No more than four months after Saigon, I found myself imprisoned in my old self. I spent my days cite checking 100 page legal articles in the Tulane Law Review Suite—a freezing, fluorescent box on the second floor of an ugly building in uptown New Orleans.
I learned the hard way that making law review is a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie. I read and wrote “the small print,” ate shit from the editors–some of whom made Rain Man look well adjusted–and clamored towards a career doing the same. If I was lucky, I could spend the rest of my life in a room just like it.
It was a funny juxtaposition, I suppose, doing something so square in a city so bent, but that didn’t prevent me from hating it with every ounce of my soul. Instead of doing anything about it, I complained.
“The thing is,” a fellow member said in response to one of my whining fits, “you have to pretend to love it, then you really will.”
He had once been a drummer in a successful band, but had given it up to make a living. I would soon give up on making a living to be a “writer.” “Writer” meaning, of course, “unemployed.” But we’ll get to that later.
Like most of my law school classmates, I was a hyper-ambitious narcissist with no concrete plans for achieving the greatness to which I was entitled. I had been convinced of it, like so many of my generation, by my mother. Growing up, she believed that I was a unique and special snowflake. My father didn’t agree, but never felt like arguing about it, so the propaganda was delivered in heaping spoonfuls, a substitute for what in more traditional households would’ve been home cooking. So, until the age of 25, I dawdled about life waiting for God to transform me into a combination of Tupac and Brad Pitt.
God didn’t come, but a wealthy uncle did. After college, he got me a job as a paralegal at the District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. In those days, the DANY paralegal program was a feeder track for Ivy League kids on their way to one of the T-14 law schools. I spent two confusing years indulging their latent savior complexes. It was like the Habitat for Humanity, in which privileged youth provide minorities with permanent structures, the only difference being that at DANY those structures were prisons instead of homes.
All my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed co-workers were taking the LSATs, so I took them too, even though I had zero interest in being a lawyer. My excuse was that I wanted to be a politician, and most politicians I knew of had gone to law school. To make a lame story less lame, I took enough Adderall to do well on the LSATs and entered Tulane Law on a major scholarship. At Tulane, still unsure of where to direct my ambition, I took even more Adderall, worked incredibly hard, and made law review.
I had convinced myself that making law review was all that I wanted, but, like all achievements, the pleasure was fleeting and I was left with no more hills to climb. It was particularly daunting since I didn’t know myself, or what I wanted to do, and even more daunting because I didn’t know that I didn’t know that.
What I did know was that I had the terrible urge to go to Vietnam. Specifically Vietnam, for no reason besides a deep and inexplicable urge to sit at a café in a tropical square, read a pink newspaper, and smile at a beautiful Vietnamese woman on a bicycle. With a little sniffing around I managed to land a summer internship at a top American law firm in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, a city of seven million on the Southern tip of Vietnam.
Truly untethered for the first time in my life, I set off to the other side of the planet alone.
My writing career began in the passenger seat of Hyundai. On the way to the airport. The driver, a close friend, made the smallest of suggestions: “Maybe you should write some kind of blog while you’re out there?”
Three days hence, I would turn twenty-five years old. The birthday would be spent in Saigon. The strange (or not so strange) events of that birthday would serve as inspiration for the book I would publish five years later.
But, in the front seat of that Hyundai, I was still a kid…