Friday, February 25, 2011
I felt as though my eyes were two pinpricks, through which I could see only one small thing at a time – and here I was in the Main Bazaar, life racing around me at every distance, from the rat scrambling over my boot to the minaret calling out in the distance.
In Tokyo, where I’d spent the previous decade sequestered, motion was uniform and predictable. I knew that if I walked out the door at 6:54, I would catch the train at 7:01 and, keeping the same pace, performing my tasks in order, I would be returned home again at 9:47, as perfectly and uniformly exhausted as a tree from which all fruit has been plucked.
In Tokyo therefore, blindness was no hindrance. Whereas here in the Main Bazaar – everything was every which way and all at once and I was certain that I would be run over. Admittedly I have been sure I would be run over all my life. I am bound to be proven correct sooner or later. I am terrified of cars and have never attempted to drive so much as a bicycle. Even at crossing the street I am spectacularly inept.
Frankly speaking, I am someone who ought to be accompanied, at all times, by a licensed and experienced nurse. However, considering the sad state of American health care, this is not possible. Therefore I am wandering around by myself, unsupervised and unattended -- in India no less! A situation from which no end of trouble is bound to ensue.
The Main Bazaar, or Paharganj. Lists of India, as travel writers love to spin, seem to me showy and at the same time dull. So suffice it to say that everything on Earth is found there, trying not to get its toes smashed by the cycle rickshaws. All right, no camels. Not during the day. Camels only at night.
Also, unlike twenty years before, there were no elephants, no leper band dressed in red, banging percussion and bawling on brass. These had been replaced by men and women yammering into cell phones, which, while not nearly so colorful, were even more hazardous. At least the lepers and the elephants were paying attention!
Paharganj is a legendary place where for generations foreigners have come to stay in cheap hotels and be unhappy. The hotels are not even so cheap anymore, but the unhappiness persists. Continuously frustrated, frequently cheated, commonly enraged or nauseated or depressed, foreigners scurry around Paharganj, buying drugs and losing weight precipitously.
Speaking of drugs, I suspect that the pharmacist, despite his workaday appearance, is actually a billionaire. Doling out Valiums and pills to stop the shits with such frequency that he’s got to have trucks out back, constantly hauling in crates of the stuff.
Paharganj plays a memory trick on all but its sanest visitors – who flee immediately – so that it becomes, somehow, in retrospect, real life. “Hell yeah, we were living then! All that life, out in the street! All that color!” And the traveler dreams of nothing so ardently as to return.
Upon returning of course they remember the actual misery. By then they are shitting through the eye of a needle and must stay a week at least.
Therefore, even to be seen smiling in Paharganj is considered to be in bad taste. One is assumed to be on drugs. Even though the people on drugs are generally significantly more miserable than those experiencing intermittent periolds of sobriety. To smile is considered showy and offensive and I myself often receive dirty looks and even actual jeers because I am smiling, perhaps even grinning broadly.
As I have said, I ought to have a licensed and experienced nurse, with me at all times, to help me to cross the street and also to coach me in appropriate behavior. Regrettably, this is not possible.
Why am I smiling?
Not only do I love India, and Delhi and Paharganj, I also have (as an added bonus) non-stop, 24 hour a day, 7 day a week access to: my own imaginary world! In which, as you can imagine, I feature prominently.
The first day I could hardly stop announcing to myself how utterly I belonged in India. After all, many of my more peculiar characteristics can be traced to India, or at least are less out of place here: the figure-8 head shake, the little bow, the over-formal address, the over-eager awkwardness. When I came here first, twenty years ago, I was an eighteen year old young man. But I set records for immaturity. I was, in fact, a teenager. A child really. A baby. A fetus, actually. I was born in India.
Soon I’ve gotten as far as discussing with myself the fact that I could never be President of the United States of America because of my ultimate allegiance to India.
I’ve overlooked other obstacles to my presidency, or even my candidacy, such as my conviction that the nation ought to be entirely devoted to ecology, reforested, and returned to the direction of its indigenous people. That and my tendency to insert, into even the most standard and (hithertofore) decent conversations, my enthusiasm, and reverence for, the act of fellatio.
The night after this first triumphalist day, I spent shitting through the eye of a needle, trying to sleep with my asshole clenched, and feeling intensely sorry for myself, as if I were the first person to whom this had ever occurred, despite the nearly continous testimony of toilets heard through the thin walls of my Paharganj hotel.
Even on the following day, dog-sick, there were consolations. Because the New Book Depot is still in business at Connaught Place, still run by the same spectacularly haughty queen who was there in 1991, before he had a belly or gray hair. This infinitely disdainful man must now be considered a hero to literature for keeping Borges, Cicero, Updike, Chaucer, Morrison, Homer and Zola on the shelves, along with Indian writers writing in English.
I chose the Selected Essays of Montaigne, Garcia Marquez’ Complete Stories and the new volume of Proust translated by Lydia Davis. One of my compulsions, you see, is that I must always submit myself to be disdained, dismissed and looked down upon by gay men who consider themselves superior. Happily they are always ready to oblige.
When it was my turn at the register I tried, by the off-hand way I passed the books, to give the impression, not untrue, that these were familiar works, with which I was merely reacquainting myself. I willed my stubble to appear professorial.
The manager did not begin at once to ring up the books, but merely looked at each in turn. He then briefly but audibly exhaled.
Even though it contradicts my own statements and, indeed, the ground of my identity, I should admit that this exhalation may have actually been an expression of approval. I believe this gentleman disapproves primarily by means of inhalations.
Thus I spent the afternoon blitzed on literature, feeling entirely on the wavelength with “To Philosophize is to Learn to Die.” Or, as Montaigne says (and I reverently copied onto a notecard): “We ought not plan anything on so large a scale – at least, not if we are going to get all worked up if we cannot see it through to the end.”
Resigned to death, I found that I was feeling better. Never do I cease to be astonished by the rapidity with which this hurtling mass of vanities, fantasies and big ideas is reduced to mess, and then, by means of Immodium and rehydration salts, reverts again to carnival.
Back on the street, perched on a red metal stool with a tall glass of chai, I’m reading “That it is madness to judge the true or the false from our own capabilities”. Before me is the proof, the Main Bazaar, beside me an elderly (Swiss?) Buddhist nun who declares, “Practice like your head is on fire!” and, when asked the time, cackles, “Honey, I’ve got the time, I just don’t have the energy!” supporting my deep-seated belief that only nuns with a saucy sense of humor are to be trusted.
Meanwhile a young Scottsman has arrived, and announces he has been robbed of everything. He does not appear in the least perturbed.
“How’d it happen?” I ask.
“Dey droogged me!” He shrugs. “But, den again, I droog myself all de time. . .”
The thieves took his money and his passport too, but he doesn’t seem concerned about that either. He is a creature of pure charisma, chatting me up in Scottish brogue, speaking fluent Hindi out the other side of his mouth to the chaiwallah, an old friend, it appears.
“Worse tings ‘av ‘appened to betta’ people so fuckit,” he announces. I resolve to have this tattooed on my body some place where I will always see it.
There is, however, a problem. The bastards took his chessboard, which had been signed by everyone who ever played him on it. (He’s such a gentleman he doesn’t add the words “and lost”.) He shows me a color print which promises a 5000 rupee reward, which seems very generous, considering he only has 160 rupees to his name at the moment.
I would have talked to him all day (he was beautiful besides) but he sprinted off to be replaced, in less than a page of Montaigne (“Not to believe to rashly: not to disbelieve too easily.”) by a Brazilian Hare Krishna who arrived to remind me, yet again, that everything I need to know is contained within the Vedas.
Delighted to learn that I’m from Boston, the devotee revealed Boston was where he was driving, chanting the mahamantra, when he noticed that one of his wheels had flown off to Heaven without him. Happily Krishna appeared just then and flew his car several hundred meters to safety.
I love Hare Krishnas. Even though Srila Prahupad said homosexuals like myself are nothing short of demonic, if you’re ever broke and homeless, go to Krishna. The Episcopalians will toss you a bologna sandwich; the Krishnas will feed you a feast. Keep it in mind.
The whole time the devotee talked to me he was holding sparkly Krishna decals and I’m still a little bit miffed that, even though I listened to the whole spiel, he left without giving me one. But by then it’s time to listen to a giant craggy Australian who writes song lyrics in a little notebook and reckons he could be the next Bob Dylan but in the meantime he’s in Delhi to oversee the creation of nearly ten thousand pairs of boxer shorts.
“But not just ordinary boxer shorts,” he reveals. “We’ve add pockets! And a zipper! Hard thing to put a price on, innit?”
After all this excitement I’m attempting to settle myself down with a metal cup full of hot milk, when the drunk Indian man next to me says he is the father of four, says he is 54 years old, says he looks very young. Then he says, “Tell me why I look young!” (Hint: Definitely not because of the teeth.)
I excuse myself: it’s getting dark. The day is nearly over. It’s time for arati, worship with light, at the Ramakrishna Mandir where I sit and watch the swami swing the lamp, the fan and the feather duster over the images of Thakur, Ma, and Swamiji, to whom I apologize for the umpteenth time: I will never be a decent devotee. I love the world too much.
This, for now, is all of what my days consist. Walks punctuated by beverages, supplemented by books, interrupted by monologues, peppered with lust and wonder. I am a fool, of course, but at least I’m back in India, the place where I was born.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
I know why there are no moneyboys draped across the stoop at the entrance to the Malaysia Hotel. Not one. For the first time in decades, maybe since the Vietnam War. I know why. Joseph told me.
Joseph is the homeless Swiss man who lives, propped up on crutches, beside the pay phones across from the Seven-Eleven. Last December, on the way to see his girlfriend, getting off a bus in the rain, he fell and broke his hip. Then the other hip somehow also broke. (These things just happen when you drink.)
Joseph ran out of money, so he’s waiting to be eligible for his pension in
Joseph saw everything. At that time he always sat in the little smoking house in the parking lot of the
“The one boy he was always fighting. Every month at least one fight. Always trouble. That night another moneyboy is coming. He was having a good night, just by looking at him you could see it. And the troublemaking boy he says to him, Give me three hundred baht. Of course the other boy he says No. They start to hit each other. Trouble hits the other boy and he goes over backwards, right over the side of the smoking house.
“His head when he fell – it made a sound like the smashing of a boiled egg.” Joseph mimes the convulsions of the money boy, the jerking of his arms and legs, the shuttering and unshuttering of his sightless eyes. “In the hospital he was 4 days in the coma. Then he died. The other boy he got twenty years I think. I hope. He was all the time around this place and always causing trouble.
“Now I am not even allowed to sit in the smoking house. It is for paying guests only. So now I must stand here, here beside the telephones.”
Wherever they are it pursues them. It precedes them, accompanies them, follows them.
The Malaysia Hotel has six floors. About fifteen rooms to a floor. Somebody, do the math. How many whores is that? How many beers? How many shots of SangSom? How many pillowcases? How much vomit? How many rushed trips to the toilet? How many condoms? How many STDs? How many antibiotics? How much pad thai with no spice? How many flip-flops and tuk-tuks? How much lubricant? How many towels?
Old Willem from the
Willem keeps a strict and healthy routine. Every day a walk in the park. Every day English study. Every day a salad of vegetables and fruit. Every day a massage. A schedule like this, Willem believes, can keep an old man alive for a very long time.
“I do not like moneyboys,” says Willem. “Of course I am happy to pay for their drinks and food. But no cash!” Willem always has a new boyfriend, whom he is sure loves him only for himself. And an ex-boyfriend, with whom he just broke up. Who, it turns out, wanted money after all!
Willem is a tender and meticulous elderly Dutch gentleman. No doubt he would be astonished to find himself accused of fraud.
When George Schaller, the primatologist, was asked how he’d been able to learn so much about the habits of gorillas, he answered, “I was not carrying a gun.”
Walking through the glass double-doors of the Malaysia Hotel, I am deep in the forest. The sex tourists are my gorillas – both the fussy-faced old men buying sex and the glossy laminated Euro-queers on a longterm fucking tour of the entire world.
(Incredible to think that one of these is the juvenile form of the other. If you look closely, however, you can see the resemblance. They have the same clenched and angry mouths.)
One obstacle to this good intention is that I am scared to death of all these people. And nevermind that I, too, am one of the traveling insatiables. Somewhere, I am sure, there are there are dogs afraid of dogs and skyscrapers squeamish of heights.
The Malaysia Hotel: a place where you can run screaming naked down the hall in the middle of the afternoon and not feel judged or out of place.
Sometimes I wonder what it would take to startle the housekeeping staff. There’d have to be a lot of blood. Or ink. Or chewing gum.
But what is the secret of how to find treasure – this minute grain of mustard seed? There is none. It is available to us always, everywhere.
V. The Fish.
Old Willem tells the tale. About a fish in the glass-walled pool beside the tables on the patio of the Malaysia Hotel. A truly gigantic koi, much bigger than those you see there now. A lady had been feeding it. That is the rumor. Some tourist lady had been teasing and taunting this monstrous carp until it busted straight through the glass wall, and lay on the tile, bleeding from the mouth.
The diners and the staff all stood helpless around the beast, which gasped and somersaulted across the dining area. It seemed a long time before the fish began to settle down and earnestly to begin to die.
But then: two mechanics came, with sopping wet towels, which they wrapped around the beast. After checking its bloody mouth for shards of glass, they returned it to the tank, which was still inhabitable, despite its lower water level.
Willem tells me carefully the story of the fish. And adds: “That is why, in
VI. Abandonment to Divine
These cans of cold coffee contain such vast quantities of caffeine and sugar that they function, on my borderline personality, as a euphoric hallucinogen.
Just as the wise ones had their peyote, soma, ayuhuasca – so this one, unwise, has BIRDY classic ice coffee.
Even after half a can, life seems a worthwhile enterprise. I sip as slowly as I can – knowing that when the thrill wears off I am going to feel like Edgar Allan Poe after a bender.
Four cans, I estimate, would necessitate my hospitalization; I never go that far. After two and a half cans I am convinced that Everything is Deeply Meaningful and Possessed of a Darkly Radiant Purpose and Significance.
(Whatever the fuck that means.)
BIRDY classic ice coffee. You can buy this stuff over-the-counter twenty-four hours a day. I’ve seen children drink it.
Whether her occupations were exalted or lowly, in her eyes they were but shadows, more or less luminous, in which she found it possible both to worship God and to recognize the works of the Almighty.
To read Abandonment to Divine Providence while sipping BIRDY classic is, without a doubt, foolhardy. Like snorting poppers on Viagra. But, after two and a half cans, I feel that I am so totally on the wavelength with Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade that I’m practically channelling him. God still speaks!
And I am not a Christian, not remotely. I am a homosexual residing in one of the world’s most infamous hotels. When religious people speak of the holiness of the world – well, they are not speaking with me in mind.
Nevermind: I will include myself. I will haul myself aboard. Along with any number of other unspeakable people. I make experiments. And day after day I read and reread Abandonment to Divine Providence, the first chapter of which is titled: How God Speaks to Us and How We Must Listen to Him.
great sir if u do like it. my fantasy is to be a student boy called in to a principal room to report for punshmt whatever it is, kneeling at his office for hour may raise hands carry bible!! or for a good spank, cane and etc. no need expertise, just fantasy and real school experience u might have sir!!
“I survived three lay-offs. I did not survive the fourth. Now – who knows what I will do? I’m tired of working. I’m 52 years old. Maybe I will become a prostitute. Lots of people want an older man. My dick is huge. My friends have money. David, Pablo, James. David is very wealthy – and he is totally in love with me. But he is inbred. That’s the trouble with coming from a rich family. You have to marry your cousin. So David is inbred. For example, he has no chin. Still he says I love you, I love you. Maybe I can fuck him for money.
“I still have to come at least once a day. I have so many fuckbuddies. Their husbands don’t fuck them so I fuck them. They just totally use me. Let them pay. Who wants to be a journalist anyway? I should get paid to fuck.
“Why go to
“You’re a slow person, aren’t you? You’re a little slow. That’s okay, I don’t mind slow people. I like you even though I am very quick. And I’ve got to tell you the truth – you are more than a little slow.”
IX. List of Prohibitions (Complete).
The signs reads:
Possession of Durian will be Fined 500 Baht.
(All other substances will be ignored.)
“In 1980 I drove across
“I was driving across
“He got really aggressive. He wanted sex all the time. But I had lent him one hundred dollars. I said ‘You don’t get this and you don’t get this’ until I get my hundred dollars.
“He said ‘Oh I need to talk to my granny.’ But I still wouldn’t let him fuck me. So he punched me. I punched him too. I had to give up hope of getting my hundred dollars back. When I jumped out of the car I was in a cornfield outside
“That’s what I was like. Living nonstop. Fucking nonstop. James would never do that. James is a coward. He’s 46 years old and he still hasn’t come out to his mother. How can we be boyfriends if we haven’t fucked in three years? He says I tried to rape him. I don’t remember. I was drunk and hungry for sex.
“James knows how much I love
Most of all, I love the way this young Thai man – as he leads the slouching Swiss tourist onto the elevator – effortlessly usurps the meaning of the words on his yellow shirt:
XII. The Hidden Kingdom
Do I believe in it, actually? Divine
No. It seems impossible to me to work up a version of events in which God does not star as sadist.
As for karma, if karma was literally true-- well, the rich would be better people, wouldn’t they?
So I do not believe in
I should also admit the fact that, even as I attempt to drift, wander, or bury my head in the sand, it often seems that I am actually moving from one meticulously planned appointment to the next. What I imagined to be random appears as carefully put together as a tour of
I see what I am meant to see. I hear what I meant to hear. And I do not escape.
I learn. Or I don’t learn. But I am continuously summoned.
Therefore, it seems to me the most compelling of experiments: to give pre-eminence to the present moment and focus my attention there. To pay precise attention to strangers as they appear. To consider them as messengers. And listen carefully. Even taking notes.
Poolside at the Malaysia Hotel, looking up at the windows: like a wall of gay televisions, highly self-conscious televisions, televisions watching you!
Second floor television, third from the right, waves, grabs crotch, requests a visit. Third floor television doesn’t want to be watched, doesn’t think you’re good enough to watch it, wants the small man in the white speedo but he never looks up.
The white haired man in the corner has been in his window for years, he’s gone mad: a television which cannot turn off. Always somewhere in the middle: Scandinavian Family Programming.
Some televisions give only glimpses, others only wish to watch themselves: they close the curtains. Suddenly, second floor, fourth from the right: scenes of
Before you know it, you’re cheering on the television, waving to it. Third floor television looks disgusted, yanks the curtain closed. Fourth floor television gets excited, runs downstairs. No! This is not the television I wanted, this is not the show that I requested!
The television you were waving at wasn’t even watching, or misunderstood, or wants the Thai boy on the neighboring sunchair.
Please: try to watch less television. It’s too exciting, too frustrating, too exhausting.
XIV. The Voyeur
“You will be wanting to know about the old man in the window,” Willem says. The old man in the corner room just above the pool, with thick framed glasses and poof of snow white hair, and his perpetual stare upon the pool at the Malaysia Hotel. He is one of our favorite topics of discussion – as he is for everyone. I reckon the most common way to strike up a conversation at the pool is to ask, “Is that old man always staring?”
Yes. He is always staring. The old man is always in his window and he has been staring now, from the same window, for a decade at least.
“I see him in the corridor sometimes. He does not seem mad. I think he is a very old man – older than I,” says Willem, who is 72. “But Kees -- Kees has been in his room!
“It was one of your American holidays. Independence Day. Kees was sitting here by the pool and there was a boy, a completely naked boy, sitting in the window smoking a cigarette. The boy waved for him to come and so he went upstairs to the old man’s room.
“There were three boys, all completely naked. One in the window, one in the bed, one an exercise machine in the corner. The old man was there as well, of course. Sitting in his chair, watching straight porn on his television. Ignoring the boys.
“What his room like?”
“A plain hotel room. Nevermind that he has been there maybe twenty years now. He has an exercise machine and a porn collection. No bookshelf or anything. He does not need it. He has his window.
“A very old man. Over eighty. And still buying boys. At least to look at.”
I imagine the white-haired old man (he is staring out the window now, he is staring as I write these words, he is still staring as you read them) staring out the window as his body falls away, staring until only his eyes remain, unblinking behind heavy glasses, staring in perpetuity down upon the pool at the Malaysia Hotel.
“You know what I did?,” Charles announces. “I got my binoculars. And I stared at that old buzzard, nonstop, for thirty minutes. So he could feel, you know, what other people feel, when he goes on staring at them for hours.”
“What did he do?”
“Not a thing! Went right on staring,” Charles bugs out his eyes. “He is like a basilisk! After thirty minutes my arm got tired. Not from doing anything untoward, you understand. Just from holding the binoculars. I want to make a call to the police station. Like Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon. He’s three hundred pounds, you can’t miss him!”
Charles is no lightweight himself. He’s having beef penang and deep fried pork on the side. He can eat whatever he wants, he says. He’s dying.
On the right side of his face is a broad scar showing where the cancer was removed. Not all of it. His words are slightly slurred, which makes him sound even more upper-class British than he was to begin with. “Oh, I must thank you terribly for allowing me to join you for dinner. I must be boring you. I am so ancient, you know. I’m practically antediluvian. Every day the staff has orders to check and see if I am still alive. Oh, one should never discuss one’s ill health. I am so terribly sorry.”
Over and over Charles apologizes. And, when I tell him he is charming nonetheless, he crumples up in his chair, as if, of all the things that have happened to him recently, this is the very hardest.
“God is everywhere,” announce the mystics. And then the mystics say, “Beware the company you keep.”
Then there’s the guy who wants me to beat, insult and humiliate him. His pictures look really cute. He’s willing to come to my room and everything.
Then I find myself worrying – what if he’s kind of messed-up?
All they knew was that each moment brought its appointed task, faithfully to be accomplished.
Saturday, February 05, 2011
For convenient reference, Randy Mesmer gave each of his thoughts a number.
1. Fears about the body, ugliness and aging.
2. Resentments regarding people he had hoped would love him, but did not. Or at least not in the way he’d hoped they’d love him.
3. Delusions of grandeur.
The idea was that, by labelling these thoughts with a number, they would become less potent and engrossing. Other thoughts would be allowed to arise.
Instead he was appalled to discover that there was remarkably little else going on.
He could sit all morning thinking, counting, “2,2,2,2,1,2,2,3,3,3,4,4,2,2,2,1!” This was especially true if he added:
5. The desire to eat potato chips and drink beer.
6. An all-encompassing sense of regret at the vast waste he had made of his life, which (briefly) had seemed so promising.
He often spent all day hopscotching from 1 to 6.
He felt nostalgic for the days when lust was the lead thought. However regrettable, it at least contacted the outside world occasionally and was more enjoyable than resentment.
Delusions of grandeur, like the overdose of caffeine which often accompanied them, were fun, sort-of, in an inflated sugar-high sort of way, but left him feeling dreadfully nervous and more than slightly nauseated and ashamed when he returned to himself and the actual sordid conditions of his body and mind.
Randy Mesmer had aimed at having realizations. And, indeed, he was having them. But he’d hoped that some of the realizations might actually be pleasant.
Probably this used to work really well for him. In the Seventies or whatever. If not for happiness, then at least for bliss. For pain-killing at least.
It’s hard to admit when things don’t work so well anymore. It sure is for me.
Such as “cute”. At age almost 38, my personal version of cute is seriously threadbare. Though not yet grotesque, I hope. Some people think I manage handsome. Admittedly nearly all of these people are biased by factors such as nearsightedness, blood relation, or my willingness to listen at length to their personal problems.
This old man was once somebody’s baby. When he came into the world, people cried with joy. His parents imagined him. They imagined his tricycle. His finger-painting. His high school graduation. They saw his wedding perfectly, even though it never happened.
They probably didn’t imagine him, aged 62, fiddling with himself beneath a wet blue washcloth.
If you ask me, I think we all ought to be eggregiously lovable for a much longer time. Nevermind developing spiritual qualities. I’d rather just be 72 and hot.
Nevertheless, my good intentions do not erase an undercurrent of fear. Sit-ups, moisturizer and protein powder don’t go so far at all.
Thus, here at my pre-wizening, since I see no way out and no other option, I have formed a new intention:
Starting today I am going to love people for no reason at all.
Then again, I mean this in an abstract way. Like, meditation. I do not actually intend to take this old man into my arms.
And abstract love is not what he is looking for.
And neither am I.