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A melody in his own right.

“Whatchya listening to?”

iPod on, earbuds firmly planted, groovin’ to your favorite tunes. Inevitably some fool wants to pull you away from the world you’ve created . . . what music are you playing? I understand those who set the volume on their iPod so that anyone within a block can enjoy their music too; it negates that ‘whatchya listening to’ query. The inquisitive miss the point: it’s not about the music, it’s about turning you off. A nonverbal Talk to the Hand. With a nice beat.

I don’t use my iPod much at home. I have several stereos in the house and a CD player in the car. But for travel, that little music machine is indispensable. I use a Shuffle. It’s about the size of a book of matches, holds close to 300 songs, some sixteen hours of my favorite music. It gets used almost from the start of a trip. Once the plane levels off, the earbuds go in, seat mates get ignored, and I drift off in a daze to hours of slow blues mixed with whichever chemical I decided to use to amuse my mind during the long flight.

Any mode of transportation is better set to music. Slow bus rides, chugging up the Chao Phraya River, zipping through Bangkok’s traffic in a tuk tuk; even walking the same old streets of Thailand’s capital city is better when listening to your own personal soundtrack. Bangkok has a beat of its own, but it’s always better to call your own shots, to dance to your own kind of music.

The first time I met Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, he immediately coveted my iPod. It had nothing to do with the music; his desire was all about the status of having a genuine iPod mounted to his head. After a day of not being able to use mine, he’d borrowed it for the duration, I bought him his own at MBK. A $15 knock-off, poorly made. But the little gay boy we bought it from loaded it with a few hundred Thai songs for free. Free is a magical word to Thai guys. It produces a wondrous reaction. Regardless of the cost. I’m thinking of having the word tattooed on my dick.

I promised Noom I’d bring him a genuine iPod on my next trip. The real deal costs half the price back in the States. And authenticity counts. A quick glance is all it takes for a Thai to recognize a knock-off of anything, clothing, computers, watches, an erection. Oh, you thought that blue pill had them fooled? An authentic version of a name brand brings the status Thais crave.

On my next trip I brought Noom his own ‘it real’ iPod, and since then, wherever we are, the BTS, taxi, walking down the street, we both have our headphones on. Ours is a comfortable companionship; we’re both satisfied just to be with each other. Even when he’s tuned to Thai country songs and I’m floating along to Boz Scaggs’s guitar pleading for someone to Loan Me A Dime.

At least until Noom starts singing.

Noom has a deep baritone voice. But it rises several octaves when he sings. Mariah Carey would be jealous. Unfortunately, pitch is not his strong point. He brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘off key’. And if it is a song in English, he’ll substitute words he knows for those he’s unfamiliar with. The noise he makes is grating, but it’s amusing to try and figure out what song he’s listening to by retranslating the words he’s decided to employ.

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And for the price of a song . . .

When he really gets into a song, he starts waving his arms around, setting the tempo for the tune playing in his head. From his years of exercise and weight lifting, Noom’s forearms and hands epitomize masculine strength. They play the major role in his conducting act and its a joy to watch their robust playing of a silent concerto in the air.

I have an old friend, a former roommate, who is a symphony conductor (‘scuze me: musical director and maestro). A Harvard grad, Rhodes Scholar, and published author, he’s one of those guys who is so nice he make you want to puke. But he’s not the least bit pretentious, and though he lives by a strong moral compass, he never judges or imposes his views on others. You can’t help but like him. And admire him. He never hits a false note. He likes Asian guys. A lot. And since he reads this blog he’s probably squirming right about now. Terrorizing your friends is but a side benefit of writing a blog. When we lived together he’d often wander around the house, earphones on, conducting whatever piece was scheduled for his next performance. His was preparation for the benefit of an audience; Noom’s is a lyrical expression settling the music in his soul. I really need to take a short video of Noom ‘conducting’ his iPod music and send it off to him. Maybe he’ll pick up a few pointers.

Friends and visitors in tow, Noom and I both had our iPods going as we motored up the Chao Phraya to show off the Grand Palace. My friend Helena didn’t like being switched off and tried on the ‘whatchya listening to?’ option for size, followed closely by, “Ya know, that’s rude.”

“And your point is?” I shot back. Helena is a goddess in her own right and occasionally needs to be taken down a peg or two to remind her of her insignificance in my world. Rude or not, within two days, during any boring ride, she’d confiscate either Noom’s or my player. And then ended up buying a knock off for herself not happy with Noom’s library of Thai songs, or impressed with my over reliance on Stevie Ray to set the mood. Noom shook his head at her purchase. “It not real,” he proclaimed in his most condescending voice.

A few trips back, I bought Noom a new Shuffle. Apple had upgraded to a sleeker model and I knew status conscious Noom would love one. It’s nice to put a big smile on his face for less than $50. He decided to load all of his Thai songs on the old one and only English songs on his new iPod. But on the first night it still only had one song on it. Something by Tracy Chapman. Noom likes Tracy Chapman. He also collects dykes, but I don’t think he knows Tracy qualifies. I pre-loaded Tracy for him but was tempted by David Allan Coe’s Cum Stains on My Pillow (Where Your Sweet Head Used To Be). It’s got a country twang I know Noom would enjoy. But I feared he wouldn’t get the joke, would like the song, and would end up bellowing out the lyrics at an inappropriate time. So I downloaded the Tracy Chapman ditty onto his new iPod instead, just to make sure the thing worked. That night, even with just a single tune to listen to, Noom proudly wore his ‘yet to be released in Thailand’ iPod so everyone could see it. And admire him. He’s so cute.

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Everything I'm Not Is Everything I Am

On my last trip, the morning of day #2, after waking up and having breakfast, Noom started our day with a, “Come, we go.” I know this one from past experience. Normally it’s “Where we go?” but when he switches over to the directorial version, I know we are off to fulfill one of his dire needs, some pressing business, a Grand Purpose of his. Off we headed to the skytrain to go to the National Stadium station. That usually means MBK. But can also mean Siam Paragon. Noom believes in tradition and one of his is to bypass the Siam station where Siam Paragon is located and get off at the MBK exit instead. Don’t ask. And sure enough, this time we were headed for Siam Paragon. Time to backtrack. Again.

When Noom has a Grand Purpose in mind, asking him what’s up is a nonstarter. He’ll answer, but his answer is always vague. I don’t think it is so much a big secret as that he thinks he’ll jinx the outcome by revealing information too soon. Then again it could just be since it really is all about him, my interest doesn’t come into play. When we got to Siam Paragon, he stopped and asked directions at the information desk. It was gratifying to find that even Thai to Thai, their sense of direction suck. The helpful lady working the information desk gave him the wrong directions rather than admit that she hadn’t a clue. Some 45 minutes later, after getting more wrong directions from security and salespeople on various floors, we finally arrived at out destination totally by accident: Bangkok’s official Apple store, where Noom pulled his new iPod out and began an earnest discussion with one of the cute sales clerks.

Turns out he’d left his new iPod in his jeans when he’d washed them. Evidently he figured the problem wasn’t with the computer chip, but rather a DJ spirit in need of nothing more than an absorbent towel. No such luck. The clerk took one look at the clean but useless machine and announced, “It finnit.”

Noom eyed a new player for a bit, looked over at me, back at the iPod on display, and made the right call, “Cheaper in Amerika.”

Disappointed, we wandered off and Noom had to resort to using his old iPod. Ah, the horror. When I returned to Bangkok several months later, I brought my new model Shuffle to give to him. I’m not into status, but functionality counts. The new design uses a set of controls on the earphone cord and I don’t care for Apple’s earbuds. I usually replace them with a set from Skullcandy. Decent sound, comfortable, stylishly available in a rainbow of colors (though I always opt for blank). There are probably better brands on the market, but I like their name. I guess that’s about status too, but of a different sort.

Noom was thrilled that his status level had been regained and I patiently removed Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, and Joe Bonamassa. Some of the Johnny Lang he liked, so those stayed. Noom likes hip hop, but not rap, so some of those stayed, too; anyone who claims that hate that crap has never listened to Kanye West’s Everything I’m Not Is Everything I Am. And then we spent hours on-line loading more tunes he liked, mostly pop songs from the 70’s and 80’s. More Rod Stewart than anyone ever needs to hear; but he gravitated toward the Scorpions, too. Now we’re back on track, and the music flows once again . . .

So Bye Bye Miss American Pie . . .

(Yup, totally unnecessary but now that song’ll be running through your head all day. There’s no such thing as a free ride, dude!)

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