The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 1 Part 3

What’s up quarantined web nomad, my name’s Bangkok Seven and this is my blog. Fridays are frowback days here at Patpongnightlife, where I regale and/or bore you with an excerpt from my past—specifically, my pre-Thailand days. Recently I rediscovered the digital copy of a novel I wrote whilst embedded in a life of misery in Los Angeles. Below is the last portion of Chapter 1, titled “Peninsula.” If you missed parts 1 and 2, part 3 will make more sense if you go back and read them. Let’s finish up this chapter…

“The sea is calm today, a welcome contrast to the storm.  I am walking on the boardwalk, enveloped in the mixing smells of popcorn, urine, and tacos.  For dinner tonight I plan on indulging with chicken in mushroom gravy and a smooth, 1994 Cotes du Rhone that is supposed to be superb.  I spare no expense when it comes to wine.  It will surely be what drives me into the poor house before anything else.  Being alone has caused me to seek pleasure in small things, like the taste of wine at a particular temperature, and a particular time of day.  These minor obsessions seem to take on greater significance as I intuitively sense my impending destruction.  I can actually feel my mind slipping. . .

It is late as I return from the beach, and the tenants above me have begun their nightly ritual of moving heavy furniture back and forth from the kitchen to the living room.  This will continue till about two, when they will take to bounding up and down the staircase.  I have never seen them but judging by the noise they make they must each weigh at least three hundred pounds.  Or for all I know they could be dragging bodies up the stairs and stacking them in the kitchen.  As I pour the first glass of Cotes, I resist the urge to sprawl out on my own linoleum floor, since the sight would no doubt horrify Ben or Roger, should either come home.  I think they fully expect to find me dead one day.

*   *   *

It is Sunday, as if it matters.  Alvin and Norman haven’t called or visited in weeks.  They’re up in Los Angeles, so of course I’ve no intention of going to them.  I’m sure they’re too wrapped up in their relentless pursuit of whores.  My roommates have left me alone for the week, off to visit girlfriends and family.  I am beginning to see how people who spend their lives alone can reach excruciating depths of dementia.  Sometimes when you are left with nothing but your own imagination, your grip on things can start to slip, and the more you try to regain your grasp, the further down you fall.  Loneliness is a test of strength.  One must be strong in order to keep his emotions in check, which if allowed to will completely over-run reality.  Unfortunately, thinking through such concepts logically while in a half-insane state is both useless and impossible.  I can’t take the irony.

*    *    *

Well, it has happened.  Tonight, the eggshell that had been holding the world together has sunken in under the weight of my heart.  Nothing particularly Earth-shattering has happened, I just can’t tolerate my inescapable state of being anymore.  The alcohol coursing through my veins has lost its tranquilizing effect; even it can’t silence my memories.  I am walking on the boardwalk under the stars; they are blinding me, screaming into me.  Beauty has turned to sickness.  The black waves are crashing against the pier, stretching up for me.  I see myself lost in their depths.  Everything around me is mocking me, daring me to die.  But the joke is that I am already dead.  My tears feel like stone.  My skin smells like formaldehyde.  All is lost, now.  The world is bound up in hate, turning and turning and wanting to explode.  But it never will because it is locked in a war with the sun, which rises each day to remind us of the senselessness of time, while the Earth just keeps spinning, going nowhere; no rest from sentience, no freedom except in death.  It all makes me wish I could fly into the sun.

*    *    *

There is a shirtless old man standing in the rain, the wet black hair on his chest matting against his white flesh.  He is looking at a spot on the ground, staring at it.  I glance in the direction of his glare but see nothing.  Somewhere in him there is a grave situation that is demanding his attention, enough that he is oblivious to the storm.  At first I think he must be in love.  God knows a woman is the perfect catalyst for standing shirtless in the rain.  But then I realize it must be that he is lonely.  He has been alone for longer than he can remember, and all he has is that thought to which he is holding like a last breath.  He is caught between self-hate and self-pity, between the desire to embrace the world and to destroy it.  Something about him makes me want to turn and run.

*    *    *

Around the corner from my place is Charlie’s, a restaurant.  The food is bad, except when one is drunk, at which time it becomes irresistible.  When I drink I do two things:  I eat, and I steal.  Not important things, totally meaningless things.  Condiments.  From Charlie’s I have taken two bottles of Tabasco, an empty napkin holder, two sets of silverware, and a jar of sugar.  Oh, and a dinner salad, which I never ate.  But I use the bowl to eat rice out of now.  I console my guilt by telling myself it is retribution to Charlie for tricking me into eating his mediocre food.  I think I am stealing myself back from this place.  I think the sugar represents me somehow (sweet) or the Tabasco, but I am something else. . .

Now, thinking back, I can see Charlie’s on an eternal cloudy afternoon, and the picture of myself there.  The image is of a counter top, dimly lit by the diffused sunlight.  The silverware lies on a napkin.  Perhaps there is a decorative vase with plastic flowers, a jar of sugar. . .there was a time when this image meant something to me.  My world was this familiar—a diner booth, the smell of coffee, the sound of cups against saucers, newspapers shuffling, the din of voices.  When I think of it now, I see myself not as a patron of Charlie’s, but ridiculously instead like part of the scenery.  Something static, unmoving.  An impartial witness.  An innocuous spectator.

A spoon, to be exact.

I was small and silver.  Smooth and fluid, slightly bent, oblong at one end (anyone who knows how physically large my head is will have no trouble with this analogy).  This was less a self-image than it was a profile, seen through my mind like it was separate from me, intangible.  The world in front of me I reflected back static but skewed.  Through me it was narrow, reversed.  I took what was thrust at me and turned it upside down.  But there was more to it than that.  Behind my cold unchanging front was another world, and it seemed to reflect from behind my other self.  It was enlarged and odd-shaped (like me), pinching and vanishing at its edges.  I fit into this world.

At one time I held substance—quietly—for the nourishment of others.  But it was not mine (call it rhetoric, or someone else’s idea of what to do and how to do it).  I was an unwilling instrument in the hands of strangers, made to follow a will that was not my own.  I let the philosophy and ideals of others shape my goals and roles. What Plato would have called “mimesis.”  Useless imitation.  (I don’t mean to confuse here, I’m simply pursuing this ridiculous thought to its end.  Plus, I can’t resist beating this image to death).  My identity consisted of what immediately surrounded me. I was inanimate.  I was cold and still, lying alone, slightly curved.

But back to Charlie’s.

I am standing outside on a Tuesday afternoon wondering if I go in, will they recognize me as the thief from the other night?  I don’t think anyone saw me take the sugar, but then I was a little pinched.  I turn to look out at the ocean.  The sun is warming, but the cold wind bites. I would go surfing, but the Velcro on my wet suit is broken. . . (this indecision’s buggin’ me).

Instead, I opt for a slice of pizza from a walk-up window near my place and go sit on the beach, watching the waves roll endlessly over the sand.

*   *   *

Another reason this peninsula holds such weight for me is because last summer when I was down visiting Ben, I ran into my ex-girlfriend, Cris.  I have several of them, exes, but this one could be called the apocalypse of ex-girlfriends.  I almost died because of her in high school, (a story for another time) and when we broke up, I immediately made her the demigod-nemesis of my life.  I thought about her every day, dreamed about her regularly.  And then, to run into her down here after four years, on the 4th of July—well, it was like Moses and the burning bush.

Anyway, as it turned out, she wasn’t as ominous as I’d remembered.  She had no magical powers.  She was still stunning, but her hold on me was broken.  Her feet were clay and my heart was Teflon.  Nevertheless, we were inseparable for a day, drinking each other in, reconciling the past, loving not hating.  And when it was time to part, I left her with a kiss so deep it drowned her emotions and left her speechless.  Since then she’s called twice and written once.  When I got down here a month ago, I called to let her know, but so far she hasn’t called back.  The weird thing is, Ben ran into her outside our building early one morning last week.  She was shabby and tired, evidently having spent the night in one of the apartments.  Ben said she was with some greasy Italian.  If that’s her boyfriend, and if he lives in our building (the irony is uncanny), and if she doesn’t stop by, I think she might be a wicked witch after all.  I want to think it is her fear of what she sees in me that keeps her away.  But I know it is her indifference, her absorption of self, her absence of heart.  The man behind her curtain can’t give her that, just like he couldn’t keep me fooled with her false image.  Granted, the rejection thus far has been entirely hers of me, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less fortunate for her leaving.

Speaking of women with false fronts, the one who came to the party the other day—the one with the lilting femininity—turned out to be a complete waste of time.  She flirted with me for an hour before casually mentioning that she had a boyfriend, following up with, “But he lives in New Hampshire.”  Then what is the point, you ass?  I can’t remember if I said that or just thought it—having been under the influence.  Confused by the mixed messages she was sending, I continued to pursue her with gallantry, but her ugly friend, the one all girls always bring with them everywhere they go, rescued her.  So I leveled a barrage of insults at them until they got fed up and left, but on their way out she asked me to call her again.  Now that’s a stupid girl.  This is what I’ve come to expect from women, though, based on my experience.  Thoroughly bad behavior.  I’m not going to call her.

*     *     *

The monotony of bland, home-cooked dinners and rice, which had of late caused my appetite to remiss has driven me to action, as this evening the urge to gorge myself at Mutt Lynch’s—a bar & grill on the boardwalk—became too much to bear.  Before I knew what was happening I was out of the apartment, onto the beach, past the pier and under the lights of the boardwalk, and into the warm wooden welcome of Mutt’s, sitting before a table of fish and chips, bacon pizza, and fried chicken, washing it all down with a big bowl of Hefeweizen.  There was a pair of brunettes sitting across from me as I dug into my buffet, and one of them remarked at how much food I was taking on.  I was going to explain that I’d been held captive in an apartment two blocks away for a month and had finally escaped by defeating the villains in my own mind, but then thought better of it.  I knew my stream of consciousness had stopped making sense to normal people.  Confirming my suspicion that women are attracted to insanity, though, the two brunettes invited themselves to join me, and before I could ruin it by speaking, they were sitting at my table and sampling my various entrees.

The older one was named Brooke.  She had blue eyes and a dark buttery tan.  Her friend’s name was Naomi.  She was eighteen and perfect.  Her eyes were wide with wonderment at the world, and her attitude revealed a soul that had not yet been corrupted by the truths of life.  I felt as though I had loved her from the moment I was born.  They asked me all about myself, where I was from, what I was doing down here, why I was alone.  I explained that I had recently broken up with the woman I thought I was going to marry after finding out she was sharing beds with several other men besides me, and I had quit my job and come to the beach to contemplate my life and write a novel.  They were at once sympathetic and fascinated.  Brooke let her hand fall from her hair to my arm.  Naomi asked if I would put her in my book.  I told her I would, and her whole body seemed to hum at the thought.  I started to feel relaxed then, and began to eat, at which time everything went to hell.  My stomach, after recovering from the shock, retaliated by setting itself on fire, leaving me doubled over for two days.  I tried to hide my agony from the girls who looked at me as if I had just passed gas, quickly paid, and hastily bid them goodnight.  It was my curse again.  Never would there be a day that God didn’t punish me for living. Never would I meet a beautiful woman without disaster striking.  I rued the Power above and cursed my own miserable existence, gnashing my teeth.  But as I crawled out the door of Mutt Lynch’s that night, I still managed to pilfer a bottle of picante sauce.  Small victories.  Small, embarrassing victories.

*    *    *

Lunch today is a tuna sandwich on toasted sourdough bread, corn, and an A & W.  While running on the boardwalk this morning I was engaged by a man on a bicycle who proceeded to warn me of every possible ailment or injury caused by exercise, and to preach to me the value of vegetables in the diet.  So I am having corn with my tuna sandwich.  I am a little concerned, however, about the possible downside of choosing this particular roughage, as it is known to have a laxative-type effect on the digestive system.  That, combined with the amount of beer I consume in a given day (also a fairly potent colon cleaner) may prove to be more volatile a mixture than I would like.  Fear of over-regularity is basically what I’m feeling.  Perhaps a glass of merlot will calm me down. . .

My roommates think I’m turning into a Casanova.  I have taken up the habit of romancing every cocktail waitress at every club, bar, and pool hall we’ve frequented.  I order a drink, one hand on her hand or on the small of her back.  I compose poetry on napkins and leave them my name and number.  I have the hostess bring them a rose, saying it’s from the guy who was drinking the Chateauneuf.  For all this, my friends think I have balls of polished granite.  But they don’t understand.  These women won’t call.  I wouldn’t know what to do if they did.  My friends aspire to this disguised cowardice.  They don’t see that I could easily kiss a perfect stranger but never ever have a conversation with one.  Not that I don’t enjoy the company of women.  Last evening I walked out onto the pier to watch the sunset, its amber glow a watercolor melt of pinks and oranges, casting the island’s black silhouette as it slept offshore.  The water was dreamily placid.  The foamy shore-breaks looked like new snow crumbling over waves of moving jade.  There was love all around me then, the kind that nature prepares in a delicate effort to create symmetry in the world.  All that was missing was the scent of perfume, the softness of a whisper.  But the truth is the women here aren’t the most beautiful lesbians in the world.  They just have no interest in me.  Or at least, I don’t care to find out if they do.  I don’t want to know how our waitress at the Shark Club would react—more than likely, it would be small, laughable—what she would say about this scene, or about my mind.  Or what I couldn’t say about her.  What a waste.  To me, now, the only person worth sharing this with is in Los Angeles, being magically romanced by men in backward baseball caps.  So I look at the violet sky, commence drinking myself into a stupor, and dream of tumbling over the end of this pier into a world of jade.

Somehow everything always comes back to self-hate, self-punishment.  Perhaps even love itself is a form of infliction; that happiness, kisses and sunsets are symptoms of a coming breakdown.  Like the world is holding its breath in a moment of winking, sarcastic bliss that precedes a crash.  As if every good thing is a warning, rather than a blessing.  It is a practical joke on us, and I can smile at it all because I’m in on it.  But I’m keeping an eye out now.  I’m seeing more in the precious scenery, hearing things in the sound of the waves.  You have to be careful, know your weaknesses.  You can never turn your back on Mother Earth.

*    *    *

I’ve decided to go back home.  This short trip was an effort to run from the woman who ruined everything, but seeing as I didn’t get too far (she follows me in my memory regardless of the miles between us), and I’m running out of cash, the idea seems the most sane.  Or at least, less insane than staying here alone and letting the ocean talk me into the loony bin.

There is another thought, though—too frightening to really examine seriously.  It involves going in the exact opposite direction of home.  Picking up and moving on, without a destination in mind.  I can taste this idea—it mixes with my fear and creates something between ambrosia and cyanide.  So for now I’m putting it off.  Running back, picking up where I left off, which was nowhere.”

Knowing what I know now about where I ended up—namely Thailand—I can see the quelled anguish in the moans of this pathetic narrator, my young self, and the first hints that he won’t find happiness unless and until he gets on a plane and takes a long journey to a new place. If you’re still stuck at home next Friday and need something to distract you for a few minutes, swing back by for part 1 of Chapter 2. In the meantime, stay safe, stay disinfected, and cheers to another week of coronavirus-free living. Peace out.