In My Bangkok Apartment
The first, and arguably the most important, task of each day takes place immediately upon awakening. Shaking off any clinging sleepiness, I cautiously peek over to the other side of the bed to determine if someone has spent the night with me. If so, can I recall her name? Over the past two weeks I have had dates with three Thai women named Noy, so if I momentarily draw a blank, I can at least made a high percentage guess.
If there is a holdover from the prior evening (either a bargirl, or maybe a go-go dancer), the goal becomes persuading her to depart. Mornings are the best time of the day for me to write and I do not want any distractions. So, I threaten to make breakfast for her. But wouldn’t that entice the girl to stay, you might wonder. Not if it consists of Frosted Pop Tarts and sweet pickles covered with chocolate ice cream. And if they do show a hankering for the pickles, then I’ll know I might not have taken the proper precautions the night before.
Free at last, I sit down at my prehistoric Compaq PC and get to work. For this particular day, I have a special task involving resetting the system date. The problem is when the machine is unplugged for any extended period, Windows 98 reboots to January 1, 1999. Whatever system date and time were being used is deleted. Bill’s boys apparently think power interruptions create a temporal vortex, sucking everything back into the late 20th century. Having to restore the current date every morning is a real nuisance; it almost feels like I am arguing with the software.
It takes over two hours to dredge up the proper DOS commands to create and auto copy a date file, then execute an edit program so I can set the proper day while Windows 98 (much like Frankenstein’s monster) slowly comes to life. How things have changed for me! For so many long years, I sat in front of an IBM 3270 terminal programming in COBOL. Along the way, I saved money and invested well so that I could someday retire early and….sit in front of a Compaq Presario and program in DOS. An inspiration for everyone, I hope, to someday move beyond the drudgery of their jobs and realize their dreams.
My favorite place for my Thai lunch (what else?) is a family-run, hole-in-the-wall restaurant just down the block. (Come to think of it, almost all the family-owned shops in this area are holes in the wall.) I prefer modest places like these: the prices are very cheap, and the cuisine has not been fancied up. There are also colorful menus in English. This is much preferable to, say, the Indian establishment down towards busy Sukhumvit Road, which usually has someone standing out front enticing Westerners to come in and experience a soak-the-stupid-tourist fifteen dollar meal.
For today, I stay with my usual lunch: a sweet green curry ladened with vegetables and chicken, served with a side of rice. (Total cost including the tip and a bottle of water: four dollars.) I have learned to tell the waitress in Thai that I only want one star worth of spiciness. Besides earning my stomach’s appreciation, the lack of fire allows the real flavor to come through. I eat slowly, facing the street in order to admire the lunchtime flocks of working Thai girls passing by.
But the old eating habits from a quarter century of white collar employment die hard. As I finish up my lunch, I find myself repeatedly glancing at my watch, as if I had a one o’clock meeting to make. This is nonsense, I tell myself; I can do as I damn well please. Yet when I arrive back at the apartment a few minutes after the hour, there’s a vague feeling of guilt. Next time I am going to let my morning companion sleep into the early afternoon, providing me with something to take my mind off my tardiness.