The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 15

Here at we like to use our Fridays to frowback. Frowing back as it were, to the TBT—the time before Thailand, when life was decidedly less….paradisical. In his oft maligned unmemorable manuscript titled “The Suburbs of Babylon,” a quasi-autobiographical account mixed with great feats of fiction, Bangkok Seven paints a picture of his past that is at the same time pitiable and poignant. For the last several Fridays we’ve published excerpts from said story without much commentary. Here is the next installment:

“Chapter Fifteen

The passing of time leaves empty lives, waiting to be filled.—The Smiths


            The months have rolled over me like waves over my sleepy eyes.  It’s been two years since I first met Jane, a year since the big storm on the peninsula.  I haven’t been back there at all, and have lost track of Roger and Ben.  I don’t even know if they still live there.

I haven’t subbed in weeks and I’m supplementing by parking cars for a valet service.  It’s occupational slumming, but it is relaxing, if not lucrative.  But right now life is a spinning toilet bowl, and I’m treading water.  So I’m making the best of the ride.

Oh, get this.  Cris and I have become quite close.  What started as sporadic, clumsy get-togethers checkered by insecurity and sadness has smoothed into a friendship that rivals the sincerity of all the others.  I feel almost redeemed by her open acceptance of me—as if she could absolve me of all that I’ve done wrong in the last twelve months.  Her presence gives me strength, if not absolution, and for that I am gratefully content.

And indirectly, somehow, this revived relationship has caused a moral change.  Until recently I relied on the notion that I could in some way quell my despair by dehumanizing the female race—constructing them in my imagination as walking mannequins—living ornaments—as devoid of feeling and worth as I surmised myself to be.  The more heartless and indiscriminate I was (I thought) the more my heart would turn to stone and be relieved of its function through absence of feeling.  I could pass my pain on to someone else, some unassuming stranger or poor hanger-on.

But for a year now, I’ve been practicing this off and on, and have only succeeded in accentuating the negative, the tears growing sweeter with their persistence.  So I have elected to draw into myself, to find what there is in me that is not loathsome and, provided I find something, wait for someone significant enough to reveal it to.  At present I am searching for the former, shunning the latter, not yet ready to believe in the existence of either.

To that end, the dark man, who at one time threatened to take over my subconscious and destroy me from the inside out—or save me, I still don’t know which—has not shown his face as much.  I see him in a dream maybe once a week, where he appears to convey his disdain at my efforts to heal my heart.  I think his message is, the further one slips into darkness, the easier it is to let go of feeling, and pain, and replace it with hate.  I suppose I’m getting some of this philosophy from Star Wars, but don’t fault me for it.  It is, after all, the greatest movie saga of all time.

*    *    *

            Well, I indulged.  I went deeper into debt and bought a convertible Mustang GT, new, black on black with a gray leather interior.  I have named her Loretta, as she is the new woman in my life, and the only one deserving of my time, money, and attention.  When I drive her I have a permanent grin on my face and feel as though I have finally bought the toy that I dreamed of as a child, the one that could quench that worldly desire within me.  If you’ve never driven one, it’s a bit like being on a constant roller coaster.  I love every minute on the road.  Driving is a thrill rather than a chore.  I crave traffic—if you can’t be happy, you can at least look like you are to the rest of the world.  And the car does bring a brief tickle, a trick of the senses.  Almost like a woman.

So now I fill my static moments with long scenic drives, miniature versions of my mini-journeys, fantasizing that I am a go-getter—a jet-setter with a lot of money and a girl and a heart and a life.  The aggressive, throaty sound of the engine, and the way the car leaps into motion at a green light, and the ease with which I pass other cars, have elevated my sense of being—I can almost transcend my lowly reality.

Every time I get behind the wheel, though, I struggle with one of two things:  the urge to drive it full throttle into the ocean or to get on Route 66 and go till it ends.  But instead of doing either I drive to work, when and if I have it, and go to the store, and the dry-cleaners, and the Kitty Cat. . .

*    *    *

            I’m thinking something about purpose.  Buzzing from a Cohiba, top down, at Michael Landon park, I have had yet another striking epiphany.  It goes something like this:

There are two kinds of people in the world:  happy, and unhappy.  The happy people are happy because, A—they are shallow and unburdened by thought, knowledge and conscience, or B—they have somehow escaped the world’s cruelty through blessing or luck.  The unhappy people are affected by experience and the nightmare of life and can find solace in nothing except brief, occasional sarcasm or masochism.

These two kinds of people obviously live very different lives.  This idea is not new.  But here’s what I theorize:  their deaths are equally different, a miserable person’s as fulfilling as a happy person’s is terrifying.  And not just for the obvious reasons.  It’s not as shallow as “Unhappy man finds peace in death for the simple relief of his agony” blah-blah-blah.  There is that, but moreover it is the idea that every life has a purpose—a grim, ugly, horrible purpose, higher and nobler than the act of living itself.  A person exists only to bring his purpose to fruition.  The instant this happens, the person dies.  Great purpose demands strength, truth, and knowledge, all of which can only be gained through suffering.  Therefore, the more agony one endures in life, the nobler his purpose will be.  And the more grand the purpose, the more fulfilling the death.

Which is why I conclude that miserable people must have a higher purpose than cheery people, and at the moment of realization of said purpose, the miserable are exalted (and validated) and the happy are decimated.  So in the end, the sad find redemption in the instant of death and those who loved life are inevitably rebuked by it, have their clutching fingers pried from it.

Or it could all be a crock of shit, but this is the irony I cling to and the ideal I embrace because it is the only way I can accept my detestable existence, can tolerate the daily inhalation and exhalation of a world I want to destroy.

But I am feeling the need to drive.  I’ve decided I have an addiction to watching the peripheral landscape blurring around the edges of my car.  My mouth is already watering at the thought.  There are several routes between my house and the beach that seem to have been made for a convertible Mustang.  My favorite is Topanga to Mulholland to Kanan to PCH.  For anyone planning to try it for the first time, I recommend bringing along some Radiohead or Bob Marley.  Now, before going any further, let me take a moment and freely admit that there are better, faster cars for fast driving on curvy roads.  Fords don’t exactly hug the road, but that, my friends, is exactly why I like them.  See, there’s this wild, skip-a-beat moment around turns where you don’t know if the car will handle like it’s on rails or go skidding off into oblivion.  It’s exhilarating.  And for someone who spends a good amount of time wondering what it would be like to give up the ghost in a blaze of glory, every curve with a cliff on one edge is like a giddy, 260 horsepower tightrope walk.  I drive the roads in my dreams and see slow-motion sequences with Loretta’s wheels spinning over thin air, with trees, houses, and shocked deer far, far below.  Every few miles on that stretch of highway, there are spots along the cliffside that sport wilting flower bouquets and crosses, memorials to those who went over the side, who didn’t survive.  I have wondered to myself if anyone would take the time to lay one down for me—if Jane would visit the spot.  If she would even hear about it.  I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see her again, and what I would say if I did.”

I preserve fond memories of that Mustang, frolicking through California from L.A. to San Francisco, never with a girl at my side but always with a grin on my face. Before moving to Thailand in 2010, I sold my last car and haven’t owned one since. Whenever I start to miss the thrill of being behind the wheel of a large automobile, I simply cast my gaze toward the lovely Thai gogo cancer lying naked in my bed, and I stop missing the car completely. Though I do periodically ask myself, “Well…how did I get here?” The answer is buried somewhere within the pages of this story.