Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Breaking Bangkok Phil

 “Why don’t you play UNO with a Mexican?  Cause he’ll steal all the green cards.”  -Bangkok Phil, bus ride through the desert.

Bangkok Phil took his usual spot in the office and held court, folding stubby arms across a barrel chest and resting them on his bloated belly in the center of the room.  Short squatty legs.  Red vein puffed nose.  Shirt buttons set to burst.  He talked without a care in the world to the room.  “Now, let me tell you about the He-She’s on Khao San Road.”
 “Why do they call it PMS?  Because Mad Cow Disease was already taken.”  -Bangkok Phil, school cafeteria

If there was one guy I avoided in Saudi like the Bubonic Plague, it was Bangkok Phil.  Problem was, Bangkok was one bad penny.  
 “What kind of bees produce the most milk?  Boobies.  Boo Bees!  Get it?”   -Bangkok Phil, staff meeting

When I left my family in Saudi to pay off this debt, I created a rule in my head that I would never say NO to anything.  You see, when you live with children, you’re constantly saying NO to everyone and everything.   Can’t meet your buddies, you’re busy with the kids.  Can’t go out at night, you’re home at 5 p.m. for baths and story time.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved it.  But I knew the only thing that would keep me from running stark raving mad in the desert was to take advantage of this sudden childlessness and attempt to live a little.  Instead of saying NO, I would say… Yeah, why not!
 “How do you kills a circus clown?  Go for the juggler.”  Bangkok Phil, same staff meeting

I was up for everything no matter how silly or mundane.  Catch some shwarma at the Syrian place?  I’m in.  Hit the hookahs at Thursday night market?  You bet.  Watch your roomie get a haircut then shop for office supplies?  Try and stop me!  I would deny myself nothing.  
 “Hear about the guy who died of a Viagra overdoes?  Couldn’t get the casket closed.”  –Bangkok Phil, joke told to his students

Of course, this sudden new philosophy made me a magnet for the one guy in camp without a shred of modesty, morality, decency, or nose for body odor.  Our boy, Phil.
 “What do you call a cheap circumcision? A Jewish rip off.”  -Bangkok Phil, on hearing my last name was Hartenstein

Bangkok Phil was a farting, belching, blow his nose into a shirt cuff kind of genuine slob.  He wore the same pair of clothes every day for four months.  Every day.  I counted.  Tan slacks.  White button shirt complete with yellow mustard stains, brown grease spills, and green armpit mold.  He was a recovering alcoholic, heroin user, cocaine addict, and admitted connoisseur of “snatch.”  He was the kind of guy who would introduce himself as a “cunning” linguist and a “master” debater then go into exhaustive detail about his exploits as a purveyor of porn.  No subject was out of bounds.  Tijuana donkey shows.  Mexicali whores.  Filipino ping-pong strippers.  He’d had the clap.  The crabs.  The runs.  And the gout.  All the while talking at the top of his lungs about every brothel from Port-au-Prince to Port Said.  
 “When do you kick a midget in the balls?  When he’s standing next to your girlfriend combing her hair.  –Bangkok Phil, morning coffee in staff room

Everywhere I turned, Phil was there.  “Hey Hart, want to hear a funny joke about my Johnson?  No ya don’t!  It’s too long.  Get it?  It’s too ‘loooong.’
He’d slap me on the back and ask where I was headed.
“Why did Hitler commit suicide?  He got the gas bill.”  -Bangkok Phil, bus ride to work

Groceries.  The shopping mall.  The cinnamon roll store.  (Well, let’s face it.  North Yemen is a toilet bowl… there were only three places we could go…) and Phil would be there telling me about snorting lines off tranny prossies in Saigon.
Listening to him, you can’t imagine my overwhelming longing for home.  To be back with my daughters.  To be whole again.  I would go back to my compound room, close the door, and watch videos on my phone of my girls  running through the apartment, giggling in a water park, or singing at the piano. But there was this one video I always ended with.  I made it special for nights when I especially missed them.  Little short videos of my daughter’s sleeping soundly.  Their little fingers pressed in my hand.  Breaths so soft.  Bodies at complete peace.  I memorized those videos.  I came to realize, I wanted to try everything and go everywhere... with them!  The pain of this got so intense, that every time Bangkok came around, I would watch their videos and float away from him and the rubble of this pathetic place, telling myself.  The answer is yes.  The answer is yes.  I am coming home.  The answer is yes.

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