Sunday, July 31, 2016

SKATING ON THIN ICE by peter nolan smith

The monsoons coincide with low season in Pattaya. Hotels offer special rates and the bargirls call everyone ‘sexy’, but the government’s repression of the ‘red-shirts’ and the global economic downswing had forced the Thai Tourist Board to revise their typically optimistic projection for arrivals to the Land of Smiles, especially after monumental rains flooded the center of the country.

Cities and villages were underwater. Transport was impossible on the inundated highways. Food grew scarce to find and the monsoons weren't expected to ease until October.

My family and I lived up the coast from Pattaya and news of the empty bars filtered north.

“Thailand not have farang,” said Mam, as we drank Leo Beer at our small house in the hills.

You have me and so does Fenway." My son was happy. My son had his father to drive him around SriRacha.

Many girl go back home."

"To Isaan?" The impoverished plateau supplied Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket with a steady crop of bar girls.

Better to live on rice farm. Pattaya not have old men. Not have young men. No men. No rice. Everyone get skinny.

"But never as beautiful as you." We had been together for years, although most of the year I worked in Europe or the USA. I had two families to feed.

"Barg wan."

"Yes, I have a sweet mouth. More beer?" I looked at the sky.

Dark clouds approached from the Gulf of Siam.

Black lined the bottoms.

Lightning crackled through the air and Mam ran inside to unplug the TV and fridge.

I shut off my cell phone.

Electrical storms were a force to fear in Thailand.

The rain came down hard, then harder, and even harder.

I lit a kerosene lamp.

Fenway didn't like the dark and I held him close.

Thirty minutes later the storm passed over SriRacha heading inland.

The sun came out and the street steamed with a rising mist.

I turned on my phone and it rang immediately.

Sam Royalle was on the other end.

"Did it rain by you."

"Not a drop." Sam resided in Pattaya.

Twenty miles to the south.

"Bucketed down here." I hadn't seen Sam in a while. He had been working on a new website.

16 hours a day, so I was surprised when he asked, "Feel like coming out for a beer tonight?"

Sam Royalle liked go-gos. We drank shots of tequila. He conversed with people despite 110 dB levels. His Bedford accent worked well in loudness.

"If it isn't raining."

"No excuses. I'll take you out for a steak."

Sam had been living in Thailand over ten years, but remained a boy from Bedford.

"You ever think about changing your diet?"

“What you expect me to eat? Thai food?”

"It's good enough for 60 million Thais." Few of them were overweight.

"I'm British. We eat British food. Only British." The Brit did like a good plate of curry and pad thai, which I never ate. It had no kick.

"So see you around 7." He gave the address of a new steakhouse. "It's very classy."

"I remember classy. Seven, then."

Back in the last century only the Dusit Thani was the only classy resort in Pattaya, but times had change.

"You go out with friend?" asked Mem.

Fenway was eating ice cream.

"Sam wants to have a drink."

"Go-Go bar."

"I guess so, but I only think of you."

"Hah, all men lie. Think of me with naked lady. You very funny."

"It's the truth." It was the truth, but no women will believe that.

"True not true. Same same. I know you. One drink look lady. Two drink talk with lady. Three drink only think drink. That truth."

"Yes, it is." I liked holding hands with a glass of gin-tonic.

Mam, Fenway, and I ate at KFC.

She dropped me at the bus stop at Tuk Com on Sukhumvit.

Traffic was heavy and the sun was going down.

I kissed her and hugged Fenway.

"Mai mao, papa."

"No, I won't get too drunk."

Mam gave her blessing.

“Sam take care you. You take care Sam.” Her spies covered Walking Street. Their network posted agents on every soi. I was a good boy and good boys never get caught doing bad.

"Lak ter."

And I did love her, as I jumped on the bus.

Thirty minutes later I got off at Pattaya Klang and hopped on a motorsai, telling the taxi driver, "Walking Street."

The ride to Pattaya's Second Road took less than ten minutes.

I walked over to Walking Street.

Farangs were rare on that gauntlet of lust. The desperation on the go-go girls’ faces was a cruel mirror of hard times. Every girl sang the same chorus “Take me home.”

"Bang thi teelang."

"Maybe later. Maybe never. All farang kee-nok."

Sam and I ate a great ribeye steak at the classy restaurant.

He looked healthy for the first time in years. His new business venture was off the ground. Sam was looking at a million dollars in two years time. It all sounded good in a go-go bar.

Sam suggested hitting Heaven A Go-Go. The upstairs bar was the best in Pattaya. I hadn’t been there in months, but several girls knew my name. They were friends of Mam. We drank beer. Two bottles. The owner of Heaven bought several rounds of tequila. Paddy had run a pimp bar in East St. Louis. He was most men’s hero.

65 and running a go-go bar. He was my hero too. East St. Louis was tougher than Pattaya back in the early 70s.

“Any girl you want. No bar fine.” I thanked Paddy for his generosity, but refused about twenty nubile dancers before midnight. I told them the same story.

“Mai mii keng leng.”

“I can give you power.” Their bare bodies smelled of youth and a promise of a trip to heaven or hell. I wasn’t interested in either destination after ten beers and deserted my bar stool at Heaven Above a Go Go, telling Sam Royalle that I was going to the bathroom. Three naked girls were on his lap. He wouldn’t notice my absence.

The night air on Soi Diamond was strangely cool. The moist wind carried the threat of rain and I walked to 2nd Road rather than be tempted by another drink on Walking Street.

Two transvestites grabbed my arms at the top of the alley. The pair were armored in black shiny leather. They towered over me in their spiked heels. Masochists would have paid to lick the their feet.

One hand slithered into my pocket. Her fingernails raked my thigh for plunder. The Shim found my wallet. It only had 500 baht, but all my ATM and credit cards. My struggle to break free was futile, until the pickpocket yelped with pain.

“Pai loi.” The voice belonged to Jamie Parker, a friend from the Lower East Side. “Get fucking lost.”

“We go. Come back too.” The taller TV sneered with a helium alto. Her manhood throbbed in a leather bikini. I felt inadequate.

“Good luck then.” Jamie stood his ground. Almost 60 he carried the menace of the killer after eleven year hard time.

"Yet mun." The she-boys strode off to find easier prey.

"I had things under control."

Didn't look it to me." He handed back my wallet and coughed like a backfire from an out-of-tune Harley, although I suspected his hack hadn't come from smoking cigarettes.

“You're right. Those ka-toeys are tough.” Bruises would color my arms tomorrow. The indentation from their nails would fade faster. Mam’s suspicious mind wouldn’t clear for months. “What happened to you?”

Jamie’s body was perennially thin. Drugs and diet, but his face was gaunt and Panda black circles masked his eyes.

“I look that bad?” He stared at his reflection in the 7/11 window. He wasn't the type to lie to himself about his looks.

“Yes, you look that bad.” Ja-bah bad. The cheap speed was addictive. “You need some money?”

“A thousand wouldn’t hurt, but it isn’t for what you think.”

“Jamie, you can do what you want with it.” I was no angel.

After dark any money you give a friend had to be consider a gift. I pulled out a purple note.

“I don’t feel like it, but then I'm not the boss.” He stuck the bill in his jeans pocket. “Mind if I walk with you a bit?”

“I’m just going to get a taxi.”

The eyes of a passing policeman convicted Jamie of several crimes. He could never go back to New York. His sin against the state had a long statute of limitation.

“Let me give you a ride somewhere.”

“Yeah, there’s too much light here.” He lowered his head like someone might be following him. I fought the temptation to look over my shoulder. A taxi took us to 3rd Road for 200 baht. It was safer than a motorsai taxi.

At the Buffalo Bar I ordered him a beer and waved for the girls to leave us alone.

“Man, it’s been a hard month.” He sat on the stool as if he had been on his feet for days. “But you don’t want to hear about it.”

My mother had prayed for G her second son to accept an avocation to join the Cloth. I refused the priesthood after hearing Led Zeppelin’s first LP in 1969, but she had been right. I would have made a good priest or at least a confessor. Everyone liked to tell me their secrets. Even more so after two beers.

Jamie drank both in less than a minute.

“I’m all ears.” I downed my first in 65 seconds.

“You ever hear of Ice?” he whispered the word with guilt-ridden worship.

“Crystal Meth.” The drug had hit the fly-over of America hard. The cops had cracked down on traditional drugs and the dealers synthesized a smokeable speed from ephedrine, the basic ingredient for over-the-counter cough medicines. The substance was equally available in Thailand.

“That’s the one. The Nazis used to give chocolate bars laced with the stuff to Luftwaffe pilots.” Jamie was a vast abyss of useless knowledge. “Kept them flying for days.”

“And you started smoking it here?” Drugs are readily available in Thailand, although opium, heroin, grass have been supplanted by ja bah and ice thanks to the repressive interdiction of the Thai Police and DEA.

“With Ort.” He shrugged to indicate his complete surrender.

“Ort?” I knew Ort from Soi 6. I hadn’t seen her since her boyfriend left her for a transvestite. The little vixen wanted to be my geek. I had refused with deep regret. Ort was very sexy. 25 and looked 16. She was every man's vice.

”How you run into Ort?” She was a girl around town. I stayed out of her path.

“She was dancing at Paris A Go-Go. Told me to meet her after work. We went back to her place. A little furnished studio. Bed, TV, AC. She asked if I minded if she smoked some ice. You know me. Anyone can do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else.” Jamie’s heroin addiction had stolen his youth. Cocaine took away his edge as a comedian. His taking up with speed in his 50s could be a show-stopper. “Don’t look at me like you were a Parole Officer who discovered a bad blood test. You’re no angel.”

“You’re right.” I had disappointed Nancy Reagan too many times by saying ‘yes’, instead of no’ to throw any rocks without hearing the sound of breaking windows in my own house of glass, but I tried my best to avoid drugs in Thailand.

“And you’re right too.” Prison here was worse than any of Jamie’s stateside time. “I knew it was dangerous, but did it anyway.”

“And how was it?” Jamie didn’t need a lecture and I was curious about ice and Ort.

“Ice is nothing. No rush. Shooting speedballs is a thousand times better for a high.”

“So what the attraction?”

“Sex.” Jamie spoke low, which was a little strange in a bar where every girl was looking for a date. “I thought she wanted me only to buy some ice. 1000 baht. But once we had a few pipes, she said she was hot and asked if I minded if she took off her clothes. Another bowl and mine was off. A day later and we were still at it.”

A binge. “How many days?”

“3-4. I took Cialis to keep up my strength.” Speed and Cialis were tough on the heart, however Jamie was hardy enough to survive hardcore XXX games. “And then another 4 days and we had sex the entire time. I had to stop because the skin on my penis wore off. Ort wasn’t happy and started screaming for it. It was like being with a nymphomaniac. A tyranny of sex. I told her I was going to the ATM. I didn’t go back.”

“How much money you spend?”

“About 15000 baht and lost about 5 kilos.”

“Cheaper than Jenny Craig’s or Weight-Watchers.”

“I don’t have the weight to lose like you.”

A loss of five kilos would put me close to the fighting weight of my early 40s.

“And you didn’t go back?”

“Don’t trust myself. It’s not the Ice. It’s the sex, the ice, the lying in bed with nowhere to go.” He drank his beer with a thirst to quench another demon. “Sawan.”

“Heaven.” I was impressed Jamie knew the Thai word for paradise. Nah-Lok meant 'hell'.

“A little hell too, which we both like.”

“Without sin, there is no pleasure.” I loosely quoted Luis Bunuel, the Spanish surrealistic film director. “So now what?”

“I changed my SIM card # and started clean again.” He ordered another beer. They were going down smooth. “Not 100%, but close enough. Another few days and I’ll be back on top of the world.”

“More like top of the slag heap in this town.”

“As long as it’s a foot higher than anyone else, you can see the stars.” Jamie had a way with words, which slurred after our fifth beer.

I invited him up to SriRacha. He made Mam laugh. Fenway liked playing with him. On the third day he left for Pattaya. I drove him to the bus stop on Sukhumvit.

“Take care.”

“I know how to do that.”

“And how not to too.”

“Something else we have in common.”

At the end of the week I was packing my bags for New York. My flight left in the morning. Mam hated being alone. Fenway is a very busy boy.

The phone rang in my pocket.

It was Jamie.

“Are you okay?”

“Excellent.” He was running promo events for bars and restaurants during the low season. The next is an erotic hot dog eating contest at TiggleBitties Tavern.

“What about Ort?” I whispered the name. Mam has good ears and a jealous soul. Some people question her love. I know better.

“Haven’t seen her or been to anywhere she goes.”

“Smart move.” Ort was a girl to avoid, which is why I don’t answer her calls anymore. Like Jamie I’m too weak to skate on thin ice. “I’ll see you next time around.”

“Send my love to Mam and little Fenway.”

“They will like that."

I went into the living room. Fenway was trying to load two discs at the same time into the DVD player. I told him, ‘No.”

He didn’t like hearing that word in either Thai or English, but just saying ‘no’ can save your time these days, especially when you’re skating on thin ice.

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