Southport, North Carolina

Jan 2013 009

Coffee and Worms. The actual name of the place is Coffee and Worms.

I’m in front of this little gas station-drugstore-cafe (note: to be determined), and I’m in the American South. I’ve been to the South before. Well, I’ve been to Texas before. This is North Carolina.

The name of the town is Southport. Her perpetual boredom is balanced with this calmness, this content of breathing the air off the Cape Fear River early in the morning and late at night. There is a man sitting in a white rocking chair listening to Dixieland music on vinyl. The music caught the air as it flowed from the open windows making its way down the quiet, empty streets. I watch the sunset over the sailboats and fishing boats and shrimp boats, then walk along under the giant southern oak trees to the
main pier that protrudes just far enough out onto the river. I love these piers. They scream “Southern coastal livin'” with their pictures plastered on every tourist destination article. There they really stand, waiting to be photographed, but truly desiring to be fished off of. This would be home for a little bit.

A German friend from college unexpectedly came and went. I was happy to see him again. When we talk, our eyes barely look away. I vividly remember when I first caught his eye at a jazz show in Illinois. A slow month proceeded with piercing, passing glances almost daily at the music building on campus. He looked at me, and I looked at him. I felt like we knew one another before ever speaking. Then one day we spoke.

I was with him the night before I got hit by a car. My bike light had been stolen. Many months later, he sent me a new light to my place in North Carolina with a note scribbled out on sheet music.

Anton told me: “It’s places like these that help the imagination grow.”

Places like these? Like Southport?

I’m thinking all this over as the sun disappears completely and the pier lights flick on. I figure my only option is to head to the pub.There is one pub in Southport. A little Irish place that manages to fit all the characters in this town into one poorly lit room, but it does have beer. There are worse ways to spend a night on the Cape.

I arrive in time to see all the characters already mingling outside with cigarettes. “Well, hey.” A recognizable face waves in my direction. “Come and sit with us!” recognizable face says. “Gotta get a beer first,” I say as a walk past and reach the front door. It isn’t really a face I care to see at this moment. I push through the door and the same, never changing, poor lit room appears in front of me. There’s also a girl.

She is walking along the bar toward me and I’ve never seen her before. Odd, in this small of a town. Her light hair falls from a blue baseball cap. She eyes me as we pass with half a smile and raised eyebrows. I nod at her and she immediately drops her eyes. I watch as she pushes through the door back toward the mingling and the cigarettes. I’m still looking her way as the door closes.

“Who are these fresh faces?” I ask Jenna as she pours me a beer. She laughs. “Power plant workers. They come around for whatever projects.” I had heard of this. All these people flooding Southport from random places in the Midwest. I guess energy is a big employment field. My eyes lingering back toward the front door, and settle for a minute. “Well, I guess I’ll take this one outside,” I say to Jenna.

I kind of like the warm and salty North Carolina air anyway.

Luang Prabang, Laos

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“You should write her a letter telling her what she meant to you.”

Samit sits across from me in a cafe in Luang Prabang. It took us three days in a kayak to get here. We had come from a small town up north in the mountains where we sat quietly under the clear stars reveling the edge of the Milky Way. Samit is a man I admire. We had been traveling together for at least a week, but our paths had crossed much earlier in Southern Laos. If one thing’s certain, it’s that travelers tend to find each other again in another place.

 On a particularly warm summer night in a midwestern town in the United States some months before, a girl told me how she fucked up. Samit’s suggestion: that I should feel grateful that I even knew her for a moment. She’s haunted my entire time in Southeast Asia.

 In Luang Prabang I have visited no less than ten wats within a miles stretch. They say there are more than thirty in the small town center alone. At the first stop early in the morning, I stumble upon a little shivering puppy wrapped in orange monk robes on a table. I actually keep walking down the stairs leaving the grounds, before I reconsider leaving the little guy unattended. I swing back around, find the puppy, and hold his little body in my arms against my chest. He is shaking violently- all wet from a bath I imagine. I look up to see a beaming smile from a young monk. Eager to practice his English, he tells me he found the pup in the countryside and brought him back to his wat. The puppy began to relax and look so comfy in those bright robes. I just had to smile. before turning to leave, I bow and tell the monk how beautiful his wat is, and he beams again.

 At this point it had been months since I first arrived in Southeast Asia. I had met and chatted with many Buddhist monks. Long conversations about the state of being. I even spent time reading the stories of the Buddha in English to my first “teacher” a head monk of a little wat in Cambodia. Yet I felt exactly as I had that summer night when I was briefly given a moment with a girl I was fixated on. Attached, I think is what the Buddhist would say about it. I remember sitting down with a older monk with a hearty laugh who taught at a University in Phnom Penh. “Maybe,” he says “we suffer because we love too much.” Hearty laugh. “I guess that’s against some current world beliefs. Maybe we just love in the wrong ways.”

 I leave the puppy and head for a view of the Mekong River. Powerful and rich, it’s the life-force of the entire region. Luang Prabang sits at the junction of the Mekong and a smaller river called the Nam Khan. A Laotian told me a story about it, something about the younger brother trying to murder is older brother, chopping off some body part, and now the two rivers magically collide around the city. It seemed rather legitimate of a story to me after a few Lao beers. This place feels pretty magical after all.

 I watch the river at the waterfront for a bit as night begins to fall. Foreigners and residents blend around me. I remember my plans with Samit, and feel a sliver of happiness that I have someone to meet. As I walk along the river to the little place we agreed on, I think of what I would be seeing if I was back in that midwestern town. I remember that girl walking into the Asian wing of the local art museum. I looked up as she approached me, and everything just sort of fell together. She approached without saying a word, becoming the entire room and everything in it.

 Samit says, “You should write her a letter telling her what she meant to you.” For a moment I consider what he is saying, and even think of what I’d write. I look behind him onto the street below. The walkers are appearing from the night market, and all the bright colors of Luang Prabang in the dark are blending together. I look back at Samit and the cafe patrons around us, and for a moment, that was everything.