Dialogue: from Greek dialogos. A conversation between two or more persons; a frank exchange of ideas or views on a specific subject in an effort to attain mutual understanding.
They find a place overlooking the street behind a rustic barricade, pieces of tree conjoined with old wagon wheels. They are soon approached by a waitress who asks them what they want to drink.
‘Beer I think,’ says Arthur. Simon concurs. Thinks he’ll try a Singha.
‘This place,’ says Arthur indicating their immediate surroundings, ‘has an interesting history. Once upon a time, during the Vietnam War, it was a small restaurant popular with US soldiers. Later it became Tom’s Quick, a nice place to read the Bangkok Post over breakfast after bidding farewell to one’s companion of the night. Now as you see it has become a bar for off-duty punters. Though the waitresses are available for take out. It is well located. Some enterprising Thai saw the potential for a daytime hangout within walking distance of the Nana Hotel, that large building over there, and Nana Entertainment Plaza which is behind us and which we will visit later.’
‘How’s it going Arthur?’ A tousle haired young westerner has spotted them from the street.
‘Danny!’ says Arthur. ‘How are things?”
‘Great. Can’t stop mate…I’m on my way over to Khao Sarn Road, Got to pick up my stuff and hop on a bus to Surat.’
‘Back to Koh Samui is it?’
‘Right. Nice seeing you again. Take care you old bugger.’
‘I’ll do my best.’ Says Arthur. Danny disappears up the street. ‘That was young Danny,’ says Arthur. ‘Started out as a fairly typical young traveler type. What we call a backpacker. He’s part owner of a bar on Samui now.’
‘Seems I have a lot to learn about Thailand.’ Says Simon.
Simon, a well-known TV personality, and Arthur, a total nonentity, were at school together in the 1950s. The last time they met was when Arthur went back to England for his mother’s funeral. Now Simon is in Bangkok. So Arthur has come down from the remote village in Northern Thailand where he lives to show him around. They are having a beer on Soi 4 Sukhumvit, a popular tourist area of Bangkok. The conversation has been a little awkward to this point. Their lives have gone in different directions. They are not young anymore. Time has become finite. They have already discussed family matters and now they are working their way into the stuff they both really want to talk about, mainly to do with their early years.
Simon watches the action on the street, taxis, buses, school-kids, tourists and a stream of Thais moving past the lines of vendors. It’s much as he imagined it but more so. He hadn’t counted on the smells and the constant noise or the muffled ‘thump’ of go-go music somewhere off to stage left. Nor had he expected such a vast variety of sex tourists. There are the predictable middle-aged men but, surprisingly, a lot of younger ones too, wearing football shirts, many with their Thai girlfriends. The girls themselves are more Westernized than he’d imagined, most wear jeans and carry cell-phones, many sport bright red hair, piercings and tattoos, some are playing pool watched by well manicured Thai waitresses to the strains of Hotel California all by way of background.
‘Amazing to think we hitched to India when we did.’ Says Simon.
‘Can’t imagine doing it now.’
‘Not possible anymore. How do you feel about that now...our Journey to the East?’
‘I’m still trying to work it out.’
‘Me too. Could have been an important formative experience.’
‘Could have been a total waste of time.’
‘It’s never that.’
‘We were brave though don’t you think?’
‘Brave? Naïve more like. We were searching for something.’
‘I still am. Give me a few more years and I might figure out what it is I’m looking for. Sometimes I think I can see the past more clearly. The present baffles me.’
‘We live in an age of unbelief Arthur. Harry Potter is perfect for the times. Either we are totally lost or we are preparing ourselves for the next evolutionary step. Take your pick.’
‘Hmmm, I just consider myself lucky to watch it happen. It almost sounds as if you’ve found something.’
‘Not really. I’m just good at sounding as if I have. That’s what keeps people tuning in. They like hearing me say clever things.’
‘It fills the void.’
‘Same old Arthur.’
‘Can do better.’
‘Can do better. It’s what they used to write on my school report.’
‘Mine too actually. Those teachers. Strange bunch they were.’
‘They’d just been de-mobbed.’
‘Some of them were shell-shocked. Remember old Bedward? He’d spent two years driving round North Africa and Italy in a bloody tank. Next thing he knows he’s teaching algebra to first formers.’
‘Innocent in a way.’
‘You’re out of touch with the real world Arthur.’
‘That’s nothing new.’
‘Remember the brothel in Piraeus? What was her name? Merlina?’
‘Maria. It was your idea to bring her a bunch of flowers.’
‘I was having a Neal Cassady moment.’
‘You’re either on the bus or you’re off the bus.’
Simon is referring to Ken Kesey’s now famous bus trip. Arthur has never felt totally on or off the bus. One foot on the bottom step mostly. Undecided. This is the kind of pointless banter they both used to enjoy so much. It’s almost like old times. Pause to order more beer.
‘So what draws them to Thailand?’
‘These blokes you mean?’ Arthur indicates the other patrons, ‘sex I suppose. Some kind of escapist dream but sex mostly. It’s so easy here. They aren’t getting any at home or they’ve given up on loud pushy Western women. They think this is Wonderland. But they come in different shapes and sizes. Some get into relationships, some work, teaching English say, some just drink. Then there’s the backpackers, neo-hippies I call them, they’re looking for experience, adventure…’
‘Like us at that age?’
‘I suppose so. But it’s a different kind of traveling. These days they fly around with credit cards.’
‘No hitch-hiking across Afghanistan?’
‘Those days are gone. The only people going to Afghanistan now are NGOs and ‘security contractors’. Mercenaries. Rambo wannabes. They pop over here a lot too…for R&R.’
‘You guys British?’ booms a voice. Blimey, it’s Dog the Bounty Hunter!! Or a pretty good knock-off.
‘French actually,’ says Arthur who has run into this kind of situation before.'
‘Well excusay moi.’ Says the interruptor.
‘That always gets rid of them.’ Says Arthur. ‘Where was I?’
‘What about the Thai girls? What’s in it for them?’
‘Oh a lot of these girls will have Thai boyfriends…husbands even. Some have babies back in the village. The sensible ones send money home.’
‘What about all the sex trafficking? ’
‘That’s a load of bollocks. These girls here aren’t exactly the cream of the crop. Bless their hearts. They probably tried working in garment factories and didn’t like the hours or the wages. You won’t find any underage sex slaves here. They’re in the Thai knocking shops. A lot of these girls are here to find farang boyfriends…husbands if they’re lucky. I met my wife in a place like this.’
‘And it’s worked out OK?’
‘Could be worse.’
‘I wouldn’t say that.’
‘Your suburban tobacconist period. I never understood that. Why did you do it?’ Simon is referring to the 20 years Arthur spent running a small newspaper, sweets and tobacco shop in Surbiton. Until his wife, Lorraine, died and he sold the business to a family from Bangladesh. This is called a "moment of disclosure" in the television industry. It’s the point where the camera closes slowly in on the subject’s face. Done right it can produce the odd tear which viewers can relate to.
‘Well Lorraine got pregnant…she inherited the shop. It just happened.’
‘Bloody amazing. You had options didn’t you?’
‘Not at the time. I wasn’t unhappy in the shop you know.’
‘Sounds like something out of Pinter.’
‘More Beckett I’d say, looking back.’
I suppose I wouldn’t mind another shot at it, Arthur decides to think rather than say, then says, ‘I’d do a lot of things differently. Some things I wouldn’t do at all.’
‘Not sure really. What about you?’
‘Those were good years for me,’ says Simon. ‘the best. I was learning things about the entertainment business.’
‘Did you know how big pop music was going to be?’
‘Not really. I’m not sure anybody did. Some of us knew we had a tiger by the tail but the way it spread surprised everybody I think. It was a case of right place, right time for me. Look at me now.’
‘I don’t know how you do it. Go on TV every night. Doesn’t it get boring?’
‘It can. But that’s the real me…what you see on the box. Off camera I’m just numb. Maybe I shouldn’t be this honest. I’m trusting you Arthur. I’m running on empty. I feel totally drained most of the time. Emotionless. Unable to connect. I perk up when the cameras are on…but it’s an act. I’ll be interviewing somebody say but I’ll be watching myself interview somebody. And the funny thing is I still enjoy it. Does that make any sense? A part of me is still having fun. The biggest problem is being ‘on’ all the time. It gets hard to switch off.’
‘It sounds excruciating. You’re writing your memoirs of course.’
‘Oh yes. All the major publishers have approached me to do something. If I do get serious it will be in a post-modern sort of way. Something with short chapters. When it comes to writing I’m a sprinter. I don’t have the stamina or the patience for long descriptive passages, character details, intricate plots. Not me. I won’t be shedding any light on the human condition.’
‘What about dialogue?’
‘This kind of dialogue you mean? Comfortable, relaxed, conversational stuff. It’s fine.’
‘Like talking to yourself.’
Two shaven headed, heavily tattoed young men wearing full Arsenal regalia have threaded their way over to Arthur and Simon and are preparing to sit down.
‘Well, well look who's here. Gav and Kev. This is my friend Simon recently arrived from the UK. Simon knows everything don’t you Si?’
‘Well, me and Martin Amis between us. I certainly have an opinion on everything which is the same thing. You have to in my business.’
‘Oh,’ says Gav, ‘What business are you in then Simon? Not a copper I ’ope.’
‘I knew it!’ says Gav, ‘you’re that bloke!’
‘Look Kev! It’s that bloke.’
‘I’ll be buggered, ’ says Kev. ‘I’ve got an idea for a reality show. Bunch of blokes go to Thailand and meet some Thai girls…’
‘Well they interact like. Never a dull moment. Lot’s of sex in it too…people will love it.’
‘Yes,’ says Simon, ‘I can see a good audience for that. You might have trouble selling the idea to the Beeb. Or maybe not. Everything’s fair game on TV these days. People are hungry for diversion. Reality shows…so-called…the public can’t get enough of that stuff. Did you hear about the Dutch TV show. ‘Swap A Kidney’ or something? Apparently there’s an alarming shortage of donor organs in the Netherlands so someone at Endemol, big Dutch media production company, had the bright idea of getting terminally ill people to donate their organs. The audience got to vote on the most needy cases. I said something on my show about getting Hannibal Lecter to host it. If no contestants were suitable he could eat them. The actual operations could be done by naked Goth girl surgeons. Without anaesthetic. And so on. Lots of controversy. Always boosts the ratings. Turns out it was all a publicity stunt anyway. Hey this is just like old times…’
‘Fuck me,’ interjects Kev, ‘are we still doing dialogue? This sounds more like soliloquy.’
‘Sorry about that,’ says Simon, ‘I got a bit carried away. Jet lag.’
‘Have another beer.’
‘Better not. You see Gav, and Kev, I’m a communicator. That’s what I do. Communicate. I don’t always say important and meaningful things but I do it in an entertaining way. The hard part is keeping it going. You need to be motivated. I do a show every week and I have a team of people working on it. I’m the public face of it. I get my energy from the studio audience but mainly I get it from the camera. Vanity? Sure that’s part of it but the thought of having my face and thoughts in millions of living rooms is what tickles me. I know a lot of people hate me too. They think I’m an arrogant prick but they keep coming back. It’s all nonsense, I know that, but it’s fun too.’
‘That’s all right mate. Have a ramble if you fancy it. Dialogue’s OK but after a while it’s hard to tell who’s talking to who innit.’
‘Very true. If you leave out the he said, said he bits it all tends to blend into an endless series of verbal exchanges. It’s only the punctuation that gives it any meaning.’
‘Just a long drone interspersed with inverted commas.’
‘It’s the author talking to himself half the time.’
‘Total self indulgence.’
‘And so on.’
'Language is a virus.'
'But it's all we have.'
Gav and Kev reach for their bills and start to get up.
‘Here,’ says Simon, ‘Let me get that.’
‘Well thank you very much mate,’ says Gav, ‘nice meeting you in the flesh.’
‘Talking of flesh,’ says Kev, ‘we’re off down Cowboy. Fancy coming along?’
Arthur politely declines. Gav and Kev disappear into the busy street.
‘So that was Gav and Kev.’
‘They’re a couple of characters all right.’
‘So are we. Entirely too much space is wasted in this transporting ones characters here and there which, with the aid of American Express, they are able to do for themselves.’
‘Who said that...Proust?’
‘Tell the truth,’ says Arthur, ‘I was thinking we might adjourn to Nana Plaza. It’s just round the corner and you might find it interesting. If we’re lucky we might run into Dana?’
‘Yes. You’ve heard of him?’
‘I’ve seen his stuff online.’
‘I think you’ll like Dana. If we can find him. Perhaps you can give him a critique of his work. He always enjoys that.’
© C. Woww. All rights reserved by the author.
If you enjoyed this short story of C. Woww's his book 'Losing the Plot' can easily be purchased here at DCO Books online: http://www.dcothai.com/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=106
It can also be found in many local bookshops in Thailand, especially, we have seen, in the many Bookazine Bookshops in Bangkok and Pattaya.
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Or follow this link to Chuck’s recent great story over on planetwriters.com: http://www.planetwriters.com/article/poetry/life/naked-tea.html