Readers' Submissions

Something’s In The Air

  • Written by Cent
  • July 23rd, 2004
  • 20 min read


I woke in a pool of sweat. Again. It’s been hot the past two months in Surin. Hotter than usual in fact. I have a thermometer by the front door, in Fahrenheit, I brought over from the States. Just so I could see exactly how hot it was at times. I always wonder. Now I wonder no more. It’s hot. Very fucking hot. 100 degrees. Every day, way before it hits noontime. Now, the thing is, this thermometer NEVER feels the rays of the sun. It’s mounted on the wooden doorframe for the front door of my townhouse apartment in Surin. It sits in the shade of the carport roof, which extends a good twelve feet to the street from this front door, and both sides of the carport are shaded by the carport roofs of the houses on either side of us. So, it’s 100 degrees, in the shade. That’s pretty damned hot, especially at ten o’clock in the morning. Okay, ten thirty actually. But, it doesn’t feel that hot. Really. Hey, it’s only May for god’s sake! And it doesn’t feel like it’s a hundred degrees in the shade, but that damned thermometer is nearly pegged out at this early time of the day. It only reads to 120. I hope to never see it reach that. I wish to hell at times I’d never put the damned thing up. Once you read the temp when it’s that high you automatically start sweating. And the fact is, once you walk out of the shade and into the sun, it does feel a hundred degrees. "The sun, she bites you man." as an old black Bahamian told me once in the Bahamas. Like a vampire she sucks the energy right out of you. It takes about ten steps in the open air and you are ready for another cold shower. I love it.

These are the dog days of summer, in May. I know this because all the soi dogs on the street are laying about under my truck in the carport. They don’t even bother to run away they’re so hot when I look at them and tell ’em to fuck off to somewhere else to keep cool. They just look at me with their big brown sad eyes and whine at me, and crawl a bit further under the truck into the deeper shade in case I try to evict them with my size ten foot in their ass. Fuck it, as long as they behave I’ll leave them there. It’s just too damned hot to use the energy to chase them out. They’re a mangy lot, and their lot keeps growing. The Thais don’t seem to be able to control the damned stray dog population around here. Everyone feeds them their scraps and shit, as good Buddhists. Heaven forbid they pay to have them spayed and neutered though, or have a dog catcher to take them to the pound. They just keep multiplying. Insane. When I first moved here there were three of them surviving on the mean streets of my soi. Now there are ten, and one bitch just laid a litter of five more on the neighbor’s tiled driveway two houses down. I told the wife in my day, when I was young, someone, a father or two in the neighborhood usually, would have just taken the pups and put them in a gunny sack, and dumped them in the local pond or lake nearby. She didn’t believe me. It sounds hard hearted, and is actually, but to just let these poor mangy curs keep multiplying is crueler in my mind as well. They receive no gentle touch their whole lives. They aren’t pets. No one wants them, nor loves them, nor cares for them when they are sick or injured. They just survive, and multiply, and fight, and scrounge, and scare the kids, and chase the motorcycle riders and bicycle riders, and lose their hair to mange and other diseases, and contract rabies one day god forbid, and then bite someone. Where’s the Buddhism in that? Where’s the intelligence in that? Where’s the true humaneness in this way? It’s disgusting, really, but no one wants to listen to me, the farang, when I try to get them to maybe do something about it. The cops won’t help, and there is no government agency, or private humane society to call to help as far as I‘ve been able to deduce. It’s a national disgrace, truly it is. The abandoned and stray dog problem here is out of control. Yet the cops are arresting those who round up these strays and sell them to the Khmer people, who will use them for meat for food. Is this logical? Here is a cheap supply of protein. They have this problem with all these stray dogs. They have people who have the energy, and gumption, (It takes balls to try to catch these mangy and dangerous fuckers really. They are not tame at all, and will bite you if you fuck with them too much.) and willingness, to catch the mutts for sale, to people who are willing to pay 100 baht per dog, so they can butcher and sell the meat, to those who are quite willing to pay for the privilege of eating these mangy curs. Meat in the pot for those who enjoy this flavor of protein as far as I am concerned. Don’t get me wrong. I truly do love dogs. But not these dogs. These dogs are a danger to the society. To the women and children. They do, and will, bite, without even being provoked. Just because you walk by their “territory”. If you’ve never been surrounded by ten or fifteen snarling, hungry, mangy and neglected, and basically wild feral dogs you might want to try it some time, before you call me a hard-hearted bastard. Imagine yourself as a 50 pound kid, or 80 pound small woman, if you can, and tell me you wouldn’t be scared enough to maybe piss your pants, as you stand there frightened to death that you are about to be mauled by a pack of these beasts. If you tell me you wouldn’t be afraid then, then I’m telling you you’re either a liar, or a damned fool. Think about it.

There’s something in the air here. I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s a scent, a vibe, a shimmer of heat wavering off the tarmac. Cicadas chirrup and screech in the trees. Dust rises in small tornadoes and whips down the soi, filled with small leaves, the husks of long dead insects, and the dried petals of numerous fragrant flowers, which grow everywhere there is dirt and water enough for them to survive and set down roots to flower and seed. They are everywhere, and it’s part of the beauty of this land. There’s a smell to this land. A heady fragrance that fills the sun-burned over heated atmosphere of the land Isaan. It’s wonderful perfume is something I wish I could bottle and sell. The French should try to figure out the composition of this scent. It’d be a goddamned goldmine.

Something else is in the air here now too. Rain. The rainy season is starting, in fits and spurts. It rains nearly every day, but just a bit, usually late at night. It’s not truly the rainy season yet, but it’s practicing for it. Along with the rains comes the sounds, and the bugs, and the animals. Every day I can see the clouds building up in the distances over the flat and open spaces of the Isaan plateau. Far away and over the land of rice fields and bamboo stands the cotton candy cumulus, (what’d be the plural, cumuli?), clouds build themselves higher and higher into fairy tale castles, and monsters, and angels at war. It’s amazing to behold. These clouds form into towering mountains of moisture, glowering over the lands with the threat, which is actually a welcome relief from the heat, of the monsoon rains to come in the next few weeks time. The sunsets become airy landscapes of molten gold and crimson and lilac. Brief winds kick the dust motes into the sky, and sudden bursts of downdrafts under the flat black bottoms of these monstrous constructions of watery molecules spin the small dead leaves and branches into towers of mulch in the sky. The brief showers will bring out the tiny frogs to cover the roads like the plagues of Moses’ god on the Egyptian slaveholders of the Jews. Kermit’s kin cover the sois en mass. Looking for who knows what, they ascend from the water buffalo wallows on each side of the roads and throw themselves under the wheels of the lumbering traffic with no thought of their safety, to be slaughtered by the millions daily, and yet they just keep on coming, their numbers obviously more plentiful than all the stars in the universe. As soon as the rains finish they vanish, like the ghostly fog in a graveyard of a Stephen King novel, or as hordes of vampires escaping the breaking dawn light, to return only with the next deluge from the sodden skies. It’s an incredible sight.

Every night the past week the bullfrogs in the neighborhood would harumph their chorus of a blues version of Mel Tormes “Being Green”. I had no idea we even had bullfrogs in the neighborhood! Seems there are many, hiding god-knows-where in the small plots of greenery around the soi, they crack out their song in an ever increasing volume as soon as the sun sets. They are so loud they can actually drown out your conversation. And they don’t sing “ribbet”, they sing in Thai, something like, “Mmmmmmmuuuuurrrrrrrpppppp, mmmmmuuuuurrrrrrppppppp“. They sing all night long. Their chorus is in your ears as you fade into sleep every night, even with the windows and doors closed, and the ac on full blast, you can clearly hear their songs and paeons to the coming rains. They’ve been waiting months for this godsend of moisture to fill their cracks and hollows homes in the crusty red dirt, and sing the praises of their watery gods to the high heavens. They sing so loudly they even drown out the nightly constant baying of the soi dog choir, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

For the past three nights swarms of winged ant-like creatures clouded the night sky. Around every night light and street light, and lighted windows, (hopefully closed or screened) they gathered in their millions, circling the rays of the numerous human-made small electric suns that beat back the blackness of night of the uncivilized world. There are so many that if you dared to walk under a streetlight and breath in deeply you’d likely swallow a dozen or more. They fall to the pavement when exhausted of their eternal fairy dance around the light beams, drawing and emboldening the bullfrogs, who swarm the street under the lights and feast to their hearts content hundreds in a few minutes. I’ve never seen frogs behave so boldly before. They’ll hop right by you as you walk down the soi, not caring a wit of your presence beside them. Their tongues flashing like sticky pink swords, the glue attaching four or five flying ants at a time. They sit and gulp down the feast before them, wings fluttering at their lips as they chew and swallow as much as they can hold in their bellies. I took pictures of a few. They just sat there and ignored me, the camera, and the flash. These were a blackish dark green frog, with slashes of yellow down their sides, and big bulging eyes.

And yes, when I questioned the family they told me that some Thais eat these frogs, but not them, as they think these frogs Mi arroy. Not as tasty as the type of frog we grow in the village frog farm for the family’s dinner plates I guess. I have a small frog farm at the house in the village I built. We bought around five hundred baby frogs a few months back, for a pittance of baht. Now they reside in a chicken wire fence enclosed slop hole of mud and water in the yard. A huge bag of frog feed was bought, also for a pittance really, and they are fed daily these pellets of nourishment. Due to cobras, and midnight two-legged thieves of human form, two-legged cobras I call them, the number of our frogs has dropped to a mere two hundred or so now. Well, the family did eat a few along the way as well, maybe a hundred, but two hundred were lost from the snakes of both kind. This thieving truly pissed off the wife. She has no sympathy for thieving Buddhists. Now the frogs are protected by two watch dogs. Rambo and Arnold are their names, the spawn of our bitch of a dog Star, (a great watch-dog by the way she is) who coupled with some lazy hansum village dog and dropped a litter, a couple which the wife and sister decided to keep. The said village dog father of these mutts didn’t hang around long once Star was found to be pregnant with his progeny, and hasn’t sent me a baht in up-keep or support for his four-legged furry kids. Dog food ain’t cheap! And these ones only like the beef flavored canned food, which figures, as it’s the most expensive dog food out there in the Makro Super-store shop. They won’t touch the cheaper dry pellet beef flavored stuff that can be had for much cheaper in large fifty pound bags. They now are set out at night to guard the frog pen from the thieves. There has been no more thieving, as these two are not to be trifled with. They were the largest of the male dogs of the litter, and have yet to grow to their full potential. Eating the expensive canned foods I imagine they’ll be a sight to see in the village once they reach full size and ferocity. Most dogs in the village are a bit on the scrawny side, and their growth is stunted by the lack of a good diet and care. Most of the guys in the village are afraid of our dogs, we’ve four now, Diamond, Star, Rambo, and Arnold, all of which are very protective of the family. They will not let any man approach without permission from Momma or one of the family. Women and children can come and go as they please, but men are held in check a distance from the property and family. They also seem to have a good sense of who the scumbags and thieves are too from what I’ve seen. Good watchdogs really, although they have a tendency to jump up on me when their paws are muddy to get a pat on the head and a scratch behind the ear, which doesn’t endear them to me when I have a pair of white chinos on as I‘m on my way out to party or eat at a nice restaurant. It gets pretty muddy during the rainy season. Nothing like a few sets of red mud paw prints on the chinos to show you are a styling village dude at the local disco.

So, these village raised frogs are the ultimate in froggy delicacies, and are eaten with relish and moans of gastronomic pleasure once fried in a wok. The soi frogs aren’t eaten by my family.

After three days of these swarms of winged ant-like insects, and three nights of their fairy dancing about the electric street lights, and the masses of frogs dining each evening on their exhausted asses, I awoke one morning and clambered down the stairs to go outside to amble over to the new shop-house across the street I built for the wife and Sis to run and work to make some baht for the family, and to keep them busy and occupied, and out of my hair, while I write my stories, and the books I wish to one day publish. I go to the shop every morning for my morning coffee and rice or noodles, and to grab a smooch from the wife, and to say my hellos to the neighbors and friends eating in the shop before I get to work at the computer for a few hours. What’s nice about having a Thai wife is that if I am too lazy, or oversleep of a morning, or jump on the computer early in a rush to get something written I have stuck in my head, my wife will make me some toast and jam, some Khao Tom Guy, (a favorite of mine) for breakfast, and some coffee and bring it up to the bedroom and serve me my breakfast at the desk. This never happened much during my first marriage to my farang wife, and is something that truly endears this new Thai wife to me. It’s just such a nice gesture, as she seems to think I’ll just waste away and get sick if I don’t have my morning foods and liquids. If you find yourself a good Thai woman she’ll take care of you better than any woman I’ve met so far in my life. It is a way she expresses her love toward you, and her appreciation for the care you take toward her as her husband. A Thai woman raised in a traditional family is taught to care for her man. This shows in the many ways my own wife takes care of me, without my asking, usually. It is definitely a good quality to have in a wife, and it makes me want to take care of her the best ways that I can. It makes me love her all the more.

As I stepped outside my front door to where my leather clog type sandals lay, to slip them on my feet to cross the road where the shop stands I glanced at the thermometer attached to the doorframe beside me. It read ninety degrees. Another hot day was in store. The Thai Electric Company would be making more money from me this day, as the air conditioner in the bedroom where my desk and computer are would definitely be in heavy use this afternoon. As I went to my sandals I noticed I was stepping on something that was sticking to the soles of my feet. I looked down, and there on the tile doorstep lay thousands, nay, likely millions, of golden lacey sparkling things, which I had trodden on, and which I couldn’t at first figure out what they actually were. They looked somewhat like the helicopter petals of seeds from a maple tree, which, once brown and dried out, fall from the maple trees in a fluttering tumble to scatter the seeds to the wind around the trees they fall from. I stopped and raised my left foot, and began flicking off these pieces of whatever from the bottom of my foot so I could slip my foot into my sandal without dirtying the shoe. As I was doing this I noticed by my foot a large black ant. This ant had attached to his, or her, who knows which, surely not myself, body a lone golden lacey sparkling wing. It fluttered the wing a few times as I watched this, and the wing fell to the ground beside it. I finished cleaning my feet, noticing as I did so the zillions of these beautiful fairy wings discarded all over my driveway, and, walking outside into the street I saw these golden sparkling wings were everywhere in the street. Mounds of them shone in the streets under the streetlights the insects had circled the past few nights. I picked one up and held it to the sunlight. It seemed wrought of the finest gold, as though it was made by expert goldsmiths intent on creating the finest dangling type of golden wire earrings for a favorite princess. It was intensely beautiful, sparkling in the sunlight and nearly iridescent. A rainbow of color shifted before my eyes as I turned the wing in different directions to catch it’s intrinsic work. Nature has a beauty mere men can never match, lo though they’ve tried throughout the many centuries of our existence. I was awed and moved by this simple wing of an ant. What art God has wrought for our pleasure in the simple wing of a bug.

As I stood there admiring the work of the master creator another beautiful creation of his came walking gingerly toward me, a cup of hot coffee in her hands, along with a plate of toast and jam in the other. She walked with her eyes down, watching the coffee, so as to not slosh it on her hand and burn herself, not even noticing me standing there until she was nearly in front of me. She stopped, noticed I was still holding the wing in front of my eyes in the sunlight, and laughed her warm lovely laugh, asking me what I was doing with a puzzled smile on her face.

“I was admiring this beautiful ant’s wing darling. Don’t you think it is pretty?” I asked her, holding it up to her sparkling brown eyes.

She looked at me funny. “You think pretty?” she asked, a bit incredulously.

“Sure,” I said, "but not nearly as pretty as you darling. Let me help you with that coffee dear, and let’s go upstairs for a while.”

“Sammi pahk wan.” (Husband sweet mouth/flatterer) she said to the compliment.

“No, poot jing jing darling.” (Speak true) I grinned to her. “Let’s go upstairs to the bedroom for a while. I want to see the rest of that beauty that lies under your clothing. You must be hot in all those clothes. Aren't you? I’m in a mood dear. Your sister can watch the shop for a while can’t she?” I said in my most seductive voice.

She laughed a tinkling laugh, called me “tah lueng” and, giggling like a schoolgirl, sauntered in the front door ahead of me, complaining of the work she still had yet to do this morning, though not too forcefully complaining.

Being an intelligent sort of guy, I followed her in, and triple-locked the door behind us.

Her sister managed the shop quite well alone for an hour or so.

There are many things of wonder and beauty in this land of smiles. I thank the lord that one of his finest creations resides with me. There’s something in the air here, and I love it.

Cent
(The Central Scrutinizer)

Stickman's thoughts:

Nice.