Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Song in Thailand That Makes You Cry

Epigraph (from what is easily one of the top 5 Rock songs of the decade):

When I used to go out,
I knew everyone I saw/
Now I go out alone,
If I go out at all.


Last night I finished dinner around 8:30 and so I was stuck in between meal-time and going-out time and so I decided to fill that time by drinking and writing. So I bought a notebook and some pens from Seven Eleven and I found a bar in the dark of a parking lot called Tula Bar that had an excellent deal on beer (three large Leos for 129 Baht). I sat down in the dim dirty light ( yes somehow the light managed to be dirty) and I began to drink my way towards creativity.

[Note: Worrywarts, this is not the norm and I almost never do this; and I would not have if I hadn't had plans to meet up with some people later.]

The bar was small and there were only two other tables of people there, one drunkenly singing Thai karaoke, the other drunkenly talking (yelling, really) about God knows what. They both took an interest in me and my pen and my skateboard and my white skin at first but eventually they left me to my work.

So I wrote and I drank, and I drank and I wrote, and drunken Thais came and went, and the Karaoke machine was unplugged and a microphone and stool were set up for an acoustic guitar player who sang Thai pop songs to the delight of the five people still drinking. I was focused on my writing, though, and the words were all in Thai, so I didn't pay much attention. I intermittently practiced my Thai with my waitress, a 20-year-old aspiring fashion designer named Kwang, who was very bashful and bemused that I was alone and drinking three large beers by myself. But mostly she was interested in the music.

It was about the time that incoherence set in (we'll say, 2.125 beers deep) that I heard from the microphone, after a string of Thai, "Stand by Me." I thought I had hallucinated, but again I heard: "Stand by Me."

And so I stood up and walked inside and I joined the table with Kwang and her boyfriend Nut and Kwang's brother who all cheersed my glass and I asked Kwang if he was really about to play Stand by Me, the American song and she said yes and sure enough he did play Stand by Me and I was reminded so strongly of all of my friends from back home that I almost lost it, in a sentimental and beautiful way.

And when Stand by Me was over and I clapped heartily and clinked glasses with Kwang and Nut and Kwang's brother again the guitarist invited me up to his stool to sing a song but I politely declined and then he gestured that I could choose any American song in his songbook and I thumbed through a few pages and I did not want to make my four new friends wait very long and I did not want to disappoint them either by picking a bad or boring song and that would have been bad or boring for me too and so I skipped over a few ironic choices like Air Supply and Journey and Air Supply again and then I saw on maybe the third page I flipped to here is what I saw I saw "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel and my mouth opened and I pointed to it and I said "Do you know it?" and he said "Yes I know it" and then I sat down and Kwang and Nut and Kwang's brother and I all clinked glasses again and they asked me what I chose and I said "Just the Way You Are" and I told them that it was pleng kahng paw mae tii chawp which means my parents' favorite song and I said that it was my parents' favorite song because I don't know how to say wedding song and it was their wedding song, their first dance at their wedding and it has always put me at ease and in a sentimental mood John Coltrane and this wasn't the song in Thailand that made me cry but it is the closest I have ever come.

Because because because

Because imagine if you will, sitting at a table with four new friends who you can barely talk to, much less bond with--imagine sitting at this table, alone and drunk, across an ocean from those you love, hearing the song whose every play on the radio makes your parents instinctively hold hands across the cup holder in the car--imagine hearing this song, with all the right chords and in a broken yet aching English--imagine hearing it, the poignancy of your heartbreak, the depth of your solitude, the numb shadow that is cast over everything.

The rest of the night, you will be glad to hear, was considerably happier than this bittersweet incident. Kwang and Nut and I had a nice (if totally confusing and intermittently failing) conversation as Nut and I finished our beers and shared a bucket of ice. I met up with Le Gang Farang to wreak havoc on the Chiang Mai dance floors, where they don't play Just the Way You Are and one is relatively safe from that overwhelming homesickness. I met yet another prostitute at Spicy, this one a really heartbreakingly young and cute one. I bargained in Thai with Tuk Tuk drivers (those banes, those pangs). I fell asleep naked listening to a Pixies album.

I had a dream about Halloween. And I woke up perpendicular on the bed, with my feet on the nightstand, toeing some receipts and pocket change.

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