The Hot House Flowers
I went to a party with the Hot House Flowers last night. The Hot House Flowers are what I call the people who come to Phuket but never realize that they’re here. They have money from a bank back in The World so they don’t work, don’t speak any Thai, don’t know who Konstantin Phaulkon was or who Sek Loso is. They have no deeper insight into the place than “My maids are always quitting on me.”
They could be in Mykonos or Cancun or St Kitts for all they know or care, live in self-imposed farang ghettos of overpriced houses and spend their days trying to find maple syrup in the markets or watching the local news from their hometown on Star TV. But they usually throw great parties, and last week I took my wife Mem up to Ranong to spend the last six weeks of her pregnancy in the bosom of her family, so on my first Saturday night of middle-aged bachelorhood I put on a luau shirt and some Ban for Men and went out.
The party was celebrating somebody’s Independence Day, and the walls of the house were draped in flags and bunting. About half of the people in the room represented the country that had been liberated; the other half represented the nation they’d been liberated from. There was a great buffet meal served and decent music, and I surveyed the host’s library and liberated a couple of books in honor of the holiday. I was having a pretty good time, until I happened to pass through the den, where I noticed a small group of guests huddled around a glass-topped coffee table.
I had a sudden flashback to the Reagan years. It was like watching an old episode of “Miami Vice,” made when men were still wearing those stupid little pony tails sticking straight out of the backs of their heads. On the table top was a pile of white powder, and somebody was cutting it into long lines with an American Express gold card. By the standards prevalent in New York City in 1983, the only yardstick I had, the pile was worth about $3,000.
I got drunk the first time when I was thirteen years old. I smoked my first joint at fifteen, dropped my first tab of LSD at sixteen, and by the time I graduated from high school I had tried heroin, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, assorted barbiturates and amphetamines, and yes, cocaine.
I spent the 1980s making movies in New York City, and it was Bright-Lights-Big-City all the way, Baby. Twelve cups of coffee, two packs of Marlboro reds, and a gram of coke, every single day, from 1980 to 1988. Word.
But I managed to survive those years, and although I can now fit a football up either nostril, I’m clean. Okay, maybe a little Novocain at the dentist, but Phuket has DEA narcs like a soi dog has fleas, so I was pretty shocked to see that mountain of snow being cut up at the party last night.
I was shocked, but fascinated. I mean, Coke on Phuket. It was like finding a bunch of Hawaiians roasting a pig on a spit in downtown Tehran. I dropped into a chair and stared at them. They were doing all the things we used to do to impress each other back in New York when Koch was still mayor and the dollar was still strong and people still bought cars made in Detroit: dipping a finger into the stuff and running it around their gums, using anachronisms like “toot” and “nose candy” and “blow.” Cavemen, I thought, I’m watching troglodytes discovering fire.
But one thing about that stuff, it makes you paranoid. A few people had noticed me sitting and watching, and even though they all knew me, I could see they were uncomfortable. They kept asking me to join them, and I kept saying no, just like Nancy Reagan told me to. Then one guy came across the room and leaned over me, putting his hands on the armrests of my chair and his face into mine. “Look, man,” he said through teeth clenched tight enough to stamp out license plates. “You’re bringing me down. If you’re not gonna party, why doncha just split?”
Back in the day, I would have been happy to trade cocaine-fueled aggression with that guy. But those days are far, far in the past, so last night I just said “Okay,” got up and left the room.
I left the whole house, actually, walked straight out and got on my motorcycle and drove home. A half mile from the party I passed the sea gypsy village at Rawai, where a thousand human souls live without a single toilet and a second-hand T-shirt is a kid’s best birthday present. Two miles down the road I passed the police station at Chalong, where they sometimes find drugs in your pocket even when you were sure you had none. Just over the mountain was Kata Bay, where the 1983 dollars represented by the pile of white powder on the glass coffee table would have bought a six-month lease on a little bar just a block from the beach, with a nice corner location and all the fixtures included.
I drove the rest of the way home feeling very superior to those people who are still hung up on drugs. Then I sat on my balcony, smoked five cigarettes and half a joint, drank three beers and chewed up 20 milligrams of Valium to help me sleep in that cold, empty bed.