The Suburbs of Babylon, Chapter 1 Part 1

Happy quarantine, reader. I’m Bangkok Seven, and this is my blog. Though I’m not actually in Bangkok at the moment. I’m trapped in Los Angeles due to a global airline shutdown. When I was cleaning out my mom’s garage last week, I stumbled upon a novel that I’d written in my 20s. I self-published it whereupon it sold around 11 copies. I’d forgotten all about it and likely would never have given it another thought if it weren’t for coronavirus. And since I’m unable to write about the red-light at the moment, and since this novel is mostly autobiographical, and since it was written many years ago, it technically qualifies as a frowback. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be posting it in segments on Fridays. It makes no reference to Thailand, as coming here wasn’t even a consideration at the time, but in retrospect it makes for a poignant prequal to relocation, and is in a way a metaphor for one expat’s journey. For those who need a distraction from self-imposed indoor exile, I present the following…

“’Hold on.  Hold on to yourself. For this is gonna hurt like hell.’—Sarah McLachlan


I believe in the infamous Leap that every human being must make from the safety of the cradle (call it a cradle of fear, or routine, or normalcy) into the ravenous world.

I believe the song that parents sing to their children about the tree and the wind blowing and the bough breaking is actually a metaphor for life and the first whisperings of the bitter truth to their pristine, unassuming ears.

I believe that the inevitable fall can be averted by the Leap into space, that perhaps the act alone of self-will over Fate in the face of infinite catastrophe can somehow save oneself, even if one is splattered all over the pavement.  As long as we get out of the cradle before it takes us down, we are free.

In order to find truth, or satisfaction, or fruition, action is required.  Displacement.  Movement.  Some call it a journey—the journey of life—in contrast to stasis, which breeds inaction, which in turn shrinks the spirit like a disease.

I think of it as a literal journey.  I subscribe to the semi-popular belief that life exists in the trip—the movement of oneself over the geography.  Action begets action.

This is the story of my inaction.

Or how I deluded myself into thinking I wasn’t going nowhere.

Chapter One

“More than a drug is what I need—Need a change of scenery.”—James


This place I am in—this geographical location—has begun to manifest itself as two separate places, or states of being.  Initially it was one place, the setting where in the recent past my spirit was as free as it had ever been and my dreams were realized.  Now it has altered itself, becoming two things:  the immediate world outside my apartment—the boardwalk, the ocean, the grungy surfers and their beautiful female companions, the bars—and my apartment itself, a world in its own right.

Three years ago, when this piece of the Earth was new to me and therefore innocent and luminous, a blank slate upon which to write innumerable happinesses, it was a paradise of bachelory—strange young women, thin and smooth with shining faces, smelling of jasmine, the sweet, back-of-the-palate fulfillment of cold beer on warm starry nights, the cooked-coconut aroma of a slow-nurtured tan. Expectation was the ruler of my days, and a bittersweet lover while asleep and awake.  But like all places where one struggles with uncertainty and the young male’s curse of self-proving, it (the place) was soon cluttered with the memories of loss and failed self-examination that endlessly prove to him that fortune is meant for other people, and it eventually had to be abandoned, not so much in favor of a better place as for escape, as with a sinking ship.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve come here to spend the winter with my friends Ben and Roger.  We met in college, chased women together, had our hearts broken, and formed friendships based on commiseration.  They had an extra room and needed the cash, so they rented it to me.  And not having a reason to stay where I was, I picked up stakes and came down in a heartbeat.  The day I arrived, the beginning of an as yet indefinite furlough, there was a storm that went on for days. It left five inches of rain in just the first few hours, most of it on our balcony.  We stayed inside and braced the windows so they wouldn’t blow in, stopping briefly to charge out into the deluge and collect a streetlight that had fallen and blocked our driveway.  That day, right at the start, is when I began to see my apartment not as a home, but rather a kind of prison.

Beautiful women infest this place.  One night, in the middle of the deluge, Ben and I went to the Shark Club to play pool and to look at the women.  It didn’t matter that the worst storm of the year was raging outside.  They were there.  Our waitress was heavenly.  As usual though, she was careful to mention her boyfriend in the first ten seconds of our conversation.  Common practice, even if she doesn’t have one.  It’s done in order to preserve the myth that while the women here are indeed the most beautiful on Earth, they are totally, impenetrably unavailable.  I used to wonder what kind of man actually received the attention of a woman like our waitress.  But now I know, from being here, that men don’t get these women.  This place is entirely populated by the most beautiful lesbians in the world.

Ben’s view on women fascinates me.   He is thoroughly heartless when it comes to them.  His opinion is, any man who gives his heart to a woman is a fool.  He says women are only good for one thing—that you should use them and dump them without mercy or conscience.  But somewhere down deep in his soul, I think, is a desperate desire to be loved forever by one woman.  It is his fear that keeps him heartless.  So far, though, it’s working for him.  He’s not the best-looking guy I’ve ever run across, but he manages to attract a lot of women, possibly because of his foul attitude towards them.  It seems to draw them in, like a snake’s hypnotic spell on its prey.  I aspire to such heart-deadness.  Oh, how easily life would slip by without the burden of chasing down and holding someone’s attention.  His advice to me in my heartache is simple:  don’t ever care about a single one of them, ever. And as for my present pain, I should listen to sad country music songs until it doesn’t hurt anymore. Because as you have likely deduced, I’m heartbroken.

*   *   *

Roger left early this morning.  His father called while he was still asleep and after a brief, inaudible conversation, he hung up the phone and was gone.  I think it has something to do with his sister.  He talked to her all day yesterday, fighting with her about something.  Roger is always talking on the phone.  He gets the most phone calls by far.  I get about one a week, but that’s mostly because no one knows I’m here.  This is supposed to be top secret.  And the people who do know I’m here won’t call, or at least, the only one I wish would call, won’t.

I admire Roger’s deep ties to his family.  He fights with them a lot, but mostly it is a product of his passion for them, his fear for their safety, his desire to see them succeed.  I know he helps his sister and mother, and his way of justifying it is to get angry about it.  I don’t think he’s comfortable with the open notion of his love for them.  So he yells and feigns frustration or impatience to give himself the excuse to attend to them.  It seems an amicable enough situation.  And since I have no family of my own, and therefore no basis on which to judge, I am unable to find fault with his approach to them.

One more thing about Roger.  He has a beautiful girlfriend.  Which I can’t for the life of me figure out.  He’s in one of those relationships where when you see the couple walking down the street, you say to yourself, “Now why is she with him?  She is so striking, and he is so—.”  Well, I suppose allowances must be made when seeking a man.  We’re usually unkempt, tactless, and only concerned with conquest.  I freely admit it. Which is why we feel compelled to become rich, or famous, or both, in an effort to ensnare a woman who wouldn’t otherwise look at us.  Because let’s face it:  every reasonably attractive woman on the planet is generally desired, pursued, fought for—and if you’ve nothing to offer other than kindness, you won’t keep one long.  Not in California, anyway.

At any rate, this girlfriend of his just thinks I’m the bee’s knees, which is always the way my life goes.  She spends more time with me than with him, and goes on and on about how terrific I am and how lucky any girl would be to have me.  Yet she’s with Roger, and the woman who ruined my life not only doesn’t consider herself lucky to have had me, but when given the choice, there are half a dozen she’d go with instead of me.

This is really why I’m here.  I must forget.  I must rediscover why I do what I do, to take back my life, and my happiness, again.  But all I can think of is it’s a good thing I don’t have a car, because every time I look at the street I can see it leading back to you—to her, I mean.  This is why I am hiding out in this beach paradise.  I must unlearn love and replace it with stone.  I will do this by drinking myself into oblivion as often as possible (I have mastered the art of soaking up alcohol like the last looks of sunlight to a condemned man, though it is far less golden), to pursue the gorgeous lesbians with the rude persistence of a Texan, and to service myself with decadence wherever and whenever it can be found.  And then I will learn to love myself again.

To be continued. . .”

Swing by next Friday for part 2 of chapter 1, and between now and then keep your hands clean, your mask on, and your chin up. Cheers, everyone. I’m of to have a bottle of California Zinfandel.