Thursday, December 31, 2009

"The Rounds," 4:49 A.M., Friday, January 1, 2010


Well, I woke up a few minutes ago and decided to get up and start the new year with a new entry here, my first since mid-November.

This year just past has been a mixed one, neither notably wonderful nor particularly terrible.

On the down side, Old Thai Hand Jim George passed away Christmas Eve morning after a years-long battle with cancer. I hadn't seen Jim in two or three years, and even then, I hadn't seen him for a few years previously. When he was first diagnosed, he was determined to hang on until his daughter finished high-school -- and, happily, he succeeded not only at that but at living several years after she graduated.

Ba Burt Nestle went to his cremation at a wat just off Sukhumvit Soi 101, and said it was well-attended. I didn't even know about Jim's passing until shortly before the cremation, when Burt called to let me know about it so I could begin spreading the word around the Square. I happened to be in the Square when Burt called, so was able to get right on letting people know, though it was far too late, of course, for me to try to go myself.

Jim was not as flashy a man as some of the other Old Thai Hands of yore, such as George Pipas. But he staked out his home here decades ago and was successful. For years he and his wife made *wonderful* sausage that they marketed through various venues; I bought it on occasion at the Villa Market on Sukhumvit Road near the Square.

Jim was born in June, 1929, which made him 80 at the time of his death.

Rest in peace, Jim; you're already missed.

There has been good news, too. Tom-Tom went into hospital a few months ago, and was he ever one sick puppy -- we wondered if he would make it. He was in intensive care for quite a few weeks, then gradually began to recover, to everyone's pleasant surprise. I had heard he wasn't really keen on visitors, so didn't go myself.

He got out of hospital, let's see, I guess it was in early December, though he didn't rush out glad-handing right away, wisely staying at home resting up -- and enjoying NOT being in hospital! -- gradually building up his strength.

I first saw him Christmas Eve, when he showed up at the Texas Lone Staar. He was in a wheelchair, but I don't know if that was strictly necessary or a matter of convenience. I've seen him twice since, including yesterday, and he had his wheelchair with him, but told me he had brought it just because it was convenient should he decide he wanted it. I have a cane and walker, and took them to New Square One Pub so Tom-Tom doesn't have to mess with bringing his own anytime his goes to the Square. I spoke with the owners of the various bars Tom-Tom frequents to let them know he might be showing up with one, the other, or both, and to please just let him leave them wherever he ends his tour of the day.

Tom-Tom looked reasonably well when I first saw him Christmas Eve; yesterday, he appeared markedly better after just that short time, especially his color.

I haven't written about Tom-Tom's illness in respect of his private nature -- I wanted his permission before I posted anything online, which he granted me Christmas Eve.

All of Tom-Tom's many friends are greatly pleased at his recovery -- not to mention deeply relieved!

His friend Mike Cavaugh deserves special mention, as he worked tirelessly to make Tom-Tom's lengthy hospital stay as pleasant and easy as possible. Mike did have to make a trip to the U.S. recently, but while he was here, he was at Tom-Tom's side daily, often at considerable length.

From all of us, Mike, we owe you a debt of gratitude on Tom-Tom's behalf.

And Tom-Tom, you hard-headed old fool, take CARE of yourself!

Moving on . . .

Chris Moore's latest Vincent Calvino novel, The Corruptionist, is out now. It's the 11th in the series, though Chris is already at work on the 12th -- he mentioned it yesterday.

Before this latest work, I tended to favor Pattaya 24/7 above the other Calvino novels -- not that they aren't ALL very good; it was more of a matter of choosing one maybe a bit of a standout from a thoroughbred stable! Now, however, I feel The Corruptionist is every bit as good as Pattaya 24/7 -- and I have a sneaky suspicion that in the long term, I well may end up deciding it's a cut above even that earlier work.

You can order the novel (and other of Chris' books) at his website ( at on Amazon, where a Kindle edition is available for those favoring that format. Incidentally, several of his works have been translated into one or more of 11 languages, and that's just so far.

Chris also released a pocket primer that covers a lot of ground. As far as his works are concerned, he discusses the Calvino series specifically. He also has some essays; one, for instance, is about the nature of Chris' creativity, an area of special interest to me. (For those who don't know, I hold both a bachelor's and master's degree in literature, though I've taught numerous other subjects within the broad rubric of English, taught mostly in universities in the U.S., China, Macau (while it still was a colony of Portugal), and right here in Thailand.)

Chris had a book-signing on Thanksgiving Day at the Texas Lone Staar in conjunction with the bar's annual Thanksgiving free feed. What with the free grub, there were a lot of people present, of course, and Chris did decent business selling copies of not only this latest work, but some of his earlier ones as well, autographing away. Naturally, I snatched up a copy of the latest Vinny novel -- I have all of Chris' works, all autographed, much to my delight.

Chris is building quite a reputation for himself, one well-deserved. He's showing up on some major radars these days, not least in the book review section of the New York Times, among many others. And the reviews are uniformly positive, praising his works. He's still young enough to have a very good chance of putting himself squarely into public view generally, especially if the Calvino novels on which there are movie options actually get produced. Will THAT ever be a great day!!!

Chris has rightly been compared to some of the iconic great writers of crime fiction, including Chandler and Spillane.

Chris' Calvino novels, like those great authors' works, goes beyond the mere thriller or sensational. Of the many [daunting] tasks any writer faces, Chris says he especially enjoys developing a plot -- and the characters who are players in that plot.

And he's plenty damned good at both. I've come to think of Calvino, his secretary, Rattana, and his best friend, Royal Thai Police Colonel Pratt, who plays the sax and his an ardent fan of Shakespeare (whom he quotes at length, regularly, and often) as real people, in the sense when I'm reading, I genuinely care about what happens to them. Chris has a special talent, a rare one, of making his characters seem flesh-and-blood, alive. And his plots are utterly believable. And that believability is quite a feat, because if you sit back and pull yourself out of the story to consider the likelihood of certain events really happening in real life, some of them are quite improbable. But they seem utterly plausible when you have your head buried in the story.

I had the pleasure of having a chat with Chris at the Lone Staar yesterday, and brought up an idea I had after finishing The Corruptionist: I am considering starting at the beginning of the Calvino series, re-reading the entire corpus, carefully analyzing them as I go, taking notes. My idea is to eventually write a work of literary criticism of that part of his work -- and those novels collectively make up over half his works. I wanted to know if Chris is comfortable with the idea at all, and with the idea of me being the one to write it, and whether I could lean on him for input along the way. Happily, he is very enthusiastic about the idea, and paid me a great compliment by saying he thinks I'm the best person to write such a close analysis.

Before you roll your eyes and think, "Another ivory tower egghead work that no one can understand!" -- that's not my idea at all. I never have appreicated fancy-dancy intellectuals' gibberish blatherings aimed at each other that are incomprehensible to an Everyman. I want to write something that any person with, say, a high-school education, normal intelligence, and a bit of curiosity about a work of literature -- make no mistakes; these novels are very much squarely at the center of literature, great literature, in my view -- can readily digest and understand, taking away (I hope) a deeper understand of the works, both each within itself and collectively as a body of works.

If you've not read any of the Calvino novels, each stands alone as a complete story -- none ends with a "to be continued" feel. Yes, in some there are references to events or people in earlier novels, but those references don't mean you have to have read the particular novel to fully understand and appreciate the novel at hand.

I haven't asked Chris about the storyline of the 12th Calvino novel -- I never do, preferring to ripping each open entirely fresh, with no preconceptions.

Being friends with an author whose work you really like is one of life's greatest simple pleasures, and I feel lucky to know not only Chris, but the multi-talented Richard K. Diran, who among his many talents is a writer; some years ago, he authored likely *the* definitive work on the hill tribes in Burma, accompanied by many of his professional-quality photographs (photography being just one more of his talents). Further, the two of them are very close friends -- Richard is the model of a recurring central character throughout the entire series, but I'm going to be rude and not identify which one -- figure it out!

Chris' works are widely available in bookshops here, in the U.S. and Europe, as well as many other countries. And online, of course, and not just Amazon; various electronic edition, such a .pdf's, are available from various online sources, something Chris told me just yesterday -- I knew about Amazon, but not the others.

If you're already a Calvino fan, well, hop to it and get a copy of The Corruptionist -- I guarantee tou won't be disappointed!

Whew! Got a little carried away there! . . .

 Let's see, what next . . . well, Bear was down recently from the wilds of Isaan, where he and his family have been living a good while now; as always, it was a delight to see him. He's still "enjoying" dodging cobras, herding water buffaloes, and harvesting rice! (Sorry, Bear.)

Yesterday I heard Rick Smith was up from Pattaya sometime in early December, though I missed him. He reportedly was doing well.

I catch Scottie online now and then, including just recently. He's dividing his time between part-time work in Rangsit, on the north side of Bangkok, and some little burg near Petchabun. He really likes it upcountry -- no traffic, and NO POLLUTION. Well, comparatively anyway.

Charlie Werner, the Godfather of the Minnesota Mob, hit town two or three days ago, and will be here about three weeks. Charlie is one great guy, and all of us always greatly anticipate his annual sojourns to the Kingdom. This time was no exception -- in fact, when I'm done blabbing here, I plan to head off to the Square in hopes of catching up with him, assuming he didn't get wasted for New Year's Eve! (Entirely likely and actually probable!)

Ott got back from a many-month visit to Houston, where her daughter Pook lives and where Ott and Ned own a Thai restaurant in a suburb on the southwest side of the city, I forget the name of it. Pook manages the place, but Ott stayed the best part of a year to help out, so her visit wasn't entirely a holiday, but more of a working vacation. She's doing well, as demonstrated by her never-ending feistiness! It's great to have her back. (Ned's doing well too, by the way.)

Cajun Riley has been in town over the holidays, making regular visits  to the square. His splendid wife, Khun Lek, shows up now and then to drop him off or pick him up, and she's always willing to sit and chat for awhile. She truly is a wonderful lady whom we all absolutely adore.

Ken Sevenski is back from a lengthy visit to Canada, where he accomplished one of his main aims of spending time with his Mom. He caught me online the other day, and was up at his ranch upcountry, with plans to return to Bangkok early this month, though he didn't mention a particular date. He and the Missus had to move out of their home here in Bangkok because termites did extensive damage to it; they're living somewhere on either Sukhumvit Soi 101 or 107 -- I forget which. Out in the jungle in the Bangna area, in any case. (101 is a bit east of the Bangna-Trad intersection, where you can turn off Sukhumvit Road to head towards Chonburi, Pattaya-Jomtien, Rayong, and beyond to points further south. 107 is just the other side of that intersection, and is the general area where Burt Nestle and his family live.) Anyway, Ken said he had a great visit in Canada, though he was darned glad to be back; after all, he's been here decades, putting him among the Deans of Old Thai Hands.

Which reminds me. I griped at Chris yesterday about something he wrote in his Calvino primer: he wrote that the generally accepted time span one must spend in the Kingdom to achieve Old Thai Hand status is 20 years -- and I've been here "only" 15 years and 7 months, leaving me out! He just laughed and said I'm an exception because of how I plunged deeply into life here right from the start, and that no one would dream of disputing my Old Thai Hand status!

Aussie Cal is still in town -- had a nice visit with him around Christmas, as a matter of fact. He's just been relaxing for what I guess is by far the longest he's stayed in Thailand, but in his profession he can pretty much pack up and go home, then land a job in short order, though maybe not right in his hometown north of Sydney. He's percolating along, smooth and easy, laid back as always.

Tuk-Tuk, former cashier at Silver Dollar, and her Australian husband Bas, are here from their home in Perth on holiday. I missed them when they first came to town, when they were here a few days -- we kept missing each other, and neither they nor I had each other's telephone number, so we kept missing each other. then they headed up to Nongkai, where Tuk-Tul's family lives. After a few days, they came back to Bangkok. Two nights ago I came out of the Lone Staar, planning to go home, but as I was passing Cat's Meow, one of the ladies from there was coming back from having run an errand, and she told me Tuk-Tuk and Bas were inside there, so of course I headed in. It was sheer delight to see them -- I'm just crazy about both of them. They've invited me to dinner tonight at a place I've never been, the Green Garden Restaurant. It's quite near, on Sukhumvit Soi 20, the same soi home to the famous German restaurant, Bei Otto. They raved about it, so I'm looking forward to both the company and the food. By the way, they left a beautiful genuine leather hat for me when they headed upcountry, and I got it from the ladies in the Wild Country. It's among the nicest hats I've ever had. And it was darned nice of them to lug it all the way from Oz!

Taffy and his clan are doing well; Josie, his and his wife's, Ray, daughter, turns nine come the 27th of this month. Jeez, but do the years slip right on by! She'll have a party at Taffy's other place, Faulty towers, his combined rooming house-bar on Soi Hotel 27. That's an excellent venue, as traffic is exceedingly rare, given that the Soi dead-ends at Hotel 27, and there aren't many places between it and Sukhumvit Soi 22, the other end of the sub-soi.

While I was in the Square Christmas Eve -- and got to see most people -- I stayed home Christmas Day and a couple days after, though I heard that just about everywhere had quite good business on Christmas Day, too, good news for our various bar owner friends. Yesterday saw a good turnout -- Burt showed up, but his wife Julae (pronounced "July," alternately anglicized as "Julai") was with him, leash drawn up right tight! He can't get a kitchen pass today, but I'll go down anyway. By the way, their hussy-of-a-daughter Jan was in town both Christmas Eve and yesterday, but didn't show up either day -- but that's understandable, as she had an early flight to Riyadh on Christmas Day, and is leaving early this morning to Melbourne. (For those who might not know, she's an air hostess with THAI.)

Forgot to mention that the staff at the Lone Staar dedicated a basket of fruit, a cake, and some flowers in honor of what would have been George's 88th birthday -- he was born December 31, 1921. They also decorated his booth with balloons and streamers, and we had a toast in his memory. Sure do miss that old fart. He truly was lengendary.

Bruce the Laird has been a regular fixture around the Square late afternoons-early evenings, and is doing well. He's one of my favorite conversationalists, sharp of wit, keen of intellect, shred in his analysis. (He's sharp of TONGUE, too, by the way, and routinely traps the innocent and unsuspecting, including ME! But there's never any venom, so we all get a laugh out of his keen barbs!)

Had the pleasure of seeing Burma Richard's wife Junko last month, when they were leaving in their car and Richard spotted me as I was about to exit the Square onto Soi 22. She's one of the nicest people I know, and I just wish I got to see her more than I do. Long-time readers may recall that she's the last of an 800-year-old Japanese Samurai family; were the imperial system still in place, she would be something on the order of a duchess, something like that.

Overall, the places of the Square and the Squaronians who frequent them are doing pretty well. Business has picked up some, maybe not every day, but some, on some days. It's completely unpredictable -- for instance, on December 30th, various places were thumping, especially the Silver Dollar, Texas Lone Staar, and Taffy's New Square One Pub. Which doesn't mean that most of us saw 2009 off with a heartfelt "Good riddance!"

Well, I've been banging away fo a bit over two hours now, so I guess I'll call it a day for now. I'll be reporting on New Year's Day soon -- and I don't mean in six weeks; I'll do better this time. Promise.

HAPPY 2010!!!

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