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Day 153 – The Longest Day

August 3, 2010

Dateline: Transit from Bangkok, Thailand to Los Angeles, Calfornia, U.S.A. – Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Avon: You come in here, you get your mind right, you only do two days. The day you come in…

Stringer: and the day you get out.

–Stringer visiting Avon in jail, from HBO’s The Wire .

It’s odd to compare my five month stint in Asia with doing jail time. I mean, I paid money to go to Asia. I good food. And I’m pretty sure no matter how right you get your mind, you don’t enjoy lockup. Me? I loved doing my time abroad.

But I do know what Avon and Stringer are talking about because, after 153 days off America’s streets, the days I feel the most are the first day and today—the last.

Perhaps that’s because today is the longest day of my life, literally. Whereas on Day 1 I lost a day in the air, crossing the international dateline from this direction means that, despite a 19 hour journey, I will arrive in L.A. five hours later on the same day that I leave Bangkok. I will somehow complete a trip across the Pacific (with a layover in Taipei) in one evening. For me, Tuesday, August 3, 2010 be almost 40 hours long.

Perhaps I feel the first day and the last the most because they’re a blur. When the days that bookend a time period are hazy, they frame that time in between. That time is trapped in the haze. For me, that haze was spent in strange lands; lands where the normal rules didn’t apply; where who I was on the outside didn’t matter as much as who I decided to be on the inside; where food tasted different. I was in places that I could never call home. Those two days—the first and the last—separate me from the strange world where I lived lived the last few months.

Waiting in Bangkok’s airport, shuffling onto the plane, dozing with hordes of Chinese in Taipei, and cruising into LAX was like slowly waking from a dream. Did the last five months actually happen?

The strongest evidence that I actually made it to Asia is my hundreds of pages of writing and my gigabytes of pictures. Even then, it’s sort of like looking through the attic of someone else’s life.  Perhaps this is what it feels like to have amnesia.

Airports then, are like those physical spasms you get when you’re falling sleep: the leg and arm jerks, the head snapping upright after it falls off its neck, the sound of one’s own snoring. Airports are only experienced when you’re going someplace strange or returning to someplace familiar. They are physical reminders that you’re entering a dream state or–worse–that you’re waking up. Airports are the holding cells and waiting rooms to and from real life and that other thing.

We land in Los Angeles and disembark.  The immigration officer from Homeland Security processes my release papers.

“Anything to declare?” No. “What were you in for?” Vacation. He nods, feigning interest, “You got a lot of stamps. Me? I just go to Vegas.” He hands me back my passport.

“Sir, looks like your paperwork’s in order. Your belongings: one large duffel bag containing one backpack, four shirts, two pairs of pants, one watch, three and a half pairs of socks, shoes, two pens, one passport, 30 gigs of pictures, and 947 pages of notes and entries.” He looks me in the hard in the eye. “Welcome back to the real world. Good luck out there.”

Strange, but I can’t decide: is today the first day or the last?

GALLERY: Click through to see bonus pictures of Mervyn’s last few moments in Thailand, his brief stay in Taipei, and the glide over Dodger stadium back into the United States of America.

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