Matt Forney
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Requiem for a Vagabond: Middle Aged in the Middle East by English Teacher X

requiem-for-a-vagabondLiving the life of an international playboy is what many in the ‘sphere aspire to, but what comes after? Let’s get real: few of us are going to be swooping fly twentysomething girls when we’re in our fifties, or even forties. While some guys seem to think they can simply transition to being a husband and father after a life of snorting coke and banging sluts, evidence suggests that coming down from the high of hedonism is a lot harder than it looks.

English Teacher X is living proof of this.

Requiem for a Vagabondthe final book in his “Burnout Trilogy” (following To Travel Hopelessly and Vodkaberg: Nine Years in Russia), is a hilarious and depressing portrait of middle-aged dissolution. After spending the nineties hopping from Bangkok to Prague and the oughts living it up in Russia, ETX finds himself thrust into a life of responsibility. While he finds himself enjoying the lack of action in his life, his is a reality that few if any men would want to have.

If you’re looking for a poignant and comic depiction of middle age, Requiem for a Vagabond is a must-read.

The book picks up where Vodkaberg left off: after nine years of sex, drugs and techno in Russia, ETX flees for the desolate wastes of the Middle East, the metrics of conventional success finally swinging in his favor. He has a well-paying teaching job in “the Kingdom” (it’s fairly obvious which country he’s talking about, but out of his respect for his anonymity, I’m not going to name it), where booze is illegal and women are barred from leaving the house without a niqab. After plowing through countless psycho sluts, he has a cute Russian girlfriend who is responsible and faithful. Despite the sensory deprivation of his surroundings, ETX is downright elated:

He was a local Arab guy in his early 20s, a bit pudgy but all in all unremarkable-looking. First he came up and sat down next to me and said he just wanted to practice his English; it turned out the phrase he wanted to practice was, “You have a beautiful body.”

I stood up and walked away, and rode my bike to the Subway to have a sandwich.

He was gone when I came back.

The next week, he appeared again, and apologized for his comment, and then put his hand on my arm . I told him not to touch me, and got up and rode away on my bike.

English Teacher X stumbles through a series of familiar-sounding escapades while employed in the Kingdom: dealing with moronic bosses, chumming it up with degenerate colleagues, and sneaking off to Dubai for what little debauchery his body can handle. He breaks bread with the usual cast of layabouts, both new (such as Heinrich, a half-German, half-Canadian old guy on the hunt for a foreign wife) and old (such as Crazy Bob from Vodkaberg). Requiem also has ETX sojourning back to his hometown in the “Dirty South” (again, fairly obvious what city he’s referring to) to commiserate with his folks and take survivalist preparation courses:

“You came in our room and were going to poop on the chair. Dad asked you if you were sleepwalking and you said yes, and he took you into the hallway. You went into another room and were going to poop on the chair again.”

“Oh… my… god…”

“They led you into the bathroom and you pooped but you didn’t flush.”

“Oh man…”

While just as dark as ever, Requiem shows ETX continuing to evolve as a writer, his prose bubbling with a calm resignation. In contrast to the jittery nervousness of To Travel Hopelessly and the nauseating crawl of Vodkaberg, ETX displays a sort of sagacity, the wisdom of a professional burnout. He’s approaching old age, he’s unmarried, he’s spent most of his life living paycheck to paycheck, he’s wrecked his body to the point of near-collapse… he just isn’t cool anymore, if he ever was.

And he doesn’t care.

Why is getting drunk and chasing bipolar slags the pinnacle of life? Why is waking up with a hangover and a pile of used condoms on the floor the ideal existence? English Teacher X spent the bulk of his adult life doing precisely that and he’s sick of it. To someone who’s blacked out more often than Manila during a typhoon, a quiet life of working, reading books and having sexy Skype chats with Russian fuckbuddies is a paradise all its own.

Nothing represents this grasping for a normal life better than ETX’s relationship with the Girlfriend. She’s loving, devoted and sane… and indecisive. He tries to get her a visa so she can come to the U.S., but she’s rejected. He offers to move with her abroad, she says no, preferring the safety of her accounting job back home. Requiem gives the impression that both of them would like to settle down—kids, a white picket fence, stable jobs in a first-world country—but deep down, both of them know that it’s not going to happen.

But hey, what they’ve got is pretty good too.

This is why Requiem for a Vagabond is worth reading: it’s a hysterically honest look at what happens when the DJ packs up and the partygoers go home. It’s not a cautionary tale—ETX is smart enough to not ruin a good story with moralizing—but it opens a window on what middle age is like for someone who spent the rest of his life knee-deep in pussy and vodka. From a critical standpoint, it’s also nice to see a writer explore new territory, and it makes me wonder what English Teacher X will be doing next.

Click here to buy Requiem for a Vagabond.

Read Next: To Travel Hopelessly: A TEFL Memoir by English Teacher X

  • Glad you liked it, thanks for the review. The next memoir will be a prequel — my childhood and early twenties (several years of which was spent backpacking) before I became an English Teacher.