These are the kitchen and the living area. We also sleep in the living area.
August 21, 2017
On the third weekend in August, I along with two friends boldly ventured down to Oregon’s Willamette Valley to view the much-anticipated solar eclipse, a spectacle that would span the entire continental U.S. Some six years before, I’d shared an article about this with them and we’d kept it on our calendars ever since.
For the uninitiated, a total solar eclipse is when the moon completely blocks out the sun for a few minutes. Although they occur approximately every eighteen months, they rarely appear over a convenient location. For many of these, you need to be a Lapland deer herder or an Antarctic pen-guin to observe them. This is what made the 2017 eclipse so special — I would not have to be looking up at the sun surrounded by Zimbabwean tribesmen.
We arrived a few days early and hung out in Eugene over the weekend. The day before the big event, we made a special trip up towards Salem, checking out small towns that would be in the path of totality, hoping to find a stretch of ground where we could set up a picnic while watching the sun and moon do their special dance. It took a few hours of driving around, but eventually we came upon a sprawling riverside park in the town of Stayton that offered an unobstructed view of the sky. Laced with hiking trails and somewhat secluded, it afforded a chance to escape the crowds.
On August 21 we were up early and on the Interstate by 6:30, our fingers crossed that we would not encounter any major tie-ups. Fortunately the really heavy traffic would be coming from the north with seemingly half of Seattle and almost all of Portland on the road. We had smooth sailing all the way up I-5, though there were places where dozens of people had pulled their vehicles over and were already out basking in the morning sun, casually waiting for it to disappear.
When we arrived at the park in Stayton, I volunteered to do a recon-naissance to see how much competition there would be for a picnic spot. We certainly didn’t want to be crammed elbow to elbow with hundreds of other avid sky viewers. But after only a few minutes of walking, I could see to my delight that the area was not going to be overrun. I mean let’s face it, most Americans are not into taking any kind of an extended stroll unless it’s to a convenience store. I returned with the good news and we proceeded to lug the food, drinks, a large blanket, and a special camera out to a place a few yards from the river.
The biggest bugaboo with solar eclipses is of course the weather. Trying to take in an eclipse behind a cloudy sky is like watching a play with the curtains closed. You miss the drama. Fortunately this was not a concern — we had clear, bright blue skies the entire time.
We set up camp a good hour and a half before the darkening, taking turns tracking the moon’s glacial progress through smoked glasses while we snacked on grapes, cheese and crackers. The idyllic Pacific Northwest summertime practically demands that a person be outside and I took a few meandering strolls along the paths, marveling at the perfect morning.
There were maybe two dozen other people in the general vicinity, some of whom had brought telescopes. A festive atmosphere prevailed, not unlike a college football tailgate, but without the booze. (When it comes to viewing the sun, sobriety is an important safety tip.)
At last the big moment arrived, eliciting assorted gasps and applause from our neighbors. It was like someone had flicked a switch and turned off the sun. The temperature took a noticeable dip and the sudden dark-ness was eerie. An anthropologist once speculated that for a prehistoric man (that is to say someone who never had an iPhone), a solar eclipse might have been so terrifying as to trigger a heart attack.
I managed to survive without having to call the paramedics. The magical two minutes (and one second!) in fact passed all too quickly.
A couple of months later, I delved into the iMove app on my MacBook. Since I’d taken an amateur video of the eclipse, I decided to make that my first “project”, adding music and few photos. This will not make anyone forget Steven Spielberg, but it’s worth sharing… (I’m the one in the red t-shirt.)
Way back in 1984, at the tender age of twenty-seven, I quit my job to take the summer off. To quote Theodore Roosevelt, it was my last chance to be a boy. To be able to sleep in each morning and not have to catch the 7:15 bus to work. No deadlines to meet, no bosses to please. The day was mine and mine alone to enjoy and explore. Why, I didn’t even have to shave if I did not feel like it!
To relive a few fond childhood memories, I ended up spending over three weeks with both sets of my grandparents, all of whom were still in good health. I took advantage of this extended time to learn more about my family’s history, sitting down with each one with a tape recorder as they recounted their stories. I also dug into family records such as births and deaths recorded in old bibles and faded newspaper clippings. A few years later, I condensed all the information into the documents whose blog links are listed below.
The ten thousand baht that Pawn unknowingly turned down a few weeks back ended up being redistributed to a trio of friendly, hardworking barmaids at Beer Garden: three thousand each (@$90). It’s fun chatting with them when things are slow, and they help me with my Thai anytime I ask. Like I did with Pawn, who was by coincidence sitting at the bar and may well have noticed, the money was handed out in envelopes — only this time it was happily accepted. With the Songkran New Year’s Festival starting in two days, the girls now had the means to visit their out-of-town families.
I kept the remaining one thousand baht to cover my future bar tabs and stay on their good side.
I’ve now given money in the form of help or special gifts to nearly all of the women I’ve come to know here in Bangkok. Or at least I tried to. It’s been a real pleasure witnessing their delight and gratitude. With the three Lucky Ladies, however, where I thought I might make a difference, the results were not as heartwarming: While Sontaya after receiving my help went out and found a new job, Bawn only wished to continue her nightly boozing at Beer Garden and Newt slipped her moorings. A mixed bag of experiences. But I’m not complaining; all this has helped me learn about myself by providing an outlet for my kindness. To be more aware of others and how I might, if not solve their problems, at least give them a reason to smile.
So what’s next? Although I’m wrapping this blog up, I plan to continue my generous ways. However, I will be more cautious. A good example is a masseuse I recently had over, Ann. She was very professional and did a fine job, so I included a one thousand baht tip ($30 — which was very much appreciated!). Ann has a fifteen-year-old daughter entering high school next month, meaning some worryingly large bills for the new uniform, books and tuition — items I could cover with no trouble. But I think I’ll pass on playing the hero here. During the massage, Ann had “audited” me, asking what I was paying for rent, whether I had a pension or — and this was amusing — if I was worth a million dollars. Viewing Western men as winning lottery tickets. How charming.
Other, less greedy, women will fare better. Because I have gotten into the habit of providing my two Thai ex-girlfriends with birthday money, I am going to make these annual events. Then there are the girls working at the pool hall down on Sukhumvit, who receive extra large tips from me for raucous evenings of Eight Ball. Happy to keep that tradition going! As for Nicky, the cafe owner who declined my original offer of help, I’ll be on the lookout for a way to change her mind.
And of course I shall not forget Wan, my laundress. Toiling seven days a week in a place with no air conditioning. More than anyone, she deserves a little extra.
It’s all an adventure…
Every few months I like to invite my long-time acquaintance, Mistress Kat, over. If memory serves, she specializes in S & M, Role Playing and other assorted kinkiness. Not your average Bangkok Soi 4 streetwalker. Her English is very good and she’s always outgoing, an easy person to like. Also one of the smarter ladies I know here in the Land of Smiles.
I have never partaken of her services. For me, a perverted act would be drinking American beer. Her world is therefore quite beyond mine. But it can be entertaining hearing about her work. Such as the time she and a German had sex on the weight bench in the exercise room of my apartment complex. Talk about risky business! I still end up laughing anytime I think of this.
I had not seen much of Kat over the winter and was missing her tales, so a couple weeks ago, by the dawn’s early light, I tracked her down on the Soi. She was getting some breakfast after another long night of trolling for customers. We returned to my place and I eagerly settled in for story hour. The topic this time was her streetwalker friends. Kat had come to an amusing part of someone’s recent misadventure when suddenly, she began crying. And not the usual few stray tears that Thai ladies at times shed, either — this tough woman was letting go. Shocked at seeing the levee break, I got up and fetched a Kleenex, then sat back to hear more.
Kat had hit a rough patch: a few of her “friends” had taken advantage of her, customers were scarce this time of the year, and she’d run up some serious debts. So what’s new? In a halting, timid manner, she asked if she could borrow ten thousand baht (@$300), promising to come by every few days and repay a portion of it. Touched by a request from a person clearly struggling, I assured her I’d be happy to provide the funds and did so a half hour later, via an ATM transfer to her bank account.
My recipient was of course very grateful. Besides promising to return the money, she offered to buy me fruit, sew my clothes…any way in which she could be useful. It felt like I might end up with a friend out of all this.
Two days later, any notions of closer relations went right out the window.
Kat had come by to inquire about borrowing an additional eight thousand baht to pay off the rest of her creditors, thus consolidating her entire debt with me. Sounded like a good plan and no, I wasn’t concerned about the repayment schedule. Compared to what I’d lavished upon Sontaya, this was chicken feed. But then my Mistress began insisting that I take her old smartphone. Partly as a way of thanking me, but mostly because she was getting a new one and couldn’t bear the thought of just tossing it away. Now, I loathe these devices and informed her — with increasing firmness — that I didn’t want the damn thing. Finally, I tried to lay down the law and said if she didn’t back off, she could forget the 8k. Yet she stubbornly persisted until I finally reached my limit and sent her packing — with nothing to show for her visit. Wisely, she chose not to protest the expulsion.
The Mistress now had to wrestle with the twin burdens of excess debt and dual smartphones entirely on her own. Not sure what to expect, I got a text from her a week later. But not about the eight thousand baht. To my astonishment, she wanted instead to set up a date to begin paying off the original ten thousand! A streetwalker with a sense of honor. I told her not to bother, it was a gift — which caused her to exclaim that she’d “never forget me anymore”. A few days after that, she stopped by my apartment with a gift of her own in appreciation: two apples (fruit, not iPhones).
These I accepted. 😉