Bangkok in the Summer,
Bangkok in the Fall
Part III

After Part II

July 2001

Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Wescott wants binding. Never published with a hard spine, he is now falling apart. While the older NEWNES and the positively ancient Steele show no signs of their repeated openings, Wescott must now be 'held together' in a plastic bag. Fortunately, there is a bookbinder right around the corner from The Oriental. I've been meaning to take him there for months but one thing or another ...


This Christian daughter of a Pagan governor broke up her father's expensive idols and distributed them among the poor – a piece of Jove to one, Venus' hand to another, Neptune's fork to another. Whereupon, in a rage, he tried to kill her. Her resistance frightened him; and he went on trying, thinking she was a witch. Finally he died of fright. The next governor also endeavored to either subdue her or put her to death; it took some time and effort even to do the latter.

NEWNES reminds us how cruel is the passage of time: statesmen, painters, dramatists, composers and ... yes, even swimmers ... are easily lost in the folds of the calendar.


But, dear reader, you have come here not to read about long forgotten (never known-about?) minor lights, bottom-of-the-barrel saints or authors who wrote about events in my old hometown. Right?

Morton was becoming comfortably used to his 'Bloody-Mary' mornings in the darkroom. So easy ... just flood the easel with one of Somachai's2 corpse shots ... crop out the smilers ... show a little exposed thigh, even though dead ... Dektol for a minute, fixer for 10 seconds. That's it!

Not today. The arson went bad. The perpetrator was caught in the blaze. Morton's cosmetic hatch-work was called for. Right next to it a Dad murdered his son; a family snapshot from happier times had to be inserted.

The Steele Journals are so much easier to work with: essentially just cut and paste work. Well, of course, there are the editorial decisions:

Lead with the farmer who lashed the truth out of a perfidious teen age servant girl? Yes.

An uplifting story about a jury who acquitted the 'wronged' husband? Of course.

Another 'wronged' man who didn't wait for applause from his peers before he sliced the throat of a man who had impure thoughts about the wife of another? A good lesson.

Libretto dealers in New York who have a turf war over Mikado rights? How Times Square has changed.

1 For many years Travis McGee lived in Fort Lauderdale aboard his houseboat, the "Busted Flush". Though it was docked at the Bahia Mar Yacht Basin, just a few minutes' walk from my house; the "Busted Flush" was never actually seen by your journalist.

2 Somachai works the Patpong crime-beat, 10PM to 4AM shift.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001 (Feasts of Saint James the Great and Saint Christopher)

"We know our market!"1

"So do we!"2

I believe them. And, even if I didn't, who would I be to tell them that they could up their sales by ... say ... featuring little blind children with cuddly animals on the cover instead of ... hmmm ... those close-ups of cuts of human flesh that have taken a horribly wrong turn. As a little kid, my first newspaper was The Wall Street Journal; we only had graphs and little tables to break up the acres of front page gray. Row Your BoatWhat do I know about selling news? We just bought what was handed to us; those were the Eisenhower years.

Meanwhile, down below, ALIMAK is looking for something it dropped. While Watcharee and I were away in Europe or America, someone over here stumbled; either bringing something in or taking something out. Anyway, it was a big enough splash to create a hazard for navigation. For weeks a buoy has marked the spot where it went down ... err, sank. For days cranes have been at work. Yesterday, just one crane. Today, two of them. It's all very hush-hush. Even the Bangkok papers have been mum about it. But, from my 14th floor vantage point I should be able to bring you 'above the fold' coverage. Keep tuned.

Today the Steele Diaries document a typical case (Turner et. al. versus Howard et. al.) out of late 19th Century Appalachian America: the tale of two prominent Harlan Town, Kentucky, families who allowed a little 'slight' to change the entire course of that county's history. Fathers against fathers, mothers at mothers, sons and daughters pitted against more of the same ... and so on, right on down to shirttail cousins. Sidelined friends took bets on this long running series. But, by the time Steele went to sleep the endgame had still not been played to the finish.

Wescott's St. Christopher doesn't sound like the same St. Christopher who used to hang from the rear view mirrors in our '56 Chevys:


This mythical giant determined to serve the greatest prince in the world and no other. The first employer he found shivered whenever he heard the Devil mentioned; so he transferred his allegiance to the Devil. But he noticed that his new dark master was afraid of the cross, and concluded that the Lord of the cross was the one he was looking for. Someone then told him that in this greatest Master's employ he would have to fast and pray. The simple colossus was afraid to fast, lest he lose his strength, and too proud to pray. So, in a quandary, he went to work carrying people across a stream; and one day a little child hired him. The little child was as heavy as lead, as heavy as all the world; the water rose in a flood; and they narrowly escaped drowning. Afterwards the child explained who He was and why He was so heavy. Telling the story got Christopher in trouble, and in the end the king of Lycia had his head cut off.

He is the patron of porters, and is universally invoked against accidents and elemental perils.

NEWNES tells us of the death of a poet who is only read by students in middle school:

1 This morning's Bangkok Post allows for dueling front page coverage: The boldly headlined story of a cancer victim who was made to wait hours before seeing a physician fights for the reader's eye against a snappy color photograph of an FDA official examining relabeled cans of food, all of which have long passed their "best if used by" date.

2 The Bangkok Daily News leads, above its fold, with the now almost obligatory photograph of a dead child [also seen yesterday with the murdering-father insert]. Today, Somachai's waist held camera catches the kid's mother giving a final coddle to her baseball-capped boy. Equally circulation boosting is another Zirconium from Morton's darkroom: thinly 'hatched' for breakfast table eyes, are the remains of a fresh fetus (age undetermined) that was disposed of by being mailed (to the father?) in a parcel.

A major PS:

Bangkok's other gift to down-market journalism is The Thai Rat.3 Rat SharkPublished daily, its liberal use of massive blocks of colors, inset with bold white '1eader' print, can easily confuse non-Thais into thinking that this newspaper is The Bangkok Daily News.4 Editorial philosophies aside, other subtleties set the two dailies apart: though both mass circulation papers tastefully hide ... or, at least partially shadow ... the more graphic sides of such newsworthy things as spousal disembowelments and infant decapitations, their darkroom tricks do differ.5 As well, there are differences in the way more sensitive issues are handled. Today, for example, The Rat allowed the regurgitated remains of a child ... still lodged in the shark's mouth ... to be shown on one of its inner pages. The News denied coverage entirely.

3 Yes, that's its real name.

4 Lying side by side there is a 50/50 chance that the uninformed reader will lay down his baht for one when he really wants the other.

5 While Morton and his lab assistants favor vertical and horizontal hatch work, the technicians at the Rat employ a slightly more angular treatment to reach the same result.

Thursday, July 26, 2001 [Feast of Saint Anne]1

NEWNES notes the birth of:


He also asks us to remember the deaths of:


As promised, I have been monitoring the activity below my window. Today's pictures show that ALIMAK has been forced to drastically escalate its search efforts. Coming Up EmptyOne crane proved to be too feeble. The second, too, came up empty 'handed'. Now a truly great machine has been brought in. Floated up river on a giant barge this titan of the lifting brigade awaits its orders. God willing, it will be up to the job. I will be watching.

"Jesus! What the hell did they drop there?"

Many months ago I wrote about a local Manchester United fan who so revered David Beckham that he sculpted a representation of the midfielder and installed it as a permanent fixture in Wat Pariwat.3 It is still there. And, fans visit it regularly. The Bangkok Post wonders, now that deity has been conferred, will royalty be far behind? "Beckingham Palace" can be visited at: the web site is owned by the record company, Virgin, it is thought that Posh Spice, Mr. Beckham's wife, would not have given the 'go' had not her husband given her the 'nod'.

Perhaps to make amends for the woman who crudely boxed up and mailed her unwanted fetus to another, a shopper at the Bang Na branch of the Central department store posted the body of her new born baby girl to the organ donation center of Chulalongkorn hospital.

The Bangkok Daily News reveals how pig oil can be used to treat stroke victims. Another front page photograph shows how dogs can be employed to identify criminals.4

1 In the words of Wescott, Anne (First Century) was "The Saviour's grandmother". Full stop! Normally Wescott could be relied upon to wax widely about the life of someone who was so close to Our Lord. Not so, here. Perhaps it is because so little is known of her life (as is also true of the lives of Our Saviour's other antecedents). Though there has been a lot of speculation (some good, some bad) about "offspring from the loins of He who walked on water", no one has followed the 'grand' route in the search for who came before Him.

2 Help is needed on this one, Andy.

3 At the time there was some discussion among senior monks about the propriety of lumping Beckham in with Buddha. Apparently, nothing came of it.

4 Thursday is Morton's day off. He usually spends his Thursdays in a bar.

Friday, July 27, 2001

As these photographs1 show, we had problems with the police. We were innocent. All of us.

Helping the Police

1 Furtive shots, available light.

Saturday, July 28, 2001 [Feast of Nazarius and his Friend Celsus]*


I have never understood sports! Not good at any of them,1 I sidelined them early on. While everyone else looked forward to that last period of the school day, I dreaded it. I wanted to be anywhere but on the field; water-boy, holder of the towels, coach's gofer: any position that did not involve carrying the ball. At university, where one sports activity was compulsory for freshman and sophomores (along with ROTC), I chose archery.2

That's why I do not understand why David Beckham is a saint.3 While His Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn had his 49th birthday in a 1-inch by 2-inch picture at the margin today's paper, David Beckham "walks past adoring Thai fans" in multiple front page Bangkok Post photographs. While the King's son is seen looking alone, life-size cardboard images of Beckham are marched through the streets of Bangkok by thousands of worshipping teenagers. Over at The Daily News, Beckham is flanked by security people gently fending off outstretched fingers in quest of just a touch to his hem.

Sharing today's front page is a dead body. Shot repeatedly in the head and in the chest, the bloody piece presented a challenge that Morton wasn't up to. You see, Morton's Thursday day-off blended all too seamlessly into Friday. Somachai's picture editor had to make do with an angled shot that left most of the gore out of range. But, the story behind the murder is an interesting one: the victim was wearing a 'protective' Buddha4 about his neck at the time of the murder.

* Wescott says: "This Jewish convert to Saint Peter, with his young friend, wandered all over Italy, even walking on the water on one occasion, when some pagans drove them into the sea. Whenever they came where a martyrdom was taking place, they encouraged the victims, and finally were martyred themselves. Their bodies lie amid the loveliest mosaics in Ravenna, in a Byzantine chapel which the Empress Galla Placidia had built for them and for herself."

1 Offered golf lessons ("You'll meet the right people.") while still in prison (pre-driver's license days), I rebelled by throwing food at the walls and banging my cup on my bars. 'Called' on it ("We won't sign, you won't drive!"), I pretended interest. Once 16, my golf was history.

2 Not because I was at all keen. It's just that Archery was held at a distant part of the campus. And, travel time to and from the field was factored into the class time. What would have normally been 90 minutes of activity became less than an hour of wasted time (walking to and from the target [and beyond] to retrieve spent arrows also ate deeply into the activity).

3 Technically more than a 'saint'. Over a year ago near deity status was given the Manchester United midfielder ... shortly after his gold likeness was found in a sacred Bangkok temple. Warmed by proximity to the Buddha himself, fast-track paths are now his worn avenues everywhere he goes. ['Posh Spice', his wife, is understandably despised by local women ... her likeness is never pinned to make-up mirrors; her records remain unplayed.]

4 Probably employed to do the same work as western Saint Christopher medals. Though this one was valued by the policy holder at 20 million baht (about $500,000), the insurers are likely to question this valuation given its dramatic failure to perform.

Sunday, July 29, 2001 (Feasts of Saint Olaf and Saint Theodor)


The Steele Papers are awash this morning with news from the medical world ... some of it good and uplifting ... some of it sad and likely to send you into a slump. Both reports were written by journalists who cared deeply about their subjects ... so, dear reader, please pay special attention to their carefully crafted words.

Though not always understood, 'Bizarro' is also popular in Bangkok.

The Chao Phya River is unusually quiet this morning. And, as you can see, the crane has folded up its operations...perhaps we'll never know what was dropped into the water.

Last night we went to the Central Mall ... for dinner at a fast food Vietnamese restaurant: Pho.

Monday, July 30, 2001

NEW YORK – Professors and presidents at a number of large universities with big-time sports programs have expressed concern recently about commercialization and corruption in college athletics, saying the spiraling budgets threaten academic integrity.1

It has been a long time since I was a university professor. But, one thing that I remember very well from those "ivory tower" days is how little the college professor has in common with the common man. The common man totally understands why the richest people in the world are the richest people in the world. This ‘fundamental’ totally baffles the professor ... but, this economic ‘curiosity’ usually doesn’t really bother him too much.2


Because of the ‘tower’, silly. As long as all of this stuff takes place on the far side of the moat it makes no difference at all ... to him. But, once someone gets a major ‘leg-up’ inside his ‘private’ domain things change ... Oh, yes ... how they change!

More than a dozen football coaches, and a slightly smaller number of basketball coaches, now earn at least $1 million a year, in many cases making them the states’ highest-paid public employees.3

Gone ... just like that ... is any camaraderie that might have existed because both employees drive cars with parking decals issued by the same university employer. Gone in a ‘poof’! Yep, gone in an instantaneous flash! And, with little warning! You don’t believe me? OK, look out the window ... toward the campus parking lot. Over there! See the old guy trying to attach those jumper cables to the Honda? Yes, the Civic ... the one with the three kids in the back seat. Trust me. Watch what happens. The red Maserati Miura, two cars away. It’s about to start up. Belongs to Coach Harry ... the blonde in the passenger seat, a student I guess. Anyway, watch what old Professor Meeks does when he gets a taste from that resonant exhaust. He just stands there. But, he is seething inside.4 Wait till the next faculty meeting ... you’ll read all about it in the papers. Trust me.

1 The lead paragraph in an article in this morning’s International Herald Tribune. The article, by Jodi Wilgoren, came from the New York Times Service and was entitled "Professors Challenge Spending on U.S. College Sports.”

2 (Parenthetically, nor does the why and the worry of the poorest people in the world)

3 Paragraph 10 in the same article.

4 History is awash with similar cases: Ho Chi Minh was a contented waiter in Paris until he was ‘stiffed’; Marx a happy reader in the British Museum until someone took his favorite spot; Mao ... well, that’s a bit different ... have to chalk that up to this wife’s sister. But, the rest of the cases fall neatly into line.

Up next: Paul Travels to Bangkok

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