Somewhere in the third world, Isaiah is on a four-day bender.
Typically, revelers realize they were on a bender once they regain consciousness in agony; sober, penniless and suffering mysterious injuries. Not Isaiah. He is a deliberate and intelligent man.
He has six days off work – a very responsible job in education administration. He has scheduled four days of binging and two days of recovery. On Monday he will be back at work, shaven, sensible and competent.
While a bender necessarily contains random elements, he has it roughly plotted out. There is the pub, the Last Chance Saloon, where most of the work will be done; a venue where his colleagues will not turn up unexpectedly and where he can usually find a fight or other entertainment. There will be some trips to other favorite haunts. There will be drunken slumbers broken by ten a.m. returns to the Last Chance Saloon where the hair of the dog will gradually accelerate to an evening crescendo.
I meet Isaiah because I’m staying upstairs and eating downstairs. The pub is in an impoverished country that attracts ex-pats with its cheap beer, ‘happy’ pizza and general lawlessness. A country where a respectable resident who wants to ‘be bad’ during his time off faces no impediment, and where less respectable ex-pats, mostly retirees, ex-miners and ex-cons, do not bother to intersperse disorder with productive work of any kind.
Isaiah is a man of strict principles. These principles are unique to himself. He drinks heavily for two years then takes a year off. He has been following this pattern for more than a decade.
He works hard, when he works, and earns a good salary at a real job. After college he worked for the army decommissioning nerve agents.
Why did he move here? It seems an odd choice for a man who, famously, is the only ex-pat in the country who ‘doesn’t have yellow fever.’ When asked he explains that there are a disproportionate number of lady ex-pats here, mostly working for NGOs. He values ease of communication. I suggest that it is possible for couples lacking a common language to speak the language of love. He looks at me with more contempt than pity.
Isaiah usually has a long term girlfriend. His friends confirm that his girlfriends are always really hot, even though they’re white. Isaiah says he finds one night stands sickening. How do you know at the time, I ask, that it’s only going to be for one night? He gives me that look again, the way people look at an obese, retired ex-pat walking hand-in-hand along the riverside with a twenty-year old local girl. Isaiah broke up with a girlfriend a while ago. She’ll be back in town soon and he has resigned himself to the fact that they will get back together, because that’s what always happens.
He is not particularly horny – he much prefers post-coital cuddling to the preceding action. Isaiah, the bad boy romantic.
Bad boy? Does he really do anything so bad, apart from brawl with fellow bogans and cause carefully limited damage to his own liver? Somehow, yes. He doesn’t mean to. But, ever honest with himself, he acknowledges that he does. He’s been at it three days and has one to go. Isaiah invites me out with his mates to a wine-and-cheese night, perhaps to demonstrate. This sounds like a suitably tame event so I put on a shirt, ensure I have the twenty dollar fee in my pocket, and off we go in a tuk tuk to the country’s only proper mall.
“This is where we go to get away from [the country],” he explains. It looks like an airport, a juxtaposition to the crowded, dusty streets we have left behind. Big brand shops, cinemas, even an ice skating rink. But after some wandering around it seems that the restaurant has closed down. He didn’t know. We have a beer at a ‘German’ beer house while we plot our next move. Isaiah’s night has now begun.
Still, he is steady on his feet and tells us about his latest production. He is involved in a local drama group. He also puts on murder-mystery events. These sidelines are hobbies more than addition sources of income.
Rick is with us, too. He’s from New Zealand but has been mining in South Australia for years. Now flush with money, he’s taking some time out. His local girlfriend is an ex-prostitute. She calls him and screams at him for some time. He smiles and puts the phone a little away from his ear, pretending to listen while the others explain the situation. Why this girl, rather than another? Or why not engage the services of a practicing prostitute who would be courteous in return for small payments in cash or kind? Once he’s off the phone Rick is unable to explain, his meek (sheepish?) smile suggesting that everything’s fine, he knows what he’s doing.
Barry is here, too. He owns the Last Chance Saloon. He’s also a silent partner in a new, fancier place and had to drop in there on the way. Isaiah had to wait outside because he’s been banned since its inception. Barry teases him about this. I thought it was a joke but when we got there, sure enough, Isaiah waited directly outside like an anxious dog tied up outside a milk bar.
After we’re done teasing Rick about his insane, ex-prostitute girlfriend we tease Barry about how he lives with his pregnant wife and two children in a shed next to his pub, even though he’s really rich. He likes the shed, he insists. I tease only gently. I know these guys are crazy and I’m not sure where that magic line is, yet. The line between friendly banter and fisticuffs.
We’ve almost finished our drinks. Will we go to the Thai restaurant? There’s potential drama there. The owner has been having an affair with a waitress who they call Grumpy Face. But his wife is visiting from a neighboring country. She will find out. There will be trouble. Then the lads have an idea – I should pick up the waitress as she’s currently split up with the owner. They look me up and down – I’m just her type! She’s really horny. She likes anal even better than normal sex. I prefer it the normal way, I caution. Grumpy Face is about thirty but still very beautiful if you can get her to smile. Sure, I say, because I’ve had a beer. In retrospect this is a transparent ploy to stir the possum.
Somehow the plan shifts. We go to a Mexican place because Isaiah assures us the mojitos are the best we will ever taste. We order mojitos. Isaiah acknowledges that they are not very good. Barry wants to corrupt me so they decide to take me to Olympus. It isn’t actually a brothel, is it, someone asks. Just a club. No, no, explains another. You can take girls home from there. If they agree. And you pay.
Olympus is like a Japanese hostess club except that the drinks are cheap and foreigners are permitted. In fact, most customers are foreign. There’s a young, merry fellow by the bar with a smirking, unpleasant face, professionally eager girls draped all over him.
After checking the prices with Barry I buy a drink for one of the girls surrounding me. She stays and chats and the rest go back to playing pool and Connect Four. Why did I choose this girl? I don’t know because I’m up to drink number three now. She is not especially attractive. She’s a little old, has a faint mustache. Speaks almost no English. She’s supposed to entertain me, ask me all about my boring life, but instead I find myself trying to entertain her. This is her first night back after years away. She returned to her village to look after her young kids. She shows me photos. The boy’s a rascal, she says. He looks it. Now they’re school age. Grandma will look after them and she’s back in the big smoke to make money.
She asks me where I’m from and I tell her to guess, saying I will buy her another drink if she gets it. She doesn’t know country names in English and the game is going nowhere. I have to tell her in the end because she makes her money from drinks and I feel sorry for her. She tells me one of my countrymen is here. Where? Upstairs, she explains. After a naïve pause I understand. Hostess clubs in Japan to not have an ‘upstairs’. I teach her to thumb-wrestle after she has used up her last English word. She doesn’t do it properly, just lets me win. I’m bored. Maybe she’s out of practice. I look around. Isaiah is getting along very well with his lady, even though she’s Asian. Barry is joking with his girl half-heartedly. It’s his one, designated night off from his family and he’s trying to enjoy it.
“I might head off, soon,” I say.
“Are you going to pay the bar fine, take her home and take her up to your room?”
“No, don’t think so.”
“No, I didn’t think you would.” We pay up and pile back into the tuk tuk. I notice there are some changes in our company – Rick has gone home and Isaiah has brought along the girl from the bar. He had to pay the ten dollar bar fine but she agrees to come along with him for free because she fancies him.
“I thought you said . . .”
“What? We’re in love!” He hugs her unconvincingly. She isn’t terribly attractive. She speaks no English. She looks at him tenderly, uncomprehending.
We arrive at an Irish pub. Barry had resisted coming here because this is where aggros come to fight but Isaiah insists. There’s a dodgy looking Chinese dude at the bar covered in gang tattoos. He’s chatting with some old white men, which, nonsensically, reassures me. A real, honest-to-god Irishman comes in. He’s fit, short, dark Irish with a lively, energetic nature. He starts discussing last night’s fight, says they’re friends again now. Isaiah says it’s about the most brutal thing he’s ever seen.
Isaiah then, despite demanding that we come here, disappears with his lady. We are concerned but there’s nothing we can do. With him gone we call it a night.
I knew that something bad would happen with Isaiah’s lady but I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps they’d arrive home and, remembering his sexual preferences, he would simply collapse into a drunken stupor and she would be left bored and disappointed, playing on her phone until she fell asleep. I was close but it was somewhat worse than that.
I see Isaiah in the Last Chance Saloon at lunchtime. He’s off the booze now because this is recovery day one. I ask him how he went last night.
“Well, I didn’t pay her,” he says. “She agreed to come for free. I’ve done many bad things in my life, but I can at least say that I’ve never paid a woman for sex.”
“That’s good. So, have you finally caught the fever?”
“Ah, no, nothing happened.”
“Thought so. You just went home and fell asleep?”
“Well yeah, but not quite home. There are stairs up to my room. I unlocked the street door, walked up the stairs to unlock my room and then my body just gave up and I collapsed.”
“Unconscious, on the steps?”
“Yeah, I got a nasty bump.” He shows me.
“So she just went home?”
“Crashed at your place?”
“No, she couldn’t get in because she didn’t have the key and didn’t know where it was. And she couldn’t unlock the door downstairs to get home.”
“So how long was she stuck there for?”
“About six hours.”
“Why didn’t she call for help?”
“She did, eventually. She had to yell for a while. Eventually the landlord heard and let her out.”
“You going to see her again?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
I see Isaiah a few days later, at the pub. He is dressed up, sober. I ask what he’s been up to and his answer demonstrates he has not the slightest clue who I am. I resolve to stay away from Isaiah. He is a man far more brilliant and fascinating than myself, but like that friend in high school who one’s parents always disapproved of, he will inevitably get me into trouble. It’s a nice holiday, in this third world country, but I’m not crazy enough to join the ranks of the ex-pats here. Give it a few years.
Next: How To Be Free
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