Networking (or, Around Midnight in Vientiane)

Met an old French guy who was the photographer of some postcards I had bought earlier that day. He could barely speak English, and his default gesture was to shrug his shoulders as if to say “eh, what does it matter…” At first I thought he and his friend were really cool, and then I found out that he was a writer, which piqued my interest even more. So I agreed to go somewhere in his car with him–I thought we were going to the river but it turned out to be a bar where he knew everyone, and it was a little awkward walking in with a 70+ year old man because people probably thought it was some kind of fucked-up date. Then I decided it was fated and momentous sitting in this bar with a bunch of men speaking French, and I decided it had something to do with my half-baked plan to go to Paris and stay at Shakespeare&Co at the end of my trip, so I wrote the name, Shakespeare&Co Bookstore, in my notebook, but he had never heard of it. I asked him how he got his job, to be a photographer and travel writer in Laos, but he just shrugged that “eh” shrug and finally just said that he has been taking pictures since he was 6 years old and isn’t good at anything else. I tried to get it across to him that being a travel writer and photographer is my dream, but it didn’t seem to register. He just smiled at me. Later, someone who looked exactly like Rolf Potts walked in and talked about having a quick nightcap, he had to meet his wife later, it only happens about once a month he said and everyone laughed. For a minute I thought I was having some kind of “Midnight in Paris” experience, penetrating into some inner circle of writers from an earlier generation, but then I noticed that the old guy’s smile was becoming kind of lascivious. The younger guy sitting next to me condescended to speak English long enough to tell me about a book written by a French gay man who went to Thailand and had an experience with a young Thai boy. Then I just wanted to go. The line between a cool situation and an awkward one can be very thin.


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