THE GODFATHER 3 was a horrible movie; Andy Garcia, Sofia Coppola, and Al Pacino's wretched line, "No sooner than I think I'm out, then they pulling me back in.
Unfortunately those words held personal resonance in early November of 2007 for like Michael Corleone's failure to leave the Mafia, I was unable to end my affair with Mint, a 22 year-old masseuse from Soi 6. Our affair lasted through several tempestuous seasons. We were as good for each other as we were bad.
Ours should have been a one-afternoon stand. I had a 'wife' who didn't love me, but I could leave because of our daughter. Mint had two children. She worked Soi 6 for them. The sex meant nothing, except with me, but I meant nothing, because she could only be my mia noi. We fought more than a married couple and she shouted that I was a fool to think my 'wife' was ever coming back from up-country.
"She have boyfriend. You give money. Why she need you?"
I hated hearing the truth and plotted a coup de grace to our ill-fated romance. She said that a rich Californian client was coming down from Bangkok for the Loy Krathong holiday. Her voice rang with conviction on the phone, as she said, "I have to take care of my babies. Not call me. I have new life. You have old life. I want nothing from you." She hung up the phone without hearing my saying, "Good luck."
I had told Mint the l-word. Her future mattered to me and I put some money in her bank account. It was enough for a good time tonight.
That night I called my 'wife'. No one answered the phone. It came as no surprise. Bedtime came early in the rice villages north of Bangkok. That night I drank with Fabo, the seismic oil explorer from Charleroi, at the Buffalo Bar. He downed Heinekens as fast as I drank vodka-tonics. The girls at the bar were eager to go upstairs for a short-time session.
Tomorrow was Loy Krathong, the annual festival venerating Siddhartha Guatama by floating a candle on a banana leaf raft to symbolically the sins of past 12 months. A more glamorous aspect of the Buddhist celebration required women and girls to attire themselves as an ancient king's favorite consort. These traditional outfits cost 1000s of baht to rent for the evening. Mint had a stunning outfit planned for the following evening. The rich American wanted only the best.
"Hey, Yankee Dog. You are a free man again. You can go with anyone." Fabo knew my taste ran to skinny and the young Belgian invited several young beauties to join us for drinks.
"Pick one. The bar fine is on me." Fabo earned big money on the ship. There were no bars on the high seas. He blew his wad in Pattaya.
"Thanks the offer." My inner eyes were blind to temptation. I called Mint every half-hour she had blocked my phone. I resigned my destiny to holding hands vodka more vodka-tonic. The bar girls hated my dedication to drink. Fabo and I bought their love with shots of tequila.
I woke the next morning to Fabo in bed with the lovely Gai. Both of them were more dead than alive. I wished I was more the former than the latter. I cooked the couple breakfast in bed. Gai was a good eater. Fabo wanted more beer. Within six days he would be off the frozen waters of Norway with a sullen crew of Poles.
"Yankee, we drink tonight."
"Yes, we drink tonight." My life was a tabla rasa or clean slate. My 'wife' had deserted me six months ago. Our daughter was the one reason I left New York. Mint was at a high-class hotel with the LA millionaire. She was an expert at happierness. I was cursed to live a life alone and rode my motor scooter to the fishing village of Ban Samae San.
A hilltop temple dedicated to a mythical water goddess overlooked the unpopulated archipelago stretching south into the Gulf of Siam. I struck the bells outside the wat with a wooden mallet and beseeched Phra Mae Khongkha, the adopted Hindu water goddess, to forgive my mistreatment of her holy element. Part of he ritual requires striking the bells alongside the lofty wat. After the metallic peals cleared the air and I drove the motorcycle down to the Navy pier.
Several skin-divers were working on the quay's support pillars. They glanced at me without a second thought. They dealt with farangs from the US Navy during the yearly Cobra Gold war games. The sea was unsullied by tourism. Civilian use of the islands was banned by the military.
I hadn't been in the ocean since my motorcycle accident in September.
That night I had been coming home from Mint's place in Jomtien. We had fought over my 'wife'. Traffic over the hill was light, but my mind wasn't on the road and I didn't see the motorcyclist veer into my lane to avoid a pothole. He clipped my handle bar at full speed.
My front wobbled out of control and I was tossed from my bike lacking any grace.
I hit the asphalt hard, but got to my feet seemingly without any serious injury. Blood was flowing heavily down my arm. The deep wound zagging across my forearm looked like the aftermath of a shark attack. I could see bone. The emergency ward at Banglamung Hospital did a great job of stitching together the slab of flesh and muscles. Mint had disinfected the scar everyday. My 'wife' merely phoned to say that I should drive better. I could do nothing good in her eyes.
I had told my daughter that my people came from the sea. We were khon talay. The ocean made us strong. She loved the beach. Neither her mother nor Mint favored the sea, but I didn't have to worry about them. I was free and stripped down to my swimming shorts at the end of the pier. The tide was out and the surface was a good twelve-foot drop from where I stood. Colorful fish darted between the shell-encrusted support beams. I dove head first to prove my New Englander's love for the sea.
I re-surfaced with a renewed sense of exhilaration. The Navy skin-divers helped up the ladder. None of them had ever seen anyone dive from the pier. I explained in rudimentary Thai that my girlfriend had left me for a rich man and I wanted to wash my body clean of her.
"Mai dai," the CPO explained wisely, for he felt the only way to end it with your mia noi was to have her find you with another woman. "Lucky she not cut off penis."
"And feed to duck." Thai newspapers chronically reran gory tales of wives severing a philandering husband's penis. They gave it to ducks, because pigs wouldn't eat penis.
The Navy Seals invited me aboard their Zodiac and we rode at high speed over to the nearest island. The water was as clear as 150-proof vodka and the sand was as powdery as flour. The divers were happy to meet a faring who could speak Thai, if only badly and I ended the day with them with a promise to return the following weekend for an excursion to a more distant island.
The ride back to Pattaya almost felt entering a new city, until I stopped for gas. My mobile was ringing. It was Mint. I didn't have the strength to turn off the phone and answered it with exasperation, "Yeah, what?"
"I not go with farang from California."
"Why not?" I was ready for a song and dance.
"Buah." Like most bargirls she can't bear to spend more than 30 minutes with a boring westerner. "He not same you."
"How so?" I was all ears, since it was obvious that Mint had to have seen the rich guy in order to be bored by him.
"You same me. You crazy. You hurt same me. Rich man only same farang. Want sex."
"And so do I." Most men my age were addicted to Viagra to overcome penile dysfunction. Sexual arousal was another of our strong suit. "What about Loy Krathong?"
"I have beautiful dress. I look like goddess. You want come see me."
And like that Barry White started singing NEVER WANNA GIVE YOU UP in my ears.
20 minutes later I was in Mint's arms, telling her words of love in several languages and meaning most of them. She was a goddess for Loy Krathong and I worshipped more than her feet, but both of us knew that we were postponing the inevitable no matter what Barry White growled on that hit record, because something as good as Mint and I has to be bad in the end and I could deal with bad. Bad is always better than worst.