Old Black Magic of Siam

Four years my friend, Pi-Noi brought his work crew down from Ban Nok to install an air-conditioning system in a Pattaya bar. The 400-kilometer drive gave them a healthy thirst and that night under my mango tree we drank a case of Chang Beer. Nearing midnight the bottles were empty, but the out-of-towners wanted more and I introduce them to cheap Russian vodka.

Aficionados of lao khao they downed the liter in minutes. The only evidence of being mao was the cranking up of our volume. Especially me and despite Pi-Noi’s claim that I’m the last surviving speaker of Neanderthal Thai, the vodka emboldened my tongue to disregard any linguistic failings and to my wife’s dismay I launched into a ghost tale.

“Phi?” Thais love ghost story.

I told them about a trip to Jamaica for an underwater photo shoot. LIFE had hired my friend to shoot the female lead of SPLASH. Bathing suits and bikinis. I was his assistant. I had never heard of her. She was the star of SPLASH. A comedy about a mermaid falling in love with a mortal man.

“Ngeuuak,” Pi-Noi asked with interest.

“Ngeuuak.” The mermaid myth was known to every sea-going culture.


“Suay mak.” Darryl Hannah was a blonde goddess. The photographer had the pole position to make a move. I explained to the Thais that I was his ‘thaat’ or slave. They understood this term, since all Thais had been slaves until 1095.

“We stayed at an old hotel. Hotel have ghost.”

“Pee ngeuuak?” Thais have scores of designation for ghosts; phee phohng ‘evil spirit’ phraai water ghost, bpee saat or ‘animal ghost’ et al.

“No, ghost old lady.” I continued how the actress had complained about a female ghost entering her room. She was barely visible. Her words were echos. Darryl was frightened by the encounter and wanted to sleeping my room.

“Sex with mermaid, good.”

“No, my friend is jealous. Says he won’t pay me, if I sleep with me.”

“Farang kee-nok.”

“Yes, he was bird shit. I get revenge by drinking rhum.

“I drink lots of Rhum.” 150 proof quelled the disappointment of not having sex with a movie star. “Mao mak. I go sleep. Someone touches my shoulder. I think it’s puying farang suay.”

I really did think it was Darryl Hannah.

Instead my visitor was a long-haired apparition of an 80 year-old woman.

“Mai puying suay. Phi gair. Phee.”

I acted out the part of an ectoplasmic old lady.

“Guah.” Pee-Noi and his crew shivered with collective fear.

“Not scared. Mao.” I dismissed the old ghost and fell back to sleep in a drunken stupor. The tale was meant to be funny, but at its end Pi-Noi demanded with a chill, “Ching?”

“True 100%. The ghost was as real as you or me.”

“You sex with her?”

“No way.” I was too drunk to do anything but tell her to fuck off.

“Mai shua.” He preferred to think that I had made love to a ghost.

A really old ghost.

His friends told it was funny, until I refused to open another bottle of vodka. Pi-Noi rolled his eyes.

“Didn’t you like my story?”

His face was set with anger. “You don’t make fun of ghosts.”

“They do in the movies.” Thais at the Big C Theater roared hilariously about headless ghosts chasing fools through the night. I laughed too.

“Not same. This your house.”

“You believe in ghosts?”

Pi-Noi shrugged, as if he take them or leave them.

I didn’t think so, but my Irish blood grants a special affinity for spirits and I don’t disrespect the beliefs of this or any country.

Every year thousands of Thais and tourists line the Mekong River to view the glowing gas balls floating into the air from the mythical Naga creature. Temple steps are often decorated by a representation of this serpent. Farangs tend to deride the Thais’ belief in creatures eating your intestines or a greedy man doomed to wander eternity with a worm-sized mouth without taking into consideration that 65% of Americans believe in guardian angels.

While not 100% convinced, I really did see a ghost in Jamaica and ten years ago during a visit to Isaan with my one-eyed girlfriend we drove to a mae-mod or witch’s house. The old crone’s house was located beyond the electrical grid. A score of women sat in the candle-lit hut listening to their fortunes, while men lingered nervously outside. At one point the oldest women were assembled in a circle. Lots were chosen and the most wrinkled of them was led into the jungle by two men.

“Where she going?” I asked Vee.

“Women had lottery to see who die so others live longer.”

“They’re going to kill her?”

“No, she picked every time. Other ladies never know or don’t remember.”

It was a scam, but a scary one in this setting.

The next morning a green potion was smeared on the rim of my glass. Vee said it was nothing and I drank some. We were both sick for two days. A year later we broke up and neither of us could leave the other. When I returned to the States for business, I didn’t sleep for three days and sweated out a fever. A Thai friend smiled knowingly. “Red-lum.”

“Magic?” Jack Nicholson had said the same in Kubrick’s THE SHINING.

“Red rum.”

‘Murder’ backwards.

He nodded. “At least she drink it too.

And like that I became a believer. Of course being half-Irish helped to convert me to waking at night to the slightest whisper, because not everything going bump in the night is a thief.

The Dream Is Never Over

After spending a lovely night in Houston, JFK and his wife boarded the presidential jet for a short hop to Dallas. The crowds lining the route applauded the president and his hostess, Mrs. Connolly, commented that Dallas loved him and the president replied, “That’s very obvious.”

A second later a single bullet and then another struck JFK.

November 22, 1963 was a bad day, however a video shows that he had a good time in Texas.

The love was real and real now too.

Johnny Boy we miss you.

To view the lovely night in Houston, please go to this URL


I’ve been working with Mexicans at the metal shop for the last year and a half.

As always I try to improve my language skills and I help them with English.

The other week I gave Oscar, who has prevented my fingers from getting ripped off my lathes or pierced by drill presses, the movie EL TOPO by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

I explained the surrealistic story line of a mad gunfighter or pistelero loco.

Oscar had walked across the Sonoran Desert for three days.

He finished his water within 24 hours.

“On the third day I thought I was going to die, but I said, “I am not going to die here.” I walked another day to the pick-up. Everyone was happy, because they figured me for dead. So I know surrealism, but you know what an el topi is.”

“A gopher.”

“Si, pero tam bien caca.”


“Yes, because when you take a shit in Mexico, we say, “Se me sale le topi.” Because the shit is like a gopher sticking his head out of a hole.”

“No way.”


We had a good laugh and Oscar took the film home.

He never watched it, but we still laugh about ‘el topo’.

Mexicans have a good sense of humor.


In the late-18th Century Marie Antoinette’ coiffeur sought to camouflage the queen’s baldness by upsweeping her thinning tresses to cascade over her ears. The femme fatales of the ancien regime imitated ‘le bouffant, until the royal coif lost its popularity with the Marie’s final haircut by the guillotine.

Almost two centuries later Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s wife, reincarnated the fashion during her tenure at the White House.

American women idolized the glamorous First Lady regardless of their politics.

Overnight millions of housewives hit their local hair salon to acquire the look.

Movie stars such as Audrey Hepburn and Kim Novak further popularized the rage and within months the only women rejecting the coif were Durgin Park’s gang of crew-cut bull dyke waitresses and the nuns at my grammar school, Our Lady of the Foothills.

The bouffant died out with the advent of the hippie era.

Young women grew long hair and coif was once more threatened with extinction, except for brief respite from the lead singers of the B-52s and the late English singer Amy Winehouse.

Last year Jamie Parker and I were happy-houring at Solas in the East Village. We had the Irish bartender to ourselves. Moira liked a good laugh and Jamie told her stories of his go-go bar in Pattaya.

After our second margarita an attractive woman walked into a shadowy bar. Her bleached blonde hair was stacked high on her head. Stiletto heels added another five inches to her Amazonian height.

“A model.” Jamie Parker smirked at the passing beauty in designer drag.

“Probably coming from a shoot.” The actresses in TV show MADMEN had revitalized the early 60s, although few woman in present-day America could pull off the time-travel make-over.

“She looks like a 1960s transvestite.” The lanky ex-con squinted down the bar.

“And that’s a bad thing.” I caught the scent of Chanel No.5. She was high-class.

The goddess sat at the end of the bar and Moira went to attend to her need. She was into girls.

“Not in this light.” It was almost night that deep in Solas.

“You don’t like the bouffant?”

“Not at all.”

“And why not?”

“Because the Mr. Kenneth who re-invented the hair style for Jackie Kennedy was queer.”

“You have something against gays?” Back in the 60s gays were feared by young men, unless they were looking for a good time. This was the modern times. Gay-bashing was not in fashion.

“Me, I love gays, but gay hairdressers used the bouffant hair style as a strategy to turn straight men gay.”

“What do you mean?” I wasn’t following Jamie’s line of thoughtlessness.

“Just that it’s not a really natural look and women refused to have sex to avoid ruining the helmet of hair on their head, so men sought release elsewhere.”

“With other men?”

“The sexual revolution freed us from our chains.” Jamie was a couple of years older than me, although he didn’t look it.

“I had a girlfriend with a bouffant in 1965.” Jo and I met in the Mattapan Oriental Theater. We were both 13.

“And you went all the way?”

“Not even close.” Steel-rimmed bras safeguarded against any attempts by unschooled boys to reach ‘second base’.


“It had nothing to do with the bouffant.”

“You’re from Boston. Men from Boston love Jackie Kennedy’s bouffant. You probably went to bed jerking off to the First Lady.”

“Not that I can remember.” Jackie O rode horses and spoke French. Women like her were destined to marry rich regardless of their hairstyle. “Jo was my muse. I know my place.”

“Don’t we all.” Jamie was in the States visiting his mother. She lived in the Bronx and thought that he was teaching school in Thailand, instead of running the Pigpen A Go-Go featuring fat pretty bar girls and skinny ugly pole dancers.

“My mom had a bouffant.”

“Mine too.”

“It had them feel like a queen.”

“Better than knowing your place.”

“Send the princess a drink on us,” Jamie told Moira.

“Happily.” Moira played for the other side.

“Do you like the bouffant?”

“It’s very Kim Novak.” The blonde had mesmerized Hitchcock in his film VERTIGO.

“Wasn’t she gay?” Jamie asked eying me.

“I think so.” Moira played for the other side. She was holding the model’s hand. They looked like a nice couple.

If only for happy hour.

“Ah, here’s to the bouffant.” Jamie raised his glass.

“And Jackie O.”

At my age I might think about her once in a while.

After all she was the mother of the modern bouffant.

Who Killed the Kennedys?

The night Barack Obama was elected president, people danced in the streets of New York. Our man had beaten the GOP. I looked into the eyes of a man my age and we started crying, not out of joy, but in relief of having endured the lost years since November 22 1963.

Obama was one of us. He took office two months later. The presidential limousine drove him from the inauguration stage to a series of parties. Thousands of supporters glad-handed their president and at the end of the festivities Barack Obama found himself in the White House.

He had it all.

The Oval Office.

The Red Phone to Moscow.

The Briefcase.

They were his along with two wars and a shattered economy.

That evening he must have looked at his wife and said, “What now?”

If I was Michelle, I would have said, “What about the Kennedys?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who killed the Kennedys?”

“That’s a dangerous question.” And he dropped the subject.

The President has had eleven years of access to the deep, dark secrets buried by various agencies; Roswell, Martin Luther King, Pearl Harbor et al. We have too many questions, yet nothing new has come to light during his administration and considering the body count for asking the wrong questions, I can appreciate his patience.

It takes time to unbury the truth and even fifty years after the fact and it doesn’t look like Obama is going to get it for us either before his access is gone.

So who killed the Kennedys?

Someone knows, but they ain’t saying.