slow march that had slowed further. Perhaps there was good reason for these girls to be worried about men. Or maybe just this one.

  2 comments for “Drink, Play, Fuck: The Other Side of Enlightenment

  1. waraexists
    January 19, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    bonus points for the photographs on this one. the monkey pic is solid gold

    Liked by 1 person

  2. January 20, 2023 at 11:02 am

    Goddamn those sensitive second sons


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