"Why does a dog lick its balls?"
"Because it can."
In the late-70s the windows of Fiorucci on East 60th Street featured the latest flash fashion from Italy. These trendy threads guaranteed almost immediate entrance into Studio 54 or any exclusive disco in Manhattan.
The manager was a swishy part-time singer on the downtown scene. Joey ran the store with an iron glove. One afternoon I came to him with a simple question.
“How much for the suit?” A gold lame Elvis suit adorned the front window. I wanted it bad.
“You can’t afford it.” Joey sneered at my question. His store catered to the rich. This was the Upper East Side.
“I know that.” The price tag read $300, which was about twice my wages at Serendipity 3 where I worked as a busboy. “What about 50% off?”
“And why would I do that?” The haughty manager earned a healthy commission on every sale.
“Maybe I could get you a gig at CBGB’s.” I hung out at the Bowery bar every night.
“You’re not the booker.” Joey wasn’t falling for my spiel and walked off to get an espresso.
“I might be able to help you.” Joey’s assistant manager caressed my shoulder and eyed the changing rooms. “I like boys from Boston. You’re so so so tough.”
“No thanks, I’m no hustler on the corner of 53rd and 3rd.”
“No?” I was testing my nerve.
“I have a girlfriend.” Clara was a beautiful actress from Georgia.
“She wouldn’t have to know and I could get the suit for an employee price.”
“I don’t play that game.” She wasn’t really a girlfriend, but we slept together more than once a week.
“That’s what all you boys say, but my side know different.” Matt smiled, for that Serendipity 3’s waiter staff was pronouncedly gay.
“Forget it.” I resigned myself to torn jeans and a black t-shirt, then left the store and cut through Bloomingdales to 60th Street. The July afternoon was sullenly hot and the sun was melting the pavement to a sticky goo.
The owners of the precious ice cream parlor offered me ice tea. It was a quenching treat and I had the day off. Liza Minnelli was sitting underneath a Tiffany Lamp. She laughed with her friends.
“Good luck with your acting class.” The mustached owner knew everyone’s business.
“I’ll sprain an ankle.” Clara and I studied acting improvising at Hunter College.
I climbed the stairs to the apartment of my friends living above Serendipity 3. The two southerners laughed upon hearing about Joey’s refusal to discount the Elvis suit.
“That queen is so mean.” Andy danced with the ballet. His older boyfriend liked him in nice clothing. Fiorucci was the handsome Virginian’s Chanel.
“He’s just doing his job.” I wasn’t saying what I felt, because Andy and his roommate were loose-lipped with gossip.
“And why would you want to be Elvis anyway?” Tim was stumped by this desire. “He’s so declassee.”
“It’s not that I want to be Elvis, but I just like the way it looks.” Elvis was the King.
“Straight men. I can’t figure you out.” Tim returned to pinning together the dress.
“You should have stolen it.” Tim quipped from the corner. The graduate of North Carolina School of Fashion was cutting a dress for his autumn collection.
“And go to jail.” I passed a lit joint to the elegant designer.
“Jail.” Tim shivered at the thought. He liked sleeping in his own bed. “Heavens forbid.”
“Not to worry. I’m a law-abiding citizen.”
“Except for a little weed.” Andy took the joint. “And other things like adultery.”
“My affair with Carla isn’t adultery. I’m not married.”
“But she is.” Tim sniped at my sin. “But no one is going to throw you in jail for breaking that Commandment.”
“Not this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
I hung around listening to the boys talked about their love lives.
At 6:30pm I left the apartment to head up to Hunter College at which I was taking acting classes.
The early evening sky was thick with moist clouds. Lighting and thunder were scheduled for tonight, but it was too hot for any relief from rain. I reached Hunter on time and climbing the stairs to the fourth-floor classroom.
Sweat dripped from my every pore.
The windows were open for an errant breeze and fans stirred the humid air. Eric, the overweight experimental drama teacher, wiped his face with a towel. Carla was sitting at a table with her estranged husband Chuck. The other students were across the room, almost as if they were an audience for the couple’s reunion.
“Glad everyone could make it.” Eric put down the towel and resumed his instructions for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Thunder rippled over the Hudson like tin sheets falling down stairs.
“Carla, you’ll be Stella, Chuck will be Stanley, and you’ll be Mitch, except we’re going to detour from the usual course of the play and have it so both Stanley and Mitch are after Stella.”
“Wasn’t that implied by Tennessee Williams?” Carla asked from her seat. The attractive brunette displayed no signs of discomfort from the heat or the proximity of her husband, the heir to a Wisconsin butter fortune.
“This will be overt.” The teacher handed out copies of the new scene to the class. “Forget everything. Read this, act this, be this.”
Eric was renowned for his distortion of plays. He was gambling on the inner tension between Carla, Chuck, and me to dredge a new meaning to the classic theater piece. She and I had spend the previous night together at her studio flat on East 23rd Street.
Flashes of sheet lightening stripped the dusky sky, as we reciting the lines word for word. Sunset passed with our struggle to find the new direction. Night fell on our failure to connect the characters. I was planning on taking Clara to the Plaza Hotel for drinks. The bartender at the Oak Room was a friend.
“No, no, no, I want fire. Read the words, but speak your own. There’s no copyright on creativity.”
I became a punk rock Mitch, Chuck revived Stanley as a man of the people, and Carla sold Stella as a woman whose madness was in the wrong time.
“That’s it, people.” Eric clapped his hand together and out went the lights, as if the Tennessee Williams’ future ghost had cancelled our mutation of his famous work.
The room went pitch black. The windows of the school were dark and the evening sky was devoid of city’s glow.
“Is everyone okay?” Eric asked, lighting a match.
“Yes, what happened?” One of our fellow student lit his lighter.
“We might have had a blackout.” Chuck suggested, as if he didn’t want it to be the truth.
“I think you might be right.” It was the first time he and I had ever agreed on anything.
“Then we had better leave the building. You with the lighter. Lead the way.” Eric was good at giving orders. He wanted to be a director.
Escaping the darkened building took the better part of a half-hour. The chaos of Lexington Avenue revealed the extent of the outage. Cars were stalled at the traffic lights. Several people were directing traffic.
“You think the lights will go on soon?” the student with the lighter lived in Brooklyn.
“No one knows.” I was glad to be living in a SRO hotel on East 11th Street. No electricity meant no trains and I asked Carla, “You want to come home with me?”
“No.” She wasn’t walking to Park Slope and looked over to her good-looking husband. “Chuck’s place is closer.”
They linked arms and strolled toward Central Park. He had a penthouse on West End Avenue. She had told me about the view from the terrace many times. They were a couple again.
“Win some, lose some,” Eric commented on the sidewalk.
“Mitch knows all about losing some.” I shook his hand and walked back toward Serendipity 3.
I found my friends upstairs at their apartment. They had run out of ice for their vodka tonics.
“There’s no ice anywhere,” Tim complained bitterly with crossed arms. He was already drunk. “I want ice.”
“Stop bitching, bitch.” Andy had been keeping pace with his tipsy roommate, Frank.
“Maybe the Plaza has some.” I suggested since the hotel was the epitome of elegance. It had to have an emergency generator. Ice was less than five blocks away.
“Let’s go.” Andy, Frank, a young boy from North Carolina, Kurt, and I hurried through the darkened streets.
Passers-by spoke about looting in Harlem. They looked to the North. A radio reported that Flatbush was under siege. There were no police in sight. City dwellers were marching home. Some said they had been in the subway for hours. The light canyon of Park Avenue was without illumination and Andy pointed to the sky.
“I can see stars.”
“Orion.” I spotted the constellation most nights.
“Also the Big Dipper and the Bear.” Andy drew the lines between the points of Ursa Major.
“Looks more like a pig to me.”
“It’s a bear.” Frank had gone to art school.
We stopped arguing soon as we turned the corner at 59th and 5th.
The three of us stopped in shock.
“It’s the end of the world.” Andy stared at Plaza Hotel without lights.
“Or we’re back in the Stone Age.” Frank was excited by the chaos.
“When ice only came in season.” Andy shook his fists at the Plaza, angered by its failure to preserve civilization.
For some reason this new truth angered me and I said to Andy, “Let’s go to Fiorucci.”
“They won’t have ice.”
“No, but they do have a gold Elvis suit.”
“No one will be working there now.” It was past 11.
“Exactly.” Kurt picked up a cinder block from a work site. “I’m shopping the old-fashioned way.”
“That’s looting.” Andy was wild, but never violent.
“Just like the Huns. Go for it.” I had Pictish blood in me. We were an old tribe well before the 10th Commandments were etched in stone by a bearded god.
We strode up to Fiorucci.
The gold lame suit shone even in the blackness of the surrounding anarchy. Studio 54 was at my fingertips. I would win back Clara. I wouldn’t be Mitch in the next acting class. I’d be a star.
“Stand back.” Kurt warned Andy and Frank and then heaved the cinder block at the window. The missile struck the plate glass and bounced right back, narrowly missing Frank's and my skull.
Several guards pointed at us. I hadn’t seen them in the murk. We ran fast. Kurt not so fast. Frank, Andy and I hid in a doorway. We watched Kurt hobble past us. Andy lifted his finger to his lips.
The guards and Kurt faced into the murk. Andy, Frank, and I stepped out of the alcove chased us past Bloomingdales.
"Where should we go?"
“In here.” Andy dragged us into the Subway Inn.
The dive was packed with stranded workers. The bar didn’t have any ice, but there were cold beers. Andy, Frank, and I blended into the sweaty crowd
“God bless Mickey Mantle.” Andy raised his glass and nudged me in the side. “Join the toast.”
Several beers later we arrived to the apartment above Serendipity 3. The radio was telling tales of the black-out. It was ciity-wide and Andy recounted a breathless telling of our attempted theft at Fiorucci.
"You could have gone to jail."
"Not a chance," said Andy. "Kurt was slow as shit and I won the gold medal."
"I took the silver," crowed Frank.
"And Kurt?" I asked wondering why he wasn't here, knowing fully well why.
A gold lame Elvis suit.
“Anyone can run faster than Kurt.”
“But I didn’t get the suit.” I was slightly shamed by my exploit, especially for not having helped Kurt.
“Yes, but we did get away and not going to jail is a good thing.” Frank liked the comfort of his own bed.
“Especially tonight.” The Tombs in Lower Manhattan would be packed with looters according to the radio.
“But you tried to answer the call of the wild and that deserves a shot of lukewarm vodka.”
Tim handed me a shot glass filled to the brim.
“To outlaws.” I downed the shot. It was one of many. I fell asleep on the floor and woke up in the monring with Kurt.
"are you okay?"
"The police caught me, but I cried."
"Tears work when lies fail."
"Sorry about the suit."
"No worries> You did a good job." I kissed him on the forehead and we went to sleep.
Later that afternoon I tried to enter Fiorucci, but Joey blocked me entry at the door.
“We don’t need thieves as customers.” The sometimes singer snapped his fingers three times. The guards stepped closer to me.
“At these prices I don’t know who’s the real thief.” It was the best riposte I could come up with hung-over.
I didn’t have to be told to leave by them and strode out of Fiorucci, knowing that the boys above Serendipity 3 had snitched out my failed trashing of Fiorucci’s window. They did have big mouths. Clara went back to her husband. The teacher suggested that I study acting at a different school.
“I think I’ll try something else.”
“Hopefully not more burning and looting.”
“No, not anymore of that.” That night have given me a reputation. It lasted a long time.
Fiorucci closed several years later.
I bought the dusty Elvis suit through Matt. I tried it on at home.
“That really doesn’t fit you.” My girlfriend at the time was a tall model from Baltimore.
“No, maybe it never did.” It as an M.
“What are you talking about?” Laura was about my height without the extra weight.
“It’s a long story. You have it.”
Laura tried it on. It was a perfect fit.
The gold lame suit got her into everywhere. I was not so lucky. I only went places where I knew the door. That was everywhere too, but I really wished I could have been wearing the Elvis suit, but some things just aren’t meant to be, especially Elvis Suits for men who are not Elvis.
Paris is an amazing city, but it has been renown for the beauty of women living there throughout time. Here is a collection of movie stars. They lit up our lives.
Of course there's no mention of Franciose Hardy.
The only Yeh-Yeh girl of France.
I loved the 60s.
The November Paris Attacks shocked the world into adopting Paris as everyone's City of Light.
City Halls around the globe were lit red, white, and blue to honor the dead.
Egalite, Fraternatie,et Liberte were translated into every language.
Berets and baguettes were treated with respect.
French fries were French fries even in the Deepest South.
I have always loved France.
An expatriate froggie.
With a fondness for cafes, croissant, calvados, and a cigarette.
Gitane bien sur.
Froggie to the core with my blood 50% Hibernian.
Francia go bragh.
Thailand was a different world in 1990. Shady trees lined the sois. The klongs of Bangkok led to the Chao Phyra River. Barges transported rice from up-country. After a short stay at the Malaysia Hotel I was ready to head north to Chiang Mai.
The train from Hualamphong Station left at 6pm. I booked a 2nd Class AC sleeper. The train pulled out at dusk and slowly snaked through the trackside ghettoes into the central plains. I drank Mekong whiskey in the dining car and crashed in my berth at 10.
The next morning I woke with the dawn. Sleeping past this hour was discouraged by the staff. They kicked everyone out of the beds. Breakfast was served by a porter. I finished the last of the Mekong in the watery coffee.
A tuk-tuk took me to the Top North Guesthouse. The hotel had a swimming pool shaded by trees. I spent most of day wallowing in the shallow end, but once the sun dropped behind Doi Suthep I wandered along narrow sois to ancient temples and beer bars.
Close to the old walls a farang bookshop at the Eastern Gate rented dirt bikes.
125 cc MTXs and 250cc ATXs.
$10 OR $12 a day.
None of them were new.
The owner was a Brit yellowed by malaria. His wife glowered in the kitchen. She clearly didn’t trust westerners.
“He’s an American. Not an Israeli.” Jerry wagged his finger at his diminutive wife. It was tinted by nicotine. He wasn’t planning on leaving a good-looking corpse.
“All farangs, all men, kee.” She wrapped herself in a wraith of wrath.
“Kee?” My Thai consisted of ‘sawadee kap’ and ‘eek nung kyat beer’ plus ‘u-nai hong nam’. Hello and more beer were almost as important as ‘where’s the bathroom’, since my stomach was having a hard time adjusting to Thai food.
“Kee means shit. The Thais are the French of the Orient. They think they are better than anyone else and in some ways they aren’t wrong. This country was never conquered by the west.” He smiled at his wife.
"The only country in Indochina to escape that fate." I knew my Far East history. "I was thinking about taking a motorcycle trip."
"Lanna Thai has great trails." He whipped out a map of the tribal hills on the Burma border.
“Mai Hong Son was one of the last market towns on the Silk Route.” The broken nail of Jerry's index finger tapped a location to the west of Chiang Mai. “You could fly there for $15, but the road there can take up to ten hours. Every corner is a turn into the 15th century. The Thais are trying to pave it, but the steep hills eat up the road like land sharks.”
“This time of year the road has dust deep as your knees."
"Better than mud."
"Yes and no. What do you want rent?"
“I’ll take the 250.”
"Good choice." I gave him my passport as a guarantee and motored around town like Marlon Brando in THE WILD ONES. The bike had short pipes. They glowed red from the exhaust. The backfires spat a blue flames. I returned to the hotel and went to sleep early. Ten hours on a bad road could become fifteen easy.
The next morning I woke at dawn and ate a quick breakfast and the barman at the Top North Guest House said, “Rom Mak.”And he was right and I drank a 'bon voyage' Singha.
It was as cold as the air was hot.
After checking my bag with the hotel, I strapped a small daypack to the bike and pointed the front wheel north. The Trans-Asia Highway was unpocked by potholes and I turned off the smooth road at the turn-off for Mai Hong Song.
Heavy construction crews trucks grinded up the two-laner and I weaved through the swatches of destructed pavement in 2nd gear, climbing into the mountains scarred by the slash and burn agriculture of the hill tribes. I felt the centuries disappearing with every mile.
50 K out of Chiang Mai was an elephant camp. Tourists rode them through the forests. I took a few photos and kept on going. It was a long way to Mae Hang Son.
I made good time on the paved road to Fang.
Outside of Pai the road turned to dirt and the dust was ankle-deep.
I wore a scarf over my mouth and nose. Sunglasses protected my eyes, but my denim jacket and jeans were caked with powdery dirt. Opium trucks rolled past police barriers without inspection and I promised myself a taste in Mae Hong Song. Chasing th dragon would go good with beer.
The air was too hot to breathe and the sun was strong enough to make me think that someone was ironing my skin. I drained my water bottle and looked up the word for water in Thai.
It was 'nam'.
Bottle was 'kuat' and I repeated both, as I sped by dry rice paddies.
Water buffalo wallowed in muddy rivers.
They were called 'kwaii' like the movie BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAII.
The temperature had to be in the high 90s.
There were no towns.
I twisted the accelerator to the max.
The wind was no relief.
Ten miles before Mae Hong Son I entered a Lisu village. The young tribesgirls were selling water. I bought three bottles and gave them all candy.
They thanked me with a bowed 'wai'.
Two miles laters I topped the crest of a pass. The sun was scorching the slopes dry and the temperature was a touch under 100F. Three buses were parked at the bottom of the valley and I slowed down to a stop. Their passengers sheltered under the shade of withered trees. The drivers stood at the edge of a 25-meter stretch of dried mud in the middle of which was a 10 meter bog.
The Thais looked at me and I looked at them.
We all looked at the road.
A trickle of a stream had transformed a red dirt into a thick goo.
One of the driver smoked a cigarette.
He pointed to his knees to indicate the depth of the mud.
"Mai bpen Rai," I said, which was all-purpose Thai phrase meaning 'no problem'.
I revved up the engine and the Thais shouted out, "Farang Bah."
I thought it was encouragement.
A beautiful Lisu girl caught my eye.
I had something to prove and roared 200 meters up the road.
One of the drivers waved his hands, as if to say getting across this mire was impossible.
The Thai men at the side of the road rose to their feet. The women stopped eating and their children ran closer to the edge of the soggy road. They knew that there was going to be a show. In their minds all farangs were crazy.
I revved the motor planning my route.
As long as front tire stayed up and the rear wheel spun at top speed, then I could hydroplane across the fetid mud. I torgued out the bike at 7000 rpms and tore down the pitted road, hitting the sloppy goop at 90 kph.
I wasn’t wearing a helmet.
My only protection was my courage.
"Farang bah!" I shouted and raced toward the muck at full speed. The front wheel glided over the mud and then buried itself up to the fender, catapulting me into the air with outstretched arms like Superman.
The is not good.
"I was no George Reeves and bellyflopped into the puddle.
I rose from the mud and Thais laughed insanely, because I was covered from head to foot like a troglodyte. The men helped hauled the stalled bike to the other side of the bog and I promised to buy them beer in Mai Hong Sing.
"Farang bah," shouted the driver.
"You got that right." I waved to the Lisu girl.
I shook off the slop like a wet dog.
The stranded Thai passengers laughed harder.
"Farang bah. Farang bah."
Later I learned that 'farang bah' meant 'crazy foreigner' and that I was.
A farang bah.
Seconds later I remounted the bike and punched my fist in the air before speeding away dripping goo.
Mae Hong Son was about two hours distant. The sun baked the mud hard and dust coated every inch of my body. I loved riding in the mountains. I was free. Just outside of Mae Hong Song I stopped at a grocery store to buy cold beer and insects.
I pulled into a restaurant by the bus station and waited.
The bus rolled into town at sunset.
"Chaii." I was happy not to have been hurt by my failed feat.
The Lisu girl came to my table.
She peeled off the shells of the insects.
I ordered ice for the beer, because cold Singha went well with fried grasshoppers and even better with mud.
The Thais retold my feat to each and every new Thai.
I gave the punchline and earned a big laugh.
Even in a remote backwater like Mai Hong Song they were used to 'farang bah'.
Fotos by Peter Nolan Smith
In 1969 John Wayne appeared on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In as a pink rabbit.
His performance got plenty of laughs, but not as much as Sean Connery for his he-man throng outfit in ZARDOZ.
The things actors do for their art.
Hairy balls alert.
Some movies beg to be made for a star's public.
HAMLET with Arnold Schwatzenegger in the starring role as the Danish Prince.
"To be or not to be....(explosion)...Not to be."
To view Arnold's Hamlet, please go to the following URL
Bobby Orr has undoubtably been the Greatest Boston Bruin in the modern age.
His offensive net-to-net play revolutionized the role of defensemen throughout the NHL.
His team won two Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972, although were thwarted from adding their names to the championship trophy on more than one occasion in the 197os by their bitter rivals, the Montreal Canadians. Orr retired almost forty years ago, but his memory lives on the ice and off.
As with this video featuring some fights with Chicago Blackhawks defenseman, Keith Magnuson.
Keith should have know better.
To view this video, please go to the following URL
Every year on Black Friday American consumerism outgrossed the year's gluttonous excesses, as shoppers descended on the XXXL malls to buy corporate crap at discounted prices. The hoi polloi in the millions fight over wide screen TVs, iPhones, and Barbie dolls. Having never participated in the capitalist frenzy, I left the Fort Greene Observatory on Friday and headed down to the nearest 99 Cent store on Myrtle Avenue only to discover that the management had opted out of the post-Thanksgiving Day tradition.
"Nothing is on sale." The clerk waved me away from the counter.
I accepted my defeat and exited from the store with a 99 Cent roll go toilet paper.
No one on Myrtle was carrying a shopping bag, except for a frazzled mother. Her daughter had an iPhone. She was happy, but I had to ask myself, "Why doesn't anyone fight over Ken dolls?
The answer is that it's a Barbie World.
Naked or not
Today on Black Friday millions of Americans hit the shopping malls to purchase marked-down electronics and toys. This frenzied spending spree kicked off the Christmas shopping season. This year's Black Friday was an all ugly affair and the event has getting uglier by the year.
The term 'black Friday originated from Philadelphia retailers' description of the four-week holiday season as one that turned the red on their books into black.
The BBC estimated that nearly half America participated in the madness.
Yesterday I restrained from assaulting the XXXL Mall on Fulton Street and purchased two cans of beer from Ralph's Meats on Lafayette Street in Fort Greene. He wasn't opened, but Ralph had some beer for me. We are old school.
They went down so good that I'm thinking of drinking some more today.
Happy Boozy Saturday.
ps the bronze Ballantine beer cans are from Jasper Johns.
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 aren’t 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 girlfriend’s 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, 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 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 isn’t what it was. Neither was London.
“Which is why we’re here. This is the New Babylon.”
Chiang Mai was fun and I offered “Glad to hear you’re happy.”
“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. 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.
“You’re 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 you’ll 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 didn’t 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 “What’s 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. Don’t fall in love with a Thai girl.”
“They have magic in their blood.”
“Makes you crazy and do crazy things. Things you’d never do with a western girl. 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.”
“I’m back with my wife. It’s 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.
Proving one thing.
There is no fool like an old fool.