The only visibly open space from here until the epicenter is concentrated in a circle in the middle of which a group of kids dance, not performing, just flailing their limbs. Everyone outside the circle stands still, but the way they look at the kids in the circle (craning necks, indulgent smiles like the old for the young) gives them away: they are dancing in their heads.
Shit man. I won’t be comforted. Try to put on a show for these people and they can’t even get out of the way. How do they expect a man to dance. I know there’s no room. Well make some room. Give me a goddamn hand for nailing a float in a one square meter box. Turn off your mouths for a second. I fall down. You fall down. What do you expect. Give a man a cell, he becomes a prisoner.
Baby you’re beautiful. You’ve put in your work, you’ve picked out the hottest little vest there is, those pink bows on black could kill a man. You’re seventeen, it’s the morning of your life. It’s New Year’s in your country’s biggest city and everyone is wishing they were you. Just dance with your friends, let go, don’t worry about messing with your hair or the thousand million of us watching you jive. No matter how you act we’re going to dream about you for years. So stop ruining our dreams. Don’t look so goddamn anxious.
The kid waves his arms from the concrete base in which the telephone pole and electric box are set, but they won’t stop, they won’t stop, the oncoming crowd like buffalo over a narrow plain, someone has fallen, someone is hurt, can’t they see, when he puts his hands palms out and cries into the free air it means stop, stop, why won’t they stop, they’re going to trample her, she can’t get up unless they stop, stop, waving his arms at you but it’s the helplessness on his face that you ignore, what the hell is wrong with you, stop, stop, stop.
Aimi does not have to go to the toilet. When Aimi walks off stage after three songs it is not because she has to go to the toilet but because she doesn’t feel like singing anymore. Can’t you tell, the way she struts back between the walls to backstage? Can’t you tell by her strut? That is not an I-have-to-go-to-the-toilet walk. That is an I-am-Aimi-and-I-don’t-feel-like-singing walk. Will she be back? I guess it just depends what she feels like, doesn’t it? Maybe she will. Maybe she won’t. Aimi.
The man barely catches the woman as she faints longwise into the cushion of people that falls away as her synthetic black dress brushes them and all you can notice is that her boyfriend, in catching her under her armpits just like in the movies, has inadvertently lowered her dress nearly to the point that you can see her tits. For a second you think the crowd is waiting for the same thing you are but then you get that they are worried about the woman’s health or at least her overdramatics. Not her tits.
This is it, this is his dream, man, atop a platform above thousands of screaming people stacked practically atop one another while lights flash and attention segues to him as he plays the introduction to “Don’t Stop Believing.” He’s never really been able to stick that part where the guitarist goes really fast but tonight he’s doing it—yes—he’s doing it—no, tonight is not an exception and he has to bail out, letting it get all muddy before holding the long note and the singing comes in. And that, he thinks, beating himself up, is why he’s the anonymous coolo guitarist strutting around behind a DJ to whose music he can only add flourishes, more of a visual aid than anything, in Viet fucking Nam.
It is impossible to say who starts it or even that it starts, because it begins to be just as if it were all along. It is only possible to say that it exists now and feels like an “event” for doing so. Which must mean that it didn’t exist before. Solved. But then the question remains of why. The collective shout is celebratory no doubt. But the new year has not come yet. Here we are all jammed in. What is there to celebrate? Except for the rise of a celebratory shout amid discomfort. The triumph of stubborn joy. Celebratory at itself then. And—yes—that’s why it can’t be heard to start: because its first movement was a spark of irrational joy in some kid’s head, inaudible but contagious like dengue, you can’t see it spread, but you can feel it.
I know I shouldn’t be thinking this and in fact my brain isn’t letting this even break the surface of conscious thought but still it’s bubbling down beneath there under the fear and desperation and sheer desire to get my girlfriend out of this infinite cluster of people—s’ils vous plait! s’ils vous plait!—this notion that yeah, this is a situation, and I have to step up and rescue my girlfriend from a throng of foreigners, it’s like the movies—s’ils vous plait!—I’m like a hero pushing little Vietnamese people out of the way, the sex we are going to have once we’re done with all this will be amazing, if only things were always as simple as this.
“Hey Phuong.” “What’s up Lanh.” “They told us to come out here, right?” “Yeah.” “We’ve been standing here smiling for like fifteen minutes. Nothing on the teleprompter. Everyone looking at us. It’s still half an hour until the countdown.” “I was getting a little embarrassed myself.” “What do we do?” “I’m thirsty.” “Me too.” “…” “…” “Probably we should go back backstage, huh?” “You first.” “I’ll follow you.”
The fucking crowd won’t stop fucking pushing and his fucking girlfriend is having a fucking panic attack and goddamn it will they fucking stop. He pushes his way through and throws the fucking people left and right so that he can get to the back of the fucking crowd into some open fucking space and the crowd pushes back closing in on his girlfriend even fucking more and he turns his head back and shouts: “Stop fucking pushing!” The people look at him like he’s a psycho but it’s them that are fucking psychos, smashing together and sweating and yelling for hours, the fucking heathens.
It’s 2012. You can tell because there’s fire from the stage’s edge, from the cords running from street to stage. There was even a countdown, back in 2011. What do you do? Well, you’re happy! You hold up your hands—you cheer! You look around. There are so many people. You feel like you should hug one of them. No one is hugging anyone. No one knows what to do with their bodies. It’s 2012! Yeah! Wasn’t there something promised us?
Sitting in a tree to watch the festivities pros: you can see the festivities; you are not smashed by the glut of human beings; you are envied by those who can see you; this is the thing Jesus praised that kid for. Sitting in a tree to watch the festivities cons: you cannot talk to your friends; your friends are eventually propelled away from you by the jillion shifting synapses; when you want to dance to the music the best you can do is shake the tree; at midnight, as fireworks shoot off and the crowd looks around expectantly, it is impossible to escape the truth that you are alone, alone, alone.
Although he is drunk and tall and reeling in his cadre of mates, he retains just enough inhibition to pause before he takes off his shirt. In those couple seconds he considers: the culture he is in and that he does not know what is over the line and what is not; that he can play the foreigner card if pressed; that no one else has their shirts off; that what is he going to do with his shirt; that why is he even taking off his shirt; and that what if they try to go into a bar. But all this is lost in the noise and swaying alcoholic fever of his vibrating flock and before even he knows it everyone can see his nipples.