How Far From Now

On November 8, 2016 I was sitting at the bar at the Barnacle in Marblehead. The TV was showing the election results. The initial reports looked good for Hillary Clinton, however CNN swiftly charted the collapse of democracy as old Democratic stronghold in the Midwest fell into Trump’s electoral count. By dawn victory was declared by the reality TV star and America was firmly in the hands of the GOP, despite Bill Clinton’s wife having spent over $700 million on her campaign, nearly $600 million on political hacks.

Trump’s motto MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN had resonated with the voters from the religious right to the Hassidim community and white suburbs threatened by equality and fearful of the War on Terror.

I walked away from the Barnacle, thinking, “We are so fucked.”

In the morning my beloved Aunt Sally and Uncle Russ admitted that they thought the same, although they were too polite to use bad language, but we walked up to Fort Sewell where the view only changed with the light.

In the following weeks I scoured the results in suspect congressional districts without finding a blaring example of fraud other than the traditional suppression of black voters throughout the USA.

Turkey day came and went without incident.

We knew nothing was right and nothing stayed right for the following four years.

Trump was evil.

My friends believed in their god/king. I stopped speaking to most of them.

Separation of children of illegal immigrants, travel bans against Muslims, pardons of white-collar criminals, praising Putin and the North Korean dictator, anti-marijuana policies, attempts to repeal health care, tax cuts for the rich, deregulation of environmental protection, the Trump Wall of Mexico, attacks on Yemen, condoning white supremacists and terror against African-Americans, threats against Iran, support for fundamentalist terror of Saudi Arabia, Covid rejection ad nauseum delighted the Trumpards.

But Trump wasn’t really American.

To him BLM was evil.

Defund the police was evil.

Old motherfuckers like me remember history.

2017

Trump paid $750 in income tax.

He scared the Germans.

2019. He practiced pardons.

2020. He lost to Joe Biden by seven million votes, but declared the election results were changed by theft.

His followers believed his claims and his legal teams attack everyone without success.

He was a loser, yet called on his followers to reject the truth.

On January 6, 2021 they attacked the Capitol Building, where the Senate and Congress were completing the tally for the Electoral Congress.

Chaos.

Mayhem.

Death.

And still the GOP called for fraud investigation.

Fuck them and the pigs they rode.

Because Gettysburg proved one thing to these scum.

“Fredericksburg. Frederickburg.”

One defeat does not mean victory.

ps Fuck 12.

Journal Entry – January 4, 1978

I’ve slept with Fran several times this week. She wants to nail down my freedom. I don’t know why.

Last night at One-Fifth Bert, Cecile, and I discussed romance. Bert is a homosexual portrait painter with a receding hairline and Cecilean older woman with a very avant-grade view of innocence. She loves make-up and dressing like a fag hag. Given my freedom I would love to seduce her or be seduce by her.

“Romance? Isn’t that what we all want?”

“She wore diamonds on her finger and around her delicate neck. Cecile came from wealth and I wondered whether having too much money killed any approach to romance.

“Romance is a perfect ideal, but…”

“But what…”Burt asked with his eyes on my crotch.

“I deal more with freedom. Sexual freedom is threatened by romance or love, for as Carson McCullers wrote in THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE “Most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover, because being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”

Cecile’s eyes widened and she said, “I had been married for twenty-five years. On New Year’s Eve my husband finally admitted he was gay and for the first time in my life I felt free.”

“”That’s because…” Burt started to say, but Cecile lifted her hand, “My husband loves no one more than a bottle of vodka and I could always deal with Hal being queer, but when he’s drunk, he’s only with drink. This New Year’s Eve he drank so much.”
“It’s too bad he does.” Burt looked at me, as if I might be able to save Cecile from loneliness. “You should go to CBGBs with your young friend.”

“How did you spend the night. Burt was alone,” she confessed a confidence and his eyes showed the hurt.

I could have been with friends.” Burt was almost in years and I said, “I got tight.”

“Tight?”

“Drunk.”

With someone?”

“With everyone and no one. I was like your husband. I wanted no one.”

“Neither did I, but I had the best time, because I was free for once.”

“One night of freedom is only one night.”

“Better one night than none and I loved the freedom.” Cecile signaled the bartender for another round and I lowered my head, thinking about how lonely loneliness was, as the hours of a New Year slipped away without anyone to help pass the time.

I know alone too well.
Later
I entertained Jaci and her punk friend, Sally at Broadway Charlies. I drank hard and missed a rendezvoused with Fran. I called and said I couldn’t make it to Brooklyn.

“Why can’t you meet me?”

“I have errands to run.” I hoped she wouldn’t ask any questions and she didn’t, although we made plans to meet tomorrow. I warned that I wouldn’t wake up before noon. She said, “Why do you treat me like I’m nothing?”

“I don’t know.”

And that was the truth.
Even later
Racism. White people against anyone of color. African or Asian and let’s not forget the extermination of the Native Americans. Slavery of them all is how White people stay ahead. Since 1621.

A TASTE FOR THE EAST by Peter Nolan Smith

My first trip to the Orient was in 1990. A round-the-world ticket. One destination was Singapore. The Straits city was already undergoing its metamorphosis from a colonial port to a gleaming metropolis of skyscrapers. Raffles was closed for renovations. I stayed at a cheap Chinese hotel in a decrepit godown. The walls climbed toward the ceiling without reaching their destination. A yard of wire covered the gap. The bedding was soiled by a thousand weary bodies and the fan spun with lazy fatigue. I left the room and walked toward the harbor. A rickshaw driver stopped me.

“You want ma.” His clothing was shredded by a decade of useless washes. His body was desiccated to bones wrapped in parchment. His eyes shone with a dull want.

“Ma.” Horse in Chinese. The word had one meaning in New York City. “Where?”

“I know place.” His claw of a hand beckoned to accompany him. Drugs were contraband in Singapore. The penalty for possession was death in the most grievous cases. A long prison sentence for anyone else foolish enough to challenge the system. Most arrests came from informers such as this rickshaw driver, who said, “I not police.”

“I know.” Snitch maybe, but the appeal of opium was an old friend. I climbed into his vehicle and we traveled into the night far from the new towers of glass and steel. The streetlights were dim in this neighborhood. Several doorways were populated by Indonesian transvestites. Others by Chinese whores. Men drank openly on the sidewalk in rebellion against the Singapore leader’s draconian measures for public behavior. The rickshaw driver braked with a whining screech.

“Here.” He looked over his shoulder to check for anything out of place. “My name Rami. This place good. Give $10.”

I handed over the money and bought a sheet of aluminum foil from a tobacco shop. We entered the battered house. The smell of opium greeted us. I tapped Rami and gave him another $10. “One for you. One for me.”

“You good man.” Rami smiled with two front teeth. The rest were brown as cigar butts.

An old woman of indistinguishable racial origins led us into a tiny cubicle. The furnishing were two wooden benches and a wax-covered stool. Sweat shadows marking the proper position for lying on them. Money passed hands and she shut the door. Rami produced tin foil, which he tore into two separate pieces.

“Sorry, no have pipe.”

“I know how to chase the dragon.” I opened my packet and dropped the black ball on the aluminum foil. Rami rolled two paper tubes. A candle was lit on the stool. Rami was an expert and I followed his lead.

“Good horse.”

Within minutes we were transported to another century before planes, telephones, and movies. Opium was king and I was its slave. Years later I went back to find the opium den. A shopping mall was standing in its place. It was selling nothing I wanted. Only fancy perfumes and expensive shirts. It was better that way for the rest of the world and I went to Raffles for a Gin Sling, looking for Rami every step of the way.

He had to be in the shadows somewhere.

Men like him never die.

Not if they know what is good for them.

THE PIGPEN A GO GO by Peter Nolan Smith


Life is the sum of a person’s experiences. Work and family dominate the sculpting of a soul. Days are defined by routine and years by the seasons and weather. En masse we are the same, but different thanks to our participation in special events liberating our souls from the shackles of perpetual monotony.

Woodstock lasted three days. The freedom shared by the young celebrants of Aquarius remains an icon of peace and love to millions of young people. I was washing dishes at a hotel outside Boston that weekend. I bought the record and watched the movie. No number of joints can transport my body to the past glory of Max Yasgur’s farm.

I will never be able to say that I was at Woodstock, but I have been lucky enough to have seen the first screening of APOCALYPSE NOW at the New York’s Ziegfeld Theater, dropped LSD at the Mudd Club’s Acid Party, and caught the Whorelords one-night stand as well as attended every night of CBGB’s Johnny Blitz Benefit, and witnessed Rahsaan Roland Kirk stunning performance for the hippies at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival.

Im blind, but I know theres more than five of you motherfuckers out there. The sax player shouted into the microphone with a tenor, flute, and clarinet draped around his neck. The long-hairs cheered his bravado and he rewarded their applause with a 17-minute long version of THREE BLIND MICE. More than ten thousand of us leapt to our feet to give the jazz legend a standing ovation.

So I missed Woodstock, the Red Sox-Reds 6th World Series game in 1975, and the opening of Studio 54. No human can be everywhere and after 40 the drive to see and be seen gave way to the comfort of sitting in a bar with a cold beer in my hand.

The stagnation was all-powerful.

40 would become 50 and 50 run into 60.

I was a nobody and in danger of becoming even more anonymous to others and even myself.

Something had to change and in 1991 I quit my job selling diamonds on 47th Street and bought a round-the-world ticket. I dropped my name of birth in Bali to become Pascha Ray, explorer of bars in the Far East. Beer and gin were my poison. I recounted tales of CBGBs to backpackers. The 20 year-olds thought of me as a legend or a liar. The choice depended on my sobriety. By the time I turned 50, my body was exhausted by the annual circumnavigation of the globe and my wanderings marooned me in Pattaya, the Last Babylon on Earth.

The Go-Go bars and brothels of the infamous Thai beach resort offered lonely middle-aged men from the West a last chance at youth. A night with a girl without a name passed for love. A hang-over was more easily attained than nirvana and our motto for next morning was ‘another day in paradise’.

Even Adam got tired of paradise and after a year my fill of naked girls dancing to HOTEL CALIFORNIA, although my friends were happy every day of the week with that fate. They were oil diggers, anti-intellectual lager louts, a few bank robbers from Germany, and an assortment of international fugitives from justice. Our local was the Buffalo Bar on Sai 3, when we rehashed ancient adventures in slurred accents to leggy bar girls in slinky dresses. I always brought my Shi-Tzu.

The froggie owner didnt like the idea of a dog lying on the bar, but the girls said Champoo had a nah-lak or lovely face and none of the old geezers dared to argue with a pretty girl.

Anywhere else in the world women would have avoided the Old Geezer Lounge like an ex-husband looking to borrow money but the bargirls of Pattaya have the uncanny skill of blinding themselves to man’s pros and cons.

To them all men, Thai and farang, were the same.

Bad.

Every night my friends deserted the Buffalo Bar for the go-go bars of Walking Street. I promised to join them later. My true destination was my bed up the street.

My ‘ex-wife’ and I slept together with my daughter. Angie lay between us. Her mother and I never had sex. All Thai wives suspected their husband’s infidelity. She would never believed that I was faithful. Pattaya offered too much opportunity and I was weak.

Months became years and the rainy season of 2006 entered September with a vengeance. Champoo and I were trapped at the Buffalo Bar. Monsoon rain drummed off the tin roof with a deafening intensity. The side street was flooded knee-deep. The girls were shivering in their thin dresses.

My drinking companion was New. There was no way that I was going upstairs with New. The 18 year-old wanted 5000 baht. In New York City she was a bargain, since she looked like Natalie Woods. I tried to tell this to New. She has never heard of SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS or REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Old movies are dead overseas, so I asked New, if she wanted to be in a movie.

“Dirty movie?” New shook her lovely head.

“Not dirty.” Shooting a sex film in Thailand was almost as foolish as buying property.

“Movie called MY DOG SINGS THE BLUES. Champoo is the star.”

“Champoo sing?”

“Listen.” I whistled a high pitch and the little howled with a lifted head.

This got a good laugh from New.

A brand-new car pulled up to the entrance and a scrawny man jumped out of the passenger side with a towel over his head. He was drenched in a second. The greeting girl called him a ngao with a mocking laugh.

The man took off the towel.

The fool was none other than my old New York friend, Jamie Parker.

New got up from the stool and meandered toward the pool table. She didn’t get very far.

You ever think about breeding Champoo who a pit-bull? Jamie ordered two vodka-tonics. That way youd get a pit-zhu.

Nah, Champoo took a vow of virginity.

Like that girl you were talking to.” He nodded to the table where New was entertaining an elderly French man with dreams of seduction.

“New.”

“Nice.” Jamie sat next to me and Champoo licked his hand. She was a friendly dog. “Nice night for it

“Monsoon season.” I hadn’t seen Jamie in several months. He looked good for his age. Rumor was that he was building a go-go bar in a vacant lot off Soi Buah-Khao and that Fabo, the Belgian oil explorer, was financing the project.

“You sound happy.” Jamie wiped the wet from his face. The car waited in the deluge. He wasn’t staying long.

“Happy as a clam.”

“You want to be happier.” The lithesome waitress brought him a gin-tonic and a smile. He bought her a drink. The girls at the Buffalo liked a man like Jamie. He wore his prison tattoos with honor.

“I’m not into drugs.” Pattaya was awash with speedy Ja-bah, meth Ice, and wretched cocaine. Opium might have worked, but Pattaya was too far south from the Golden Triangle.

“Not drugs, but the Pig Pen A Go Go.” A soggy flyer flashed over Champoo.

PIGPEN A GO GO OPENING 9/11
UGLY GIRLS
ANYTHING GOES
FREE BEER FOR NEW YORKERS

“What’s this?” The rumors were true.

“Fabo didn’t mention anything?” Jamie hooked his arm around the waitress’ waist.

“Not a word.” Fabo and I had spent this afternoon at the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. We spoke everything, but their project.

“He said he could keep a secret and did. Not many of the losers in this town can hold their sand. Big mouth drunks.” Jamie was glaring at two football hooligans. He hated English soccer fans.

“Better change your mindset. That type loves go-gos.” Pattaya’s countless go-go bars generated billions of baht of income for the owners, dancers, bar staff, and police on the take. The clientele was strictly farangs.

“They won’t be coming to the Pigpen. I’m appealing to a niche market. Ugly girls who will do anything for anyone. The fatter and uglier the better. A horror show to wake up the dead and we’re opening on 9/11 to commemorate the five years since the day.

“How appropriate.” I had been standing on my roof in the East Village after the first airplane crashed into the WTC. The second attack was a shock shared by thousands. Their collapse by millions around the world. It was a ‘had to be there’ event that I wished could be exorcised from history.

“Come early. We have a special sunset show.”

“Free beer, ugly girls, and a 9/11 show. Who can resist that?”

The car horn beeped loudly and the high beams flashed into the bar.

“Looks like your driver is in a hurry.” Her face was obscured by the water sluicing over windshield.

“Ort has to get back her ‘boyfriend’. Some British bodybuilder.”

“You’re still with Ort?”

“More or less.” Ort and Jamie were made for each other.

“She’s going to dance at the Pigpen?” The vicious go-go dancer barely into her 20s had a snake’s rhythm in her blood.

“Opening night only.” Jamie released the waitress and patted Champoo on the head.

My puppy whimpered with pleasure.

Jamie hadn’t lost his touch with other half of the species and he ran out into rain, shouting, “She’ll be dancing naked under a chador. As Bin Laden’s wife. You won’t want to miss that.”

“I see you there.” Nudity was against the law in Pattaya, unless the police received their tea money to turn an eye. They were experts at being blind.

I was home by midnight. My daughter was asleep in bed. Her mother was watching a Thai soap on TV. She offered no greeting and I wasn’t expecting one. I joined my daughter in the bedroom and read Nick Hornby’s FEVER PITCH. I was out cold in minutes.

The next three days passed with the sameness of the previous months.

Work, eat, kisses and hugs from my daughter, the cold shoulder from her mother, beers at the Buffalo, and sleep.

I could have repeated the routine without a break, if I hadn’t noticed the Bangkok Post article mentioning the 5th Anniversary of 9//11.

Five years of two wars.

Five years of OBL on the loose.

Five years of GW Bush and the worldwide war on terror.

Thailand was twelve hours in advance of Eastern Standard Time.

It was 9/11/2006.
Five years ago the attack squads had booked into airport motels. Some of the hijackers passed the last hours in prayer. The others sought solace in go-go bars to train for their reward of 77 virgins in the afterlife. Mohammad Atta exited the Mass Pike without paying the toll. Letters were written to friends and family. I spend that evening at home. The forecast from the Weather Channel predicted cloudless skies. It was right on the money.

The hijackers probably woke at 5 on 9/11 to a black morning with stars in the sky.

Five years later I left my house for the Pigpen. My daughter was napping on the couch and my ‘wife’ was speaking on the phone in a low voice. Her boyfriend was probably on the other end. I said good-bye without any acknowledgment for her and whistled for Champoo.

The afternoon sky was sullen with heavy black clouds.

Even a blind man could predict tonight’s weather.

I drove over to Soi Buah-Khao on my scooter with Champoo in the basket. Thais called out her name. She would have been a prize-winning Shzi-chu, if the next-door neighbor’s mutt hadn’t torn off her left ear.

The Pigpen was located at the end of a row of unoccupied beer bars. The front of the bar resembled a pig stye. A long table was loaded with good food and a pig roasted of a spit. Balloons waved in the wind. They were a Pattaya tradition indicating free food to the Cheap Charlies on a tight budget. A dozen fat girls sat on their haunches wolfing down spicy sum tam salad. None of them had been cute since birth.

Two aluminum billboards rose from the vacant lot across the street.

Fabo and Jamie were flying radio-controlled airplane around the two billboards toting a bankrupt property deal. A few Thais watched the aerobatics. They oohed at the close passes.

I parked my bike and lifted Champoo out of the basket. She barked at the looping planes. The two owners nodded to me and I walked over to Jamie.

“You’re not really going to do this?” I directed the question at Jamie. He was completely absorbed by the flight of the replica planes. Neither looked like jet liners.

“Do what, Yankee?” Fabo’s grin was besotted by mischief.

“Re-enact 9/11.” It was the epitome of bad taste. I stepped forward to snatch the controls. Fabo darted out reach.

“This is only practice, Yankee.” His plane buzzed the metallic billboards with inches to spare.

“Jamie.”

“What? You wanna play FBI or CIA? They didn’t stop the hijackers and GW Bush let the Bin Ladens out of the country. And five years later nothing’s changed in America other than we drive bigger cars and are getting fatter.” Jamie was not all there at the best of times, but off his medicine jacked up his meanness. A pick-up truck rolled down the dead-end street. “Our first guests.”

Jamie landed the plane and greeted the five over-sized men. They collectively weighed over 1500 pounds and dressed like off-duty fat men from a freak show. Each of them greeted Jamie and Fabo with a hug. When I joined them, Jamie whispered, “Americans, but none of them are from New York.”

“I am.” A glop of rain splattered on my face. The clouds had darkened from gray to black.

“Boston-born, so no free beer.”

“Almost 30 years in the East Village.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re Red Sox fan till the day you die. But we’ll overlook your birthplace for one night.”

Jamie clapped his hands.

“Girls, it’s Showtime.”

The Pigpen was decorated, as if Fabo and Jamie were trying to imitate the old peckerwood TV show HEEHAW. More girls emerged from the back rooms dressed like Daisy Mae of LIL ABNER.

A white plaid shirt bursting with size 45 DDD breasts and shredded denim hot pants.

The DJ put on the Clash’s ROCK AND ROLL WORLD.

“You won’t be hearing HOTEL CALIFORNIA at the Pigpen, Yankee.” Fabo ordered beers.

Ten bone-ugly men in their late 60s stumbled through the door and beelined to the food table.

“The hierarchy of the balloon chasers. No one gets to free food faster than these freeloaders and they drink, as if the Taliban was enforcing Sharia law tomorrow.”

“That will never happen here.” I sympathized with the plight of Palestine, but as an atheist I raised my beer and loudly announced, “We shall defend our beer, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight the sober bastards on the streets, we shall fight in the bars and we shall never surrender our right to drink beer. 9/11.”

The fat men and the freeloaders clinked glasses with grim determination. We were Americans far from home. The DJ played Chuck Berry’s MAYBELLINE.

A solitary dancer shrouded in a chador took the stage. The movement within evoked the struggles of a young girl stuffed into a burlap bag by Arab white slavers. It could only be Ort.

A round of tequila and the another to Love’s HEY JOE. Champoo was into her first beer.

A party of trim Thais entered the bar.

Jamie greeted the off-duty cops with a wai and installed them at a table with a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue. Police on the take only drink the best. Jamie waved for me to join them.

Half-Irish I had a way with cops and spoke Thai with a Boston accent.
The captain asked about 9/11 and I told him about watching people jump from the windows of the World Trade. He nodded with vengeful purpose.

“Yet Islam.” The South of Thailand was under martial law. Bombs and bullets were the court of justice.

I explained about living in Yala during the 90s. The insurrection was flickering with the intensity of a match until the Prime Minister had evicted the common people from land. They were Buddhists and Muslims. The rich are egalitarian in the mistreatment of the poor.

“Fucktherich.” I babbled fast on tequila.

“Fucking GW Bush.” Jamie blamed the president for 9/11.

“Fucking Bin laden.” A fat man shook his fist. The Al-Qaada swami was Wanted Dead Or Alive # 1.

“Yet Myanmar.” The Thais hated Burma. Their neighbors had burnt every Thai capitol at least three times.

We drank more.

I danced with a fat woman twice my size. Her sweat smelled of chili. It burned my eyes.

The DJ played SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL. Two vans of antique golfers entered the bar. Jamie poured them tequila. They drain their glasses and banged the bar for more. Time slipped into the future like it was lubricated with KY. Champoo licked my face. It was good to feel love.

A tap on my shoulder.

“It’s time.” Jamie had the plane in his hand. He tapped his watch. The bar was empty. “It’s time to fly.”

“Five years ago.” I picked up Champoo.

“Five years ago.” Jamie and I walked outside the bar followed by fat girls and an assortment of farangs. A hundred Thais joined the crowd. Fabo launched his plane into the night sky. Jamie’s aircraft followed 20 seconds later. They were lost in the murk for several moments. The top Thai cop had good eyes and pointed into the dark.

“Krung-Bin.”

The model plane buzzed across the garbage-strewn lot and smashed into the billboard with a thwack. The billboard withstood the crash.

“World Trade. World Trade.” I shouted the words with tears in my eyes.

The North Tower was good. No one had died in Windows of the World. Jamie’s plane was on a steep attack approach for the South Tower. The Thai cops pulled out their guns and fired at the model. A bullet clipped its wing and the plane spiraled to the ground.

“Thailand. Thailand. Chai-yo.”

The sky opened for Noah’s flood and we ran into the Pigpen chanting those words. Whiskey flowed like water. Lightning and thunder split the heavens, as if time had been rent in two. No one was going anywhere.

Jamie gave the old geezers Cialis.

The girls drank tequila like Pancho Villas relief column. Ort took the stage to the Cure’s TO KILL AN ARAB.

A busload of Arabs entered the bar. Everyone froze, then the Arabs ordered drinks for everyone.

They could have cared less about the 77 virgins.

They were after fat girls, which was what Jamie was offering in aces.

I dont remember when the first person got naked. I think it was when the DJ spun KCs THATS THE WAY I LIKE IT.

Old guys, fat girls, and Arabs dancing to 70s disco. Then Jamie had the DJ segue to the Sex Pistols.

ANARCHY IN THE UK.

The old guys were mostly British and knew every word.

It was getting ugly and I took off my glasses to prevent seeing how ugly, as I sang, I want to be born Anarchy.

LOUIE LOUIE, STREET FIGHTING MAN and then Sinatras MY WAY.

The geezers were fucking in knee deep water.

The Arabs were cursing Osama Bin Laden for making everyone in the West hate Muslims and the farangs showed their forgiveness by calling out, FREE PALESTINE.

It was at that moment that my phone vibrated in my shirt.

It was my ‘wife’. She never called me. Something was wrong with my daughter and I slipped out the back of the Pigpen with Champoo under my arm. It had been a memorable night.

The rain was pelting down hard and I drove home through a rushing river. My ‘wife’ lifted her head from the TV and said, Maoh?

“Chai.” I was drunk and felt like telling her what my thoughts on our ‘relationship’, except my daughter called out from the bedroom. I went to her and laid on the bed. Big storms were scary for three year-olds.

It had been a fun night, but not as much as holding her in my arms, because the thunder was getting louder.

The next day I called Jamie. His phone was shut off. I drove by the Pigpen a Go-go. The bar was under four feet of water. A police sign in Thai said it was closed until further notice.

I couldnt be happier, because a place like that should only be open one night.

To repeat last night would have been a sin.

Just like re-living Woodstock.

The Chiang Mai Guesthouse

The odds of surviving a head-on collision with a pick-truck while driving a motorcycle are not in favor of the motorcyclists, but I was lucky enough to walk away from such an accident in the North of the Thailand back in 1990.

I was unscathed.

My left wrist was warped like the neck of a Klingon Bird of Prey and the 125 cc MTX was in need of a new front fork, but I considered myself lucky to be walking the planet and bought a 2nd-Class train ticket for the night train to Bangkok.

This relief wore off with the painkillers in Chiangmai Mai. My forearm was protected by a heavy plaster cast, yet every movement zapped a pulse of pain through my body like a disco strobe. Beer offered no relief. I need something stronger and walked from Top North Inn to the pharmacy by the Eastern Gate, praying for sympathy from the old Chinese druggist.

He wasn’t a man to say ‘yes’ easy.

Every day and night the old man was assailed by a deluge of strung-out junkies seeking a substitute for heroin or opium. Mr. Ma rejected these desperate entreaties with a poker face. He was not a methadone clinic, but few had broken wrists and the Chinese pharmacist counted out twenty red pills.

Strong. Stop jep. No drink beer. No whiskey, okay?

“Krap khun carp.”

I exited the drugstore and washed down a Dilaudid with a Chang beer at a nearby bar. The girls were white-skinned and tall. A change from the Isaan emigres in Patpong. I smiled at them for a second and they sneered with derision.

Junkies were very low society or ‘loso’.

A second pill and a third beer transported me to the sweaty netherworld and the pain faded from my body. Time ticked off a clock. The next Bangkok train was scheduled for the morning. There was no way I would be on it. I was living in oblivion.

A booming English voice cut through my nod. A tell red-headed Brit was babbling about the Isle of Wight. I recognized the voice and opened my eyes. The speaker was not a narcotic mirage.

Bentham had a hotel on the Isle of Wight. They boiled lobsters at the Osborne House Annex, where I had holidayed one August with a South African model. The tall Englishman was ranting about Goya paintings to an overweight female backpacker. Bentham 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.

Bentham weaved over to my stool and the pimple-faced twenty year-old escaped into the night. She was looking for adventure and not whatever came her way.

Why arent you on the Isle of Wight?

Gave up the hotel. It was losing money. Ignoring my cast, he explained his presence far from his wife, child, and family auction house in Chelsea. I bought a plane. One day I flew to Dieppe for some cheap wine. It was a beautiful day and I kept going to Istanbul. After that it was flying by compass, until I reached Chiang Mai. I like it here. The mountains, the people passing through, and I met this girl. Lovely girl really. So I sold the plane and bought a guesthouse.

You bought land? The Thais prohibited any farang from owning property.

No, I registered the house in my girlfriends name. He unfolded his vision for a Chiang Mai version of the Chelsea Art Society, an art society off the Kings road. This guest house will be the stepping-off point for the Shangri-La of the Orient. 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 world.

More like a detour off the Silk Road. The only present traffic over the Burma border was opium and ja bah or meth..

Sure, its not Times Square, but Times Square isnt Times Square anymore. If it was, you wouldnt be here.

I had loved 42nd street in the 70s. 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 isnt what it was. Neither was London.

Which is why were here. This is the New Babylon.

Chiang Mai was fun and I offered Glad to hear youre happy.

Couldnt be any happier than to be with my girlfriend. She is so cool.

I hadnt 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. Come with me and I’ll show you.”

A tuk-tuk drove us to a secluded lane in the old city. The wooden guesthouse rested in the shadow of a crumbling Buddhist spire. The restaurant was filled with unshaven youths. The unwashed hippie wannabes were listening to Bob Marley.

They greeted Bentham with a chorus of ‘No woman. No cry’.

We drank more beer. Hs girlfriend spoke very good English. She was the spitting lookalike of the Chinese actress from THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG. Her name was porn. Bentham called her XXX. Her cousin played guitar by request. Porn asked if I wanted a girl. I was in no condition to imitate Bentham and I commandeered a hammock to fall asleep.

“So what do you think?” Bentham unfolded mosquito netting and the night went white.

Youre right. This is paradise.

I woke around noon and my wrist ached bad enough for me to want to cut it off. I swallowed another Dilaudid and drank a beer with Toby. Two evenings evening he accompanied me to the train station. I bought a 2nd Class sleeper berth. He shook my good hand and waved good-bye.

“Come next year and youll witness the miracle.”

The Chiang Mai Arts Club. The standard-gauge train lurched out of the the tracks into the mountains. I drank whiskey in the restaurant car. The night air was sultry. The small villages were aglow with life. I fell asleep in my 2nd Class AC berth. The Orient didnt get any better than this.

For my next trip to the Orient I flew east from New York to London. I ran into Toby at a Chelsea bar. He was entertaining art dealers from his auction house. I asked Whats happening with Chiang Mai Arts Center?

Sssssh. Bentham brought me to the side. Six months ago I came here to clear up some banking details. When I returned, the guesthouse had been sold. My girlfriend had run off with the guitar-playing cousin to parts unknown. End of story. I learned my lesson. Dont fall in love with a Thai girl.

Ever?

They have magic in their blood.

Magic?

Makes you crazy and do crazy things. Things youd never do with a western girl. I lost everything I had there and still wanted her back. People want to know why, but I cant even explain it to myself.

So no more Thailand.

Im back with my wife. Its a safe love for a man my age. Toby tightened his tie and rejoined his clients. His story came as no surprise and I vowed to never succumb to such a weakness. Within a month I knew the Thai word for love.

Kwahn-laht.

Proving one thing.

There is no fool like an old fool.