I sip a café Americano, my elbow at a perfect right angle to my body. I strike my best, “inscrutable, yet approachable,” pose. At adjacent tables, younger women chat. Each one ignores me more than the next.
I open my laptop to a gobble-throated reflection. ”Who the hell are you?” sneers my inner 30-year-old.
A younger man with John Wayne’s chin walks by.
If I could just be him…
Then, I’d go find Francoise, the French girl I followed into the post office in Salta, Argentina. I queued behind her, needing nothing, wanting only to catch her scent. She asked whether I’d like to cross the Chaco with her. I was committed to Karen and Utte, the German girls. We were heading north in a rented red Ford. I suddenly preferred France over Germany. In La Paz, a note, “To Mark,” hung crookedly on the hotel bulletin board. Francois had dumped Paraguay for me. But Paris called her home.
Or, I’d look for Michelle, the American girl with devouring eyes. We first kissed in the reptile house of the London zoo. Later, we locked ourselves in the bathroom of the Carter Lane Youth Hostel. We lay still whenever someone knocked. She headed south with a friend. I left her messages in the visitor logs of Europe’s best museums and cathedrals.
Or, I’d look for Rachel, the Kiwi who thumped down beside me as I dozed in that sunny hillside depression. Her ears were whisper magnets. Her laughter confirmed my immortality. After, we ran down, propelled by Himalayan wind, her hand slipping in and out of mine. She said I’d enjoy the South Island. I said India couldn’t wait.
Hell, if I could be him, I’d even take the unheated short bus, in winter, from Golmud out over the Tibetan Plateau. It’ll boast an impressive melancholy-chicken to freezing-passenger ratio of 2:1. It’ll stall repeatedly crossing 5000-meter passes. It’ll roll into Lhasa after 44 bottomless hours.