Noodles, Brandy And Guns
You know that song by Mille from the early Sixties? You know the one, ”My Boy Lollipop." That one.
Maybe you don’t but I was only 2 and a bit when it came out and it gave me nightmares then-and it still does. Want to know why?
(Any good ambulance following lawyer can call me to sue the relevant record company for stress, trauma, inbuilt and thus permanent fear of radios as a result of that horrible squeaky voiced woman and the song and whoever wrote it and whoever produced it.)
Sometimes the Mango can have a life long traumatic effect like that, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend it as an enriching experience, one does get hardened to what is maybe abnormal in other countries is not so in Thailand. It’s all a matter of degree you see…Imagine growing up in Beirut in the late Seventies. Or Northern Ireland during the ‘troubles’.
Weird that –‘The Troubles’ – it seemed a bit than that to me when I was there.
I’d got off the bus beside Foodland and decided to have some gooy-deeow, (noodle soup), at the entrance to our soi before heading home. The chubby Chinese chap and his family who set up shop on the sidewalk there every evening served a bowl of lovely stock topped with steamed chicken fillets and you got a bellyful for 20 baht. They also served such oddities as stewed chickens feet in gravy which consisted of zillions of little bones and damn all flesh, but the locals seemed to like them and whilst I never saw a chicken on crutches in Thailand the thought did on occasion bring a smile to my face.
It was a good place to sit of an evening to watch the procession make it’s way up and down the woi as the various nationalities from the two hotels down there made their way to and from the various night time areas scattered around The Mango. The new arrivals would stride purposely past with their little back packs on until they reached Sukhumvit, then, they would stop in apparent confusion with the unfamiliar scents of nighttime Bangkok percolating their heads as they tried to decide which way to turn to seek out entertainment.
(Actually-Bangkok does smell different at night, just like the darkness is a soft dark and not a hard dark…work it out yourself).
They would notice the noodle stall, the tables set out and the wife and kids of the Chinese guy scurrying back and forth delivering the orders, then contemplate whether it was safe to eat al fresco.
I would watch in amusement as they cautiously approached the stall and eyeballed the chickens hanging in the case then the assorted forms of noodles lying in piles ready for a dunk in the vat containing broth which Mr. Soupy dressed in a tee-shirt, apron and headband constantly attended.
He would smile and wave them to a seat, language never being a problem to the Chinese when they are after selling something, then resume his dunking, slicing and pouring.
Sometimes a rat would skitter past and the undecided tourists would register horror before they rapidly moved off.
The more experienced visitors would walk past dressed in light clothing with their only accessory being that of a wallet. All you really need, really.
The residents were easy- they dawdled along, frequently in the middle of the road, but always slowly and with frequent stops to pass a word or two with those who they recognised.
And of course: Soi Machin was directly across Sukhumvit Road from the end of the Soi and with it’s attendant racket, flashing neon and swarms of nubiles running around was an instant attention grabber for those just arrived.
Various lovelies would arrive from across the road and into the Soi with their ‘shake and bake’ boyfriends then leg it back an hour later to practice their hard luck story on the next catch. All in all, a fairly common situation in Soi Machin.
I’d finished my noodles, chicken and broth then had a good burp before resting my forearms on the table and pouring a cup of cold Singha beer with the expectation of a pleasant half hour people watching when I was interrupted by a slap on the shoulder and looked around in surprise to see :-Tomaski standing behind me with a smile on his face.
Tomaski being a slim chap of Germanic origin.
“Hey”, I asked, "When did you get back into town Tomaski?" This not being his real name of course, but he never objected to me using it.
“Oh yesterday….you know…”, he replied then sat down opposite me.
I waved the girl for another cup and when it arrived poured some beer for him and waited for the story to begin.
When it came to the Walter Mitty’s of this world Tomaski was in a class of his own, and whilst you sort of knew that he lived in some fantasy world his stories could be entertaining.
“How long are you in town for?”, I asked then waited for a long and convoluted reply which wasn’t long in coming. He was working for a major car manufacturer it appeared and had been posted as the head of the I.T. section in S.E.Asia which was believable I suppose- but then the improbables started to get fed in so I just let him get on with it and nodded from time to time.
I suggested that we get another beer in but Tomaski demurred then suggested the Happy Home as being a much better idea.
This I opined was a bad idea as it wasn’t all that far in the distant past that the manager of the joint had suggested that we, (Robin, Alain, Rob and I), move our collective arses from the place and indeed, paid for us to do so. (See ‘Paid To Go’).
Somehow I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be made particularly welcome and stated as much to Tomaski.
He shook his head then said that not to worry as he was going in to pick up a couple of girls for one of his clients and that as long as I kept drinking on his bill it would be o.k., something that I believed like I believe that policemen are honest, but what the heck- there was always a chance and it was his wallet after all.
We stood then I walked to Mr. Soupy to pay the bill and endure the standard six questions.
“Yes thank you."
“Where are you going?"
“How’s the wife?"
“Which one?" (Laughter).
“Hot today eh?"
“Too much traffic today?"
“What are you doing at Songkran?"
(Get the answers to these correct and you’ve cracked Thailand and Thai language conversation.)
After much ‘Bye-byeing’ to him and family, Tomaski and I slowly ambled away down the Soi and into the darkness where the Happy Home was located.
Tomaski chattered away about how much money he was making and how stupid Asians were, which I found a tad amusing as he’d been ripped off more times in Bangkok than I’d eaten som tam baep lao, but before long we were hanging a right into the parking area in front of the place whereupon the doorman seeing potential customers rang the bell to warn the girls to perk up and put their knitting down.
We entered the gloom and as we did so I noticed the manager standing beside the bar who promptly gave me the evil eye which by way of reply I mouthed, ”I’m with him”, and pointed at Tomaski.
We both knew the score in this place so as he sat on the sofa facing the girls I headed for the bar to sit beside the manager where we exchanged greetings and enquired as to each others business affairs.
He laughed as I suggested that human nature kept his busy whilst government cutbacks and a lack of wars was affecting ours badly so how about we change jobs for a month or two?
Tomaski lounged on the sofa facing the tiered ranks of girls who sat under the red lights trying to look virginal and winsome so that he could pick ‘her for the night’, so we watched him watching the girls and them watching him in return.
As always the place was dimly lit, decorated in dark greens and blacks with the odd fairy light scattered around, the only bright area being where the girls sat on red cushions under the red spotlights recessed into the ceiling. The cushions and painted faces made it all too obvious what was on offer, the bar being tiny and more or less in darkness.
The toilets were located through the door which led to the short time rooms and judging by the thumps and bumps that were emerging from that area it appeared that someone had taken an elephant to work that day and left it locked into the toilet for safe keeping.
Most things about the Happy Home being believable and then some….
I looked quizzically at the manager and nodded at the door: He smiled, revealing perfect teeth before saying, ”Police”, then shrugged his shoulders and downed the whiskey in his glass.
I ordered another round for us on Tomaski’s bill and noticed that he had chosen a couple of fillies who had joined him in negotiation-Tomaski would no doubt be waxing lyrical about modelling assignments in glamorous places in order to lessen his initial expenditure. (Sounds like a joke in there someplace doesn’t there?)
The partition door burst open and a brown clad body staggered into the bar area and arrested it’s progress by the simple expedient of bumping into the bar counter. None of the girls bothered to look round and the barmaid kept her head buried in her magazine which assured me that this chap was evidently known to them.
Closer examination revealed that it was indeed a cop:- overweight, sweating and obviously very drunk unless he was in the initial stages of a heart attack, which I doubted very much.
He gripped the bar counter tightly for support as he stood swaying and I noticed that his hat seemed to be missing and that his gun hung precariously from it’s holster on his belt as though recently used and not quite replaced securely into a place of safe keeping.
The cop seemed to become aware of me studying him so I nodded, ’Harro’, then smiled to show that I was on his side. After all, cops are dangerous; drunk cops more dangerous still; and drunk cops with guns are verily to be avoided at all costs.
With much grunting the chap managed to lever himself up onto a stool whereupon a glass of whiskey was placed in front of him by the girl and which he proceeded to stare at in a glassy eyed fashion as though willing it to float upwards and into his waiting craw.
I looked at the manager- he looked at me and with a thoroughly evil smile he inclined his head then stood and walked out the door, leaving me in the company of a very drunk, armed policeman.
There have been times in my life when I have thought to myself, ”I really, really, should not be here."
And this was one of them…
The guy muttered something to the girl who promptly opened a bottle of beer and placed it in front of me. Then he twisted in my direction and began mumbling away in unintelligible Thai, not a word of which I could understand as my Thai language studies had been confined to the ‘non slurred’ method of speech.
However, I felt honour bound to at least hear him out given that he, (or the Happy Home), had bought me a beer and to leave too promptly may have led him to imagine some insult to his office-the results of which could be potentially unpleasant.
Duly, I would nod from time to time and say, ”Chai”, (agree), ”Jing-eh?”, (really?), ”Arai!”, (what!), which seemed to keep him happy enough and in good humour though I did have to wipe spittle from my eye from time to time when he got a bit wound up over some point or another.
Tomaski was in full flow on the sofa and it was obvious that I would get no relief from his direction in the foreseeable future so I continued to watch and marvel as glass after glass of neat whiskey went down the neck of my drinking partner until after a time he began to lean backwards at an impossible angle which caused me to place a restraining arm behind his back then gently ease him over the vertical to rest once again on the bar top.
“Khop Khun”, (thanks), he burped then gently laid his head on his forearms.
A soft thump from the floor caused me to look down in surprise, after all, I’d never seen a rat wearing football boots in Bangkok before, and on looking down I saw that his gun had fallen there, and as handguns go it looked pretty big to me.
Here was a dilemma:- Did I pick it up or leave it?
Nobody else in the place seemed to have noticed this event, the girls were all watching the overhead TV. or had their heads buried in newspapers, the Mamasan was asleep and Tomaski was engrossed in some tale of high finance (presumably).
I came to the conclusion that it was best to the tell the cop where his gun was, and so gave his arm a gentle tap and said, ”Khawtawd khrap”, (‘excuse me’), and by way of reply got a stifled, ”Pbhen arai." (‘What is it?’).
“Your gun is on the floor”, I said.
“Mye phen rai”, (never mind), was his response. At least that’s what I think he said because it sounded more like, ’myphrwwnai’, but it seemed logical to assume that statement.
Tomaski had finished his negotiations and wandered over to the bar area, all bonhomie and at peace with the world as he placed an arm around the cop’s shoulders before saying, ”Hallo”, to him then turning to me, ”Ist good yes?"
Given the current situation, this was a debatable point, but as always the diplomat I replied, ”If you say so.."
Then I made, ’Can we go now?’, noises which he agreed to in a few minutes but why not have a brandy on his tab first while he paid up and got the wimin’ sorted out.
He ordered two brandies and as he leaned forward to shove one in front of the cop who was by now totally out of the game, his foot made contact with the firearm that remained lying on the floor.
Completely unfazed he bent down and returned to the standing position holding the damn thing. With his finger through the trigger guard and resting on the trigger.
Tomaski does have a habit of stating the bloody obvious you know. ”Oh- look, a gun!”, he said.
Actually, from where I was it looked more like an artillery piece.
The cop lay oblivious to this situation, being as he was far away in the Land of Zog and having a conversation with some of the residents there, and I quickly ducked out of the way as Tomaski waved the thing around with the end with the hole in it passing by my face with a frequency that very quickly became alarming.
The change in the atmosphere was instant. Suddenly all the girls were paying rapt attention to the unfolding scene while the barmaid had vapourised someplace safer. A German with a gun, a farang holding a brandy glass and a paralytic cop asleep on the bar counter was definitely ammunition for a week’s worth of gossip and speculation.
Tomaski had a funny little smile on his face as he waved the thing around, maybe a German trait-but it seemed a good idea if he would cease forthwith, so ever so gently I said, ”Mr T….get your piggin’ finger off the trigger and put the bloody thing down…o.k.?"
“Oh- o.k.”, he replied as though it was the most natural thing in the world to be standing in a Bangkok knocking shop and holding a .38 automatic which was the property of a comatose cop who hadn’t even got round to drinking the brandy that he’d bought for him.
He placed the gun on the counter and wandered away to pay the mamasan while the girls resumed their activities now that the, (potential), excitement was over.
Hastily I drank my brandy then saw that as the cop’s was untouched and would be liable to be wasted, drank that as well while I contemplated what to do next.
The safety was on the pistol which was a plus as I wondered if I should try to replace it in the holster affixed to the sleeping policeman, but came to the conclusion that this was maybe a bad idea as he might wake up and in his befuddled state assume that I was trying to nick it.
This scenario could easily involve me becoming dead, or if I survived, having to live on a diet of brown rice twice a day dressed in shorts and an orange singlet for a very long period of time.
After having a think, I picked the gun up and released the magazine, then the safety and operated the slide a couple of times to clear the round in the chamber. (Thais always keep one ready).
As the round cleared and fell onto the bar counter the barmaid who had reappeared followed it’s progress as it slowly rolled along the counter and came to rest against my ashtray.
Then holding the magazine below bar level I popped a couple more rounds out and slipped them into my pocket then asked the girl for a towel which she promptly handed over to me.
After I had wiped all traces of our fingerprints off of it and rolled the parts into the towel I handed it to the girl with instructions to give it to the Mamasan and not play with it- these things are dangerous. Heh- talk about selling sand to Arabs!.
To this suggestion she nodded her head vigorously then promptly went and laid it in the sleeping Mamasan’s lap.
Pound to a penny the guy had to pay for his own ammo and boy was he going to be wondering where a couple of rounds had gone while he was on the razzle. It would take his mind off of the hangover anyway, I surmised.
Outside, Tomaski professed an urgent appointment with his ‘client’ and scooted off up the Soi with the girls in tow so I turned and slowly sauntered in a homewards direction through the gloom.
After scoring a beer from old Kay I wandered into the courtyard and was aware of numerous sets of female eyes following my progress as I made my way to the porch and on arriving there said, ”Evenin’”, to Rob.
“So, a bit of death and mayhem at the Happy Home tonight eh?”, he replied with a smile.
News spreads fast in Bangkok and rumours doubly so and in the interests of never letting the facts get in the way of a good story, are frequently subject to gross exaggeration. This can be a good thing on lazy Sunday afternoons.
After a swig from my bottle I told Robert that Mr. T was back in town and had sponsored the visit.
“A’ha-I should have guessed," he laughed, ”So a not really scenario then?"
“Naw- not really," I replied.
Then I smiled and handing him one of the rounds from my pocket said, ”Here’s a souvenir for your bestest enemy in the whole wide world. I’m sure you can afford the postage."
After we had finished giggling over that particular Thai’ism we moved onto more important topics.
Like, what new developments the story would have tomorrow once it had been round a few bars?
The possibilities were endless….
You guys sound like you really had some fun times.