Grandpa Comes For A Visit – A Ghostly Tale – Part 4
Omnia Vincit Labor
(Labor overcomes all things)
After finishing my toilet I went into the bedroom, threw on some clothes, shorts and t-shirt and sandals, made myself another cup of pseudo Joe, and ate my jam and toast while reading the oh so pleasant news from around the world. Which is enough to drive any man into a fit of depression and wrist slashing isn't it? I don't know why the hell I even bother reading the papers any more. I love being in the village because I want to get away from all that crap actually.
Finishing my breaking of the nightly fast I wandered out onto the veranda, after dutifully placing my cup, saucer, and plate in the sink out back for later washing by my loving wife.
(Call me a chauvinistic pig, but one thing I love about being in the village is I never have to wash my dishes, nor wash, dry, and iron my clothing. It's not considered my job or duty, and I catch no shit or grief for not doing so. Sans peur et sans reproche. (Without fear and without reproach) Ah, to the manly life! Let us drink a toast gentlemen!)
I noticed the clouds had dissipated a bit, the rain had finished for a while it looked. I decided to get out my new electric "weed whacker" and boldly and bravely strike out into the wilderness of my minuscule front lawn, to try to tame the lush growth which had been tickling my knees every time I walked to and from the tarmac to the front door of the house. It had been neglected for many months.
This messy lawn, being a breeding ground for tics, mosquitoes, and God knows what else, needed to be beat back of it's thriving wilderness, for the health and welfare of my family, and visiting friends and neighbors. Salus populi suprema est lex! (Fitting Latin, meaning: The safety of the people is the highest law.)
Thus seeing my "manly" duty I set out to prepare for the dangerous mission I had accepted. I am the man of the house, the lawn is my domain and responsibility. I will not be seen as lacking, nor will my lawn be the disgrace most Thai lawns here-abouts are! I am falang, dammit! Civilization of a western sort has come to the village. Lawns are sacrosanct to us Yanks.
As I stepped across the "ground gutter" in front of the house something large splashed in the bottom of the concrete culvert, causing me to hurry my step across and turn and look down into the gutter. At first I thought it a large, short, fat snake that I spied thrashing about in the watery muck at the bottom of the drain. Upon further closer inspection, though not too damn close, you never know what the fuck you'll come across here in the tropical Isaan villages, I found it to be something like what we here in New England call a "skink", a water loving lizard. Sort of like a large newt, with a fat black shiny body, and with tiny, almost non-existent legs, with spots of color banding it's sides.
For some odd reason my demented brain thought, "Dew on the Newts We Got", a strange song from Frank Zappa's 200 Motels album, and the song, "The Lad Searches the Night For His Newts" from the same album. Well, last night the lad would have had a hard time searching for his newts, that's for sure! I remembered then the utter blackness of the previous night.
I hunted down my miserable excuse for a grass rake, a plastic piece of crap that is all I've found for a rake to purchase in this area. God, what I would give for a nice, springy, steel tined falang grass rake, or even a sturdy bamboo one would do! I found the rake around the side of the house, and used it to move the skink from in front of my house to further down by the dirt drainage ditch that lies along the road beside my property. Where the creature would be less likely to alarm anyone else, and probably much happier. Besides, I didn't know if it was poisonous. Well, some are you know.
I left the rake out front for later use and hunted down my new weed whacker. It was in back of the house.
This excellent machine I had first spotted in the Makro Super-store in Surin a couple of weeks before. I lusted for it the moment my eyes set upon it, but it came in a package deal, which included a circular saw as well. I didn't really want, or need, the saw at the moment, but desired the weed whacker greatly. It was at that time of first spying the whacker in Makro that I was cleaning up the front yard of the Surin rental house. The grass needed cutting, and I had naught to cut it with but a rice picking sickle, and a sorely damaged back that I was loathe to test with the constant bending and cutting of yard grasses with a damned short handled sickle.
So after a couple of days of waffling, and watching the front yard grasses grow yet higher in the moist climate of rainy season, I ran down and bought the weed whacker and accompanying circular saw. I gave the saw to Sis as a present. With different interchangeable blades it could cut ceramic tiles, cement block, metals, and other stuff, as well as wood. She loves tools anyway, being a manly sort of woman.
I brought the weed whacker home to Surin and set about putting it together.
The piece of shit weed whacker broke in the first half hour of use!!
"By the work one knows the workman."
Yep, after about thirty minutes of use the brand new weed whacker shit the bed. Needless to say I was pissed off at this. Those Makro fuckers had screwed me with a cheap piece of crap and stolen my baht from me.
I took the broken whacker to wife and Sis and announced my displeasure at being cheated my hard earned baht, and told them we would be going back to Makro to exchange it for a new one, or get my monies back at least. They seemed to think this wasn't possible. Huh?
Me: Why not?
Sis: "You buy. You break. Not give."
Me: "Oh, you think not eh? Well, come and see the Lao Falang at work honey. I will get satisfaction from Makro, dahgling. (dahgling=monkey's ass)
Sis (frowning): "Not dahgling! You dahgling!
Wife: "Think not give sammee (husband)."
Me: "Et tu, Cute-us?"
Wife: "Think Makro not give new. Maybe fix."
Me: "I don't want it fixed. I want a new one!
This one is obviously defective. Probably built on a Monday morning at the factory by a hung-over craftsman with no care for quality control. Fuck fixing it. I wanna new one. Let's go back after picking look sow (daughter) up from school later, okay?
Wife and Sis: "Okay, no problem. Up to you."
Me: "Damned straight!"
These poor villagers are so used to getting screwed. Or maybe it's just that friggin' "My pen lie" attitude. Whatever, they seem afraid to complain to this large international Makro store chain if they aren't satisfied with their purchase. Time for a lesson on good customer relations and consumer rights to fair treatment when purchasing shoddy goods. Time to teach them to speak up and not be taken advantage of. They seemed somewhat dubious of getting any satisfaction. We'll see.
I took the damned thing back apart and put it into its original package. No small feat this, as putting it together was a major pain in the ass really. Taking it apart again was a ROYAL pain in the ass. One piece in particular was extremely reluctant to go on earlier, and now, once on, was a bitch to get off. I got it apart without further damaging the unit, after much swearing and sweating, and packed it away.
Later we went to Makro after picking up daughter from school and everyone involved in Makro we talked to was very helpful, all smiles and concerned frowns when it was explained I wanted a new weed whacker. "No problem." I was told. Makro has a seven day from purchase return policy if a customer is dissatisfied with their purchase. Once I was told this I visited wife and Sis with a smug "I told you so" look of superiority and vindicated righteousness. The exchange for a new whacker was quick and painless.
Afterward I browsed the store's electronic section. They have a nice electric typewriter that can be changed from Thai font to English and back. The keys having both language's alphabet characters. 5,000 baht this is. I'm thinking of buying this so the wife and daughter can learn to type. I'm told they can get a weekly tutor to teach them typing. Plus I'd like one for making hard copies of my stories for hard storage while in the LOS. I also saw that they have some decent computers for sale on a monthly installment plan of around 1,200 baht a month for the lower end systems, to around 1,800 baht a month for the better machines. I've Sis looking into this to give me the info in a month or two when I return. I'll probably buy one then. Now if we can just get land line telephone service into the village I'll be all set at the house to be on the internet. We'll see. (As an update, I've since bought a home PC, and also a laptop.)
As we walked back to the pick-up truck in the Makro parking lot with my new, functioning hopefully, weed whacker I crowed a bit about my success at getting a new whacker.
To which wife replied, a bit irritated, "Think do because you are falang. Think not do for Thai."
"Well", I said, "Then it's good you married a falang instead of a Thai man, huh? I'm not only a hansum falang man who takes care for you, but I can also get exchanges and refunds from the damn Makro store!
Your life is complete 'eh darling? Why, you even have a pet monster that doesn't butterfly, haha!"
This said jokingly, but she still blushed and hit me, saying, "You joke too much darling."
I wonder why?
"For they can conquer who believe they can."
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
Society and Solitude
So there I was this fine day with a functioning weed whacker, a fridge full of cold beer Chang, some falang breakfast in my belly, and a throbbing toe, which seemed to not be broken, and the pain of which was gradually fading to a distant memory.
As I whacked the weeds of my mini lawn in front of the house I once again became the center of attraction for every passing old man, old woman, pack of children, soi dog, and curious villager. Most seemed to have never seen an electric weed whacker before, nor a falang cutting his lawn, and found this to be either amazing, amusing, or downright dangerous. Not knowing that the cutting edge of this machine is but a thick piece of fishing line really, they were concerned at my working in sandals with the thing buzzing away so close to my feet.
Most villagers have only seen the huge gasoline powered grass cutters/edgers sold in the area. I'd seen these on sale at the night flea market and considered buying one, but figured that after a couple beer Changs this would end up a good way to earn the nickname "Hop Along", after chopping off a few toes. Sharp saw blades these have. Plus they are heavy and would play hell with my back problems. I showed a few people that this weed whacker would not cut you if it hit your foot. It stings like a bastard, and can leave thin welts depending on the thickness of the line, but it won't cut you. They were amazed at how it would cut the weeds and grass, but wouldn't cut skin. Another magic act from the amazing falang dear villagers! The Great White Ape is such a great attraction in this village. I should charge admission.
I sweated and swore, and didn't really help my back at all, as I tend to go overboard when feeling healthy in the lower spine, and was amazed myself at the thickness and sturdiness of the grasses and weeds, and their stubborness to be cut back to a more civilized length. Made me wish for a gas powered foot chopper and a pair of thick steel-toed leather work boots!
Fucking tough weeds over there in the village! I was going through line like crazy, as the tougher weeds kept breaking off the end of the line and I had to keep extending it every few minutes! I'll have to bring over some thicker replacement line for the weed whacker next trip over. A lot of the grass is just weeds that are like small creeper vines growing everywhere through the lawn, but I was determined to conquer the shit even if I had to use the whole spool, dammit!
After an hour or so the wife and Sis brought me refreshment in the form of an ice cold beer Chang and some Kow Pat Gai with cucumbers and scallions, with hot peppers of course. They clucked about over my already tanned, though quickly reddening skin, and warned me to not stay out too long bare-chested. The sun was strong, even though it was rainy season. I pooh-poohed their concerns and drank and ate my lunch.
Much to my chagrin I later had a pretty decent sunburn for my efforts. Must be that damned Swedish blood from my father's side of the family.
Once back to work, whacking away, I noticed old Mama with short handled rice sickle in hand cutting away the grasses at the edge of the dirt culvert where the concrete ground gutter ends by the house. Seeing her go at it the other younger ladies all sitting about on their asses and gossiping away at Sis Mun's shop next door across the side yard got a bit ashamed at their laziness, and, becoming motivated seeing the old woman working in the hot sun, the clouds having dissipated almost entirely over the village by now, a good half dozen of them swarmed the culvert with sickles and cleaned out all of the debris filling the ditch, and cut back the thigh length grasses and weeds to a more reasonable height.
All right Mama! Education and inspiration through example. Now we would have a clean sewer to drain the waters away and keep down the opportunities of the mosquitoes and such pests to breed throughout the, just beginning, rainy season.
Mama seems to be very happy with her new son-in-law, and we get along famously. She's a smart old broad, and knows how to get the youngsters to do what needs to be done without saying a word. She seems happy now that she didn't stab me with the big butcher knife as she threatened to do me on my first visit to the village. (A story for another day.) She sees I'm not some lazy falang cunt, drunk on lao khao every night and thinking I'm better than everyone else, and I am always doing things to improve living conditions, not only for me and the wife and daughter, but for all the family around us, including her. She seems to have a genuine affection towards me now after these past few years, and is always doing little special things just for me almost every day. It's amusing to watch the wife jump when Mama perceives her to be lacking in her care for her husband, me, and lights into her with a verbal harangue and ass chewing, which gains me lavish care for weeks after. She's my champion, and stands up for me in most arguments, and gives the best lucky strings from Buddha for me.
Within a half hour the culvert was draining properly and all cleaned out and cut back, with the debris and cut grasses piled high along the road to dry for future burning later on.
I smiled to myself at her cleverness and style, gave her a wink as she passed me going back to her gardening, to which she grinned a small conspiring grin in acknowledgement of my spotting her cleverness at gaining me help in my endeavors, and I finished whacking the lawn and frying in the sunshine.
Nulla dies sine linea
"Labor is often the father of pleasure."
After I finished whacking the lawn as much as I could, and doing some other chores I had set for myself, I jumped into the shower and washed the day's work grime from my tired body. I changed into freshly laundered clothes, grabbed myself a cold drink of iced tea as I passed the refrigerator, (Yes, I do take other liquid refreshment besides beer! Hard to believe for some, I know!) and plunked my ass into a favored comfortable chair on the front veranda. It had been a day of hard labor, but it felt good to have accomplished all that I had that day. My back ached, but I had expected it would, and have come to ignore it's bothersome painful chattering along my nervous system pathways, except when it screams for relief. It was time to relax and rest up for the coming night's conjugal visit.
A couple hour's good massage from a professional masseuse would have done me well at the time, but alas there are none to be found in the village. They are all away in the cities plying their trade. I have to settle for the amateur massage therapists in the family to get myself fixed up at times. I've asked around, but there seems not to be any "retired" massage ladies even in the village who wouldn't mind earning the occasional baht pummelling my sore back once in a while. I need to delve further into this lack of professional massage therapists in the village area. I mean, where do all the old retired massage ladies go anyway?
As I sat surveying my property and the surrounding village I felt content and happy to be alive. I sipped my cold tea and thought to myself that I would fairly kill for a real lemon wedge to plop in it. A guy who has a house across the street from the Surin rental house has a lemon tree in his yard. I want one in mine, so I can pick a fresh lemon to add to my drinks when the desire arises. I'll have to get some lemon seeds and try planting my own one day soon. I've never seen lemons in the markets here, and always wondered why, as I've also always wondered why the Thais call limes, lemons. They're not even close to being the same fruit. I promised myself as I sat there that next time over I would bring a couple bottles of raspberry syrup along too in my suitcase. With all the cheap limes available here it would be great to show the wife and family the wonderful refreshing taste of a Raspberry Lime Rickey!
I had brought with me this trip some seed packets for Mama to try to grow in her garden. She has a true green thumb, and loves puttering around in her garden. She was thrilled when I presented these to her. I brought seeds for Beefsteak tomatoes to see if they'd grow well here. Those small plum tomatoes they grow here just don't have as much taste for making a tomato sauce for the noodles. Plus I brought some cucumber seeds. I wanted to see the wife's and family's faces when these grew out to a foot long or so. The Thai cucumbers are so small, and as they eat these with almost everything fried in the wok I thought the larger hybrid ones might be more cost and work time effective to grow. I also brought some large stringbean seeds, claimed to be okay for growing in very hot climates, and some watermelon seeds, to see how big they'd grow here. The Thais grow the smaller round watermelons. I hoped to grow some of those big bastards we grow in the states.
I also brought some pumpkin seeds. I know how to make pumpkin pie from scratch and look forward to doing so one day in the village. Their pumpkins are a smaller green variety that seem to be more of a gourd than a true pumpkin. Not much meat inside. I'll be using theirs for Jack-o-lanterns one October for Halloween. Should be fun showing our daughter and her friends in the village the fine art of pumpkin carving. They don't celebrate Halloween in the LOS. Maybe I'll explain the basis behind this holiday for them one day when I have a command of the language……Lao. I'd think the Thais would take to Halloween, being a superstitious and spirit world believing lot.
Sipping my drink I looked over to where Mun's shop sat next door. The Golem Tree sat over her shop. It stood all bent and twisted and bare of bark. It's malevolent presence glowered at all who passed. A truly evil looking wreck of a tree this is. The sun was setting behind the Golem Tree as I watched, and it's bare skeleton like branches were silhouetted by huge black thunder clouds that were racing toward the village from the west to dump another deluge this coming night. The tops of the sodden charcoal clouds seemed to reach thousands of feet into the sky.
In the distance I could hear what sounded like the booming of cannon in battle, an incessant rolling thunder that reached for many miles to my ears. The gods were at war once again. An odd sickly yellow glow filled the sky around the thunder clouds, and as I watched lightning seemed to sprout from one particular cloud in all directions. I had seen this phenomenon before in Tennessee in my youth. Ball lightning. An eerie sight if you've ever seen one. The air crackled with ions released by the impending electrical storm. The soi dogs were acting strange, running about and growling and howling, or whimpering, as their particular temperaments dictated.
The streetlights came on in the darkening gloom. Night was fast approaching, helped along by the cloudy skies. The neighborhood bat came out and started his endless circling of the streetlight by my home. He must eat a half kilo of bugs every night. He's there every night from dusk until dawn, eating his fill and chirping away in his plaintive voice. I watch him dodge and weave as he circles the light and searches his prey. A mouse with wings. God is a funny creator, full of mischief.
A cooling breeze flows out over the land, pushed ahead of the coming storm. Leaves rustle in the palms. The vegetation comes alive and turns it's face toward the heavens, awaiting the sweet fluids of life soon to be bestowed upon them. The greenery seems almost sentient, alive and brooding, their sub-sonic basso voice crying "Feed me!" like the man-eating plant from the play "Little Shop of Horrors".
I sit and revel in the breeze as it gently cools my sun burned skin, and continue to sip my drink while watching with interest and glee the awesome show nature is providing me, for free. No need for the nature cable TV channel here in the village.
My buddy, Mr. Toad, came hopping out from behind the potted plant where he sleeps the day away in the cool shade of a fissure in the concrete like Midas' son Anchurus. He hopped over by my feet and sat there with me and watched the spectacle of the storm rushing toward us with his glowing golden eyes, occasionally searching the floor around us for a fat cricket to break his fast with. I bid him an affectionate "Good evening Mr. Toad", to which he doesn't reply. I don't mind. Toads have a hard time utilizing human speech patterns. Too much tongue they have it seems, or so Mr.Toad explained to me once when we were having a few beers.
(to be continued)
"The clouds consign their treasures to the fields,
And softly shaking on the dimpled pool
Prelusive drops, let all their moistue flow,
In large effusion, o'er the freshen'd world."