I love vulgarity. Reading some of the shit twenty-two-year-old Neils saw fit to scribble in a leather-bound travel journal? Still gripped by his bloodlust of gaming and angst? It's a disheartening counterpoint. I won't venture too deep into direct quotes – the scrotal and anal irregularities one encounters on a fourteen hour flight, the wistful depictions of urinating into a 1.5 liter bottle during a nonstop five hour bus ride. Even the kind words of the elderly Irish gentlemen sitting next to you, on a nonstop five hour bus ride,
“Don’t worry, lad. We have this saying: It could happen to The Bishop.”
Pretty sure the Bishop knows not to drink 1.5 liters of water, on a nonstop five hour bus ride.
Point is, not long after I get a continent away from Galaxies? My brain appears to, I don't know, reset itself.
A week after the bus incident, I meet the kind of classy, gorgeous lady I’d only ever have a chance with because of an extravagant accent. Scribbling turns to poetry (the not-terrible kind – a trick I haven't figured out since). We spend a night walking the deserted Wellington waterfront. We're laughing one second, and the next our faces are too close. Things slow down, and the last few months cease to matter. I’d gone my entire life without that specific gravity. And Wellington emptied of people – but full of trees, life-sized Cave Trolls, and a wyvern-riding Witch King – was beautiful. She and I each had someone across a body of water, but I kissed her on the cheek.
Yeah, sorry. That’s all that happened. I’m a good little nerd, okay?
This was life at age twenty-two: effulgent, unstoppable; Galaxies holding it hostage. I'd stay in this nerdy city. Find work, and romance, figure things out, and never again touch a videogame.
Or, I could get accepted into grad school, fly home, and leap back into the mire. I did that second thing. Three days after touching back down at SeaTac, the magic of Wellington already evaporating, I’d write:
April 3, 2004 – It seems fitting to write while a pack is on my back, and I’m standing in the sun.
Some East-siders are coming over this week – for the first time. I’m HIGHLY curious to see how this turns out, if at all.
There’s nothing I can say to keep you from falling into laze, malaise, and apathy. I know you want that one sentence – the one that is immediately and lastingly motivational – meaningfully inspiring. It just doesn’t exist. What exists is the now, and if you’re so far gone that you can’t even try to enjoy the present – or at least appreciate the humor of its travesty…
Then you’re in luck. That means it’s time to go traveling.
Those East-siders were Magni and Azrael. The following week, the then-high school seniors made the four-hour drive over Snoqualmie Pass, the mountains separating brown Eastern Washington barrens from grey Seattle drizzle.
Meeting online friends in person is always unique, and almost never what you’d expect. I couldn’t have asked for better than Jared and James. Jared – “Sasquatch” in friendly conversation and “Magni Jormund” in Galaxies – sports a commanding presence and messy mutton chops. James – often “Gnome” for his stature – always seems to regard his surroundings with darting, intelligent eyes. Over a weekend we explored Seattle, drunkenly wandered Gig Harbor at 3AM, and engaged in light criminal trespass. We got a picture of James and Jared with, “Neils and his dad,” which featured the most intensely pedophilic-looking 45-year-old fisherman we could find wandering the harbor, along with his 70-something father. Think a redheaded Zach Galifianakis and an age-progressed John Malkovich, linking arms with two bright-eyed high schoolers.
Jared would later show this photograph to his mother.