Cato wrote two thousand years ago that the deadliest trap for a man is the one that a woman weaves with her tears. Every bones in my body said throw her out. Regrettably I was bound by ties much stronger than love to see this relationship to the end, for I was beyond saving myself from the sinking sands swirling around my ankles. I was in danger of becoming a parody of the love-lost farang. Sam Royalle could help me. No one in America could either.
I had only one ally to stave off my self-destruction and slowly devised the Italian Plan. Her Italian would show up one day. He would call Ae. She would say he was a friend. I would let her go see him. The rest of the future was written beyond my sight, but I would be saved from a fool’s fate.
Unfortunately nothing happened. No phone calls. No family crisis for Ae. Nothing. Something wasn’t right and two days before my birthday, Ae announced she was going on holiday to Chiang Mai with her youngest son. She hadn’t ever mentioned any family up north and this sudden departure sounded suspiciously like a discreet rendezvous with the Italian. The morning of my birthday she packed a bag with her best clothes and asked, “You angry?”
Telling the truth gained nothing. “Angry? What for? You go. Have fun.”
“And what will you do?” She stood at the door. Her bag and son was on a motorcycle taxi. The fat driver worked the corner of her father’s soi and had helped Ae leave other men. She would go with him. I would be alone. Life would be simple.
“I think about you.”
“I think you too.”
Ae ran to the motorcycle and two seconds later she was gone. I walked to the house. It was quiet. I put John Coltrane on the stereo. No one complained about the jazz. I packed Ae’s clothing into a big box, swept the floor clean of her hair, dumped the sheets in the trash, stuck her pictures in a drawer, and called Sam Royalle, who suggested a birthday tour of the go-go bars. “You can drown your sorrows in drink.”
“I’m going to have a quiet one. Men after 40 should only celebrate birthdays ending with zero.” I opted for a two-hour rubdown at a legitimate Thai massage parlor. After listening to my tribulations, the masseuse said, “Pattaya have many bad lady. You free. Can be butterfly. Have fun.”
Sanuk remedied any woe for the Thais. Pattaya had go-go bars, beer halls, and discos. Girls went home with you for a smile. Drinks were cheap. I intended to bury myself in fun and I left the massage parlor with my muscles al dente.
Night had fallen. Girls were riding motor-sai taxi to Walking Street. In the nearby karaoke lounge a lone police officer sang a drawn-out Lao love song to a video of dancing girls in a rice paddy. The pi-dogs at the end of my soi snarled their hungry greeting and a plastic fire smoldered across the creek. I always ended up alone. Every woman ran away. This self-pity wasn’t healthy on birthdays or Christmas. Luckily I didn’t own a gun and the most dangerous pill in my medicine cabinet came out of a Lomotil bottle.
Turning the corner onto my soi I saw the balloons hanging from the wall and fairy lights strewn through the trees. A dozen motorcycles were parked in the street and a cloud of smoke rose from a fish barbecue. Twenty Thais, Sam, Mark, and shouted, “Surprise.”
I got off my bike wearing the stupidest grin on the face of the Earth and Ae ran up, laughing. “You not know 100%. Big joke.”
“I’m a big kwaai.” Everyone enjoyed ridiculing the birthday ‘Buffalo’. We ate and went to Marine Disco. I imagined things might work out. Ae had to love me. When I wobbled to our bike, Ae asked, “You think I leave you on your birthday?”
“No.” I wondered whether we ever told each other the truth. “Thank you for the big surprise.”
The party was a success. Ae and I made love that night. She said she wanted life with me alone and sent Dtut to her grandmother’s house. The crisis seemed to have passed and our little house surrounded by the swamp became a Garden of Eden under Ae’s care.
In mid-June my cousin returned for a week’s holiday. Bish brought a book BLACK MASS about the South Boston Mafia, and a Boston Bruins t-shirt. Ae appreciated the bottle of perfume and promised to find him a wife. He waved his hands in the air like an air traffic controller warning off a 747. “I’m not the marrying kind.”
“I think run in family.” Ae wasn’t smiling and I shrugged defenselessly, “We’ll get married when I sell my book.”
“Why you not ask me marry?”
“Now’s not the right time.” Her drunkard father asked to a dowry price of 50,000 baht and was not impressed by my counteroffer of 5000 baht and a bottle of Scotch. “And you get married before.”
Ae stamped her feet on the floor. “Englishman not marry. Say marry. Have monk come. Family too. Have food. Have drink. Englishman not come. UK suck. Man United ki.”
Bish hadn’t come to Thailand to hear a domestic squabble and sought refuge at his hotel. I spent an hour trying to prevent Ae from self-injury. “You go with cousin. Go see lady. Go. Pai ke ki.”
“I don’t want to go with him,” I explained that my mother had asked me to look after Bish. “He’s family.”
“Sure?” Her anger was quelled by this explanation. Family was everything to Thais.
“Sure 100%.” My mother had not mentioned go-go bars.
“You go out with him. I go with friend. Maybe cousin go with she.”
“I’ll see you at the TQ.” We kissed and a sense of invulnerability cloaked any threat to my life in Thailand. An editor would publish my book on punks. Hollywood would turn it into a movie. I would be able to take care of Ae and her family. Everything was going to work out.
I met Bish at the Sabaii Lodge pool. He ate a club sandwich, while I tucked into laab gai, a spicy Isaan dish. After a second beer, I blurted the facts about Ae’s Italian lover.
His smile was identical to his father’s grin upon hearing I had not started the fight at BC High. “You’re going out with an ex-go-go girl with two kids. As your counsel I have to ask for your own good, what are you gaining from this affair? I mean you’re a little old to confuse lust for love, aren’t you?”
This question held merit and I replied, “I know what I”M doing.”
Bash’s deceased mother must have issued similar instructions to watch my back. “So why don’t you ask Ae to get married?”
“Because I was afraid she’ll say yes.” I had been waiting for love for too many years. My heart was too suspicious to accept anyone loving me now. Especially if I was following the Italian Plan.
I shook my head and explained about Ae’s secretive phone calls. “None of my relationship have ended with a good landing.”
As much as Bish enjoyed our nights out with Ae, he saw her for what she was. “You should thank your lucky stars, if some stupid Italian can take her away, plus you haven’t been faithful.”
“What are you talking about?” I hadn’t cheated on Ae in Pattaya.
“You don’t sleep with Mrs. Carolina anymore?” He had me on the witness stand and expected the truth.
“What about Sherri?”
“But not blood like you and me.”
“We’re just friends.” He would never accept her as family. He had seen THE ABDUCTION OF CLAUDIA too many times. It was her first movie.
“Isn’t that what Ae said about the Italian?”
“And that cute hostess, Nu.” Bish arched an eyebrow.
“I haven’t touched her.” No points were awarded for monogamy on the Bight of Siam.
“Not in your mind.” Bish had been taught by the nuns that sins in the mind were as dangerous as those of the flesh.
“It’s not the same thing.” I recognized why he was a successful lawyer in Boston. He was relentless in seeking the truth. In Pattaya the pay-off wasn’t the same.
“Of course not.” He signaled for the bill. The evening sky above the palms was ablaze with stars and Bish said, “You’re my cousin. Having a bad landing doesn’t mean the pilot has to die in the crash.”
“I’ll walk away from the crash.”
“Like that bike crash with the pick-up truck.”
I held up my wrist, which had healed bent. “Only a little battered.”
“Better than dead.”
Ae was waiting at the Tahitian Queen a Go-Go, which dated back to the Vietnam War. She had danced at the TQ as a showgirl after her husband had run off with a karaoke waitress. She had told me she went with up to 3 men a day. “Some gave me 2000 baht for short-time.”
I hated these stories.
Tonight she was wearing pink hot pants, a sheer bra, and high heels. A thick layer of chalky blush heightened her Chinese features and her hair had been teased to a ridiculous height. She looked ready for the prowl and the mama-san asked Ae to dance.
She ignored my scowl and jumped up on the stage. Her body rippled around a fire pole to an insipid Brittany Spears’ hit. Slattern eyes were riveted to her reflection on the mirror. She dropped the straps from her shoulders to expose her breasts. This routine was out of her normal skein of bad behavior and I scanned the object of this deviation. The mama-san handed a note to a skinny young falang with a big nose. His two young friends glared in my direction. The three sported Milan AC football shirts.
I commented on their attention to Bish, who shrugged, “Perhaps they’re old customers.”
“I think it’s the Italian.” Ae had pointed out other “Friends in the past. None had studied her every move so intently and I gripped my beer. Bish was on a vacation and said, “Don’t start anything.”
”I’m not.” Mrs. Carolina had stated that my pluses outweighed the negatives. I tried balancing the pros and cons with Ae. She was 24, had two kids, an ex-husband, a criminal family, no concept of money, no education, and no ambition beyond having sanuk versus her beauty and our sex. The math was simple. I would pass the torch.
“Bish, you said the best option would be let Ae go with the Italian.”
“Save you a lot of trouble in the end and in the middle too.”
“Cut bait and run.” It had worked for Ronald Reagan after the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut.
“At this point you can walk. Later you will have to run.”
Ae bared her breasts to the young man.
“I’m going for the Italian plan.”
“It’s a wise decision.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s why it feels like the wrong thing to do.”
Ae sashayed off the stage at the end of the song with a long strand of hair whipping across her spine, challenging the young Italian to maintain his invisibility.
“I still dance best.”
“Yes, you would win the bar fine prize every night.” I said sarcastically, but she missed my meaning. “Thank you, tee-lat.”
“Let’s go someplace more interesting,” Bishop suggested and we left TQ'S to view Hot and Cold a Go-Go’s midnight live show. He loved the fire show. Ae’s cousin worked the lesbian act and Bish barfined her for the night to balance out the third wheel. I avoided any of the regular farang hangouts. The Italian was at none of the distant bars.
By 2am I was ready for sleep.
Mem was not tired. “Want go dance one hour.”
“One hour?” Thai time was not measure by a clock.
“One hour. Not more.” She had plans with the Italian.
“Have a good time.” This would finish us and I would be a free man. I kissed Ae goodnight and she said, “Go Marine with cousin. Come home soon.”
And I watched TV until 3. The phone hadn’t rung and I called Ae. Her not picking up had a million possibilities. I settled on one and drove my bike to my cousin’s hotel. The desk clerk said that Bish had gone to his room ten minutes ago. Possibly Ae had returned home and I drove to my soi in less than five minutes. It might as well have been ten. The house would have been empty either way.
Pattaya was not a big city. She wasn’t at the Lao coffee shop or the karaoke bar across the creek. No one had seen her at the Marine discos. I rolled up to the biggest disco in the city. The motorcycle attendants asked where my mia was, which meant either she wasn’t here or they were covering up for my ‘wife’. I went inside to discover it was the former and I walked out feeling better, until Ae arrived on the Italian’s motorcycle.
She said, “Don’t talk now.”
Her plea came about an hour too late.
“I take care of you for a year and the second this punk comes into town you go off with him.”
“Why you talk same this?” She slipped off the bike with her eyes clouded with confusion. Her favorite band Loso was playing inside and this boy on the bike was young. “He friend.”
“Who’s this?” the Italian asked in clipped English.
The prospect of two falangs fighting over a dok thong had become a cartoon for the scores of Thais before the nightclub. Their laughter horrified Ae, but she remained by the Italian’s side. His friends bracketed him. It was three against one. My blood ran with lava and Ae saw my fists clenching. “Please don’t.”
The music from CHAO MOTORSAI boomed from the disco and her words ricocheted inside my skull. She had chosen this young man. Her khun gair was out. After leaving New York. After visiting the dirt-poor farm in Khorat. After feeding her family and I said, “You fucking bitch.”
While non-fluent in gutter American, she started crying into her hands. The Italian realized his trespass into an unexpected relationship and apologized, “There are a hundred women in Pattaya. She can go with you.”
“No, you can have her.” I pressed the electric starter and roared out of the parking lot.
This was not Romeo and Juliette.
I had forgotten the warnings, not listened to the tales, and ignored the writing on the wall. I was getting what I deserved and nightmares exhausted me by dawn.
In the morning her brother picked up her clothes. I bought him some beer and he explained that his sister was crazy. He smiled apologetically and drove away without any explanation. Over the next few days I heard the story from a dozen sources.
She was with a younger man. He had offered a trip to Italy. His father had given him $10,000 to process her visa. The Italian intended on marrying the ex-go-go dancer, whereas I was content with living in sin. It was Ae's middle name. Mine was farang. I could have been anyone to Ae, but Ae was Ae to me.
Pure and simple.