“When you come back Bangkok?”
That Noom – my bar boy friend and current love of my life – wanted to know when I’d be returning to his arms once again was sweet. That I’d just landed and we hadn’t even spent a full evening together yet, not so much. If his sense of humor was more subtle I’d have to have taken that comment as, “When are you leaving?” But the scrunched up condition of his forehead said it was something else that was going through his mind.
Usually, combined, Noom and my communication skills work well. I speak more Thai than I let on; he understands less English than he pretends to. Effort too plays its role. If whatever I’m trying to communicate is important enough I try to remember to use a more basic vocabulary. And cut out unnecessary or confusing words. Like pronouns. And if he thinks what I’m attempting to communicate is important enough, he actually listens. Instead of just picking out a few key words and ignoring the rest. I’d just done my part, Noom was still acting on his. But then actions speak louder than words and my action had him both confused and a bit worried. So I knew I’d have to try again. After I allowed his current train of thought to play out. As if I had a choice.
It’s not that Noom has a one track mind so much as it is that he’s a linear thinker. His train of thought moves from station to station to station. And does not go in reverse. So I had to wait for it to reach its terminus before re-boarding. And the fare for that ticket – if I haven’t beat that analogy to death quite yet – was answering the still floating question he’d posed.
“Sometime in late December. Around Christmas. As usual.”
Okay, so he didn’t actually say good. It was more of a quasi-affirmative grunt. But I knew that he meant good. ‘Cuz in addition to my purposefully basic English and his basic ignoring of most of what I say, after years of being together I speak Noom fluently. It usually doesn’t take me long to figure out where our conversation jumped the track either. And with some inkling of where we were now headed, I waited for him to reach the next station.
“I have stocking.”
Yes he does. The Christmas kind. Years ago I introduced Noom to the joys of the farang Christmas stocking tradition. The first year it didn’t make a lot of sense to him. I explained, but all he heard was Santa and stocking and neither held any value in his world. No problemo. On our version of Christmas morning – which is always a few days to a week late as it runs on Thai time – all he needed to understand was that he got a stocking crammed full of gifts. The following year when I began laying the track for a return journey for the tradition he surprised me. He’d kept his stocking. Tenderly wrapped in tissue paper, quite proud and attached to it. Partially I’m sure because it bore his name spelled out in gold glitter. Which is only right.
Christmas stockings are a cool tradition, even more so when yours is personalized and used again year after year. Sometime in my early childhood, our next door neighbor knitted – or crocheted, I’m not really up on my fabric crafts – a stocking for me and each of my brothers, each with our name on it. They were humongous, a good three feet in length. Because even in Christmas stockings, size matters. Which is a good thing because she used a diminutive form of my name that I abhor. Even as a child when it was more appropriate. My mom still has those stockings and still hangs them above the fireplace every year at Christmas. Santa no longer fills them. Which kinda dampens the warm-fuzzies I get when I see mine. But then when it comes to having been naughty or nice, I’ve opted for the former for decades now. So it could be worse. My stocking could be filled with lumps of coal every year. I’m just glad fracking wasn’t all the rage when they came up with that Christmas tale.
So now every year on the first night of my visit closest to the holiday, Noom unwraps his stocking and hangs it above the chimney with care. Except since hotel rooms in Thailand do not generally include a fireplace its spot of honor is above the microwave instead. That’s our Christmas tradition. And Noom is big on traditions. So if I’m booking a different hotel than the one I usually stay in around Christmas, I always have to make sure it includes a microwave oven on its list of room amenities. Otherwise Santa wouldn’t know where to put all the goodies. But Santa had not yet come to town; a quick shake of my head told Noom his train was headed down the wrong track.
“Dis my birday.”
Wrong again, Grasshopper. And it was getting time to derail that train. Noom’s birthday is December 4th. Just like half of Thailand’s is. Even though he was born sometime in the spring. Thais have a full year to register births and since nothing could be luckier than to share a birthday with the King, many local’s official birthday is around December 5th. Not on the fifth mind you. That would be a bit presumptuous. And probably violates lese majeste laws. In any case, we celebrate Noom’s (meaning I give him a present) either during my annual visit at the end of the year or, depending on the dates, when I hit town in the late fall. So he says tank you. And opens any gift I give him immediately. Which was part of the current problem.
Noom had already thanked me for the pile of gifts I bring on every visit – small stuff I’ve run across while shopping since my last trip that I thought he’d appreciate or enjoy – just because. And had already gone through the pile, carefully re-stacking each in accordance with its value (to him). The stuff that as a Thai I’d be grateful for the custom of unwrapping gifts later when the gift-giver isn’t around gets put at the bottom of the pile. Anything that’s a real hit gets placed on top. because he’ll need to go back and check it out again soon. And often. So with those gifts dispensed with, with the confirmation that Santa was still headed to a microwave oven near you, and that he’d still have to wait for my next visit to celebrate his birthday – along with my annual festive reminder that his nickname – which means young man – is well past its shelf-life, it was finally time to switch trains to a new line.
“A few months ago, Phil came up with the idea of taking donations on my website to allow regular readers to pay off their debt for the occasional laugh they have at your expense.”
“Oh. Dis from Phil.”
Noom liked Phil. Still does. Not that ‘dis’ was from Phil. But misconception is a gift in its own right, and was greatly appreciated since it trumped the gift bearing-less Dave who was sitting on the bed watching our conversation like a fan at Wimbledon. Ignoring the dig at Dave, I tried again.
“You internet star. Dis from my blog. A gift from readers. For you. Not for Christmas, not for your birthday. Just because they lub you.”
“Oh. Not from you?”
“Uh, well, no. It’s from them. Kinda like a booking they paid for later.”
“Oh! Dey my boyfriend now?”
Bastard. Even Dave got a laugh out of Noom’s joke that so perfectly summed up the typical Thai bar boy / farang relationship. But the joke was on Noom. I know how his mind works. And knew where that train was headed.
“Yeah well it was a one-time booking. Don’t expect another wad of cash to show up again next year.”
And you thought my not letting go of the train analogy was bad.
Now knowing where the unexpected largesse had come from, or what it represented – or more importantly what it did not – Noom quit waving it around in the air while he talked and decided, since the gift givers were not present, he should count the cash and see just how well lubbed he was. That got another, “Oh.” Then he counted it again. And then, even though I’d already arranged the bills by denomination, Noom being Noom and Noom being a sufferer of his own brand of OCD, he rearranged the cash from largest to smallest bill. And then counted his haul yet again.
“I can take my shoes off if that would help.”
Noom would probably have had a quick rejoinder for Dave’s comment. But he was busy counting his money. One more time. I don’t blame him. It was a large number. Especially for cash you weren’t expecting to receive. And especially when you are expecting even more cash to still come your way for Christmas. And your birthday.
When how much he was holding finally sunk in, Noom got serious. Money does that to him. There was, undoubtedly much going through his mind. And much he would have liked to say. But rather than take a chance on miscommunication, he went with a simple, but heartfelt, “Tank you.’
I’m sure that was directed toward y’all and not me since I’ll get my thanks around Christmas. And Noom’s birthday. I always think I come out better on that gift exchange anyway. And I’ll add my Tank You to his. Some donated about what I’d expected. Some a bit more. A few blew me away. All donations were appreciated, regardless of amount. All told, 86 of you coughed up some cash for a total of 68,000 baht. Give or take an exchange rate percentage or two. I rounded it up to an even seventy. Even though I should have withheld some for expenses.
Dave, by the way, didn’t know how much it was until Noom counted it. He is still giving me strange looks. And all kidding aside, Noom was sincerely touched at your generosity, realizing what that money represented. To him, that meant a lot. And for that gift, I thank you.