Call it What it Is
“I finally did it,” said Jay.
“I broke up with my Thai girl. I did it on Facebook. I was going to wait until I got home to Canada, maybe get sex a couple more times before I leave, but I gave her enough respect to give it to her straight and cut away clean.”
“You know that breaking up with somebody on Facebook isn’t giving them respect, right? I mean, that’s what chicken shit fourteen-year-olds do.”
We were sitting in a booth at TGI Friday’s in Bang Rak. I won’t describe it because it looked exactly like the TGI Friday’s in Omaha. It’s the kind of place where homesick farang eat in Bangkok. Not the kind of place I would have chosen, but it was Jay’s party so he picked the venue.
“Truth be told, I was never really in love with her. I stayed with her because she didn’t annoy me too much.”
“I assume that’s the reason she stayed with you.”
“She stayed with me because she’s a control freak and I let her control me.”
“So you probably annoyed the hell out of her.”
The waitress came for our orders. She was Thai, but she spoke to us in English, and she wore the same red-and-white-striped smock the waitresses wear at the TGI Friday’s in Omaha. Jay ordered poached salmon with fried potatoes and gravy on the potatoes. I asked for somtam and sticky rice. The little candy striper wrinkled her nose at me and pointed at the menu. I settled for a hamburger and a cup of coffee.
Jay continued his monologue. “My Mom used to ask me why I couldn’t find a woman my own age. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d need Viagra to have sex with a woman my own age.”
“What kind of drugs does a woman have to take to have sex with you, Jay?”
“Dude, you’ll never do better. Your Thai girl looks like Anjelina Jolie, and you look like Nicholas Cage will look in ten years.”
Bruce Springsteen was playing on the speaker over our booth. Something really old, something I’d heard a thousand times. It was probably playing at this exact moment in the TGI Friday’s in Omaha. A perfect score for Jay’s complaints, which I’d heard a thousand times from a thousand guys.
“See, the thing is, I know I’m always going to be number five on her list, after King, family, friends and strangers in orange sheets.”
I had been polishing my cutlery with my napkin. I carefully put down the knife. Then I pushed it out of reach.
“You know,” I said, “that ‘strangers in orange sheets’ remark is really shallow and stupid, right? If you’ve been here more than five minutes you must know that the reverence shown a monk is actually being shown to the Buddha, right? Not the man in the robes. He’s just an icon, and he is the focus of respect only in the way a bronze or stone sculpture of the Buddha is, right?”
Jay was trying to wave down the waitress. He wanted to see if they had Molson or Lebatt on tap.
“Shit, Jay, first of all, you’re about number five or below on the list of everybody you know, except maybe your mother. But here’s the thing, the only way a relationship works is if she makes you her number one and you make her your number one. Did you ever make your Thai girl number one in your life? I haven’t known you long at all, but I can already tell that your number one is always going to be you. Any woman you live with is going to be at least number two, and come on, be honest, this woman wasn’t even number two, was she? I mean, there’s your family in Canada, your drinking buddies, and the women you look at on the internet. You’d never say goodbye to your Mom on Facebook, would you? You know that before you leave Bangkok you’re going to make a point of going out to see your farang buddies and say goodbye to their faces. So don’t get all pouty because your Thai girl didn’t make you number one in her life.”
He wasn’t convinced. He was all ego and attachment, something any stranger in an orange sheet could have told him. The waitress brought our food. Jay tucked in with gusto. He became very focused and gave his whole attention to his plate. Any orange robed stranger would have said every bite was a step backward from Nirvana, and any first year psychology student would have labeled it as emotional eating.
I lifted the bun off my burger and grimaced at what I saw. I tasted my coffee and then pushed the cup next to the knife, out of arm’s reach.
With his mouth full Jay said, “She was always telling me that I’m lucky that she cares so much about me.”
“I think she’s right,” I said. “Who else cares about you, Jay? Certainly not whoever made those potatoes.”
He wouldn’t be put off the subject of his victory over, or liberation from, or whatever it was from his Thai girl. “I would rather be alone,” he said like a five-year-old slamming his bedroom door, “especially since I have no other support group in Thailand.”
And the penny dropped for me. Finally I understood where he was coming from.
“So this isn’t really about your Thai girl at all,” I said. “This is about your inability to form close relationships with anybody, anybody in Canada or anybody in Thailand, two nations, by the way, famous for their easy going and hospitable people.”
He couldn’t hear me over his own chewing. He had cutlery in both hands. I thought about offering him mine, since I wasn’t using it.
“She won’t even ask when the movie starts at the mall,” he said. “It wastes time and I hate to waste my time.”
“Jay, what movie playing in a mall in Thailand is not already a waste of your time? And hey, why don’t you ask the lady what time the movie starts? You must be able to speak that much Thai, right? It’s five single-syllable words, and one of ‘em’s ‘khrap’”
“She’s always asking me where I’ve been and who I’ve been with. She interrogates me. I have been doing nothing wrong. I rarely go anywhere without her.”
“But she teaches school, right? So what do you do, just mope around your house all day? Again, you do realize that you’re in one of the world’s most exciting cities, right? A modern city with a dozen different forms of public transportation, a city that hosts literally millions of visitors every year who don’t speak a word of Thai but still manage to get around and do things. Why in God’s name do you skulk around your rooms all day instead of getting out and living your life?”
He took it as a rhetorical question. He swallowed a bolus of potato and fish and decided this was the moment to get real with me.
“Truth is, she’s not in love with me either.” He obviously felt this was the crux of the whole matter. “Virtually nothing I say to her excites her in the least.”
“I know how she feels.”
And now he turned his disdain on the Village of the Olive Trees. “I’m tired of visiting a place of inconsistency and insane petty emotions and national beliefs.”
I looked at my watch. I’d had enough. “Well, stay out of New York, then, Jay. Oh, and Paris, Rome, Mexico City, Moscow, or Rio. You might try London, I hear it’s pretty tame there.”
The waitress brought the check. Jay picked it up and began to do the math. What a joy he is.
“At least those places have some intellectual stimulation,” he said.
“Oh, it’s intellectual stimulation you want?”
“Yeah. Intellectual stimulation is very important to me.”
“Well, the Goerthe Institute is showing the Uwe Janson production of “Cinderella” tonight. Want to go?”
“There’s a gallery opening at the Alliance Francaise, want to check it out?”
“I don’t think so.”
“The Bangkok Symphony is playing Tchaikovsky in Lumpini Park.”
“In this heat?”
“Wanna page through a first edition in the reading room at the Oriental? Walk through Jim Thompson’s house with an architect? Meditation class at the Temple of Dawn? There’s a new staging of Don Giovanni by Teatro Lirico Italiano. Any of that interest you?”
“It’s all so far away, and traffic’s a bitch. I think I’ll just go home and play chess on line.”
“You’re kidding, right? You’re in Bangkok, and all you can find to do is play chess? And not even with another human being, but on line?”
I stood up and threw a random amount of money on the table.
“Well,” I said, “it was great listening to you talk about your troubles, Jay. Thanks for sharing. Listen, I’m going to take off. I get the feeling that I’m not intellectually stimulating enough to keep your attention. But before I go, can I ask you something?”
“What’s next, Jay? I mean, Bangkok is an entire metropolis designed and built to make old white men happy. Old white men have been finding their dreams here since Konstantine Phaulkon stepped off the caravel. The country is full of dull, dimwitted white guys who are having the time of their life. So when you crap out in Bangkok, where do you go? What do you do? If you can’t find your heart’s desire in Canada, and you can’t find it in Bangkok, what’s left?”
I thought I’d surprise him with this question, but his look told me he’d already thought of it, and had been thinking of it a lot.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t know.”
I laid my napkin over my uneaten hamburger. You should always give a rotting corpse a decent burial.
“Well,” I said. “You might try Omaha. I know you’ll like the food.”
Brilliant! * I just hope readers get what / who this relates to.