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Monday, May 3, 2010

Utopia = a mythical smile. Bye, sweet Bic...

The one and only Bic

In a taxi from the Bangkok International airport. The petrochemical perfume of the darkness was smeared by the slash of factory lights. Elevated freeways studded with too many traffic cops in surgical masks, dark glasses and helmets. An army of peanut butter bowling pins. Down an off-ramp, joined by a swarm of motorbikes with leaf-blower engines crowding around the minty, air-freshened cab like pilot fish jockeying for a stray morsel. Finally, the highway roar turned to a low buzz as my cab angled down a quiet side street.

John Goss was waiting for me on the curb in front of his Utopia gift shop, pub and guest house. John, best friend since high school in Hawaii. Utopia. A giant pair of Calvin Klein underwear in the window. Six feet wide by four feet tall. Too big even for me! Utopia was an oasis cobbled out of ambitious hospitality. From the outside, it seemed a goofy-seductive beacon on a dingy street. The shop gave a whimsical pulse to the atmosphere around it. Through the window I saw the man-treats: racks of novelty greeting cards made of abs, prismatic lube-bottles displayed like jewelry, obscure and mysterious objects scattered throughout - and lots of artwork featuring tan and glisten. Orchid and ass. Temple and bulge.

Entering the shop, John had my suitcase, which left me free to flail about as if I’d stumbled into a musical theater meadow that demanded that I flail. It is a natural instinct for a person to wave their arms around in nature. Flailing in nature feels perfectly normal. But I’m in a shop in Thailand. Still, it feels normal. You just have to tuck your arms in when you get going, so you don't give the magazine kiosk a whack on the way around.

Then I saw “him.” When John saw me see him he ushered me out of the store and into the adjacent coffee shop. My neck tested its limits as I strained to see “him” forever. John looked at me through a facade of tolerance. “Joe, don’t fall for Bic…everyone falls in love with Bic. He…blah…blah-be-dy…blah-blah…” I couldn’t hear anymore. I only spoke Thai and the only Thai I spoke was the word “Bic.” From behind his counter in the retail shop, Bic yanked my soul out the top of my head with his teeth. He returned it all smudgy and with his tattoo all over it. That very first smile - custom made for me. And by someone who must know me so well. If right then I had collapsed from an aneurism, the life that flashed before my eyes would be: I enter the shop, flail, then Bic. Enter the shop, flail, then Bic. Enter the shop, flail, then...

John cautioned me again, this time enunciating and with gestures, “Everyone falls in love with Bic. Everyone…beware…beware…beware...

Old gigantic me couldn’t hear it at first. But I let it settle in. I trusted John with my life and John knew how fumbly I could be with my heart. So, I set about ignoring Bic and exploring the city called Bangkok. Cocktail bars where phantoms massage your shoulders, whispering a pipe dream in exchange for a handful of American paper. Cabaret shows where beautiful men float on a sea of feathers and stilettos like swans breaching the moss brûlée on a cool pond. Shops of endless blue rope. Temples made of broken dishes and gold leafed deities. Sidewalk carts roasting custardy sweets on dimpled grills. The smell of fish guts, candy, incense, blood, flowers, motor oil.

But at the end of the day, I came back to Utopia and to Bic. Whether he was behind his cashier’s counter or D.J.ing in the pub upstairs, Bic was the last person I saw before climbing the last flight of stairs to my room. He was the last image I weighed as I closed my eyes to dream. Then he returned in my dreams. What happened next is happy, but not as important as all that lead up to it and came after it. A memory of Bic's love and a cab ride that brought me to it. The "at first sight" moment we say we believe in but have never tapped or tasted. I am so grateful that Bic was mine for a time. Grateful that he chose me to love. His image is tangled up in a trunk full of memories that might be trivial by themselves, but taken together ward off any specter of loneliness. Blue rope, feathers and holding my breath in the sunlight of the famous smile of my Bic.

Mookie and Bic

[The want. We spend most of our lives chasing a solution to the doubt that occupies the space of that want. On the rare, if any, occasion we "get", it doesn't last forever. But it's the mere shadow of that success that lets us hang on in the knowledge that love can happen if we never relent in looking for it. Bic is that proof for me; That someone too good for me could become a partner in fulfillment. Today, on the eve of my birthday, my friend Mookie wrote to tell me that Bic had died of Malaria. He died on his own birthday; April 22nd, 2010. I will miss him forever. Starting...now.]


  1. I am sure such a heartfelt, searching and precious (I mean that in the good way) offering is not necessarily intended to garner commentary.


    I have felt that, have had that kind of fleeting glory and longing all rolled into one, with two remarkable women in my life.

    And I applaud your ability to express in words so eloquently what I've only been able to in song, where it's somehow more acceptable to be 'glass'; see-through, fragile, vulnerable to the light on all sides of it.

    I am so happy you found Bic, for however long, to whatever end.

    I am sad for your loss.

    I thank you for the entry.

    I needed it.

  2. Mike,
    I put this love-letter/tribute up as a desperate attempt to, in some small way, honor the life of someone who changed me and gave me a new belief in myself. That the story resonated in you means that it is a fitting tribute to Bic. That you relate to this story personally also reveals why we are friends. - Joe