The Christmas rush on 47th Street consisted of six weeks of working without a day off. I saved every dollar from my commissions at Richie’s exchange. $6000 combined with 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 work six months and then take 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. He was entertaining art dealers from his auction house. I asked discreetly, “What’s happening with Chiang Mai Arts Center?”
“Sssssh. 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 gardener, who was supposedly her brother. End of story. I learned my lesson. Don’t fall in love with a Thai girl.”
“They have magic in their blood.”
"You don't believe me?"
"I do. I'm no stranger to magic and love potions."
I gave him the hundred words or less version of Mrs. Adorno's curse.
"Witches are nasty. They make love potions that will make 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 with my wife. It’s a safe love for a man my age. You be careful out there.”
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 booked into the Malaysia Hotel and visited Kenny. Not much had changed at the bar, except Pong had gone to Germany. Kenny said, “He a nice man.”
“If she calls, tell her I asked for her.”
I 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 Frenchman was living in Jomtien Beach with his daughter and a Thai woman. He was 54. She was 34. The beach was strewn with plastic and the sea was murky, but no one came for the water. We drank Cote du Rhone and played backgammon. At the end of the night he asked, “Why stay at a hotel when you stay here for free?”
He was right and I chose a second-floor room overlooking a field of jungle grass. I wrote in the morning and went to Walking Street at night. The bars were filled with women. Some of them beautiful. One night I brought a girl back. In the morning Michael warned, “This is my home. Not a brothel.”
His admonishment was deserved, considering his wife didn’t approve of having a guest. I should have left, but liked taking care of their daughter. His wife never did. She would disappear for most of the day and miraculously arrive a half-hour before her husband’s arrival.
I thought about telling Michael, but her wife’s absences were none of my business.
One night after Michael explained the trade in 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.”
After dinner we drink whiskey. His wife watched Thai TV. I went out to Walking Street. The sex emporium was wide open. Go-go girls begged me to take them home, dying for a night off their feet. I tipped them $5 and returned to Michael’s house. I didn’t sleep long.
The door opened and a man stood at the foot of my bed. A Japanese sword gleamed in his hands. It was Michael.
“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.” The local police frowned on westerners killing Thai wives in a fit of jealousy.
His daughter came into the bedroom crying. He joined her. The wife didn’t show up that morning or the following day. I couldn’t stick around the showdown. I wanted to go up north and said, “I have a train to catch. Why don’t you come with me?”
“I’ll be fine.” His eyes told a different story. “I have a business to run.”
I once more rented a 250cc motorcycle from Australian Jim in Chiang Mai. I drove around the North. I avoided opium and pick-up trucks. My hands were numb from the bumpy roads. Only saunas washed off the dust. I rewrote my novel in a shack along the Mekong River.
When I returned to Jomtien a month later, the Thai guard said that Michael had returned to France. He had no idea what happened to his wife or daughter. I doubted the guard was telling me everything, but any form of involvement was him bad luck.
For me too.
I headed up to Bangkok and booked a room at the Malaysia. Kenny’s Bar had the usual collection of drunken farangs and young girls. I told Kenny about Michael and he 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. Leave wife. After girl must take care of baby. Meet man. 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 a gold ring.
“Something for you to remember me.”
The ring fit his thumb. He wished me good luck. “You stay safe.”
“No problem in the States.”
My apartment was comfortable. I gave my agent the novel. He sent NORTH NORTH HOLLYWOOD 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. The blonde 45 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.
The sex was good, but only good. Mrs. Adorno laughed seeing me with Ms. Carolina and stared with her evil eye. Ms. Carolina asked about the wizened woman and I said, "She's crazy."
"Same as me for you."
"Do yourself a favor and have nothing to do with that woman. She's a witch."
She came to see me every month. We traveled to Wyoming, Guatemala, Death Valley, and the Bahamas.
Every six months I went away to Asia. I told her, “To write.”
“And what about women?” Jealousy is a natural trait for women or men, especially if you are the loved as opposed to the lover.
“I look. Not touch.” I steered clear of involvements with Thai women.
"So you're faithful to me."
"Mostly because you're scared of love."
"Something like that."
Ms. Carolina cried at the departure gate.
This time I flew directly to Thailand.
Bangkok served as a transit point. Cars, buses, boats, planes, and trains transported me to Asia’s ice-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.
Mrs. Adorno's curse remained strong and I returned to America. My youngest brother was sick. He didn't last long and after his death I broke up with Mrs. Carolina.
She and I remained close. Her husband became my friend. I was no longer a threat. I was verging on becoming a life-long bachelor and I questioned 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.
Several months later mother was diagnosed with cancer. On her death bed she admonished my avoidance of Ireland. I had 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.”
“I don’t know.” 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. Mrs. Carolina held my hand at her burial. 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 my friend, Sam Royalle. The Londoner was a computer geek. HE had become involved with a money wire transfer with a criminal organization. $200,000 had gone missing and now a gang of Brixton yardies had threatened grievous bodily damage, if they weren’t awarded the proceeds of his house sale.
Sam skipped a few details of the scheme and heeded my suggestion to hide out in the Orient. The Malaysia Hotel was a good starting place to disappear from sight. I went to London and cashed a check at his bank. I was a little scared, but no yardies raided the bank, while I wired him the money.
My business in the UK was done and I flew over to Dublin to fulfil out my mother’s death 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 women in the village were either 15 and pregnant or 40 with five kids. The house was haunted by old ghosts. They spoke at night. Sam called from Bangkok. He was grateful for my advice and offered a ticket to Thailand. My funds were low. I said I would see him next year.
Back in New York I worked with Richie. Mrs. Carolina and I went skiing 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. 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. She was attending school to get her degree in psychiatry. 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 that’s 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 met her husband in Thailand. They are happy. She’s not a domestic person like everyone thinks of Asian woman. She has a mind of her own. She’s not a caricature.”
“Where she meet her husband?” I knew the answer.
“In a bar. Maybe a go-go.” Sherri frowned at my query. “She did what she had to take care of her family. I can’t throw any stones 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. I was going to Thailand in the spring and 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. I’d meet Pong. We’d go to Pattaya. I’d write my book. I called Kenny. He answered the phone. 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.
"No, but I promise to phone from Bangkok." Her eyes misted hearing those words. I couldn’t tell her anything else. We were no longer lovers. Then again we had never been. The 26-hour plane ride to Thailand was lengthened by an unexpected delay in Japan. The hotel at Narita gave the passengers coupons. I used mine on beer. We completed the journey in the morning. I got off the plane. The temperature was in the 90s. It was only 6am. Bangkok could only get hotter.
After all it was the Orient.