The Table (Old Men)

At the end of my soi turn left and walk a short way past the new shophouse that does little business and across soi 12. Then go past the corner shop which used to be my wife’s noodle shop but which is now an attempt at a minimart which controls all the trade that the shophouse would like but the shophouse came after and there is no relationship with the people who fix and service motorcycles, the petrol vendor and the various people who work out of, or frequent the casino behind the petrol shop.

Casino is a grand name for a piece of reasonably derelict land with a few run down wooden houses on it mostly rented to the poorer members of the working or mostly in their case not working class. Drug addicts or minor criminals mostly but good people. The land apart from being used as a casino doubles up as storage for various, boats, jet-skis and banana boats by which various people ply their trade by day down at the beach across second road and a hundred meters down soi 3. The casino operates only at day time and then only on a demand basis with some days particularly those just after pay days being popular while on others nothing stirs.

The motorcycle repair shop is rented off of the small group of what everyone calls the old men although in truth they aren’t that old and most would think middle-aged but whatever they are known and happy to be called the old men as they lack the hang ups over being seen as old that are found in most vain westerners. The motorcycle repair shop is a small breeze block building with some form of slightly sloping roof and unglazed but barred windows at the front with a wooden shutter which is rarely closed. It is small and business spills out on to the street. They used to have the shophouse that now tries to succeed unsuccessfully as a minimart and maybe that is another reason the motorcycle guys don’t buy from that shop.

Every now and again of course the police raid the casino looking for gamblers or drugs or both. Usually there is advance warning although when it is not the local police but the provincial or even worse as happened once the national Bangkok based police there may not be. Usually things are either settled on the spot or after a very short visit to the local police station followed by bouts of heavy celebratory drinking by those who have been through the ordeal whether man or woman, but every now and again something complicates matters, usually drugs, and someone or the other spends a few days or weeks in jail working off the fine they couldn’t pay.

To enter the casino you just walk into the large gap between the motorcycle repair shop and petrol shop where the banana boats are trailered in and out by men sitting on motorcycles locking the trailer into place by sitting atop of the trailers handle locking it between their rear and the motorcycle seat. Strangely enough this almost shambolic seeming locking arrangement rarely comes apart. In the casino is a large wooden shack inside of which are the full size snooker table a few chairs and one of those ubiquitous red coca cola refrigerators busy cooling coke, water and beer.

Most of the other games involving cards, dice, bingo and just about anything else you could think of are scattered around the land in the open with various games assigned various locations. Bingo under the front mango tree with rummy at the back next the house where the ironing service is offered and so on.

When the raids come people will try to scatter and jump walls or get through breaks in the hedges but always a few will get caught. The first to run will usually be the old man who trains the police in the province but only seems to have work when a new lot have to be brought up to speed in whatever area of police training he specialises.  Maybe it isn’t the thought of being caught gambling that causes him to leave first but the thought of what being caught with a bloodstream full of whatever chemical is given off by Thailand’s finest weed and what that may do to his comfortable situation.

At the end of my soi turn left and walk past the shophouse and across soi 12 and past the motorcycle repair shop and you come to the petrol shop. Outside this at night you will find a little white plastic outdoor table. The kind sized for young children. Around it will be a mix of different plastic chairs, stools and maybe a crate or two. If it is raining the table will be right next to the petrol shop taking cover under the window shutter that is raised high and juts out from the shop. If it is not raining and around dusk when the glaring sun is disappearing fast the table will be found out next to the road between two trees.

Sitting on the various chairs and stools and crate or two every night will be the old men and maybe a few younger ones on occasions and even a woman or two – a wife or girlfriend, but never a girl from the massage parlours the old men visit and actually never a wife or girlfriend of the old men either but one brought with the other less common visitors, or the old woman who has the ironing business or the wife of the man who runs the petrol shop or before she ran off with another man the wife of the man who runs the motorcycle repair shop.

On the table itself every night will be a mix of leo and chang beer cans or on some nights a bottle of 100 Pipers whisky and on even rarer occasions a bottle of a better whisky with soda and water to mix. More commonly these days now that the little bar near soi ten has opened are jugs of Kamikaze in various colours but with blueberry it seems a favourite right now. The old men and those that drink with them are not choosy about drink. And there will be no ash tray on the table as the road doubles as that for the constant chain-smoking that the old men will revert to as dark comes.

Also on the table most but not all nights will be a mix of food to be shared by anyone sitting in the gang. Often an extensive array of large fish, spicy soups, crabs and other sea foods and spicy salads. Sometimes even a plate or two of rice is visible.

The table serves as the centerpiece of all evening entertainment and gossip sharing from the day. Occasionally a temper flares and a bottle is thrown into the road. Less often someone after being piqued ion some way will have to show the knife or gun they carry somewhere on their body and often defying physics by being concealed in a pair of small shorts and a vest previously unnoticed. The table may not be the final point of enjoyment every day as at times the old men or someone else will suggest going to a karaoke bar, restaurant, pub or even massage parlour to further extend the night and in the case of the old men for at least one of them to fall asleep in whatever venue was agreed upon giving plenty of material for further ribbing the next day. Strangely enough whoever drives the pick up taking them from the table to wherever never has an accident or falls asleep in spite of often not being able to even stand up. Wherever they go or however they get their or home though the table remains the centerpiece of all and the thing that holds the group together in common and the place to which all stories, hardships and blights will be brought the next day to ruminate, discuss and decide upon while engaging in humour, alcohol and seafood and as the plastic table gets older and weather-beaten by rain, wind, driven sand and relentless sun now being stained, marked and bleached beyond whatever look it first started with and as a brittle ending approaches it yet more stories events and the histories of the lives of this group become ever more ingrained in that very table which nobody has any inclination to replace with another as every night it is produced yet again to hold fort with its own knights.

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