NUMBER ONE BAD
In Saigon, many years after the war was over, long after the city was declared safe for tourists and when even the hookers were becoming almost discreet, I was kidnapped.
That does sound a bit dramatic, I admit. Technically, it was more an abduction. But however one puts it, any mention of that sort of thing floods the mind with images of some poor guy being jumped by thugs, bundled into the trunk of a car and splattered across the tabloids with a screech of tires and the burning of rubber. None of that happened to me. I was kidnapped on a bicycle.
I should also add that the ruthless gang that pulled off this novel crime consisted of one rather frail old man. Which leaves us open to the inevitable question, of course. Who, in the ranks of the retarded, manages to get himself snatched on a bike? Well, there were a few extenuating circumstances. In such an unlikely scenario various key factors would have to present. In my own case these were - in no particular order - liquor, reefer and stupidity.
And the kidnap vehicle was not a regular bicycle, per se. That would make me a complete idiot, I grant you. It was a tricycle. But the point is that I was abducted on a pedaled vehicle by a doddering old man and here’s how I did it. Or rather, here’s how I was done.
Earlier that same afternoon I was not even there yet. I was still aloft in the rather over-friendly skies of Singapore Airlines, where ‘final approach’ refers to the last time the babes come around to fluff you.
I was preparing for my forthcoming adventure by enthusiastically embracing their “Let None Arrive Sober” policy. This entailed a certain amount of cooperation on my part in never refusing to have my wineglass refilled by an Asian centerfold. I could not say no, since I intended to propose marriage, or something briefer, to several of them before we entered Vietnamese airspace.
On Singapore Airlines the female help is apparently recruited by some kind of kabuki pornographer. The same specialist may also have designed the uniform, an ankle-length floral silk condom. And he surely must have had a hand in their famous ad campaign. You may remember it. It featured several of these sloe-eyed vamps batting their eyelashes at the camera and purring “I’m Singapore Airlines. Fly me.” As Jack Nicholson once said, “Wrong verb, Honey.”
It was hard to concentrate on the old guidebook. But I did manage to cast one bloodshot eye over the thing. I passed over the Useful Phrases part without a second glance. In languages where the same word has such hilariously different meanings, you could be saying just about anything. Better not even try. In a café in Laos, I’m told I once asked to be flogged. Now I just point. I took a quick gander at the tiny, useless map and proceeded to the local Don’ts. Don’t, for instance, ever take a cyclo after dark, I was warned. Cyclos are the local three-wheel rickshaws with a little loveseat for two in front and a little guy sitting behind, pedaling and smiling homicidally. According to the guidebook, visitors who have taken cyclos after dark have been known to crawl home naked and bleeding. This item caught my faltering gaze because I had just seen a movie about the drivers of these nifty little craft and - call me romantic - I had already formed an image of them as a jolly band of brothers who would smilingly cut off your nuts for the price of a sandwich, a hard-working guild of picturesquely vicious little motherfuckers. I would not be taking a cyclo after dark.
I glanced up from my reading material and noticed that several of the beautiful submissives were now ritualistically binding themselves into jump seats. We were either approaching the climax of the floorshow, or Saigon.
We hit town at home-time on a late sunny afternoon. What a scene - a cascade of small people on wheels swirling around the city, eddying at red lights and swooshing off again like choreographed tsunamis at every green. It looked like one of those da Vinci studies in hydraulics. I swear I’ve met Australian surfers who could ride this shit. But it was all so toy and dainty and unthreatening, all flowing fabric and tinkling bells and bone-structure and poise. And the people themselves are all so unthreateningly un-large. I notice that I am a giant here. I positively Gulliver over these pretty wee folk. The fact that they are the pound-for-pound world champs of violence, pain, mayhem, torture and war - and would chew their own arms off to prove it - has not occurred to me yet.
Pretty soon I’m up in my room in the shiny new high-rise hotel I seem to have mistakenly booked myself into, sipping my courtesy Evian, wearing my courtesy slippers, picking my courtesy nose and staring out of the vacuum- sealed window at a view that’s been sanitized for my protection. I’m trying to straighten out a bit from the recent river of booze by smoking a bit of the hashish I’ve just retrieved with great comic flair from my ass. Ah, yes. They can put a man on the moon, but there’s still only one way to cross iffy borders while holding. And halfway down the joint I’ve just rolled, I’m already hating the joint I’m in. In crumbling old Saigon, this gleaming sky- scraper is about as real as three waltzing mice. From street level it looked like a very large marital aid left by very large, very horny aliens. From up here on the umpteenth floor, Saigon looks like that map in the guidebook, only smaller. It’s like watching it all from the cheap seats. I’m way too high up here (and puff by magic puff getting way higher). It’s all far too removed up here at the lubricated tip and it just feels too - dare one even whisper it? - too safe?
I decide to move, first thing tomorrow, to a real place, the kind of establishment where an international boulevardier such as I gets to shit in a hole in the floor. That’s half the fun of being in the third world, isn’t it?
It means you start the day with a sporting event even more forgiving than horseshoes. A near miss is not just OK. It’s hilarious.
The Language Barrier is generally held to be a bottomless pit of potential embarrassment for the traveler. But that view does not take into account the traveling pervert.
There are those among us who simply cannot be embarrassed. We have no shame, no pride. We are the clowns, the hams, the guys who truly do not give a fuck, who will do just about anything for a laugh, and if those laughs are directed at ourselves? Well, what’s your point, exactly?
We are the stage-hogs, the ones who actually court the opportunity to make total tits of ourselves in public. For us, the language barrier is not so much a barrier as a bar, a bar that is always being raised. We raise it ourselves, because to us it’s a sporting event, and a competitive one at that, with degrees of difficulty and style points and awards, just like in the Olympics. For us, any attempted communication that ends up with an entire village pointing at us and laughing hysterically is equivalent to a perfect 10 triple back-flip. With pike. It’s a drug.
And it’s an addiction that creeps up on you by degrees. You’re not born with it. But once hooked, you’re toast. Once addicted, and having had to Charlie Chaplin your way through enough bizarre situations in strange places, you start to believe that you can get your meaning across, eventually, to absolutely anybody. At this point, your traveling life becomes a silent movie with a laugh track.
You start to actually look around for challenges. It’s quite possible that some of the people who disappear annually into the jungles of Borneo, never to re-emerge, are just junkie arm-wavers like me who went in there just to see if they could pull off the feat of ordering, from a headhunter, an actual head ‘with the tahini sauce, but without the onions.’
I should mention that I am pretty world-class at this event. I can gesticulate my ass off to great effect. And I too believed I could get over any thing to any body right up to the moment when I had to explain to a roomful of very proper Japanese matrons that I had not had a bowel movement for two weeks and that if I didn’t get something to un-bung my bung-hole, and pronto, there was such a Mount Fuji of backed-up umgawa in there that I might explode at any second and redecorate their little teahouse in autumnal shades of flung dung. But more of that presently.
That level of challenge is found only at the extreme end of the sport, to be attempted only by professionals. This is because failure can make the amateur gun-shy and stunt his growth in The Craft. He must be reassured constantly that even an old pro like myself can crash and burn on the simple, bunny-slope stuff. It will happen. The failures will come. One has to simply shake them off, stay focused, stay in training, take it one day at a time and remember it can happen to the best.
For example, one night in Cambodia I was in a taxi, driving into Phnom Penh from the countryside and I was bursting for a pee, nearly wetting myself. As my Italian friend would say, my back teeth were bathing. Every few hundred yards, knowing not a single word of Khmer, I agitatedly pointed to my crotch and begged the driver to stop. Simple stuff. Piece of cake, normally. But he just kept waving me away, saying, “Here no good. Here no good.” I couldn’t understand why he was being so prudish.
I was practically squirting, and it was pitch black out there. Nobody would have seen me relieving myself by the roadside, nor would they have given a rat’s ass. This was, after all, Cambodia, for Christ’s sake - hardly a vortex of propriety. We had just driven through an entire Village of Whores, for crying out loud, a whole zip code of criminally underage coochy standing there in the middle of the street practically brandishing their vaginas at us.
And that place is the target of more enthusiastic tourism than all of the frigging temples combined. So what the hell was his problem here? But the more I kept pointing desperately to my lap and putting my palms together in the international sign of supplication, the more he kept waving me off and plowing into the night at a fiendish pace. I was on the point of Super-Soaking his vinyl when he finally screeched to a halt by a road- side shop, ran in, ran out, jumped back in the cab and, with a look of total toothy triumph handed me a large pack of condoms.
Whu..? What could he possibly have been thinking? That I found him so attractive I simply had to have safe sex with his hairy little ass that very minute? But my bladder was stretched so squeaky tight by this point that it felt like one of those yard-long balloons that clowns twist into sausage dogs, so I couldn’t care less if he was raving or just retarded. I had to go, baby. So I thanked him politely for the rubbers, opened my door, climbed out of the cab very gingerly, afraid of, so to speak, ‘going off ’ accidentally, walked very carefully around to the front of his taxi, stood there in his high-beams, the better to clarify the situation for him, unzipped my pants and power-hosed the dried mud off his front bumper and didn’t stop until all four tires were cooling off in a small lake. As the penny finally dropped, all he said was “Ah!” It was possibly the only sound our two languages had in common.
AH, THE JUNGLE
Her name was Selima. Her father was an Indian from the Amazon with a bone through his nose and a tattooed foreskin. She showed me the photo. Her mother was a topless dancer from Harlem who was clearly impressed by that sort of thing.
Selima’s hair was long and straight and so black that no light escaped from it. It might even have caused candles to dim when she entered rooms. She was tall and willowy, with a figure like an hourglass with rather more sand in the top. When she moved it was a samba, and each one she passed not only went ‘aaaahh’, several of them also went to confession.
Even here in beauteous Brazil, she stopped traffic. In fact she caused wrecks. I saw one myself. A guy driving alongside us, keeping pace with us and staring with frank worship at her syncopating little buttocks, drove at three miles an hour into the back of a truck that was stopped at a light. She heard the bang but kept walking. Her only reaction was a tiny smile that flickered across her enormously sculpted lips. She had such a voluptuous pout, that you could possibly have stuck her to a tiled surface. How did I wind up walking next to such a vision? Well, as my friend from Arkansas used to say, “Every so often a blind pig will find a truffle.”
It was at the bar of my hotel in Sao Paolo that I met her. As I was checking in, I was checking her out. The double take I did when I first glimpsed her will probably cause me severe back pain in later life. I walked over to her with no hope whatsoever, but with that ‘let none go un-asked’ reflex that guarantees some of us a life of perpetual embarrassment. I stood next to her as she perched languidly on her barstool, long legs crossed, gazing blankly through a plate glass window at the swimming pool outside. Standing so close to her, I was so near to actually vibrating with excitement, that I wondered if I might appear slightly out of focus.
I pretended to be waiting for the bartender who was off somewhere serving somebody, so that I could steal swift glimpses at random details, a caramelized clavicle, a delicately turned wrist, a cantilevered cheekbone. In order to do something - anything - I opened my mouth to see what might issue, maybe actual words. What did emerge was a sort of strangulated yammering. For some reason, I seemed to be channeling a cornered ferret.
I yacked away pathetically about god knows what, without a flicker of reaction from her or any acknowledgment that she even knew I was standing there, inhaling her. After an eternity, she turned towards me, lifting her head slightly and raising her hooded eyelids wearily over astoundingly large, dark brown eyes, as if raising the curtain on an erotic melodrama, and whispered,
Hava da fiyah?
Fi yah. She waved an unlit cigarette as a visual aid.
Fi yah? Oh! Fire. A light. Yes, I might have one... somewhere...”
I patted myself down. So. She hadn’t understood a word I’d said.
Not one. The quest was, as usual, off to a flying standstill. My Portuguese was non-existent. How would this wind up? With us barking at each other? And, oh sweet negro Jesus, it began to dawn on me, detail by delicate detail, what a heavenly creature she was, with perfect little curvatures here and there that softened her long and elegant skeleton.
She had been carved out of chocolate by a god with love on his mind and time on his hands. But the chocolate, it seemed, would be in my case of the bittersweet variety.
Oh, yeah. I’m sorry, I was..er... drifting...
There were hotel matches in an ashtray. I lit her ultra-long Marlboro
Ultra-Light. With her ultra-long Giacometti-like fingers she lifted up the pack to offer me one. I didn’t smoke, hadn’t for years, so I took one, lit it, and inhaled hungrily. She smiled at me a warm, forgiving sort of smile as if to say, “Look, you poor bastard, I know I’m ridiculously hot so I’m used to this kind of drooling. Go ahead and hyperventilate. It will pass and you’ll be fine.”
By way of mute reply, I ventured a sheepish little smile of my own, it’s general drift being that I was grateful for her indulgence but that she was to pay me no mind, as I was basically harmless and simply talking to her because I knew that as a comparative Quasimodo on the food chain of which she was the Esmeralda, I would never again be this close to the face of God, but that I wouldn’t dream of laying so much as a glove on her. I would be perfectly happy just to hump the furniture in her room, and she didn’t even have to be in the room at the time.
There was a pause as we both digested this mute exchange. She looked off again into the middle distance, apparently making various decisions. Then she said,
You’d like some rum? Rum nambah?
Rum and what? Rum nambah.
Oh. Room number? My room number? Um. Seventeen oh seven.
She looked away again, gazing evenly and without hurry, leaving me twisting in the breeze of the air-con, not only unschooled in her language, but suddenly unable to utter in my own, either.
Then she turned and looked up at me and smiled a perfectly childlike smile, unleashing a tiny dimple that affected my knees.
I go now?
Go? Why must you go?
I go seventeen oh seven?
What? You? Go? To my room? Oh. Yes. Yes, please!
Well, I’ll be darned. A hooker? Good heavens. Very good heavens
indeed. No bar talk? No pretending to be interesting? I get to have her, just like that? Just by giving her some money? How very fair. Such a marvelous profession, the oldest.
We rode up in the elevator together. Well, I think we did. Maybe we were just beamed up on some sort of force-field powered by the sudden tightening of scrota worldwide. All I recall is that whatever the upward conveyance, once inside it she gave me the biggest, toothiest smile I thought medically possible and clouds parted throughout the length and breadth of Brazil, and I spent the following week walking in sunshine and tipping big.
My old black Volvo was a weird little lump of ironmongery, but I loved it. It was a ’59, the model with a rear end that swoops in one long curve from the roof right down to the back bumper. It was meant to look sleek and aerodynamic. But in black, as mine was, it looked like a shoe for a very large clubfoot.
It was way out of style and way out of place in Los Angeles back then in the late 70s, when most American cars had hoods that were longer than this entire vehicular stump. But it did have one thing going for it not listed in the manual. It had a pulling power that had nothing to do with the engine, if you catch my drift. I had a brief ‘thing’ with the cute girl I bought it from and an another brief ‘thing’ with the even cuter girl I sold it to, and between those two automotive highlights, I enjoyed a level of traction that was unique in my motoring experience.
You hear about these ‘performance’ cars, but you don’t really believe they exist until you see one in action. That little Volvo was the genuine article. There was a vibration coming off it before you even turned the key. It made you believe in things like harmonic convergences and those rips in the fabric of reality where you step in
dimension of... well, of pussy, basically.
And you’d never think so to look at it. A few surfers drove old ‘59s. They would knock out the little rear window and cruise around Malibu with their boards sticking out of it like a middle finger, so it had that tiny thing going for it, but otherwise it was a little runt and I bought it only because I couldn’t afford anything cooler.
My previous car had been a real ride, a dream car, a shark-blue classic ’64 Cadillac de Ville, all fin and chrome, slicker than snot on a doorknob, but attached, unfortunately, to the girl in Hollywood that it came with, and who had just left me. Technically, it was I who left her, but since she’d unplugged a heavy desk telephone and thrown it at me as I ran off her property, yelping, the point was moot. She kept the Caddy.
So for the first week or two of my being crammed into this little ugly duckling, after swanning around the City of Angels in such grandeur, I skulked around like Quasimodo and took a lot of back roads, hoping nobody saw me in this goofy little black can. But then I began to notice that women just went gaga over the thing whenever I parked it. It was European. It was different. It was cute. Who knew exactly what it was? It was possessed.
And it didn’t take me long to figure this out, either. It picked up its first girl for me in a matter of days, and she was a total stunner, a tall blonde from Texas, not usually my type, but only because I couldn’t usually get near that type. And I wasn’t even in the car when it pulled her into its web. I was just standing next to the thing. To be precise, I was slowly falling down the side of it.
We both were, my friend and I, falling against it and howling like dogs. We were practically crying with laughter at a story he was telling me about catching his cock in his zipper in the middle of a Vegas show that starred some famously sappy crooner, I forget his name.
The thing is that it was a real fancy ringside table he was sitting at, with his girlfriend and another couple. And they’d been watching the show very sedately, sipping their champagne and so on. This headliner had even been occasionally leaning over and singing personally to the table, the way they do.
He was a really big name. Old school. You know, french cuffs, hair lacquer, sincerity, the full nine. I wish I could remember his name because he was such a famously smarmy bastard that it makes the story all that much funnier if you can picture him with the silk handkerchief and the bullshit. Anyway, the girlfriend, halfway in the bag at this point, decides to slide under the table when nobody is looking and unzip my friend’s pants. So when this famous lounge act comes back to the edge of the stage to serenade the table again, there are now only three people sitting at it. For some reason, he starts crooning directly at my friend, singing one of those deeply moving you-light-up-my-life sort of deals. And my friend is deeply moved. He’s getting a blowjob.
He’s just staring glassy-eyed at this syrupy household name, because things are coming to critical mass under there, if you catch my drift. But the singer won’t go away. He’s found somebody who looks like he’s really transported by the song, just staring at him, his facial expression getting more bugged out every second. The guy leans right over him and for a second they’re glaring right into each other’s eyes, and by fabulous coincidence the crooner comes to his big finish just as my friend does, squeezing his eyes shut, going red in the face, throwing his head back and letting out a stifled moan like a dying coyote, or to be more precise, like a guy who’s coming in his girlfriend’s mouth in front of a roomful of obese slot addicts.
The singer? Ecstatic. Never had such a reaction. Never went over so big. He’s thinking World Tour at this point, especially when my friend picks up a napkin and starts wiping real tears from his eyes. The singer takes a huge bow and walks away, strutting like Tom Jones on a victory lap. He probably doesn’t bother to wonder why, the next time he looks at the table, there are once again four people sitting at it and they’re laughing like hyenas.
Anyway, the band kicks off the next number. My pal, somewhat recovered from his musical experience, reaches down under the tablecloth, suave as you please, and delicately tries to zip up.
But the inflatable is still a bit too XXL. So he gives a good solid yank at the machinery to force it over the hump, so to speak, and Wham! - the zipper digs its teeth deep into the actual meat at the tip of the hotdog! GAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHH!!!
He screams at the top of his lungs. Bounds to his feet. Over goes the table, the food, the champagne, everything. Blood everywhere. The place goes nuts. Women screaming. One old girl faints dead away at the next table. Mayhem. Everybody yelling. Imagine the carnage. And did I mention he’s wearing a white suit? Great detail. They carry him out of there, hemorrhaging and honking, to rush him to the E.R. for a transfusion. Band? Silent. Show? Over. People are still screaming, and the last glimpse my friend has of the singer is of him standing there with the mike in his hand and this weird look of awe on his face like ‘Holy shit! I’m that good?’
So the way he told it, we’re doubled over against the car, honking like geese, totally uncool, as this stunner strides up. But instead of giving us a wide berth like the rest of the pedestrians, she stops and stands right over us in her high stilettos and super-short skirt and - hmmmm, glimpse of white thong - and she’s looking down at us, not like you’d examine something in a Petri dish, but with a big smile. She wants to know what’s so funny. And is this your car? Why, it’s just so cute. And what kind is it, anyway? Swedish? You don’t say! Yes I’d love a little drive in it. You can drop me off at my place if you like. It’s just up there in Laurel Canyon. And is this a joint in the ashtray? Oh my! And can we smoke it right now? And is that an English accent or are you just gay?
That’s the kind of machine this was, the Volvo, or The Vulva, as I took to calling it. For so toothsome a creature to just walk over and pick me up like that, she would normally have to be under professional hypnosis. And she even turned out to be a terrific girl, too, as well as a top-shelf pole-dancer. Oh yeah, a featured stripper at the fabulous Kit Kat club, no less. She also had the first implants that I had ever been allowed to actually touch. I was mesmerized by them and spent many happy hours just lying in bed marveling at the darn things while she slept on her back. Well, she had to. They made me think of Philippe Petit, that French guy who once walked a high wire between the twin towers of The World Trade Center in New York when they were still standing. As she lay there, I used to stare at those two high-rises and imagine making a fortune by training a flea to hold a tiny balancing pole and walk back and forth on a thread between her nipples. I was convinced it would make me enough dough to set me up in New Orleans.
New Orleans was my big plan at the time, my next brilliant move. I was besotted by the very thought of it - the music, the Mississippi, the voodoo, the cholesterol - and I talked about little else for a long time, but I needed more cash to swing it. So I made a fateful decision. After nearly a year of non-stop, top-notch, pick-ups, thanks to The Vulva, and after a lot of soul searching, I sold the magic ’59 to the latest female car enthusiast who had strayed into its force field. It was a painful decision. The car had been my free pass to an unprecedented run of luck in the realm of estrogen. I had been practically caked in it from the minute I got behind the wheel. We had been an unstoppable combo, me and the ‘V’-hicle, and yet here I was walking away from my partner for a few measly bucks. I felt sick about it, but I was even sicker of LA and needed the money pronto to get out and could think of no other way. So, with my filthy lucre in my shameful pocket, I dragged my ungrateful ass to buy the airline ticket to start my destiny-ordained new life in New Orleans. But the travel agent, aggressively gay and with major-league attitude, said, “Noo Awlins? Why the fuck do you want to go to that sweaty shit-hole? You can get a ticket to Hawaii for the same price.”
So I did.