Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Wild Orchid Club

The Wild Orchid Club was officially disbanded last night. I was standing on the corner of Khaosan and Chakrapong roads. Emily and Tomec were silhouetted by the huge cheesy signs that celebrated the bars, restaurants, shops and guest houses of Khaosan. Just over Emily shoulder Lucky Beer and Silk Bar flickered with the intermittent pulse of the fluorescent tubes that powered them. It was hot and humid. It's always hot and humid in Bangkok and Emily was leaving tomorrow. She was on her way to Ayhudara, one of the ancient capitols of Thailand.

Carolyn had been the first to leave, then Katerine. Maria was disappearing. Tomec, whose visa would expire at midnight, was heading for the boarder tomorrow, hoping to be able to cross into Lao. The members of The Wild Orchid, officially The Wild Orchid Dinner and Cocktail Club were culled from the Wat Pho School of Traditional medicine. Wat Pho is the monastery next to the Kings Palace where the Emerald Buddha finally ended up. It has been a center of learning and medicine since the 18th century.

After Jenni left I spent most of an entire day hiding in my hotel room. In a city of 8 million, like New York, the feeling of loneliness is palpable. In a city of 30 million its a god damn brick shoved down your throat. Fortunately there is Star Movies. My hotel room might have been a dank, green cement, windowless, pillbox but it did have cable and Star Movies is Asia's answer to suicide prevention hotlines. I saw Die Hard one and two. Tears welled in my eyes during Father of The Bride. I saw a Christopher Walken film called Poolhall Junkies that I swear was never released in the United States.

I made a few forays out into the streets for food. I hated Khaosan. Jet lagged I wandered into the streets at 3am. The strip was filled with brutal Australian drunkards who were trying to force kisses on Thai hookers. Hadn't these guys ever watched television? Everyone knows the sacred rule of prostitutes. No kissing on the mouth. If they didn't know that, then they for sure didn't know that two out of five of the ladies they were groping were not even ladies but ladyboys. There was going to be a lot of blown minds tonight. I knew I had to do something. I was already thinking of getting a flight home. I always go through this. At first I hate to leave. Then I hate being there. Then I start having dreams where my cats can talk and are saying things like. "Where are you? Why did you leave us? Is there any better food around here?" Then something changes. I get hooked in. I find my rhythm. By the end I don't want to go back and as soon as I get home I am surfing the internet for airfares.

In my guide book they mentioned Wat Pho had a course in traditional Thai massage. That was it. It would kill two birds with one stone. I would meet people and it would give my days some focus. The next day (after watching a movie at three AM with Anthony Hopkins where he is a black man who looks white and ends up driving into an ice covered lake with a woman who talks to crows and whose husband is a psycho out to kill them both) I took a Tuk Tuk to the temple. I had to fight with three of them to get the price down to 80 bhat when I knew it should be only 10. The real humiliation came when I realized I could have walked there in ten minutes if I only knew my way around town or... Could read the Thai alphabet. First I visited the reclining Buddha. It is an immense golden statue imprisoned in a temple that can barely contain it. You can hardly get a look at it between all of the pillars. It was the night before the full moon so the site was swarming with Thai. They were praying, lighting incense, and dropping hundreds of coins in the scores of metal pots lined up behind where the graven image lay. One of the monks, in psychedelic orange garb, pointed me the way to the massage center. I got a brochure and asked about when courses start. "Anytime you liiike." The woman in white seated behind an ancient wooden desk cooed to me in that gentle Asian way. "Huh. Well, ah what about tomorrow?" "Yessss. How you liiike." "Say.. 10am? "Anytime between niiine and eleeeeven." I was beginning to wonder if she had any idea of what I was talking about. I had been raised within the much stricter organization of Bostonian Academics.

I made my way there the next day, walking along the massive white walls of the kings palace. It was nine am and already the sun was broiling. There were vendors under every tree. I had countless opportunities for noodle soup with fried fish balls, tropical fruits, rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves, CDs, DVDs (of films that hadn't even been released), images of king Rama I-IX and hand carved buddhas. A band of blind people played tinny Thai folk music their faces red with sunburn and their eyes glazed white. I was led by one of the monks to a side street outside the main temple compound of Wat Pho.

Everywhere out side the temple there were tiny shops filled with herbs and potions and charts of human anatomy. At the end of a grimy street, with a broken wooden dock that hung out over the Phrya, in a vaguely 1950s style medical building I filled out an application. The place was staffed with pretty young Thai girls in blue nurses uniforms. I took off my shoes and went to the third floor with my registration card. There was a small air conditioned hall there. The floors were made with six inch wide mahogany boards and lined in neat little rows with mattresses. Everywhere people were giving and receiving massages. My instructor was a middle aged Thai woman named Pornita. She asked us to call her Porn for short. Later when I knew her better I would mention that she might want to change her nick name if she traveled to the U.S.. That was where I met Emily. She was to be the first member of The Wild Orchid Club. Downstairs we would met Tomec and Katerina. Later we would add Maria and Carolyn.

For a week we became the Wild Orchid Club. We dined together, shared stories, discussed politics, evolved philosophies. Nothing official. It was just that nobody really knew anybodys last name or hotel, but somehow we always saw each other somewhere at some point and it was yelled from the bus or across busy streets.
"We meet tonight at The Wild Orchid, 7 o'clock!"

During our break on the first day of class Emily and I had lunch In a narrow ally way off the street. We each had a bowl of noodle soup with fried pork balls for 30 bhat a serving. It was made by an old woman who guarded the entrance to the ally. A narrow sliver of sunlight shone down on the collection of potted tropical plants she used to decorate the small place. We sat at a little card table on tiny red metal folding chairs. The old woman's associate, who blocked the other side of the ally with her shiny aluminum cart made us a fresh orange juice. Emily and I talked about massage and its healing power. Then the conversation drifted to the slippery slope of prostitution.
"I used to be a very naughty dancer." She offered in her thick cockney accent.
"Oh, I used to like to dirty dance too when that was in. Now I like Salsa." I said, not getting it.
"No, I mean I used to show my ta tas." She smiled at me and wrinkled her nose.
" I ran away to Greece when I was a teenager and got a job in a club there. Turned me straight off blokes. I even had me a lezzie girlfriend."
There was a pause as I let this new information soak in. She was barely 25 now. It was hard to imagine an even younger more petite Emily with her PiPi Longstocking braids and freckled cheeks on the stage of some sleazy disco in Mykonos. Now she was trying to make it as an actress in London. Massage was her fall back plan.

Katerina was the one who broke the mystery of the Thai mass transit system and effectively liberated us from the Tuk Tuks. She figured out by randomly jumping on buses that number 53 would take us to and from Khao San. The buses were framed like the ones I rode in elementary school. The 53 was painted a dark red. At some point the worn out floors had been replaced with six inch wide mahogany slats. They were patrolled by a transit officer in a military style uniform. They conductors often had more braids and ribbons then some 2 star generals do. They walked up and down the ailes clicking a metal cylinder that folded open on its hinges. They cylinders were all personally decorated with sparkles or decoupage and crammed full with coins bills and and neatly rolled tickets. Our bus wound it's way around the markets and temples before dumping us off directly opposite of Wat Pho.

It was me who discovered the public boats. While wandering around Phra Arthit I noticed a peer behind an outdoor bar. At the end of it was a dock and a boat schedule. I was able to decipher that it made its way up the Phrya to Tat Tien which is directly opposite Wat Pho. I told Katerina and she was all for trying it. We made a plan to meet the next morning. Katerina is a very serious young German girl. She has long blonde hair and translucent white skin. She could pass for an eighteen year old high school student but is in reality a 25 year old microbiologist. She got tired of being a stooge for the drug companies and took off for Asia to reassess her life direction. The next morning, while having breakfast where she resided at The Peachy Guest House I asked her. "So what's up with you and Tomec?" Tomec had put me up to this. He is a tall, handsome, curly blonde headed, Architecture student originally from Poland and completely terrified by Katerina's radiance. Everyone is.
"What do you mean?" She responded knowing perfectly well what I meant.
"He looks at you like he adores you. What do you think of him?"
"I don't think of him that way at all." Was her flat response.

W.O.C. IV.
When I made a proposal that we go to see a Thai movie Emily's response was the most adamant.
"I don't. I want to see a proper American movie with popcorn and big chairs."
The idea died with that, but on the last evening of the Wild Orchid Club, the day after Katerina left for home, Tomec asked me if I was still interested in going. Emily texted me that she and Carolyn were having beers at her hotel The Four Sons and watching movies "on the tele." Carolyn, an outer satellite of our club was with her. When we got there the chicks seemed perfectly content to be with their huge bottles of Singha beer and not moving anywhere.

I had asked a waitress at the Wild Orchid for a tip on seeing Thai movies and she wrote down the name of a place on a slip of paper in Thai script.
"Don't pay more than 60 bhat." She warned me. Hmmm. I wish me luck.

We got there for 80 bhat. Sometimes you need to remind yourself that you are arguing over fifty cents. We got tickets for a movie called "Thirty Years Later"

Director: Rutaiwan Wongsirasawad
Cast: Phairote Sangwaribut, Lalana Sulawan
Genre: Comedy
Synopsis: The sequel of the tophitting teen flick in the 1980s comes back after thirty years pass by. The couple of the decade no more need to fight against their fathers. This time however it is more chaotic because they need to help their daughter's love affair. They are just to realize that this new-age love is too confusing.

The theater was in a big mall and very modern. It was so white it glowed. It must take a small army to clean it at night. The cinema was on the third floor and over the ticket and concession stand on a curved wall were the three dimensional letters for Major Cinema. Really, that's what its called.

The seats were plush red and the carpet in multi colored stripes made it difficult not to tumble down them. Before the movie started we all had to stand to hear the national anthem and see a short featuring Rama IX. They never show him head on in this little film as he walks among a multitude of children, cripples and military personnel. He is always wearing these tinted glasses that make him look, well, creepy. If you mention him to anyone in Thailand the automatic response is.
"We love the king."

On the way back we decided to try getting on a bus. The Mall was closing and people and buses were swarming out front in what seemed to me a completely disorganized fashion. We ran to jump on one, anyone, and a girl grabbed my arm.
"Where are you going?"
"Not this bus, 192" Nice. We were going to have an easy trip.

On the way back Tomec was acting morose.
"what's the matter?" He looked at me with soulful eyes. I knew it was about Katerina. "Listen." I said. "Never listen to what women say. So much garbage comes out of their mouths. Watch what they do." That can be said about anyone really. Even though Katerina had verbally rejected Tomec, she spent all of her free time with him, and looked after him like they were partners.
"Slowly, slowly. Its a done deal."
"What should I do?"
"Don't worry about tactics. Just be around. Pursue. She wants you to prove yourself a little." That seemed to cheer him upe. We crossed the Chao Phrya and saw Bangkok by night. Wat Arun was lit up like a Vegas Casino. With the wind blowing through the open bus windows, the town didn't smell half so bad.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


"How much did you pay?" The man smoking cigarette asked me. I was waiting for my driver. He had gone to the bathroom.
"40 Bhat for four stops." I said to the fat Thai man. He was sitting in a narrow slice of shade under a building ledge. He was dressed in slightly soiled white linen. Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead as fast as he could mop them up.
"That's a good price. How did you get that?"
"I was sitting under a tree on the other side of town. A woman came up to me and started chatting me up. She's a midwife at a hospital in Chang Mai. She made a list of places for me to go. Then she got me a Tuk Tuk and she made the price with the driver. What's the deal with the fish?"
"Special fish. They come here to the temple to feed. Only catfish, no other fish."
Past the buddies temple down a narrow ally between the out buildings there was a rusty metal dock. The pea green water there was roiling with catfish.
"I saw a young couple putting baby fish into the water. What was that?"
"What do you think?"
"Something to do with the full moon tomorrow? A special blessing for a baby or wedding or something?"
"Yes. Setting them free. In the next stage of life the catfish will be people. If they see you and remember you and you have no money, they may help you."
At the top of the ramp there had been a man selling food for the fish. I had bought a bowl and sprinkled it on the murky waters of the Chao Phraya. As each little nugget hit the water hundreds of fish vied for it, squirming one on top of each other. If one of them spotted me in their next life I was covered.
"This is a local temple. Not many tourist. Where else did you go?" He took a long drag on his cigarette pulling the blue smoke into his flat brown nostrils.
"I saw the Big Buddha."
The big Buddha is an enormous golden statue on a tiny little park. The key word being "golden". I sat on the grass there text messaging back home. The park is surrounded with small two story concrete houses one next to the other. Once brightly painted, now faded, each house has a porch awning. Scrawny cats prowled around the food vendors there. A mangy yellow dog came up to me and sniffed my hand. He looked at me with sad eyes, whined and then wandered away.
"Where to next?" The cigarette man asked.
"I don't know, some place called "Voglee."
"Oh, very special place, you saw it on TV?"
"No? Even if you have a million dollars you cant get into there without a membership card. I have a gold membership card." He held it up for me to see. "You know Armani?"
"They make all the suit for Armani. They make you an Armani suit for maybe $300. You get a special card and your measurements are on file for life. Every year you get a new catalog in the mail. This week they have a special promotion. For the first time they let tourist in for seven days. Today is the last day. Very good quality, 100 percent cashmere, I know I'm a lawyer."
The driver showed up looking relieved. We took off.

A Tuk Tuk is a little motorbike that has been outfitted with a metal roof and sides and two upholstered seats in the back. Every color of the rainbow is represented in broad stripes on its body and vinyl seat covers. The drivers are little hustlers and you cant trust them. They are forbidden by the government to charge any more than 100 bhat for any trip. They routinely try to get three or four hundred out of you. The local price is 10 bhat per trip. If they take you to a fancy shop, even only to look, they get a kick back of a full tank of petrol from the shop keepers. If you know this, sometimes you can bargain for a free trip.

I was fitted for a suit at Voglee. Then I went to the golden mountain. Later that evening I met up with Jenni. We had dinner in Khaosan, kind of a miniature sleazier version of Las Vegas. The backpackers and the whores go there to mix and mingle. Special extra strong drinks are available in all the bars. They advertise that they don't check IDs. I told her about my day.
"What do you want to do tonight?" She asked.
"Lets go see a ladyboy show."
She laughed.
"Well I figure you're a farm girl from Montana. You moved to Seattle and a few weeks out of college you're now an international business woman. You're already in the outer stratosphere. By now you must be up for anything."
"Ladyboys sounds fine to me." She reached for her purse.
"No, let me treat." I offered.
"No, let me expense it." She countered with a sly smile.
I had been trumped.

The ladyboys are Thai transexuals. So many tourists are fooled by them that the Thai women insist that there is a law that demands that they inform anybody who picks them up, of their gender transformation.
"I think they're just bitter." Jenni told me. "Some of them are more beautiful than any woman. And none of them have asses." Jenni is quite proud of her latina ass.
One Thai man, a self proclaimed playboy, told me that there are 10 million Ladyboys in Thailand or one sixth of the population. Hmmm.

The show was a rip off in style and tone of a Parisian cabaret. The dancing was lame. They did have wonderful costumes and the boys, albeit lip-synching, gave it their all. An Asian sensibility permeated all of the numbers. In one bit a James Bond type guy marries a virgin princess. He them proceeds to shun her for shall we say more experienced women. To please him she transforms herself into a vamp. He rejects her and forces her to once again don her wedding vestments. In the final moments of this tragedy she starts to shoot herself, and then shoots him.

After the show Jenni and I parted. We couldn't stop laughing at the show, especially the ending that featured three Asian ladyboy Marylins dancing in unison with a chorus line of boys with white tophats and tuxedos. I hugged her and kissed her cheek. She jumped into a cab. I rode back in a Tuk Tuk. The next morning she called me. Her boss was sending her to Hong Kong.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


There was a hurricane over Taiwan. The plane bumped and ground its way down to the tarmac in Taipei. A pilot once told me that it would blow my mind how much these big birds can torque. My mind was blown.

We were late leaving Seattle. When I got to the airport only two gates were open. One for our flight and the other for a military flight. There were kids with buzzcuts camped out all over the place. These guys can sleep anywhere. And they do.

I met Jenni waiting to board. She is a jewelry designer out of Seattle. She goes to Bangkok to supervise her work on the production line. She knew how to change planes in Taipei and she let me tag along. After 12 hours in an airplane we were giddy. We were making impossibly bad jokes. It was another 5 hours before we would get to Bangkok.

After I dropped her at her hotel the driver brought me to mine. He was gone by the time I found out I was at the wrong place. Nobody seemed to know where my hotel was. The streets are not marked. Nobody was even able to agree upon what streets were called what. I was wandering around the Khaosan's back alleys delirious with the almost liquid heat that oppresses this city. Past shops piled one on top of each other. Past the squawk and roar of the street traffic. Then I found it. Steps from where I had started. I took a shower. Everything was going to be alright.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Mountain

"We can get you to Paradise."
"That sounds good to me."

It was 8AM. I was downtown at the Sheraton. We were pulling out for Mt. Rainier on a Grayline bus. A tour bus. From the highway you can see the mountain. Ninety miles away and still bigger than any of the skyscrapers downtown. Big fat rain clouds were rolling in from the west. It was not a good sign.

What I would really like to have done was have been dumped off somewhere in the National Forest where I could have done some camping and hiking. If I could spend the night out there. If I could spend a night deep in the woods where a cellphone has never rung. If I could spend the night under those countless stars. I would wake up at 2 am stumble into the moonlight and hug one of those old growth trees. I never understood what people meant when they used "tree hugger" as a pejorative. I mean, who hugs trees? Now after seeing them I get it. This ancient organism. This towering pillar of living strength. You want to hug one. Its irresistible.

The Cascades are part of The Ring of Fire extending deep into South America. The bus was ice cold. It was like we were transporting fish. We stopped at little towns along the way. We bought snacks. We saw huge patches where loggers had clear cut the trees. We listened to the drivers stale jokes.
"Over there you see two kinds of cows, the ones standing and the ones lying down. The ones lying down we call 'ground beef.'"
Groan. Except the eight Japanese sitting on the left in the middle of the bus. They referred themselves to their guide books. Then came another.
"Those horses over there are considered 'outstanding in their field'". A louder, more gut driven groan rang up. The Japanese looked back and forth at their guide books and each other.

An hour passed. We had some more folklore and more history.
"See that snow up there? That's Indian snow. It's extremely rare."
"What's Indian snow?" I said, falling deep for it.
"Apache here and Apache there."
When we got to Paradise the mountain was gone. We had two and a half hours to hit the trails or sit in the lodge and eat buffalo stew.

I headed up along the Skyline trail towards Glacier view. The Glacier, a vital part of Seattles watershed is almost gone. In the last half century it has shrunk into a rivulet. Its not hard to figure out. There. Not there. And still the Bushes and Cheneys don't get it.

I doubled back and headed towards Alta Vista. The wild flowers were in full bloom. The trailside was covered with delicate green bouquets dappled with blue and yellow and pink flowers. A patch of blue was heading our way. As I reached the crest the blue hit followed by a rain of sunlight. The mist dissipated and the mountain revealed itself. My mouth dropped open. The presence of it shocked me, rooted me to the ground. I glanced back and below me where the trails wound back to Paradise. Everyone had stopped. The hikers who had been scurrying back and forth like ants were all staring upward at the massive snow and rock covered cliffs who's pinnacle appeared to dent the sky.

I clamored back down in time to make the bus. We made one more stop at Nerada Falls. We made another at Jason's Ark where I had a piece of apple pie on a scale similar to the mountain whose shadow it was created in. We made our way back. Our cell phones blinked on. Highways wound together. And then we were back. Back in Seattle

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The bluest skies you've ever seen

The sun came out. I got to see one of those legendary Seattle days. The sky was crisp and clear like a blue apple. The air dry and warm. People were saying hello. Strangers.
"That's how they trick you into staying here." Raina said.

All I ever knew about Washington state before came from Here Come The Brides, Frazier and Sleepless In Seattle. I came here with those iconic cultural markers rooted into my subconscious. Needless to say. I never saw Bobby Sherman.

I took the ferry to Bainbridge island and Vashon island. I visited The Gaslight on Capitol Hill. I have seen and visited amazing bookstores. Stores with racks and racks and rooms and rooms of new and used books. Stores jimmied into the parlors and sitting rooms of old houses, run by ex-computer programmers with marvelously long unkempt beards. I swam in a fifty meter salt water pool. 1500 meters.
"Island suburbs!" Raina interjects. "You can have a latte outside of home depot."

As I walked to the bus I noticed that the Amityville Horror house had a string of broken Christmas lights tacked to the front porch. Some Mexicans were out there chopping down all of the weeds.

Beacon Hill is covered with these tiny little houses with lots of pointy roofs and windows. The hours must be very long when the days are short in places like that. I passed by some eight year old boys and one of them was saying to the other.
"See, that's the whole reason we all hate you. You're from Bellevue."
Bellevue is where the rich people live. Beacon hill is where broken Christmas lights hang above the door long after the yellow "Crime Scene Do Not Remove" tape has blown into the wind.

Raina's house is one of these houses. When you enter there is a long hall with hand painted fragments of text in 9 inch high letters that read.
"Everyone I see is missing something." piled on top of each other, repeated over and over again.
She has draped the windows in luxury fabrics, thick and pleated. As if she held a magic wand she has transformed this tired little working class home into her little paradise.

The truth is that Raina has created an amazing life for herself here. She traverses from the working class hamlet of Beacon Hill to the mansions of Bellvue with the ease and grace of an expert skier. She has spent her strongest years building a life here. Too bad the weather sucks.

On my way out to Vashon I saw Rainier. At ninety miles away the base blended seamlessly into the sky leaving the jagged rock and glacier to float above the horizon. It was calling me. I had to go there.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bad sushi

An old man with a huge dollop of drool hanging from his mouth is hovering above my table. He has a look on his pale, crinkled face like death is staring back at him, at the clouds in his watery blue eyes. The woman with the metal and plastic leg limps along behind him.
"Sold, sold, sold, all these are sold." She says, pointing to the pastel hued watercolors on the wall behind me.
I am drinking a cappuccino, praying that they will move on before a rivulet of his gooey spittle connects to the keyboard of my laptop.

Seattle has so many cute little coffee houses connected to the planetary hub that they have begun to advertise "wi-fi free" zones instead of "free wi-fi" for those sick of being encircled by a cadre of users staring into their monitors. The cafes are cozy. The tattooed hippie-chic baristas genuinely friendly. It is a wonder that Bush ever received a single vote here.

The bad sushi put me in a black mood. The weather was not helping. It is the principle cause of Raina's unhappiness Seattle. She ran over her various plots for escape. I nodded and tried to make comforting sounds. I try to remind her that misery will hover over you like a dark cloud if you let it.You have to wake yourself up. When I was dirt poor and sleeping on pee stained mattress in Brookline somehow I was never happier. I have learned that happiness is a state of mind not a state of being. But nobody wants to hear this..

We had spent the day visiting a series of scenic but heavily polluted lakes. Raina says that the duck crap is so bad that if you don't shower immediately after entering the water you end up with "swimmers itch." We found some sun and stretched out on an brocaded sheet with a heavy basket weave. Raina's lament went on.
I couldn't help thinking if a good humping might do her some good. If only she could let one of these bekerchifed Seattle guys with silver studs in their ears and snappy little beards into her life. But her standards. Way too high.

Raina lives just a stone throws from the corporate headquarters of They are situated on a hill overlooking the city in a 1950s yellow-brick gothic hospital building. One expects to see a giant bronze statue of Dr. Kildare in the lobby. Everything is lush in Seattle. Everything is rotting. The rain is endless. The grey, impenetrable.

Raina sent me emails of yoga studios and art events weeks before I came. She cleaned like crazy. she organized a slot in her bathroom arsenal of beauty products for me to slide my tooth brush into. She made a special shade for my sleeping room before I came. As you draw it up it folds into generous pleats revealing a picture window, her overgrown lawn and a house she refers to as "The Amityville Horror."
"Crack whores are always passing out there." she says with evil glee.
She created my sleep chamber out of her sewing room. The bed is on top of a "cutting table" four feet off of the ground. It is draped in luxurious white fabrics, left over from one of her jobs I presume. It feels like I am sleeping on an altar but with no supplicants.

I went to bed with a stomach ache. Rice and squid battling each other in my lower intestine. I lay on my back breathing deeply trying to release my upper spine. Somehow I slipped off into a dream that I had forgotten to feed my cats. I had forgotten for days. I took the subway downtown from Seattle to New York City. When I got home one of the green plaster walls in the bathroom was caving in. It was filthy and a guest had taken a decorative hand weave from Bali and employed it as a bath mat. I had grabbed a fistful of her frizzy golden locks and was screaming at her when I heard a crash in the lobby. They were preparing a theater piece down there. The director, a Spaniard, was orchestrating dangerous stunts for his cast that involved cable's drilled into my ceiling. We argued and I awoke on the cutting table, with no idea of where I was.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


In the north of Iran, somewhere by the Caspian, is a tiny Caliphate. The Caliph who ruled this province wanted it to be the most modern in the Arab world. He constructed roads. He commissioned schools and hospitals. He built a tiny airport whose magnificent runway stretched towards the sea.

When the oil well that was the engine for all this change dried up, so did the governmental largesse. The roads cracked and heaved in the desert heat. The teachers abandoned the schools. The doctors their patients. The planes ceased to fly. The caliph was no longer beloved by his tribe. He became isolated and bitter.

He began to live a fantasy of what his kingdom might have been. He dressed beggars as dignitaries and paraded them about in broken down limousines. He held lavish dinners where the only thing served was figs and Cous Cous. He held international tribunals with elephants as judges and monkeys as the jurors.

When someone wanted to leave the caliphate they were forced to buy a plane ticket from the only, state run, travel agency. When the time came to leave they were led out onto the blistering tarmac where the graceful jet aircraft had long ago ceased to touch down. Once there they were beaten mercilessly.

The travelers returned home covered in bandages. The returned with fantastic tales of their travels. The told stories of dancing with the English Queen, riding on the backs of bulls in Spain and diving into the Atlantic from the nose of the Statue of Liberty.

So in this way, the wise Caliph, without a dime, out of sand and sea water, created a world as functioning and as normal as any.