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We arrived at IHOP about 10 minutes late. Martin Vihn had not yet arrived. I took a seat at a booth against the back wall and sat down facing the entrance. Joe slipped into the seat opposite me. A window was on my left through which I watched a man assemble a sidewalk stand. The waitress brought the menus. Joe got right down to studying it. I watched the man struggle with some pipes that held up an awning over his stand while I thought about my upcoming meeting with Vihn. My usual bouts with fear and uncertainty slithered through my mind like minks in heat. The worst part was wondering about what people, like Mavis or Fat Al would say if I was wrong and died. I imagined something like, “What on earth possessed him to take such a risk.” Last night I thought I had good and compelling reasons, but now I realized they were mere rationalizations for whatever was so deeply imbedded in my psyche that impelled me to act as I did.

Nothing new in that, I have become convinced most of the reasons we tell ourselves that we need to do something have little to do with why we do whatever it is we end up doing. They are merely a handy thing, whenever we are successful, to tell ourselves and others. You know, “I knew what I was doing all along.”

Joe brought me out of my musings. “I’m having the Belgian waffles. What about you?”

“I’ll probably have the blueberry short stack and fried eggs. For some reason I always get the same thing when I come here.”

Martin Vihn entered the restaurant followed by two of the young men I had seen before. One was dressed like Joe in tee-shirt and windbreaker. The other had on a dark hoodie. Martin had on a dark blue jacket over a white button down shirt and jeans. He came over to our table.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic and parking”

Joe slid out from his seat. Said, “I’ll sit with Vinnie and Chang.” He walked over to the table where the other two young men who accompanied Vihn sat. Vu’s arrival prompted a lot of laughing and fist bumping. Martin nodded to him and sat in the seat Joe vacated. The waitress arrived and we ordered. She then went over to the table where Joe and the others sat.

“Any word from the police on the cause of Clarence’s death?”, he asked.

“The autopsy scheduled for later this morning. The cops are being close-mouthed.”

“How do you think he died?”

“I’m not paid to guess.”

Martin rarely raises his voice but his anger blazed out of his eyes like campfire embers poked with a stick. “I’m paying you and if it is your opinion I want than then it is your opinion I’ll get.”

“He could have been walking along the shore reciting poetry tripped and fallen into the bay and drowned. I doubt whether it makes much or a difference to anyone how he died, even to the murderer, if he was murdered.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I can’t see you shipping drugs or anything else illegal this way. By reputation, you’ve been able to bring thing like that into the States with no problems in the past. There’s too many better ways. Dropping packages into the water offshore at night, trans-shipping through Alaska. Even if you were to do something like this, certainly not through the Port of Oakland. There are other less watched small ports like Eureka and Redwood City. So, I can’t figure you for something like a dope deal in this case. So, I ask myself, although he is such a prick I am sure a lot of people would like him dead, why would anyone involved in this case kill Clarence? Then there is the hiring of me. It can’t be all that important to hire a second-rate shamus like me.” I stopped there and stared at him.

Martin’s silence lasted a long time as he stared at me. Our orders arrived before he answered and we began eating. After swallowing his first bite, Martin sat back and said:

“Look, whatever you think I may also be mixed up in, I am also a legitimate business man. I invested in a business to import into America furniture made in South-east Asia. Now the man who talked me into the investment and was supposed to manage the business is gone along with he merchandise.”

“But even so, two containers of furniture could not have been valuable enough for all your interest, not to mention knocking off Reilly if in fact he was killed.”

“You figured it out already. You’re cheap. I only spent $1000 dollars so far.”

“What about Joe?”

Vihn looked down at the table for a while. “He’s my brother’s son. I care about him. He refuses to go to college and is too interested in the wrong part of the family business. I thought following you around a while would help to get him interested in something else. That was a spur of the moment thing, I’m afraid.

“So you hired me as a babysitter?”

“A thousand dollars a month is pretty cheap for baby sitting these days,” he said with a smile.

We ate our breakfasts in silence. Over coffee I assured him, I will try to find out how Reilly died and what happened to the furniture.

I then asked, “What’s Lilly’s role in this?”

“She’s my lawyer.”

“Nothing else.”

“It’s none of your business.”

I smiled, got up, collected Joe and left Vihn to pay the check.

On the way back to the car, I called Mavis. Told her that I would come by that afternoon and that we were going to attend Reilly’s wake.

For some reason the thought of Mavis, death and my current role got me ruminating about God and humor, God’s humor to be precise.

Humans are a fascinating species. I am convinced God created us because he or she (I refuse to take sides on the issue of God’s gender — although the Good Humor Man of my youth was always male) found presiding over the rest of the universe dreadfully dull and craved some amusement. While growing up I always thought that God was the Good Humor man. Every afternoon the Good Humor man rang his bells in front of my house. The sound of those bells filled me with hope. Would your God do as much for you?

I was pulled from my reveries by Joe shouting “Boss, boss!’

I stared at him as the world around me came into focus.

“Is there something wrong? You were talking on the phone and then you just stopped staring off at nothing. Are you OK? You thinking about the case? “

“Yeah. I’m OK. Rule whatever number… in private investigations there are no cases only assignments. And your current assignment is to find us some ice cream and drive me to Crissy Field.”

 

NANA – An American family of visiting tourists has been safely brought back to Thai soil after being lost for four hours in the lower Sukhumvit area, police reported yesterday.

Looking towards Nana Neua from Sukhumvit Soi 3...

Looking towards Nana Neua from Sukhumvit Soi 3/1 in the Arab District of Bangkok. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Waldens, comprising James, 43, his wife Meredith, 41, and their children Didi, 13, and Zachary, 9, were reported in healthy condition at Bumrungrad Hospital after an examination following their escape from the international territory known colloquially as “soi Arab.”

“It was the most frightening experience of our lives,” said a visibly shaken James. “One minute we’re in Thailand, enjoying our vacation, and then suddenly we’re in some other country full of Middle Eastern people, West Africans, and Indians. It was like something out of a bad science fiction movie.”

According to police, the Waldens accidental departure from Thailand began when they left their hotel, the Landmark, at 8pm to look for what they had been told was a good place for wood-fired pizza. Mistaking Soi Loet Sin 2 for what they thought was Soi 11, the family walked deep into a dark neighborhood of construction sites.

“Jim insisted we were on the right street but I knew something was wrong right away when we turned the corner and saw all those Indian restaurants,” said Meredith. “It just felt wrong.”

The family then wandered down soi 5 and attempted to enter Gulliver’s Pub, only to be pushed out by a brawl that was erupting between a drunken pack of British football fans and a hostile group of Israeli backpackers.

“I didn’t see any Thai people, anywhere,” noted Didi.

The Waldens then fled into the Nailert Foodland Plaza, where they became disoriented trying to find their way out again. Exiting a fire escape on to an alleyway, they then worked their way deeper into the warren of sub-sois that led to soi 3/1.

“Everyone around us was African,” said James. “We might as well have been in Africa. And I’ve never seen so many sandal shops in my life.”

After attempting in vain to find anyone who spoke either English or Thai, the Waldens spent 20 minutes working their way through a maze of leather stores, travel agencies, and sheesha pipe exporters, only to emerge on soi 3/1, where they were confronted by a bazaar of Middle Eastern and South Asian restaurants, women in burkhas, and men in robes and turbans.

“Poor Zach was so shocked that he just started shouting out ‘Terrorists! Terrorists!’” said Meredith. “We had to cover his mouth. It was embarrassing. Actually it was scary. People were staring at us, so I just grabbed the kids and went down the nearest alleyway.”

Emerging on to Soi 3, the Waldens encountered “about 300” prostitutes of Middle Eastern and Russian origin, whose “huge asses” made it impossible to walk on the pavement towards Sukhumvit. Forced to go the other way, the family tried to ask for directions from one of the Thai vendors selling sex toys on the streetside.

“There were, like, a million vibrators and dildos,” recalled Didi. “That was like all they sold. It was gross.”

Unfortunately, every Thai vendor they encountered turned out to be deaf, and only gestured at the family using hand signs and large Casio calculators. Now completely terrified, the Waldens cut through an Ethiopian restaurant and fled into what appeared to be a large international hotel, the Grace.

“That was the worst place in the world,” said Meredith. “Like a nightmare, like a Twilight Zone episode. Every time we asked for directions it felt like we were interrupting an arms deal.”

The Waldens spent the next 90 minutes lost in the various areas within the Grace, including the bowling alley (“The balls weren’t even round”), the basement coffee shop (“The pit of hell”), and the mirrored casbah disco (“Men dancing with other men, but they were too ugly to be gay.”)

Around midnight the Waldens were finally rescued by a sympathetic transvestite named Pinki, who took them to the street, hailed a taxi, and instructed the driver how to get back to their hotel in Thailand. Once there, the hotel concierge noted their agitated state and called the hospital and the police.

The Waldens are expected to be released today, and have expressed optimism that they can complete their Thai holiday without incident. However, they have been warned to avoid the Nana area, as well as instructed not to enter the Thonglor area without first learning some basic Japanese.

(Thanks to Gary [Pattaya Gary, not Canadian Gary] for this bit of humor.)

Alas, this is the pretty much the neighborhood in which I choose live while here in Thailand. Every morning I wander through it on my way to the health club on Soi 11. I eat breakfast at Foodland, check out the newest vibrator models in the sidewalk stands nearby, window shop for the latest designs in rhinestone encrusted sandals and get my haircut at the barbershop in the Grace Hotel. Although it has been years since I have observed the running of the bulls at Gulliver’s, I still find myself at times forced off the sidewalk by the generously hipped ladies of the night making one last morning troll before retiring. And, I’m sure Pinki is the name of that pretty ladyboy who always invites me to enjoy the best massage in Bangkok whenever I walk by.

 

Monsoon Time in Bangkok

The rains have arrived in SE Asia. They begin at about mid-day and continue on and off through the evening. I go to the health club in the early mornings so that I can get my swim in before the downpour starts. Some, mostly Western, members of the club have taken to swimming during the rain

Pin-up photo of Esther Williams for the Oct. 1...

Pin-up photo of Esther Williams for the Oct. 12, 1945 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly, a weekly U.S. Army magazine fully staffed by enlisted men. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(“Swimming in the Rain” was the title of a little known movie set in Seattle starring Jonny Weissmuller and Esther Williams). The health club staff advises against that. They say that the pool could be struck by lightning and boil the swimmers like lobsters in a pot. I believe that is far less likely in BKK than getting hit by a motor-bike taxi while walking along one of the City’s sidewalks, or for that matter, falling through those same sidewalks and disappearing forever into the foetid sewers underneath.

After the rains the air becomes heavy with warm moisture. The smells from the innumerable sidewalk food stands mingles with the stench risings from the sewers until I feel as though I am bathing in a bowl of week-old bouillabaisse.

 

Most of my life I feared my tendency to become addicted to certain obsessive behaviors. That is why, for example, I rarely kept liquor or dope in my house although I freely indulged in them outside. For the most part whenever I would recognize (and recognition is the key since, like most people, my first defense was usually denial) the addiction I would quit. For example, when I was in my early teens chess obsessed me (I was not particularly good at it but I was addicted none the less). I would play day and night. When I recognized the nature of my behavior, in panic I quit. Since then I only play now and then when social circumstances made refusal difficult. Perhaps that is one reason I tend to quit jobs and relationships as often as I do (the obsessive tendencies, not the chess).

One passion that I never really quit is reading. During my most recent bout of mania, I read about six or so hours a day. What’s worse is that I am not even comfortable or relaxed while reading. It would be nice if I had, say, a recliner to lie in where after a few moments I could fall into asleep and drool. Instead, I sit at the edge of my bed or on an uncomfortable kitchen chair engrossed with whatever trashy novel I may be reading. LM, whenever she comes to cook or clean, finds it bizarre to see me sitting rigid and unmoving for four hours or so at a time.

It surprised me then when, following weeks of worry that I was sinking into addiction, I found an author whose books for some reason satisfied me enough to halt my frenetic reading and to wait for his next effort .

By no means can this author be considered great or even semi-great. He is simply someone who writes a fairly interesting story with an easy style and has a mind like a junk yard. I like that a lot. I love authors that can comfortably integrate those bits and pieces of things found in his own mental junkyard into his tale.

James Joyce in 1888 at age six. Possibly in Br...

James Joyce in 1888 at age six. Possibly in Bray, a seaside resort south of Dublin. The Joyces lived there from 1887 to 1892. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps that is why I always liked James Joyce despite his so-called “difficulty.” I always thought he was more boring than difficult. I enjoyed how he would pull things in from almost everywhere in literature, hide it within his story and challenge you to find it. Now, why he would hide things like that I never really understood. If someone found a carburetor from a 1956 Mercury in his junk yard, why would he hide it or call it something else unless he was trying to trick or play a joke on someone. I know Joyce is said to have once commented that if something took him 10 years or so to write he would want the reader to spend the same amount of time trying to understand it. How’s that for self-indulgent bullshit? I suspect Joyce was a bit of a poseur.

English: James Joyce Tower and Museum and near...

English: James Joyce Tower and Museum and nearby other buildings in Sandycove, Dublin, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He must have felt quite insecure walking by the Martello Tower along the Strand with its grey water and overcast sky (The sun does not shine very often in Dublin, the Strand is the pits and the tower an unimposing dump). I have a feeling it was not just the lack of sunshine and the dull grey colors of the landscape that set him to brooding. I think he was depressed because he knew that in just about every pub within a mile or so from where he was walking there would be several people dead drunk with their heads down on a table, an empty glass of Guinness or half and half beside him who, upon being shaken awake, could rattle off at least a dozen or more stories and tales far more interesting, poetic and inventive than Joyce could ever dream of.

The Dresden Files

April, May and June tend to be the hottest months of the year in Thailand. Since I have been here, the temperature has hovered well in the high 90s and low 100s .

For the first week or so I cultivated the hypochondria brought on by jet-lag and BKK air pollution. I attempted to while away my time by reading trashy vacation-time novels. You know, those novels you turn to when you are lying on the sand under an umbrella with nothing to do but stare at the water while bemoaning the fact that recreational drugs are not readily available to numb you even further into insensibility. I guess alcohol is an alternative but it always gives me agita.

In my case, I decided to read all 15 or so books of the Dresden Files at about one a day. I have just finished book ten. They are about Harry Dresden a wizard working as a private detective in Chicago battling the unending horrors escaping from the spirit world threatening to engulf the City in a reign of vampires and ghouls and unspeakable other creatures and bury it under 50 feet of ectoplasm.

Like I said trash, inventive trash but trash none the less. Now I know what some of you are asking yourselves, “I thought he said he was afraid of horror movies.” Well yes, movies; books not so much. I do not know why.

Anyway it has been somewhat interesting to observe that by reading the several books in this short period of time some of the overriding plot lines and emerging back stories have begun to manifest themselves. For example: Who really started the war between the Wizards of the White Council and the Vampires of the Red Court; Is Mab, Fairy Queen of the Winter Sidhe, really going insane; Who is behind the Cowl; Will Harry’s half brother Thomas, the incubus, truly find happiness as a hairdresser sucking bits of the life force from his adoring clients and; Will Harry ever get laid.* It seems the flash of even the slightest bit of skin from any female from 14 through 400,000 years old (many are almost immortal spirits after all) appears to turn Harry into a salivating imbecile. One would think that since wizards are masters of do-it-yourself Harry by this time would have learned how to relieve himself of his perpetual horniness. At least a half a dozen times per novel he finds himself with an erection moments before some horror from the netherworld beats the shit out of him. That is some bad Juju..

In his Notes, the author claims that he was fascinated with the Swords and Sorcery genre ever since as a child he first read the Hobbit and although throughout his writing career he tried to write similar fantasy novels he was not very good and it. He was very pleased, however, that readers seemed to like his wizard-detective stories.

Well, I am very happy for him. Throughout my life I wanted to grow up. I wasn’t very good at it and the best I could manage was to grow old. No one I know liked that at all, least of all me.

I went to the US embassy for some paperwork necessary for my visa extension. While I waited, the television in the waiting room was tuned into the Discovery Station as it always is when it is not tuned on to CNN. As usual the program was about things killing and devouring other things. I wondered why National Geographic marketing was aimed at the adolescent and seriously delayed post-adolescent male segment of the viewing public. Why not market say, for women? I would not presume to know what they would prefer, but I doubt it would be killing, blood and bones in high-definition color every time, all the time. When I looked around me, I saw the young men glassy-eyed and smiling staring up at the screen while the women for the most part looked down at the floor or at the notices and posters that covered the walls.

I thought the Discovery Channel was supposed to awaken the interest in young minds in science and discovery. What sort of scientists are they looking for that would be fascinated in learning more about how a killer whale rips the head off a seal or a lion disembowels a gazelle? Why not try love for a change?

(*Note: Some of these questions surprisingly have actually been answered in Book 11 which I have just finished reading. Harry gets laid although with unhappy results and his half-brother definitely has not found happiness. We still, however, do not know about Mab’s potential psychosis and who or what is behind the war or under the cowl. Alas, I may never find out the answers to these questions as Amazon has announced that my Kindle is now somehow outside its jurisdiction and refuses to provide me with a new password to correct it. I now have a flaccid Kindle.)

In Bangkok there is a world-famous hospital to which people from all over the world flock, especially from the Arab countries of the Middle East and from India. Although cosmetic surgery is one of the hospitals most lucrative services, is also does a thriving business in artificial insemination.

The hospital is located a few blocks from the health club in which the Little Masseuse works. Every now and then a gentleman would show up at the health club, plastic cup in hand, seeking assistance from the masseuses in depositing the precious fluid into the cups.

This would occasionally cause difficulties between the masseuses and the health club management. It seems that the deposit is required to presented back at the hospital within twenty minutes of its collection. This, at times caused the client to have to rush out with his valuable cargo well before the hour of massage he paid for was up, leading the management to accuse the workers of providing poor service or of outright dishonesty.

Anyway, one day a distinguished and portly Indian gentleman appeared at the health club and presented himself and his plastic cup to the Little Masseuse. In making idle conversation as she often does during a massage she asked him, “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I want to have children, two of them in fact, and this is the only way I can.”

“May I ask,” she inquired, “why have you not done this by yourself instead of coming here to the health club?”

He responded, “Because I want my children to be happy.”

I think here I should interrupt my usual narrative and share with you (well to be honest, impose upon you) my recent musings about traveling.

My approach to traveling is somewhat like my approach to life; it is not arriving at your destination that is important but what happened along the way. I call it Pookieism.

For example, assume that I depart from San Francisco intending to travel to, say Rome to visit the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel. If that is what I efficiently did and returned home equally efficiently, I for one would be unsatisfied indeed.

If on the other hand I were to depart on that same voyage and along the way be diverted by circumstances outside of my control or through my stupidity and thereby facing perhaps danger, or passion, beauty or tedium and return home without ever getting to see Michelangelo’s frescos (the chapel would probably be closed anyway, for repairs or for some obscure holiday), I would consider my trip a success.

I guess, one could consider Pookieism something like Buddhism, but from somewhat the opposite viewpoint. Where Buddhism urges one to withdraw from the unreality of perception, Pookieism suggests you revel in it.

When I look back into my life, anytime I single-mindedly pursued a goal and overcame many obstacles to achieve it, I almost always came away dissatisfied, became depressed and soon decided to spend my time doing something else. On the other hand whenever I was diverted from my path, or failed in achieving my goal or found myself hopelessly lost, I often was overjoyed. Why, because there was so much experience, so much pathos and so much joy. And, oh the stories…

Yes, of course there were things that to this day I wish never happened and if I could I would want not to have occurred, but they did and the exquisite if odious memories of the experience accompanies me like tattoos on the skins of generation Xers.

For those males of a certain age, some of you may recall that time when you were a kid and in your imagination played the announcer of your life. “The great slugger stands at the plate. Here comes the pitch. He swings. He misses….” Or, “Here is the world-famous runner running through the woods. Will he break the record? Oh no! He trips. He falls. Will he be able to get up, finish the race and break the record? Stay tuned.”

Well, I still do that. “Here is the aging hero walking along the side of the road recalling past loves, triumphs and failures. Out of the corner of his eye he spies a small yellow flower, stops and contemplates its beauty for a moment and then walks on, crosses the street, the freshly painted striping glowing so whitely in the sun it hurts his eyes. Suddenly he remembers he forgot to buy that bottle of milk. Should he return to the store or proceed on toward home? He stands there at the edge of the road, like the brave Ulysses on the beach contemplating whether to return home to the aging but loyal Penelope or spend another night in the arms of the beautiful Calypso?”

Speaking of Ulysses, Homer’s account is not quite how it happened.

One night the short, bandy-legged, scraggly bearded young man named Ulysses, who lived in a subdivision on a small island in the Adriatic, left the home on a cull-de-sac he shared with his wife, young son, various hangers-on, and a pack of dogs, telling everyone he was going to the store to buy a carton of milk, or an amphora of wine or new sandals or whatever. Now twenty years later he stood on the corner of the block down from his old home, broke, hungry and older. He contemplated the excuses he would tell his wife for his long absence. He concocted stories about ships and strange wars, jealous gods, wooden horses, one-eyed monsters and to cover up the long periods of time he spent living with a succession of comely young women, he fell back on the tried and true excuse of philandering husbands of the time, bewitchment.

On the other hand, the also aging but still zaftig and supposedly loyal Penelope wanted no part of the smelly midget bastard’s return. She had happily spent the past 20 years screwing the Theban pool boy and every young stud in town. The assholes return would only mean she would have to give up the good life and return to working on that goddamn loom. Besides, she needed an excuse of her own to explain why for the last 20 years the same old piece of cloth hung on that machine with no further work done on it since he left. She told all her boyfriends that she would choose one of them to settle down with when she finished weaving the cloth. They were so stupefied with the thought of getting into her toga whenever she lifted its hem for them they forgot all about the status of that rotting rag.

She believed however that she would need something better to convince the crafty asshole of her unbelievable 20 years of fidelity. She decided to elaborate on the story and planned to tell her returning husband, if unfortunately he should ever return, that she weaved at the loom all day and every night she tore out what she had done during the day. If the simple and unbelievable story had worked on her lovers why wouldn’t this expanded version work on that scheming lying bastard Ulysses?

Nevertheless, she still was surprised when the testosterone poisoned dwarf suddenly and unexpectedly showed up at her door and started killing all of her boyfriends and the Theban pool boy as well.

Sadly, Penelope was forced back to working all day at the goddamn loom and at night diddling herself while the drunken scumbag lay snoring among his dogs after buggering some prepubescent boy-chick.

As Holden Caulfield would say, “Crummy.”

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