AN ITALIAN PLAN by Peter Nolan Smith


The winter of 1987 was cold enough to freeze the Housatonic River and the town of Kent erected an elaborate float on the thick ice. Each year the townspeople organized a pool to guess the date when the ice could no longer bear the float’s weight. Two days after a January blizzard I picked March 21 and my writing partner, Monty, close April 4. Neither of us were natives to the town.

Coming from Maine I didn’t consider anyplace west of the Connecticut River as part of New England, although Kent came very close with its private school, worn hills, and hemlock pine forests. The pale-skinned producer spoke with a Georgian drawl. His family bottled Coca-Cola there. Monty never mentioned the Civil War, as we wrote WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS, a screenplay about love and murder in the Florida Everglades.

We lived in a turn-of-the-century cabin set on the shoulder of a pine-strewn hill. Monty had converted it into an Adirondack camp complete with a chandelier of deer antlers. It came from Scotland.

Every day snow drifted against the windows of the cabin. A big fire warmed the living room, as Monty and I discussed the previous day’s scenes during breakfast. He was a vegetarian. No meat was allowed in the house.

No eggs. No Bacon.

Soy milk. Tofu.

I lost weight.

We worked every day from 8am till 4pm. I typed out the interactions between a burnt-out drifter and a young heiress. Both the main characters were both good-looking; James Dean if he survived his car crash with Nico of the Velvet Underground. The location was the last untamed barrier island in Florida. The dialogue was terse. Seven word sentences with a few long paragraphs about love, nature, and wealth. We read the dialogues aloud after dinner. Monty got to play the male. I was the girl. Anyone peeking in the window would have thought we were mad.

On Wednesdays Monty drove into Katonah for health food supplies and I roamed through the pine forests with his dog. Maulwin loved chasing deer and one afternoon he pelted across the river in pursuit of a buck. The ice broke underneath the Shar-pei.

Twenty feet from shore. He sunk into the black water.

His hooded eyes blinked with canine desperation.

I stared back at Maulwin.

Every winter people drowned trying to rescue friends and dogs from an icy death. Maulwin’s paws scratched at the edge of the break. He wasn’t getting out without help.

“Damn dog.”

I crawled on my belly from the shore. The ice crackled like brittle glass. Maulwin whimpered with a hopeful shiver and I tossed the jacket to him. He bit on the sleeve and scrabbled from the frozen river. My reward was a sloppy hand-licking and we silently agreed that his master was better off ignorant of this near-drowning.

“Maulwin seems quiet.” Monty observed upon his return from shopping. Maulwin lay on the floor, as if he were entering a deep sleep. Good dogs know when to play dead.

“Really?” I patted the Shar-pei’s head. “Seems the same to me.”

February laid more snow on the ground. March added a few more inches. The valley stayed below freezing until the end of the month, then a southern wind melted the ice from the eaves and on April 4 the float sank into the river.

Monty won $300.

A week later I wrote ‘The End’ to WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS.

The last line was from the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu. “Everything is nothing.”

Monty was more than satisfied with the result.

110 pages.

A beginning, middle, and a pay-off ending during a hurricane.

Monty paid my $5000 salary and added a bonus of a Triumph motorcycle. It was a 1964 Tiger. 650cc. I started it with the first kick. Monty kept his things in good order.

We celebrated with a last home-cooked vegetarian dinner. I hadn’t eaten meat in three months. Thankfully Monty liked a good bottle of wine. I preferred two cheap ones. Three even better. After the spinach lasagna and a stunning Chianti Monty proposed a round-trip ticket to Thailand.

“Bill is co-starring in a big-budget movie in Bangkok.” Bill was a mutual friend. He had been nominated for an Oscar. Most people considered him a star. “We can fly first-class and stay at the Dusit Hotel. We’ll talk to Bill about starring in WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS.”

“You think he’d do it.” Good as the script was, I wondered whether there was enough action. There were no car chases. No gun fights either. Only twisted love. It was my expertise.

“I have enough money to finance it.” Monty’s family had millions. Maulwin’s eyes said, “Say yes.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I want to write a novel.”

“About a black pimp in Hamburg?”

“Yes.” I had trafficked in money for Cali. His partner had charged $10,000 for my affair with Stephanie. It was a story that wrote itself.

“Most writers would die for this opportunity.”

“Name me five famous screenplay writers.” I could think of three.

Monty came up with four. My goal was fame, not fortune, and I envisioned my short story collection climbing to the top of the NY Times Best Sellers’ List, plus I was tired of eating tofu burgers.

Monty and I split in New York. He flew west to LA and I remained in New York to write a collection of short stories. The book on Cali could wait another year. My friends and I drove our bikes around the city. I worked at a Bastille nightclub. The flamenco dancer from Madrid shared my bed for the summer. Elana’s boyfriend called from New England in late-August. My next-door neighbor, Mrs. Adorno, cursed me in Spanish for not asking Elana to stay. The super from Honduras translated her words to inform me that I wouldn’t have sex with another woman for years.

I had laughed thinking it was a joke. I should have known better. Witches have no sense of humor.

WHERE THE HIGHWAY ENDS vanished in the script slush piles of Hollywood. Monty formed a film production company, yet never asked me to write another screenplay. My first shot at the big time was a failure. It wouldn’t be the last. Even worse women stayed out of my life throughout the fall and winter. I asked Mrs. Adorno to rescind her curse. She cackled in my face.

After pleas came threats.

The old bruja was four foot-two. Size didn’t matter to a woman that short. Everyone was big to her.

Judging the curse as strictly American I crossed the Atlantic in the summer of 1989. I didn’t stop in Paris and caught an early-morning train out of Gare De Lyons. My best friend, Olivier, arranged a beach shack on the Mediterranean. He was too busy setting up a record label to vacation with me, but his parents greeted his friend as a long-lost cousin, because I spoke a little French and played a decent game of tennis. Familial ties in the South of France are vague at best. That first evening I drank wine in the medieval port of Collieure and the next morning attacked the typewriter with a hangover from two bottles of Cote Du Rousillion.

I wrote every day from 9am to 4pm.

Evenings I went for long swims and imagined falling in love with a girl from the South. None of the bikini teenagers on Carnet-Plage bothered to look at me. At 35 I was old enough to be their father. Sometimes the police followed me down the promenade. They regarded all foreigners as suspect, but my only crimewas loneliness.

Despite my dyslexic typing and 6th grade grammar, I completed fifteen stories by the middle of August.

Hearing my Boston-accented ‘au-revoir’ Olivier’s mother made me swear an oath to return to the South. I sealed the pact by drinking several ‘bon voyage’ pastis with her husband, Do-Do. The next morning I hitchhiked north to the Luberon. My English friends had restored a farmhouse in Oppede. The ancient valley was ripe with grapes. I read my best story at dinner for their rich guests. Tiki’s wife declared they were in the presence of new Henry Miller. I believed Annabelle and toasted her with wine from the neighboring vinyard. The bottles were big. I danced on the table and fell asleep on the lawn. Ants bit my legs and mosquitoes targeted my neck. I woke with my manuscript on my chest and read the first page, then another. The stark sunlight was a cruel critic and a repeating whisper evaporated the previous evening’s acclaim.

“Everything is nothing. Nothing is everything.” I loved Lao-Tzu, however my lack of confidence originated from more than a hangover. I got out of the hammock and went upstairs to the guest room. I slept away most of the day.


My friends in the Luberon had good-paying jobs. They slept with their wives. Children played tag in the 19th Century villa. I was depending on a collection of badly-typed tales to carry me into the future. My bed held one body and I didn’t even have a pet. I had no one and thought, “Why bother?”

I walked to the top of Luberon Plateau. A quarry had created a sheer cliff. I was committed to certain death, except at the very edge of eternity I was attacked by wild pigs. My body smashing on the rocks was an acceptable death, however being gored to death by boars would only ridicule the emptiness of my existence. I ran for my life to climb a wind-seared tree.

That evening I entertained my friends with a tale of the close escape without mentioning the attempted suicide. We had porc au moutarde for dinner and it was delicious. upon leaving for Paris Tiki wished me luck in New York and drove me to Avignon train station. Three hours later I was in the city of Light. I had dinner with artist friends and ran into an actress with whom I had been in a film two years earlier. Gabrielle asked if she could drive me home. I said her place would be better. We had a good four months.

I wrote for ACTUEL and played a gangster in another French movie. Gabrielle made dinner every night in her Marais apartment. She was a great cook. We had sex every night. She had access to a France of power, beauty, and wealth. Luis Bunuel’s son and I saw HOTEL TERMINUS at an Odeon cinema. The three of us attended the Biarretz Film Festival. I surfed the beach and nearly drowned twice.

In bed I told her that I loved her. She cried for an hour. She said she loved me too, although her words sounded as if she had read them off a cue card. Back in Paris she received a phone call from Berlin. A director had cast her to star as Marie Antoinette’s friend in a costume epic. It was time for me to leave. Our good-bye at Charles de Gaulle Aerogare was final. She didn’t even send a Christmas card. The curse of Senora Adorno had a long shelf life.

During my extended absence my subleasee on East 10th Street hadn’t paid the rent. The sale of the Triumph stopped the eviction process. I spoke with Bill. Monty and he were working on another project for Propaganda Films. I was still out, but confident that my collection of short stories would free me from a 9-to-5 existence. My New York agent loved the writing and the book publishers hated the typos. The short story collection was retired from the submission circuit after twenty rejections.

Without money my writing block rivaled the Berlin Wall and my fingers were exiled from the typewriter for a year. I worked six months as a press agent for a fake jewelry designer. She screamed at the staff every hour of every day.

I was planning her murder, when my friend Richie tore his ACLs skiing at Jackson Hole. He needed someone to schlep diamonds around 47th Street. I wasn’t family, but we were friends and I became the shabbatz goy for MW and Sons. Richie groomed me to be his star salesman. I learned how light travels through a diamond at half the speed of light and that customers understood less about diamonds than love. At the end of six months I sold a 10-carat diamond. The commission for that sale amounted to almost 5-figures and I contemplated a six-month writing vacation.

“You earned more money with me than six years of your stories.” Richie liked drinking with me and also appreciated my arriving early to open the store. He liked sleeping late.

“My one payday with Monty was big.”

“Working as McDonald’s trainee pays more than writing and you earned more in three hours selling one diamond.”

Richie was selling money and I wasn’t a buyer.”

“You going skiing next year?”

“Of course.” His casts came off the week before.


“Because it makes me feel alive.”

“I feel the same way about writing.” I sat Richie down and looked in his eyes like he was my lover. I wanted to see the world and said, “I’m not going forever.”

Truthfully it hurt to be in New York. I once more asked Mrs. Adorno to lift the curse. The eighty year-old was deaf to my pleas, but her curse wasn’t the only reason for my celibacy.

A thirty-six year-old male without a million dollars in the bank was a pariah to New York women. They sought a paycheck to support their pseudo- rich divorcee shopping and I couldn’t blame them for looking over my shoulder at a party, so I worked six days a week and saved money.

Every Sunday the New York Times Travel Section advertised a NYC-LA-HONOLULU-BIAK-BAIL-BANGKOK-KATHMANDU-DELHI-PARIS-LONDON-NY trip. My commission for a 15-carat diamond sale covered the cost of the ticket plus six months of easy living. Richie said my job would be waiting. Honest people were rare on 47th Street, but I wasn’t pondering the future.

Only the world.

On the LA stopover Bill raved about Bangkok. He had recently finished another film there. Monty had produced it.

“Temples and go-go bars. A heaven of sin. Just don’t fall in love.”

“I won’t.” I didn’t know what else to say other than the title of a Joy Division song.

“You say that now, but I’ve seen smart westerners falling in love with bar girls right off the rice farm.” Bill had lived with the same woman thirteen years. The scandal sheets had yet to link his name to an actress or singer or model. His devotion was either an admirable abnormality or a tribute to Oscar-winning discretion.

“I’m done with love.” This trip was dedicated to completing NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD. Nothing could be further from love than a novel about pornography.

“Done with love. I know you and you want to be in love worse than anything else.”

“I’m living under a curse.” I explained about Mrs. Adorno and he laughed, “That’s all in your mind. There are plenty of women in New York for you.”

“What about LA?” I wouldn’t mind living there. Palm trees, swimming pools, and freeways.

“Sorry, but the love ranking in LA goes this way. Producers, first, directors second, actors third, and car valets before writers.”

“Great.” It sounded like another curse. “I guess I’ll keep moving west.”

“A coule of years ago we were filming atop this mountain in the North of Thailand. A little village was about a mile away. It was in Burma. The valleys stretched one after another all the way to China.”

“Sounds like someplace I want to go.”

“And there’s the Last Babylon to the South. Pattaya. Rent boys, go-go girls, bank robbers on the run, and lady boys.”


“Yes, Pattaya.

Bill scribbled down the name of the mountain, Chiang Dao, and I promised to check out Pattaya.

Jungles, waterfalls, a cheap bungalow, good food, and cold beer were an ideal location to write NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD, which was loosely based on my cousin’s exploits in pornography. Sherri had performed more than two thousand XXX films. She lived on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in the Valley. I wanted to see before I left and called that evening. She answered with a raspy voice muddled by too little sleep.

“Where are you?”

“Hollywood, you want to meet this evening.” I figured 7 was a good time.

“You’ll have to come here. I’m not going anywhere. Yesterday I crashed my car into an earthmover.”

“Are you okay?” Sherri’s infamous driving skills bordered on terrifying, since she was both near-sighted and colorblind.

“Yeah, but I can’t find my glasses. You have any money?”

“Some.” She wasn’t looking to pay an electric bill.

“Can you spare $100?”

“What about $50?” A C-note of Mexican tar was a death warrant.

“Can you get here fast?” Sherri was in a bad way.

“As fast as I can.”

Giving her the money was a mistake, although not a fatal error. I took a 420 bus to the North Hollywood bus to her bungalow off Ventura Boulevard. The swimming pool in back was half-empty. The water was a funny shade of green, but the garden was in full bloom. Her parrot squawked out either a welcome or warning. My cousin opened the door. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week, but Sherri’s beauty before the camera came from within and I saw her as I always saw her.

An 18 year-old girl from New Jersey coming out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

“You got the money?” Junkies like to take the high moral ground anyway they can and she said, “So you’re going to Thailand? What to get laid by whores?”

TIME magazine had recently published a long article about sex in Asia and the thousands of lone male tourists from the West weren’t flying 10,000 miles to simply visit Bangkok’s Emerald Buddha, yet I protested without conviction “I’ve never been with a prostitute.”

“What about that girl in Hamburg?” Sherri was dying for a hit. Her dealer was late. “The pimp gave you a bill for $10,000.”

Right before Christmas the pimp appeared at the bar with an itemized account of our coital activities and I handed him the BMW keys as a down payment on my bill. The front end was shot from my hitting the curb on Eppendorfer Weg and I left Hamburg that night.

“I didn’t know Eve was working.”

“”Everyone in a town like Hamburg is on the game same as here and everywhere, only you’re so much of a romantic that were blind to the obvious.” My cousin could get mean on a Jones. “She was only after your money.”

“Same as you.” I tossed $50 on the table.

“Sure, you were blind to the obvious.” Sherri could get mean on a jones.

“I didn’t pay him and never saw Eve again, since I thought it better that I didn’t return to Hamburg.”

“Nothing wrong with paying for it. All men do some way or another.”

“I guess so.” I was a romantic at heart. My love was free.

“Just don’t fall in love out there.”

“You’re the second person to tell me that in two days.” I suspected she wouldn’t be the last. I had seen THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG and lived on the Reeperbahn. I assured Sherri “I’m no stranger to the ways of the flesh.”

“If you think you have had all the answers, then you haven’t heard all the questions.”

The doorbell rang and Sherri jumped from her sofa. The transaction took five seconds and she instantly prepped her left arm for the needle. Once the spike touched blood, she sighed with relief.

“I’ll send you postcards.”

“And photos of your ‘girlfriends’.” Sherri liked women. She nodded out in blisslessness.

“Of course, would say prayers at temples and churches around the world. Some would have to help, because my cousin was no longer capable of helping herself.

The next day I left the USA at LAX.

I wasn’t coming back this way either.

This was a trip around the world. All my tickets were for westward travel. First stop – the Orient.

First stop was Biak off the coast of Irian Jaya. I followed the Indonesian archipelago to Ambon, Manado, Poso, Tana-Torajah, Ubud, Bromo, Bandung, Padang, Medan, Penang, Koh Phi Phi and Koh Samui. Every male warned of magic.

“Woman give you drink. You love her. No can stop love her.”

“I’m not scared of witches.”

“You will be.”

“Not if I don’t see any women.”

I kept my distance and snorkeled off coral cliffs, ate magic spices, saw the dawn from smoldering volcanoes, explored ancient temples, avoided walking more than five feet into thick rain jungles, rested in mountain Edens, ate pig with headhunters, and drank whiskey with Hindi rickshaw drivers, and swam at pristine beaches begging you to stay forever.

Unfortunately by the time I reached Thailand my money was half-gone and I had half the world to see. On a Bangkok-bound train I shared second-class seats with a bearded Frenchman in tropical fatigues. Michel had been living in Asia over ten years and explained that he had a colored stone business and we discussed diamonds on the north-bound train. As the train ran the gauntlet of food stalls into Hua Lamphong station he asked, “Where are you staying in Bangkok.”

“Anywhere as long as it’s not Khao-San Road.” The neighborhood was a hub for $5/day backpackers.

“No, the Malaysia is special. Charles Sobhrag stayed there to prey on travelers.”

“The hippie murderer?”

Throughout the 1970s Sobhrag poisoned unsuspecting travelers and then call their parents for money, since they were in his care. Not all of them survived the evil.” The infamous French-Viet killer had been a free man in Paris, however he returned to Asia to resurrect his life of crime and arrested for murder in Nepal. Convicted he was imprisoned serving time in Kathmandu, although Sobhraj had already attempted two escapes.

“Quais, c’est lui.”
“It is safe now and there’s a good bar down the Soi. Kenny’s.”

Thanks for the info.”

“You should come down and see me.”


“In Pattaya. Have you heard of it?”

“A friend had said it’s the Last Babylon.”

“Your friend is not wrong.” Michel wrote down his telephone number.

“Come down and see me some time. It’s DisneyWorld for men, although your Last Babylon is not for everyone.”

“Pattaya could be me.”

“Come down and you’ll find out.”
We bid farewell at the train station and outside I hailed a tuk-tuk to the Malaysia Hotel.

Bangkok was a living city. The driver zigzagged down long sois to avoid the monumental traffic congestion. Few high-rises marred the route. People sat before sidewalk eateries. The spices pervaded the air. This was a grand city. The first I had visited since leaving LA. Upscale tourists stayed at the Oriental Hotel along the Chao Phraya River and backpackers crowded the hovels of Khao San Road. We rolled under the palm trees of Ngam Duphli Alley to the Malaysia Hotel. Michel had been right. This was me.

The price for room 203 was $20/night and I ignored the cigarette burns in the blankets. After all this was Bangkok and not the Hotel de Biarritz.

Room 203 was an air-conditioned room overlooking the pool. Off-duty go-go girls drank Mekong Whiskey on the terrace and western men twice their age and three times their weight sucked down Singha to fight the oppressive heat. It was a losing battle.

Kenny’s Bar offered farangs or westerners cold beer and afternoon assignations with lithe free lancers. 99% of the girls hailed from Isaan, an impoverished plateau in the Northeast. Selling off girls was a family tradition in times of trouble or need. I drank beer and bought a Mekong whiskey for the staff. Each girl told a story sadder than the previous girl. I went back to my hotel room alone.

Within two weeks I was friends with Kenny and the mama-sans from three Patpong bars knew my name. They posed the same question. His customers were old Vietnam vets, dissolute drug addicts, and young adventurers living on $10/day. Their budgets didn’t include sex.

After a shower I walked down Soi Duplee on the narrow sidewalk to avoid getting struck by a passing car, motorcycle, or tuk-tuk.

“Why you no go with girl?”

“I have a broken heart,” I explained to the mama-san from the Queen’s A Go-Go.

“I fix your broken heart.” A heavy-set woman weighing 90 pounds swung silken black hair across my chest. Her bikini was five strings.

Although the temptation was great, I went back to Kenny’s alone. All I had to do at his establsiment was drink cold Singha. Kenny was gay. He liked straight men and Kenny sat down at my table.

“Why you no go with lady?” He acted as matchmaker for his niece from Isaan. Pong was 19 and tall for a Thai.

“I have a heart broke.” I was tempted by Pong.

“Only cure for broke heart. Kwahn lak.”


“Yes, love. My niece Pong like you. She say that you are not like other farangs.”

“How so?”

Kenny didn’t have a good answer, then again he didn’t need to say anything. Pong had me touch her sun-darkened skin, which was smoother than a baby seal’s belly.

“You not fat. You have all your hair. You not do drugs. You have no tattoo. Have teeth too and wear clean clothes,” her whisper caressed my ear and we went to the Malaysia Hotel.

Our relationship skipped the usual social foreplay of the West.

Ten minutes later within we were on the bed of Room 203 She stayed the night and the next. She laughed at my jokes and poured beer into my glass. We ate spicy food and had sex morning, afternoon, and night.

Thais like nothing better than fun, unless it was sleep. Pong watched TV in the hotel room, as my typewriter clattered out pages. I barely lifted my head from my work. Later she leapt from the balcony into the deep end of the pool to get my attention. I ran downstairs, expecting the worst, however girls from Isaan are tougher than rawhide.

“Why you do that?”

“You love book more than love me,” she cried, climbing from the pool. “It make me crazy. Clack clack clack.”

This wasn’t about the typing.

“Love?” I hadn’t expected this word. I gave Pong money every morning. She seemed happy and I acted like the 500 baht was a tip. She must have thought the same.

“Khwan-rak. Love.”

“Oh, love.” I hadn’t seen a woman this mad, since my ex-girlfriend, Alice, discovered Bill had pissed in her raccoon cap. Pong was seething and to placate her fury I almost said the l-word, then heard Bill’s and Sherri’s warnings. They had my best interest at heart and the old veterans at Kenny’s constantly recounted new stories about love gone bad in Bangkok and Thailand. Each one worse than the other. I had no intention of joining their repertoire and said to Pong, “I like you a lot.”

“Like?” Her skin bristled with indignation, as she dressed in her clothes. She was leaving like my warranty had worn out. “Like same dog. Like same pizza. Not love.”

“Like, yes.” My resistance would have crumbled with a single sweet word. She had none in Thai or English. She cursed with the venom of a rabid snake and slammed shut the door. Two minutes later I ran after her, only she wasn’t at Kenny’s and he said, “Pong very angry. Better stay away one day. Maybe two.”

His regulars laughed with a derisive predictability. They had witnessed this scene before. I drank on Patpong that night. I couldn’t believe how many beautiful girls with long black hair existed on that one street, but none of them were Pong and the mama-sans repeated their query. “Why you not go with lady?”

I hadn’t an answer now and couldn’t sleep that night. The sheets bore Pong’s fragrance. I was in danger. The next morning a travel agent booked a train to Chiang Mai.

“Girls in Chiang Mai have white skin.” The ticket agent was 30. She had been a beauty once. Now she had a German boyfriend and could eat as much as she wanted. She was getting fat. “Careful they not make magic.”

“Magic?” The only magic I had experienced was Mrs. Adorno’s curse and that only worked in New York.

“Magic to make you love.” The plump travel agent smiled without humor. She was serious. “Watch what you drink. Ching-ching.”

“Okay, thanks for the warning.”

Throughout the rest of the afternoon I fought off the magnetic pull of Kenny’s Bar and I tried to recall Pong ever giving me a glass I hadn’t seen her pour from a bottle. I didn’t have enough fingers to count the times, but I was stronger than Pong. This was not love.

I caught the night train to the North.

Mekong Whiskey provided a potent dose of oblivion in the rocking dining car. I told jokes to the Thai policemen. They bought a bottle of lao. The stumbled back to my bunk was a blank and I woke in my second-class sleeper, as the train pulled into Chiang Mai Station. I had a murderous hangover, but stepping off the train into the steamy air dissipated the worst of it. Not a single skyscraper challenged the horizon and mountains rose high in the west.

I stayed at a cheap bungalow within the ancient city walls. The room cost less than $5/night. The mosquitoes were free. I rented a motor scooter and drove to the sites by day and the bars by night. The lighter-skinned girls of Chiang Mai were a little more money-hungry than the Patpong girls. A veteran farang explained that their avarice might have been due to their taller height. I doubted it and avoided the beer bars. I had been warned not to fall in love by too many people to trip now.

An Australian motor trekker at Night Market had been living in Chiang Mai since 1981. Jim knew the roads north of the city well.

“This is the hot season. The dope fields buried ankle-deep in dust. Very few people have driven through the tribal villages; Akhas, Yai, Karens, Hmong, KMT refugees growing opium for outlaw warlords. Great stuff and nothing like smoking opium by a fire.”

The prospects of ‘Chasing the Dragon’ sold the trip and I rented a crapped-out 250 cc dirt bike. Chiang Dao was my address for a week. I typed over a hundred pages of NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD and then spent three days climbing the steep trails to the craggy peak. The view from atop the limestone peak matched Bill’s description of his movie location. The jungle stretched through the haze to the broken ridges like a horde of dragons sleeping off time. I sent Bill a postcard, thanking him for his suggestion.

Burma lay fifty miles to the north. I plotted out a trip to the Golden Triangle. The bungalow owners said my bags were safe with them, while I was gone. My typewriter too and I woke before the dawn, ready for the road.

Reaching Mai Ai I stopped for Thai noodles at a riverside restaurant. The tea-colored water of the Thaton river flowed under a steel bridge. Two off-duty policemen drank beers in the shade. Their guns rested on the table. They warned about bandits between this checkpoint and the next town.

“Not ride night.”

“I’m going to Doi Mai Salong.” The mountain town was two hours away. The Australian said the hotel there was comfortable. I hoped to score some opium. I said nothing about this to the cops and bought the officers a big bottle of beer.

“I’ll keep my eyes open.”

The paved road ended across the river. Dust spat from the Honda’s rear tire. The hillsides were bald from slash-and-burn farming. Vegetables crowded the red dirt. Two pick-up trucks sped the other way crammed opium plants.

The sky was cloudless and I opened the throttle. 40 became 50 KPH on the uphill road. I turned my head and gazed at a distant village. No electrical lines connected the settlement to the modern world. No planes were overhead. I smelled the sun-glazed fields and should have been watching where I was, instead of seeing where I was going.

A pick-up truck appeared in my lane. A crash was unavoidable and I said in my head “Shit, I’m dead.”

Time shattered into a universe of endless possibilities, until my left wrist broke upon landing on the truck’s flatbed.

An old lady on a rice bag stared to the sky, as if I had fallen from an airplane. Her son jumped out of the truck and spewed incoherent curses in Thai. He grabbed my wrist and I threw him down the hillside. After all he had almost killed me.

The driver tumbled about fifty feet. He might have made it to the valley floor, if he had hit a tree. The fight in him was gone. I climbed down and helped him back to the road.

Two policemen arrived on the scene. They were the same from the restaurant. The officers examined the tire tracks and ruled in my favor. The opium farmer sold a pig to cover my medical bill. The hospital at Mai Ai set my arm. The doctor gave me a packet of aspirin and ignored my request for a stronger drug. I spent the night tossing in bed. The aspirins barely blanketed the pain. The following morning the Australian arrived with a pick-up. Jim estimated the repairs to his bike would cost $100.

“You’re lucky you didn’t get killed.”

“Yeah, I thought I was dead.” I had a suspicion that I had suffered a fatal head injury in a parallel dimension.

“No, I was talking about the Thai. Lucky he didn’t come to your hospital room and shoot you. The Thais have a temper behind all those smiles.”

“Oh.” My hospital bill of 5000 baht was almost $200. A fortune for a farmer.

“Happens all the time up here. He’ll get drunk, think about you, see you, and then bang. Thais are very hot-tempered.”

Jim drove me to Chiang Dao for my gear.

Two hours later he dropped me at The Top North Inn in Chiang Mai.

I drank five beers, hoping to kill the pain, but by evening a white pain pulsated from the fracture. I hurried to a pharmacy by the Eastern Gate.

The druggist regarded my wrist.




“Yes, big pain. The pharmacist counted out twenty red pills. “Strong. Stop jep. No drink beer or whiskey, okay?”

I exited the drugstore and washed down a Dilaudid at a nearby bar. I called Kenny’s Bar in Bangkok. He said his niece was leaving for home tomorrow. She would be gone a month. The next south-bound train was scheduled for the morning. There was no way I could make it in time.

“Tell Pong I’m thinking about her.” Gabby was no longer #1.

“Call later. You speak with her.” Kenny hung up before I could tell him to ask Pong to stay.

Several beers washed down two more Dilaudids. They hit hard and my mind wandered through a sweaty calm, until a booming English voice shortened my nod. A Brit was babbling about about Goya paintings to a fat farang traveler. I recognized the voice and opened my eyes. The speaker was not a narcotic mirage.

Toby Bonham had run a hotel on the Isle of Wight, the Osborne House Annex.


The tall Englishman squinted beyond his drunken vision and blurted out my name in disbelief.

“What are you doing here?”

“Just traveling.” I made no effort to move. The beer and Dilaudids had kidnapped my legs. He weaved over to my stool and the girl escaped into the night.

“Why aren’t you on the Isle of Wight?”

“The hotelwas losing money,” he said, then explained his presence far from his wife, child, and family auction house in Chelsea. “One day I flew my Cessna to Dieppe for some cheap wine. It was a beautiful day and I kept on going to Istanbul. After that it was strictly flying by compass, until I reached Chiang Mai. I like it here. The mountains, the passing travelers, and I met this girl. Lovely girl really. So I sold the plane and bought a guesthouse.”

“You bought land?” Thai law prohibited farangs from owning property.

“No, I registered the house in my girlfriend’s name.” He unfolded his vision for a Chiang Mai version of the Chelsea Art Society, an art society off the Kings Road in London.

“You have to meet her. This will be the new Shangri-La. Tribal art, travelers from around the world going to Burma, Laos, the Himalayas, cheap beer, good food, beautiful girls. You know this was once the crossroads of the Orient.”

“More like a detour off the Silk Road.”

“Sure, it’s not Times Square, but Times Square isn’t Times Square anymore. If it was, you wouldn’t be here.”

I had loved 42nd street in the 1970s. Go-go bars, porno shops, street thieves, hustlers, whores, and pimps. I had first seen Sherri on screen there. Nothing like that existed in the States after Reagan came into office. “New York isn’t what it was. Neither was London.

“Which is why we’re here and I couldn’t be any happier than to be with my girlfriend. She is so cool.”

I hadn’t heard anyone describe a Thai girl as cool. Beautiful, sweet, loving usually worked for the honeymoon period. Afterwards the descriptions grew a little harsher. When I expressed my concern, Toby waved off my negativity.

“My girlfriend loves me too much to play me for a buffalo.”

A tuk-tuk drove us to a secluded lane into the old city. The wooden guesthouse rested in the shadow of a crumbling Buddhist spire. Unshaven youths from every corner of the world filled the restaurant with their hairy girlfriends. Bob Marley was on the stereo. We drank more beer. I tried calling Kenny’s again. The line was busy and, as I settled into a hammock, I told Toby, “You’re right. This is paradise.”

I woke around noon covered by mosquito bites and my wrist ached bad enough for me to want to cut it off. I swallowed two Dilaudids and drank beer with Toby. He accompanied me to the train station. I bought a 2nd Class sleeper berth. He shook my good hand on the platform.

“Come next year and you’ll witness the miracle.”

“The Chiang Mai Arts Club.” I waved from the last car and the train lurched south down the tracks into the mountains. I drank whiskey in the restaurant car with different cops. The night air was sultry. The small villages were aglow with life unknown to the Amewrican suburbs.

The train arrived in Bangkok shortly after dawn. The receptionist at the Malaysia booked me the same room as before. I soaked in the bathtub, while reading the Bangkok Post. The rest of the world didn’t seem too important and neither did the sports.

While eating an American breakfast in the hotel coffee shop I wrote a long letter to Sherri and a series of postcards to my family and friends. I mentioned nothing about my accident or Pong. When I visited Kenny’s bar, he looked at my cast and heard my story.

“Lucky you not die.”

“I have a tough body.”

“No, you lucky man no kill you.” Kenny like the Australian understood danger of the Thai temper.

“You have a number for Pong.”

“Her house not have phone. She go to help with rice. Maybe stay one month.”

I believed him about the phone, but her hands were too soft to work a rice field.

It was time to head west.

The travel agent across the street arranged my visa to Nepal and I didn’t stray far from Soi Duplei that week. No temples. No river tour. No snake farms. No Patpong ping-pong shows. With a broken hand I couldn’t write the end to NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD, so I read books and drank beer at Kenny’s. Another girl asked me to take her to the hotel.

“You wait Pong. She go Phuket with German. Stupid farang. I show you good time. More than Pong.”

I refused to acknowledge that she was telling the truth.

“Pong happy you say no.” Kenny had lied to me about her working and the next day I spotted Pong with a farang at the Malaysia. Neither of us said a word. I wasn’t angry at her. Everyone had to do what they had to do. The travel agent confirmed my flight to Kathmandu and a connecting flight to the world’s highest mountains. Kenny said good-bye at the hotel taxi stand. “See you again.”

“I’m not sure when.” This was not America or New York or anywhere else in the world

This was Bangkok.

“No one know future, but you come back. You like Thailand too much.”

“I’ll see you when I see you.” I turned around as the taxi pulled away from the hotel. Kenny was talking to a young boy. No one was waving good-bye.

In Kathmandu I broke off the cast to scratch an itch. I trekked through the Himalayas to the Langtang Glacier and then flew via New Delhi to Paris. I showed my friends photos of temples, beaches, and mountains. I wanted to go back, but my money was low and I crossed the Atlantic in September. The autumn and Christmas seasons were busy on 47th Street. Richie rehired me within a week and he returned to sleeping late. Life was back to normal and I hated it.

My time in New York consisted of work, food, drinking, and sleep. Available women easily sensed my lack of desire and I was planned another Asian trip. I finished my novel. My typing was worse than before and my agent told me to take lessons. I didn’t have the time.

Bill laughed at my travel stories, especially having survived the motorcycle crash. I told him that I still wanted to see those mountains. He wished he could come too, except he was too busy making movies.

My cousin came to dance at ShowWorld in Times Square. Sherri wore long gloves to cover her tracks. Seeing Pong’s picture, she said, “You didn’t tell me about her.”

“Pong was a girl I met.”

“Glad to hear she had a name. You going back?” Sherri’s habit was in remission.

“Yes, but not for her.”

“Why not?”

“Six months is a long time for someone to wait. Especially in Bangkok.”

“Someday you’re going to wake up and fall in love again.” Sherri understood the difference between love and lust and loneliness.

“Never.” I would never be that lucky.

“Never say never.” Sherri was a hopeless romantic and knew me well.

“Never.” Mrs. Adorno’s curse still dominated my heart.

The Christmas rush consisted of six weeks of working without a day off. I saved every dollar from my commissions at Richie’s exchange and my savings amounted to another six months in Asia. When I announced my leaving after New Year’s Eve, Richie said, “Is this how it’s going to be? You working six months and then taking off?”

“I think so.” I could only take so much of being alone in New York.

“We’ll be here when you get back. Good luck.”

This time I flew east from New York. The first stop was London, where I ran into Toby at a Chelsea bar, where he was entertaining art dealers from his auction house. I asked, “What’s happening with Chiang Mai Arts Center?”

“Sssssh.” Toby brought me to the side. “Six months ago I came here to clear up some banking details. When I returned to Thailand, the guesthouse had been sold. My girlfriend had run off with the gardener, who was supposedly her cousin, but really her lover. End of story. I learned my lesson. Don’t fall in love with a Thai girl.”


“Magic runs in their blood.”


“Magic that makes you crazy and do crazy things you’d never do with a western women and I’ve been plenty crazy with many of those. I lost everything I had there and still wanted her back. People want to know why, but I can’t even explain it to myself.”

“So no more Thailand.”

“My wife took me back. She’s a safe and steady love for a man my age. See you around.” Toby tightened his tie and rejoined his clients. His story came as no surprise and I vowed to never succumb to such a weakness.

In Bangkok I once more booked into Room 203 at the Malaysia Hotel and visited Kenny. Not much had changed at the bar, except Pong had departed to Berlin with her German and he said with a shrug, “He nice man.”

“If she calls, tell her I asked for her.”

I was off the hook and called Michael down in Pattaya. He invited me for a holiday in the south. The bus ride was three hours. I had no idea what to expect, but knew that backpackers avoided the beach resort’s wickedness in fear of seeing a fat German sunbathing with two tiny Thai girls.

The fifty-four year-old Frenchman lived in Jomtien Beach townhouse with a Thai woman, her infant babt, and his daughter, Emily, from a Japanese wife. Emily and I became best friends.

The beach was strewn with plastic and the sea was murky, but no one came to Pattaya for the sea. We drank Cote du Rhone and played backgammon. At the end of the night he said, “Why stay at a hotel when you stay here for free?”

Michel had a point and I moved to Jomtien. My room overlooked a field of high grass. I wrote in the morning and went to Walking Street at night. Easy women filled the bars and discos. Some of them beautiful. One night I brought a goddess back from the Marine Disco. After she left in the morning Michael warned, “This is my home. Not a brothel.”

His wife hadn’t approved of my guest. I should have left, but liked taking care of their daughter, Emily. His wife never did. Most days Sai disappeared and miraculously arrived a half-hour before her husband’s arrival. I thought about telling Michel about his wife’s absences, but it was none of my business.

At dinner Michel discussed rubies and sapphires. I asked him for a job.

“Sorry, but I have trouble paying my own salary.”

“No problem, if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t know.” Life in Thailand was reserved for few farangs. The rest of us were simply passing through paradise.

After dinner we drink whiskey. His wife watched Thai TV. I went out to Walking Street. The sex emporium was wide open. Drink, drugs, and sex. Go-go girls begged me to take them home, dying for a night off their feet. I tipped them $5 and returned to Michel’s house. I didn’t sleep long.

Someone was in the room and I opened my eyes. A man stood at the foot of my bed. A Japanese sword gleamed in his hands. It was Michel.

“I’m going to cut off her head.”

“Cut off her head?” Decapitation seemed a drastic measure.

“She’s seeing her ex-husband. A Thai.”

“Why don’t you leave her?”

“She’ll take away my daughter.” Western men have no rights to their children in Thailand.

“If you cut off her head, you’ll go to prison.” Westerners killing Thai wives in a fit of jealousy was a gold mine for the Thai police.

His daughter came into the bedroom crying.

“Not leave me, papa.”

“I won’t leave you ever.”

The wife didn’t show up that morning or the following day. The sword hungon a peg by the door. I wasn’t sticking around the showdown and announced, “I want to go up north. Why don’t you and Emily come with me?”

“I have a business to run.”

“I understand.”

I traveled to Bangkok and caught a train north.

I rented a 250cc motorcycle in Chiang Mai. I drove around the North. I avoided opium and pick-up trucks. My hands grew numb from the jolting roads. Only saunas could wash off the dust. I rewrote my novel in a shack along the Mekong River. It took over a month.

When I returned to Jomtien a month later, the next door neighbor said that Michel had returned to France. He had no idea what happened to his wife or daughter. I doubted the guard was telling me everything, but respected his desire to not get involved. It could bring him bad luck. Me too.

Back in Bangkok I booked Room 203 at the Malaysia. Kenny’s Bar had the usual collection of drunken farangs and young girls. I told Kenny about Michel. He signaled his cousin Fat Pat to bring more beer and explained, “All Thai women fall in love with Thai man. Get marry. Maybe no marry. Have baby. Man go to see other women. Get drunk. Steal money. Leave wife. After girl must take care of baby. Meet man. Maybe farang. Same your friend. Same story. I hear all time.”

“Ever hear any happy endings?” I ordered him a drink. He liked gin.

“Happy beginning, yes. Happy middle, yes. Happy ending?” Kenny motioned for the bargirl to bring him a slice of lime. “Everyone die in end. Love too. I hear from Pong. She ask for you.”

“Tell her I said hello.” I was leaving for New York and gave Kenny my gold ring.

“Something for you to remember me.”

The ring fit his thumb. He wished me good luck.

“You stay safe.”

“No problem in America.”

No problem at all, because there was only one Last Babylon.


September was the debut of selling season on West 47th street. I called Richie collect from the Bangkok PO. He said my job was waiting. Two days later I unlocked the door to my East Village apartment on East 10th Street. I gave my agent the novel. He sent NORTH NORTH HOLLWYOOD to publishers. He told me to be patient. We heard nothing and I committed myself to work. It was a grind, but Richie introduced a married woman from Richmond. Mrs. Carolina was married to a country doctor. He had land and family money. The blonde forty-five year-old wanted someone to love.

“I wrote out the ten best things about you and the ten worst. The good outweighed the bad.”

“Only ten bad things?” My list was much longer. She knew nothing about literature. She faked knowledge. I forgave this deceit, because she had a good heart and the only women in my life existed as memories fading with every day.

We had a long affair. She came to see me every month. We traveled to Wyoming, Guatemala, Peru, Death Valley, and the Bahamas. Every six months I went away to Asia. I told her, “To write.”

“And what about women?” Jealousy was a natural trait for women or men, especially if you were the loved as opposed to the lover.

“I look. Not touch.” I planned on avoiding the skin pots of Bangkok and Pattaya.

This time Bangkok served as a transit point. Cars, buses, boats, planes, and trains transported me to Asia’s snow-sheathed mountains, mossy temples, sugar sandy beaches, islands on a gin-clear sea, and rivers swelling with monsoon rains. I loved the feel of dirt under my boots in a distant mountain pass, however writing required a sedentary life and I sought a location meeting my prerequisites; good food, weather, and people.

The Legong dancers of Bali possessed a gracefulness to be envied by Gods. Emerald forests climbed up the jungle slopes of Sulawesi’s misty mountains. Penang served Indian, Malay, and Chinese cuisines. A orchestra in Lijiang played Naxi music under the Jade Snow Dragon Mountain and the view from the Snowlands Hotel in Lhasa was obscured by incense from the Jokhang temple. I knew these places for six months at a time. None of them were home.

After the death of my baby brother in 1995 I broke up with Mrs. Carolina. Adultery was wrong. We remained friends. No longer a threat to their marriage her husband became my friend. I questioned myself whether there was something wrong with me. Other men had women. They seemed happy. I was sad. Mrs. Adorno no longer answered the door, when I knocked on it.

Right before Christmas my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

She lasted two years and on her death bed she admonished my avoidance of Ireland.

“You’ve been all over the world, but never to the Emerald Isle. Maybe you can find a nice woman there. Someone like your sisters or aunts. Promise you’ll do that for me.”

“I promise.” Her solution sounded too much like incest.

“Promise you’ll go.” A quick trip to Dublin was what I had in mind. My mother knew me well. “I want you to reconnect with your roots and not just with a pint of Guinness.”

She passed away after Christmas.

The next summer my father and I toured the Loire Valley. We ate big meals in pleasant cafes and drank wine in caves carved in cliffs. He cried listening to Irish ballads on the car stereo. We missed my mother and spoke about how much she would have loved the chateaus.

In Paris we unexpectedly met a London friend, Sam Royalle. He had been a fashion photographer six and was now working as a computer geek and had wire scammed a Brisih bank for a gang of Brixton yardies. He never paid their cut and they had threatened grievous bodily damage, if they weren’t given the proceeds of his house sale in Nottinghill Gate.

Sam had obviously skipped a few details and I suggested that he hide out in the Orient. The Malaysia Hotel was a good starting place to disappear.

“I have money in the bank.”


“Can you go cash this check and give the money to my sister. She’ll get it to me.”

“Sure.” I left Paris and cashed a check at his bank. I was a little scared walking down the Mews, but no yardies confronted me and handed the money to Sam’s sister in Chelsea.

My business in the UK was done and I flew over to Dublin to obey my mother’s wish. I rented a haunted old schoolhouse on the Connemara coast and wrote a book about prostitution in Hamburg. Most of the story was based on the blonde and her pimp.

A sullen rain was my companion on long walks through the soggy bogs. The cow farmers at the nearest pub shared a nasty word for everyone and wondered why I wasn’t writing my novel in Germany. The girls were either fifteen and pregnant or forty with five kids. Sam called from Bangkok. He was grateful for my advice and offered a ticket to Thailand. I said I would see him next year.

Back in New York I once more worked with Richie. Mrs. Carolina and I skied in Jackson Hole. No one was interested in publishing my books. I wrote a script based on my first novel. NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD was turned down by producers, directors, and an agent said, “It’s sixteen sex scenes chasing a plot.”

I counted the sex scenes. There were five. The rest were foreplay. I was contemplating about giving up writing. If I worked selling diamonds, I would have everything everyone else had. A car, house, maybe even a wife. 47 wasn’t too late to have kids.

My cousin’s mother wasn’t well. Sherri came to town and stayed with me. She had stopped drugs and porn films to attend college for a psychiatry degree. It was a miracle she was alive. Even more so that she could laugh about that lost period. I told her about my plan to settle down.

“You can’t do that you’re a legend.”

“Legend?” I felt more like a rumor.

“Whenever I tell people about you, they say you have the life they want.”

“Any of them willing to switch?”

“None of them would have the courage. Plus you are too fixed in your ways to be with an American woman. They want someone stable. Someone who isn’t going to threaten their security. Someone more like their father.”

“I can be all those things.”

“Maybe you can, but you wouldn’t be you.” Sherri was majoring in human behavior. “Before I said you shouldn’t get involved with a Thai woman, but there’s one working at a restaurant near me. She’s not a domestic person like all Americans thinks of Asian women and has a mind of her own.”

“Where she meet her husband?” I knew the answer.

“In a bar. Maybe a go-go. She did what she had to take care of her family. Plus I can’t throw any stone at her and neither can you. None of us are saints. Not even the good are. Not until they’re dead.”

“Okay, I’ll re-open my mind.” I hadn’t forgotten Pong. She’d be twenty-seven now. I was only forty-two. I called Sam. He was living in Pattaya with a teenage girlfriend. “Come on down. I have a place for you to stay.”

In my mind I constructed a palace of possibilities. Pong and I would go to Pattaya. I’d write my book and be famous.

I called Kenny.

He didn’t recognize my voice at first. When I asked about Pong, he said, “She living in Holland now. Have new husband and a baby. Fat too. When you come? I call my sister. I have many nieces.”

“A big family.” Thais extended kinship to second cousins, friends of aunts, and schoolmates. Everyone was in the family just like the South of France. I told Kenny. “I’ll see you soon.”

Mrs. Carolina asked if she could come on this trip.

“Not yet, but I promisse to call from Bangkok.”

Her eyes misted hearing those words. I couldn’t tell her anything else. We were no longer lovers. Then again I had never been. The twenty-six-hour flight to Thailand was lengthened by an unexpected delay in Japan. The hotel at Narita gave the passengers coupons for food. I used mine on beer. We completed the journey in the morning.

The front desk at the Malaysia again remembered my room. I washed up and tramped down to Kenny’s Bar. The girls were older and the beer warm. He wore my ring. I stayed a night and in the morning I called Sam.

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

“I forgot that.” The Songkran celebration ushers in the Thai New Year and the rains ending the hot season. The festival is focused on Wan Parg-bpee April 15, when homage is paid to ancestors and elders deserving respect because of age or position.

Traditionally young people pour scented water into the palm of an elder so that sins will flow away or they sprinkle water onto the older person who utters wishes of happiness and good luck. It was all quite charming, but the holiday has changed in recent years and how much was revealed by my trip to Pattaya.

The roads into town were packed with holiday-makers. People bucketeed passing car with a barrage of water. The taxi an hour to navigqte through the traffic to Rob’s high-rise overlooking the Gulf of Siam. His girlfriend named Dtum. She was eager to meet her friends.

Rob 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 only one eye.

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. I wasn’t planning on being a farang kwaii. We went 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, “You come back soon. I wait for you.”

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

Vee would be fine. A boyfriend from England arrived around Christmas. There would be no long-distance phone calls. No money transfers. No wins. No losses. Sam later called to say she had moved to the UK. It was better that way.

Sam had 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 this gift, but reckoned that this was his thanks for transferring that money from London. We frequented 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 nieces and nephews attended college and 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. We knew each other from the 1980s. He was a cameraman and tai-chi teacher. He 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 the week off.

One evening AJ and I stopped at a bar of Soi 8. A slender Thai girl danced on a platform to N’Sync’s hit BYE BYE BYE. 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. The 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. Whenever I went to the bar on Soi 8, thegirl 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 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 hear them fight.

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 diving centers like 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.”

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 to my hotel.”

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

Saying no would have been easy, but 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 Mem was very sexy and I had money in my pocket. “You come with me, but I can’t say 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 the Sabaii Lodge 3.

In bed 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.

Mem was twenty-four. She had two kids. Her husband had deserted her for a younger woman. Almost every woman in Pattaya told the same story. They left impoverished Isaan villages. Friends found the prettiest girls jobs at go-go bars. The mama-san sold them a skimpy bikini and thigh-high boots. A lady-boy painted their faces. An older girl demonstrated the basic moves on the Firepole. As the new girls took the stage, goose bumps rose from their skin. Partially from the air-con’s icy breath, but then slowly these blushing amateurs realized they are in show business as much as any actress in a Thai soap opera.

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

Mem was no different. The go-go dancing supported her children, although the real money came from going with men. She wired 5000 baht a month upcountry for her kids’ schooling. The remainder of this allowance fed her father and brother.

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 escape their cheating ex-husbands and drunken boyfriends.

Neither side of the equation asks too many questions and neither did I, when Mem 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, Pattaya’s most expensive hotel. The next morning he woke to an empty bed. The hotel staff said nothing. The police knew 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 go.”

Saying anything else wouldn’t have altered 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.

The $10,000 in my bank would go fast in Thailand. Kathmandu was three hours away by plane. The monsoons weren’t due for another month. A small guest house in Annapurna’s rain shadow served pancakes in the morning cost less than $10/day. The Tibetan kingdom of Mustang lay to the north. A month’s walk in the sacred Himalayas would erase my years in the Last Babylon. I didn’t make it out the door. Mem stood in the hotel 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 we shut the door for two days.

Our holiday on Koh Samui was like a honeymoon. We stayed a week longer than planned. She taught me Thai and 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.

Female western holiday makers gawked at us as if I were a sex tourist. In many ways they on the money. Mem 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 other farangs, 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, which was an unteachable attributeand I reciprocated with a gentle embrace. “When we return to Pattaya, will you live with me?”

“Love you long time.” She was telling the truth, but only about that, because the truth in Thailand or anywhere else in the world was a many-layered onion with many layers.

We rented a utility house off the swamp of Soi Bongkot. Supposedly for us and her youngest son joined us. His name was Dtut. Three of us in one house. Our love life suffered, but not as much as when her father moved 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 Mem 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.

$10,000 lasted eight months.

After this lesson in the futility of foreign aid I withdrew my sponsorship. Everyone was angry and Mem spat, “You not understand Thai life.”

Life was the same everywhere for everyone, however Lo-So Thais were so badly eductated by the Hi-So classes that the poor collectively suffered from the anti-Midas Touch, whihc turned all gold into rice paddy mud. My old boss, Richie, called from New York. He needed an extra salesman for Christmas season in the Diamond District. Mem said, “Go. You want leave me. Go.”

“I’ll be back.”

“Same you tell Vee.”

“No, I swear I’ll come back.”

It was a lie, but then again one person’s lie is another person’s truth, when there was magic in the air.


In New York 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 recommended that 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 Mem every day. I didn’t tell anyone about her. Not even Sherri and I booked a flight to the Orient with enough cash for six months. Maybe a little more if I was careful.

Mem met me at the airport and embraced me, saying, “I happy now.”

“I want you happy too.” The Hello-Goodbye Lounge was packed with farangs and their geeks.

“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. The food was delicious. I drank a beer. A blue film was smeared on the rim, but I drained the bottle.

In the morning my muscles ached, as if I had been tortured by the CIA and spiked hammers pounded my temples. The empty glass smelled funny and I accused Mem of poisoning me.

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

“Yeah, magic potion.”

“I not have to give you poson to make you love me.”

“Maybe not, but something is wrong and it isn’t the beer.”

“Not magic. Maybe ghost.”

Farangs derided the Thais” belief in spirits eating your intestines or a greedy ghost doomed to wander eternity with a worm-sized mouth without ackonowledging that 65% of Americans believe in Guardian Angels. I was not an unbeliever and explained to Mem. “Vee onc etook me to deep Isaan. We drove to a witch’s house.”


“Yes, they were many old ladies there. They picked a number.” I acted out that night to construct the scene. “One picked a 4. She left the house. Vee told me they were going to kill her to make big magic.”

“Red-lum.” Mem’s eyes widened, as if to better envision the candle-lit hut.

“Yeah, Red-lum.” Vee had later informed me that the set-up was a scam and the same woman lost her life every night. She was the witch’s sister.

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

It was a sweet thing to say and in secret I contracted the monks to exorcise the house, but whatever potion had been in that beer bottle lurked in my belly, however life settled down after that episode.

Thais draped talisman around their neck, inscribed on their flesh against evil, and preferred to visit fortunetellers and witches, instead of doctors.I woke with the dawn to re-edit my novel on pornography in our air-conditioned bedroom. The tapping on the keyboard rarely disturbed Mem’s sleep. 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 Mem 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 Led Zeppelin’s’s album cover and I winged my reply. “Because I feel young with you.”

“You my khun gaih.” 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 about the struggle between the Romanov dynasty and the British empire on the high plains of Asia. I wanted to go back to the mountains. 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 Mem 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 thinking Pattaya could be home. Mrs. Adorno would never miss me.

The hot weather melted off my winter gut and my 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 Mem. My mother had sworn me to take care of Bish. Mem modeled the skin-tight sheath. “Go out, have fun. I meet you later.”

Bish loved the food, the weather, and the wide-open nightlife. Each night 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 a book.”

“Why not from Mem?”

“She likes speaking English better.” 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.” Many farangs countered that men always pay to be with a woman. What was happening in Thailand was different, but not that much.

“Any of them give money to the ballet?”


“Well, then your tipping these girls after a show is more charitable than their stiffing the Boston Ballet. Theycome from the end of the road in Isaan. Their farms grow one rice crop a year. They have big families. Usually a brother or husband 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.”

The Bangkok Post’s Bernard Trink claimed that bargirls lied, cheated, only cared about money, and regarded their catches as cash cows to be milked of their life’s savings. The columnist had resided here for years and I had witnessed nothing to contradict this opinion. Stephen Leather had written a book about his excesses. They had nearly ruined his life. I had no protective shield. Mem 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, said my cousin.”

“Volunteer, head of Pattaya Branch, and donor to a good cause.” We clinked glasses and after a long tour of the Happy-a-Go-go, we crossed Walking Street to the Marine Disco. The Chicken Farm was loaded with free-lance girls seeking for a short-time date. Most of the farangs were drunk enough to think these girls actually considered them handsome. Mem was dancing with Sam’s wife. Bish and I stayed on the other side of the bar and he asked, “Isn’t this spying?”

“No, they will see us.” I only trusted Mem 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 skinned 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.”

“With about a thousand Eves.”

“Better them than divorcees in a Boston suburb. Lots to buy. None of it will make you happy. Not like here.”

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

When Bish returned to the States, tears touched his eyes. No bachelor in their forties deserved to be living in the suburbs, where life revolves around commuting, work, take-out food, and TV. Unfortunately no paradise can withstand the tempest of time. Certainly not one based on lies you believe to prevent your seeing the truth.


Several weeks later Mem’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, Mem 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.”

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 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 Mem barely possessed 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 felt a little like Maulwin slipping into the Housatonic River and there was only one way out, except no one was coming to my rescue.

Pizza and pasta were banished from the menu. My jealousy painted a portrait of a young Italian with greasy long hair in a Juventus football shirt and chain-smoking between bottles of wine. The hot weather exacerbated my temper along with the arrival of the Songkran festival in April.

The festival turned uglier than the previous year. 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 into vicious shootings redressing old grudges. Pick-up trucks jerry-rigged with plastic reservoirs recklessly raced through slow-moving pedestrians and ya bah-demented motorcyclists imitated crackheads fleeing a 7-11 robbery.

The nationwide death toll exceeded five hundred and the walking wounded numbered in the tens of thousands. Most westerners fled the weeklong mayhem, although most Thais considered any Puritan disapproval as a sacrilege against sanuk or fun and they all awaited Songkran’s closing day n, when it was open season to drench the police in their tight brown uniforms.

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 wheel frames, 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 alley water 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 in our Thai friends and Sam’s tattooed wife leapt from the truck to soak several foreigners hiding behind a tree. It was supposed to be fun, but a humorless weightlifter wrenched away Dtum’s water gun.


His knocking down the teenager might have been a mistake, but hearing Italian snapped a fuse and I leapt off the truck with a long PVC tube. The steroid junkie lifted his fists. He was bigger and stronger. I lashed his wrists with the plastic pipe.

His copy-Rolex exploded into a shower of tiny gears. I kicked the inside of his knee and he genuflected in anguish. Dtum and I jumped onto the truck. She flipped him the finger 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.” I wanted to forget the entire incident, except the Londoner and Thais bragged about the encounter at every beer stop.

At each telling Mem’s face was clouded with embarrassment. My outburst had cost her nah or face. We rode around till sunset and Sam suggested a victory dinner at the Lao BBQ. Dtut and Mem yawned on cue.

“I’m Songkraned-out 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 seeing her children re-enact the fight.

Mem 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 Mem came downstairs to sit on the other end of a bamboo bench.

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

“Tam A-rai?” I asked, since the Thais rarely open their soul to anyone.

“You not hit me same you hit men?”

“I scared you?”


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

“Please 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.” A cautious smile betrayed her doubts.

“100%.” I had struck one women in my life. Alice had cheated on me, yet even betrayal wasn’t desearving of a slap and I had vowed never to touch a woman again.

“Thai 100% or farang 100%?”

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

A flock of fireflies floated through the bougainvillea. The bedroom window glowed blue from the TV. Mem 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.

People were having fun. The Songkran festival had nothing to do with violence and I touched the raised scar on my upper lip, a gift from a razor-wielding teenage boy from the Southie’s Old Colony Projects in 1967. Bish’s father had butterfly-stitched the cut and asked, “What you do?”

“Nothing.” I had been with a girl at a Boston College High School dance. The boys wore suit coats and ties. The girls were strapped into girdles. We danced to the soul music of the G-Clefs.

“Nothing?” My uncle was as disbelieving as Mem.

“Nothing that I can think of.”

While that had been the truth for that fight in South Boston, this afternoon beating was another story and the cosmos pulsed 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 rains ended, Mem exiled her older daughter to the Khorat plateau for school. Dtut stayed with us. The temperature hit the high 90s. My vow of non-violence remained intact, although Mem 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 hi-so or the upper class. Just wait her out. This will pass.”

Three weeks later I finished my novel about punk rock set in 1976. Mem suggested a holiday on the island of Koh Samet. I needed a break from the computer, which Mem called my mia noi or mistress. She dished off Dtut to her father and packed a small bag; two bikinis, a sarong, hot pants, and a sexy shirt.

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

“Like second honeymoon.”

“Koh Samui holiday. Not honeymoon.”

“Maybe we get married soon.”

“You tell me that before. Now I think not sure.”

“We talk about it after this holiday.”

“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 white sand 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 triple-fried fish under torchlight and danced beneath the palms to Thai rock. I couldn’t have been happier.

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

On the 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.

Go look fat women. Maybe you have sex free.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Wrong? You not know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“You know. You not want say.”

“How can a say what I don’t know.”

“Go drink beer. maybe find what to say.” 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.”


‘I was drunk.”

The real answer was that I was a fool and I pretended everything was fine. When I suggested returning to Pattaya, Mem packed her bag in five minutes. We rode the noon ferry to the mainland and by the afternoon Mem was reunited with her son and TV. A month passed without us making love.

I checked Mem’s phone secretively. No numbers began with Italy’s double digit. Paranoia was an old illness cured only by drink. Bish visited again. Mem was happy with his gift of lingerie. He brought a medical how-to-book. There was no section for the treatment of jealousy.

My cousin and I toured the go-go bars. He mentioned I was drinking more than normal. Mem met us at the Marine Disco. She was having fun. I went home alone. She showed up much later, smelling of cigarettes. If she had been with someone, she would have showered and smelled of soap. It was small comfort.

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 travel here to watch fat westerners soaking up sun.”

“We go Khao Chamao Mountains.” Mem interjected from the house. Her family came from the mountain range north of Rayong. “Have waterfall and can eat fish at beach. Not far. Three hours. Go day, back night.”

The five of us drove through the countryside to a long shoulder of mountains. Mem’s family worked at the park and we paid the Thai National rate. Bish and I climbed to the summit. The trail petered out into the jungle. We returned to join Mem, her son, and Bash’s friend 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 spent most of his youth in jail. I had never seen him work. Mem 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. “Tough to sue family. Trust me.”

“The Thais don’t really 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.”

“Not unless you want to get involved with a dispute between Thais.” Their justice system considered all poor Thai guilty as well as farangs.

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 Mem 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?” My time in New York was devoted to selling diamond for Richie Boy and his father. Surrendering to that life full-time to buying a car and renting a Grammercy Park apartment wasn’t written on my palm, and I admitted, “I like living here.”

“You not want me go America.” She pouted and disappeared to her father’s shack. I didn’t chase Mem. 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 Mem would last in New York?”

“Oh, about a week.”
“That long.” Thais hated anything not Thai.

“America has ruined baseball, Mom’s apple pie, and hot dogs. It will ruin Mem too. At one time we sought to glorified life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, however greed trumped those goals. He flirted with a passing waitress in a schoolgirl outfit. She looked over eighteen thanks to the Go-Go’s Black Lights.

“What’s with the uniform fetish?”

“They remind me of the girls at St. Ann’s.” Bish 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.” Mem 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. None of the priest had laid a hand on me, although the nuns were wicked disciplinarians. “You ever have any trouble with the priests?”

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

“What sins did you confess to the priests”

“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 join the seminary in high school?”

“For a weekend.” In 1968 my girlfriend, Kyla, and I had attended a religious retreat in contemplation of becoming a nun and priest. Led Zeppelin’s debut album had purged everyone’s faith.

“I’m thinking about suing the Church for not abusing me. I mean I was a good-looking kid.”

“I’d keep that lawsuit in the closet along with your pension petition for your anti-war protests, since my sister said you weren’t too pacifistic at those demonstrations.”

He rarely spoke about his estranged sister, who had witnessed my battling the riot police at Boston City Hall. “I’ve learned to control my temper since then.”

Bish chuckled, “That’s not what Mem said about your Songkran massacre.”

She had told all her friends about my victory over the muscleman.

Bish had never fought. His mother was my aunt. Bish was a successful lawyer and I pushed away the hand of a naked go-go girl.

“You think I’m a failure?”

“Failure?” His eyes opened wide. “Anytime I mention you to my friends working to pay for a mortgaged house in the suburbs, their eyes glaze over with admiration and the women are jealous of your freedom too.”

“I’ve heard that before, but what do you think?”

“Me, 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 the non-stop worship of 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. Neither was our hometown of Boston, although a 1000-baht 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?”

My apartment in the East Village, punk rock at CBGBs, the salt air rifling over the Truro dunes, loons on Watchic Pond, playing cribbage with my father, taco stands in LA, driving fast in Montana, kayaking in the Everglades, and big dinners discussing literature in New York shuffled in my head for importance. “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 too 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 die in the quarries every summer.”

“She loved you.”

“You too.” Both of us missed our mothers, but we were doomed to live out our lives as Irish bachelors. 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 my mind pictured Mem 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. The taxi was waiting at the hotel. I accompanied Bish to the airport.

“Mem have any idea what you do?”

“I told her I was a writer.”

“She know what that means.”

“She says it means I have no money.” Mem 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, which was as promising as the past. We were pulling into Don Muang’s 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 terminal Bish gazed at the girls saying good-bye to their boyfriends. Others 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. “Give my best to my father.”

“I’ll tell him you’re fine.”

“Thanks for lying.”

“Lying 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. Mem 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 speaking English like Mem.

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

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

“Sure?” She lifted Dtut into my arms. He was small. Mem had been abandoned as a child and 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 us. She never call. Never see me. One day I on bus and a woman sit. She ask about my children. Ask I have mother. I tell her everything. I am not thinking, but when she get off bus, I think she my mother. Not know sure. I want Dtut to have mother.”

“He has you.”

“And I have you.”

“Yes, you do.”

I warned myself not to care too much. She was a Thai. They care 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 had to renew my visa at the Cambodia border. Mem 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 Mem 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 Mem. No one answered and my second attempt resulted in a disconnection.

This was not right.

Mem 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 food stalls on Pattaya Klang served 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. Mem 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. Mem had hocked the washing machine at the jum-jam 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.

Mem had to be at her father’s shack. Driving up to the slum across the railroad tracks could be dangerous. 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. Mem wouldn’t like that, since she suspected I was conducting an affair with the twenty-three 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 was offering nothing as long as I lived with Mem. Drinking three beers eased my anger. A plate of curry crab squashed my hunger. The passing of traffic soothed my anxiety. People had normal lives, yet nothing was normal with Mem. 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.




I did not have to live here like the thousands of farang men, who had abandoned careers, families, and countries to open bars, export bootleg clothing and fake paintings, sell time-shares and condos or live off pensions in hopes of dying before insolvency necessitated a return to their native lands, which is a fate sometimes too harsh for them to face.

I had an apartment in New York. Mrs. Carolina had moved to Palm Beach. She had extended warm invitations for winter writing stints. Sam Royalle once joked that I had a wife in the States, after which Mem threatened to cut off my penis and feed my severed member to the ducks, who eat anything falling on the ground. I had nothing like that in mind for Mem and raced on my motorcycle to our house. Mem was waiting 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 that most men would rather than hear a lie to avoid getting hurt. I forgave her with a kiss. Later when Dtut bandage fell off, I noted his head was free of any bruises. A brief interrogation rooted out that she had bailed out her ex-husband, who had been arrested for ya bah or ‘the mad drug’.

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

Cato had written two thousand years ago that the deadliest trap for a man is the one a woman weaves with her tears. Every bones in my body said throw her out. Regrettably I was bound by ties much stronger than love to see this relationship to the end, for I was beyond saving myself from the sinking sands swirling around my ankles. I was in danger of becoming a parody of the love-lost farang. Sam Royalle could help me. No one in America could either. I had only one ally to stave off my self-destruction and slowly devise the Italian Plan. Her Italian would show up one day. He would call Mem. She would say he was a friend. I would let her go see him. The rest of the future was written beyond my sight, but I would be saved from a fool’s fate.


Unfortunately nothing happened. No phone calls. No family crisis for Mem. Nothing. Something wasn’t right and two days before my birthday, Mem announced she was going on holiday to Chiang Mai with her youngest son. She hadn’t ever mentioned any family up north and this sudden departure sounded suspiciously like a discreet rendezvous with the Italian. The morning of my birthday she packed a bag with her best clothes and asked, “You angry?”

Telling the truth gained nothing. “Angry? What for? You go. Have fun.”

“And what will you do?” She stood at the door. Her bag and son was on a motorcycle taxi. The fat driver worked the corner of her father’s soi and had helped Mem leave other men. She would go with him. I would be alone. Life would be simple.

“I think you.”

“I think you too.”

Mem ran to the motorcycle and two seconds later she was gone. I walked into the house. It was quiet. I put John Coltrane on the stereo. No one complained about the jazz. I packed Mem’s clothing into a big box, swept the floor clean of her hair, dumped the sheets in the trash, stuck her pictures in a drawer, and called Sam Royalle, who suggested a birthday tour of the go-go bars.

“You can drown your sorrows in drink.”

“I’m going to have a quiet one. Men after forty should only celebrate birthdays ending with zero.” I opted for a two-hour rubdown at a legitimate Thai massage parlor. After listening to my tribulations, the masseuse said, “Pattaya have many bad lady. You free. Can be butterfly. Have fun. You want Happy Ending?”

Sanuk remedied any woe for the Thais. Pattaya had go-go bars, beer halls, and discos. Girls went home with you for a smile. Drinks were cheap. I intended to bury myself in fun and I left the massage parlor with my muscles al dente.

Night had fallen on the Last Babylon. Girls piggybacked on motor-sai taxis to Walking Street. A lone police officer in the nearest karaoke lounge sang a drawn-out Lao love song to a video of dancing girls in a rice paddy. The pi-dogs snarled their hungry greeting and a plastic fire smoldered across the creek. I always ended up alone. Every woman ran away. This self-pity wasn’t healthy on birthdays or Christmas. Luckily I didn’t own a gun and the most dangerous pill in my medicine cabinet came out of a Lomotil bottle.

Turning the corner onto my soi I saw the balloons hanging from the wall and fairy lights strewn through the trees. A dozen motorcycles were parked in the street and a cloud of smoke rose from a fish barbecue. Twenty Thais, Sam, Mark, and Mem shouted, “Surprise.”

I got off my bike wearing the stupidest grin on the face of the Earth and Mem ran up, laughing. “You not know 100%. Big joke.”

“I’m a big kwaai.” Everyone enjoyed ridiculing the birthday ‘Buffalo’. We ate and went to Marine Disco. I imagined things might work out. Mem had to love me. When I wobbled to our bike, Mem asked, “You think I leave you on birthday?”

“No.”I wondered whether we ever told each other the truth. “Thank you for the big surprise.”

Mem and I made love that night. She said she wanted life with me alone and the next day dropped Dtut at her grandmother’s house. The crisis seemed to have passed and our little house surrounded by the swamp became a Garden of Eden under Mem’s care. Everything was an illusion in Pattaya.

In mid-June my cousin returned for a week’s holiday. Bish brought a book BLACK MASS about the Whitey Bluger, the murderous South Boston gangster, and a Boston Bruins t-shirt. Mem appreciated the bottle of perfume and promised to find him a wife. He waved his hands in the air like an air traffic controller warning off a 747.

“I’m not the marrying kind.”

“I think run in family.” Mem wasn’t smiling and I shrugged defenselessly, “We’ll get married when I sell my book.”

“Why you not ask marry?”

“Now’s not the right time.” Her drunkard father had demanded a dowry price of 50,000 baht and was not impressed by my counteroffer of 5000 baht and a bottle of Scotch. “And you get married before.”

Mem stamped her feet on the floor.

“Englishman not marry. Say marry. Have monk come. Family too. Have food. Have drink. Englishman not come. UK suck. Man United kee.”

I thought Man U was shit too.

Bish hadn’t flown across the world to Thailand for a domestic squabble and he sought refuge at his hotel. I spent an hour trying to prevent Mem from self-injury.

“You go with cousin. Go see lady. Go. Pai ke ki.”

“I don’t want anyone else,” I explained that my mother had asked me to look after Bish. “He’s family.”

“Sure?” This explanation quelled her anger. Family was everything to Thais.

“Sure 100%.” My mother had not mentioned go-go bars.

“You go out with him. I go with friend. Maybe cousin go with she.”

“I’ll see you at the Tahitian Queen.”


We kissed and a sense of invulnerability cloaked any threat to my life in Thailand. An editor would publish my book on punks. Hollywood would adapt it into a movie. I would be able to take care of Mem and her family. Everything was going to work out.

I met Bish at the Sabaii Lodge pool. He ate a club sandwich, while I tucked into laab gai, a spicy Isaan dish. After a second beer, I blurted the facts about Mem’s Italian lover.

His smile was identical to his father’s grin upon hearing I had not started the fight at BC High.

“You’re going out with an ex-go-go girl with two kids. As your counsel I have to ask for your own good, what are you gaining from this affair? I mean aren’t you a little old to confuse lust for love?”

This question held merit and I replied, “I know what I’m doing.”

Bish”s deceased mother must have issued similar maternal instructions to watch my back. “So why don’t you marry Mem?”


“Because why?”

“Because I’m afraid she’ll say yes.” My heart was too suspicious to accept anyone loving me now.

“Me too.”

I shook my head and explained about Mem’s secretive phone calls. “None of my relationship have ended with a good landing.”

As much as Bish enjoyed our nights out with Mem, he saw her for what she was. “You should thank your lucky stars, if some stupid Italian can take her away, plus you haven’t been faithful.”

“What are you talking about?” I hadn’t cheated on Mem in Pattaya.

“You don’t sleep with Mrs. Carolina anymore?” He had me on the witness stand and expected the truth.

“We’re friends.”

“What about Sherri?”

“We’re family.”

“But not blood like you and me.”

“We’re just friends now.” He would never sccept her as family. He had seen her first XXX film THE ABDUCTION OF CLAUDIA too many times.

“Isn’t that what Mem said about the Italian?”


“And that cute hostess, Nu.” Bish arched an eyebrow.

“I haven’t touched her.” No one awarded points for monogamy on the Bight of Siam.

“Not in your mind.” Bish had been taught by the nuns that sins in the mind were as dangerous as those of the flesh.

“It’s not the same thing.” I recognized why he was a successful lawyer in Boston. He was relentless in seeking the truth, except in Pattaya the pay-off wasn’t the same.

“Of course not.” He signaled for the bill. The evening sky above the palms was pitch black and Bish said, “You’re my cousin. Having a bad landing doesn’t mean the pilot has to go down with the plane.” i

“I’ll walk away from the crash.”

“Like that bike crash with the pick-up truck.”

I held up my wrist, which had healed bent. “Only a little battered.”

“Better than dead.”

Mem was waiting at the Tahitian Queen a Go-Go, which dated back to the Vietnam War. She had danced at the TQ as a showgirl after her husband had run off with a karaoke waitress. She had told me she went with up to three men a day. Some gave her 2000 baht for short-time.

I hated these stories.

Tonight she wore pink hot pants, a sheer bra, and high heels. A thick layer of chalky blush heightened her Chinese features and her hair had been teased to a ridiculous height. She looked ready for the prowl and the mama-san asked Mem to dance.

She ignored my scowl and jumped up on the stage. Her body rippled around a fire pole to a Brittany Spears’ hit. Slattern eyes were riveted to her reflection on the mirror. She dropped the straps from her shoulders to expose her breasts. This routine was out of her normal skein of bad behavior and I scanned the object of this deviation. The mama-san handed a note to a skinny young falang with a big nose. His two young friends glared in my direction. The three sported Milan AC football shirts. I commented on their attention to Bish, who shrugged, “Perhaps they’re old customers.”

“I think it’s the Italian.” Mem had pointed out other ‘Friends’ in the past. None had studied her every move so intently and I gripped my beer. Bish said, “Do yourself a favor and don’t start anything.”

“I won’t.”

Mrs. Carolina had stated that my pluses outweighed the negatives. I tried balancing the pros and cons with Mem. She was 24, had two kids, an ex-husband, a criminal family, no concept of money, no education, and no ambition beyond having sanuk versus her beauty and our sex. The math was simple. I would pass the torch.

“Bish, you said the best option would be let Mem go with the Italian.”

“Deserting her would save you a lot of trouble in the end and in the middle too.”

“Cut bait and run.” It had worked for Ronald Reagan after the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut.

“At this point you can walk. Later you might have to run.”

Mem bared her breasts to the young man.

“I’m opting for the Italian plan.”

“It’s a wise decision.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s why it feels like the wrong thing to do.”

Her love potion kept me in place.

Mem sashayed off the stage at the end of the song with a long strand of hair whipping across her spine, challenging the young Italian to maintain his invisibility.

“I still dance # 1.”

“Yes, you would win the bar fine prize every night.” I said sarcastically, but she missed my meaning. “Thank you, tee-lat.”

“Let’s go someplace more interesting,” Bishop suggested and we left TQ”S to view Hot and Cold a Go-Go’s midnight live show. He loved the fire show. Mem’s cousin worked the lesbian act and Bish barfined her for the night to balance out the third wheel. I avoided any of the regular farang hangouts. The Italian was at none of the distant bars. By 2am I was ready for sleep. Mem was not tired.

“I go dance one hour.”

“One hour?” Thai time was not measured by a clock.

“One hour. No more.” She had plans with the Italian.

“Have a good time.” This would finish us and I would be a free man. I kissed Mem goodnight and she said, “Go Marine with cousin. Come home soon.”

And I watched TV until 3. My phone hadn’t rung once and I called Mem. Her not picking up had a million possibilities. I settled on one and drove my bike to my cousin’s hotel. The desk clerk said that Bish had gone to his room ten minutes ago. Possibly Mem had returned home and I drove to my soi in less than five minutes. It might as well have been ten. The house would have been empty either way.

Pattaya was not a big city, however she wasn’t at the Lao coffee shop or the karaoke bar across the creek. No one had seen her at the Marine Disco. I rolled up to the biggest disco in the city. The motorcycle attendants asked where my mia was, which meant either she wasn’t here or they were covering up for my ‘wife’. I went inside to discover it was the former and I walked out feeling better, until Mem arrived on the Italian’s motorcycle.

She said, “Don’t talk now.”

Her plea came about an hour too late.

“I take care of you for a year and the second this punk comes into town you go off with him.”

“Why you talk same this?” She slipped off the bike with her eyes clouded with confusion. Her favorite band Loso was playing inside and this boy on the bike was young. “He friend.”

“Who this?” the Italian asked in clipped English.

The prospect of two falangs fighting over a dok thong had become a cartoon for the scores of Thais before the nightclub. Their laughter horrified Mem, but she remained by the Italian’s side. His friends bracketed him. It was three against one. My blood ran with lava and Mem saw my fists clenching. “Please don’t.”

Loso’s CHAO MOTORSAI boomed from the disco and her words ricocheted inside my skull. My blood boiled from the love potion. She had chosen this young man. Her khun gair was out. After leaving New York. After visiting the dirt-poor farm in Khorat. After feeding her family and I said, “You fucking bitch.”

While non-fluent in gutter American, she started crying into her hands. The Italian realized his trespass into an unexpected relationship and apologized, “There are a hundred women in Pattaya. She can go with you.”

“No, you can have her.” I pressed the electric starter and roared out of the parking lot.

This was not Romeo and Juliette. I had forgotten the warnings, not listened to the tales, and ignored the writing on the wall. I was getting what I deserved and nightmares exhausted me by dawn.


In the morning her brother picked up her clothes. I bought him some beer and he explained that his sister was crazy. He smiled apologetically and Over the next few days I heard the story from a dozen sources.

Mem was with the younger man. He had offered a trip to Italy. His father had given him $10,000 to process her visa. The Italian intended on marrying the ex-go-go dancer, whereas I was content to live in sin.

The success of the Italian Plan hadn’t achieved its expected result and after Bish returned to Boston, I heeded the advice of Dmitri, an old friend from the East 6th Street biker club, “Nothing like a long bike ride to take your mind off your troubles.”

The overnight train brought me north to Chiang Mai. I rented a 400cc bike and drove into the mountains. I crossed into Burma at Mai Sai. No one checked your passport until Kengtung. China was 90 miles to the North. A full tank of gas was enough for a ride halfway through the Shan State. I revved the engine to 120 kph. My eyes saw nothing of the arid countryside. Only the image of Mem lying with another man. It was leading me to a bad place, reminding me of Sam Royalle’s collaboration with a timeshares-realtor from the UK. Nick had come out here with five million baht. He had a traditional Thai house, a loving girlfriend bedecked with gold, and a new Benz. No one had foreseen the global recession, which evaporated his fortune faster than an Isaaan rice paddy during the hot season.

Nick started drinking heavily and his mia wisely had foreseen the end. She split with the car and the gold. Sam lent Nick money for a one-way ticket to London. His maid found him the day of his flight, floating facedown in his pool. The money for the ticket was unspent in his pocket. For a mere $250 the Pattaya police entered the cause of death as a heart attack, so his family could collect on the life insurance.

Nick wasn’t the only one to not exit with a Happy ending.

Each issue of the Pattaya Mail was dotted with articles about farangs jumping out of hotel windows, hanging themselves or overdosing on pills after their girlfiend’s desertion. No one was immune to the allure of suicide, but I avoided driving head-on into any cars or trucks on the ride to the bridge spanning the Thaton River.

The shimmering road was crowded with army vehicles. Conscripts nervously studied the northern ridgeline. The previous day Burmese regulars had shelled an orchard project sponsored by King Bumiphol. The 110mm barrage had injured several fruit trees and the Third Army commander was spoiling to avenge this insult as a way to curtail the cross-border amphetamine traffic from the Red Wa.

The heat mercilessly hovered around 100F. A horrible temperature for killing strangers and the sweating sergeant at the checkpoint warned, “Lawang-si. Big shooting this morning. Two soldiers die.”

“Khon Thai?” As an illegal resident in the Land of Smiles I favored the home team.

“Ban thi.” the sergeant stated noncommittally in fear of the departed souls.

I had died on this road ten years ago, so my fear of stray bullets was superseded by the necessity to forget my doomed affair and I asked the NCO at the bridge, “Can I get to Doi Mae Salong?”

The sergeant shrugged with typical Thai indifference to a farang’s welfare, “Law ke khun.”

I saluted my thanks and he ordered a drowsy private to lift the barrier. The bike accelerated across the bridge. The roadside towns were deserted and not a single car or truck traveled in either direction. The absence of farmers tending crops on the steep slopes was disconcerting, for these people were no strangers to danger and I stopped on a curve to ponder the wisdom of this trip.

I gazed out on the valley stretching west to distant hills. Fifty years ago elephants roamed wild under tall teak trees. Tribes still clustered atop the misty peaks far from the modern world. They grew opium to soothe their aches. These people had been happy in their ignorance, until the warlords commercialized the drug trade to help the French pay for their war in Indochina.

Forests were cleared to grow more opium. Roads were built to connect distribution centers. Bribes were paid to the police. Addiction became a way of life and the plague worsened with the coming of the DEA.

Crop eradication led to wholesale deforestation to raise land-intensive crops on margin hillsides. Opium was refined swiftly into heroin. The hill tribes and Thais turned to shooting smack. Needles were swapped and HIV spread through the mountains, because a country on the other side of the world has lost control of its drug addiction.

None of this was visible from the road to Doi Mai Salong nor was any of the damage from the ya bah or meth plague. The hot wind crawled on my skin like Mem’s caress. Her magic had traveled the length of Thailand. I had to go further to leave behind her love potion. Maybe as far as Nepal. I thought I could make it there in a few days, until a machine gun’s distant tat-tat-a-tatted from the west.

Plumes of earth rose above a low ridge and the distant mortar explosions were the rumble of a giant’s footfall. The breeze shifted to carry a shuffling hiss through the dry grass. The sudden peace offered no comfort. An ache shivered in my left wrist and I touched the scar indented into my forehead. A deja vu chilled my spine. I had died on this very spot and hadn’t recognized it until now. I hadn’t died then and wasn’t going to die now. I tried Mem’s number. No answer. She was probably sleeping off a night at the Marine Disco.

I clearly envisioned her on Walking Street with the Italian lover. I jumped on the Honda Super 4 and rode away with a hell-bent acceleration on a narrow road, because my reserve of self-preservation had hit empty. The Honda’s 400cc engine generated enough power to reach 160kph. No cars ever came my way and about ten minutes from Doi Mai Salong my cellphone vibrating in my pocket. I stopped by the side of the road. The elevation was over 1700 meters, yet the temperature hadn’t dropped a single degree. The leaves of the trees hung lifeless. I checked the number on the LCD. It belonged to Mem. I opened the call and she asked, “U ngai?”

Her speaking Thai indicated the Italian was within earshot and I asked myself why she bothered calling an ex-lover before saying, “I’m in Chiang Mai.”

“Khun mi puying?” She sounded, as if she cared. I should have lied, instead said, “I don’t have any woman.”


“Yes, it’s the truth.”

An Akha woman was traversing the opposite slope to a grass hut.

Hanging up was the best safeguard for my sanity, yet I listened to her whisper, “Miss you, tee-lat. He not same you. When you come?”

Something stopped my saying the word ‘never’. I remembered the blue liquid on the beer bottle. I had been sick for three days. The words of LOVE POTION # 9 jumbled in my head and I told Mem, “Maybe tomorrow.”

“You come. Call me.” It was an order and I pushed the END button. One substance could erase Mem from my life and I drove the final kilometers to Doi Mai Salong with a krait’s poison running through my veins. The Chinese troops fleeing Mao’s Communists in 1949 had chosen the mountaintop as a refuge. Its remoteness had guaranteed little interference with the opium trade from the Bangkok government. The completion of a paved road had forced the KMT to legitimize their local enterprises with tourist endeavors and the tribal morning market had been replaced by Chinese merchants selling teas and herbal cures.

It was all a front.

I parked my motorcycle by the basketball court and wandered through the alleys in search of opium. No one had any. They fingered me as DEA. I installed myself on a restaurant terrace. My dark mood drove any trinket hawkers from my table.

Beer accompanied my wait. The waiter jealously frowned at my ordering a fourth beer. It wasn’t even Two O’clock. I sang along to Carabao’s TALAY JAI and two Akha girls giggled at my rendition, then a teenager sauntered onto the terrace. His skin was stretched tightly over his bones like a witch doctor had shrunken him in the wash identified his ya bah addiction. He sat at the table, licking his lips. “I have ganga. 100 baht. Ao, mai ao?”

“No, get me opium. Ma. Horse.” I gave him 500 baht as a test. He went off and stayed away. I was too drunk to drive that night, but couldn’t sleep in the small guesthouse. The sweat from my skin smelled like the green slime love potion smeared around the beer bottle.

Getting a Thai woman out of your system was as difficult as cutting gum out of your hair. There was always some left. I needed another woman. There were none in Doi Mae Salong. The ride to Chiang Mai took three hours. I couldn’t wait for the bars to open and caught an afternoon flight to Bangkok. I spoke to Mem twice on the taxi ride to Pattaya.

Both times in English meant she wasn’t with the Italian. She was waiting at the house. Forgiveness rekindled our passion. At midnight she announced she was meeting this Italian. “I say finish and come to you.”

“How long?” I gulped, wishing I had thrown away my cell phone.

“Not sure. He love me too much. I no hurt him same I hurt you. He young man, not old man.” She dressed in skimpy shorts and a chiffon throng bra. It was not a good-bye outfit. I gave her taxi fare and waited for her. She came to the house at 3am, saying the Italian was smoking ganja with his friends. “I stay three hours. We make love long time.”

I obeyed with the helplessness of a slave lying on quicksand, so his mistress won’t get her feet wet.

Afterwards she slept fifteen hours straight. Her telephone rang incessantly. The Italian obviously was unaware about our arrangement. If I answered, he might leave us alone. I looked at the bed, the long black tentacles of hair strewn over her face and her mouth agape, as if she were on the verge of exhaling her dying breath.

A knife to her heart was almost as tempting as a pillow over her face. A couple of seconds and it was over. While violence smoked in my veins, cold-murder wasn’t simmering in my brain and I let her live.

The nuns at St. Mary’s of the Foothills had taught on the Judgment Day every soul from the past, present, and future will be assembled to witness a replay of your life, after which God will decided whether you spend eternity worshipping him in Heaven or burning in Hell. With some souls he’ll make in a snap decision. I think of myself as a marginal case, yet the most frightening aspect of this apocalyptical judgment is that billions of soul will have to view my behavior in the month following Mem’s departure to Koh Samui with the Italian.

“Thailand is the best place to break up with a woman,” Sam Royalle stated, sitting in the Carousel a Go-Go. Two naked girls lathered each other with soap. They were beautiful and willing. “You want both?”

I waved off his offer. The love potion ran strong in my veins and I answered, “Neither.”


Both girls fully dressed would have caused car crashes in London.

“I’m not in the mood.”

“When a man is tired of fucking in Pattaya, then he’s tired of the world.”

“Sometimes it’s not all about fucking.”

Sam ordered two more vodka-tonics.

“You are in bad shape.”

“The more operative word is pathetic.”

I drained my glass in search of oblivion. I found it three nights running. I hadn’t eaten anything in that period and ended up at Nu’s restaurant. She ordered food for me. I told her about leaving Mem. She knew all about it. Everyone did, because Thai girls love gossip, especially about tragedies. Nu wasn’t sure that I had left Mem for good, but I started seeing her.

Nothing more serious than going out to eat after she finished work. She refused my entreaties, saying Pattaya was a big town with over five hundred bars, discos, and go-gos, yet every town gets small, whenever two men fight over one woman and I was about to find out how small.

Mem threatened her with a hammer at the restaurant on the Beach Road. Nu stopped answering my phone calls and I was furious with Mem. We argued at her old bar on Soi 8. There was no love lost between us. “You have another man. Why do you want me?”

“Because I have two roads. One go Italy. One go you.”

“You have one road now.” Actually she probably had an entire highway system of men. “Ciao Bella.”

“Scatzo.” She tramped away in a rage.

“Have a good life.” We were finished and I went home to spent a sleepless night. Mem showed up at dawn in tears.

“Why you look other woman?” She broke a bottle to slash her wrists. The cuts were diagonal. Serious was lengthwise, still I wrestled away the bottle. “Stop it.”

She cried, “I love you. Only you.”

We went to the nearest hotel. She used tricks she had learned with other men. Each was a hook to my libido. She resisted no perversion. I tested her endurance. When she left in the morning, Mem said, “I go one hour.”

I could have followed, but after two years in Pattaya I posssessed an extensive spy network. Her cousin from Hot and Cold confessed that the Italian dealt ya bah. A policeman from Soi 9 had intoned that Mem was eating up the profits. A motorsai taxi driver from Tony’s Disco said that every night the Italian bought girls for her husband, whom he mistook for her cousin. I might have laughed, expect I had accepted her sah-mee as her brother.

Her old mama-san from the Tahitian Queen told me at happy hour, “Mem beautiful, fun, she no good. Her mother leave her____?”

“I’ve heard the story.” A bad childhood didn’t excuse her wickedness.

A travel agent passed on information about Mem getting an Italian visa. Her leaving was simply a matter of time. I should have been relieved, but one morning after she had shown up unexpectedly for sex, I asked, “If you love me, why are you leaving with this Italian?”

“I not want go, he tell father he marry me. He send money and I take care my babies.” She wiped away her tears. Her lips had kissed the Italian earlier in the day and perhaps her husband as well. Her treason was unforgivable. She didn’t accept my resistance and crawled against my legs. Her skin smelled of cheap perfume and cigarettes. I carried her upstairs.

We made love five times in the space of two hours. Afterwards we lay tangled in each other’s limbs and she said, “I not finish with him. Not one time. He have small penis. Not big same you.”

“So you’ll live with me?” The words felt like they were spoken by another person. I couldn’t puke out or sweat out the love potion in my gut.

“I love you 100%. I tell him about you. We live together. Same before.”

She rose from the bed and starting dressing. She asked for 1000 baht and I realized she was working two shifts for her family and husband, gambling that her body could control two westerners’ lusts. I had rolled snake-eyes again.

“How long before you come back?”

Mem looked at the clock on the wall. It was 10pm. “Midnight. Give me one hour.”

“You come by midnight?” The math didn’t add up in any country other than Thailand.

“Stay with you forever. You not go out. I not want him fight with you after I tell we finish. Okay?”

We both knew she wasn’t saying goodbye to the Italian in two hours and I didn’t bother to watch her walk down the street, nonetheless I waited for her call. Midnight passed without the phone ringing. An hour later I shut off the TV and went into the garden. The karaoke bar was pumping out an N’Sync hit.

Mem had been dancing to the same song our first night.

The wisest choice was to go inside to bed and let the Italian Plan work its magic.

Unfortunately the vengeful snakes inside my skull hissed too loud to allow any insane man sleep. I got on my bike and rode to the beach.

Walking Street was crowded with drunken marines, dok thongs, Ecstasy-madden Englishmen, tattooed go-go girls, shouting Arabs, Amazonian transvestites, wide-eyed Chinese tourists thronging through the gauntlet of dueling music from various beer bars and discos. The heat was driving everyone to a frenzy and alcohol was behind the wheel. The madness was sobering and I realized vengeance was a sin better suited for the Bible.

Sam Royalle was at Hot Tuna with his wife. I resisted asking, if they had seen Mem. They would never have said yes or no, because a strange etiquette in Pattaya is that no one ever snitches, if someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend is with someone else.

The first beer. went fast. The next three faster. Two tequilas and a whiskey broke my laughter dam. I played snooker against Pi-ek, the owner, and beat him four games to none. The most beautiful girl on the street invited me to go home. I was drunk enough to think it was for my looks. I never saw Mem. She walked up and demanded, “Why you not wait me?”

“Are you fucking mad?”

The other girl recognized her services for the evening were required elsewhere and fled the beer bar. I should have followed her, but this scene had been rehearsed too many times in my head to not let it play out with my body.

“Bah? I not crazy. Yet mung.” Mem spat with eyes slurred by hatred.

I clenched my hands into snow-white fists. My blood demon demanded sacrifice. The word murder strangely reversed into ‘Red rum’. Jack Nicholson had said something similar in THE SHINING and I remembered an editor of Heavy Metal magazine introducing me to the author as a fellow Mainiac.

Stephen King had sneered upon hearing I came from Falmouth Foresides, as if anything south of the Bath Iron Works wasn’t Maine. I never read his rip-offs of HP Lovecraft afterwards and wasn’t going to kill anyone with ‘Red rum’ rummaging through my brain. My fists relaxed. I looked Mem in the eyes. “You better go with your Italian.”

“You not love me no more?” She was surprised by my surrender.

If I kept my mouth shut, she might walk away, instead I said, “No, I don’t anymore.”

“Ko-hok.” She knew I was lying too and the chant of ‘Kill her’ replaced ‘Red rum’.

I grabbed an empty beer bottle from the bar. Everyone was stuck in slow-motion; her Italian, his friends, Sam, the bar owner, transvestites across the street, two Swedes feeding bananas to a baby elephant, while my homicidal urge unshackled the tentacles of time.

I was free. No responsibilities. No one to care about. I didn’t have to obey any laws of nature. I was the God of my future. I was a good pitcher. Not great, but I could easily hit her head, however my rage was not blind, merely short-sighted and I threw the bottle against the wall, shattering the time prison for everyone else.

Mem cried, as the Italian and his friends scrummed with Sam, Pi-ek, and ten Thais. The police told each party to go their separate ways. No one had been hurt. A lot of face had been lost. I handled that disgrace by ordering a round of drinks for my friends. Pi-Ek, who said, “Good, you not hit her.”

“I was close.” Violence sappied my soul.

“You hit Thai lady and have big trouble with police. Expensive. Maybe go to hospital.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Mem’s brothers had killed fellow Thais for 5000 baht. My life was worth more than $125 and I kept telling myself that, as Mem staged several comebacks before finally leaving for Italy in late August.

She called once saying her leaving me had been a mistake.

“No, it was the right thing to do. Good luck.” I meant it too. After she was gone I couldn’t get her out of my head. She called from Italy tellign me to rescue here. I actually looked into the price of a flight. Nu saw me coming out of the travel agency. She shook her head. ” I hear about you and Mem on on Walking Street.”

“I’m an old fool.”

“No, she make you a love curse.”

“I think so too.” The blue liquid in the glass. “Do you know how to stop a love curse.”

“Have to have old lady make rice. She stand over rice and let sweat fall into rice. Then you eat. Love magic finish.”

“You’re joking?”

“No, pood ching.”

In the morning I met Nu beyond the train tracks. She stood by a shack. Five old women cackled at me and one stood over the steaming rice. I ate a whole bowl. It tasted terrible. I didn’t sleep or eat two days, but afterwards I didn’t think about Mem. Only how much a fool I had been.

“Everyone can be a fool sometimes. Only all the time is bad.” Nu still refused any intimacy. “I have been a fool one time too. Maybe have big heart. Same you.”

Nu’s husband had left her for another woman and I wondered whether there were any happy endings in Thailand. She said, “Happy ending good in movie. Not same life.”

Nu accompanied me to Don Muang Airport, saying in Thai. “Thailand is very beautiful.”

“I’ll remember it that way.”

“Maybe you come back one day and you kiss me.”

It was sweet to hear after my year and a half with Mem. “I’ll be back soon.”

“I’ll pray to Buddha for you.”

“Krup kuhn kap.” I wai-ed her, because she had helped smooth over a rough spot in my soul. I couldn’t wait six month. The kiss was a short one. Her lips were tender. My name was called for final boarding. Nu smiled and I released her hand. I was going to America. Manny would hire me to sell diamonds for Christmas. Sherri would laugh about the love potion. Ms. Carolina would take me skiing. Maybe Bill could convince Monty to make a movie about the Italian Plan. I would be back in Thailand for the New Year. It would be a new life. All I wanted was a little love. It wasn’t too much to ask from life. Not in Pattaya or anywhere else in the world. Even for a fool, especially after being freed from a curse.

AO, MAI AO – want, not want
A-RAI – what?
BAH – Mad
CHOK DI – Good luck
DOK THONG – slut
FARANG – Westerner
FEN – Boyfriend
FIN – Opium
JEP-HOO- headache
JUM JAM Pawn shop
LAK KHUN love you
KI shit
KOR-THOT sorry
KWAII buffalo

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