Friday, December 31, 2004

The worst of 2004

I can't tell if 2004 was better than 2003. On one hand, I was living in my own apartment - a first for me. I was busy, which is better for me when I'm angry and depressed (which is how I usually am in Malaysia). But I was working a job that kept me in the office 6, often 7 days a week. By the middle of the year, coming home at 10:00 pm every day became the norm. I was making about $500 a month working a full-time job, with no overtime. Between rent and expenses I was lucky if at the end of the month I had RM100 left from my paycheque (around $25 back then). My apartment was actually pretty nice, but I was hardly around long enough to enjoy it. I certainly didn't know anyone in KL I could invite over to hang out.

I worked like a dog, and the people I worked for treated me like one. The senior designer and art director would take cheap little shots at me and steal my ideas. The owner of the company would call me "Osama" (a reference to my beard) and sneeringly say during staff meetings that my ideas "weren't relevant". Some of the marketing guys would come in and yell at me, demanding to know where their work was - as I was rushing to meet the deadline for another project. During one of these beratings, the boss sat in the chair next to me and said nothing.

Just something as simple as having internet at home would have made things a little better, but it wasn't available at my apartment in Kuala Lumpur. In Taiping I had signed up for a one year contract with Telekom Malaysia, and even though it would be months before service became available in my new location I still had to pay the monthly fees. I went into TM's main office in KL to ask them to delay the billing until I actually had service, and was told they wouldn't stop the billing, but I could use my internet at a friend's house. [They also told me that because I had long hair and a beard in my national Identity Card photo, and a shaved head and goatee in person, that my ID "wasn't me."] To this day I think that Telekom Malaysia is one of the shittiest companies on the planet. See if you can find any evidence to the contrary.

I thought that in trading the small town of Taiping for the capital Kuala Lumpur, I would escape a lot of the cultural differences I was experiencing in Malaysia. I learned pretty quickly that KL is just a big city filled with small minds. The idea that Malaysians are in general a shitty group of people was being reinforced over and over again. On my 25th birthday I leaned over the balcony of my 14th floor apartment and dared myself to jump off. It felt like I'd never escape Malaysia and would live the rest of my life being taken advantage of and treated like shit. But I couldn't do it. I couldn't escape my misery, and I couldn't end it either. That just made me feel more trapped.

Looking back, if I had a connection to the music scene - ANY music scene - things might have been better. But that wasn't in the cards at the time. I tried to set up CD trading by mail with my friends back in NY - a few of them sent me some packages, but any extensive music trading didn't pan out. I didn't even know where to find music locally; all the retail outlets in Malaysia seemed to traffic exclusively in shitty pop and corporate rock. Ordering music from a distro like Century Media, Relapse or the like was too far out of my means, between the shipping costs and my meagre wage. Metal had been the most important part of my life for over 10 years, and being deprived of it was like having a limb cut off.

There was one bright spot. Sometime in the middle of the year Air America Radio started up. I listened to the live stream throughout the day - it was either that, or listen to my halfwit co-worker warble along with Whitney Houston and Banarama on the radio - but by far the highlight was a show called Morning Sedition, featuring a comedian I had never heard before named Marc Maron. Suddenly, when 6:00 pm rolled around each day and I knew that I wouldn't be able to go home for another few hours, I didn't mind as I had Morning Sedition to keep me company (and sane). That show was the only joy I experienced while at work. I developed a fierce loyalty to Maron that I followed through to the end of Morning Sedition and into his other ill-fated shows (The Marc Maron Show and Breakroom Live), which carried through until his podcast WTF made him a star. It may be exaggerating to say that Morning Sedition saved my life, but Maron, his co-host Mark Riley and their crew of political satirists/radio characters (Barry Lank, Bruce Cherry, Kent Jones, and the brilliantly acerbic Jim Earl) kept me going. I'll always be grateful for that.

- Adrian Sol, from the somewhat less depressing present of 9.06.2013