Welcome to JP Melville's review, experience, and statement on foreign aid and the international development industry. A conservative faith in family. A love affair riding the riotous tensions between money, personal freedom, the majestic travesty of our specie's ecological footprint, and economic politics. Selected writing of both prose and poetry, anecdotal travel log to rhetorical essay, dating back from the 1980's to the present. Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Scooter and The Weeping Prairie

Yasothon, Thailand

No, Scooter was no winner.  He was not a pretty man.  Scooter was just this queen, singing out of tune up on a stage, sometimes laughing, sometimes coughing, in a bar called The Weeping Prairie, all rickety bamboo poles and thatch and rusted corrugated steel, leaning sideways, in the middle of what had once been rice paddy, somewhere just outside of a town, lost somewhere far in the remote Esan of Thailand.
Scooter’s cheeks glowed with rouge.  His eyes, wet, luscious and dark, shone from behind the heavy mascara on his lashes.  His lips were full, pronounced, and his puppet’s grin showed a large gap between his two front teeth.  His bones were heavy and square, but his flesh thin, stringy, gaunt, a body that might have grown but lacked somewhere in time food, or love, or both.  A dull white sports jacket cut for someone much larger and dry cleaned too many times hung limply from his shoulders.  The pants were the wrong brown.  The shoes too sharp, too black, too shiny.
Scooter was not alone.  He had his dance troop joggling up there on stage.  A haphazard line-up of chorus girls.  A gaggle of electrons, orbiting around an adopted nucleus.  And beyond, offstage, rustling in the darkness beyond weak stage lights, Scooter had the sombre eyes of a shadowy clientele, the clink of bottles, grunts, sometimes a guffaw, a tongue slid across dry lips, a cigarette glowing and going out. A tenuous universe held together by song and the camaraderie of desperation. 
One chorus girl, dressed in sparkling blue, had a thin lipped smile and a head of curly hair.  A favoured attraction to drunken patrons.  Garlands were bought and sent her way.
Another girl, though pretty, had neutralized.  She wore an ancient slip, repaired at the shoulder straps, roses and daffodils now faded in lacklustre polyester cloth.  A third generation hand-me-down that even a neatly tied yellow ribbon, hung round her waist, failed to brighten.  Her softly rounded face caught no one’s attention and no garlands were bought and sent her way.
To her right was a girl who smiled, once, maybe twice, all while she chattered over the music, dancing in up bounces with her colleagues who in down bounces chattered back.  When she did look out on the crowd in the bar her smile dissolved in confusion.  She would hold up her hand to guard her eyes from the lights, unable to see into the void.  Once, from the darkness, someone passed a garland into her hands.  She stopped bouncing and stared uncertainly at what she held in pinched fingers.  A strange thing having materialized from an even stranger beyond.
There was a girl up there that never ever smiled not once.  Her green plastic dress, with yellow and red buttons sewn on, gave the impression of a Christmas tree bobbing with manic anxiety. If she wasn't pumping a limp swing with her fists she adjusted her ornaments or pulled up her shorts.  For the entire evening she pranced at the far end of the line.  No garlands.
On the opposite end, swing right, a tall, shy girl, shiggled her booty bottom, wearing a checked plaid skirt, a crisp white blouse, shiny silver thin slip-on shoes.  She smiled.  Though a painted smile, ignorant of purpose.  But smiled all the same.  Unsmiling eyes staring questions, over tables so far, far away.  She could not have been fourteen.
One time the girls all tried to get together to kick and turn in unison.  Scooter joined in.  Before they got into a third round of collective choreography the plastic pine tree on the end went back to jabbing dully at an invisible and rather lifeless opponent.  In moments they all broke off.  The gang again a gaggle of odd electrons, of jiggles thumpgles swiggles wumpgles.
For sure, Scooter and the girls had a backup band.  A whinny tinny, bam bam, dut dut dut band that started and began.  And started and began.  Started and began and began again.  There was a tall fellow who played an electric bass.  A stick in a sea of dwarves.  He plunked his four strings.  Plunk dum dum dawp, plunk dum dum dawp.  He talked while he plunked to anyone up there on stage who might be next to him.  The first of the percussion players was too small to be seen.  From somewhere behind his sparkly silver super sale special rockin' and rollin' drum set a  fist flicked up, a fist flicked down, a fist flicked up, a fist flicked down.  The second percussion player had in his possession a pair of enormously huge bongo drums.  Between them he had draped a large tarp splashed with orange and yellow and pale green paint.  He was not a possessive bongo player.  In fact, quite agreeable.  Quite content to let the girls take a break and come whomp in independent fashion on his skins.  With one of the girls playing his role, he leaned back and lit an already half smoked cigarette, inhaled deeply and relaxed, watching with crossed arms.
Then there was up there among that peculiar smatter of humanity, a strange blind creature seated somewhere about back of centre stage.  Squeezed between his widespread legs sat a plank and a metal tub, connected to each other by three thin strings of wire.  Out of the blue his right hand would rise and the bow held in it would suddenly drop, start squealing away.  And there would be this banging bonging booming from quarks with musical quirks.  And all those orbiting electrons of flash and splash on legs would spark to jiggling wiggling shiggling life.
Then stop.
For from somewhere out there, beyond interstellar emptiness, something would call on this blind nuclear wizard with bow in hand to bring an end to that particular tune.  He would do it, he would, with a few rapid squeaks and squarks and the symmetry of chaos on that human stage would wither, they would, into aimless soulless anarchy.
A pause of too long held breath.
Because out of the same mysterious yonder blue, the mighty bow would rise up, and down it would swing into a-squeaking and a-squawking.  And that withering anarchy would hop back into its morass of thumping wumping, wiggling jiggling, godless chaos.  That nucleus of the manic musical menagerie, would work his magic, a twisted little excuse with a corkscrew face from which the eyeballs had apparently been popped.
And on the floor, in the hollows of darkness before the stage?  A whispering, shadowed sea?  A fecund world lurking in dark despair?  Hunger and rancid sexuality?  No.  Simply clientele.  Just the guys out for a drink.  Familiar with who they are and where they are.  Ensconced in the moment.  Patrons at home in the warmth of what they called The Weeping Prairie.
These patrons were mostly samlaw drivers.  Samlaw drivers have huge legs because what they do all day long is peddle samlaws all over town.  Samlaws are oversized tricycles.  They have seats big enough for two in the back, although it is not uncommon to see three, four, even five family members plus the groceries catching a lift home.  Long after nightfall, dayshift done, a few baht in their pockets, the drivers get together and peddle out of town.  They park their samlaws in a tidy row outside a ramshackle den of ill repute.  Groups of five or six mammoth legged peddlers tromp inside, sit down with their legs buckled up under the tables, and drink up inordinate quantities of beer and rice whisky.  Their few baht mostly spent, they stare with glassy eyes at the manic zoo on stage.
In The Weeping Prairie the tables were cheap.  Aluminum tube contraptions with scratched, worn, colourless plastic tops.  The rickety chairs were bent.  The concrete underfoot was scudded and dusty.  No pictures or posters hung fixed to the walls.  Square posts were haphazardly placed about the room, holding up the ceiling or something heaven maybe, three of them right in front of the stage so that customers had to bend their necks to keep track of the action.  Above their heads were cobwebs, dishevelled and dusty like the floor.  Maybe the roof was going to fall down despite the posts, all the years of rat shit and dust hanging over your head.
In the far corner to the right of the stage was the ice box.  There were stacks of bottled beer, a shelf of whisky, and a waist high partition on which sat the cash register.  Behind the partition stood the proprietress, a woman dressed up smart, scarlet, business suited, matriarchal frown writ across her face, watching with narrow eyes all details passing by.  She was the source of garlands.  The samlaw drivers would send a table’s delegate to sheepishly purchase a garland.  The delegate would then take that garland and proffer it to the specimen which had pleased his friends most amongst the glitter on stage. The specimen would then come down into the closeness of the drivers’ little world, for a time, soft feminine words that whispered through and soothed the harshness of their lives.  With a signal from the proprietress, the dancing girl would up and stand and return to her bath of dazzle and brilliance, everyone separated again by the horrible comfort of darkness and light.
This bar they called The Weeping Prairie.  It was in that part of the country, flat as a pancake, sand and dust, where for five years they had drought and the rice all died and then the next year when it rained everything flooded and the rice all died.  So they called the bar The Weeping Prairie.  It was a place where young men and women, their shared world turned over, came together, the world of green rice paddies long gone.  It was a place where a band made music.  And a place where Scooter did his best to sing.  And sometimes, just sometimes, he made them all laugh.

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