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Five Times Preoccupations’ Michael Wallace Almost Died

on September 12, 2016, 1:00am
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Photo by Philip Cosores

There’s plenty to talk about with regards to Preoccupations and their excellent, new self-titled album. Many will focus on the fact that this is actually the band’s second self-titled record, the first one having been released in 2015 under the name Viet Cong. But having brunch with drummer Michael Wallace the day before the band is scheduled to perform at Los Angeles’ FYF Fest, it’s clear that he’s already exhausted from talking about his band’s semi-controversial name change, even with a month to go before the new album comes out.

But that topic isn’t on the agenda today. It turns out Wallace is a bit of an adventurer and has wrangled several near-death experiences out of his last several years of life. Even when recounting the most frightening of these, he’s upbeat and cheerful, not indicating that these kinds of escapades might be coming to an end in the near future. In fact, Wallace generally seems proud of all the ways he’s tempted fate. Maybe not proud of the situations he’s found himself in, but proud of the fact that he’s survived them and can now laugh about it all between bites of salmon benedict.

One-Handed Death

Michael Wallace: Judging by just the start of this tour, I had this feeling that Dallas was cursed because it was the only show that I’ve ever had to cancel on a tour, which was post-SXSW when I played with a broken hand.

That was kind of a news item, right?

A little bit. It was funny. It got featured in Rolling Stone magazine as one of the highlights of SXSW. It was like “Viet Cong Drummer Plays Six Shows with One Hand,” but then it just had a picture of my bass player’s face. I was like, “Thanks, Rolling Stone.”

But anyway, our first show in Houston, again on this tour, I bashed my hand and it was just very reminiscent of last year, super swollen. Dallas was the next show, and for a minute I thought it was broken again. I was like, “Oh my God, what’s with Dallas? I can never play there ever again.”

That whole escapade started in Indiana last year on Monty’s [guitar and synth player Scott Munro] birthday. We were all just really hyper, perhaps one or two too many tequila shots before taking the stage, but it was during “Death”, our last song, that I cracked my left hand on the snare drum and fractured the bone.

Do you hit your hand against the snare drum a lot?

It’s something I’m continually working on not doing. And part of that is I just get too excited when I’m playing the drums and just sort of lose it in the moment. I didn’t even realize it until the morning when I woke up. It was just so swollen and in a lot of pain, so I just kept my hand in a bucket of ice for two days on the way to SXSW.

You don’t have health insurance I’m guessing.

Well, exactly. That, too.

In Canada, you can just go to the hospital, right?

Yeah, you can go in anywhere.

So you’re just like, “I can hold out until I get home.”

It was me wishing or hoping so bad that it was going to be OK since we had two days until we were there. The first day we had to play the Mohawk, and I did this stick test where I tried to hold the drumstick, and it just fell right out of my hand. I was like, “Oh my God, guys, I think we have to cancel this show.” And then my tour manager was just like, “OK, if you’re gonna cancel it, you’re going to have to go down to the Mohawk and you have to show them your hand and be like, ‘This is what happened,'” and I just felt like that was such an embarrassing thing to have to do. “Really? You can’t just phone them and tell them I hurt my hand?” And he was like, “No. This is a pretty high-profile gig, and what if you just make something up? It’s a lot better if you just show them that you’re injured.”

I really didn’t want to do that. So we were having this back-and-forth with it, and it was Danny [guitarist Daniel Christiansen] who was like, “Didn’t Def Leppard play with one hand?” And the thought had never even occurred to me because I was hoping that it was going to get better in time for the shows. We just pulled up YouTube and watched 10 minutes of Def Leppard videos. He’s got all the crazy foot controllers and stuff, but he’s just doing it all with one hand. It’s his right hand and I’m right-handed as well, so 10 minutes later I was like, “OK, fuck it, let’s do this.” It was just really exciting and super nerve-racking. I didn’t have any time to prepare or practice one-handed. I was just sitting in the backstage, before we had to go on, going over my beats and patterns in my head, song by song of how I would do that with one hand.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

You had to remove a little bit, right?

Oh yeah, a lot.

So it was more of how to keep time and how to make it interesting?

Yeah, exactly. Go through the changes, beat for beat. But then it came to “Death”, which is our last song. It has that five-stroke roll. That one I was really struggling with, so it turned into a triplet, but that didn’t feel right. We tried to make a trigger where I could hit it and it would do a five-stroke roll, but it was never in time or consistently the same tempo starting that song. So we started having some backup drummers just play the snare drum and then just join in, which was really fun. A lot of drummers were really excited about it and just the idea to improvise.

 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost Died

Which artists performed with you?

Hayden [Menzies] played, from METZ. We’re really good friends with them. He was really cute. He was pretty nervous about it, but he got up there and killed it. And then the highlight was Thor [Harris], from Swans. I’m a pretty big Swans fan, and it was amazing to meet him. He came literally 15 minutes before we took the stage, and we had a little pow-wow playing on our hands and knees together. He’s just the most positive human I think I’ve ever met. Originally, it was just planned for doing “Death”, but I was like, man, it’s Thor, he’s so cool, just play the whole show with us. And he was like, “Sure, man, whatever you guys want to do!” And it was so funny, too, because it was the Fader Fort, and I think Will Smith’s daughter had just performed before us. I remember having the best time in the world. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m playing with Thor right now,” looking out into the audience and people just staring at us like what the fuck is going on? What’s wrong with that dude’s arm, and who’s this other guy?

Especially in the Fader Fort. A lot of the fans there are waiting for the surprise headliner, who might be Drake.

That’s exactly what it was and just us in the middle of it. We ended up doing two shows a day for three days. Dallas was our next show, so I canceled that to fly home to get repaired before rejoining the band in Denver. I don’t know if many people know that I continued the tour, only canceling Dallas. In total, it was something like 14 shows as the Def Leppard escapade.
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Photo by Philip Cosores

How was coming back once your hand was useful again? Were there any reservations? Like how an athlete comes back from an injury.

Oh, of course. I’ve been contemplating padding my rims, but that’s going to produce a different sound, and a lot of the time you want to hear the stick on the rim. I’ve been trying to be more aware and conscious while I’m playing, but like I said, it’s difficult because I just have so much fun while I’m playing. You want to totally lose yourself and go crazy.

Black Gold

This story starts when I was touring with Porcelain Raft. We had just gone to the UK and did a few shows opening up for M83 as a duo, just me backing up Mauro Remiddi, and had a few days off before continuing on across Europe. We were packing up and getting ready to go over to France, and we had got this email from M83’s manager saying that Anthony [Gonzalez] said that I can’t come on the rest of the tour. If Mauro doesn’t like it, then we can both leave. Or, he can go and perform as a solo artist. For no reason, whatsoever.

You had no idea why?

No, I hadn’t done anything, I hadn’t fucked up anything in particular. I mean, I was having a lot of fun, but you know, I’m a respectable human man. We went back and forth for awhile, and I think the guy ended up saying that I took up too much room on the stage, which was insane because at the time I was playing a snare drum, bass drum, floor tom, one cymbal, a high-hat, and then a pad. It was one of the smallest drum setups I’ve ever played.

What year was this?

This was 2012, maybe? It was when their last record came out.

Hurry up, We’re Dreaming.

Yeah. We had some dates in Italy after the M83 dates, but it was a solid month of tour, so Mauro was heartbroken. We had spent all this time working on our set and he was stripped down to just being a solo artist again, so he asked me if I could just stay in Europe and meet him again in Italy. In a way, it was pretty emotional and a little bit of a hard toke, but I also was on this forced vacation for a month all over Europe.

That was when Chris Reimer from my old band Women passed away, so I was able to go back to Canada and be with my friends and family for that without missing any shows. It was really good that I could be there at that time, but I came back to Europe and made my way to Morocco. I was going through a really intense time, obviously, with the passing of one of my friends and bandmates. For a lot of my friends, it gave them this value of how fragile life can be and how any day … I just sort of reacted in the opposite way. I went on a rampage. I was drinking a lot and by myself a lot, just traveling through Europe.

In Morocco, I met some friends and they took me around, and the last stop I wanted to do was to go camping in the Sahara because I love the desert. There’s something about it; it’s an amazing place to be and an amazing environment. So I got five grams of opium and we went out to this camp, and probably one of the funniest things was that we were renting camels. Somehow they found out that I had the opium; the word kind of went around because me and the two Moroccans that I was with were smoking some. I ended up trading a chunk of this opium for a camel. This guy had basically given me a camel, just straight up, and I remember a friend had said this one funny thing: “That, my friend, is like black gold.” With that, I was like, “Gold … you could buy something with it!” So I ended up trading a chunk of opium for a camel, and then we went out with two guides and a cook and spent a couple days camping.

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What’s the learning curve on riding a camel? Was this your first time?

This was my first time riding a camel. Yeah, it’s pretty easy. The camels, they know exactly what to do and where to go, because they do the same routes. I guess they can be kind of like a horse where they could kick back and go crazy and buck you off, but these camels were chill. I love animals, so I wanted to interact with them.

One of the nights, I was super stoned and I just wandered out of the camp. I was stargazing and I ended up fully passing out on the sand dune. The next day I came back and realized that everyone was super worried, obviously, and they were all like, “Oh fuck, where’d the Canadian go? He’s gone!” They were getting up and packing all our stuff up and organizing a search party for me when I came back.

I had woken up on my side, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I realized that there was something on my face. Obviously, I wasn’t in my tent, so I was totally terrified. I sat up really quickly and it was this posse of desert cats that had found me. They go around between the different camps and look for food, but because the desert is such a sterile environment, they were really clean. You picture any street cat in any third-world country; they’re usually pretty gnarly. But these cats were so nice and clean, and they’d found me in the middle of the night and cuddled me. It was just this whole tribe of them, full 360 degrees, just wrapped around my body to share my warmth and cuddle something. It was really funny, and so I woke up like that and super panicky at first, and then I was like, “Oh my God, this is so cute.”

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So when I got back to the camp, they were like, “Where were you? Never leave camp again. You can’t sleep outside, you have to sleep in the tents.” And I was like, “Yeah, I know, but what’s the deal with all these cats? They’re so cute and they were cuddling me,” and the guide just wasn’t having it. He just turned around and looked at me and was like, “You sleep in the tent, because next time it won’t be cats, it’ll be scorpions.” And I was like, “OK, fair enough.”

That whole time was a pretty crazy adventure. It had a lot of different shades. I got robbed and beaten up by a prostitute in Madrid. She strangled me for a little bit, grabbed my wallet. I ended up getting my wallet back; I mean, she just ran away with a little bit of my pride and dignity. It was pretty scary, though.

When you look back at that time, though, you’re going through these adventures and seeing Europe, but it’s also marked with sadness.

Yeah, it was. I was definitely on a little bit of a bender, kind of rampaging, questioning a lot of things. And playing with Mauro was an amazing experience; I really look up to him. But I feel bad for him that he had to deal with me during that time. My fiancée had left me, and then that had happened, so I look back at it and sometimes I’m just like, “Oh my god Mauro, I’m so sorry man.” But, I mean, he gets it. I moved back to Calgary and started working with Matt [Flegel, Preoccupations’ vocalist and bassist] pretty much immediately after the Porcelain Raft thing wrapped up. He’d started working with Monty in the meantime and started working on their own songs, and we just got it on right away and a couple months later, we were already playing as Viet Cong.

Spider Bite

I was in India for about four months, and I was working on tabla, which is an Eastern percussion instrument. It’s pretty common. It’s kind of like the drum set of India, but you play with your fingers.

Where were you in your life that you had four months to go to India?

We were working on Viet Cong, and we hadn’t done anything. We were talking about recording soon, but it was moving along really slowly. Everyone had day jobs and we were just writing slowly, and it was just over the winter and I really wanted to make it back there. I lived in India for a year when I was 19 or 20 and had a full year with an amazing, world-famous tabla guru named Pandit Samar Saha. I’ve never studied music in school; it was always just growing up with the Flegel brothers and Chris Reimer and our group of friends that were really passionate about it. We learned by covering our favorite songs and just fuckin’ around, really. Then I got really into classical Hindustani music when I was 19 years old and ended up moving to Calcutta for a full year, and I landed a position with him where he accepted me as a student.

So, I made it back and everything was going so well. I’d photographed a tiger in the wild hunting, and then I went to the northeastern state of Assam. There was this little village, and I didn’t have a mosquito net that night and something got me on the leg, right on my thigh.

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I wasn’t sure what it was, but within a few days it was puffing up and was getting gnarly. I went to this doctor, but he was more of a naturopathic herb doctor. It’s just really funny because in India, everything is so epic and everyone is speaking in metaphors. He thought it was an infection caused by too much heat in the body, or at least that’s what I think he was trying to tell me. But he told me that it would ripen like a fruit, become hot, and then rain like a cloud, and was just giving me all these funny metaphors, and I was like, “OK, so it’s going to get worse and then it’ll drain and then it’ll get better?” And he was like, “Yeah, no problem.”

img 5112 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost DiedA week went by, and it was just getting worse and worse and worse and I’m like, “OK, well, he told me it was getting worse.” It got to the point where it started streaking and running down my veins and up my leg, and even my balls were getting super sore, and then at that point, I was just like, “This is bad. This is really bad.” So I had to limp to this hospital in Calcutta, and I mean even just that is kind of terrifying. It ended up bursting into this full-grown staph infection, and I thought it was necrotizing fasciitis. News had just gone around that fuckin’ Jeff Hanneman from Slayer had just died from necrotizing fasciitis from a spider bite that he had got while in a hot tub. So I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to lose a fucking leg here.” I ended up having about three or four runs of antibiotics in India, and then I had to come to Canada and do it again. I was put in the infectious disease care unit. It was another really hard time.

I don’t know what the internet situation is over there, but if you get something weird happening to your body in America or Canada, you’re on the internet checking your symptoms.

img 5108 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost DiedYeah, the place I was staying at didn’t have Wi-Fi, and I didn’t have a smart phone. Eventually, I got on the phone with my mom and obviously it was just a terrifying phone call for any mother, and I’m like, “I don’t know, it’s infected, it’s like oozing and I can’t walk,” and she’s just like, “What? Where are you? Why aren’t you in the hospital? Is there a hospital there?” But yeah, I think I beat it. It came back a few times. I had about four different runs and spent a lot of time in the hospital in Canada. They gave me those battery-powered fanny packs where it’s an IV bag in a fanny pack and you have a needle that’s constantly administering. But if the batteries run out, an alarm goes off and every third day you have to go get the location of the needle moved because it gets sore and it can get infected. So that lasted for almost three weeks, wearing this fanny pack full of drugs and having a needle in your arm. I remember we were all hanging around this fire and I was trying to get closer because I was cold, and I was like, “It hurts to wear pants!” because my leg was still so infected; everyone was just laughing at me. But I made it out of that one, still two functioning legs.

Fight Club

We finished 220 shows last year, a shit ton of controversy and all that, and it seemed like it got to the point where we were always talking about the name, and it was really exhausting. I needed a break, and I wanted to go to the other side of the world and just disappear. I ended up going back to Asia and was on my way back to India, which was kind of a crazy step because of my last story. I was really scared to go back, but I wanted to, and I wanted to pursue tabla. If you go to Thailand, Canadians get a month exemption, so I just landed there and thought I could just hang out for a bit and work out my visa for India. But my Indian visa got denied because I didn’t have enough empty pages in my passport; it was one of those fine print things. In the meantime, I was living in Thailand in on this little island. My really good friend’s older sister lived there, and she had married this professional Muay Thai fighter.

What is Muay Thai fighting?

Muay Thai is Thai boxing, but it’s more like kickboxing than American boxing. You learn all these kicks and you can use your elbows and knees, whereas in American boxing, you just punch.

It was Valentine’s Day and I was with my new girlfriend and we’re a new, fresh thing, so it felt very romantic. It was the first time I met this guy, the Muay Thai fighter, and we already had a few drinks in us, and he came up to me and said, “You, tomorrow, Muay Thai training,” and I was like, “Sure. Sounds good, man. I’ll do whatever.” I’ll just say yes to anything if I’m in love or that kind of a moment when I just felt so inspired and so good.

So the next morning I woke up and he was like, “Let’s go do this, let’s do some training,” and I’ve never done any kind of martial arts, but I was really obsessed with Bruce Lee and totally went through a phase where I was reading all of Bruce Lee’s books and philosophy and studying Jeet Kune Do. The training was honestly really fun. I’m not an aggressive person or a violent person, but it was just really fun to learn all these moves and hang out with these professional fighters. It was very hobo just being on this island; all their weights were literally pieces of bamboo cemented into plastic jugs. Or my favorite was half a milk jug cut in half with cement, and then they put a t-shirt in it and they would hold the t-shirt in their mouths and do neck reps.

It was just really fun, really cute. There were all these little kids everywhere. It’s very traditional, so they start when you’re really young. So then we started to go to some of the matches and I started studying the whole Muay Thai philosophy and the history and there’s a lot of different things. One of the coolest things that really attracted me is called Wai Khru. It’s this warm-up dance and it’s kind of like paying tribute to your opponent in the ring and your judges. If your Wai Khru is really good, you can actually earn extra points. So these men that are so fierce and ripped and all oiled up, they’re doing these really fucking silly, funny dance moves.

So I was into it, and the whole time I was trying to move to India to pursue some more tabla. My girlfriend had to go back to Canada, and my passport was full, so I couldn’t really travel anywhere else. I was trying to go to Vietnam and Cambodia as well, and then I was worried about not having enough space in my passport, so essentially I was stuck in Thailand. So then I made friends with some of these fighters and they were like, “Why don’t you come live with us? You can stay here for free.” All of a sudden, I was living in this dorm full of professional Muay Thai fighters, and I’m just this white fucking nerdy kid playing my synthesizer and trying to write beats. I had no intention of ever fighting until they were like, “OK, now you’re living here for free, you’re training, you have to fight, you have to have a match.” All of a sudden, shit got so real. Obviously, I was like, “Whoa, I’m not a fighter. I’ve never been in a fight before, I’m going to get roasted out there.”

How does it work? Is it by weight class?

Yeah, it’s by weight, but they do it by experience, too. Typically, your coach has the opportunity to see the other opponent training, or fighting or they just know because they know all the fighters. Then it’s basically a verbal handshake agreement between the two coaches.

So that they think it’s a fair fight?

Exactly. Your coach has to agree and their coach has to agree and then you go for it. So my coach was like, “You know, it’s your first fight, obviously you’re not going to fight someone crazy.” I’m pretty tall and pretty flexible and I was working pretty hard. I was training two times a day and he’s like, “You gotta do this, you have to fight,” and honestly I was just like, “OK, I’ll do this.”

I went through a lot of crazy emotions like, “Oh my God, how the fuck did I get myself into this situation? I should probably just leave right now.” But then at the same time, I really just wanted to do something different. That was why I was on the other side of the world. I wanted to have a new experience and learn something new and challenge myself. I think it’s easy to tell yourself that you’re not afraid, but to actually go out and do something where you’re challenging your fears, that was a pretty big step for me.

img 0766 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost DiedSo I went for it. I was announced first and I went in the ring. I’d learned a certain amount of moves that my coach thought would be good against this particular opponent. They had made a huge poster that was all over the island. I was the headlining fight because I was the one novel white dude that looks like some Hollywood actor that just showed up fighting in Thailand. The place was fucking packed; it was one of the busiest nights. They announce the other fighter and he comes and gets in the ring, and my coach told me that he was amateur as well, hadn’t had many fights, so he immediately started with the Wai Khru. And I’m just standing there watching this guy dance, and I’m like, “Holy shit, his moves are fucking awesome.” I’m just looking at this man’s glistening, beautiful, ripped body, and I’m just like, “Oh my god, this guy is a warrior.”

Round One started and I went for it and tried to block and get some shots in. He got me really good in the leg with just this one kick. It was super quick. I didn’t even move. I just took it, and it hurt so much; I felt like I got hit by a bat. I was like, “Oh my God, what if this guy kicks me in the face? I’d be done.” A lot of the times when you’re training, your arms start dipping and your coach will slap you to keep your arms up because you don’t want to expose yourself, so I literally had my gloves plastered to my face where I cannot get punched. He went to one side, jumped, and then launched himself in this other direction in this amazing move. I didn’t even get my hand to the side, and he hit me in the side of the head, just cracked me with one super hard hit. I didn’t fall over, but I went flying to the side, super dizzy, and then he tried to kick me in the face, but I blocked it. It was my best block. Then the bell rang and Round One was over. But the ref knew it was my first fight, and he just called the match right there. He was like, “OK, you’re done. I’m going to save you a world of pain.” It wasn’t a TKO, but he won in one round basically, with one punch.

How did the audience react?

Oh, the people were going crazy. They were pretty amazed that I did it because I’d only been training for two and a half weeks or something, which was kind of stupid. I probably should’ve trained longer before I got in there, but I actually was convinced at a certain point that I had a pretty good chance, which is me being foolish. But you trust in your coach, or you’d like to think you can trust in your coach. Then I went home and woke up the next morning, and I felt like I got hit by a fucking bus; I was in a lot of pain. And I started thinking, “What the fuck happened?” My coach totally had me convinced that I could beat that guy and I thought he was an amateur, but just watching his Wai Khru, there’s no way that guy was an amateur.

I ended up limping my way to my motorbike and going to where I was staying with my trainer’s wife. She was like, “Are you okay? How are you feeling today? You know, you did so good last night, you were so calm. I’ve never seen someone as calm as you in their first fight. But I was so pissed off.” And I was like, “Why were you mad?” “It’s those fucking promoters,” she said, because they were in a fight club.

And then her husband walks up and I was like, “What happened last night? How did you actually think that I ever had a chance against that guy?” And my trainer was like, “Oh no, for you my friend, not possible.” And I was like, “Well, what the fuck do you mean? You had me going. You told me to use this move, do that, no problem.” The promoters basically lied and told me and my coach that I was fighting this guy who was an amateur, who I probably did have a little bit of a chance against, and then they sent this total other guy who was this fucking warrior who had 50-plus wins under his belt and just totally annihilated me in the first round.

You had to feel pretty good afterwards that you did a round and didn’t get knocked out by this guy.

img 3814 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost DiedYeah, and to just go for it after only a couple weeks of training. And it was an amazing experience. Even though I got my ass totally kicked, I still felt really positive. It’s really cute because it’s no big deal. Like I said, it’s very traditional for them. Fighting for us just seems like such a crazy thing to have to do, but for them it’s no fucking big deal; it’s nothing. Right after the match was called right away, the warrior I fought made sure I was OK and wanted to do all these photos. It was really sweet. He gave me this really big hug. I think for him, it was kind of a novelty win to fight this white dude — win in the first round, essentially in one punch.

But I was still into it, and I wanted to pursue it and try again. Also, you get paid pretty well for fighting. Win or lose, in Thailand, you get paid the exact same amount. I thought I could keep doing this for work, plus I wanted to redeem myself and learn some more moves. But that leads me into my last story.

Big Trouble in Little Paradise

I had another fight coming up, so leading up to it you’re supposed to rest a lot and be pretty consistent with your routine and eating. I was working on some music and about to go to bed early, but I wanted some noodles so fucking bad. I just jumped on my bike and rode to this restaurant that was open late, sat down by myself, and ordered a meal. I was eating when I was joined by these two older Thai guys, and they sat down beside me. They were really nice and seemed totally normal. It was a very run-of-the-mill conversation. They ordered two large beers that came with three cups, so I had my own cup, and we started sharing these drinks; everyone was drinking from the same drinks.

I totally had the thought of, “Do I have to be careful in this situation of sharing drinks with people that I don’t know?” They started getting pretty excited and they were like, “We’re going to go party tonight, come with us.” I told them, “No, I’m training; I’m technically a professional fighter right now.” It’s called Nak Muay when you’re a fighter, so I was like, “No, I’m Nak Muay,” and they were just like, “What? Amazing! But come party, we’re partying tonight.” It went back and forth like that for a little bit until I was just like, “Nope, I gotta go, I’ll see you guys later,” and that was the last thing I remember.

Probably about eight hours later, I wake up in the slimiest, skeeziest hotel room. Not even a hotel room, it’s just a room with a mattress on the floor, a bare mattress, not even with a sheet on it. It was a really grimy scene. A rickety fan overhead. And I woke up just like, “What the fuck, where am I?” And I look, and both of these dudes were on either side of me. I was fully dressed, but I was just like, “What the fuck?” I sat up; I saw the door and went straight for the door. I opened it up and I had this really surreal moment where the morning sun came into the room. I had no idea, I thought it was still night and I opened the door and the light poured in. I was just like, “Oh my God, it’s morning time? What the fuck just happened?” I turn around and I’m looking at these two dudes and they were still passed out, so I didn’t want to wake them up. I was really scared; it got really fucking real in that moment. I saw that my motorbike was outside and the keys were in it, and right away I was just like, “Oh, thank God.”

So I started riding and I had no idea, but I was on the opposite side of the island in this sea-gypsy village. Not the touristy zone at all, essentially just not where you want to wake up. I don’t even really remember but I got back to my place and I guess I kind of had a conversation with the dude that was running the place where I was staying and I passed out for another six or seven hours. I remember waking up again and just having this feeling that something really bad happened, but it’s almost like I could feel my brain was trying to repress something. I remember trying to convince myself that it was just a dream or just go back to sleep and not worry about it. But I had this really deep lingering sense that something fucking crazy just happened.

Eventually I had to force myself to sit up and get up and smack myself a few times and throw some fresh water on my face. I went to talk to the guy who was running the place again and I was like, “Did you see me today?” He was like, “Yeah, you were fucked up. You partied so hard last night, man.” And I was like, “No, I didn’t party at all. I woke up in the sea-gypsy village with these two dudes,” and he was just like, “OK. With the lady-boys?” There’s also a lot of lady-boys in that area. But I realized then I had been drugged by those dudes and they stole me and I had no fucking idea what had happened. But I still had my money, I had my cellphone, and I had a bag of weed. They hadn’t taken anything. They didn’t rob me so I was like, “What else did they do to me?”

preoccupations cosores 01 3 Five Times Preoccupations Michael Wallace Almost Died

Photo by Philip Cosores

I had to go to the hospital, so another trip to the fucking hospital in a foreign country, and I’m trying to explain to them and then finally they were like, “Ohhh, OK.” So then they had to administer a full rape kit. They’re looking for bite marks or incisions or needle pricks. You get swabbed, they check everything out, and I was pretty OK. There weren’t any visible signs. I phoned a few of my friends and I was like, “I would know, right?” And they were like, “Yeah, Wallace, you would know. You definitely would know.”

So this whole time I had no idea what had happened to me, they gave me a shot for hepatitis and a few other things and then they’re like, “You have to take this,” and it was this HIV prophylaxis. That was really shitty because Thailand, especially with their lady-boy community, it’s a pretty large gay community, but unfortunately it was one of the worst for HIV, so there was a big risk, and the next thing I know I’m on anti-HIV medication that you have to take for a month. I don’t react well to heavy doses of antibiotics, and I got really sick and weak. It kills all the bacteria in your body, even the good stuff that helps you digest your food and metabolize, so I couldn’t eat anymore and then I was too weak to train. I’m living with these fighters still, and they’re like, “Why aren’t you training?” And I’m like, “Well, this happened.” At first they laughed but they saw me get really sick and then they were like, “OK, let’s get to the bottom of this.”

I had talked to the police about it on the island, and they said, “Well, what evidence do you have?” I was like, “Well, I have medical reports and all this shit, and maybe there’s some witness at the restaurant who saw them.” But it was obvious how little the police wanted to do anything about it, especially because it’s a Thai citizen versus a Canadian.

Or just Thai versus non-Thai.

It’s a pretty corrupt legal system there. But I’m living with these Thai fighters who are like, “Oh, we’ll just find them and we’ll just kill them. It’s no problem,” and I was just like, “OK, that’s a bit extreme.” But I was definitely going through a lot of emotions and obviously I felt violated and it was really scary. I felt like I got lucky because who knows what they were planning on doing to me. I feel like I have a very strong metabolism, but at the same time, whatever they gave me was so heavy because I passed out until it was morning, and then again once I made it back to my house for probably another six hours. I was out for a really long time and maybe they weren’t expecting me to wake up or maybe they were going to take me somewhere else.


Photo by Philip Cosores

All this crazy shit was going through my mind and it got to the point where, all of a sudden, we were looking for these guys and I’m rolling with this crew of professional fighter warriors. Shit just got so crazy; I had a couple things come back to me about what they said in our conversations and stuff like that. I was able to narrow a few things down, find out approximately where this guy lived on the island. It got to the point where these guys were like, “Yeah, we found them, we’re pretty sure it’s him. He works as a cook in this resort,” and basically they were like, “Just tell us when you’re ready and we’ll go down there and fuckin’ get him.” They definitely had weapons and I was playing it out in my mind, all these different scenarios of how it could go.

So, I just left. I booked a ticket and didn’t really tell anybody until the last minute, and then one morning was like, “See you guys later. I gotta go get better again.” And they were like, “What? You’re leaving? How come you aren’t fighting? What about this guy?” I was just like, “It’s not really something I can do.” There was the thought that I might’ve just had the craziest party night in the world with these dudes and I just don’t remember because they drugged me. But essentially, I woke up with my kidneys and asshole intact and all my money and a phone. Isn’t that the premise of the fucking Hangover or something? I haven’t even seen that movie, but it could’ve been one of those situations, and I’m rolling with these professional fighters, searching this guy down and they’re ready to hurt him.

I might’ve just had the best party of my life and made out with six lady-boys and been dancing on the bar and then they just took me back to their crazy, run-down nightmare of a room just so I had a safe place to sleep. I think I made the right decision to leave.

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