July 11-23, 2001
Ah, dear reader, routine strikes early! Less than a week back home in Bangkok and I am ... like some anxious spinster, 'checking the locks' once, twice and thrice before retiring. In my own case, I check all points along the river: the French roof ... how close to completion; the 'Great Shrubs' ... has either side gained an advantage; the Sofitel Hotel ... is it still standing?
Finally, I am propped up by a pillow ... thumbing through old pages; finding solace in the history of human frailties:
Alas ... how many times has this been the cause of the fired pistol ... the plunged blade ... his vichyssoise laced with arsenic?
"She was not alone in the possession of [his] affections."
"... she threatened to throw herself out of a window to escape imaginary enemies ..."
" ... he had led a fast life and was tired of it ... "
At The Bangkok Daily News:
Morton's hatch machine hides the stump (but, shows the foot). But, no need to 'doctor' the photo of the Bangkok doctor who is charged with giving his wife bad sushi, dicing her into toilet-pipe-sized chunks and disposing of her flush by flush.1
But, the Bangkok Post cleverly mixes flooding and up-country prisoners to give its readers a socially relevant front-page photo.
The IHT reported that this year's Bulwer-Lytton prize for wretched writing went to Sera Kirk of Vancouver, Canada. I wish that I had written:
"... the gates flew open to release a torrent of tawny fur comprised of angry yapping bullets that nipped at Desdemona's ankles, causing her to reflect again (as blood filled her sneakers and she fought her way through the panicking crowd) that the annual Running of the Pomeranians in Liechtenstein was a very stupid idea."
1 New arrivals from the house of DeSpair are encouraged to go back and leaf through some of my older pages. The details of this crime can be savored over many breakfasts. Incidentally, the composure of the handsome doctor (and the crime's now strung-out time frame) suggests that Bangkokians will eventually be treated to a trial of "O.J." dimensions; what looked like an "open and shut" case may now develop a "Cambodian Goulash" ("Colombian Necklace"?) defense.
WORLD'S HEADLINES PLUNGE
Deadlines Bring No News
BANGKOK – As clocks across the world ticked toward the times that presses had to roll, and roll they must, most editorial offices from New York to London to Tokyo reported that nothing had happened.
Even the International Herald Tribune, widely regarded as the one paper read by 'everyone', was forced to practically fill its entire 'above the fold' front page with an article about the drinking habits of students.
And, the normally 'creative' Bangkok Post found nothing in Thailand that was deemed worthy of its main coverage. But, rather than leave page 1 of the broadsheet blank, the paper ran with a Reuters wire service feed that traced the latest crimes of the Garden Gnome Liberation Front ... a shadowy group that rose to prominence in the mid-1990s.
The Bangkok Daily News, always the leader in the 'pointing finger' genre of press photography, was not immune from this apparent worldwide dearth of news. Required by habit to splash its front page with color shots of police at work, this morning the paper's darkroom technicians were reduced to sending three 'un-retouched' photographs directly to the printing room. None of the front page photos: that of the man with the injured elbow, the picture of the defective electric coffee maker, nor the loosely cropped ensemble of bent spectacles, spent film canisters and damaged nail clippers ... none of these needed the normally circulation-boosting laboratory 'hatch-work' before being laid on the morning cover.
Last night even Patpong was quiet. Though the neon signs tried to put a good face on the show, there was little work to be had. Girls stood about in little clusters ... not at all bewildered by the lack of customers; for they knew full well that the prospect of a weaker dollar1 augured poorly for business. My friend, Porn, fondly reminisced about the 90's. Stirring her drink, with eyes focused distantly on more halcyon days, she spoke kindly of the Clinton years ... "when your dollar was the undisputed champion of the world's currencies." But, the row of empty bar stools at her bar, the Super Queen, quickly snapped her back to reality: "No way is Team Bush going to push for dollar intervention – that policy has almost no payback for your economy." Nor was she optimistic about the euro: "Shit, even the people making policy at the ECB2 don't know what they are doing. Wim Duisenberg has piled one gaffe on top of another. No way is the euro going to make life better on the street (Patpong)."
1 Not lost on these girls-of-the-street was the worry that the deep surge in borrowing costs in the emerging markets of South America (a major trading partner of the United States) would put even more pressure on the already slowing U.S. economy. What will happen on the street (Patpong), they ask, if there is a financial blow-out in Buenos Aires or Montevideo? All the girls agreed that the dollar would head south. One girl, who wished to remain anonymous and would only allow herself to be photographed from the rear, said that this was not a bad thing, at least for her: "I plan to take my holiday in America this year...for me a weak dollar is a plus...I can come back home with real Levis."
2 The European Central Bank, the institution governing monetary policy in the nations that have adopted the fledgling euro currency.
"How quickly we are moved!"
"One missed heart beat will do it."
"I was talking about from 'above to fold' to 'below the fold'."
"So was I."1
The Steele documents reveal two sets of disturbing occurrences that took place more than 116 years ago.
According to this morning's Bangkok Daily News, this pig2 was born with two sets of reproductive organs. Gifted with both male and female accouterments this makes 'it' a prime source for lottery-pick numbers. Thai people strongly believe that any unusual object or strange event has the potential for yielding a winning lottery number.3
Today's Bangkok Post (Classifieds) carries an advertisement from Thai Airways International. The airline is seeking candidates for the position of President. Among other qualifications is the requirement that the applicant: (A) "Has never been sentenced to imprisonment except for the charges caused by negligence or petty offenses." (B) "Has never been sentenced to surrender own assets due to unusual wealth."4
1 No crueler than the press anywhere, the Bangkok Daily News only reflects local customs. Here the interval between the crisp sheets of an upscale hospital bed (just yesterday) and the man's final slab (right now) is amazingly short by English standards.
2 This explains 'its' appearance on the cover, also below the fold.
3 The 'how' is left unexplained by the paper's editor, it is up to the reader to find the lucky combination.
4 The underlining and bold italics are mine.
Today's two clippings from the Steele papers wisely nudge us toward thinking more clearly about the dangers of accepting an outstretched hand:
The shorter one is a stern warning to nascent hitchhikers:
"... hurled from meat hook to meat hook ... flesh torn off in great strips ..."
The second ... and today you only have the first installment laid before you ... should worry you dearly about the motives of distant kin: is he really the avuncular sort who puts your welfare first; or, are there base reasons behind why he asked you to sit at his table?
"... turned out to wander where sin in all its hideousness awaits with a welcome ... forced to work in a mill ... improper proposals were made ... fled from the presence of her would-be-destroyers ... nothing to eat ... she suffered in silence ..."
Dear reader, yesterday we tormented you with the tale of a young German girl who was "... turned out to wander where sin ..." etc., etc.
Today (Oh, faithful reader), with the wisdom gained from the passage of just a day, perhaps the story of our Miss Wanda is not quite as grim as was given by its first blushings. Sure ... there were mean dogs afoot ... and the uncle and aunt were a bit halt in their use of English,1 but ...
1 Even though people may be related by blood, the German language does not easily allow one to address another in the 'familiar' until a certain amount of time has passed or until a certain protocol level has been breached. The uncle and aunt, though of German birth, had obviously left these niceties behind on Ellis Island. The niece (our Miss Wanda), apparently from a Bismarkian home, would have none of this. Though thirty years their junior, she insisted that her 'brutish' kin observe a 'high German table' at all times. Furthermore, she had no intention of making her own bed, washing dishes or doing anything else unworthy of her birth position. Teaching piano would be OK.
This morning the Bangkok Daily news, in its always-helpful feature: 'lets-let-the-relatives-read-about-it-first-in-the-newspaper',1 gives us Sunday's suicide of a young woman. Inconvenienced police officers are shown in their obligatory pointing-finger pose.2
Adjacent is a photograph of a freak banana plant. Now, dear reader, this would never have made the front page had today not been the 16th of the month. You see, twice a month Thailand runs a national lottery; and starting days in advance, millions of Thai people look under every unusual stone for a clue to the winning lottery number.3 Either in the number of banana buds on the plant, or in the square root (cube, to the 4th, etc.) of their sum, or in the radius at the plant's fattest point ... anyway, somewhere ... therein hides the road map to never having to work again.
"In Cattlettsburg, nearly ten miles away ... the earth shook and people were alarmed ..."
"Archie Livingston ... was blown to atoms ... only his hand was found."
"Robert Cook ... was approaching the glazing mill when it blew up. His clothes and whiskers were blown off. He ran 200 yards to a stream and jumped in. He will not live till midnight ..."
Meanwhile the Bangkok Post wonders whether diners would worry more about finding mercury or spiny dogfish in their shark fin soup.
1 For those 'out-of-circulation-range' next of kin, CORKSCREW-BALLOON.COM carries the word worldwide.
2 Muddling the issue: (a) her hands were tied behind her back, (b) her 'husband' was asleep in the adjacent room, (c) both had been drinking whiskey to excess, (d) a disturbing telephone call from 'another woman', (e) they had 'fought'.
3 See my earlier coverage of the hermaphrodite pig. Usefully equipped to live life without ever having to leave the house, this unusual pig ... somewhere, somehow ... carries the code to today's winning lottery number. As does today's banana plant.
PS Too much print? I think so, too. I didn't come here to just read newspapers ... whether they chronicle gore of yore or woe of today. No, I came here for the good life ... bowls of fruit and room service breakfasts, 'turn-down' service and views of the river. Starting with this little postscript, and the one to follow, I am going to return to basics.
PPS The Chao Phya River runs right in front of my house. Back and forth across its width and up and down its length little boats owned by the major river hotels carry people to the various parts of Bangkok. Here are some pictures of the ferries used by my hotel and her three main neighbors.
PPPS These two photographs (taken from my porch, looking east) show the wide range of my Sony Mavica's 14 optical power.
Do you remember the retired lawyer (Quist? Queeb? Some strange name like that) ... anyway, the one who lived in the south of Thailand ... on a sailboat ... with his Thai girlfriend ... the one (girlfriend) who was in the process of completing her high school studies? Sure you do. She was the one who was going to learn the complexities of Thai cooking over the Internet. Whatever, at the time that I wrote about them she already had her driver's license. Watcharee does not. But soon she will.
Yesterday Watcharee started her 15-hour instruction program. By the end of the week she will be able to drive on Bangkok roads. Scary, huh? Well, consider this: her first lesson ... ground zero plus 30 seconds ... found her behind the wheel of a manual shift car in downtown Bangkok ... on a narrow soi,1 at that. Her instructor, in the passenger seat, was on his 5th client of the day. Armed with but a spare foot brake on his side of the old car (and a long arm to grab an errant steering wheel), his job is just plain awful. No wonder the man is edgy all the time and yells a lot.
Last night we celebrated yesterday's survival with a dinner across the river, at The Peninsula. From there we had a nice view of the river and our own hotel.
PS A lot of issues here: Freud's "castration" complex, knocking on the Lord's door too late ... and, of course, double jeopardy...yet, the paper gives it just one paragraph.
1 Soi is 'street' in Thai.
The Bangkok Daily News [in lock-step tradition with itself in being the first on the block with the grim news1] is not going to be fooled this time around. For starters, going nose down in the wash is not usually a woman's preferred way out. And, locking the door from the outside is a needlessly complicated way to ensure privacy for that final moment. Finally, hands tied behind the back cinched it for today's cover picture cameraman: he sniffed 'foul-play' right away.
Far away in a distant land and in another century Professor Steele amuses his readers with a potpourri of mishaps: a conjugal bed left wanting some important limbs ... a plunging elevator squishes an onlooker in the shaft2 ... how standing on tippie toes could have prevented lots of blown-out ear drums ... burned alive, buried alive ... the passing of the Reverend Ebenezer Hazard Snowden ... a fatal dose of carbolic acid for that little bout of diphtheria ... a despoiled corpse ... and, finally, how a move to the "Home for Incurables" from the "Patterson's Almshouse" was not good for one man's diet.
"Doesn't that look like our Doreen?"
"By Golly, it sure does."
2 The "Survival" book has no suggestions for those beneath the falling Otis.
"What you see is what our readers want."1 2
According to NEWNES it took exactly, to the day, twenty years to build the Liverpool Cathedral:
But, dear reader, these are just anniversaries that NEWNES tossed out as sop to the parochial religious right ... what interested NEWNES far more were the great British anniversaries that pointed the way to the future:
PS One day in the life of ...
2 Which paper was folded under your arm as you walked out the door?
a. The International Herald Tribune
b. The Asian Wall Street Journal
c. The Bangkok Daily News
"They come in 'threes'. Always do!"1
A couple of months ago The Miami Herald ran a tiny article about a ship off the coast of Yemen that had buoyancy problems. Do you remember it? At the time, I 'highlighted' it by referencing it to a long-ago Daily Telegraph article about how an English family holiday was ruined by the near total destruction of southern Europe. Anyway, the captain of this little boat solved his problem by tossing 80 or so Yemeni passengers into the sea.2 Today this journalistic baton was passed to the Bangkok Post. Tucked into its lower-left corner (page 6), 150 Nigerian children died while en route to Gabon to work as slaves.3
When Victor Hugo died (May 22, 1885) he did not require the services of a priest.
1 Like their flying brethren (airplanes), great industrial cranes apparently also crash in some mysterious (though numerically predictable) pattern. Last week saw scores of Chinese laborers buried under the dented counterweights and tangled cables from the embarrassing overturning of a brand new quayside crane in Shanghai. Today, disaster struck right here in Bangkok. Where next?
2 Juxtaposed, a full-page frontal spread about some Middle East shoppers who had their mall visit interrupted by smoke and fire.
3 Meanwhile, the battle on today's front page was between Liverpool Football Club fans, VAT charges and some academic lecture-fee issues.
NEWNES brings us back to America:
And, the anonymous compiler of the Steele Papers shows that Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were not the only clever boys on the loose in post Civil War America. There were more than swiped apple pies and scraped shins in those roughhouse days:
The cracker-barrel boys down Montgomery way thought this to be a real knee-slapper: seems two of "Pa" McGowans "young'ns" left the neighbors all "a'chuckle" with their attempt to play "daddy fixin' barbecue". But, their wild antics sure gave Mom quite a turn.
Up Marshall way, just a week earlier, little Davie Black learned that a spill from a horse can go from bad to worse.
Meanwhile, here in Bangkok, river traffic is normal.
NEWNES remembers, even though we don't:
Locally, insufficient rain has produced some unusually low tides. Bodies that were meant to stay submerged until Mother Nature's little creatures did their work have unexpectedly surfaced. This boy/girl team was barely under for ten hours before bobbing to the top. Thai police are investigating. Bound wrists suggest foul play.
The Steele Clippings pull up yet more grief and sorrow from bygone years2:
1 We have a picture of her finger somewhere. "No, somewhere we have a picture of her finger."
2 Dear reader, so many of these cases would have made a major play in today's newspapers. But, back in the 1880s they warranted but a paragraph or two. Why? Have Americans become disturbingly tame in their retiring years or has our press been terribly wanting in its investigations? Perhaps Americans just used to lead more colorful lives.
3 Born without a tongue, he thought his life was bad. Well, just wait ...
Above the fold, this morning's Bangkok Daily News suspiciously carries little of entertainment value.1 At first glance the picture looks like something from the set of an American Wild West show: fleeing backside of horse, wooden fort, and a girl in distress. But it's just the 'gone-wrong' scene from a retake on a last century Thai-Burmese battle: a superstar has fallen from a horse. Filming has stopped. She is pretty. All are concerned.
The Steele Papers tease us awake with something that we've always worried about when ordering ribs-to-go2:
"... mass putrefaction of yet to be boiled not-so-fresh dead bodies ..."
The Steele compiler, in his reminding mood, also warns us that holes in the ground are easily overlooked dangers. Clayton Klink's 140-foot downward tumble left him caster-bound, looking forever-on at his now fore-shortened world from crotch level. Little Johnny Morgan (long a resident of Eckley, Pennsylvania) only fell forty feet; but that was enough.
Looking from my porch, into the backyard of my neighbor the French Embassy, I see trouble.
PS In the afternoon we left this for this.
1 But, below the fold it is make-up time: sinking to untested depths, the paper continues Monday's read with the photograph of a thrice raped and once murdered (by drowning) eight-year-old girl. Her handcuffed assailant is pictured begging forgiveness. Onlookers gawk. As do the editors of 'running-lap-dog' CORKSCREW-BALLOON.COM.
2 Some years ago, when I was a law student in London, I was frightened away from Berwick Street Chinese take-out restaurants by terrible stories in The Daily Telegraph about how easy it was to find cat ribs mixed in with your order of pork ribs.
Next: Part III