It was probably the vodka shooters that sent me over the edge. I certainly wouldn't have bought a cotton shirt covered in green elephants if i was sober. But then, when you're drunk, green elephants hold an irresistible attraction.
Speaking of ridiculous shirts, i got a message from Safari Bob today. "I can relate to the hangover, I experienced a nasty bout on New Year's Eve-eve. I had to stay in Java for New Year's exploding from both ends when I should've been on a bus back to Bali. You'd think drinking a bottle of Chivas Regal at karaoke the night before would've killed any bug I had, but it went too far and the purging began. Another learning experience chalked up."
I too missed my bus. It was probably the vodka shooters. We live and learn. Well, we live.
After putting away numerous beers with my streetside som tum, then more still with vodka salt and lime at a streetside bar - where they always provide you with a girl, even when you just want a quiet drink - i stagger back towards the flophouse, stopping only for a couple of beers at Cheap Charlies, the open-air corner bar favoured by expats and tourists. But just before i reach the Suk 11 flophouse, i spy a fake old English pub, The Pickled Liver. Right next door to my suite. Featuring a picture of George Best on its coat of arms. Again, if you are drunk, a picture of Georgie Best is irresistable. Because normally, of course, i wouldn't be seen dead in a fake old English pub, but then normally i wouldn't be wearing a shirt covered with green elephants. I stumble inside and order a pint.
There is a game of pool happening at the far end of the bar, a very serious affair between a couple of pink Englishmen and two swarthy fat men, who look like they could very well be in the oil business. They have enough of it in their hair. The barman presents me with my beer in a glass with a stem. I stare at it, mollified. "You've got to be joking, mate," i expostulate, with most of the expostula ending up on the beer mat. "That's a sheila's drink! Did you hear me ask for a shandy? Can you put it in a proper glass?" It's amazing how these Ocker mannerisms come to the fore when you are away from home. And pissed as a newt. I turn my attention back to the the pool game. I'm feeling a little woozy, like i have been dropped into a scene from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. I stifle an almost irrepressible urge to chunder on the Englishmen.
The barman simply tips the amber ale from the sheila's glass into a schooner glass and hands it back to me. The two men in the moustaches appear to be winning, playing a very reserved game; each shot taken with a soft, even touch to run the ball up toward a pocket. How civilised and sedate. It's like Pot Black, minus the hired suits and bow ties. I watch the match with scorn. I am inebriated enough to believe i can take the winners on playing left handed with the schooner balanced on my scone. So when one of the pink punters inadvertently downs the eight ball, i pounce. I ask an innocuous looking lad standing next to me if he plays, and if he can partner with me against the oil sheiks. "No, no," one of the sheiks says, jabbing a finger into his hairy chest. "You must play me. I am Mustafa. This is Abdul." He gestures at his partner. I nod at them both and shake hands. "Mark," i say.
"What?" says Abdul. "Muck?"
"Yes, Mark," i slur. "It means son of the god of the edible seaweed."
"Twenty baht," says Mustafa, indicating the green baize. "You must pay."
I grab some change from a bar girl. From nowhere, a small boy appears and takes my coins, quickly and professionally racking up the balls. Just as quickly, he disappears. Kids. I shake my head in dismay. I must admit W.C. Fields was onto something when he said "Anyone who hates children and animals can't be all bad." I take up a cue and give the triangle of fifteen a mighty thump. A ball goes down in the corner pocket but it is all a blur. Even standing still looking at the rest of the balls, lying stationary on the table, it is all a blur. What don't you say to a policeman when you are pulled up drunk driving? "Are youse two twins?"
I check the chute to see if it was a big or a small. One of the sheiks comes over. "I am supposed to break because I win," he says.
"Bit late for that, Abdul, i already sunk one."
"I am Mustafa - he is Abdul," he says. He bends down to look in the chute. "OK," he says magnanimously. "You play on. You are on these," he indicates the bigs. What? I check the chute again. It is a solid yellow ball with the number '1' on the side.
"I don't think so champ, i'm on these." I point to the smalls. His mate comes over to check. He crouches down, and nods.
"Thank you, Mustafa," i say.
"I am Abdul - he is Mustafa," he says. Either way, i am allowed to continue. I take a swig of the brew and follow my usual set of rules for playing pool drunk. Rule number one: adopt an air of extreme and totally unjustified self-confidence. Rule number two: hit the balls as if you want to place them about forty-five feet beyond the pocket.
After a few minutes, these tactics begin to pay dividends. When Mustafa sinks the white, it seems the game is mine. I've sunk about five balls to his one, and now i have two shots. I hold up two fingers, not in a rude way, but just to check. "Two?" i ask. The sheiks nod. I sink a ball off the first shot and line one up over a pocket on the next. I move around the table to knock it in. A hand grabs my cue.
"Two shots only."
I look at him, incredulous. "I just sunk one," i protest. "If you sink a ball you get an extra shot. Them's the rules, Abdul."
"I'm Mustafa - he's Abdul," he says. "You have two shots only."
I look to his friend in mute appeal.
"The American is right," he says. American? "He has another shot."
"Thank you, Mustafa."
Abdul says nothing. I think they know now that i'm mixing up their names deliberately. Basic psychology. I go to the bar and take a hefty chug of beer, in the belief that this too will somehow psyche out my opponents. (In the morning, i think differently). I chalk the cue, and swagger over to the table to knock the number six into the pocket as if i were trying to hit it into some time next week. I miss my next shot completely - a touch too much swagger in the elbow. But Mustafa misses his easy pot and sets me up. I belt the last one down and take aim on the black. With five of Mustafa's still on the table, there is no clear shot. The pair stand and watch intently. I belt the black and watch as it pinballs around the cushions before finding a centre pocket. Ha! Too easy. I thank Abdul and Mustafa and head for the bar to start psyching out my next opponent. A French Canadian girl is hovering with her 20 baht. I've seen her hanging around the flophouse. Cute. "Rack 'em up," i say, waving at the table. The young boy appears again.
Abdul shakes his head. "You lose," he says.
"What?" i wipe the foam from my mustache.
"You lose. You did not choose a pocket."
The kid racks up the balls as Mustafa chalks up his cue. Tsk. I figure that kid is way too young to be hanging around bars racking up pool balls. It's a disgrace. Why isn't he out peddling his arse on the street like the rest of them?
I bid farewell to the French Canadian girl, and to any chance of becoming a mountie.