July 1-10, 2001
Thirty-six hours ago I left off with a 'Bye to Florida' and a 'Hello to Bangkok'. If you clicked to the links ... well, the Florida one took you to an uninteresting pile of suitcases sitting next to my front door. The other one just linked to some gratuitous nudity. Oh, but the naked girl was relevant in a way ... spatial and temporal,1 though the hands on the clock aren't right, she is unmistakably Patpong.
Anyway, back in the truly horrid days of air transportation ... when the CAB and the FAA and the ICC and the NTSB and the FDA dictated everything2 about flying ... if you wanted to fly to London or Paris from anywhere in the USA you had to leave from New York. And, I wouldn't be surprised if back then you even had to pass through LaGuardia on your way to the Orient.
Whatever, thirty-six hours ago Watcharee and I flew from Miami to Zurich. A half-day later Swiss Air relayed us on another non-stop to Bangkok. We are not there yet ... but, almost. That patchy bit of air roughness ... the one just shy-from and a teeny bit to the south of Calcutta ... is behind us; and the Burmese coast is not far ahead. But, what's really up there ahead of us?
Remember, dear reader, it's been almost two months since we left Bangkok.
The roof on the French Embassy? Is it done?
Is White Shirts still in business? And, is a 50-minute foot massage still only 200 baht?
Is Gore Vidal the same as when we left him? Nothing disturbed? No 'sub-rosa' sublets?
Do floors 2 through 9 look as lovely as the tenth to the top?
Are the awnings up over the barbeque and are the monsoon rains still sweeping down on the river?
Does the girl who married the American from LA still work at The Bamboo Bar?
So many important questions!
Come back for the answers to these questions ... and, much more. Remember the Bangkok Daily News? It's gory dotted-out blood pictures? Well, that too is just around the corner.
1 You can tell it is Songkran time. See the chalk paste on the bargirl's face! Any other time of the year she would not be caught dead so 'dressed'.
2 To "protect the 'infant' carriers" from competition what you got from the airlines in return for your buck, quid or franc was set and chiseled into administrative agency rock. So, it mattered not all whether you flew Pan Am or BOAC or Air France from Idlewyld to Orly or to Heathrow's new Terminal 3 at London; the fare was the same, as was the meal, as was the pitch of the seat, as was compensation for lost luggage. Those were the wretched years.
NEWNES: he has been missed:
Finally, this one is for Andy Page of London:
Glenway Wescott's saint for today, without a stretch, could easily inspire a Disney classic. Every eye would be misty when the final credits started to roll on this one:
A Bohemian king who left his court and hid in a forest. As often happened in the case of these wildwood penitents, a red deer running from the hunter took refuge in his arms – the animal, born a fugitive, recognizing the mystic runaway. The hunter then recognized his king; but the pious Bohemians understood that he was too holy to be expected to rule and let him live as he liked.
On July 4th, 1883, France presented the Statue of Liberty to the United States. In appreciation of this occasion, all of us at corkscrew-balloon.com would like to show to the French people ... not only to the French people living on French soil; but, also to the French people living throughout the world ... a photograph. This photograph shows the roof of the French Embassy here in Bangkok ... yes, the new roof of the French Embassy, as it looks exactly 118 years after France gave America the lady with the torch.4
The economist, Steele, reminds us that the 1800s were not always years of statesman, statues and great leaps forward in public transportation:
1 Conceivably Garibaldi could have been alive when this great Italian steamer slipped beneath the waves. On June 24, 1885 the SS Italia sank like a weighted stone off the coast of South America. The Captain and the First Officer were saved. Seven adult passengers (including a woman) and about 25 children were drowned. Had this great Italian patriot been aboard the SS Italia when it took on water within sight of Lima would he have gone down with the woman and the children or would he have stood with by his captain? We will never know.
2 It is amazing to me that conspiracy theorists have not latched on to this strange coincidence. Two American ex-presidents dying on the same day?
3 Five years, to the day, later???? And, all three of them 'going' on the 4th of July!
4 "Francopinnalegaphiliacs" are all too familiar with my ongoing fascination with my neighbor's roof.
4 Or, something that smelled like Ben Gay.
Little has changed up-river.
Little has changed down-river.
But looking at things from the other side ... the Sala Rim Naam side ... well, that timetable that I told you about; the one in which ALIMAK and his sand sappers promised to have the whole place ready by Asalha Bucha Day; yes, dear reader, all has gone awry. Terribly awry!
July's setting sun was supposed to have washed all of the River Wing with its warming glow. Unfortunately, green tarps still hide most of the lower ten floors. And, high above we1 can occasionally hear the tapping as one lone workman tries to set things right.
---- While We Wait For Things To Get Right ----
Professor Steele's seminal work, RUDIMENTARY ECONOMICS, began benignly enough. Page One started off with a clipping from The New York Herald. Nothing therein hinted of what was to follow: no distraught lady ending it all with a musket ball into the brain, no fumes from a kiln sending a tired worker on his way, no blade through the heart of a friend ... and no mention of the strange case of the deadly apple butter. No! None of this! Steele was just worried about one of our ex-presidents2: U. S. Grant. But, let's let 'him' pick up the story.
* According to Somsri (Susie) Hansirisawasdi, The Oriental Hotel's Director of Public Relations & Advertising, today is a religious holiday in Thailand. Naturally, government offices will be closed; though pretty much everybody else will have to work. Of course, "department stores will remain open for your shopping pleasure."
** For readers with a double asterisk interest, 'Suzie' amplifies this day: "Asalha Bucha Day, the full moon of the 8th lunar month which falls on 16 July this year, commemorates the occasion when the Lord Buddha, after having attained enlightenment, preached his first sermon to the first group of disciples. The event took place in the 6th Century B.C.
1 Watcharee does not appear to be disturbed by the goings on below.
2 Though not quite an "ex" when he 'wrote' this.
Director 'Susie' Hansirisawasdi (from The Oriental's Office of Public Relations & Advertising) reminds us that we start "a three month period during which the monks remain within their monasteries performing spiritual tasks for the community including study and meditation without journeying around the countryside as in other months."
Naturally, I hoped that this morning's Bangkok newspapers would respect the solemnity of the day with appropriate articles and photographs.
Frail but venerated robes stooped low over ancient books ... words of caution and wisdom for troubled times ... humbled politicians seeking spiritual guidance ... wide eyed innocents looking for direction from elders ... and, yes, elders pointing us all down a righteous road ... and above, looking down: some all-knowing, some all-forgiving, some all-loving ... shall I say, 'divine' bigger-than-all-of-us-Spirit.
But Morton's darkroom at The Daily News was bigger than all of this.
"Totally crisped, huh!"
"Looks like it. Even all the glass popped out. Not a bit of paint left on the roof ... bubbled right off."
"Hell, nothin' left of the seats ... just springs and frame. Can you highlight what's left of the back seat?"
"Sure! What about the melted fat? Wanna show that just as a pool of gop ... or do we dot it out."
"Leave it in. Don't touch it. It's yellow ... people can see what they want to see."
"Ha. Ha. Looks like spilled pizza."
"How 'bout the head? It rolled off onto the floor ... damn, the eyes are still open ... fuckin' spooky!"
"Dot it out! No, better black-it completely. Don't want any crazy letters sayin' we're disrespectful."
"And the body?"
"Use a #2 cross hatch ... but, make sure the legs show. Don't want people to think it's just a sack of old clothes sittin' in the front seat."
The 6th! It's still the 6th, you say! True.
You ask: Has Professor Steele moved me to write again? No, that's not quite true. Being all choked up with altruism,1 I just want to give a few long-dead journalists yet another stab at the big page ... one more time around for their words ... but, this time with a little wider broadcast than that of the crime beat page of the Norristown Register.
As is my want in these things I'll allow the yellowed pages to speak for themselves ... with but the briefest of introductions from your host:
1 And, quite frankly, 'flushed' with amazement over how much interest has been generated by my republication of Steele's great treatise.
Yesterday I left you dangling with a somewhat bewildering tale about a young Tennessee girl who took her father's straight razor to the throat of her best 'friend'. Perhaps 'dangling' is not the right word ... no, you were left ... [and this is rather more like it, I think] ... as if you had walked into a movie after the first reel had already been shown. While all around you were well up on the plot, you were plunked into your seat with a fresh box of popcorn. Yes, while all others were already familiar with the clippings of the 25th of January 1886, you picked up the tale one day late.1
[Grumbling, feet shuffling, stretching noises ... "I hate it when they come in late, so inconsiderate, etc." ... while the reel is rewound.]
[Back to full speed again.]
1 Exactly 24 years before Ruth was born.
2 See The Sopranos
IT IS THE SEVENTH DAY OF THE SEVENTH MONTH!
WHERE IS HE?
IT IS NOW PAST 7:07, SOUTHEAST ASIA TIME!3
WHERE IS HE?
I have looked out every window. There is no Our Lord to be seen anywhere. Just gray sky! Gloom in every direction!4
We were promised a visit by "Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Founder of Heaven and Earth, King of Men and Beasts, Ruler of All Things Big and Small, etc., etc."5
3 He was supposed to appear at the seventh minute of the seventh hour everywhere, simultaneously. A strange feat in itself.
4 Obviously, ALIMAK is more dependable than God. A little rain doesn't keep him away.
5 So much for what we read in the Weekly World News. I don't know why I keep up that subscription. So many times it has let me down. Eight weeks ago I ordered Bat Child tee shirts ... did I get them? No. Did they cash my check? Right away. If Ralph Nader worried a little less about big-ticket items like who is going to be in the White House and more about phony promises ... well ...
A murdered father ... his sixteen-year old daughter (with nary a look over her shoulder at the old man's bleeding corpse) riding bareback to join her wild-west lover ... shots deservedly fired into the left lung of a surprised bedroom intruder ... and a silent suicide, with the help from a little bottle of chloroform. It's all here: in the Steele journals.
I remember chloroform. I really do. That was the 'sleeping powder' of choice during the war.1 Hospitals used it to nudge you off before the surgeon went in with his scalpel ... well, provided it was for only something minor, like taking out tonsils and snipping adenoids. I am sure that for the big stuff, like lopping off a limb, they used a powerful Jack Daniels. But, I wander.
Back in the 1880's chloroform was also the first thing you reached for when the going got really tough. Non-prescription and cheap,2 it was the clean way to go. Ladies liked it.
But why did Annie Elizabeth Montgomery, aka Lizzie Van Osten, take this road?
We must turn to the Steele papers for the answers:
"... pathos and sadness and disappointment ..."
"... her lover's morals were of a very doubtful caliber ..."
"... under the promise of marriage her lover had succeeded in accomplishing her ruin ..."
"... the story of her disgrace leaked out ..."
But, let's let the Norristown Bugle & Gazette tell the full story ... there is much, much more ... like so many downhill runs it started with just an infatuation, then a kiss, then ...
Another tale of blinding love? One in which a beautiful teenage daughter leaves her dead Dad in a pool of blood and gallops off to her lover in Texas? The yellowed pages of the Steele journal won't leave you wanting:
A stranger at the foot of the bed? Shots fired? A bloody trail? A bullet in the lung? A tawdry rooming house in a bad part of town? For you, Professor Steele has it:
1 The 1939 – 45 War.
2 Twenty-five cents worth was enough to 'finish your day'. Apparently, it was also useful in removing unwanted stains from fabrics.
Dearest reader, a "mea culpa" is definitely in order. So awed by the enormous jump in the number of 'hits' to my little pages, I'm afraid that I've neglected my bread and butter audience: the folks who turn up here each morning to see what has happened in Bangkok today ... not what happened more than a century ago in a far and distant land to a people of whom we have little in common. While I shall continue to pander right and left to the friends of yesteryear's gore and woe, I promise to set aside, each day, some meat that I have personally carved from the Bangkok presses. As well as a desert from the Weekly World News.3
The Bangkok Post, as is its want on a Sunday, splashed its front page with a human-interest story involving the danger in eating shark fin soup. On the one side, a British-based environmental group charged that shark fin dealers injected mercury into the fins in order to enlarge them (and boost profits). Speaking for the restaurants that sold shark fin soup, Mr. Manop Wiriyalertsak insisted that no dangerous chemicals were added to the fins and, even if there were, the long preparation time would eliminate them. Further, any residue remaining would be too miniscule to pose a health risk. He went on to say that he was sorry that sharks were killed in such a cruel manner but insisted that he could do nothing to change that.
The Bangkok Daily News, as its want on a Sunday, splashed its front page with sex, a burning building and a dead child.
The World Weekly News (April 24, 2001) featured a 34 pound 5-foot-7 Brazilian woman whose exercise tape, "Do The Skinny", is not selling well.
3 As stuff from Lantana takes weeks to get here ... [God only knows why, as I have paid the air supplement] ... the WWN material will be 'dated'. This normally is not a problem as most WWN stories are ... ah ... timeless.
Two strange cemetery tales peek out from the Steele diaries this morning.
One from The Odd Fellows' Cemetery in Philadelphia and the other from a rural burial ground in Homer, Nebraska. Both are from 1885. Both incidents took place within days of each other.
Dear reader ... a little test ... from reading just a part of a paragraph from each story can you tell which is which? Put yourself in the place of a cub reporter; your editor, a tired ink fingered cranky alcoholic, wants a little zest for the Monday edition. Remember, both of these are cemetery stories and you have been asked to write for your local audience.
"... it is considered remarkable that boys, and especially colored youths, should have found courage to visit so uncanny a place as a graveyard at night ... "
"... a check upon developing ghosts with a tendency to walk at hours when honest folks of flesh and blood are asleep ... "
Shifting centuries, this morning's International Herald Tribune ... in its "Briefly" section ... observes that a Los Angeles criminal lawyer shot himself in the head at a veteran's cemetery in California. The paper leaves unsaid why an FBI spokesman was called upon to announce the suicide.
[Meanwhile, in Morton's darkroom over at The Bangkok Daily News]
(Sipping surreptitiously from a bottle labeled D-76): "What's he doing with that long pole? Taking temperatures? Ha. Ha. Ha."
"Don't know. No copy came down with the print. They look 'farang' to me. Probably some mass suicide."
"Hand me that box of 'black-bits'. I hope we have enough to go around."
"Ever notice that girls never die with their assholes facing the camera?"
P.S. For us geeks: The Tech section of this morning's IHT took me right back to almost 20 years ago ... 1982, I think ... to my first real computer1: Radio Shack's Model 100. Is not this new 'genre' almost
Now get this, folks: The New York Times reviewer said this about one of these new machines:
"Once you have tried one ... you may not feel like returning it. These strange devices, populating a rarified product space somewhere between handheld devices and laptops, require about as much power as a Frisbee. Having one around can change the rules of the game for anyone who has to write – whether it is a book or a science-fiction novel."
Could not this language have come from a 1982 Radio Shack catalog?
1 Not counting those weird things ... like the Sinclair ... that some of us hooked up to our TV sets.
1 The Radio Shack Model 100 also had a built in modem (albeit, a 300 baud one ... but, hey, for text that wasn't all that slow ... remember it was 1982 and Jimmy Carter had just left the White House). Anyway, dear reader, in my mind the Model 100 will always remain a great classic. While almost every other machine ever built will age like an overworked whore, the Model 100 will always keep the fetching innocence of a high school sophomore (girl).
He held the eraser of the down-turned pencil to his lip ... swiveling his chair to face the gloom-clad hills in the near distance. The man at his back ... on the far side of the desk ... waited expectantly.
"You'll have to go with 'Vlad the Impaler'! This Tepid ... ah ... Tepes thing just won't roll anywhere ... unless it's downhill into a pond of red ink ... that's the bottom line, pal, as I see it!"
Matei Dan, the tourism minister for Romania, didn't want to hear this. But, at $450.00 per hour the words from Carl Morgan, chief project analyzer for Theme Parks Associates, could not be easily brushed off.
"But, 'Vlad Tepes' was his name! He was, and still is, a national hero. Our people revere him as a symbol of justice and moral rectitude ..."
"Hey! Do you want to sell rides? Do you want to pack this place with German tourists; folks who are willing to cough up millions of marks ... well, euros ... anyway, people who have driven hundreds of miles just to see vampires suck the blood out of sexy blonde virgins? Or, do you want to build a fucking shrine to some 15th century local warpo? What's it gonna be, Matei?"
Rising but gingerly to the delicate point, "But, Mr. Morgan, our people love and cherish the memory of ..."
"Dan, my man ... hey, what is your local funny money ... Trachmas? Rubilos? Lotos? Whatever! Do you want a collection box full of toy coins; or do you want the real stuff? You can't have it both ways, Matei-boy ... is it gonna be big hard bucks or little piles of play money?"
"But, Mr. Morgan, this Bram Stoker novel; it was just fiction ... our Vlad might have had his violent side but he did not suck blood."
"You think Mickey Mouse was real life?"
"Well, no ..."
"Hey, Dan, my man, you ARE missing the whole point. Mickey is life!"
My newest readers ... those who occasionally drift over here from the sullen and silent world of the Comtesse DeSpair ... will surely wring their hands with relish as they read this latest piece from the Steele papers. Its yellowed pulp is probably the last 'living' witness to a horrific 19th century holocaust that roasted the skin from scores of "caged unfortunates": institutionalized cripples who had to choose between the flaming tongues of a hydra-headed inferno and the black cold pit of a ten story drop to the street below. Babes tossed from high windows ... mothers falling back into the charring flames ... men without legs flopping from floor to floor to flee the blaze ... the deaf, the dumb, the halt; so many cooked in prayer.
Meanwhile, Watcharee catches up on Thai beauty tips.
Next: Part II