Mad Dogs And Farangs

Several hot seasons ago I met Jamie Parker at a bar on Soi Concrete. I wasn’t going to my old local. The owner had stiffed Nick Von Reiter for $5000. I had fought him on Soi 6, actually the brawl was two punches with the keys in my fist. At my age there is no fighting fair.

Jamie looked ten years younger. He was recovering from his affair with the Ice queen Ort. New teeth and the furrows in his forehead had been smoothed out like 5-star hotel sheets. I was a little jealous.

“Looks like you’re ready to apply for a gigolo position on Palm Beach. All you need is a full Botox body dip. I did it. Breathed through my nostrils. Tightened my skin like a drum. Teeth too.” The only sign of his age were his eyes. Jamie had seen a lot in his 50 plus years and doctors had no cure for too much life.

“I’m staying with the old body.”

“Are you sure?” Jamie pinched the loose flesh under my jaw. “They can get rid of that chicken gullet for $500. Then the two of us can hit on all the old broads at the Leopard Lounge.”

“You know about the Leopard Lounge?” The bar in the Chesterfield Hotel was infamously renown for heiresses seeking hot men in their 50s.

“A little bit of luck and you and I could be living in the lap of luxury.”

“Not the right season.” Palm Beach swung between Xmas and Easter. After that the rich fled the heat.

“And this is the right season here? Damn, it’s hot.”

“Lorn mak.” Pattaya has been baked by the seasonal heat wave since Songkran. “I think it’s hotter than last year.”

“Me too, but check out that fat Teabag across the street. He seems fine with it.”

The Brit was about 55, tattooed like a druid, 5-5 and weighing about 14 stone which is a XXXXL in the USA. Bare-headed and no shirt. Skin burnt to a tender red. I was wearing a full-length shirt and a cowboy hat. Long pants too. Standing in the shade we ordered two beers from the PIM bar.

“Yeah, mad dogs and Englishmen. Only ones that can take this heat.”

“You know this isn?t really hot. Up in Isaan it gets hotter.”

“Cambodia is a frying pan this time of year.” My friend Nick and I had spent Songkran in Phnom Penh. Both of us would have suffered from water depletion if it wasn’t for a steady replenishing our liquids with Khang beer. (7-11% alcohol).

“What about the East Village in July?”

“Worst is Needles, California in August. I got off a bus there and smacked by a wall of heat. The thermometer outside the Dairy Queen said 135. I didn’t have any money and had to hitchhike out of there. Old couple heading to Lake Havesu saved my life. I can remember a cold glass of lemonade. The old man wasn’t scared of madmen on the highway because his wife had a gun. A Colt 45.

“What year was that?”

“1974.”

“You were a hippie then, right?”

“I had long hair. At least I listened to the Jefferson Airplane and Iggy Pop, instead of the Dead.”

“?Here come some more mad Englishmen.”

A trio of skinhead beer-drinkers on motor scooters. Bare-chested to the tropical sun. Sometimes Pattaya seems like the Millwall hooligans have a hooligan training center on Soi Bukhao.

“They’re all early melanoma cases.” I used sunblock 50 on my face, which had vanished the black circles under my eyes. “Madmen. I was stranded in Penang once and wandered into the old English graveyard crammed with Brits struck down by the heat.”

“No one sane should be out in the heat this time of day.” I was melting like the Wicked Witch of the West.

“Let’s go up to Maggie’s for a cold one.” Pattaya’s only pub had ace AC.

Jamie was primed for a pint.

Me too.

Cold beer is the only way to go to avoid the madness of Englishmen. We were only a little bah or crazed by the sun. Back in the 70s hippies went to the California Welfare Bureau to get certified mad to collect insane status checks from the state. I don?t think Cally offers that service anymore, but if the State does, California here I come.

The sun has got me again.

LOVE YOU LONG TIME – CHAPTER 5 by Peter Nolan Smith

The Songkran festival turned uglier faster than the previous year. Thai street vendors hawked squirt guns of every capacity to hooligans mixing itching powder into gutter water. Industrial drinking fueled the unholy holiday madness. Playful water fights escalated from harmless sanuk or fun into vicious shootings redressing old grudges. Pick-up trucks jerry-rigged with plastic reservoirs recklessly raced through unwary pedestrians and ya bah-demented motorcyclists imitated crackheads fleeing a 7-11 robbery.

Within three days the nationwide death toll exceeded five hundred and the walking wounded numbered in the tens of thousands. Most westerners fled the weeklong mayhem. Ae considered any Puritan disapproval as a sacrilege against sanuk or fun. Her daughter arrived for the closing day of Songkran, when the police in their tight brown uniforms were open targets for a drenching.

Sam Royalle hired a truck. The driver loaded the flatbed with three titanic barrels of iced water and we armed our extended families with multi-liter water nozzles. Overloaded by ten people the pick-up’s tires scrapped the steel chassis, as we cruised Pattaya’s streets with the audacity of Somali tech fighters whacked out on qat.

At Beach Road and Soi 8 the girls from two beer bars deliriously chucked buckets at the passing cars. Sam deluged them into submission with a high-powered hose.

On the corner of Walking Street we unleashed a hurricane on two ranking police officers. This win streak instilled a predatory glee and Sam’s tattooed wife leapt from the truck to soak several foreigners behind a tree. It was supposed to be fun, but a humorless weightlifter wrenched away Dtum’s water gun.

“Puta.”

Knocking down the teenager might have been an innocent mistake and his misshapen body bore no semblance to my mental image of Ae’s lover, but hearing Italian snapped a fuse and I leapt off the truck with a long PVC tube. The steroid muscle junkie lifted his fists.

I lashed his wrists with the plastic pipe.

His watch exploded into a shower of tiny gears.

I kicked the inside of his knee and he genuflected in prayer to anguish. Dtum and I jumped onto the truck. She flipped the finger to the battered farang and the pick-up truck lurched down Beach Road.

“You hit him like napalm.” Sam handed me a Singha beer. “Thanks for saving Dtum.”

“It was nothing. Nothing at all.”

Ae was clouded with embarrassment. My outburst had cost her nah or face. My hands trembled with a fifteen year-old’s adrenaline.

“Lucky, my ass. You kicked his ass.”

The Londoner didn’t buy my humility and the Thais bragged about the encounter to their friends. Sam suggested a victory dinner at the Lao BBQ. Dtut yawned on cue. Ae had had enough. She said, “You go. I take Dtut home.”

“I’ve had enough too.” I tapped on the roof of the pick-up and the driver dropped us at our soi. Her two children ran ahead and we walked in silence along the dark alley. She was angry and more so upon seeing her children re-enact the fight.

Ae barked for them to go inside the house. They wai-ed thanks for a fun day and she brought them upstairs for a bath and bed. I sat in the garden. The bedroom light went out and Ae came downstairs to sit on the other end of a bamboo bench.

She had changed out of her wet clothing into a sarong and swirled her hair into a bun. She had studied traditional dance and could bend her joints at impossible angles. I wished the electricity, the TV, the cars, fast food, and every other farang would vanish from Thailand.<

“A-rai?” I asked, since the Thais are adept at avoiding confrontation.

“You not hit me same you hit men.”

“I scared you?”

“Chai.”

“I scared me too.” I kissed her gently. “I’ll never hit you.”

“Please do not. My father beat me. I young girl.”

“What you do wrong?”

Nothing wrong. He angry all the time.”

“I won’t hit you. Promise.”

“Sure?” A cautious smile indicated her doubts.

“100%.” I had hit two women in my life. Both had cheated on me. Even betrayal wasn’t a good reason and I vowed never to touch a woman in anger again.

“Thai 100% or farang 100%?”

“Both.” I released her, hoping she would watch the stars with me, instead Ae climbed the stairs. It was 9:30.

A swarm of fireflies floated before the bougainvillea. The bedroom window glowed blue from the TV. Ae was probably enthralled by a sordid Thai movie. Across the fetid creek the karaoke bar cranked up the volume of a Bird McIntyre song. He was Thailand’s #1 pop star.

The Songkran festival had nothing to do with violence and Ae touched the raised scar on my upper lip.

“How you get?”

“I was dancing with a girl. I was only 14. She had a boyfriend. He cut me with a knife. Long time ago.”

“You not change.”

“I did nothing wrong.”

“Same today.”

She went inside and I lifted my eyes to the cosmos pulsing across the tropical sky. Each star seemed to symbolize one of my brawls, free-for-alls, donnybrooks, one-on-ones, sucker punches, kicks to the balls, black eyes, busted knuckles, broken ribs, and bloody noses.

Some fights had protected the weak and a few could be excused for defense. Most had occurred because of the wrong word said at the right time and I mercilessly damned my violent trespasses as the acts of a forty-eight year-old fool. A red star glowed overhead. I wished for eternal peace and hoped it wasn’t wasted on the Planet Mars.

After the Songkran monsoon rains pounded Thailand. Ae exiled her older daughter to the Isaan plateau for the new school year. Dtut stayed with us. My vow of non-violence remained intact, although Ae acted distant other than when we were having sex.

I discussed her frigid demeanor with Sam Royalle, as we sat at Hot Tuna Bar on Walking Street and the Londoner said, “Most Thais were slaves until Rama V freed in 1905, so they have a weird thing about losing face to people about whom we wouldn’t think twice. Just wait it out.”

Three weeks later I finished my novel about punk rock set in 1976 and needed a break from the computer, which Ae called my mia noi or mistress.. Ae suggested a holiday on the island of Koh Samet. She dished off Dtut to her father.

“We not have time together. One and one. Not three.”

“Like second honeymoon.”

“Koh Samui holiday. Not honeymoon.”

“Maybe we get married soon.”

“You never talk marry. I think not sure.”

“We can speak about it after this holiday.”

She packed her bag with the essentials; two bikinis, a sarong, hot pants, and a sexy shirt. “You always say later.”

“One day later will be now.” I promised not knowing the date of now.

Koh Samet was three miles off the coast. The rutted roads effectively banned cars. The sandy beaches were lapped by gin-clear water. The first day we swam in the tepid sea and drove a dirt bike across the spine of the island. At night we ate fresh fish under torchlight and danced beneath the palms to Thai rock. I couldn’t have been happier.

The electricity cut out in the morning and Ae complained about the sullen heat. At breakfast she listened to the fat farang women whined about the mosquitoes. The men stared at Ae. She looked 16 in a bikini.

On our boat tour around the island she sulked in the captain’s cabin and drank beer. She was drunk by the time we arrived at our bungalow. She refused to go to dinner and watched Thai TV. “You go look at fat women. Maybe they have sex for free.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Wrong?” You not know.”

I stormed out of the bungalow.

Five beers later it came to me what was wrong. There was no phone service on the island. She wanted to be speaking with someone other than me. I had a good idea who. I drank five more beers and fell asleep on the beach. Mosquitoes had their way with my flesh. I crawled to bed before the dawn.

“You go with woman last night.”

“I slept on the beach.”

“Why?”

The answer was that I was a fool. The love potion was working its old magic.

When I suggested leaving, Ae packed her bag in five minutes. We rode the noon ferry to the mainland and by the afternoon Ae was reunited with her son and TV. We didn’t make love for a month.

I secretively checked Ae’s phone. No incoming numbers began with Italy’s double digit. Paranoia was an old friend. I drank for a cure. Bish visited again. Ae was happy with his gift of lingerie. He brought a medical how-to book. There was no chapter for love potions.

My cousin and I visited to the go-go bars. He mentioned I was drinking more than normal.

“I have a few things on my mind.”

“Women things?”

“Here it’s always about women.”

“Unlike Boston.”

Ae met us at the Marine Disco. She was having fun. I went home alone. She showed up much later, smelling of cigarettes. Everyone smoked in Pattaya. Not here, but all the farangs. I sought comfort in the thought that if she had been with someone, she would have showered and smelled of soap.

In the morning Bish dropped over to my house with a young friend. I mentioned that we should go to the islands. He shook his head.

“I didn’t come here to see fat westerners soaking up sun.”

“We can go to Khao Chamao Mountains.” Ae interjected from the house. Her family came from the mountain range north of Rayong. She didn’t want to go too far away either.

“Have waterfall and can eat fish at beach. Not far. Three hours. Go one day, back night.”

The five of us drove through the countryside to a long shoulder of mountains. Ae’s family worked at the park. We didn’t have to pay the entrance fee. Bish and I climbed to the summit. Ae, her son, and Bash’s friend lingered by a pool beside a waterfall. Afterwards we visited her original home. Charred stumps stood in a neglected rice field.

“What happened?”

“Boy knock over candle.” Her brother had spent most of his youth in jail. I had never seen him work. Ae gave him money.

“Sounds like negligence to me,” Bish quipped in a South Shore accent. His sisters and he had been in dispute over the sale of the family home on the Cape. “It’s tough to sue family. Trust me.”

“The Thais don’t settle their problems in court.” The Bangkok Post was peppered with cases of corporations and millionaires extra-legally negating a poor man’s attempt to right an inequity with a bullet to the head.

“So I guess I couldn’t set up a law practice here.”

“The last thing you ever want to do is get involved with a dispute between Thais.” A westerner was always wrong. We knew nothing about Thai life. In many ways they were right.

Returning to Pattaya we purchased dried octopus in Ban Phe. Her father was happier with a bottle of Mekong whiskey. Den was a mean drunk and accused Ae of not being his daughter. Between sobs she said she wanted to leave Thailand, “Have too many family here. Have too much trouble. When you take me America?”

“America?” New York meant working at Manny’s, fat people, family, big cars, and expensive shops. “I like living here.”

“You not want me go America.” She pouted and disappeared to her father’s shack. I didn’t chase Ae. She had her own way of handling her father and this was Bish’s last night. He had ordered a taxi to the airport for 2am.

Sitting in the Blackout a Go-Go I asked my cousin, “How long you think Ae would last in New York?”

“Oh, about a week.”

“That long.” Thais hated anything not Thai.

“She loves it here and America would ruin her. Every American gets dissatisfied with the USA after a few days in Thailand, but I loved the Land of the Free and the Brave, if only in theory. “And what about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”

“They have been replaced by cars, work, and debt.” He flirted with a passing waitress in a schoolgirl outfit. They were over 18, but looked younger in the black light of the go-go.

“What’s with the uniform fetish?”

“They remind me of the girls at St. Ann’s.” Bish and I had spent our formative years at parochial schools. He tipped the waitress a 100-baht and she giggled off to fetch our beers. “Didn’t you think the Catholic girls looked cute in those uniforms?”

“Of course.” Ae was incredibly sexy in a Thai school skirt and blouse, which was a little unsettling, as the Herald-Tribune had published an expose on Boston Diocese priests systematically abusing young boys.

I had served as an altar boy and attended Catholic school and asked, “You ever have any trouble with the priests?”

“In what way?” He handed me another drink.

“Saying you could tell him anything in the confessional.”

“I confessed about swearing and lying. I was a good Catholic kid.” He beckoned to dancer #34 to join us for a drink. She was the youngest girl on the stage and the prettiest. “Didn’t you almost enter the seminary in high school?”

“For a weekend.”

“You would have made a good priest, because you believe in the mysteries of the universe like magic and love.”

“Yeah, it’s a last option.”

“Priest?”

“All the others are gone. You think I’m a failure?”

“Failure?” # 34 sat on his lap. Her name was Bee. “Anytime I mention you to my friends workiong to pay off a mortgaged house for a divorced wife, their eyes glazed over with admiration.”

And you?”

“I happy here in the Last Babylon. You should be too. Nothing lasts forever.”

“There is a joke about the saint who wants to see Hell and St. Peter grants him a week’s parole from Heaven. Hell is Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, and free beer. A great time for all. In heaven the saint can’t forget his holiday in Hell and asks for another visit. St. Peter warns him this decision is permanent. The saint says he’s had it with worshipping God. Whoosh. He steps foot on Hell and the Devil has at him with pitchforks and brimstone. The saint protests that Hell wasn’t like this last time. The devil smiles and says, “Now you know the difference between a vacation and living someplace.”

“The point of which is?”

“I enjoy my holidays in the sun, but you live in the Last Babylon.” He signaled the mama-san for the check. “Two different things.”

“Heaven and Hell.” Pattaya wasn’t Hell, but a 1000-baht note elected us Mr. Sexy for the mini-skirted bar girls, while $25 in the Land of the Free bought two tickets to the movies, a bucket of popcorn, and a giant coke with two straws.

“The only things I miss about the States are family, friends, and pizza.”

“That all?”

“I miss the Quincy Quarries most of all.”

“But they’re buried by the debris from the Big Dig.”

“Gone so suburban drivers in SUV can get to work 10 minutes quicker.” I had swum at the quarries throughout my teenage years. Jumping off those cliffs into the cool spring water had been a forbidden pleasure. There were few of those left in America.

“Stop already, you’re making me cry.”

“You never swam there.” He lived less than a mile from them.

“My mother wouldn’t let me.” Kids died in the quarries every summer.

“She loved you.”

“You too.” Both of us missed our mothers, but we were Irish bachelors at heart. Bish paid the bill and we headed over to the Carousel a Go-Go. Sam Royalle and his Aussie office manager from Bangkok greeted us with tequila shooters. Bish pushed away his shot away, as naked girls sat on our laps. “Two different worlds.”

Watching the girls on stage soap each other up for a show, I realized that the nuns and priests had not warned us about go-go bars and brothels, mostly because evil had worn more clothes in 1965.

“Heaven and hell.” I clinked glasses with Bish.

I should have been concentrating on the naked girls, instead I pictured Ae at her father’s place, playing cards, smoking cigarettes, and yapping about how she hated farangs. She would sleep on the floor of her father’s place and show up in the afternoon with a pounding headache. We left the bars at 1. I accompanied Bish to the airport.

“Ae have any idea what you do?”

“I told her I was a writer.”

“She know what that means.”

“She says it means we have no money.” Ae had never read a single word of my books. Thai was her language. She needed someone to translate my letters. Probably her other boyfriends’ epistles as well. My own comprehension of the Thai written language was confined to the words for men’s room and Coca-Cola.

“She right about that?” Bish was worried about my future. It was as promising as the past.

“I also act like the Peace Corps for myself.”

“Charity is best served at home.” We were pulling into Terminal One. “When are you coming back next?”

“Not for a while yet.”

“When’s your money run out.”

“In about three months.”

“I’ll be back here before then.”

In the departure gate Bish gazed at the girls saying good-bye to their boyfriends.

greeting new arrivals.

“Sam thinks we should open a bar here. The HELLO-GOODBYE LOUNGE. Girls saying good-bye to one boyfriend and saying hello to someone new once the other has left.

“Probably make money.”

“Give my best to my father.”

“I’ll tell him you’re fine.”

“Thanks for lying.”

“It comes easy. I’m a lawyer.”

“You’ll be back before you know it.”

“I’ll keep telling myself that.” He disappeared behind the customs barrier and I returned to Pattaya. Dawn was a numb blue on the horizon. Ae sat on the bamboo cot in the garden.

Dtut lay on her lap. She had been crying.

“I think you go away.”

“No, take Bish to the airport.” I was starting to speak English like Ae.

“But you no call me. No come find me. You not care.”

“No, I care too much.” I had given up New York for her.

“Sure?” She lifted Dtut into my arms. He was small. Ae had been as defenseless once. She looked up to me. “I never tell you about my mother.”

“No.” I thought she was dead and suspected that her father had killed her.

“My mother leave me. Leave all of us. She never call. Never see me. One day I am on bus and a woman sit with me. She ask about my children. Ask if I have mother. I tell her everything. I am not thinking, but when she get off bus, I think she my mother. Not know for sure. I want Dtut to have mother.”

“He has you.”

“And I have you.”

“Yes, you do.”

I checked the water on the night table.

Nothing blue was in it.

I warned myself to not care too much. She was a Thai. They cared about their own. Never a farang, but we went to bed like a man and wife and that’s was all I was asking from her for the moment.

A week later I traveled to the Cambodia border to renew my Thai visa. Ae offered to come for the ride. Taking Dtut on the ten-hour round-trip through the bone-dry rice fields didn’t make any sense. “Stay with your son and we’ll go out tonight.”

My refusal was music to her ears and she kissed me affectionately.

The next morning a van picked up five other westerners. I spoke with Ae twice on my cell phone. She was in bed each time and I envied her sleep. None of the passengers talked during the four hours to Cambodia and no one delayed our departure with a visit to the casinos or short-time farms of Poipet.

I fell asleep and woke at Chonburi turn-off. Pattaya was another forty minutes away and I called Ae. No one answered and my second attempt resulted in a disconnection.

This was not right.

Ae answered her phone at all hours in any situation.

The congestion on Sukhumvit conspired with my paranoia to construct a pyramid of a burning house, her father murdering his neighbor, or her brother having another baby capped by her ex’s arrival. I cursed every red light until my soi.

It was night. The little food stall was serving pad-thai to the day-workers from the tin shack slum across the muddy creek. Frogs croaked in the water. I walked toward my house blanketed with outward calm. My facade was wasted. Ae wasn’t home and an empty box for a washing machine lay on its side in the garden.

We had agreed to discuss any major purchases and my blood sizzled with exasperation. Ae had hocked the washing machine at the jum-jam or pawn shop to cope with an unexpected family crisis. The TV was on the stand in the living room and I was grateful the unexpected crisis hadn’t been required its exile to the pawnshop.

Ae had to be at her father’s shack and I decided against driving up to the slum across the railroad tracks. Any explosion in front of her family was a black mark. I wasn’t fighting any more. Instead I ate at a seafood restaurant on Beach Road. Ae wouldn’t like that, since she suspected I was conducting an affair with the 23-year old hostess.

It was hard to believe we were friends in a city, where sin slept in cheap hotels, but Nu explained that she offered nothing as long as I lived with Ae. Drinking three beers eased my anger. A plate of curry crab squashed my hunger. The passing of traffic soothed my anxiety. People led normal lives, yet nothing was normal with Ae. She was a problem. Her family was a plague. I told Nu about the phone calls from Italy and the missing washing machine. She cut to the chase.

“Ao ting khao?”

“Leave her?” I had the answer.

Before I said the words, my cellphone vibrated on the table. Nu frowned and I answered my phone.

“Where are you?”

“Ti-ban. You angry?” Tears choked her voice. “Come home. I explain everything.”

Everything must have taken her a good hour to concoct and I apologized to Nu, who shrugged contemptuously, “Law te khun.”

It was up to me.

Staying.

Going.

Leaving.

I raced on my motorcycle to our house. Ae waited by the empty box. Her son lay on the bamboo cot, a bandage around his head. Her tear-stained eyes melted my hard heart to a puddle.

“Dtut fall and hurt his head. I not have any money. Kor-thot, kor-thot, kor-thot.”

Thais are as allergic to apologies or honesty as they are silence, since they realize you’d much rather than hear a lie to avoid getting hurt. I accepted her excuse and forgave her with a kiss. Later when Dtut bandage fell off, his head had no bruises. A brief interrogation rooted out that she had bailed out her ex-husband, who had been arrested once more for ya bah.

I smashed my fist through a door and ordered Ae to leave the house. She cut her wrists with a broken piece of glass. I bandaged the diagonal slashes. Ae cried and we made love, after which she nuzzled her stone-smooth skin against mine. “I tell old boyfriend not to call anymore. I love you too much. More than pizza.”

“More than cigarettes?” I threw her Marlboro Menthols out the window. Her eyes widened in horror to demarcate her love’s borders. She surrendered this frontier. “More than cigarettes.”

It was a small sacrifice.

One small enough to not matter in the arms of a woman half my age.

LOVE YOU LONG TIME – CHAPTER 4 by Peter Nolan Smith

The staff of the front desk at the Malaysia remembered my room. I washed up and went to Kenny’s Bar. He wore my ring. The girls were older, but the beer was cold. The ex-pats told the same stories as always and Fat PatI stayed a night and in the morning called Sam down in Pattaya.

“I have your room all ready. Be prepared. It’s Songkran.”

“I forgot that.”

The Songkran celebration ushered in the Thai New Year and the rains ending the hot season. The festival is focused on Wan Parg-bpee April 15, when homage was paid homage to ancestors and young Thais poured scented water into the palm of an elder, who utters wishes of happiness and good luck. The practice was quite charming, but the tradition has changed in recent years and how much was revealed by my trip to Pattaya.

Traffic packed the roads into town. People threw water at each passing motorists. It took the taxi an hour to reach Rob’s high-rise overlooking the Gulf of Siam. His girlfriend was a teenager named Dtum. She was eager to party with her friends.

Sam gave her some money to have a good time and we went to a beer bar on the Beach Road. We threw water at everyone in sight. I soaked a girl. Her name was Vee. She was pretty, despite having one eye.

“I lose eye on motorsai. Lucky not dead.”

“I have accident too. I die.”

“You die?”

“Yes, but only for a second.” It was a second that lasted forever in another dimension.

I invited her to eat at a small restaurant. She said she wanted to go home with me. We spent the week together and she quit working the bar. Rob and Dtum didn’t like her and said she was money hungry. They weren’t wrong, but I knew the score.

Small villages throughout the country had been modernized by bilked fools. We traveled up north to see her baby in Khorat. The house was poorly constructed, but her family was nice. I bought food and beer. Everyone ate like the world was ending tomorrow.

I found a photo of an Englishman.

“He just friend?” I asked Vee.

“More than friend.” She looked to her child.

“Oh.”

That evening we drove through the sweltering heat to a house in deep Isaan. No electric lines ran from the dirt road to the house in the middle of a vast rice field. Two bonfires lit the yard. Candles illuminated the house. A line of women stood on the stairs. There was a chill in the night.

“This house Mae-mod.”

“Witch?”

“Good witch.”

“You come here for what?”

“To see future.”

“About us?”

“No, about me and Englishman. Men stay there. Men go to phram. Shaman.,” She pointed to the right on the right and joined the queue.

I sat with the men at the blaze. They drank ‘lao khao’ or rice whiskey. They passed me the plastic bag. The whiskey was fire. None of them spoke and watched the women enter the house one by one. One man pointed to the other fire. Six old women huddled around the glow. They looked to be a thousand years old.

“Dead women.”

I had seen animal sacrifice in Indonesia.

Killing a human for magic was a horror.

Vee exited from the house.

“You have good future?”

“Good some. Bad some.”

I asked her about the old women around the bonfire.

“Yes, the old ladies picked a number. One get 4. She go into jungle. To die. Other women live longer.”

“Not if I’m here.”

Vee held my arm.

“No one die. All show. Magic. Red-lum.” Ae’s eyes widened, as if to better envision the candle-lit hut.

“Yeah, Red-lum.” Vee had later told me that the set-up was a scam and the same woman loses every night.

“I not do you magic. Only magic is in my heart.”

We left Isaan in the morning.

I was scared of the magic.

We flew to Koh Samui. The beaches were beautiful and we made love in the warm waters at sunset. I wrote a comedy about the first men having sex in Space. I thought it would make a great movie. After six months my money ran out and Vee asked, “I wait for you.”

“No, I can’t say when I can come back.” I gave her enough money for a month.

Her boyfriend from England was coming around Christmas. There would be no long-distance phone calls. Sam later called to say she had moved to the UK. It was better that way.

Sam parlayed his computer expertise into a corporation. He phoned with a job offer in Bangkok. A ticket was waiting at JFK. Richie was getting tired of my ping-ponging between Asia and New York.

“One day you’ll find out you don’t have a job here.”

“That day will come, when I can’t make you money.”

I flew to Bangkok business-class on upgrades. Rob had an office on Wireless Road. His company was building websites for Asian corporations. My job was writing content. Most of his employees were paid a fifth of my salary. I didn’t deserve it and figured this was his thanks for having transferred that money from his wire scam. We went to Bangkok’s trendy clubs and weekended at his beach house in Pattaya. Rob called his plan.

“Work in Bangkok. Play in Pattaya.”

Vee wasn’t in Pattaya. She had married the Brit. I was free to do whatever I wanted and Rob’s wife hated us going out even more than before. I never brought anyone home other than her mates. She had plenty of those.

In truth I was getting old. My friends’ children had grown up. My nieces and nephews were attending college. I seemed doomed to spend my life in the last Babylon on Earth.

I was not alone in my damnation.

My friend, AJ, flew out from London. The cameraman and tai-chi teacher had told everyone that he was coming to Thailand for a diving certification. Pattaya had plenty of schools for PADI courses and a lot more too. I took off the week.

One evening AJ and I stopped at a bar of Soi 8. A slender Thai girl danced on a platform to a boy band hit. A skinhead farang was obviously her date for the night. She winked over his shoulder with a mercenary mirth.

In 1970 BLIND FAITH issued an album cover featuring a shirtless blonde waif. This girl was her Asian twin and I memorized her hips walking away from the bar. A mischievous backward glance should have warned me to watch my freedom.

AJ and I didn’t go out at night after that. He kept saying he had to get up early for his diving courses. I went to the bar on Soi 8 twice. The girl wasn’t there. The mama-san said she was on holiday with man from England. There were thousands of Brits in Pattaya. AJ was one of them.

After AJ departed for the UK, Rob’s wife banned him from going out with me. She had seen him with a girl at a disco. She blamed me. I moved to the Sabaii Lodge on Soi 3. It had a swimming pool and I didn’t have to listen to their fights.

I returned to the Soi 8 bar. The skinny girl wore a band-aid bra over a breastless chest. Long black hair snaked down a bare back. She hopped from the dance platform and sat next to me. She pronounced my name wrong and told me hers. I offered her a drink and Mem said, “I no drink lao, maybe drink coke.”

I expected her to rattle off the list of bargirl questions; “Where are you form? How old are you? You have a wife? How long are you staying?” instead she sobbed out a tale about a man leaving for London. “He a diver for Navy.”

“His name AJ?” Girls in Belize, Manado, and Bali had also heard this tale.

“You know him?” She stifled a sniff.

“The very best of friends.”

“You think he come back?” She bit her lip in anticipation.

AJ was not one to fall in love during a ten-day holiday.

“Only Buddha knows.”

Buddha was a good counter to magic and I vowed to buy a medallion to ward off evil spirits.

Her cascade of tears brought the mama-san over to see what was wrong. I didn’t understand the exchange in Thai and excused myself, “I’m going home.”

“I come with you. Same I stay with AJ?” The tears dried to a smile.

Saying no would have been easy. She wasn’t working the bar for laughs. If I agreed, then I was entering a financial agreement. Girls got 1000 baht or $25 to go with men. Ours wasn’t a match made in heaven, but I had money in my pocket. “You come with me, but I can’t say it will last forever.”

“I happy with one day. One week. One month. Maybe more.” She bid good-night to the mama-san and we drove off to my hotel.

She faked orgasms like a porno star. The lie turned on the old fool in me. Our one evening lasted the weekend. We lay in bed and spoke of our lives.

Ae was 24. She had two kids. Her English husband had deserted her for a younger woman.

The farangs buy the girls drinks and pay for their favors. Within a week they are seasoned pros, earning $1000 a month. The money goes clothing, food, gold, old boyfriends, family, police, doctors, and unforeseen expenses running their debt deeper than the day they debuted in the business.

Never enough.

Ae was no different.

Go-go dancing supported her children, although the real money came from going with men. She couldn’t tell me how many. She wired money upcountry for her kids’ schooling, for this altruistic streak fooled most farangs into thinking they have met a saint without considering that these women have also abandoned the dirt-poor villages to forget their cheating ex-husbands and drunken boyfriends.

Neither side of the equation asked too many questions and neither did I, when Ae announced on a beautiful Monday morning, “I say good-bye to Finland friend. Not boyfriend. Friend. Go see him to airport. He give me 5000 baht. I come stay with you.”

The Pattaya Mail had reported about a westerner marrying a dancing girl. They celebrated their wedding at the Royal Cliffs, the most expensive hotel in Pattaya. The next morning he woke to an empty bed. The hotel staff knew nothing. The police even less. A week later his wife showed up at his house and explained, “Have old boyfriend come see me. He give me 50,000 baht. You not mind?”

Now I was being posed the same question.

I said, ”Sure.”

Saying anything else wouldn’t have changed her decision. Two days passed without a phone call.

That Sunday Sam’s British partner reneged on the balloon payment of his investment and our company joined the Internet crash.

Katmandu was three hours away by plane. The monsoons weren’t due for another two months. A small guest house in Annapurna’s rain shadow served pancakes in the morning. Life would cost $10/day. Mustang lay to the north. A month’s walk in the sacred Himalayas would erase my year in Babylon. I didn’t make it out the door. Ae stood in the hallway. She looked at my bag. “Where you go?”

“I’m going to Nepal to see the mountains.”

“Mountains?” Her face scrunched up in disbelief. “Why you go see mountain, when you can see me?”

She had a good point and the door remained shut for two days.

Our holiday on Koh Samui was like a honeymoon. We stayed a month. She was my sleeping dictionary and taught me Thai. I learned the words for love, caress, hug, kiss, and jealous. I said “Rak-khun’ more than a man my age should tell a younger woman.

Mrs. Adorno curse was over.

Female westerners gawked, as if I were a sex tourist.

In some ways they weren’t wrong. Ae and I had sex three times a day.

“It good with you. You not too big. Not too small.” She lay with her thighs clasped to trap me inside her. “I not finish with men from go-go. With you all the time.”

“You say that to all the men.” I didn’t need to hear about these other men, because Sherri had told me how easy it is to fake an orgasm. She had done so in hundreds of films and real life too.

“Yes, say, but not true. With you true.” Her hand caressed my shoulder with a tenderness no one had shown in years. It was something you couldn’t teach and I reciprocated with a gentle embrace.

“When we return to Pattaya, will you live with me a little?”

“Long as you want.” She was telling the truth, but only about that, because the truth in Thailand or anywhere else in the world is an onion with many layers.

We rented a utility apartment. Her youngest son Dtut joined us. Three of us in one room. Our love life suffered, but not as much as when her father came to town.

Den lived on a dirt road on the other side of the train tracks and shared a filthy room with his son and his drug addict girlfriend. She was six months pregnant. They drank heavily and played cards. My donations to Ae improved no one’s lives.

$200 settled a gambling debt. Another $100 to buy off a police loan shark. I rented her brother and father a small restaurant. They transformed the enterprise into a ya bah or Methedrine den. Her children went shoeless. Crooked policemen came to my house for tea money. Loansharks for delinquent loan.

After this lesson in the futility of foreign aid I withdrew my sponsorship. I should have left her, but I couldn’t and I recalled the glass of beer. Everyone was angry and Ae spat, “You not understand Thai life.”

“Pom Khao jai.”

I had been dosed with a love potion like Toby.

I had only begun to act crazy.

My old boss, Richie, called from New York. He needed an extra salesman for Christmas season in the Diamond District. Ae said, “Go. You want leave me. Go.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Same you tell Vee.”

“No, I swear I’ll come back.”

I worked forty days in a row and sold 25-carat cabochon Burma sapphire to a well-known interior decorator, who whispered over dinner at a fancy Soho restaurant, “You’re sexy.”

Tony had a Ferrari, a 5th Avenue apartment, and a house overlooking a surfing spot in Montauk. Richie said I should marry him, if only to have him buy a big engagement diamond from his store. I didn’t play for that team and called Ae every day. I didn’t tell anyone. Not even Sherri and I booked a flight to the Orient.

Ae met me at the airport and said, “I happy now.”

“I want you.” I was happy too. “No one else.”

“And Dtut?”

“Dtut can live with us.”

“You good man.” We moved into a house surrounded by swamps. Birds sang in the trees. Butterflies danced in the sunlight. She cooked triple fried fish and vegetables. One night I drank a beer. The taste was off, but I drained the bottle.

In the morning my chest ached and my temples pounded with acid hammers. The empty beer bottle smelled funny and I accused Ae of poisoning me.

“Poison?” She didn’t know the meaning in English.

“Yeah, magic potion.” Thais draped talisman around their neck, inscribed their bodies tattoos against evil, and visited fortunetellers and witches, instead of doctors.

“Not magic. Maybe house have phi.”

“Ghosts?”

“Phi Am. She sit on you in night.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“You not believe in Phi?”

“I know ghosts well.” I was from New England, although farangs derided 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. I was not an unbeliever and I contracted the monks to exorcise the house, but whatever potion had been in that beer bottle lurked in my belly and its spell was bound to emerge from hibernation at a moment of weakness.

Life settled down after that episode. I woke with the dawn to re-edit my novel on pornography in our air-conditioned bedroom. Thai bar girls were Olympic sleepers and Pi-Ek, the owner of Hot Tuna on Walking Street theorized that these bargirls preferred the world of dreams rather than a half-translated life with a farang.

“Same you live in a foreign movie and not have subtitles. Jep hoo-a.”

His conjecture was worrisome, since Ae had twice slept for twenty hours.

On each occasion she had arisen from these comas demonized by a tigress in heat. Once I rolled off her sweat-drenched body and she murmured, “You love me?”

“Rak khun.”

My heart was pumping too much blood to my head and the twenty-four year-old smiled quixotically. “You write book sound like monsoon rain. Why you love me?”

She knew nothing about the Red Sox, the coast of Maine, or CBGBs in the East Village. I had incorporated her breastless body into my novel without explaining my original attraction was based on a supergroup’s album cover. I winged my reply.

“Because I feel young with you.”

“You my khun garh.”

I was neither the oldest or youngest farang in her life.

“Yes, I’ll always be your old man.”

I was somewhere in the middle.

She resumed her sleep of the dead and I read Peter Hopkirk’s THE GREAT GAME.

Outside the distant hum of cars mingled with the buzz of mosquitoes beyond the netting. The night air was scented by jasmine. I rested the book on my chest.

Pattaya was so much different than my life in New York.

There I worked. Here I wrote. There I slept alone. Here I made love to Ae every day. She would tell me about her lovers. They were many. In some ways it was like listening to Sherri. The two probably shared the same adventures. I was getting to think Pattaya could be home. Mrs. Adorno would never miss me.

The hot weather melted off my winter gut and daily swims at Jomtien Beach toned up my muscles.

A few friends from New York came out for a visit. We toured the go-go bars and discos. They wondered how they could stay here for the rest of their lives. I did too, since I had no money coming in.

In late March my cousin arrived from Boston with a Red Sox cap and a skimpy red dress for Ae. My mother had sworn me to take care of Bish. Ae modeled the skin-tight sheath.

“Go out, have fun. I meet later.”

Bish loved the food, the weather, and the wide-open nightlife. We ate at a seafood restaurant on Beach Road. The hostess greeted us with a shy smile. Only a month in Pattaya Nu didn’t speak a word of English and Bish was impressed with my rudimentary Thai.

“I learned it from Ae.”

No Thai bargirl encouraged her sponsor to learn their language in fear of losing the advantage of a communication chasm.

”In the states every woman we know would criticize our going to go-go bars.”

“Anyone of them give money to the ballet?”

“No.”

“Well, then your tipping these girls after a show is more charitable than a donation to the Boston Ballet. These girls come from the end of the road. Their farms grow one rice crop a year. They have big families. Usually a brother kills someone and to avoid going to prison, they pay blood money to the cops by sending the prettiest girl to Pattaya, Bangkok, or Phuket to make money off some drunken beer lout.”

I bought a medallion of a desiccated Thai monk. The Thai charm seller swore Lp Ngern would protect me. NO one else would. Ae was a ticking time bomb. It was highly unlikely I could walk away from the explosion intact.

“You used to complain about not having served in the Peace Corps after college. Guess you are in the Peace Corps now.”

“Volunteer donor.”

We clinked glasses and after a long stay at the Happy-a-Go-Go, we crossed Walking Street to the Marine Disco. The Chicken Farm was loaded with free-lance girls looking for a short-time date. Most of the farangs were drunk enough to think these girls actually considered them handsome. Ae was dancing with Sam’s wife. Bish and I stayed on the other side of the bar. He asked, “Isn’t this spying?”

“That’s exactly what it is.” I only trusted Ae in her sleep.

“No fair, you see me I no see you.” She finally spotted me.

“And I see you don’t have a boyfriend.” The red dress clung to her body like a boa.

“Only have you, khun garh.” She dragged me onto the dance floor. Dtum asked Bish to join her. I became Brad Pitt and Bish was Clint Eastwood. Sam showed up from Bangkok. He had settled with his investor for a few million baht. We celebrated with tequila. The police threw us out at dawn. Standing on Walking Street amidst the flurry of transvestites, off-duty go-go girls, and short-timers, Bish said, “This place is Garden of Eden.”

“More like the farm league for Hell, but I’m not religious.”

“Hell is more like a suburban mall. Lots to buy. None of it will make you happy. Not like here.”

“I’m in no position to argue, counselor.”

When Bish left, tears touched his eyes. He wasn’t looking forward to life in America.

“All my life I work. I have money. I have a good job. But no woman. What is wrong with me?”

“The same thing as me.”

“Which is?”

“I don’t know, but maybe you should move back into Boston.”

“I am where I am.”

Several weeks later Ae’s cellphone rang around 3am. Her hand snatched it from the night table with the speed of a cobra attacking a fat rat. She closed the bathroom door. The word tee-lat muffled through the wall. When she returned to bed, Ae read the murder in my eyes and flashed the number on the mobile’s LCD. “Sorry, have friend call me from Italy. He old boyfriend. Now finish.”

>Too little of it was the truth. The love potion’s power restrengthened with jealousy and I came close to throwing her mobile out the window. “So when is your teelat coming?”

“Not boyfriend. Friend.” She pounded her fists on the pillows and rolled over, revealing spread legs. “You not trust me. I never go with man. Only with you.”

“You expect me to believe that?” I had my suspicions about her good-bye to the Finnish man.

“You are the one I want.” Ae might have possessed a grammar school education, but she played my emotions with the virtuosity of a concert pianist and we made love with an Armageddon urgency shadowed by the impending disaster.

Pizza and pasta were banished from the menu. My jealousy painted a portrait of a young Italian with greasy long hair. He wore a Juventus football shirt and chain-smoked between bottles of wine. Anyone speaking a romance language was suspect. The hot weather exacerbated my temper as did the arrival of the Songkran festival in April.

Several weeks later Ae’s cellphone rang around 3am. Her hand snatched it from the night table with the speed of a cobra attacking a fat rat. She closed the bathroom door. The word tee-lat muffled through the wall. When she returned to bed, Ae read the murder in my eyes and flashed the number on the mobile’s LCD.

“Sorry, have friend call me from Italy. He old boyfriend. Now finish.”

Too little of it was the truth and I was tempted to throw her mobile out the window.

“So when is your tee-lat coming?”

“Not boyfriend. Friend.” She pounded her fists on the pillows and rolled over, revealing spread legs. “You not trust me. I never go with man. Only with you.”

“You expect me to believe that?” I had my suspicions about her good-bye to the Finnish man.

“You are the one I want.” While Ae might possess a grammar school education, she played my emotions with the virtuosity of a concert pianist and we made love with an Armageddon urgency shadowed by the impending disaster. Afterwards I knew I couldn’t come to my own rescue.

My jealousy painted a portrait of a young Italian with greasy long hair. He wore a Juventus football shirt and chain-smoked between bottles of wine. Ae was trouble. I had another curse on top of Mrs. Adorno’s older one. I was trapped, but good.

The Italian might be the only one who could save me from both, especially since Songkran was coming soon and Songkran was the crazy time of the year for the Thais and even more so for a man lost in Asia.

THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL OF PASSAICH by Peter Nolan Smith

When Cecil B. DeMille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS was released in 1956 and its box office success earned the cinematic retelling of Exodus over $180 million dollars. In 1962 Paramount Pictures re-released the film for screenings at drive-ins across the nation and my father loaded my brothers and sisters into our Ford station wagon to view the epic with a cast of thousands at the South Shore Drive-In.

After paying for our entry my father cruised the left-handed lane looking for a good vantage spot. He was an ace at parking. My mother spotted an open slot, but before my father could turn a rock struck our car.

My father’s head spun to the left and he spotted a teenager scrambling up the grassy slope. My father jammed the column shift into P and jumped out of the car. He had played football in college and caught the young man within seconds. It was too dark to tell if he had punched the stone-thrower, although he returned to the station wagon rubbing his knuckles.

“Damned kids today.”

“Watch that language.” My mother never used a bad word in her life. For her swearing was a sign of mental depravity.

“Sorry.” My father loved my mother almost as much as he loved his six children.

After finding the perfect spot, he gave my older brother and me money to get popcorn from the concession stand. Frunk was eleven and I was ten. This was the first time that we didn’t wear pajamas to the drive-in and we walked over to the refreshment stand. Teens loitered under the neon lights.

They looked so cool.

Returning to the station wagon my older brother and I handed the popcorn and soft drinks to our parents. We set up lawn chair before the family car and watched the movie in the warm summer air.

It was a great film.

Charlton Heston was awed by the burning bush under the starry skies of the South Shore. His voice was echoed by hundreds of tiny speakers across the drive-in. The cruelty of the Egyptians was monstrous. Moses heroically faced down the pharoah’s magicians, yet the Pharaoh played by the bald Yul Brenner refused to let the Hebrews leave his land.

Moses warned of plagues.

His childhood friend laughed in his face, then the Nile turned into blood, frogs overran the land, gnats infested the dead frogs, wild beasts were driven crazy by the gnats, livestock died from the diseased wild beasts, a pestilence of boils spread on the skin of the Egyptians, a hailstorm destroyed the remaining crops and locust clouded the sky.

The worst was saved for last.

A darkness fell over Egypt and the first-born of every Egyptian died with the passage of the angel of death.

“Why would God kill innocent babies?” I had been a non-believer since the age of 6 and this depiction of God’s ruthlessness rehardened my heart against the faith of America.

“God acts in strange ways.” My older brother had possession of the popcorn. This wasn’t the place for an argument about God and at the end of the movie the Hebrews reach the Promised Land, although without Moses who doubted God’s promise.

“God doesn’t act in strange ways. He acts like a creep.” My best friend Chaney had drowned in Lake Sebago and he had been a first born.

“Sssh, you want Mom to hear you?”

I shut up, since my youthful atheism would have deeply hurt my mother, but over the following years I would question my Jewish friends about celebrating Passover as a commemoration of the ancient decimation of the Egyptian young.

Passaich was late this year and this April afternoon I wandered to 47th Street to pick up a diamond before everyone went home for the high holiday.

Richie Boy greeted me with a shrug.

“When are you leaving?”

Everyone else in the exchange was closing shop.

“Ask the old man.” Richie Boy pointed to my former boss. Manny was staying to the bitter end of the day.

“Manny, it’s Passover.”

“And what’s that to you? You’re a goy.” Manny shared my anti-religious beliefs. “When you pay my rent, then you can tell me what time I close my business.”

Manny’s desk was cluttered with the usual piles of paperwork. In all the years I had worked for their firm, the pyramid of papers rose and fell without ever disappearing in entirety.

“Close now and I’ll buy you a martini.”

“I’m busy.” This office was the octogenarian’s home away from home.

“Manny thinks he might make a sale.” Hlove commented under his breath. He had replaced me when I left for thailand two years ago.

“No one is buying nothing today.”His son shook his head and signaled his two employee to pack up the merchandise. Hlove and Deisy didn’t have to be told twice.

”That’s it. We’re going home.”

This decision started a fight between father and son.

I went outside to wait for Richie Boy.

“Damien, you have something to give for Passiach?” Lenny the Mum shambled up to the window. His bloated face shined with sweat and strands of hair were plastered across his balding skull. He was dressed in his usual attire of a tee shirt and shabby trousers.

“For you, I always have something.” I dug into my pocket for a dollar. “Where are you celebrating Passaich?”

“I’m working the street.” Lenny was a workaholic like Manny. “I have to earn money to take care of my sister.”

“You’re a good brother, Lenny.”

“Plus I don’t really celebrate Passaich.” Lenny didn’t look healthy, but he had disproven many rumors of his demise.

“Why not?” Lenny was no atheist.

“What does Passaich celebrate?” Lenny leaned over to whisper what he had to say, as if it were a secret.

“Passover commemorates the Angel of God passing over the Jewish houses in Egypt, but I agree with you. How can anyone in their right mind celebrate the death of innocents?”

“Damian, I didn’t kill any Egyptians and I didn’t kill Jesus either. I’m just a harmless Jews,” Lenny whined with a shrug. “But the Pharaoh was a bad man.”

“Or so the Bible says.”

“Please.” Lenny lifted both his hands in defense. He was a religious bum. His head was always covered by a yarmulke. “Don’t think bad of us. We have had a hard time over the centuries. You know that there was no angel of death. The young probably died from infected food, since the first-born always got the food first. Who knows, but it was a sad scene when Yul Brenner carried his dead son in his palace.”

“Yes, it was.” I bid Lenny a good Passaich.

His god and the god of my rejected religion was a cruel god. He let his son die on a cross. As a father I could never sacrifice my son, but then I’m human and gods are divine. They can get away with everything.

“You know I saw THE TEN COMMANDMENTS at the South Shore Drive-In. A drunk teenager threw a rock at our station wagon. My father chased him into the brush. He came back red in the face.”

“It was a good movie, but Charlton Heston was no Jew.” Lenny rocked back and forth on the heels of his busted shoes. “Plus there was nothing good about the Ten Plagues. Especially the death of the first-born of all Egyptian humans and animals. Yahweh instructed the Hebrews to sprinkle lamb’s blood on this doors, so his spirit would skip their houses in his search for the first-born males of the Egyptians.”

“I was taught that god was all-knowing and all-seeing, so why couldn’t he see which houses were Jewish?”

“Damien, Yahweh moves in strange ways.” Lenny accepted some profane thought, but he glared at my apostasy.

“Most people think the killer of the male first-borns was an angel, but it was actually Yahweh blundering through the night killing young boys. Do you think there was any collateral damage like how our smart bombs hit schools in Afghanistan?”

“How should I know? I wasn’t there, but enough of this narishkait, because Passaich is a celebration of death. Death of the guilty, but also the innocent. This I can not celebrate. Freedom, yes. Extermination,no.”

Several people had gathered around our discussion and a religious diamond dealer angrily demanded of Lenny, “You really think Yahweh was a murderer?”

“It wasn’t the first time.” Lenny depended on the kindness of this street to support his sister and didn’t need this attention.

“Actually I think that the second-sons of Egypt plotted to kill all the first-borns to destroy the rules of primogeniture and then blamed the Hebrews.” I was talking nonsense to deflect the flak aimed at Lenny.

“Primogeniture?” The diamond dealer had a yeshiva education.

“Primogeniture is where the first born inherits everything from the father. Like Cain and Abel.”

“Cain killed Abel.” Lenny nodded in agreement.

“The second son plot. Maybe all the second sons killed the first sons in Egypt.”

“Es iz nit geshtoygen un nit gefloygen,” the diamond dealer muttered in Yiddish.

“What’s that mean?”

“It never rose and it never flew.” Lenny smiled with the pleasure of hearing Yiddish, which had been abandoned by the Hassidim in favor of Hebrew. “In plain speaking ‘bullshit’.”

“It’s not foolishness,” I protested with the fervor of a devotee to the untruth. “Worshipping murder is an abomination.”

“God does not murder. He takes revenge.” The diamond dealer spoke with words with conviction. “And in this case it was his killing angel doing the killing.”

“Isn’t that the same name used by Josef Mengele?”

“Feh.” The diamond dealer was feed up with us and headed to the subway.

“That fucking Nazi was called the Angel of Death.” Lenny soured on the mention of his name. He had lost family in the camps. “Passaich was over 3000 years ago and the apotropaic rite actually predates Exodus.”

“Apotropaic?” I had never heard the word.

“Something to ward off evil.”

“Magic, feh.” The diamond dealer spat the two words.”

Not magic, just a ritual of daubing the door lintel with a blood-soaked hyssop to prevent demonic forces from entering the house.”

“Hyssop?”

“Yes, a mountain flower.”

“Magic. Devils. Double feh.” The diamond dealer looked at his Rolex watch and stormed down the sidewalk.

“I shouldn’t be so smart. People don’t like smart, especially when you challenge their religious beliefs and my people love a good book.”

“The Torah?”

“It’s the only book to them and they would be even more disapproving if I told them that Passaich was a combination of a Canaanite and Mesopotamian. The Exodus connection came later, but what do I know?”

“More than me.”

“I’m still a bum.”

“A smart one.”

That an $3 dollars and I can get a little bottle of brandy. You have something to give?”

“For you, Lenny? Always.”

“I love you Damian and pray you see your children soon.”

“And a Happy Bunny Day to you, Lenny.

The slumpy bum wandered off pestering another diamond dealer for a dollar. He was a hard worker.

“What was that all about?” Richie Boy exited from the exchange.

“The origins of Passaich.”

“Passover?” He looked into the exchange. His father was still at his papers. “You hungry?”

“Yeah.” The shoot was low-budget and the production had cheaped out on lunch.

“Me too. What about getting something to eat at the Oyster Bar?”

Shellfish were very tref, but Richie Boy was a bacon Jew, “Sounds delightful.”

Richie Boy and I headed for Grand Central Terminal, passing Lenny.

“Happy Easter.” He offered us.

“I only celebrate the bunnies.”

“And chocolate.”

“I love chocolate.”

I gave him another dollar.

“Enjoy.” As a sinner I was willing to forgive almost everyone for everything, since to err is human, but to forgive is a divine trait.

Only forgetting is more human.

Just ask Lenny.

Until then I wish everyone had a good sedah.

Hag kasher vesame`ah, for the only exterminating angels I ever see are the bartenders at the 169 Lounge in Chinatown.

Dakota and Johnny are murder the next day, but I lived through this Passover.

After all I’m a goy.

Passing Judgment Over Passover

Passover is the most important religious holiday on the Jewish Calendar.

For Millenia Passaich has celebrated the Angel of Death passing over the first-borns of the Hebrew to murder the first-born of the Egyptians. This last plague of Moses freed the bonded Hebrews from the Land of the Pharaohs. The actual date has been lost to time as has been the name of the Pharaoh. Some religious historians have dated the Biblical tale to the rule of Rhamses II, although no historian from that time had recorded the terrible plagues and the story of Moses remarkably resembled the Neo-Assyrian version Akkad King Sargon’s birth in the 2300 BC.

But if Passover was not plagiarism, how to explain celebrating the last plague?

The massacre of the first-born.

Possibly the first-born were first given food in the morning and the bread could have been poisoned by a toxin or else died from sleeping too close to the ground as was their privilege and breathed a toxic gas or more plausibly the children were poisoned by the slaves.

Every slave-owners feared that fate.

Serves you right for messing with the ruthless God of Israel.

“I’ll fuck your eyes out.” Exodus 12:11

And people ask why I’m an atheist.

The slaughter of these innocents was a good reason.

Bring on Beermas.

ps none of the Hebrews were slaves.