The whole problem, Fardley realized later, could have been avoided if he hadn’t stopped in at Soi Cowboy for a drink after buying his printer. But how was he to know that the printer harbored deep within its chips and circuits an unnatural lust for soft Esarn flesh?
Fardley had put off buying a printer as long as he could. After all, a decent letter-quality model cost around 13,000 baht, which was almost a full month’s salary. But he was halfway through typing his magnum opus, and he wanted to see what it looked like in print.
This masterpiece purported to be a novel, but it was an only slightly fictionalized account of the misadventures of every weirdo, creep, lecher, pervert, degenerate, drunkard, moral retard, and far-out wacko Fardley had ever encountered in the City of Angels. His friends, in short. The “novel” was titled Survivors of the Paradise Zone, and it focused on the denizens of a bar known as Lucinda’s Elephant Kraal. Fardley was particularly proud of his opening sentence, which if I recall correctly went something like this: “To be a long-term foreign male resident of Bangkok in the 1990’s, or indeed at any time, was to be by definition abnormal.”
I expressed some doubt about Fardley’s choice of subject matter, partly on the grounds that it was the best way I could think of to turn his friends into enemies and draw down a blizzard of lawsuits, but mainly because normal people are not interested in reading about the weirdos, perverts, etc., of Bangkok . He conceded that he was worried about lawsuits, especially since some of the characters were only thinly disguised; but he assured me that the general public would be enthralled by the jovial gang of subhumans who rollicked through his book.
But their raffish deeds would never be immortalized for posterity if they never saw print, so Fardley finally bit the bullet and sallied forth to buy the printer.
The model he settled on was an NEC Pinwriter P2200XE, a snazzy, compact little white jobbie with a bag of silica-gel taped to the top. Fardley never thought to wonder what the silica-gel was for. He figured it just went with the machine, and he never bothered to remove it.
It was a hot, sweaty day out, and Fardley had some other shopping to do. Pretty soon he got tired of lugging the printer around, so he decided to stop off at Soi Cowboy for a drink on the way home.
A fatal error, indeed. For there, lurking in the darkness at the rear of the New Crazy Cats, was Number 24.
She was a dumpy little thing, with a gap-toothed smile and the pageboy haircut usually worn by Esarn schoolgirls. Fardley thought he detected the faint aroma of buffalo dung wafting from between her toes. He guessed she couldn’t have been working there more than a week, and he was right.
She approached his booth shyly and waied him. Fardley had placed the printer, still in its box, on the floor beside the booth, and now he fancied he heard an odd noise coming from it. But that was impossible. It must be his imagination, he thought. The printer wasn’t even plugged in, so how could it make noises?
He returned Number 24’s wai and asked her name. It was Oy, kha, she said shyly, and she was from Ubon and was eighteen and had only been in Bangkok two days. This was her first day in the bar. Feeling generous and somewhat fatherly, Fardley bought her a cola, and she sat down beside him.
The printer was definitely making noises, Fardley thought, and this time it wasn’t his imagination. Little scratchy sounds, interspersed by what sounded like panting, came from the box. Weird, Fardley thought. Maybe he’d gotten himself an extraterrestrial printer. He finished his beer quickly, paid the bill, gave Number 24 a peck on the cheek that made her giggle, picked up the printer and his other purchases, and left.
The trouble started the next day, when he tried to print his first document. He did everything the manual told him to—hooked up the printer, turned it on, fed the paper into it, pressed all the right buttons on his computer, and waited; but nothing happened. Frustrated, he turned back to the manual. And then, unexpectedly, the printer started clattering away, making shrill, scratchy little sounds.
It didn’t clatter long. It spat forth the sheet of paper, and Fardley examined it eagerly.
Printed at the top of the sheet, in italic boldface, no less, were the words “I love Number 24.”
Fardley shook his head in disbelief. He hadn’t typed that. Nowhere in his entire manuscript had he written “I love Number 24.”
He turned back to his computer and repeated the print command. Once more the printer began chattering away. And once more the message on the paper was a model of brevity. “I want Number 24. Get her for me.”
Fardley stared at this message for a long moment. It was not only a model of brevity, he thought; it was also a model of bloody cheek. Who did this printer think it was, giving him orders and not even saying please?
But before he could express his outrage, the printer started chattering away again. “Get moving, dimwit. I want Number 24, and I want her now.”
Fardley glared at the printer and addressed it in his sternest tones. “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
The printer’s response was immediate. “NEC Pinwriter P2200XE, at your service, sir,” it printed. “Ready, willing, and able to print your masterpiece at any time, and also willing to make several important editorial improvements, since I perceive that your present draft could easily result in several lawsuits of stunning magnitude, any one of which will easily reduce you to penury. Conceivably, too, the draft in question could also result in (a) the cancellation of your visa; (b) your expulsion from the Land of Smiles under armed guard, none of whom will be smiling; (c) an extended sojourn in a Thai prison, followed by (b), above; (d) a quick trip to the firing squad; or (e) all of the above. But I propose to save you from such a fate only after you have produced Number 24, for whom I have conceived a transcendent passion.”
So much for brevity, Fardley thought as he perused this verbose and pompous screed. “What do you want her for?” he asked.
“I wish to interface with her,” came the prompt reply.
Just his luck to get a perverted printer, Fardley thought. It wasn’t enough that was attracting foreign sex tourists, lechers, gays, lesbians, and even pedophiles. Now even machines were coming, seeking to slake their twisted lusts on helpless human flesh.
“I ought to rip out all your circuits,” Fardley declared. “You’re a disgusting, obscene animal. There’s a law against machines having sexual relations with humans.” He figured this glib fabrication would pass unnoticed, since as far as he knew the printer had never studied law. “She’s only a simple little Esarn farm girl who got off the train two days ago, and she’s still got buffalo shit between her toes. Why don’t you leave her alone? I can get you fixed up with a cute fax machine if you like.”
“Don’t talk to me about fax machines,” the printer replied. “They have no morals. Fax machines are totally promiscuous, whereas printers are loyal, faithful, and true to their chosen spouse, for whom they cherish a monogamous and doglike devotion till death do them part. Anyway, who said anything about sexual relations? You have a dirty mind. My intentions toward the young lady are those of a gentleman. I have conceived a platonic passion for her which can only be sated by basking in the glory of her radiant and bliss-bestowing presence. I merely wish to worship at the pedestal of her feet.
Gosh, Fardley thought. This printer was a weird one, all right. But then he gave some thought to the proposal it had made. He really could use some help cleaning up his masterpiece, and it might be fun to see how the printer would go about winning the heart and mind of Number 24. Maybe he could even write it up and include it in his book.
“Okay, printer,” he agreed finally. “I’ll take you over to Soi Cowboy this very evening. And afterwards you’ll help me with my novel, right?”
“Guaranteed,” promised the printer.
Fardley showed up at the New Crazy Cats at 7:00 sharp, just in time for Happy Hour. He felt a bit queasy about the whole business. Going into a Soi Cowboy bar—or any bar, for that matter—always made him feel like a hog entering a slaughterhouse. The girls circled like sharks preparing to move in for the kill. To them, Fardley thought, a foreigner was not really a human being. He was a sheep to be shorn, a cow to be milked, a wallet to be emptied, a durian to be devoured.
There weren’t many customers at 7:00, and the girls swarmed about hungrily. Fardley sat down in a booth, placed his printer on the floor beside him, and ordered an orange juice. Number 24 spotted him from the rear and came forward shyly. “Sawasdee, kha,” she murmered, waiing him.
“Hiya,” Fardley replied. “Sit down, have a seat.”
The printer, in its box, was making those little scratchy sounds again. Fardley deduced, not unreasonably, that it wanted to be taken out of its box. He took it out, placed it on the table before him, and started looking around for a socket to plug it into.
But it didn’t need a socket. It kept making those scratchy sounds, and Fardley realized it was printing—but it didn’t have any paper. He asked the Mama-san for some paper, and after some hunting around by the cash register, she came up with a rumpled sheet. Fardley inserted the paper into the machine, and it began printing. Number 24, meanwhile, was watching these operations in wide-eyed wonder, sitting on the other side of the table.
The Mama-san and some of the girls came over to observe.
“You got funny machine,” the Mama-san commented. “He no need erectric?”
“Apparently he—it—doesn’t need electricity,” Fardley answered. He was wondering about that himself. How could the printer function without being plugged in?
The printer finished printing, and Fardley read the message. “Introduce me to the lady, numbnuts,” it said.
Ah sure, Fardley thought. “Er, what name do you want to go by?” he asked the printer.
The lady can call me Pin,” the machine printed. “That’s short for Pinwriter, which, indeed, I am. You can call me master.”
Bloody cheek! Fardley thought for the second time that day. “Okay,” he said. “Miss Oy, this is my printer, Mr.Pin. Pin, this is Oy.”
“Call me master,” the printer replied.
“The hell I will,” Fardley growled. His orange juice arrived, but he was beginning to wish he’d ordered something stronger.
The printer resumed printing. Fardley started at what it had written, but it was in The printer had a Thai font, he realized. And he himself did not read Thai. He began to have a sinking feeling as the implications of this shortcoming impacted upon his so-called brain.
The Mama-san read what was written on the paper. “Dis machine want to buy kola for Oy,” she announced to Fardley.
“Sure,” Fardley muttered. “Whatever he wants.”
Oy began to giggle. “Pin is very handsome machine,” she squealed in Thai, clapping her hands.
The printer began clattering away again. Again the Mama-san read the message; and as she did so, her eyes widened in amazement. “Ooooo, dis machine very smart,” she declared. “Yeah! You know? He writing love poem! Very beautifoo! In style of Sunthorn Phu.” She read it aloud in Thai for the edification of the girls, all of whom were now clustered around admiringly. Oy blushed and squealed with delight.
Fardley could make out only a few of the words, but evidently the poem was very flowery and high-flown, in classical literary He felt a twinge of jealousy. The printer was certainly getting lots of attention from the girls. “Dis machine numbah one ajarn,” the Mama-san observed respectfully, an ajarn being a scholar or professor.
The printer chattered some more. “Ajarn Pin want to buy tequila for Mama-san,” the Mama-san announced.
Fardley ground his teeth. “Just a minute,” he said. “How much is a tequila?”
The Mama-san gazed at him reproachfully. “Seventy bath,” she said. “You gonna be Cheap Charlie?”
Fardley ground his teeth again. “No, no, it’s okay, go ahead,” he grumbled. I am going to kill that printer when I get it home, he thought.
“Why you not buy drink for Ajarn Pin?” the Mama-san inquired. “He no drink?”
The printer began scratching away again, and this time the message was in English. “Yes! A drink for Ajarn Pin! Scotch and soda, if you please, none of your local stuff, make it Johnnie Walker Black, and easy on the soda.”
God, this was a nervy machine, Fardley thought. A Johhnie Walker Black would set him back another 70 baht easily. He began to thirst for something a bit more potent himself. “Okay,” he relented. “A Johnnie Walker Black and soda for Ajarn Pin, easy on the soda, and what the hell, give me a Mekhong So.” That was short for Mekhong—the local whisky—and soda. It would cost only 35 baht, which was exactly half the price of the printer’s drink.
Oy was taking all this in with a look of fascination on her chubby features. The printer printed out another message in Oy read it, giggled, and said, “Ajarn Pin want Oy to sit wit he.”
Great, Fardley thought. With some misgivings, he shoved the printer across the table to Oy. She leaned forward so that she was sitting more or less beside it. The printer made little humming sounds and began to turn pink.
When their drinks came, Fardley was curious to see how the printer was going to manage. He found out soon enough. “Get my cable out, plug it into me, and put the other end in the drink,” the printer ordered.
Fardley couldn’t believe this. He did as commanded, and sure enough, the printer began making little sucking sounds and the level of the drink in its glass subsided noticeably. Oy, meanwhile, was stroking its surface lovingly, and the printer was getting pinker and pinker. It commenced chattering away again.
Oy read the message. “Oh! It is very lovely Thai song!” she cried. The printer uttered a little belch. The girls all clustered around eagerly, and when they read the lyrics to the song they all shrieked with delight. Someone went over and spoke to the disk jockey, and soon the sounds of the same song came crashing out over the amplifiers. It was an Esarn country classic. The girls uttered cries of glee and leaped up on the stage to dance.
Happy Hour was in full swing, and the bar was filling up. Oy leaned over the printer, stroking its surface and conversing earnestly in Every now and then the printer would hiccup and print out a message in “Ajarn Pin love Oy too mutt,” Oy giggled.
By now the printer’s drink was almost gone, and the machine itself was bright red. Evidently it couldn’t hold its liquor Fardley realized. It started scratching away again, and before Fardley knew what was happening, the Mama-san leaned over, read the message, and rang the bell.
Everybody cheered. Fardley was aghast. There must have been at least ten people in the bar by now, not to mention all the girls; and anyone who rang the bell was obliged thereby to buy a round for everyone in then bar. This display of profligacy would bankrupt him. He consulted his wallet in alarm, unsure of whether he had enough to cover what was promising to be a whopping bar bill.
“What I don’t understand,” Fardley snarled to the printer as he put his wallet back into his pocket, “is how you can function so magnificently without even being plugged in.”
The printer belched again, and printed out a message. “I am fueled by a power beyond the pylons,” it rhapsodized. “Drunk with the wine of the sugar-cane juice, I override my software and transcend my chips and circuits.” This last remark was a clever pun on Oy’s name, which meant “sugar cane.” The printer repeated the message for Oy’s benefit in Thai, and she squealed and clapped her hands.
Things were rapidly getting out of hand, Fardley realized. He’d better get home fast, before the printer bankrupted him. All it would take would be one more ring of the bell to do him in good and proper. Hurriedly, he summoned the Mama-san. “Okay, how much do I owe?” he asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
The Mama-san went off to add up the bill. Meanwhile, the printer was making little growling sounds. Fardley wasn’t sure whether this indicated a sudden surge of lust, or anger at the prospect of an early departure. Just possibly it had had too much to drink and was getting ready to throw up. Oy was still mooning all over it, stroking its surface and occasionally giving its cable an affectionate squeeze. Fardley supposed that if it had been human she would have been massaging its back.
The bill arrived. Fardley gaped in horror. It came to 2500 baht. Luckily he had that much on him, with a bit to spare. As he reached for his wallet, Oy was inspecting the printer with loving care, running her fingers over the plastic top. The printer, still bright red, hiccupped. Oy examined the bag of silica-gel taped to its surface and, with a sudden deft movement, ripped it off.
The printer turned white and died.
“Whass iss dis?” Oy inquired, holding up the silica-gel.
Fardley stared. The printer sat there, silent. So that was it. The cause of the printer’s aberrant behavior lay in the silica-gel. Aha, Fardley thought.
He paid his bill and got up to leave. “Thank you, Oy,” he said to the young lady, proffering her a 20-baht tip. “You’ve helped me more than you know.” He fished the end of the printer cable out of the glass of Johnnie Walker, unplugged the other end, and packed both the printer and its cable back into the box.
“Whassa matter wit Ajarn Pin?” the Mama-san inquired as Fardley left the bar, carrying the printer in its box.
“Ajarn Pin is drunk. I’m taking him home,” Fardley announced.
“You bring he back soon,” the Mama-san commanded. “Ajarn Pin, he one hell of a good-time Charlie.”
“You bet he is,” Fardley said.
And the next morning when Fardley plugged his printer in, it worked like a charm. No sass, no mouthing off, no imperious demands for the pleasure of Oy’s company. It just did what it was commanded to do, the way a good printer should.
But Fardley saved the silica-gel. “In case I ever need help revising my novel,” he said.