Michelangelo was just someone I knew from online. I would post something, or comment on someone else’s post, and he would agree with me. All I really knew about him was that he had adult children here in the Bay Area, that his marriage had fallen apart rather kinetically some years earlier, and that he wanted to be a writer, although not enough to actually write.
He messaged me Friday afternoon, said he was in town to visit his kids, said we should have drink. I had nothing else to do that night, so I brushed my teeth, put on the less-disreputable of my two pairs of sneakers, and went out.
I spotted them easily enough in the almost empty bar. My guy, real name, Michael, same as mine, maybe 50, and two couples, all in their mid-twenties. “This is my friend Dylan.” My username on the forum, for reasons I have forgotten, is DylanThomas, but he seemed to think it was my real name, and I decided to let it slide.
The couples were his son, a law student just out of the Army JAG Corp, and the son’s wife, a humorless and icy woman, and his daughter and her intoxicated boyfriend. It was interesting that my friend’s children were noticeably more attractive than their partners, and that all four of them could have been from the same family: light brown hair, close cropped on the men, past the shoulders on the women, light blue eyes, fine pale skin, and fine features — except the boyfriend, who had the ruined complexion and bloated features of a confirmed alcoholic.
The subject of the conversation was Heather, the son’s high-school girlfriend and long-term stalker. The daughter apparently had run into her at Target, and not surprisingly, the encounter was awkward. Michelangelo contributed that Heather had a crush on him as well as on his son. This contribution led to a long discussion of which of his children’s friends he would like to sleep with, a topic I didn’t really want to talk about, so I went back to the previous subject.
“Let me guess, this Heather, light brown hair, worn down past the shoulders, blue eyes.” All of them except the boyfriend laughed in acknowledgment. Even the humorless daughter-in-law thought it funny.
It wasn’t enough though, and they went back to Michelangelo and how his children’s female friends, from high-school on, were always attracted to him. He modestly waved it off, but the daughter currently had a friend, Sandy, he really should give a call. Everybody laughed, even the daughter, but she warned him, in a casually serious tone, “You fuck any of my friends, I’m disowning you as a dad.”
Increasingly uncomfortable, I changed the subject again. I brought up politics.
He responded to that emphatically. “I’m done with this country. I hate America, I hate the culture, I hate the music, I hate the legal system. It’s just corrupt and filthy and I’m tired of it. You know George Carlin? He had a bit about since he doesn’t vote, he can complain. Anyone who votes, he says, is buying into the system and has to accept the outcome. I don’t vote, and I’m not staying. You’ve been to Thailand. What’s that like?”
“It depends on how you look at it. The reality is, Thailand is far worse than the US. You think, the US is corrupt. Thailand is corruption. It’s whores and meth and dirty cops and dirty air. But the good thing about it, you don’t have to know. If you don’t speak Thai, it’s the Land of Smiles. You want to retire there, for twenty bucks a day, you can live on the beach, have a nice bungalow, drink beer in the sun, and tell yourself you’ve found Paradise.”
When the others went off to play pool, he leaned in to ask me a question about Thailand: was it true about the girls?
I wasn’t surprised. Michelangelo was very much the model of the sex-pats I met in Bangkok: reaching retirement age, divorced, soured on his home country and especially its women.
“Most Western men find Thai women lovely. They’re slender, have smooth, tawny skin, almond eyes, raven hair. The Thai culture is very big on polite, so the girls are sweet and deferential, and they smile like maniacs. Prostitution is a major industry. Bangkok has 12 million people, and probably 200,000 of them are prostitutes. Competition keeps the price low. Twenty bucks a day for room, board, and beer; another twenty for a girl. If that’s your thing, you should go.”
He liked this. “Four more years, I’m going.”
“What’s in four years?”
He looked around. The bar had been almost empty, now it was just us and the bartender. The kids were shooting pool in the back, not far away, but out of earshot and they already knew anyway. “I get off parole in four years.”
This was a surprise: he didn’t look like a criminal. “Parole for what?”
I know you aren’t supposed to ask, but but by this point, I knew a lot of his secrets and he knew some of mine. “I was married to their mother for 18 years. Turned out, the last four for them, she was screwing her boss. I finally figured it out, fucking obvious, and that was the end of that. But I liked being married. Soon as the divorce was final I met this woman in Sausalito. We dated for only like three months before we got married. What’s that building in San Rafael? Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.”
“The Civic Center?”
“Yeah, the Marin County Civic Center. We got married at the Marin County Civic Center after knowing each other three months.”
“You know, Mike, I’m not a lawyer or anything, but I’m pretty sure none of this is really a crime.”
“Well, my new bride, she’d also been married before, and she had a 15-year-old daughter….”
Ah. “And fifteen’ll get you twenty.”
He laughed. He must have heard the expression before. “I only got 90 days. The jail’s right next to the Civic Center. The sentence was so light because I didn’t have intercourse with her. It was basically just a grope. It was still wrong, ” he added hastily. “Ruined my life for a grope. It wasn’t rape. It was technically rape, but we were emotionally involved. It was consensual.”
The demeanor of his daughter-in-law made more sense now. She was probably contemplating pregnancy and wondering if she would ever have to trust the kid with Grandpa. “Of course.”
“She was very mature for her age. I’ve known a lot of women in their 20’s who weren’t that emotionally mature.”
“You can’t expect the law to work like that.”
“No, I guess not. But there’re a lot of states where 15 is legal. I used to live in Hawaii, it was 14. When the legislature raised the age to 16, the cops and DAs opposed the law. They said it would just make things worse for the ‘victims’.” He made air-quotes for the word. “Because it’s usually consensual. The governor vetoed the bill, but the legislature over-rode the veto. The first time in Hawaiian history a governor’s veto got over-ridden.”
He chewed over this injustice. “Four years left.” He pulled up his pant leg to show me the box strapped to leg under a black sock: the electronic tracker. He slapped at it with his hand. “Four more years and I’m out of here. Maybe I’ll go to Thailand.”
There’s telling the truth, and there’s doing the right thing, and up until now, I had always better at the first than the second. Still, I’d gone wrong by telling the truth, and I had to make things right. I started, “Be careful in Thailand.”
“Well for one thing, check ID. Everybody has a national ID card. You meet a girl, you check ID. But they don’t use American years there. It ain’t 2013 in Bangkok, it’s like 2560 or something. You get there, you check the year, you check ID, and you do the math. You do the fucking math, or you end up being fed to the Tiger.”
“The Tiger?” He was rapt.
I’d been doing research on Thai justice for my novel, so I could add some color. “Bangkwang Central Prison, they call it the Tiger; it’s the worst shit-hole in Asia. And Asia’s got some shitty shit-holes. Bangkwang was not designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
“Here’s the deal: when you bring a girl back to your hotel, they check her ID at the desk. In case she steals something or something. They check ID, and you know they know what year it is in Thailand, and you know they do the math. If the desk clerk likes your face, he might say, ‘Hey, Mr. Farang sir, this gi’l undah-age, this gi’l too young’. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t say anything, he just lets you take her upstairs. Lets you take her upstairs, and then he drops a fucking dime.” I took a slow drink, being serious, selling the tale.
I continued. “Ten minutes later, the Royal Thai Police show up, bust in just as she’s going down on you, and that’ll be the last consensual sex that you have for a long time. You can squawk all you want about her looking 18 and her being mature and whatever other bullshit you like. Does not fucking matter. You do five to seven in the Tiger, eating cockroaches and sucking cock to stay alive. And it’s the Tiger if you’re lucky.”
He was buying every word. “And if you’re not lucky?”
It was my turn to make air-quotes. “Then you get shot ‘resisting arrest’.”
His family came back to the table, boisterous from the billiard game. Michelangelo was quiet, thinking over what I said.