The Thin Man, a Birthday Party, a Guardian Angel

Note: This is the final installment of the Thin Man in Singapore. You can read earlier installments here:

Chapter 1: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/10/16/the-thin-man-walks-into-a-bar-a-wee-legend/

Chapter 2: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/11/15/the-thin-man-on-assignment/

Chapter 3: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/05/the-thin-man-on-assignment-part-ii/

Chapter 4: https://thekyotokibbitzer.com/2018/12/30/the-thin-man-implements/

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You clean yourself to meet/ a man who isn’t me
You’re putting on a shirt/ a shirt I’ll never see
With letters in your coat/ and no one’s in your head
‘Cause you’re too smart to remember/ you’re too smart
Lucky you
The National

Dateline Singapore, Saturday 13:06 PM

The phone rings, jarring the Thin Man out of sleep. “Where the/ what the/ who the…” Images in shards–his grandmother’s house and he is six, sun streaming through a late afternoon window. He rolls over. No by god, a bed, an adult body within. He picks up the phone. “Uh huh?”

“It’s Alejandro. Your passport will be ready tomorrow morning and you’re on an Emirates flight to Rome via Dubai tomorrow at 9 PM. In the meantime Alice is having a birthday party and you’re invited.”

“Alice?”

“Miller’s secretary. You might have heard the rumors but she’s a cool cat and it’ll be fun. 17:00 at Chijmes. Be there.”

“Seriously? I don’t know Alice and, I’d rather just rest up you know.”

“Not an option. You’re not invited, more required. From Miller directly. Buck up man and see you at 5.”

Holy Jesus, another evening. The Thin Man rises, splashes cold water on his face and when this doesn’t do the trick, fills the sink with cold water and plunges his face into the water, eyes wide open. He exhales; water goes everywhere. He dabs at it with a hand towel. Breakfast is long over–lunch is a maybe. 20 minutes later he has showered and shaved and limps downstairs.

“Lunch is still open?”

The man’s smile masks a scowl. Rolling into a buffet that closes at 14:00 at 13:46 is no way to endear yourself to staff. He takes a seat by the window, wanders the buffet. Two bowls of mushroom soup, two watermelon juices, a roll with butter, salmon sashimi and an Americano. Vague feelings of humanity follow.

On his phone the Thin Man peruses “The Essentials of Casino Game Design” as he eats. This is more out of habit than interest–he has no desire to re-enter the gambling demi-monde. Reflex is a bitch. The waiter circles, pressing his point from 5 feet away. “I got you babe,” thinks the Thin Man. He makes marginal eye contact, figures he has another 20 minutes give or take. He resolves to relax into the spacetime as fully as possible before the waiter pulls rank. He has no desire to make trouble but at the same time, a customer is a customer and soup is soup. A game for two players. Eventually, he makes his move before the waiter is forced to make his.

“On my room please, 727,” he says, with studied nonchalance. Everything takes all afternoon.

Alice’s Party:

It takes 123 drinks/ and now she’s not so frightened
It takes 4 and 5 and 6/ and then she’s sick
But in the hour in between/ she feels holy and redeemed
Blessed and blissful/ painless and serene
Craig Finn

The Thin Man has a lot of flaws but he does clean up well. That’s a skill, a blessing, a bonus. Re-showered, shaved, and an app-assisted breathing exercise later, he shows at Chijmes on time and on point. Miller himself greets him with a slap on the back.

“Mr. Bishop, your work is appreciated. Much appreciated. I heard that you will be staying with the firm. Rome is beautiful this time of year. You are a lucky man.”

“It is my pleasure to be of service.” The Thin Man is not serious, yet not unserious. The work is the work and he has no other. “Anyway, happy birthday to Alice hey?”

“Hehe, haha. Alice, yes,” salivates Miller.

Another day, another passport thinks the Thin Man. Several people he doesn’t know are there. The crew moves to an outdoor restaurant; the usual wrangling over orders ensues and Long Island Ice Teas appear. There is no drink more perfectly positioned to cause trouble than a Long Island Ice Tea. The Thin Man downs two before the Nachos arrive. A waitress circles. “White or red,” she asks. “Both please” replies the Thin Man. It’s early and he has no intention of sticking with this group after dinner. Why not make the most of the moment.

The food is a B- at best. The drinks are loaded. The sun shines in the late evening. The usual Singapore rain squall has not appeared today. 6 PM, the magical hour, and the Thin Man begins to fade into the perfect liminality that only occurs between drinks three and four.

Titters from Alice. Winks from Alejandro. Miller sits straight up, what a spine. The Thin Man is bored. Time passes; the sun sets.

“One more?” asks Miller.

“How about the hotel bar?” says the Thin Man. The sooner near home the better. Miller covers the bill and tracks are made.

The Hotel Bar, Circa 20:10:

The Thin Man and crew enter the bar and the mood is boisterous. The Thin Man feels as thin as paper. He needs an ally. As his party makes its way to a table, he approaches the barmaid. Her tag identifies her as “May.” Always approach service workers with kindness and respect–they get so little of it it goes a long way.

“Good evening May. My friends and I are looking to enjoy the bar tonight. Only, I have been on the road for weeks and I’m a little tired.” He slips her a $50 bill. “I know bars don’t love to serve water, but if you could keep an eye on me and refill my water glass I’d be in your debt.”

May looks him up and down. “No problem,” she says. “Rely on me.” The Thin Man makes it to the booth where Company X holds court. Miller and Alice’s hands dance a protracted duet. Alejandro sits a foot away, just keeping an eye on things.

A round of drinks, another. May keeps her end of things and the Thin Man hydrates, for a while. A woman called Marta had introduced herself at dinner and slides into the booth next to the Thin Man.

“How do you know Alice?” she asks.

“I don’t.”

“Oh. I have a bet with Jeffrey over there. He thinks you are on his team.”

“On his team?”

“You know,” she drops into a stage whisper, “Jeffrey likes men.”

“I see. I don’t have a team,” replies the Thin Man. “I’m a free agent.”

“Not so fast,” interjects Alejandro, who seems to register everything that is said at the table. “You are on our team. You have a contract.”

“A contract? I haven’t seen anything like that. And besides I don’t see how that would be possible. Text is dead, or that’s what I’ve heard.”

“Don’t mind him,” says Alejandro, “he likes being heavily humorous.”

Marta doesn’t seem to mind. Somehow her arms and legs are entangled with the Thin Man’s. How does that even happen? he thinks. He’s lost the touch he never had, but matters seems to be progressing anyway. Amazing. He hears Jeffrey calling for champagne. Now, even from deep in a haze the Thin Man knows that ordering a bottle of champagne in a hotel bar is not exactly value for money. A commotion is taking place across the bar. Men from the Green Group are hassling the bar staff, something has gone wrong with an order they allege. The Thin Man swivels his head around to take a look and his mind recedes into fantasy.

“Shut your traps and stop hassling the waiter! We’re trying to enjoy a birthday! And if I have to tell you again, we’re gonna take it outside and I’m gonna show you what it’s like! You understand me? Now, shut your mouths or I’ll shut’em for ya, and if you think I’m kidding, just try me. Try me. Because I would love it!”

He glances at the bar, catching May’s eye. She shakes her head imperceptibly, reading his mind. Absurd ideas of accosting the group and defending her honor recede. He breathes a sigh of relief.

A second bottle of champagne arrives, a third. We are at the stage of the evening where petty arguments break out all of the sudden, and are as quickly forgotten. The Thin Man, Marta and the sofa seem to have merged into a single entity. This is pleasant.

He snaps into consciousness. The party seems to have thinned out. Miller and Alice are gone. Alejandro gets up to leave and Jeffrey waives off his efforts to pay. It’s true Alejandro drank only club soda. A steady hand, this guy. He leans over to the Thin Man, lets him know his passport will arrive in the morning.

“We’ll be in touch.”

“Oh good.” It’s all he can think of to say. The Thin Man sees 120 Singapore dollars on the table, begins to calculate. The bill will be a lot higher than that. What’s happened here is he has fallen prey to the cruel economics of party leaving whereby early leavers underestimate their impact on the total bill. Marta is warm but the future is cold. It’ll be him and Jeffrey splitting the bill.

“Maybe we should call it an evening,” he says. He draws himself to his feet, a mighty effort, and approaches May. “What do we owe?”

“It’s all taken care of,” she says.

“Miller paid on his way out?”

She shakes her head, whispers in his ear, “your bill was charged to the Green Group. They probably won’t know the difference and if they do, they check out the day after tomorrow so…” May places her index finger on The Thin Man’s lips and presses gently. He goggles, is in love.

“You are an angel,” he says.

“Shhh, silly. You’ll get me in trouble.”

He circles back to the table. “The bill is paid,” he tells Marta and Jeffrey. “Leave the cash as a tip.” They don’t bat an eye–too far gone to care. “I told you he isn’t on your team,” says Marta. “I win the bet.”

“It’s too early to tell,” says Jeffrey.

The Thin Man gives Marta a kiss goodnight. “I’ve got to fly tomorrow.”

“I know.” Theirs was an encounter based in a specific locale, a specific moment. Some encounters are like that.

The Next Morning, Sunday:

Ah the Sabbath. The Thin Man had managed to set his alarm for 10:30 but it’s not needed. The phone rings at 10 AM, and the receptionist tells him he’s been cleared for a late check out of 17:00. How did that happen? She doesn’t know. “It says right here sir.” 11 hours before the flight. What would a human do with 11 hours, he thinks? He takes a swim, showers, eats mushroom soup and indulges in a few slices of roast beef this time. He remembers a much loved song:

I’m so sorry but the motorcade will have to go around me this time

Cause God is on my side

That’s attitude. He tries to summon 1/10th of that mood, says a little prayer to his angels. On the way back to room 727 a maid smiles at him. “You must be a British gentleman,” she says.

“Oh, why is that?”

“Because your room, it’s so neat and clean.”

British rooms are neat and clean? That’s news to the Thin Man. Am I British, he wonders? The reason his room is clean is because there’s next to nothing in it.

“Thank you. Have a wonderful day.”

“You too sir.” There is nothing that he has ever done in his life to deserve such respect, he feels. Life is good.

Under his door there is a manila envelope. Inside is a passport in the name of Jack Bishop and $3000. There is also an index card with a phone number. At the bottom of the card he reads “May.” Life is good? Hell, god is good man. The Thin Man smiles and packs his valise. 8 hours later he is airborne en route to Rome.

Works Cited/ Referenced:

Eric Ambler, The Intercom Conspiracy.

Craig Finn, “Three Drinks.”

The National, “All the Wine” and “Lucky You.”

Seinfeld. “The Opposite.”

Image Credit:

https://facthacker.com/signs-your-guardian-angel-is-near/

Andrea Turns Out the Lights, e.g. a Mix-Up

Dateline Seoul, Wednesday 10:17 AM:

As Andrea luxuriated on the 17th floor of the Lotte, the opening banalities of the industry conference wafted through the hotel. The organizers had gotten at cross-purposes with talent; one Lord Duncan, some kind of a minor royal somebody or something, had been promised a major speaking slot at the conference opening, which was rescinded on account of his financial ties to one of the sponsors. Someone saw a conflict of interest, and the Lord’s press agent is seriously pissed. He’s been relegated to a couple of introductions, reduced to a laugh line. No less than three conference people had tried to explain the situation to the agent, three poor souls, three different stories. The agent is chewing her nails, chewing her nicorette. The Lord is putting a brave face on things, puffing and posing, Lord this and Lord that. Blah blah blah. Andrea’s in bed.

Now there are a number of other people from her firm at the conference, and a name list, so she’s going to have to put in an appearance at some point. She decides to roll down about 40 minutes before lunch. This way she can drop into a session, stroll the floor for a bit, and beat the lunch line. Eat some SOUP.

Area man’s plan to stay home all weekend and play video games goes off without a hitch.

Like the area man, Andrea’s plan is foolproof in its simplicity. Before leaving her room she tucks the key in her valise, just in case.

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Lexical Interlude:
A valise is a small suitcase. If you’re carrying a valise as you climb onto a train, you’re probably heading off on a short vacation or a weekend trip to visit a friend. The noun valise sounds a little old-fashioned these days, but it’s still a good way to talk about a satchel or overnight bag.
In other words, a valise is a suitcase. Andrea carries a valise.

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She puts on a black dress, tasteful but not demure, and black heels. Dressed to kill and ready for soup, she takes the elevator.

Wednesday, 15:45:

The soup was pumpkin, of course. Pumpkin soup is the staple of international hotels everywhere. Most pumpkin soup is so-so; today’s was at least decent. Her hunger is sated, but that’s about the only thing about her that is. She’s bowed and scraped to a dozen industry veterans and talked trade with the guys from her firm. She’s been seen.

Today’s closing remarks are underway and the conference, 1100 strong, is packed into the main ballroom. Andrea circles to the back to the sound and light booth. This is the nerve center of the room and the man with his finger on the buttons is Mouse. Mouse is a known quantity–he is sound man to the world and works events just like this one 280 days a year around the world. He used to work full time for Bausch and Lomb before going freelance. A total pro, but he has a weakness. A weakness for Andrea.

She slides her arm under his; it’s a hello.

“How’s it going Mouse?”

“Same old same old. Drinks at 16:30. We’ll see how we are in a few hours.”

Were you dear reader in the medical tubing industry you’d want to tie one on as well. In tumult lies opportunity, thought Andrea.

Andrea hangs with Mouse for half an hour or so, asking various questions about the boards. She’s a quick study, obviously; she’s got the hang of things.

Bathroom break and the press agent. “They stitched us up, the bastards,” she rails to Andrea at the mirror. It could be anybody. Andrea makes sympathetic murmurs.

“How much were you paid?”

“17,000 pounds, bloody hell. And all he gets are two lousy introductions. It’s a total embarrassment.”

Good work if you can get it thinks Andrea. A couple more murmurs and she exits.

Wednesday, 17:10:

White wine, red wine, crab cakes, an item on a Saltine. Conference drink hours are designed for maximum intoxication with minimum calories. Andrea takes two whites back to Mouse.

“Baby I can’t drink on duty.”

“Sure you can–everything’s under control right?”

Mouse looks around, a tic. A tip for you Mouse my man, no one cares. I’m straight up telling you brother. People don’t give a shit.

He takes a couple sips and turns to Andrea. “Bingo is next–I gotta go up front and set the mic up.” Andrea smiles, “I got ya” she says, “I’ll watch the boards.” Famous last words. Mouse heads off and Andrea puts her game face on.

10 minutes later and we are bingoing. A bingo master has been trotted out, and it’s… Lord Duncan. He lets rip with a call of “let’s biiiiiiiingo” and the first number is called. There is nothing quite as captivating for a mixed audience as bingo. Bingo works baby.

The Moment of Truth:

Character Analysis: What do we think? I mean Andrea is a gainfully employed professional. She has a rep. And she’s not, normally, an anarchist. But there’s something in the air, some combination of boredom, stasis, jet leg, and 2018 that adds up. Press that button/ your ass gonna go.

The tension mounts; the room can FEEL that first bingo coming. Big time action. Mouse is still up front; Lord Duncan is ripping and running. Andrea takes a deep breath and hits the light switch. The room is plunged into darkness. The conference giggles. Titters before tatters. Phase two, Andrea activates the spotlight and turns it full force on Lord Duncan. He does a little pirouette, making the most of the moment. “Lights please” he calls. Not so fast. He steps back out the spotlight and Andrea follows him. “And the next number is…” he jokes, gamely. Spotlight off. Spotlight on. His head is on a swivel, beads of sweat turning to rivults. Andrea leans into the microphone and in her deepest and sultriest voice intones: “in the event of an emergency, the nearest exit may be behind you.” Then she throws the light back on and takes four lateral steps to her right. Grabs a white from the sideboard and surges into the conference space, sidling up right next to Duncan’s press agent.

“When it rains it pours eh?” she asks?

“Jesus Christ what next?” replies the agent.

The Aftermath:

Mouse is back at the booth, wondering what in the world happened. But on some level he knows. Andrea’s a handful. He’ll cover for her–has no choice. It’s Day 1 and all will be forgotten. Ces’t La Vie partner. Price of doing business.

The bingo has been short-circuited after the disruption. Lord Duncan is guzzling wine with the agent. Andrea approaches.

“Are you some kind of somebody?” she asks.

“I’m the jester at this here party,” says the Lord, “apparently.”

“Are you in the tubing industry,” she asks, innocently.

“Good god no, I give speeches for a living.”

“Speeches about what?”

“Well, about being me dear. I talk about being me.”

“He’s the best in the business, and they treat him like this,” says the agent. “It’s intolerable.”

“Ginny is a little bent out of shape,” says the Lord, “there was a mix-up.”

“A mix-up or a muddle-up?” asks Andrea.

“Bit of both,” says the Lord. “Bit of both.”

To be continued…

Works Cited/ Referenced:

The Onion

Sun Ra. “Nuclear War.”

Vocabulary.com. https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/valise.

The Respectable Man: A Poem

Here on thekyotokibbitzer we are continuing to post our older poetry. There aren’t many more, so this little thread will be finished pretty soon.
Today’s poem is called “The Respectable Man.” I wrote it when I was in my twenties and it shows. I guess it is sort of my version of a punk tune. Here it is for y’all:

The respectable man
reflects if he can
but the world won’t wait for reflectors
the respectable man
sits on the can
sits on the board of directors

The respectable man
hawks wares to the clan
who cannot tell shit from shinola
the respectable man
sees a water ban
and irrigates crops with a cola

The respectable man
works on his tan
en route to his room at the Hilton
the respectable man
is pimping a plan
with robust tax-giveaways built-in

The respectable man
spits on his hands
and scurries his way up the ladder
the respectable man
looks over the land
and respectfully empties his bladder