Life is the sum of a person's experiences. Work and family dominate the sculpting of a soul. Days are defined by routine and years by the seasons and weather. En masse we are the same, but different thanks to our participation in special events liberating our souls from the shackles of perpetual monotony.
Woodstock lasted three days. The freedom shared by the young celebrants of Aquarius remains an icon of peace and love to millions of young people. I was washing dishes at a hotel outside Boston that weekend. I bought the record and watched the movie. No number of joints can transport my body to the past glory of Max Yasgur's farm.
I will never be able to say that I was at Woodstock, but I have been lucky enough to have seen the first screening of APOCALYPSE NOW at the New York's Ziegfield dropped LSD at the Mudd Club's Acid Party, and caught the Whorelords’ one-night stand as well as CBGB's Johnny Blitz Benefit, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk stunning performance for the hippies at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival.
“I’m blind, but I know there’s more than five of you motherfuckers out there.” The sax player shouted into the microphone with a tenor, flute, and clarinet draped around his neck. The long-hairs cheered his bravado and he rewarded their applause with a 17-minute long version of THREE BLIND MICE. More than ten thousand of us leapt to our feet to give the jazz legend a standing ovation. My skin tingled with the beauty of being there now and if the stars are in the right alignment I can summon that frisson from the distant past like a sorcerer re-animating the dead.
So I missed Woodstock, the Red Sox-Reds 6th World Series game in 1975, and the opening of Studio 54. No human can be everywhere and after 40 the drive to see and be seen gave way to the comfort of sitting in a bar with a cold beer in my hand. I went to work in the morning and came home at night.
The stagnation was all-powerful.
40 would become 50 and 50 run into 60.
I was a nobody and in danger of becoming even more anonymous to others and myself.
Something had to change and I quit my job on 47th Street and bought a round-the-world ticket. I dropped my name of birth in Bali to become Pascha Ray, explorer of bars in the Far East. Beer and gin were my poison. I recounted tales of CBGBs to backpackers. The 20 year-olds thought of me as a legend or a liar. The choice depended on my sobriety. By the time I turned 50, my body was exhausted by the annual circumnavigation of the globe and my wanderings marooned me in Pattaya, the Last Babylon on Earth.
The Go-Go bars and brothels of the infamous Thai beach resort offered lonely middle-aged men from the West a last chance at youth. A night with a girl without a name passed for love. A hang-over was more easily attained than nirvana. The morning motto was 'another day in paradise'. It didn't take long to get old.
I had my fill of naked girls dancing to HOTEL CALIFORNIA as had most of my farang friends. They were oil diggers, anti-intellectual lager louts, a few bank robbers from Germany, and an assortment of international fugitives from justice. Our local was the Buffalo Bar on Sai 3, when we rehashed ancient adventures in slurred accents to leggy bar girls in slinky dresses. I always brought my Tzi-she.
A lot of farangs including the froggie owner didn’t like the idea of a dog lying on the bar, but the girls said Champoo had a nah-lak or lovely face and none of the old geezers dared to argue with a pretty girl.
Anywhere else in the world women would have avoided the Old Geezer Lounge like an ex-husband looking to borrow money but the bargirls of Pattaya have the uncanny skill of blinding themselves to man's pros and cons.
To them all men, Thai and farang, were the same.
Every night my friends deserted the Buffalo Bar for the go-go bars of Walking Street. I promised to join them later. My true destination was up the street.
Every night Champoo and I came home. I'd take off my clothes and go to bed.
My 'wife' and I slept together with my daughter. Angie lay between us. Her mother and I never had sex. All Thai wives suspected their husband's infidelity. She would never believed that I was faithful. Pattaya offered too much opportunity and I was weak.
Months became years and the rainy season of 2006 entered September with a vengeance. Champoo and I were trapped at the Buffalo Bar. Monsoon rain drummed off the tin roof with a deafening intensity. The side street was flooded knee-deep. The girls were shivering in their thin dresses. The temperature hovered around 80.
My drinking companion was New. There was no way that I was going upstairs with New. The 18 year-old wanted 5000 baht. It was a bargain, since she looked like Natalie Woods. I tried to tell this to New. She has never heard of SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS or REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Old movies are dead overseas, so I asked New, if she wanted to be in a movie.
"Dirty movie?" New shook her lovely head.
"Not dirty." Shooting a sex film in Thailand was almost as foolish as buying property.
"Movie called MY DOG SINGS THE BLUES. Champoo is the star."
"Listen." I whistled a high pitch and the little howled with a lifted head.
This got a good laugh from New.
A brand-new car pulled up to the entrance and a scrawny man jumped out of the passenger side with a towel over his head. He was drenched in a second. The greeting girl called him a ngao with a mocking laugh. The man took off the towel. The fool was none other than my old New York friend, Jamie Parker. New got up from the stool and meandered toward the pool table. She didn't get very far.
“You ever think about breeding chapoo who a pit-bull?” Jamie ordered two vodka-tonics. “That way you’d get a pit-zhu.”
“Nah, Champoo took a vow of virginity.”
“Like that girl you were talking to." He nodded to the table where New was entertaining an elderly French man with dreams of seduction.
"Nice." Jamie sat next to me and Champoo licked his hand. She was a friendly dog. "Nice night for it
"Monsoon season." I hadn't seen Jamie in several months. He looked good for his age. Tough and hard. Rumor was that he was building a go-go bar in a vacant lot off Soi Buah-Khao and that Fabo, the Belgian oil explorer, was financing the project.
"You sound happy." Jamie signaled the bartender for a drink and wiped the wet from his face. The car waited in the deluge. He wasn't staying long.
"Happy as a clam."
"You want to be happier." The lithesome waitress brought him a gin-tonic and a smile. The girls at the Buffalo liked a man like Jamie. He wore his prison tattoos with honor.
"I'm not into drugs." Pattaya was awash with speedy Ja-bah, meth Ice, and wretched cocaine. Opium might have worked, but Pattaya was too far south from the Golden Triangle.
"Not drugs, but the Pig Pen A Go Go." A soggy flyer flashed over Champoo.
PIGPEN A GO GO OPENING 9/11
FREE BEER FOR NEW YORKERS
"What's this?" The rumors were true.
"Fabo didn't mention anything?" Jamie hooked his arm around the waitress' waist.
"Not a word." Fabo and I had spent several afternoons the Welkom Inn on Soi 3. We spoke everything but their project.
"He said he could keep a secret and did. Not many of the losers in this town can hold their sand. Big mouth drunks." Jamie was glaring at two football hooligans. He hated soccer.
"Better change your mindset. That type loves go-gos." Pattaya's countless go-go bars generated billions of baht of income for the owners, dancers, bar staff, and police on the take. The clientele was strictly farangs.
"They won't be coming to the Pigpen. I'm appealing to a niche market. Ugly girls who will do anything for anyone. The fatter and uglier the better. A horror show to wake up the dead and we're opening on 9/11 to commemorate the five years since the day.
"How appropriate." I had been standing on my roof in the East Village after the first airplane crashed into the WTC. The second attack was a shock shared by thousands. Their collapse by millions around the world. It was a 'had to be there' event that I wished could be exorcised from history.
"Come early. We have a special sunset show."
"Free beer, ugly girls, and a 9/11 show. Who can resist that?"
The car horn beeped loudly and the high beams flashed into the bar.
"Looks like your driver is in a hurry." Her face was obscured by the water sluicing over windshield.
"Ort has to get back her 'boyfriend'. Some British bodybuilder." Ort and Jamie were made for each other.0s from Isaan and an ex-con from the Lower East Side semi-retired from a long life of crime.
"She going to dance at the Pigpen?" The vicious go-go dancer barely into her 20s had the snake's rhythm in her blood.
"Tonight only." Jamie released the waitress and patted Champoo on the head. She whimpered with pleasure. Jamie hadn't lost his touch with other half of the species. He rain out into rain, shouting, "She'll be dancing naked under a chador. As Bin Laden's wife. You won't want to miss that."
"I see you there." Nudity was against the law in Pattaya, unless the police received their tea money. Jamie's only connection to the police was their instinctive suspicion that he was person of interest in any investigation.
The car drove away into the rainy night. I was home by midnight. My daughter was asleep in bed. Her mother was watching a Thai soap on TV. She offered no greeting and I wasn't expecting one. I joined my daughter in the bedroom and read Nick Hornby's FEVER PITCH. I was out cold in minutes.
The next three days passed with the sameness of the previous months.
Work, eat, kisses and hugs from my daughter, the cold shoulder from her mother, beers at the Buffalo, and sleep.
I could have repeated the routine without a break, if I hadn't noticed the Bangkok Post article mentioning the 5th Anniversery of 9//11.
Five years of two wars. Five years of OBL on the loose. Five years of GW Bush.
The peace and love of Altamont had been replaced by the war and terror of 9/11.
Thailand was 12 hours in advance of Eastern Standard Time. Five years Ago the attack squads had been booked into airport motels. Some passed the last hours in prayer. The others sought solace in go-go bars to train for their reward of 77 virgins in the afterlife. Mohammad Atta exited the Mass Pike without paying the toll. Letters were written to friends and family. I spend that evening at home. The forecast from the Weather Channel predicted cloudless skies. It was right on the money.
The hijackers probably woke at 5. A black morning with stars in the sky.
Five years later I left my house for the Pigpen. My daughter was napping on the couch and my 'wife' was speaking on the phone in a low voice. Her boyfriend was probably on the other end. I said good-bye without any acknowledgment and whistled for Champoo.
The afternoon sky was sullen with heavy black clouds. Even a blind man could predict tonight's weather. I drove over to Soi Buah-Khao on my scooter. Champoo sat in the basket. Thais called out her name. She would have been a prize-winning Tzi-chu, if the next-door neighbor's mutt hadn't torn off her left ear.
The Pigpen was located in a row of unoccupied beer bars. The front of the bar resembled a pig stye. A long table was loaded with good and a pig roasted of a spit. Balloon waved in the wind. They were a Pattaya tradition indicating free food to the Cheap Charlies on a tight budget. A dozen fat girls sat on their haunches wolfing down spicy sum tam salad. None of them had been cute since birth.
Two aluminum billboards rose from the vacant lot across the street. Fabo and Jamie were flying radio-controlled airplane around the two billboards toting a bankrupt property deal. A few Thais watched the aerobatics. They oohed at the close passes. I parked my bike and lifted Champoo out of the basket. She barked at the looping planes. The two owners nodded to me and I walked over to Jamie.
"You're not really going to do this?" I directed the question at Jamie. He was completely absorbed by the flight of the replica planes. Neither looked like jet liners.
"Do what, Yankee?" Fabo's grin was besotted by mischief.
"Re-enact 9/11." It was the epitome of bad taste. I stepped forward to snatch the controls. Fabo darted out reach.
"This is only practice, Yankee." His plane buzzed the metallic billboards with inches to spare.
"What? You wanna play FBI or CIA? They didn't stop the hijackers and that do knead GW Bush let the Bin Ladens out of the country. And five years later nothing's changed in America other than we drive bigger cars and getting fatter." Jamie was not all their at the best of times, but off his medicine jacked up his meanness. A pick-up truck rolled down the dead-end street. "Our first guests."
Jamie landed the plane and greeted the five over-sized men. They collectively weighed over 1500 pounds. They dressed like they were off-duty from a freak show. Each of them greeted Jamie and Fabo with a hug. When I joined them, Jamie whispered, "Americans, but none of them are from New York."
"I am." A glop of rain splattered on my face. The clouds had darkened from gray to black.
"Almost 30 years in the East Village." He was right. I wasn't from New York. The Red Sox were my team.
"'We'll overlook your birthplace for one night." Jamie clapped his hands. "Girls, it's Showtime."
The Pigpen was decorated, as if Fabo and Jamie were trying to imitate the old peckerwood TV show HEEHAW. More girls emerged from the back rooms dressed like Daisy Mae of LIL ABNER. A white plaid shirt bursting with size 45 DDD breasts and shredded denim hot pants. The DJ put on the Clash's ROCK AND ROLL WORLD.
"You won't be hearing HOTEL CALIFORNIA at the Pigpen, Yankee." Fabo ordered beers. Ten bone-ugly men in their late 60s stumbled through the door and beelined to the food table. "The hierarchy of the balloon chasers. No one gets to free food faster than these freeloaders and they drink, as if the Taliban was enforcing Sharia law tomorrow."
"Never happen." I sympathized with the plight of Palestine, but as an atheist I rejected religious fanaticism without exception. I had been brought up Catholic. I raised my beer and loudly announced, "We shall defend our beer, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight the sober bastards on the streets, we shall fight in the bars and we shall never surrender our right to drink beer. 9/11."
The fat men and the freeloaders clinked glasses with grim determination. We were Americans far from home. The DJ played Chuck Berry's MAYBELLINE. A solitary dancer shrouded in a chador took the stage. The movement within evoked the struggles of a young girl stuffed into a burlap bag by Arab white slavers. It could only be Ort.
A round of tequila and the another to Love's HEY JOE. Champoo was into her first beer.
A party of trim Thais entered the bar. Pattaya cops. Jamie greeted them with a wai and installed them at a table with a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue. Police on the take only drink the best. Jamie waved for me to join them. Half-Irish I had a way with cops and could speak Thai with a Boston accent. The captain asked about 9/11. I told him about watching people jump from the windows of the World Trade. He nodded with vengeful purpose.
"Yet Islam." The South of Thailand was under martial law. Bombs and bullets were the court of justice.
I explained about living in Yala during the 90s. The insurrection flickered with the intensity of a match. The present Prime Minister had evicted the common people from land. They were Buddhists and Muslims. The rich are egalitarian in the mistreatment of the poor.
"Fucktherich." I babbled fast on tequila.
"Fucking GW Bush." Jamie blamed the president for the disaster.
"Fucking Bin laden." A fat man shook his fist.ATheist Al-Quada swami was Wanted Dead Or Alive # 1.
"Yet Myanmar." The Thais hated Burma. Their neighbors had burnt every Thai capitol at least three times.
We drank more.
I danced with a fat woman twice my size. Her sweat smelled of chili. It burned my eyes.
The DJ played SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL. Two vans of antique golfers entered the bar. Jamie poured them tequila. They drain their glasses and banged the bar for more. Time slipped into the future like it was lubricated with KY. Champoo licked my face. It was good to feel love.
A tap on my shoulder.
"It's time." Jamie had the plane in his hand. He tapped his watch. The bar was empty. "It's time to fly."
"Five years ago." I picked up Champoo.
"Five years ago." Jamie and I were New Yorkers. This was our time. We walked outside The fat girls were shared by an assortment of farangs. A hundred Thais had joined the crowd. Fabo launched his plane into the night sky. Jamie's aircraft followed 20 seconds later. They were lost in the murk for several moments. The top Thai cop had good eyes.
The model plane buzzed across the garbage-strewn lot and smashed into the billboard with a thwack. The billboard withstood the crash.
"World Trade. World Trade." I shouted the words with tears in my eyes. The North Tower was good. No one had died in Windows of the World. Jamie's plane was on a steep attack approach for the South Tower. The Thai cops pulled out their guns and fired at the model. A bullet clipped its wing and the plane spiraled to the ground.
"Thailand. Thailand. Chai-yo."
The sky opened for Noah's flood and we ran into the Pigpen chanting those words. Whiskey flowed like water. Lightning and thunder split the heavens, as if time had been rent in two. No one was going anywhere.
Jamie gave the old geezers Cialis.
The girls drank tequila like Pancho Villa’s relief. Ort took the stage to the Cure's TO KILL AN ARAB.
A busload of Arabs entered the bar. Everyone froze.
Another 9/11, then the Arabs ordered drinks for everyone.
They could have cared less about the 77 virgins.
They were after fat girls, which was what Jamie was offering in aces.
I don’t remember when the first person got naked. I think it was when the DJ spun KC’s THAT’S THE WAY I LIKE IT. Old guys, fat girls, and Arabs dancing to 70s disco. Then Jamie had the DJ segue to the Sex Pistols.
ANARCHY IN THE UK.
The old guys were mostly British and knew every word.
It was getting ugly and I took off my glasses to seeing how ugly, as I sang, “I want to be born Anarchy.”
LOUIE LOUIE, STREET FIGHTING MAN and then Sinatra’s MY WAY.
The geezers were fucking in knee deep water.
The Arabs were cursing Osama Bin Laden for making everyone in the West hate Muslims and the farangs showed their forgiveness by calling out, “FREE PALESTINE.”
It was at that moment I felt my phone vibrating.
It was my 'wife'. She never called me. Something was wrong with my daughter and I slipped out the back of the Pigpen with Champoo under my arm. It had been a memorable night.
The rain was pelting down hard and I drove home through a rushing river. My 'wife' lifted her head from the TV and said, “Maoh.”
"Chai." I was drunk and felt like telling her what my thoughts on our 'relationship', except my daughter called out from the bedroom. I went to her and laid on the bed. Big storms were scary for 3 year-olds.
It had been a fun night, but not as much as holding her in my arms, because the thunder was getting louder. She wasn’t scared as long as I was with her or at least that is what I wanted to tell her before we fell asleep.
The next day I called Jamie. His phone was shut off. I drove by the Pigpen a Go-go. The bar was under four feet of water. A police sign in Thai said it was closed until further notice.
I couldn’t be happier, because a place like that should only be open one night.
To repeat something like last night would have been a sin.
Just like re-living Woodstock.