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Experiencing the Seat
On being back in London, missing my granddads, and as expected, Jon Bernthal.
Last weekend, I missed my stop on the Overground. I hadn’t done it once in the week I’ve been here thus far, but the one time I did, I had overshot Canada Water all the way to Whitechapel. I was late for an early dinner with a friend. I missed my stop because I was engrossed in a book (Raven Leilani’s Luster) in my seat, a copy I picked up while waiting to meet another friend the day prior.
I am lucky years of living in London haven’t been wasted on me, all I needed was to just take the southbound train, an extra 10 to 20 minutes on my total trip time depending on how busy both the Over and Underground trains were that Saturday afternoon. They were, to no one’s surprise, very busy. It took three trains passing me by to get onto one that wasn’t just sardined to the brim with people.
I arrived in London last Wednesday. It is my first time here in about two and a half years. On paper, that isn’t a very long time. I myself struggle to understand time on a good day, and Lorde knows the number of “2020-2021 doesn’t count” jokes the least funny people in your life have made. They do count, by the way. At least they do to me. They sucked for a lot of us, sure, but they count.
Two and a half years is a long time. It doesn’t feel like a lot has changed, but I know they have. I know I have, thankfully. The Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre is gone and I’m too scared to go that way knowing my Uni was the one to get rid of it. Everything is much more expensive than when I left, again, to absolutely no one’s surprise. All my friends are moving or have moved to nicer flats, even houses. Some of them have recently entered very happy relationships. We all agree we are no longer capable of 8-4 pm classes, followed by a 6 to 12-hour shift, closing out with a coke bender only to do it all again the next day. I feel like a grown-up, for once the allure of arrested development (the concept and another rewatch of the acclaimed sitcom) do not hang over my head. Life goes on, and this time I actually get to notice it go on, instead of frantically believing I have to catch up with it.
It has not yet sunk in that I am here. I’m sure it will sink in when I leave. London loves to see me go but hates to watch me leave. Or whatever it is you say to people with nice bums. I like walking around here the same way I used to; briskly, quietly, almost on autopilot. I like only checking Citymapper to make sure I’m thinking about the right bus to take. I like accidentally missing my stop, no matter how embarrassing or mortifying it is, because no one knows I missed my stop. Well, apart from you right now. I enjoy the slight threat of running into an ex or an unpleasant person from uni, which has only happened once so far. I revel in the fact that I don’t feel like such a stranger here, even though I have very clearly become one. I’m sure I’ll feel that way if I ever go back to Sydney, or Kuwait. I feel like that in Jakarta all the time.
I love London the way you would think fondly of a hookup you know you’ll never see again. We had a good time. Maybe we’ll get to have a good time again. Familiar and foreign all at the same time. London, however, was not just a hookup. London is not romantic, I feel no romance for or in it. I think we were pretty screwy on the labels. We still are now.
Grand Father Time
I had two very funny grandfathers. They were equally hilarious in very different ways. I feel lucky to have known them, luckier to have had them make me laugh. My grandfather on my dad’s side was a lot like me; a boisterous reformed-with-an-asterisk heavy smoker that is always up to mischief-adjacent shenanigans. On the other hand, my mother’s father was a businessman-turned-academic that sang around the house whenever he knew he had a captive audience (us).
When I was four, my dad’s dad, Eyang Momo as we endearingly referred to him, snuck out of an East Jakarta hospital to come to my birthday party. I remember this quite vividly. It’s one of my earliest memories: he came to see me, eat some cake, and laugh from the comfort of his dressing-gown, hospital bracelet hanging proudly off his wrist. He was endlessly cheeky. You could never tell him not to eat something, even if it was for his own good. When you tried, he would pretend to be so wounded he sounded like a wolf howling at the moon until his kids would cave and leave him be. He died when I was five. My brother never knew him, but he already knew my brother. He said that to my mum: “I know exactly how he’ll turn out.”
My mum’s dad, Eyang Papi, was often confused for a reserved man. I think that’s how everyone around him saw him—quite serious, cerebral, well-to-do. I remember him as a big kid that wanted to show me what kind of bakso (always beef) he was eating over FaceTime whilst I was away at uni, a university lecturer that sought the help of his eleven-year-old grandchildren for a PowerPoint presentation, an opportunist who saw my grandmother lower her guard long enough for him to tickle her (much to her dismay), and a devout Muslim who has only once broken concentration (the way an actor would break character, or Bill Hader through any live performance ever) during prayer because his wife had fallen asleep—snores and all—during sujud.
I didn’t realize then, however, that Eyang Papi was a very patient man. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in her early 60s, and like the dutiful husband he was, he had his own way of managing how we all interacted with her for her comfort. He was born Yasir, which in Arabic very literally means “well-to-do”. He worked hard to be that way. He worked hard to keep everything together, stubbornly so. The funniest thing he has ever done in my eyes happened before, during, and after his death. A three-act bit born out of that same stubbornness.
I’m not sure he would want me to tell you this, but my granddad was younger than my grandma. Only by a few years.
Legally, however, he wasn’t.
I had a little chuckle before crying at the sight of his headstone the other day because I remembered that he has the wrong birthday written on it. Or rather, the ‘corrected’ birthday. I don’t know why he had to be older than my grandmother when he wasn’t, that in itself is very silly to me. What a silly little thing for a man to do. This led to the second act of the gag: on the makeshift headstone (a paint primer drenched plank of wood, to be honest) his birth month and birth date were switched due to some clerical error. After a very on-purpose clerical error. I don’t know why I think that’s so funny, I know he would’ve been mortified for about an hour and then laughed at us for laughing at it. I was in London when he passed, so I never really got to say goodbye. When I came home to see the actual headstone, to my surprise they fixed that little switcheroo and kept his “real” birth year on it. A comedy of errors! Intentional errors!
Both my grandfathers secretly enjoyed syndicated re-runs of Mr. Bean. If you’re Southeast Asian, everything you knew about Mr. Bean you learned against your will. As cartoonish as Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling character was, I think there was something grounded about him that really spoke to my grandparents. Bean’s whole thing is that he is the giant error in the comedy of life. An alien, as implied in the opening sequence and noughties animated adaptation, dropped in the middle of Britain to fend for himself. You cringe, wince, and grow concerned for The Bean, his teddy bear, and the world around him but you can’t look away. There’s a small part of you that needs to know what happens next.
I have tried to quiet that part, especially surrounding questions about an after. What happens after death, to the people who die, the people they leave behind—I don’t find that line of questioning all that useful to me now. It was all I could think about when I was younger.
I was reading The Year of Magical Thinking on the plane because I saw it on sale at Periplus and it’s the only Didion I am truly afraid of. It deals with grief with such an openness, a really validating way for all kinds of thinking, magical or otherwise. I loved how she vocalised the kind of logic only a grieving mind would put together, a kind of rationality one would dismiss out of self-preservation.
My grandfathers were from two very different parts of Java, two very different kinds of families, and made their way to Jakarta in even starker ways.
I think the point I was trying to make was that you will never really know how you’ll turn out, and it’s really easy to forget that. A friend of mine often repeats to himself and us that “things make sense looking back”, the context of hindsight being the final piece of the puzzle. I don’t think that’s the case though. We’re lucky that things can “make sense” but even if they don’t, I don’t think it matters all that much that our lives “make sense”. I’ve been toiling with the very annoying 20-something thought pattern of needing to “have it all together”. What the hell does that even mean anymore? I think we’re all lucky to get from 2 pm to 3 pm without crying or becoming horrendously bored. I think we all breathe a small sigh of relief for just being able to experience relief in the first place, from whatever it is we need a break from.
I don’t make any fucking sense. Sometimes I try too hard to, I overcompensate for a lack of control I think I should feel and/or really do feel. Control is monstrously overrated, for the most part. Self-control and being controlling can share a verb without being the same thing. I think I’m aiming for a healthy middle now, just making enough sense for you to understand what I’m trying to say. Whether or not I’ve done that? Well, that’s an entirely different story altogether.
There are two types of in-flight entertainment: the media selection available on the plane, and the other passengers flying with you. I had a pretty good flight, I’m good on long-haul flights, I’ve been doing them long before I was old enough to have my own passport. I am often jealous of people who hate long-haul flights. I am often jealous of first-time flyers. The nerve-wracking grip on the armrests during take-off is kind of like magic to me. My dad works in aviation, so the engineering behind these big hunks of metal feels less mystical. It’s still rad, obviously, marvels of human ingenuity that have revolutionized the way we travel and subsequently flagged a major environmental concern.
A particular interaction I found interesting was between a man sitting three rows in front of me, and the person sitting next to me in the aisle. Three Rows thought Aisle Guy put his stuff in the overhead compartment that “rightfully belonged” to three rows. Aisle Guy did not put his things there, his things were at his feet underneath the seat in front of him. I think Three Rows was just looking to let off some steam and also some attention, not just from the flight crew but from everyone else in that section. A really pretty flight attendant moved what was in Three Rows’ overhead storage, it was the spare pillows and blankets the airline kept on for the flight. Three Rows turned red as a tomato. I just found that entertaining. People, myself included, are weird and embarrassing. I find that very comforting to know.
On the plane to Doha, I watched The Disaster Artist (ew), half a season of 30 Rock, and the first thirty minutes of Hocus Pocus wherein I realized the boy from the beginning is the guy that plays McGee on NCIS. From Doha to London, I slept through the last season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I was actually quite impressed with the selection of in-flight entertainment. They had Phantom Thread, and if I wasn’t exhausted out of my mind I probably would’ve watched Phantom Thread. It was nice to have the option.
Obligatory and Illustrious Bernthal Update
It pains me to admit that I may stop doing these. Not out of any disloyalty to Jon Bernthal, I adore him after all, but because I want to take a step back from writing about what I consume for a little bit. It won’t be forever. I just want to give myself the energy to make things again. I’m two days into my acting course and my body is sore. A good, tired sore that only comes from being out all day. I need to figure out a groove to rest and write after I have been pretending to be Ryan Gosling all day. (The first scene we worked on was a scene between Ryan Gosling and Evan Rachel Wood in The Ides of March (2011). I got to play Ryan Gosling.)
Back to Bernthal, he was on Desus & Mero this week. I love my Bodega Boys. Jon seems very at ease yet very animated around them at the same time. His hair is exquisite. I love when Mero admits to farting and Bernthal just daps him up. They talk a lot about his new show We Own This City, where he stars alongside Wunmi Mosaku and Tim Robinson-lookalike Josh Charles. He talks about his Real Ones podcast but now about how he hasn’t smoked a joint on camera for that show since the first episode. He does a little joke for and about his wife at the end that I thought was really cute.
That’s all for this week, folks! This kind of Hyperfixate may not be back for a while, but we will do Radio Fixate, and long story short once I’ve settled into my routine here.
All my love,