When I was in the States and I used to work in the carnival (1978 to 1981), after much tequila one night, I started shooting the breeze about a real character called Ron that I had met when I was in Bangkok, back in the early 70s. A few minutes into my anecdotes one of my audience, piped up and said “he sounds like a guy I met in Greece six years ago in 72.”
” Did he have long frizzy strawberry-blonde hair and always carry around a greasy Moroccan leather satchel?” I asked.
“Yep he sure did. “He was always crapping on about rubbing mink oil into that shoulder bag of his and how good it was for the leather”.
Back in the late 70s, I used to carry about a box of photographs that I had taken when I was travelling around in South-east Asia. So when the guy started saying that he knew the same guy that I been talking about, I was able to pull out the blurry photograph that you see below and ask him if this was the guy.
“Yep it sure is and I’d know that face anywhere.”
So there you go, I was talking to a Canadian guy that I had met two months previously at the Calgary stampede and just by chance as we were exchanging traveller’s tales in Phoenix, I found out that he knew somebody that I had met in Bangkok who he had met two years before me, in Greece. 5 billion people on the planet, and I bump into somebody who met someone else and I knew when we were both on the other side of the world. There are better chances of winning a large lottery or being struck by lightning.
I first met Ron when I was staying at the infamous Malaysia hotel in Bangkok. I say infamous because the Malaysia was where murderer Charles Sobhraj operated out of at the same time. Ron was staying at the Malaysia with his mother who had come over from the States to visit him during his travels and they were both in the process of buying gems for her to take back and re-sell in the States. I think the thing that I liked about Ron was his enthusiasm for life and that he was just so full of joie de vivre.
When one travels, It’s not uncommon to bump into people, that one has a met on the road in nearby countries. It’s almost as though there is a well worn rut that travellers follow like they are some kind of slot cars made out of meat. So it came as no surprise to me when I bumped into Ron again in Phnom Penh several months later.
The other person in the photograph above with Ron is a Japanese guy whose name I can’t remember but for the sake of convenience I shall call him “Idiot-san”. The reason why I use such an unflattering appellation as Idiot-san, is because the guy was a brainless, wasted attempt by nature at humanity.
A real oxygen bandit!
The very first time I saw Idiot-san, I was sitting at a sidewalk restaurant when he arrived directly from the airport by cyclo (a three wheeled trishaw). As soon as a cyclo stopped, he jumped out and paid the driver about 10 times more than the going rate, and then looked at the rest of the small denomination bills in his hand like they were nothing other than soiled toilet paper and threw them into the air. This almost caused a riot, as all the beggars (there are about five of them who used to hang around at the cyclo-rank) and other cyclo drivers dived on the falling money and started fighting with each other over it. Idiot-san just grabbed his bags and made his way straight for us and asked us in broken English where would be a good place to stay. I pointed him towards the brothel that doubled as a hotel across the road where I was staying.
I saw Idiot-san the next day, with a black eye and I asked him what had happened. He said that the police had robbed him within about four hours of his arrival in Phnom Penh. It would seem that his theatrics with the small change had marked him out as being too stupid to be in possession of anything valuable. I was told that he walking down the road when about four police just grabbed him and gave him the “bum’s rush” into an alley to administer him with a beating to ensure his cooperation. The cops took everything of value that he had. His money, passport, camera, watch and graduation ring.
In the couple of weeks that it took Idiot-san to get a new passport and funds sent to him, he made the acquaintance and friendship with Ron. With a new passport and money, Idiot-san and Ron flew to Vietnam (this was all during the during the war) for two weeks of whoreing and dope smoking in Saigon. When they came back from Saigon, Ron proudly showed me the scabs on his knees, caused by the non-stop shagging that he and Idiot-san had been wallowing in.
Both Ron and Idiot-san left Phnom Penh after a few more weeks and I didn’t see them again until I bumped into them in Manila when I was on my way to Japan. When Idiot-san, heard that I was going to Japan, he gave me his address in Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku and said that Ron would be staying with him when he got back and that I should look them both up when I was there.
When I got to Tokyo, I was so low on funds I had to look for work straight away and I got a few little jobs teaching English. Because of the way how the Japanese were giving out visas at the time I had to go to Korea to get a new visa after six months. Since I was hitchhiking from Tokyo across the island of Honshu to Shimonoseki to catch the ferry, I thought I should take a detour to visit Ron in Takamatsu.
I hadn’t been given a telephone number to ring first and warn Ron and Idiot-san that I was coming, so I just lobbed up to the address that I had been given. I found the address easily enough and Ron and Idiot-san’s occupancy of the apartment was confirmed by their names on the mailbox. Rang the buzzer, but no one was home, so I asked some of the neighbours in my frightfully crippled Japanese if they knew where they were, and as best as I could understand, I was told they had gone away.
In Japan everybody’s whereabouts is registered with the police so I knew that if I went to the police station they would be probably able to give me a forwarding address. The consternation I caused in the police station when I asked about Ron and Idiot-san gave me quite a surprise. The policeman at the desk called over two shabbily dressed and rough looking detectives and excitedly jabbered away to them as he was gesturing at me. The two detectives took an immediate interest in me and marched me to their desk in the middle of the station. They then bombarded me with questions about Ron and Idiot-san.
Why was I looking for them?
What was my relationship with them?
Why was I in Japan?
The grilling just went on and on. The detectives were so serious and steamed up. It just wasn’t making sense to me as all I wanted was the new address of my friend and his idiot friend.
When I tried to put a halt to the proceedings with a few questions like “why are you asking me so many questions?” “Are you ever going to give me the addresses of my friends?” I was subjected to a further barrage of rapid-fire questions.
“So, they are your friends!”
“How long have you known them?”
” Why have you come all the way to Takamatsu to see them?”
“What is your real reason for being in Japan?”
On and on it went. Without explanation, I was asked question after question and I answered them as quickly and truthfully as I could, but the detectives still wouldn’t tell me anything or answer any of my questions. This went on for about two hours (I’m not kidding) and I was starting to get a bit worried, as it was obvious that they weren’t going to let me go.
I guess after so long, the detectives realised they weren’t really getting anywhere with me. Which didn’t surprise me because I told them everything that I knew, which was nothing.
So they tried a new tactic. One of the detectives barked something at a uniformed policeman. The policeman quickly walked down the stairs in the middle of the office with another officer. I sat there for a few minutes wondering what the heck was going on. I was absolutely stunned and horrified at what I saw next.
Back up the stairs returned the two uniformed policeman, each holding on to the upper arms of a semiconscious, blood splattered and badly beaten Japanese man that they had just dragged (he could hardly stand on his own) up the stairs. Things were starting to turn into a nightmare. It was all just so intensely shocking. The two policemen dragged the poor unfortunate bastard closer to me and snapped his limp sagging head upwards by the hair, so I could see a face that had been beaten to a pulp. His eyes were so swollen that he could hardly open them. His lips were split and his nose looked broken.
The two detectives then said to me, “do you know this man?” To which I answered, “no”. Then they barked the same question to the punching bag, to which he just whimpered a negative. The two policemen then let go of his hair and his head flopped forward. The poor guy was spent and I’m sure he would have told them anything they wanted to hear if he thought it could get him out of his predicament. From the look of things, he was in very deep shit indeed.
I was starting to get a bit frightened by this point, and I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be subjected to such “aggressive interrogation” as well.
I needn’t have worried because as soon as they took the punching bag downstairs, the older of the detectives he took me by the arm to his car. He said, without any further explanation “get in”. I did as I was told, and he drove me towards the ferry terminal. During the drive, I tried to ask a few questions about what was going on, only to be ignored. The detective didn’t say one thing to me until we got to the ferry terminal and that was, ” get out and don’t come back”. I left the island of Shimonoseki with no idea of why, what had just happened, happened.
Fast forward several more years to my conversation at the beginning of this post, with the Canadian carney. As I exchanged anecdotes about Ron with the carney, I said that I would love to know what had happened in Japan with Ron, to which the carney replied that he had Ron’s parent’s address in Pensacola, Florida and that we should visit him.
This was starting to get really freaky.
We had just finished the Arizona State Fair in Phoenix, and we were on our way to San Juan in Puerto Rico to do the first really big fair than they’ve ever had down there and we would be passing through Pensacola.
When we got to Pensacola, we found that Ron was living with his parents. Ron still had a long frizzy strawberry blonde hair, but he put on quite a bit of weight, and it was obvious that his mother was feeding him well. After smoking a few joints from Ron’s pillowcase sized stash, he suggested that we go to a local air force watering hole, known as Trader Vic’s.
Trader Vic’s was the perfect context for Ron because it was so crazy in a Vietnam war sort of way. There was camouflage netting hanging from the ceiling, and various military souvenirs all over the corrugated iron walls. All the waitresses seemed to be Vietnamese ex-prostitutes who would take their orders, while kneeling on the knees between the seated men who openly groped them. It was as though I was in a movie about Americans in Vietnam that was being directed by Fellini. It was surreal.
After a few drinks, Ron told us what happened in Japan. Apparently Idiot-san was the younger brother of a minor Yakuza and he suggested that he and Ron could make a lot of money if they took guns and marijuana into Japan. Back in the early 70s Cambodia was awash with firearms and Japan has very strict laws about firearm possession so Ron and Idiot-san bought a number of Chinese pistols when they were in Phnom Penh. Then they bought a bunch of marijuana when they were in the Philippines. Surprisingly, they were able to successfully smuggle the contraband into Japan, but they both got busted in Takamatsu when they were trying to offload it.
Ron and Idiot-san both received three years jail, and the punching bag that I met in the police station at Takamatsu was Idiot-san’s Yakuza brother.