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JANUARY 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 1



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KENNETH A. CHAMPEON, a math teacher by trade, who resides in Portland, Oregon, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Online. His work has appeared in Toward Freedom and Intercultural Writers' Review.


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sabai, sabai!

KENNETH A. CHAMPEON

Toy, as she was called, got HIV one night in a drunken and much-regretted lapse from strict and proud lesbianism. She didn't know she had HIV until after she got AIDS, and she didn't know she had AIDS until after she had accrued many a misspent month applying whitening cream to blemishes that would not go away. "Smile!" was the verbal response to the world she put the moiety of her coins behind, and Sangthip whisky and soda, the response in act.

The Thai economy was in a bad way back then, the hopeful float of an exaggerated currency having rent and sunk back in 1997. The national response was, on the face of it, a steep and sudden increase in alcohol products, an uneasy distrust of the Western economic catechism, and a palpable loss of self-confidence. Otherwise, things remained much the same, as the supposed national pastime of sleeping and shopping failed to replace the more traditional and time-tested, arguably arch-Buddhist, pastime of passing time, in the eternity that a faith in metempsychosis is likely to incur.

My observatory in those days was called the Rendezvous Pub--fittingly enough adjacent to Babylon French Restaurant--a smallish, four-table joint serving up mostly Thai whisky to sluggards from the local university. Most of the bars in the town seemed to use objects treading the fine line between antiques and junk for their interior decoration, and the Rendezvous tended toward the exhibition of the latter. Rows of empty but otherwise ordinary bottles of wine and spirits were shelved along the wall behind the makeshift bar, as though placed there for no other reason than to be shattered in a Wild West shootout. A number of original paintings in oil by a man who lived upstairs, which were singular in their quality as creations of a dabbler and in their excessive asking price, graced the walls. These, a few plants, a row of thin pasant tai volumes, an incongruous portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and an old Coca-Cola serving tray nailed to the wall, sufficed to provide an environment in which one could unimpeachably play the rake. And this is what I largely did.

But being generally more interested, as Henry Adams said of himself, in the study of the game of life than in the playing of it, my dissolution was pretty well circumscribed by native fear. Not so of my friend of that time, Matt, who pretty much approached life as Anna Karenina approached trains; that is, as something indescribably terrible that one should willfully enjoin to be one's destroyer.

Matt drank as he thought anyone of true German blood should drink; that is, copiously and recklessly, with a deep-seated disregard for oneself, others, and the oppressive dictates of the material world. His vocabulary was rich with the violent verbs synonymous with drunk, of which blasted, smashed and obliterated were only a few. Very often he spoke wistfully of taking off to the moon.

He talked like he drank, voluminously if not intelligently, and could easily pin you down for hours with some indefinite but ardent lecture on the unsung virtues of Outer Space. More than anything, this necessary dismantling of any critical faculties or ambitions toward a humbler, earthier ideal, caused me to try to approach his tolerance, if I could never tolerably attain it.

It was in my absence that Matt made Toy's acquaintance. Their mutual esteem of launching the long and desperate journey to mao ("heavy drunk" in pasant tai) in the mid-afternoon must have been what first attracted them; that is, just below his boyish good looks and hers, oddly enough, equally boyish. As it happened, they also shared an interest in art in different terms, and she enjoyed listening to him talk, or rather, enjoyed mocking him for talking too much.

At this time, Toy had HIV, though, as said before, she did not know it, nor did I. Matt had been tested, and tested clean.

Having just been through a disappointing relationship with another Thai woman, Matt was on the lookout for a new companion, and his waxing revulsion towards all things Thai, including what he perceived to be the predominantly superficial and mendacious Thai woman, did little to decrease his interest in Toy. I still quite vividly remember his drunken paean to her as we rode back one night from the Rendezvous Pub. Suffice it to say that he regarded her as perfect, and spared no words--if he spared eloquence--in telling me so.

One of the liabilities, however, in being a triumphant talker is that one never comes very close--and if close, never speedily--to a knowledge of one's listener's personal history, still less of their obligatory cache of disheartening peccadilloes. I learned of one of Toy's peccadilloes the one and only night I spoke to Toy absent of Matt; it took him almost a month to come to where I had come in the span of a few beers and a few uncomfortable lulls.

"She's a fucking lesbian! Why didn't she tell me she was a fucking lesbian?" I held my tongue. "These fucking Thai girls always keep their secrets until they've sucked you in, don't they? Jesus Christ!"

[ MORE: seduction by a lonely sop ]