30 November 2019
A Bitter Anniversary
40th Anniversary of My Death
November 30th is a date I remember but do not celebrate every year. And this anniversary is the 40th.
On 30 November 1979 I had dinner in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco's North Beach with most of the group of people who kept Joan Baez's career going. I owned travel agencies then, and she was one of our best clients. I worked on logistics for her tours, personally handled her personal travel, and kept her secrets.
I remember that we had rigatoni with meat sauce, among other things. And quite a bit of wine. On the sidewalk outside the restaurant someone passed a joint around just before I straddled the big, black motorcycle I was driving in those days, and zoomed through the Broadway Tunnel to the intersection of Broadway and Polk Streets.
On the corner in those days there was the kind of straight pick-up bar where guys wore loafers but not socks. There was always a white 1964 Silver Cloud parked just outside that said more about the bar than the neon sign above the door.
I reached the intersection at the precise moment the light turned from green to yellow and kept on going. I vaguely remember a car entering the intersection from the opposite direction. After that, I remember nothing. I was later told that the car had turned left into me, crushing my left leg between his fender and the engine of my bike, and that I had flown about sixty feet through the air, hitting the parked Rolls Royce with my face. The two surgeons at San Francisco General Hospital who tried to put me back together actually flipped a coin (which I saw in an out-of-body experience before I briefly stepped into the next life) to decide whether to leave the leg on or amputate. The leg won.
Someone managed to get ahold of my roommate, who thought I had gotten lucky the night before. He called my parents, who lived in Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco. Now, my mother was never a diva of any kind. But she showed up dressed in black with a hat and a black veil. "I'm so sorry" were her first word, before she displayed the brand new size 32 Calvin Klein jeans I had been wearing, soaked in blood and removed with scissors in the emergency room. Damn, those were expensive jeans, and I have not been close to size 32 since.
That night was nearly the end of my life, and definitely the end of a career. I was not able to resume a normal life for two years spent at home in my Victorian flat on Fell Street. Joan did a live Christmas concert on KQED, the local PBS station, about three weeks later. If, by chance, there is a tape of this event you'll see me sitting in the first row, my leg elevated, and held together with steel rods. About a month later I returned to SF General to spend three months having six surgeries for bones that would not heal. My doctor, Lorraine Day, was famous for her work in what was called "the best trauma center outside Israel."
The two years I spent at home turned out, in the end, to be a blessing or sorts. During that time people I knew began to die off in what was first called "the gay plague." Since I was completely out of commission with a cast reaching from my toes as far up my thigh as it could possibly go, I missed that, except for all the funerals. I hired Melvin Belli, a legendary San Francisco lawyer, to extract revenge from the guy who had been driving his brand new Benz that night under the influence. (He had fled the scene, but his wife turned him in.)
So this is my 40th "rebirthday." I'm in Pakse with absolutely nobody I new from those days. Most of those friends have since died. I had the coin the doctors flipped, but it has vanished somewhere along this amazing journey I am on.
The Lesson of Jonestown
Recently I decided to clear some of the ancient files out of my computer. I have hardly deleted anything over the past 20+ years, and things get transferred from old notebooks to new. I did delete a few things best forgotten, but decided to keep most of it as a personal reminder of what I have been through since the invention of email.
Notably, I ran across a document with comments and replies to things I had been reading online--maybe on Facebook or on a local newspaper's website about the "Red Shirt" occupation of Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection and all of Rajdamri Road from the end of Silom to the canal along side Central World. Someone likened the demonstrations to what had happened in Jonestown, where a charismatic, yet despotic leader was driving ordinarily-sensible people to do things that were out of the ordinary. At the time, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was appearing on a huge screen hung below the Skytrain tracks live from wherever he was hiding to brainwash and mobilize his followers. Living near the canal I could hear the endless propaganda, lies, and provocations all night on most nights. The reader signed his comments as simply "Jonestown."
How enlightened of you to draw this conclusion. I was 17 when Jim Jones brought his flock to the small town where I grew up in California. I went to high school with quite a few of them. En mass, they attended the church where I belonged a couple of times. Jones was my high school civics teacher for half a term. Except perhaps for him, they were good people, mostly uneducated urban poor. One of them was my first flying instructor. (He later died in a plane crash that was part of a CIA operation in the Amazon.) Eventually, Jones became a charismatic leader and many buses full of people would come from the San Francisco Bay Area every weekend. Years later, I owned the travel agency that shipped them all off to Jonestown--something I will always have on my conscience.
Now I live in Pratunam, very close to the demonstrations. I hear the speeches all night, every night, and often I have thought of those hundreds of members of the Peoples Temple who became his army of zombies. This has happened over and over in history. Stalin. Mao. Hitler. Jerry Falwell. The lesson here is that if you tell a lie many, many times it becomes the truth. And once you own the minds of your followers, you also own their lives and souls.
If you are a frequent reader of this opinionated blog you probably already know where this bit is going. We are seeing this zombie phenomenon once again as the entire Republican Party and many other sound-minded people are taken in by a snake oil huckster who would love to be thought of along with people of the stature of Stalin or Mao. In Bangkok, some elderly people and children were able to get out only minutes before the military and police finally moved in. It's not yet clear whether many Republicans will be that smart.
If you are a long-time reader, you may remember the epic, episodic blog I wrote at the time. Newspapers were not telling the whole story and many people outside of Thailand really wanted to know the truth. Like many other events in history, it shows how far some "charismatic leaders" will go to get what they want at the expense of others. It's about to happen again and, in this case, I'm not going to feel sorry for any of them.
About Purple Dragon
Seems that many of our customers do not yet understand that Purple Dragon closed its office last April. In many respects, it was time.
While our company is no longer operating, our website is still online and will continue to be for another year. It still offers outstanding information for people who want to visit the countries where we operated. More importantly, our staff in many countries have been our family, and we want to continue to support them. At first, I announced that we would continue to send our customers to another company in Bangkok. That turned out to be a really bad mistake for both us and our customers. Now, we are happy to put customers in touch with our local staff, who can work directly with guests.
From a practical standpoint, PurpleDragon.com is a PR32 website. If you know anything about website rankings or SEO, you know that anything over PR10 is exceptionally good. We link to a lot of other websites, and that helps them because of our site's reputation, and we want to continue to do so.
In the mean time, I still own BetterBhutan.com and am developing GayBhutanTravel.com. My adopted son Rath, our senior guide Sopheara and I are exploring setting up a new company in Cambodia. You'll be the first to know.