SEXY MONEY, FOGGY GOGGLES AND FAST-CLOSING DOORS

| July 12, 2011 | Comments (2)

I can always tell if somebody has lived in the tropics by the way they close a door. Decades of living in Southeast Asia, and before that, in the sultry climes of Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana, have taught me to close a door quickly when entering or leaving a house.

It just makes sense. Otherwise half the flying population – pesky mosquitoes and, ofcourse, flies and other winged things – would become part of the household. Ofcourse if you live in Southeast Asia, you might not need doors at all and  live like the Javanese or Balinese do which is to be outside. Their traditional houses are minimal and totally open, consisting for the most part of simple but elegant “pendopos” which are a collection of gazebos that take advantage of the natural elements, the breeze and rain showers for fresh coolness. Flying beasts are dealt with by using smokey mosquito coils that send up an incense odor and draped over beds are diaphanous mosquito nets that make every night’s sleep seem like  honeymoon slumber.

Even on mild, insect-free Autumn days in New York, you will see me closing  doors with dispatch. There are other habits that haunt  those of us who once roamed the Tropics. Shoes are left at the threshold, feet are pointed AWAY from others,  and under NO condition are  the lower extremities put up on desks or tables or elevated in any way.  “The cow forgets its feet” is a Thai expression describing vulgar parvenus who don’t know how to act.  Feet are dirty appendages ! Keep them down where they belong !

And items are always handed to another person with the RIGHT hand, the “tangan manis” or “sweet hand” as the Indonesians would describe it. Another dead give-away is when calling somebody with a hand gesture, the raised hand always points  fingers in a downward position. Think of Lord Buddha’s hand in the samutra position.

This clandestine club of old Asian hands  always recognizes one another by the simplest hint of body language, be it in an airport in Amsterdam where the slightest  gesture is discerned or on a crowded subway in New York City. We have our ways…let me warn you.

Which leads me to foggy goggles. I swim almost daily in a pool that is frequented by people of a certain age who perform their leisurely laps under the not-so-watchful eye of a sleepy life guard. I am just waiting for somebody to pull a “Pamela Harriman” (she had a heart attack and died swimming in the Ritz Hotel pool in Paris while serving as US Ambassador to France some years ago). I’m sure Rudy, the lifeguard, who is usually lost in the depths of his Ipod, wouldn’t notice if I sunk and never surfaced.

In any case, death is always on my mind as I stroke the lengths of my lane ending up after 30 minutes, a shrivelled,  chlorine-soaked,but de-stressed prune. They say that swimming relaxes and I agree; thoughts of death bring  calm resignation; checking-out is the ultimate stress-reliever, isn’t it? In the meantime, I cope with such inconveniences as fogged-up goggles. But I must say, blurred vision can bring benefits.

 One of my swimming buddies is 85 year-old Gloria who is tough as nails and also weighs about 85 pounds. Last year on a package tour to Italy she was accosted by a pickpocket as she was cranning  her neck at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Mr. Pickpocket should have picked somebody else. As he tried to rummage in her knock-off  Louis Vuitton bag, Gloria gave him a sound thrashing with her cane and sent him running. So we give Gloria a wide berth at the pool and let her call the shots. Which is why I was amazed when I saw her up close the other day, but through the mist of foggy goggles. I suddenly realized how this leathery octagenarian must have looked 60 years ago when she was a young woman. How beautiful she was, or had been…or I suppose you could say still is. That fleeting glimpse through “rose-colored” goggles was somehow a powerful lesson to me – everybody is beautiful if you look at them in the right way.  But does it mean we have to always be wearing misty spectacles?

Now to what everybody has been waiting for – the Sexy Money part of the title is what really interests you, isn’t it ! Confess ! Who gives a damn about goggles or doors. Well, here we go !

There must be a word for it but it doesn’t exist in English. Perhaps German  language can accomodate. After all, the Teutonic tongue has those long words like schadenfreude and weltanschaung that encapsulate  complex, hard-to-describe emotions.  What would be the english word for ” thrill at splurging money on somebody who besots you and probably doesn’t really give a damn for you” ? Well, maybe the term would be “stupid old fool”, but I refuse to be placed in that demeaning category.

In any case, I love spending money on people. It gives me great pleasure to treat friends for lunch at classy restaurants, to invite them to the theater, to offer them champagne. But there are a select number of people – actually two right now – on whom spending money actually creates a thrill.

First there is Indra. A petite South Asian woman who chain-smokes, has a British accent and looks like Angelina Jolie. I LOVE buying things for her and she knows it. When we are hanging out she will casually say to me, “‘ You know that bracelet in the jewelry story window we just passed…..? I have my eye on it.” That is a not-so-subtle hint that she wants me to buy it for her.  We have code words. The next time we meet and I offer it to her, gift-wrapped, she smiles, touches my arm, murmurs ” Thanks” and I quiver and break out in little beads of sweat. It’s like that. I am not rich but if I were……just think  what I could buy Indra! A small corporate jet  ? Her very own little island ?

My other besotted money turn-on is Poncho, a 21 year-old neighbor who left school eight years ago and just hangs out on our street in the Bronx and is movie star-charming. Not a week goes by when he doesn’t hit me up for $100 for this or $150 for that. Parking tickets, hair-do braids ($60 a pop), new sneakers. Then there were the fire crackers for the 4th of July. He needed $200; it was his son’s birthday too. How could I refuse? He asks, I pay. I know by now my readers are disgusted. What kind of twisted largesse is this ? Why not give those dollars to OxFam or Save Dafur? You’re right, but we all have our  little secrets, our special weaknesses, don’t we? Call me what you will, but I AM transparent.  I don’t hide my festishes. I’m living my life. I’m paying my taxes! As Rose Kennedy famously said, “It’s our money and we’ll spend it like we want to!” So there !

Have I given you too much information today ?

 

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  1. Petra says:

    Sam, I’ve been wracking my brain to find a suitable Teutonic term for your happily endured affliction. Words like “freigiebig” (giving freely) or “großzügig” (generous) fall short of conveying the important element of pleasure or glee. There is one rather old-fashioned phrase that comes as close as I can get: “seine Spendierhosen anhaben” – to wear one’s spending (giving) trousers”. The truth might be that the entire concept of indulging greedy, manipulative, ungrateful impostors is so alien to the Germanic psyche that nobody here ever bothered to come up with a name for it. But hey, as long as you’re getting something out of it…

  2. Gary Presley says:

    This sparks two memories, one accurate, one word of mouth.

    The latter: as Doris Day aged but continued to play ingenue parts, cameramen were said to smear a light, light coat of Vaseline on their lenses.

    The former: my father wasn’t tight, but he was conservative. He was the sort to be generous on a whim, or to attempt to help people while preserving their dignity. There was a family with two teenaged sons, boys who could use money. The family was thoroughly hillbilly, the man prone to work as a “go-getter” (his wife worked in a garment factory, and he would “go get her” when her shift was done). Back to the story. My father gave the boys two calves, dairy breeds but bulls, and worth something only when slaughtered as yearlings to be ground into quarter-pounders. They were to raise ’em on shares — bottle-feed them, then pen them up and feed them grain. It would have brought them several hundred dollars. They managed to kill both of them before they were weaned, one with scours and the other by means undetected.

    Charity.

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