The boat bounces as it skips across waves kicked up by the late afternoon wind, somehow not doing anything for the heat and the humidity blanketing this place like a fog. The air here is like some dying animal. Waiting outside the boundaries of air conditioning to smother you in its embrace, prepared to breathe a last fetid breath into your lungs that infects every pore of your soul. Being on the boat makes for a marginal improvement over being on the ship. At least here the only thing I have to contend with is the two women sitting across from me making faces as though they're going to reverse their gears at any second. The bag I'm carrying slides as the front end of the boat crests another wave and slams into the trough on the other side. One of the women scrabbles for slim purchase on fiberglass, I glance over at her and to be a real shit make a semi-comical puking noises. This is actually received well and in return I get a laugh and a smile, a less green face. The result wasn’t my intention, however it still serves as a reminder that being an ass can still backfire. Sighing lightly I feen for a cigarette, (smoking lamp on the ship has been out for the entire time since we anchored in Thailand,) and glance back at the ship. Riding still in the water it looks almost like some cruel joke played on the sky and ocean. The grace and poetry of a tropical bay, the deep azure water, palm trees bent slightly as five inch gun mounts and missile launchers slay grace and beauty with a single stroke. Trying to ignore the man in the seat next to me dedicated to issuing forth every platitude he is familiar with, I lean into the meager seat padding and concentrate on finding a rhythm between the waves. This is complicated by the seemingly random movements of the throttle by the lean and bronze skinned man at the helm. Before I came over here, I didn't think it was possible for people to be a bronze color. I am finding out now that given sufficient natural melatonin as a starting point and a load of exposure to the solar system's only sustained fusion reaction it is indeed a reality. Making a mental note of that as the boat slams into another wave sending the women from the ship tittering on their own about being sick. I smile and try to forget the repulsive humidity.
Panic I can deal with. Stress I eat for breakfast. Stress and panic come over for a brunch every Sunday, which I promptly beat the tar out of them afterward for good measure. Mass confusion isn't beyond the scope of what I can deal tidily with either. The three of them together I thought before this moment would not be too much of a problem. The pier, quite frankly, is a cluster fuck. For starters, there are about fifty people trying to sell me something or help me find a taxi at the same time. Second, the end of the pier is a ruin due to the massive collection of deconstruction equipment rather productively making a huge mess. Exactly what public work or improvement to the end of the pier about five people with jackhammers, a large earthmover and two backhoes are supposed to accomplish it is beyond me. Simply put half of them are tearing up the dirt and moving it into piles while the other half are filling the holes back in and tearing up an ever widening radius of concrete and asphalt behind them. There is no foreman, no plan, and no end goal. After a minute or two of somewhat horrified observation I settle into everything enough to make coherent observations about the work I am watching at the moment. The sole purpose in life of this dozen or so men in gritty clothing once the height of K-mart fashion, (1988,) is to tear up large portions of public areas for no apparent reason other than to vent frustration. This is probably a good thing because if you leave enough disconcerted citizens lying about long enough and eventually they will attempt to find noisemaking equipment of a different sort. This leads to a social condition called I believe 'revolution,' (don't quote me on this, I have no evidence to back it up,) which the last time I checked governments everywhere abhor. So I am told by memory of the meager provisions of the American public school system. I do recall something to that effect.
By the time that I make it to the end of the pier and off of the wooden structure I have attracted, (much like an isotope of a human being,) several small children which orbit about in unpredictable paths. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, much like Planck's Constant, also appears to work very well on the macro level. Noting this for future discussion with a physicist friend of mine several thousand miles away, I attempt to shed my excess charges. This proves about as difficult as attempting to start a fission reaction with a pair of oven mitts and a five-pound block of Velveeta. I pick the largest of the children and hold a dollar just short of his now excited state. Unfortunately, he does not move to the next highest orbit, instead he moves closer without emitting photons or anything to indicate that my previous line of thinking was at all a good idea. This is what I get for sitting in the sun, reading Feynman and listening to Atari Teenage Riot: stupid child based physics. "Get me a cab."
"You taxi man?"
"No, I am not a taxi." I realize that correcting grammar is not going to win over the hearts and minds of the people. It makes them look at you funny, much like this child is leering at me. "Yes, taxi."
"Okay man." Taxi kid scurries off and I am left with four other imploring faces. What I said next I will never know the motivation behind, simply other than it was justice at the time. I point over my shoulder at the XO, (executive officer, just below the commanding officer,) of the ship, making sure the kids see who I am pointing at. Already taxed with a golf bag, two ensigns and a lieutenant making royal messes out of their J-crew shirts he is loaded for bear. Well perhaps not bear. Just golf.
"See that guy? He's got all the money, all I had was a dollar." They do not walk, they seemingly bend space and appear at his side. Four more latch on in the commotion, I smile and walk toward the cab sitting on the other side of the destruction derby.
Picking my way across what was once two lanes of traffic and what could be a 1:1 scale model of the trenches in Verdun circa 1916 I climb into the back of the Jeepney. Take a Toyota pickup truck between model years 1982 and 1989, paint it with several layers of spray can, then tack a huge mural on the sides and front. Drive for two hundred to three hundred thousand miles, intermittently stopping to loosen random parts so that they rattle at specific speeds. Break speedometer, coat in a nice sheen of dust and repaint. Add shag carpeting everywhere except the floor, Christmas lights around the back and a large covering over the bed with bench seats cannibalized from old carnival rides. For deluxe models, install tape deck from junked Ford Pinto, wire to speakers you can make yourself with spare newspaper and hook to top of the line Kenwood amplifier. This, is a Jeepney in all of it's Southeast Asia glory. Plastered across the hood of this one is a picture of George Harrison in a style much like Jesus, the radiant sun and Yoko Ono peeking over his shoulder he leers out to heal all wounds. I have no idea why, or what the significance of putting Yoko over the shoulder of a 1965 picture of George Harrison was, but this is Thailand and you just don't question things like that here. To anyone else around me this is probably the least weird thing they've seen all day, all I've managed so far is the pier so I'm a bit below par.
I haggle with the driver for at least five minutes and decide that he is indeed firm at the price of five dollars. I pull four and tell him to hit it. Snatching the bills, he floors the accelerator and I almost fall from the back of the open truck. Thinking that this was deliberate I glance around quickly and notice that it wasn't, there was a break in traffic so the meter on argument went out the window along with my footing. I sit in the back of the Jeepney as the driver sends us rocketing around dusty streets, women yell from bars at the car skidding up the road and I just stare at what I have descended into. There is no other word for it other than descend. More acceleration and deceleration bring us into six lanes of traffic crammed into four lanes of road. Not caring about the sticker plastered over my head I crack one of the cans of Mountain Dew out of my bag and light a cigarette. I feel like Bogart. Only I can code (sorta,) have half of Feynman's Lost Lectures bouncing around in my head, have one-tenth the charisma and definitely not as good looking. I may not look like Bogart but I feel like the guy looks. Running velocity in my head I determine that I could indeed walk to where I was going at twice the rate I am moving now. That is if I knew where I was going. With deft use of the horn, violation of an apparently non-existent motor vehicle code, and liberal burning of the clutch the taxi driver negotiates the steel river's currents and stops in front of the hotel a half-hour later. That's a lot of entertainment, for four dollars.
I open the door and receive a demonstration of what air conditioning can do if properly maintained in a tropical environment. Namely a certain dark coolness in a shaded room. The promise of silence and solace from the blaring heat and humidity of the outside world. I tip the doorman liberally, send a uniform out to be pressed by seven and attempt to operate the telephone. Failing I elect to just sit for a while and figure out where I am going. There is a good bit to filter through and time is necessary to spoon out the Everest of mental constipation. Things that I did not intend to happen are, a course of action has been set in motion that I can neither control or alter beyond walking away from the situation. Thinking about abandoning everything and leaving chance to control fate I throw the curtains open from the patio door, open the glass and settle into one of the bits of plastic furniture. After sticking to my back like adhesive tape, the shirt goes over my shoulder after a few minutes and I dig in my pockets for another cigarette. Meanwhile a German tourist and someone who loves the German (for the moment,) very much cavort in the pool one floor below.
"Ich dich mochte." Thai accent slowly draws out the phrase. "I like you."
"No, I want you." The response comes, conjugating the words correctly this time. Laughter, water hitting cement. I close my eyes, fade back into memory, muttering incoherent and sarcastic pigeon German at the exchange below.
"Where are you from?" Traffic noises on the street outside. 4:33 a.m. Raining again. Been raining all day, started again about four hours ago when we were struggling into the apartment and out of the thin separations of fabric. Shibuya, decent club, last train into the edges of Yokohama just after midnight. A night in early summer in Japan is unlike anything else I have ever seen. The occasional petals of flowers glued onto the matte sidewalks. Circles of color pushing out from the dampened conformity.
"I don' think you wanna know." The words come out in a rush, dampened by the cigarette clamped between my teeth. "California."
"No, silly. Where were you born?" Her English is excellent, spending six months in Hawaii and a few other places around the U.S. every other year for the last five has done an excellent job.
"Virginia." We've been seeing each other for four months. This time. I'm about to leave again and she knows. We won't talk about what is coming, as neither of us need that. There was two years ago, when we met we didn't need it then either. Found me drowning in self-deprecation and a pint of Guinness. She took the time to fix what was broken and ask for nothing more than kindness in return. Long e-mail chain, words, ideas, a meme or two, subtlety between the letters. This is the last time I leave and come back and then I leave permanently. She also knows that I'm not coming back then. Circling the subject like fencers, we'll dart and probe at the subject until it finally pins the mutual participants in the duel down just by circumstance. "Near Washington D.C."
"Gimmie that." She pulls the cigarette from my mouth and places it in her own. "Chiba."
"Lemme guess, you went to school in Chiba too?" I say with some sarcasm, I know the answer and both of us understand the joke. Ribbing about having seen over the horizon, not knowing anything other than the same closed canyons. She laughs and I get an elbow in the side as repayment for broaching the subject.
"Yurei?" There is a certain tension in the voice, I know there is a question coming that I do not want to answer. The last time it came it nearly meant the end of the relationship. "Where did you go to school?"
"Aimyko, damn." I sigh heavily and accept the proffered tube of paper, cotton and tobacco. The heavy smell of the brand wafts around the room mixing with stale sweat, perfume and the scent of flowers bought two days ago.
"Yurei, tell me. Where?"
"Ahh. Truth. See, doesn’t hurt, does it."
"Yes, it does."
"Nani?" This word, all powerful. "What?"
"Aimyko, I need to tell you something." There is a word moving slowly at the back of my consciousness that I do not want to shed. A certain departure from the norm that is probably not a good idea. All of this my karma, my fate, my legacy. "This is important."
"Oooooh." This is delivered with perfect goofy sarcasm. She rolls on top and folds her arms across my chest. Black hair draping around my face in thick tendrils, the smell of her perfume eases down equal to the ethereal weight riding on my ribcage. "Can't wait."
"Remember the festival? In Atsugi?"
"Yes?" Aimyko has picked up on my tone and reflects it perfectly. Protesters outside the gate, one very old man standing amidst the organized dissonance of signs and visual cues no one could misinterpret.
"Where I am from. That's where they built it." Something about the eyes, a vision that all of us that share the dark bond recognize instantly.
"I don't care. What is it, forget that." Stamping out the cigarette in the ashtray above my head, she moves closer and wraps her arms around me in the darkness. Murmuring she pulls away and brings her eyes level with mine, inches away. "I don't care, Yurei. Let it go, just be here. Okay?"
"God I'm glad I met you." Intonation slows, trying to allow for the new ears to pick up on the sound. The mangled German comes back and sends the balding tourist and his companion into new fits of laughter.
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