Poetry from Thailand

Original poetry written in and about rural Thailand.

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Location: Chong Khae, Nakhonsawan, Thailand

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Doug Barnard

I think of the Everly Brothers when I think of Doug.
Perhaps  this is  because of his older brother Bob.
The Everly Brothers were a cross-over act between
Hill Billy (Bob) and rock and roll.  Doug’s mother
had bought a HiFi and the only records were Bob’s. 
This is one of the reasons I can tell you that side B
of “Wolverton Mountain” (an Every hit) was
“I Won’t Go Hinting With You Jake, But I’ll Go
Chasing Women.”

Bob lost his license to drive “for life” in the State
Of New Hampshire.  In the early 60s before MADD
and all the other groups against drunk driving this
was something you really had to earn.  Bob did –
pretty much on a weekly basis.

Bob went to Pennsylvania and lived with his older
sister for two years after he lost his license.  He
worked driving a meat truck and stayed out of trouble. 
But after two years he thought he’d chance a trip back
to Goffstown at Christmas.  The cops stopped him on
a routine traffic check right by the county farm and
recognized him on the spot.  With one phone call, Bob
called his father Roland and said, “Merry Christmas, Dad,
you’ll never guess where I’m calling from.”  Roland in his heart
of hearts knew:  Bob was locked up at the County Farm.

Before we had money for cars or even a license to drive,
Doug got the ’32 Chevy coupe parked out back of his father’s
house in running order. This in itself was no small feat.  Roland
who ran a service station down by Shirley Park for years had
saved a couple of decades of license plates and nailed these
to a wall in the garage.  It was a dim mid-afternoon just before
Christmas.  We were probably 16 or 17 and bored to tears.
License plates then changed colors every year (white numbers 
on green, then green on white).  We picked plates whose colors
matched the current year, bolted them on, and, with a can of ether,  
got the Chevy running.

It was a miserable day with freezing rain and some snow.
We headed up North Mast to Parker Station to avoid
any cops and hooked a left by the where the Historical Society
is now.  The roads were empty and icy as all hell. 
The Chevy’s narrow tires weren’t much help and pretty
soon we began doing 360s – whoosh, whoosh – down the road.
It was if we were a comet effortlessly spinning through
the winter constellations:  Orion, Gemini, Taurus . . .
We ended up in the middle of the road pointed
back toward Parker Station.  Doug got some speed
in reverse, cut the front (now the back) wheels and
we went sailing again.

A convict holds Pip upside down at the beginning
of Great Expectations and Pip’s life changes forever.
My life wasn’t changed sitting in a spinning antique car
watching pine woods and snow banks twirl by.  Rather,
I thought this life was going to be a lot of fun.

Doug tried this trick two more times, each time
getting a little more of a running start.  Finally,
nearing New Boston Road, the predictable happened.
We nosed into a shoveled-high snow bank
and took out someone’s mail box.  We got out
and tried to get the mailbox upright, but when I
looked up I saw a picture window full of adults
looking out at us and laughing.  Seeing an old
coupe with a rumble seat come spinning into their drive
on a dreary afternoon was the hit, literally, of their
Christmas party. A woman opened the front door –
I think she was drunk – and told us to forget about
the mail box.

We got the Chevy back on the road and drove
straight from then on.

Doug probably beat his brother Bob’s record
for wrecking  cars.  I count two 1949 Chevys,
two Austin Healy 3000s (the second one all but
brand new), three Z cars (a 240. a 260 and a 280),
and a Mazda RX7.  By the time he nailed a telephone
poll on a foggy night with the Mazda, he was well
ensconced in The City of Concord’s civil engineering
department.  I went to see him in Bow months later
and he showed me his new car.  I expected another
sports car, but as the garage door slowly opened  I saw
a Lincoln Continental.  The harbingers of arriving
at mid-life are varied and often surprising.  I had a hard
time not laughing.  Doug couldn’t understand why.

Doug and I grew up in an age where you weren’t
an adult until you had your first motor vehicle
accident.  That event came early on for me, but
I don’t think it ever had any effect on Doug or his
brother Bob.

Truth: Divorce lets men live in the world of men again.
It also leaves you with shards of memories instead of
glossy year-by-year photo albums.

Years later when I had the kids with me in NH, Doug let
my daughter Leanna,  then five or so, drive a bulldozer
he was using to clear a side lot.  He made her wear
a yellow hard hat and came back to the bank where
we were sipping beers.  The hard hat made it OK I guess
and she did fine steering it around at walking speed
with her two older brothers screaming and waving
directions at her.

Doug, like me, had no use for cats, but when his mother
died he kept her cat for years.  I once saw him keep
a back door open on a cold day waiting for the then
elderly cat to go out or not.  He waited for a full five minutes
talking to me over his shoulder.  He never urged the cat
or pushed it out, he just waited. 

He used to have a pig roast once a year which was well
attended by the British Iron Club (a motorcycle club).  Doug was
the club’s treasurer and had several Triumph motorcycles himself.
He asked one of the construction companies he knew through
the City of Concord, if he could get a couple of portable toilets
for the cookout .  The company, trying to curry Doug’s favor,
delivered twenty or so.

I keep a simple picture of him in my mind which is at odds
with all the stories I remember about him.  I go to his house
on a very cold November Day.  He is out behind the garage
in the field near Jimmy Hamilton’s house.  We are both still
in our teens and he is wearing a brown, flannel shirt over
a sweat shirt, over a dress shirt, over a thermal T-shirt. 
Near his feet, stalks of hay stand in the clear air as if they
were works of art etched in crystal.

He has a stick that is taller than he is, almost a religious staff,
and he is poking the milk-white ice in a ditch.

“Greenwood,” he says, but then looks away from me. 
He always greeted me this way and I could never read
anything into it.

Now that I am 70, I am pretty much bald, have bad teeth
and if I stand up quickly, well, I get dizzy.  It seems I have
become Aschenbach, the failed writer, in Thomas Mann’s
Death In Venice and I am looking at Doug in my memory
as if he were Mann’s “stunningly beautiful  youth”  - a youth
so beautiful that the author becomes obsessed with him. 
There’s an aura of the eroticism in my memory of Doug
as there is in Mann’s novella, but there’s more, too.

I ask him what he is doing freezing his ass off in this field.
He looks at me at shrugs.  There is a twinkle of mischief in
his eyes – not the malicious mischief of The Godfather’s
“It’s only business,” or of Aaron Hernandez thuggery –
it is a mischief that is joyful.   A mischief that stands outside
of the old photos and post cards that we see on Face Book
which seem only  to float on the surface of history. 
In his smile I read:  I don’t know what’s coming in this life,
but it’s going to be fun.

Doug died when I was on the other side of the world and
Settling into Thailand.  I miss him. 

Ah, he would have loved Thailand.