Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Shop Comes To You

The Shop Comes To You

Khuk Khak, Phang Nga, Thailand - If you wait long enough, they say, eventually, everything will come to you. That's what they say. One might wonder if they're just talking about 'things', or Karma, or love, or money, or what.

Over here, if you sit at home long enough, everything will eventually come to you. There are vendors of every sort, and they'll bring everything to your door, in the manner of the Fuller brush salesman and the milkman, for those who can remember the milkman, or the fishman. But that was back in the day, long before Mrs. Sweeney's Microwavable Frozen Square Fish Bricks.

"You and I are going to become very good friends," I said to the ice cream (that's 'Isa-Kareem') vendor when he jingled his way past my house, looked up, saw me looking back at him, then swung into the empty lot beside my house where everyone in town, it seems, comes to view from a panoramic vista, the continuing dredging work on the ever-expanding reservoir that will someday export water to the villages of Khuk Khak, Bang Niang, and Khao Lak.

That's one long-ass sentence, inna?

Besides selling me a drumstick, he dismounted his three-wheeled motor chariot to check out my newly-installed thatched roof over the back patio, suggesting reinforcement for the monsoon winds that will otherwise blow it away if left it in its current, what I had previously thought was finished, state.

And Yahn, who seems to stop by every day, and whom it seems, doesn't have a working job, has said on three or four occasions that the pitch needs to be increased to shed the water. Otherwise, it'll mildew and eventually rot.

But did I listen to either one of them?


The first big wind presented an idea of what the isa kareem man was talking about, and a few weeks later, after several rains, when the whole business began to mildew from trapped water, it became apparent what Yahn was telling me, and I realized that maybe these Thai might know something about living in the tropics.


Mr. Gui, who runs the big hardware store in Bang Niang, said a good one the other day when I was trying to explain to him the high mountains of Colorado. 'Much snow', I told him.

"Ahhhhh," he said. "Sah-No."

"Yeah," I said, making the motions of a downhill skier. "Sah-Kee."

Yeah, downhill sah-keeing on the sah-lopes.


"Repeat after me," I told the three-times-a-week English class of a dozen adults above the Khuk Khak shoe shop. "Slllllleeep."


"Let's try again. Sllllllllllllleeeep."



They gave me a name over here last year that I took a long time to figure out what everyone was calling me.

'P' Yai.'

The 'P' is an honorific title, and I knew 'Yai' meant 'big', so I naturally assumed they were calling me 'Mr. Big', either because of my XL American size, or maybe because they had somehow heard of who I almost could've been, back home in my own country. Who knows? Someone could've said something.

'Don't you know who he almost could've been?'

Wonderful line, inna? Came from the reservation, 1998, relatively recent. Along with, 'Be your own damn nigger,' spoken with the emphasis on 'own', as would an aging southern Black grandmother, sah-peaking to her grandson.

The quote, now moving rapidly toward both coasts from S. Dakota, arose while ditch-digging one day, laying a new copper water pipe to replace the plastic one that wasn't worth a shit to begin with, and had been punctured repeatedly by gophers, playing a mind-game with Brother Tom, who insisted the gophers were 'against' him, and that yes, he was out there yet another day, another time, attempting to 'defeat' the gophers. Happened six or seven times before we dug up the whole damn thing and replaced it with copper.

If my memory serves me correctly, which I have learned lately that it often does not, I told the crew at the time, "When my momma see-int me off to schoo, she told me, 'Boy, you ain't nevva gon' haf' to do fiel nigguh work again. Evva.' "

But here it was, some thirty seben eleben years behine what she said, and there I was, right along with Bo and Manuel and Lupe' and that other guy who left after one day, doing field nigger work that I thought I had left a longgg-ass time behind me, in graduate school, at least.

That was back in the day, before Manny approached me, telling me I could make it to the top if I kept a good work ethic and stayed away from fast women and that 'bad crowd' down on 32nd street.

"Instead of looking at de championship," he told me, "you could be looking at de yudge."

But did I listen to Manny?


He would always say after the match, "I try to tell you, but you no leeson. NOW look at you!"

And sure enough, the fast women and bad crowd got me up in front of a local magistrate, who told me, "Son, you had a chance to almost be somebody. Considering her age, I'm only going to give you thirty-six months. You can do your time in the state prissson, or you can take your chances in the 'Nam."

I said to to her, "What the fuck, Your Honor. That's an easy choice. I'll take my chances in the 'Nam."

The rest is history.


So, I was big then, compared to the Vietnamese, and I still am, compared to the Thai. That's why they call me 'Mr. Big'.

Or, that's what I thought. Then, here I come to find out that it don't mean, 'Mr. Big' or 'Big Daddy' at all, but rather, 'Big Brother.'

"Ohhhhhh. P' Yai," they say when they finally get it. "That's like means, big brother. Same same oldest son."

Donchaknow that let the wind out of my sails, when all along I thought it had something to do with importance.


So, besides the ice cream man and the lady who comes by selling chicken-on-a-stick, there is the Knife Man, selling any kind of shape and size of balade imaginable. See? They've got me talking like that. That's 'blade'. He's got everything you need, from fingernails clippers, Edward Scissorhands and general purposwe kitchen knives, up to a French guillotine.

And besides the Ice Cream Man and the Chicken Lady and the Knife Man, there's the Broom Man, the Aluminum Ladder man, the Fresh Fish & Meat Lady, the Salad Lady, the Burmese Wicker Chair Guys, the Portrait-of-the-King vendors, the Basket Lady, the Carved Buffalo Horn Lady, the Feather Duster & Toilet Bowl Brush Man, the Iced Pop-in-a-Sack and Snack People, and the Cushion & Stuffed Animal Man, coming through either on foot, pulling a two-wheeled cart, or on 3-wheeled motorcycles with side cars, outfitted with sun shades or umbrellas for when it rains.


And it was raining last night, so the Bamboo Girl who was going to attend the dinner party chose to remain in Takuapa instead, and bring down the free bamboo chair tonight, instead of in the pouring rain, when all those people who we didn't think would show because of the weather, showed up anyway for dinner, the first fifteen being Thai, and making me wonder if any of the foreigners at all would show.

They did, fashionably late, and staying late, whereas all the Thai were gone by 8:30, except for Jack.

Turned out that we ordered way too much food. The fish and chicken curry were big hits, but we had too much fried rice, and didn't really need the ten kilos for the one vegetarian who showed up.

Had just the right amount of small giveaway trinkets, flower arrangements, potted plants, shower caddies and the evening's main prize for that lucky person out there, a fully automated electronic mosquito zapper, that I ended up keeping for the house.

An open house dinner party was how it was billed, and an open house in the tropics needs a mosquito zapper. Had to re-think that one. Had to think outside the giveaway box.

"What's the occasion?" a few had asked, and I tried to explain the ideas of give-away and, 'feeding the people' out of a spirit of thanksgiving, any day, any time, and not just on one prescribed American holiday that reminds many Native Americans of an unpleasant series of horrific circumstances arising out of this one particular event that subsequently became institutionalized in American history as 'Playoff Day'.


So, here I was holding this dinner party with the excited anticipation of giving away as much as I possibly could, and then all these folks began showing up with gifts. The wife of Nakon, the iron- worker who custom-made my iron gate, showed up with two plants, an Aloe and an Orchid; other people showed up with food, drink, and desserts, and I ended up with more beer than with what we had on hand for the beginning of the party.

That's the way it went, everyone asking me about the house, "How much you pay?"

If you're a foreigner staying long time in a rental property, everyone asks you that same question. On the street, they'll all ask you where you're going. If you're a foreigner, or 'farang' as we're known here, they know you must be going somewhere. You've GOT to be going somewhere. The third question is, 'How long you stay?'

I want to say, "On planet Earth?" and, "Heaven, I hope," to where I'm going, and, "Why is it important to you how much I'm paying? What are you going to do with that information?"

But that would be too smart-alecky and far too oblique for the humor to be appreciated, so I don't use it that much, instead, answering honestly, "Not much", "Khao Lak", and, "six months," to their questions.

We laugh about how that question, 'Where are you going?' from complete strangers, would be received in New Jersey or New York.


The big event of the evening was the low-key arrival of Chatchada, the internationally famous supernova artist-in-residence who assists Digger and Melanie with their art and English program at Senanakul High School up in Takuapa. She GAVE me one of her pieces, a framed charcoal abstract of fishing boats, prominently displayed on the kitchen wall, the first thing you see when you enter the house.

'Better leave it right where it is,' I thought, gazing at it in admiration. Leave it where it is, rather than take it back to the States and run the chance of having it ripped off in my absence, like those drunk Indians did this time when they broke into my reservation home and took with them all my tools, irreplacable artwork, and ceremonial drum, Brother Tom said in an email.

Home? Where's home? You mean planet Earth?

How long you stay? I don't know.