Category Archives: 2013: Jul—Sep

I goin’ kick your ass!

So proclaims Rat, one of the Thai girls who works at Sports Academy, a pool hall down on Sukhumvit. That attitude, combined with long black hair, shapely legs and a face that causes double takes, makes her not only entertaining to play Eight Ball with, but easy on the eyes as well. When I first began playing with her, those looks intimidated me; I’m far more comfortable with women who have a kind of girl-next-door appearance. But as I’ve gotten to know her, I no longer feel like a high school dweeb trying to hang around the homecoming queen. In fact, I would not mind mingling with her outside of work, except for the fact that her American boyfriend, who makes irregular visits to Bangkok, is a gun enthusiast.

S A Drinking v1

A second girl, Newt (far left), has also become one of my regular pool opponents. Like Rat (sitting next to me), she has the long hair and well-proportioned figure, but the pretty face lacks the hardness that so many girls in the entertainment (and pool hall) business acquire. There’s also a certain kindness in the way she suggests what ball for me to shoot at next, even if it is to her detriment. Perhaps she simply feels sorry for me. On the nights where she wears her ruby high heels, I sometimes feel like I’m playing against Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz fame.

But we are not in Kansas anymore. Both of the hostesses are seasoned, no-nonsense pool players. This comes from taking on the farang customers night after night. They are especially adept at pocketing long shots on the nine foot billiard tables, a feat I approach with trepidation. (When I ponderously line up one of these, the girls begin chalking up their cues.)

My favorite contest is when I team up with a fellow American expat named Alex, who worked with me at the same company back in Seattle long ago. Once each week we square off against the Duo Damsels, gleefully vowing to show them who’s boss. Idle boasting. After but twenty minutes we are hopelessly behind, the girls are sticking their tongues out at us, and Rat is crowing about the damage she is inflicting upon our glutei maximi. To try and salvage what little dignity remains, we start buying them Rum & Cokes, reasoning that our chances will improve if our opponents become a little tipsy…

4drunkatbararrows

Sometimes this tactic works: one or two of them begins to feel no pain. But there have been occasions — and this is kind of scary — where the more the girls drink, the better they play. I on the other hand, having had but a single shot of tequila, am leaning against the table to steady myself. The cue ball is blurred.

Despite the inevitable outcomes, I enjoy the outings and always tip Newt and Rat one hundred baht each ($3) at the end of each mauling. Being soundly thrashed by better-playing women is not something that threatens my masculinity. Quite the contrary; the challenge only serves to motivate me for next week’s clash. One of these days Alex and I will show those haughty girls what a pair of doddering middle-aged men can do.

kick-your-ass

Making the Rounds

After a yet another late evening shellacking at the hands of Newt and Rat at the Sports Academy Pool Bar, I was ready to call it a night. However, I happened to recall that another of my Eight Ball opponents at a place just down the street was going on vacation soon, and that I should stop in to say goodbye.

Fern is a sweet and simple young Thai woman with a nondescript figure and face that reminds me of a long-ago girl from my hometown. She began work a few months ago to support her year-old daughter. Though we keep score when we play, our matches are not the cutthroat, in-your-face battles I have at Sports Academy. Fern isn’t by nature a competitive person and not that good a player, either. So instead I try to make her laugh, which makes for a fun, lighthearted evening.

The girls who work at the pool bars receive a misery salary to the point where they rarely can afford their own apartment and have to live with friends or family. With Fern taking four unpaid days off to see her parents in the provinces, I figured she could use some extra help. Because of her child, and no boyfriend or husband around to provide assistance, I’ve always given her a nice tip, usually two hundred baht ($6). But this was a special occasion so I upped the ante to one thousand ($30).

By happy coincidence, it turns out that the bus fare home for Fern and the baby comes to almost the same amount as what I gave her: 1,080 baht. Upon hearing this I grinned, opened my wallet, and theatrically counted out four twenty baht notes to make up the difference. As Fern began to giggle, I then got out my coin purse and solemnly handed over three more baht, telling her to be careful with it. On that note I said goodnight and started on my way home.

For the past month, I had not seen Newt #2, a massage girl who works in the building next to my apartment. I would often run across her in the late evening, sitting on the curb taking a cigarette break. She speaks in a languid monotone that sounds computer-generated. I’d had her come to my apartment a couple of times two years ago for massages. On the second visit, she showed up in a dark silk dress. Leaning over as she kneaded my arm, her wild hair splashing on my face, she informed me of her price for any extracurricular activities. I almost succumbed. Almost. Corny as this may sound, there has to be a measure of affection — real or convincingly faked — from a lady before I take the plunge. 

Since then, Newt has seen me come and go with a number companions, a fact she has remarked upon. To try and stay on reasonable terms with a person I must stroll past two or three times a week, I started occasionally bringing her fruit drinks from the 7-11 a block away. Later I discovered she has a hankering for chocolate.

So when I ran across my old sentinel and renewed acquaintances — she had been visiting her family — I wasted no time hurrying on to my apartment to retrieve a small package of chocolate cookies I had stashed in my cupboard. When I returned with the present, Newt was already back at work (sort of), slumped over a table, half-asleep. Still adjusting to the night shift, no doubt. I gently placed the sweets between her outstretched arms.

Newt, like Fern, works well past midnight, six nights a week and is paid but a pittance. While I have no inclination to become involved with either of them, both are certainly deserving of a little kindness.

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Zimmerman Verdict

At Sports Academy Pool Hall

Rat (Chalking up her cue): You not say much today, kun-Montre**. You have girlfriends problems?
[** “Montre” is the way my Thai friends address me, which is the closest their language allows them to pronounce my name without twitching.]

Me: No. President Obama want Americans to not be angry about Zimmerman, so I am quiet.

Rat (Preparing to break): Zimmer..man? What is Zimmerman? 

Me: Hispanic man. In America he shoot black man (mimic a gun firing in conjunction with Rat’s energetic break). Kill him. But not get trouble. 

Rat: His…pan…ic?

Me: Family from Mexico; come work in America. Some Americans not like.

Rat (Smartly banking the one ball while still looking puzzled): What you mean?

Me: Same same Cambodians come to Thailand. 

Rat: Ah, kao jai. (Thai for “I understand”. The Thais, like many Americans and perhaps most people in the world, look down their noses at their neighbors.)

Newt: Why Americans angry?

Me: If Hispanic man shoot black man, or white man shoot black man, not good.

Newt: If black man shoot black man, Americans angry?

Me: Ahh, mai ben rai. (Thai for “not a problem”. Might as well try to be honest.) 

Newt: Are you angry?

Me: Yes! I miss easy Eight Ball shot last game. Very stupid.

Rat: Let’s have another tequila round! Make you feel better about Eight Ball and the Zimmerman.

And so life manages to go on for me here in Thailand’s capital despite the verdict, though CNN seems determined to keep the controversy simmering. Living overseas, it’s harder to grasp (much less explain), the way cross-racial violence and justice continues to be a flash point in the U.S. and the manner in which it detracts from more serious concerns. While many Americans are outraged over the shooting of an unarmed black by a Hispanic, each year over thirty thousand of their countrymen (Hispanic, black, white) are in fact killed by guns. Yet nobody gets upset, aside from the occasional schoolchildren massacre, and even then the resulting outrage is fleeting. Far easier to let CNN define what one should be angry about.

handgun-usa

Rescuing Rasamee (Again)

I don’t believe my Thai ex-girlfriend of two years ago would mind seeing her name in one of my posts. Especially since I have recently sent her a generous amount of money paying off the remaining debt on her house, with the leftover proceeds intended to help her son and daughter finish college.

Somebody had to do it…

Rasamee and I met in October of 2010. I had just moved to Thailand and was living in a simple studio apartment in the city of Pattaya, which is a kind of sexual Disneyland for middle-aged Western men. She was working as a hostess in one of the neighborhood bars, going by the name of Lawt (easier for the soused customers to remember) and claiming to be in her late thirties. Though she was in fact some seven years beyond that, her dark looks fooled me completely — and this was before I’d had anything to drink.

Both of us being new arrivals in Sin City, we quickly hit it off. I found her very easy to be around, mostly because she wasn’t some calculating twenty-something Thai girl who views foreigners as winning lottery tickets. This was simply a woman trying to make extra money to pay off her debts and send her children to a local university back home. Besides the bar, she was also working overtime at a nearby restaurant. I admired her commitment and was soon pitching in to help the cause.

Though she was technically my girlfriend, I didn’t have her move in with me, preferring a measure of privacy. Nor did I support her full-time. She continued to work at the bar and sleep in a large dorm-like room nearby where most of the girls stayed. At times, when she was especially tired, she’d use my place as a crash pad for an afternoon nap. 

It was a pleasant arrangement for me. For our “dates”, I would pay her bar fine and we’d go out to eat and play some pool. Later, we’d retire to the apartment for maybe a movie and night together. In many ways I was a good friend, always willing to lend a hand such as when she needed a new foam sleeping pad. We went shopping and I purchased one for her, then proceeded to drag the unwieldy item seven long blocks in the suffocating heat back to her room.

Unfortunately the good times did not last. After six months together, I moved to Bangkok and broke things off when I decided I didn’t want to get serious. However, I continued to provide her with money when crises arose, such as last year when the bank was about to repossess her home. Rasamee’s ex-husband, whom I hope someday ends up with testicular cancer, had years before left her and the kids for a younger woman, not bothering to provide any support whatsoever. Though it took some persuading, I eventually stepped in and paid off most of the outstanding loan. A sister covered the remaining amount and though this saved the house, it still left Rasamee with what was by her standards a large debt to her sibling — a condition I have just rectified.

Despite my good deeds, I am no saint. As the post title implies, I am not always thrilled at what seems to be a never-ending stream of problems and requests for help and often wish it would all go away. At the same time, I recognize that having a place to live and providing one’s children with a good education are not unreasonable wishes. It’s clearly a time in her life when some charity can make a difference.

Rasamee with Family

The Reluctant Bread Winner & Family

Nursemaid

Soon I will be leaving for my annual U.S. pilgrimage. This will involve the usual family and friends visitations plus some serious decompressing. (Bangkok can take a toll on a person.) When I informed the apartment manager I’d be checking out (I lease month-to-month), I mentioned that after I’d left, there would be many women crying in the bars on Soi 4. She got a kick out of this. I laughed too, not realizing how true the joke would turn out to be.

I had been out doing some late-morning chores which included getting a haircut and a bit of shopping followed by a hamburger lunch. (Strangely, I hardly ever eat Thai food.) I was returning to my room when I happened to see Noy #3 (I know three Thai women named Noy), a casual acquaintance, waiting for customers in the parking lot across the street from Nana Plaza. A couple months had passed since our last tryst during which time I hadn’t stayed in touch, so I was not surprised to see her appear faintly annoyed as I approached. As I began talking with her, however, it became clear she was actually very upset.

It’s important to take a moment and review the rules of engagement here. If, after a roll in the hay, the farang customer wishes to see his one-and-only again, it is entirely his choice. There are no obligations unless the woman has somehow wheedled one out of the guy. Both parties go their separate ways. Noy #3 I had seen twice in May, but prior to that it had been two years outside of a few brief hellos.

Yet somehow I had transgressed.

“You not talk to me for two, three months. But I not come to your apartment. Maybe you have mistress. Not want see me.”

I attempted to explain that I had not been feeling well, which was quite true. But more than that, I simply wasn’t interested. My prerogative. But I could not say any of this outright as it could be construed as a loss of face and I was afraid how she’d react.

“You good man. I not come here every day. Today I come, hope see you. I have good man before from Singapore, but he die fourteen years ago.”

No kidding? Not quite sure where this conversation was heading, I tried to regain some control. Gently, I inquired why she had not called or sent me an SMS if getting together was so important. But that went nowhere given her emotional state. Soon I was standing on the sidewalk next to a Thai woman crying her eyes out. (Much later I would find out she is from Laos. Not that that made any difference.)

“You talk good long time with me. Two years (sob). I lucky see you today.”

If so, she was expressing her gratitude at her good fortune in an unusual manner. Not wanting to leave her there, shedding tears on the pavement for all to see, I took her back to the apartment. As we entered, she suddenly kneeled to remove my shoes and socks. This “servant girl” routine was her way of trying to rekindle my affection. But sadly all I could do was gently dissuade her and offer extra Kleenex to staunch the tears that soon started up again, accompanied by her litany of woes. Searching for a way to somehow turn off the hydrant, I told her of my upcoming U.S. vacation, explaining that all my friendships here were coming to an end (at least temporarily). No luck. I was not able to comfort her in any way. She was pining after a connection that in fact had never existed between us.

I ultimately got her to leave by telling her how tired I was. In response, she offered to stay and give me a massage, but I wanted an end to the soap opera. Being turned down, she accused me of liking lady boys (Thai men who dress as women). This struck me as so silly I actually chuckled, then abruptly stopped when I saw her unsmiling face.

She walked out the door without looking back.

Hearing from an Old Flame

Two months ago, after some deliberation, I gave my email address to one of my high school classmates who is compiling a list of everyone she can find for our reunion in 2015. A couple of my old friends have since gotten in touch and it’s been a delight reconnecting with people I have not heard from in almost forty years. Then, one of them passed on the word that my high school girlfriend wanted to contact me.

“June” and I had had a checkered past. We started going together in the 8th grade after slow dancing during some junior high outing. It was first love for both of us, full of the usual adolescence dramas and desires. Then just before our sophomore year of high school, I callously broke up with her. Having what we nowadays call a “hot” body, it was only a matter of weeks before June was dating some upperclassman while I, trapped in my awkward scrawniness, could only look on in envy from the social sidelines. On occasion I would bang my head against my locker, asking myself just what the hell I had been thinking.

This aggravating state of affairs lasted for two years as June seemed to move effortlessly from one boyfriend to the next. My feelings throughout this, a kind of dating interregnum for me, ranged from mindless jealousy to genuine concern over the things she was getting into such as (horror of horrors) drinking. Little did I realize at the time what an important tool alcohol would someday become in my own dating arsenal.

Then came our senior year when lo and behold, we got back together! This was entirely June’s initiative. In fact, she broke off an engagement and I almost got beaten up by the jilted groom-to-be, who happened to be a black belt. Yet despite my surviving this brush with death, we could never quite recapture the old magic. I suspect it was largely because our high school experiences had made us different people. Whatever the reason, it was June who this time around broke up with me. To this day, I cannot recall the reason; I only remember sitting in the passenger seat of her GM Vega, sobbing. My hurt eventually turned into meanness a few months afterwards when I put a nasty note in June’s locker, accompanied by her senior photo with the “b” word etched across her face. These insightful items got mailed to my home, causing me to receive a stern lecture about writing down stupid remarks for all the world to see. (Such as I’m doing now.) Determined to have the last word, or at least the final gesture, I then gave my ex-girlfriend the finger following our graduation ceremony. Such classless acts did not sit well with me and I eventually mailed her an apology letter. It was the last communication for thirty-eight years.

Which brings us to the present. Through our mutual friend, I learned that June wanted to tell me about some painful issues she’d had to deal with in high school, of which I was unaware of at the time. More than a little curious, I emailed her directly, encouraging her to share. I’ll leave out the details of what I discovered, but will say that the cards were certainly stacked against us back then. Interestingly enough, both of us were now concerned that the other was still angry and holding a grudge, which happily is not the case at all. I was in fact impressed with her honesty and the manner in which she’s handled the challenges in her life. I was also surprised to learn that our past troubles were, from her perspective, not my fault at all. (I still think was a jerk, however.)

There remained one concern. From the tone of her messages, it sounded like June was wanting to re-enter my life, probably as an email buddy. She would not be the first “ex” to become curious about me. But in spite of my newfound understanding of our history, I felt there still remained baggage that would prevent a healthy friendship, and explained I was not interested in staying in touch because of that. This reasoning earned me a well-written rebuke sprinkled with such therapeutic-sounding words as maturity and growth. In essence, I was accused of lacking the ability to work through our issues.

But why would I want to? Here in Bangkok I have all kinds of young female friends for all occasions: playing pool, visiting a go-go, watching a DVD while snuggling on my sofa, getting a slow, sensual massage…and one other activity I can’t recall at the moment. It’s an interesting reversal from high school, when June had all the attention. Not that I’ve evolved into some kind of Don Juan; it’s simply that being a decent person here in Bangkok counts for more than back home. If you are kind, occasionally thoughtful, and keep your hair combed, why, you can have all kinds of lady acquaintances. (And if you open your wallet, the sky’s the limit.) The idea of stepping outside this utopia to deal with accusations from a woman I haven’t seen in four decades has decidedly limited appeal.

Wishing June all the happiness due her…
sunshine-happiness

The Homeless of Seattle and My Aunt Ginny

Welcome to Seattle, home to such world-famous companies as Amazon and Starbucks. A city with a proud tradition of liberalism and bold entrepreneurship, its gleaming skyscrapers and mammoth sports stadiums a source of wonder and awe.

Then there are the homeless… Walking a mere two or three blocks about the downtown core guarantees your coming across someone in need of help. Stop at a storefront window or an ATM, and sooner or later one of them will sidle up and ask you for money. It can be uncomfortable for a first-time visitor.

I am of course no stranger to panhandling, living as I do in an area of Bangkok frequented by rich tourists. At any time in the evening, there are maybe a three or four Thai beggars camped on the sidewalks along my street. Their spiel is well-rehearsed and effective: outstretched hands, pleading eyes…maybe even a barefoot, malnourished child who trails you for a few steps, rattling coins in a plastic cup held out in front of her. My least favorite of these performers is an emaciated elderly man who, when ignored, will bang his metal cup upon the curve to try to embarrass his target into making a contribution. Someday I’m going to swat that utensil right out of his hand and into the next district.

By contrast, the destitute in Seattle are not anywhere near as organized as their Bangkok counterparts. Some of them simply display crudely made signs soliciting contributions as they sit on public benches or lean against sheltered storefronts to escape the rain. Others merely amble about in damp, worn clothing, occasionally muttering to themselves or shouting profanities at invisible entities. From the perspective of the workers and shoppers hurrying by, they are largely indistinguishable from the discarded McDonald’s hamburger wrappers or Starbucks paper cups that blow along the pavements. This sad scene repeats itself in every medium to large-sized U.S. city, and it is both puzzling and shameful that the richest country in the world should have a transient problem which resembles a developing nation like Thailand.

Perhaps my aunt Ginny can shed some light on the situation. She is bi-polar and for a number of years after her husband left her, lived the life of a street person in various towns and cities in Southern California. From those locations she would often write or call my father, attempting to wheedle money out of him. The family eventually decided to fly Ginny back home to Iowa in order to provide upfront help, but this proved a failure. The “counseling” sessions turned into a wrestling matches as Ginny resisted well-meaning, but amateur attempts to get her to fly right. Soon everyone basically threw in the towel and Ginny once again drifted from one town to another, this time in-state, occasionally showing up at the doorstep of an embarrassed sibling.

The quandary was that we could not force Ginny to get help. There are understandably strict laws against involuntary committal, and she was adamantly opposed to any inferences that she should be seeing a professional health care worker. In other words, if she wanted to live the life of a vagabond and not take her medication, there was nothing we could do to change that self-defeating behavior. The same is generally true of homeless, mentally ill sufferers throughout America. There doesn’t exist a standard, reliable process to re-integrate them back into society. 

Ginny’s story does have a happy ending, though. After returning to the West Coast, she entered halfway house and from what I’ve last heard, has begun putting her life back together. (My father’s passing removed all remaining hope of obtaining handouts from the family.) Obviously a very patient person or persons at the house are providing the support Ginny so desperately needs. It’s too bad there aren’t more of these types of helpers. The desperate people left out on the streets and their myriad of needs will always be with us.

homeless-sign