3 February 2010
Everything is a Cycle
"Your battery is charging normally. However, it is nearing the end of its useable life."
My year-old Dell notebook now issues this ominous warning every time I fire it up. They want to sell me a new battery, of course. Maybe they did not anticipate giving their customers something larger to contemplate in the process.
I will celebrate my sixtieth birthday in July. (No gifts please, although I do love Cuban cigars, wine in an actual bottle, and great artisan cheese). While I should thank my lucky stars that I survived the Great Plague that began in early eighties as well as all of the wondrous, complicated things that have come my way in Bangkok over the last fifteen years, I cannot seem to wrap my head around reaching The Big Six-O. Could this really be happening to me?
In July I will be beginning my fifth cycle in the tiger year, which is a big thing in this part of the world. At the same time, however, I find myself wondering what most people probably wonder at my age: Where has my life gone? Gee, that was fast, it is almost over so soon? Then I am reminded by gray hair, arthritis, sleep apnea, libido problems, and the lifetime of gluttony that I carry around my waist every day that I am probably farther past the middle of my life than I would like to think. If this is the "prime of life" I can do without it, thank you.
A guitar-strumming British singer made his U.S. debut on David Letterman's show last week. (Yes, we get that here in Bangkok, along with Oprah, Glee, and Ugly Betty.) His song sounded like had been lifted straight from sixties 45. While his music was pretty forgettable, I was struck by his apparel--narrow lapels, a dark, skinny tie, and slim-legged trousers with cuffs. It gave me chicken skin, as Thai people call goose bumps. The look conjured up painful memories of my high school years. Fashion seems headed that way. Could narrow lapels, ugly ties and pants with cuffs be coming back? Perhaps, since we live in a universe of cycles. Let's hope the social idealism of the sixties is also reborn along with the wardrobe.
The big surprise in the final paragraph above is that The author if this blog really does watch television. After all of the brutal things I have suggested that you do to your own Idiot Box, I have to admit that I do watch TV, although I have some unusual viewing habits. I watch Letterman, who I have always really liked. I am addicted to True Blood, which has apparently been dropped by our local cable monopoly. I watch news on BBC and CNN. And, as you might expect, I am thrilled to watch anything about food, particularly The Naked Chef (who many including me would be thrilled to see cooking in the all-together) and Cheese Slices, a half-hour program that is all about...you guessed it...cheese, one of the few things that makes life worth the trouble of living.
What I really enjoy most, however, are movies. I could, and sometimes do, watch them all day. I have hundreds of movies and two iPods that provide my only escape from Bangkok's legendary traffic. Films about food are very high on my list of favorites. Julie & Julia was the best foodie film I have seen since Rattatouille. Two of the all-time best food films are a bit more obscure. If you can, find copies of Tampopo and La Grande Bouffe, which are also two of the sexiest films ever made, you will watch them over and over. If you have a favorite of your own, please recommend it.
Don't Call it a Blimp
You may have been tantalized in the previous installment by my thrilling ride over San Francisco in the Zeppelin Airship Eureka.
I have flown, jumped out of or been a passenger in just about anything that can fly. From the age of fifteen I tended gardens and washed dishes at Sons of Italy banquets to afford flying lessons. My sister is a hot air balloon pilot, so it must run in the family. I had my first helicopter ride dressed as an elf, with Santa landing at a shopping mall when I was six. Except for flying a fighter jet or taking a trip into space, the only remaining new adventure for me was the airship.
On a spectacular, cloudless day in September I joined eleven other passengers on a two hour trip that took us from Moffett Field over the Google campus, San Francisco International Airport and then over San Francisco, Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, Alameda, and Oakland before returning to Moffett field two hours after take-off. My luck was unbelievable. Most of the other passengers were taking this trip after as many as three attempts that were thwarted by the Bay Area's unpredictable weather.
The Eureka, which is larger than the Goodyear Blimp, is a technological marvel constructed of space-age materials. The avionics are cutting-edge and its unique propeller system provides incredible maneuverability. Zeppelin wants to build more of these at around $4 million each. I would love to see one based in Southeast Asia at least part of the year. Can you imagine seeing Phang Ngha Bay, Bagan or Angkor Wat with the windows open? The possibilities seem endless.
On the downside, a two hour flight costs two thousand dollars, which seems fanciful unless you consider that you cannot get a decent face lift in Bangkok for that price, and seats on Richard Branson's jaunts to the edge of space beginning in 2011 will cost $200,000. My trip was in exchange for plugola since I am Mister Gay Travel Marketing. Thankfully, I am able to continue saving for the face lift I will need to survive my fifth cycle. If you see Sir Richard, please put in a good word for me.
Where Not to Eat
An old customer arrived in Bangkok over the holidays with a tattered New York Times review for a restaurant that had not yet been "discovered," and that served what the author considered the finest Thai food on the planet. This small family-run place has been around for three generations, used long-forgotten ingredients and was difficult to find. "Foreigners don't go there," he said. I was sold! Fortunately, we had a very patient and determined taxi driver on the evening we set out to indulge in the many culinary pleasures of this gastronomic Mecca. We drove around and around and stopped half a dozen times to ask directions. We found it at last. It was Sunday. The place was closed.
Long after our customer returned home I continued to be haunted by the idea of this restaurant. To celebrate the new year my staff asked if they could treat me to a dinner. I knew exactly where I wanted to go. Again, we combed the streets of this obscure neighborhood for this legendary eatery before we finally found it. The place was so small that they had to improvise the last remaining table to accommodate six of us.
I could not help but notice that there was not a single Thai face in the place, except for the staff. One wall was decorated with a collection of carefully laminated restaurant reviews. More customers arrived. All were foreigners, and some were toting copies of Lonely Planet.
Ultimately, the food was a train wreck. None of it was good and a couple of dishes were actually pretty bad.
My disappointment lingered and I had certainly made no points with my employees for such a brilliant restaurant choice. To celebrate Todd's birthday in January, I proposed another group dinner and reached into my own folder of yellowing reviews torn from the pages of The Bangkok Post. There, I found another Restaurant of Dreams, a place with no sign and a solitary table that serves up astonishing seafood. Dining here involved combing the streets once again, then walking through a warren of dark alleys lined with workshops making decorations for the impending Chinese New Year.
Once we were seated the food began to arrive. There is no menu because they make the same set menu for all of their customers. It sounded good enough... snowfish on a bed of iceberg lettuce, big steamed crabs, abalone with dark mushrooms and a thick sauce, and four or five dishes that were completely forgettable. The food was very ordinary and under-seasoned. The bill came to 4,000 baht (about $35 per person).
If there is a moral to this story, it is probably that we should never trust restaurant reviews for three good reasons: Critics have to fill up a page regardless of whether they liked the food or not; fame ruins restaurants; and, a restaurant that has not yet been "discovered" is probably a restaurant that is going broke for lack of customers, and/or has lousy food.
The Cycle Ends. At the end of 2008 I wrote a somewhat poetic tribute to the great and famous who had died during the year. At the risk of establishing a tradition, it is worth remembering some of the important dead people who are mentioned in countless similar lists published at the end of 2009. Hats off to The Gloved One, Ricardo Montalban, Soupy Sales, Bea Arthur, Dom Delouise, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, David Carradine, Walter Cronkite, Patrick Swayze, Andrew Wyeth, Edward R. Levine, Gene Barry, James Whitmore, Paul Harvey, and John Updike.
The sad thing about most such lists is that they seldom include people who accomplished great things, who entertained us, who made us think, who made us angry, or who were simply in the right place at the right time.
Take character actor Pat Hingle, for example. Despite appearing in hundreds of films and TV shows, this may be the first time you have ever heard his name, although you may recognize him instantly. In 2009 we also lost Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge, Broadway director Tom O'Horgan (Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and more), sixties Irish actor Patrock McGoohan, TV Actor Bob May (Lost in Space), who was not really gay after all, HIV activist Martin Delaney, Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, British actor Richard Todd, female matador Conchita Cintron, historian and author John Hope Franklin, porn superstar Jack Wangler, porn superstar Marilyn Chambers, martial arts film superstar Shih Kien, and Queen of Blues, KohKoh Taylor. I hope you will join me in applauding their accomplishments and the contributions they made to life on our planet.
If you were not part of the Purple Dragon family six years ago when we were known by a different name, you can skip this part and find something else entertaining on this website.
Those who have been with us for a while will remember that I once had two partners. Five years ago they became the subjects of what has been described as a "prank" by the Australian embassy in Bangkok, tried for a crime that was fabricated by the Australian government, found guilty despite the absence of any compelling evidence, and deported. This story is probably a book waiting to be written, but not by me.
I have heard, although have not been explicitly told, that their conviction has finally been overturned on appeal. However, being absolved of these "crimes," is not enough to make up for public humiliation, damage to a thriving business, massive legal fees and the theft of more than five years from each of their lives, not to mention my practically ruining my own. Cheers to the Australian people, who saw fit to drive the asshole John Howard out of office. Yet all life is a cycle and there is still time for the final chapter in this story to be written.