An international move on the horizon. Priorities compete and time is short. Some would hunker down and get after it.
David and I decide to take a little holiday. We return to Patong Beach, on Phuket, a seedy area where beefy men drink too much, wear muscle shirts, and flirt with the massage girls. Glamorous lady-boys parade up and down the humid streets in fancy clothes, enticing people to come to their show. Lumpish vendors push flowers and crappy toys at passing faces, saying “Buy, buy, buy.” A bar has a show where women shoot ping-pong balls out their vaginas. Outside the ping-pong girl bar, a middle-easterner attempts to talk his four friends into entering. Crudely, he mimes the act. They all laugh and rush toward the door. They can’t wait to see. Now the question arises—why would David and I choose to vacation in this vulgar setting? (A better question would be—and I don’t have an answer—why would parents bring their children here? Families are all over the place. Children swarm.) We’re here because the food is good, the alcohol is cheap, exceptional spa treatments are priced reasonably, the people are considerate and helpful, the beach is lovely, and there’s something interesting going on everywhere you look.
In the morning, a nine o’clock tee time for David. He chases a ball around a course and curses while I drive the cart and play the role of supporting spouse. I laugh as, again and again, his ball splashes into the water. I wonder how anyone can take this game seriously. But people do.
Today we form a three-ball with Derrick, from Australia, and Mark, from South Africa, two congenial men whose play is similar to David’s—in other words, inconsistent and uncontrolled, but marked by the occasional brilliant shot. After the round the four of us meet in the club bar for a beer. I ask Mark what he does for a living and he tells me that he buys restaurants in financial difficulties, turns them around, and sells them. I question the profitability of the enterprise, but he claims that it makes money and he enjoys the work. Derrick sells energy drinks. He says it’s a competitive and stressful business, which I find surprising.
Another thing that takes me by surprise is the attitudes of both men toward the US. I admit to suffering paranoia on the public relations front as far as being American goes. Out in the world, a single American is often taken to represent all of America. So I keep my head down in the hope that people won’t notice I’m American and start ranting at me about what we’re doing wrong. This assumption is not unfounded. I’ve had servers walk away from me when they hear my accent. During my years as an American abroad, I’ve been accused of being insular and invasive, arrogant and inert. I’ve been held accountable for international monetary crises, broken treaties, slow disaster relief, supporting corrupt governments, and toppling stable ones.
But Derrick and Mark say they’re waiting for America to act. They seem to think we’re a nation of super heroes. They expect Americans to go into the Ukraine and find out who shot down that Malaysian flight. They expect the US to blow ISIS off the planet. They expect the American scientists to conquer Ebola, the American diplomats to solve the Israeli/Palestinian issues, the American dollar to bolster the European and African economies, and the American State Department to make China play nice. In short, they expect us to lead. There’s been so much negativity aimed at America over the last several years that I honestly didn’t think anybody expected anything of us anymore, much less leadership.
When we get back to the room and the internet, we’re sad to discover that Robin Williams has died.
RIP, Troubled Man.