The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 4 Part 4

Happy Friday, reader. At least, I hope it’s happy for you. As a Thai expat trapped in the US since March due to Coronavirus, I can say with confidence that I’m not having a happy Friday. I hate it here, and as the Thai government continues to extend bans on incoming foreigners for no good reason, and the hoops they invent through which to jump for approval to enter become more and more insane and inane, my despair grows exponentially. So as a momentary distraction from all things retarded, I submit the following excerpt from my sub-par novel, “The Suburbs of Babylon.” If you wish to catch up on this chapter, go back to my main page and scroll down for parts 1-3. Here’s part 4 of Chapter 4, entitled “Home”:

Home is where you hang your hat, or in my case, where I am beaten with the hat rack.

Jane has, within a relatively short time after leaving me (at least in my hysterical mind) found another to give her attention to.  His name is Barney.  Don’t ask me how she could fall for a guy with that name.  I still can’t figure out how she stopped loving me so abruptly, or why.  She took pleasure in telling Norman (he ran into her at the mall) that she was going with her new man to the Roxy tonight, so I have put shoes on my feet and begun to walk. Out of the motel and onto the sidewalk.   I manage to stop crying under each streetlight.

As I pass the Guest Home, I look into the window of one of the rooms.  A guest is lying on his bed, legs crossed, staring at the ceiling.  It is not the man with the camera.  This one looks a bit like Boris Karloff.  He appears to be dead, though it could simply be despair.  The pure state of a person who knows his life is not anywhere close to where he needs it to be in order to be happy, having found no solution and no hope of ever finding one.  He stares at the ceiling, perhaps consumed in memory, perhaps lost in regret.  Time is standing still in that room.

Out in front at a pay phone there is a short Mexican man in a dirty t-shirt, yellow shorts, and no shoes.  With one hand he is banging the receiver against the phone; with the other he is pulling on his limp penis, which protrudes through his fly, all the while screaming “Fockeen beesh, fockeen beesh!” over and over.  I pass in silence, glancing over my shoulder to see if he’s following.  Which he is not.  I disappear into the neighborhood.

Walking past the houses that look so much alike I am noticing how closely packed they are, like small animals huddling shoulder to shoulder to protect themselves from a predator.  Deer seeking the safety of the herd.  Each one has a room that flickers with the blue light of a television—mass hypnosis.  Occasionally there is a barking dog, a motion-detecting light, a silhouette on a porch.  But mostly it is me walking, listening to my own sobs, trying to outwalk the grief, the vision of Jane and a man with a silly name.

Suddenly, looking at the houses I am struck with the memory of a recurring dream.  I have had it a hundred times and never remembered it, but seeing these houses it all comes back.  I dream quite often that I am driving or riding a bike through this neighborhood, trying to get home—either to the orphanage or to an actual house where I’m sure I must live—but I can’t.  The streets become a maze; I keep passing the same houses.  Sometimes I’m trying to find Jane, and I can feel she doesn’t want me to.  Other times someone is chasing me, trying to kill me, and all I want is to get somewhere safe.  A couple of times I’ve made it to my street, but there’s always been some horrible thing waiting for me, so I elect to go back into the maze. . .

I cross into a cul-de-sac and walk up past some bigger houses.  This street is nicer than most of the others around here, but it’s much closer to the missile manufacturing plant, which means the owners are eight times more likely to develop colon cancer.  I worry, since I’ve grown up so close to here.  I’m also afraid that my anti-perspirant will give me Alzheimer’s.  It has aluminum in it, which gets into your pores.  It’s a bad thing.  Although, if I did get Alzheimer’s, I bet I could live at the Guest Home and get to see that guy’s collection of fire engine photos.  I might even forget Jane and her slice-and-dice job on my heart.  That wouldn’t be too bad.

As it comes to my attention that I cannot feel my arms due to the cold, I elect to go home.  I am hopeful that I have exhausted myself enough to sleep in spite of the news about Jane.  Sleep seems like a reachable goal.  I’d never be foolish enough to hope for more, like better days, or happiness.  Or belonging.

*    *    *

Alvin and I went to the Cat the other night.  A dancer I’ve become familiar with, Briana, was dancing.  The first time I saw her, I about fell over myself.  She took a liking to me after she saw my embarrassed, little-boy smile and proceeded to torture me all night, winking and smiling and blowing into my ear.  Only to walk off stage, grab the hand of what had to be her boyfriend, and spend the rest of the night smooching on him while he scowled at every other guy in the place.  There should be a rule against strippers’ boyfriends coming in while the girls are working.  I mean, how can I, as someone who can’t get the time of day from a woman in a real life situation, expect to come back to a joint like this if I can’t even buy a moment of attention from a working girl?  Those dollar bills should buy the whole package—that is, that these women are unattached and, for a moment in time, might be interested in me.  I know it’s a lie, but I’m paying good money for the lie.  When boyfriends start showing up, the illusion is shattered.  It pretty much ruined the entire night.

So there I was again watching Briana flash her heart-melting smile and wondering where her boyfriend was.  She rubbed her breasts on the floor at the mad whooping of the apes around me.  I showed her a five and put it back in my pocket.  Thinking how smitten I was with her the other night made me hate myself.  So I compensated by turning my attention to a tan blond with big fake breasts and a perfect stomach, passing her my number on a napkin.

Meanwhile Alvin had struck up a conversation with two colorful individuals, Caesar and Ray.  Caesar was a stocky, tame-looking man from El Salvador.  Ray sported coke-bottle glasses, long hair to make up for a large bald spot, and a greasy goatee.  They worked—or had worked—at the missile plant by the orphanage (which could account for Ray’s bad vision and baldness) until they were laid off a month ago.  Caesar seemed to be taking it better than Ray, who was trying his hardest to focus his attention on the naked woman bouncing in front of him.  I think strip joints afford Ray his only chance to get so close to such women, short of shelling out a hundred bucks.  At any rate, he didn’t talk much.

Caesar, however, was quite the chatterbox.  He expressed how happy he was to find two white guys such as Alvin and myself who did not treat him with contempt for his ethnicity.  It did his heart good to know that people like us still existed in this country.  In fact, he was moved enough to buy us a pitcher of beer, which made us all too glad to indulge him with our company.  We talked for hours about the positive aspects of America (one of which being the Cat), forgetting the strippers (well, Ray didn’t) and noise to enjoy the unexpected pleasure of conversation with total strangers.  This is not something I am used to, living in L.A.  There’s a large concentration of crazies living here, plus it just isn’t practical.  The norm around this town is to ignore everyone you don’t have a personal stake in, since most of the people here don’t have a single worthwhile thing to say, and to take time to listen to someone who will more than likely turn out to be a bucket-head, or a liar, or a shallow, self-absorbed nitwit is simply a waste of time.

By the time we got up to leave, Caesar had invited us to come stay with him in El Salvador, where his family is rich and owns a large estate.  I had flashes of Central American drug lords, guerilla soldiers and warehouses full of dope and dust.  He gave Al his pager number and made us promise to call.  Though I doubt we’ll ever speak to Caesar again, it was an interesting night.  It allowed me to stop sniveling over my own pathetic existence long enough to realize I’m not the only unhappy person wandering around on this planet.

*    *    *

One good thing about this city:  beautiful women are commonplace.  They are sprinkled about, as if littered by some deity.  They come from all over the world and usually lay where they fall.  Right now I am waiting for one from Sweden.  We have arranged to meet at Dive! Since it is so visible from the street.  There is a reason it is named Avenue of the Stars.  Michelle Pfeiffer is sitting one table over from me, sipping something out of a coffee mug and eating a yellow pastry.  She has a peculiar way of laying her finger along the vertical line of her jaw.  It gives her a look of passive intelligence, of potential power lying asleep or perhaps in wait beneath a delicate exterior.  Or maybe I’m making it up.

But here is the Swede, so I am off.

Lu came here from her Scandinavian homeland five months ago to seek fame and fortune as an actress.  I occasionally visit a small acting class in NoHo, where I’ve been fortunate enough to rub elbows with a few very attractive females, Lu being one of them.  I’m known as a writer there, and I have promised to write a play and put her in it, so she is meeting me to get acquainted.  She is more genuine than I am used to, and seems to be unaffected by any slick approach anyone may try with her, purely through innocence, I imagine.  But it may just be that the infection of this place has not yet robbed her of her real self.  In any case, she is beautiful for it, and I find I am forced through her purity to be totally off-guard, exposed and honest with her.  It is an uncomfortable state.  Unlike most people in this city, I did not come from somewhere else.  I was born and raised here, an anomaly.  For that reason, I’m not sure I even have a real self.

Lu has charm.  Her eyes seem to search hopefully for something.  They seek my thoughts through my eyes, possibly for a hint that I possess the ability to love her.  Or at least that is what I imagine.  More than likely she is looking for what I can give her.  I look at my hands.  She blushes every few moments.  She plays with me simply to share laughter.  She is able to empathize, to match my emotion, gravity, smile.  I think how readily and faithfully I could be her friend, and I realize the odd experience I am encountering is truthfulness between strangers, something utterly foreign to my physiology.  I resist the urge to close off, to be safe.  There is a faint awakening somewhere within me to a long-lost feeling of comfort.  I force myself to concentrate.

She talks about Sweden.  Her desperation to leave, to come here.  About her sisters and not missing her parents and finding her true home in this crazy place.  She tells me she’s seen hardly any of it and she wants me to take her everywhere.  I immediately begin making plans.

After coffee, we strolled the mall, window-shopping, chatting about nonsense.  She began to grow distant then, and perhaps I did a little, too.  There was something anti-climactic in the air, almost as if an unspoken promise had been broken.  We parted with a small kiss and an assurance that someone would call the other very soon.

As it is, Lu will be nothing to me but a conversation piece, and even that has now been used up.  Truthfully I thought about Jane the entire time and wished ever more to be with her instead of anyone, everyone.  I wonder what kind of future I can have living this way.”

As I re-read and re-piece together this mostly-fictional account of my 20s and 30s, I can see a clear through-line that could not have taken me anywhere other than Thailand. Thailand has been the remedy for every pain, pang, neurosis, and nuisance that’s ever plagued me. Never mind the current racist, repulsive repulsion of the foreigners that help make their country great. I have faith that their zenophobia is temporary. I believe kindness of the Thai people will, eventually, overpower the current bigotry that has caused them all to retreat inward. It’s not the Thai way.

So let’s all keep our chins up, our hopes up, and the Thai embassy’s website up and constantly refreshing in expectation of good news.