Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes 24
Ironing in Chiang Mai
I am happy and excited now and I am about to get even more happy and more excited because I can see her coming. She doesn't look the same as the last time I saw her twenty-five years ago but the mind stores a person's way of walking and of moving. It is her. The last time I waved good-bye she was young and fertile and shaped like an hour glass. Now I can see that the skin stretched tight over her cheekbones has gone to lines and wrinkles, the long jet black hair has become short and lustreless, and she is shaped like a ball. But I don't care. Right now there is not one other woman in the world that I would rather be with than her. She is my everything. My love lost. My golden, hopeful past. We are meeting in Pattaya because it is where she now lives with her husband. I have asked her to meet me at the Hopf House restaurant at the corner of soi 13/1 and Beach Road because it makes a nice date. Halfway down the restaurant's main floor is a circular stair that goes up to a little balcony that overlooks the main floor. There is only room for two tables. I have reserved the whole balcony for us. Mr. Big shot spending money he doesn't have to impress a woman who has chosen another man. It was worth it. What price happiness?
We lived together for eight months in our youth and in Chiang Mai many years ago. She was studying to be a nurse and I thought I was writing a book. She was my first experience with falling away from myself. I fell out of me and into her. She could have had any man just by smiling at him. She smiled at me. Back then there were no cell phones and we had no apartment phone. Our evenings were quiet. She would study and I would review the day's writing. There were bird cages to clean and a dog to walk and dishes to wash. You can never know another person's mind. And sometimes a closely held secret is a guilty pleasure. All that time that we were together I had a secret that I kept from her. One of her hobbies was ironing. It relaxed her. So every night I would set up the ironing board in front of the TV. The Atomic Clock in Washington, D.C. wasn't as reliable as me setting up the ironing board. It was showtime. I would be sitting on the couch and between me and the TV was Nat standing at the ironing board. She would be wearing one of my old thin T-shirts that came down and covered her rear. The TV threw out a weird blue light that was like some kind of X-ray beam. The TV light shone right through her T-shirt. You could see everything. Sitting on the couch I had a show every night. There wasn't another woman in the world that I was more attracted to than her and there wasn't another woman in the world that I was more sexually interested in than her; and every night I got to sit on the couch and feast my eyes on her beautiful body. Sometimes at night we would go boom-boom, and sometimes we wouldn't. But it never mattered. I was already a happy, satisfied man. I loved ironing.
Our reunion was wonderful. Two middle-aged people feeling young again. It was all about telling stories and laughing and finishing each others thoughts and sentences. The balcony was a great idea, the service was good, and the food was fine. A TV hung from the ceiling in front of us and showed animals doing silly things. We laughed like children. The live band played Beatles songs. I had never finished my book and she had gotten out of nursing. That's about all of the catching up that we did. It was our time together that counted. And we were like starving people at an emotional buffet. We couldn't get enough of each other. I leaned over and put my arm and hand around her waist. She gently removed it. She was married. A new reality. On the way out I stopped her in front of the band and got her to slow dance with me. Neither one of us could dance. It was just an excuse to hold each other and cry.
After dinner we walked down the boardwalk and went to Swenson's for ice cream. Then we went across the street and sat on the concrete wall and looked at the ocean and the stars and the lights on the floating restaurants. Finally, it was time to part. She had had more to offer Life so she had ended up with more. She had a husband waiting at home who knew she was seeing a former lover. She had children and more birds. Another dog. I had an unfinished manuscript and an empty bed at the White Inn on soi 14. Ten dollars a night and the tears were free. We were not equal. I knew that I would never see her again so I decided to leave her a gift. I decided to give her the secret that I had kept from her in our apartment in Chiang Mai for eight months. So I said,
"Honey, remember when you used to iron in front of the TV?"
"Yes," she said. "The light shone through my shirt. You could see everything!"
* * * * * * * *
My first experience checking into a hotel in Thailand was a Screamer and as I found out later, often a normal experience. See if this rings a bell with anyone out there. I am checking into the Vientai Hotel in the western part of the city. It is a good hotel for access to Khao San Road and environs and the tourist spots in the Rattanakosin section of Bangkok. I am the only person checking in. I am the only person in the lobby. There are FIVE check-in staff ladies behind the counter. They are all Thai and all beautiful and all charming and all blessed with megawatt smiles. They are wearing lemon yellow suits (jacket top and skirt) that together with their black heels and black hair are very lovely. These are the first Thai females I have ever seen. I am very tired and I am very sick; but I am smitten. Check-in procedure worldwide is a five minute process. Not here. It takes twenty agonising minutes. These five charming man-killers are completely, utterly, fabulously incompetent. I have been involved in business in one capacity or another capacity for twenty five years and I find the business of business interesting. So I am often either consciously or unconsciously putting my social interactions through the business filter. First of all, it took minutes for one of them to see me! Perhaps I should have shot off a flare gun.
Then it started. A woman would ask me something and then turn and involve herself in some other unrelated task. Another woman would answer the phone and then speak to me. Hang up the phone and cut that person off. Some charming femme fatale would pick up a document and stare at it. Then put it down. Nothing done. Etc, etc, etc. The back-of-the-counter theatre looked like human bumper cars for the sedated as these five 'hospitality professionals' drifted around and sometimes bumped into each other. Fortunately, I could see the humor of it–sort of. As long as I didn't extrapolate and wonder how Thai surgeons were trained or how Thai aircraft mechanics were trained I knew I could get through it.
There didn't appear to be any policies, or procedures, or rules, or diplomatic courtesy notions. And clearly, they were firmly in the grips of the democratic process; because no one was in charge. It was amazing. And I was firmly in their clutches because after five minutes of this, I had no idea what was going on. And I had been pre-drilled prior to my first trip to Thailand in all the guidebooks to not yell or be aggressive or demanding when things were not going right. I sometimes wonder if the Thais are the real authors of those guidebooks that tell us to just stuff it when things are goofed up. Anyway, eventually it ended. And I appeared to be checked into the hotel. I think. Charming. But, oh so SLOW. . . !
The woman that stole Dana's heart….I wonder if Dana turned out how she thought he would?