I buckled up my safety belt, the metal hatch hissed closed,
The bomb that would destroy the earth concealed in my ship's nose.
I took a deep long sighing breath, resolved at last to start
My plan to create total death, a lasting work of art.
I switched on the ignition, felt the rockets' blasting force
With profound recognition of my long-awaited course.
As and I hurtled upward, driven now to master fate,
I thrilled at my bold scheme which I could now feel culminate.
I thought, 'With all earth's problems gone, the cosmos will be free
Of noise and hate and tears and love and human history.
A grand eternal silence, mass and force obeying laws
Without a hint of doubt, or fear, or other human flaws."
For that is how I felt the universe could best survive,
That only without life could it most truly be alive.
The sky now nearing ever more, the land drifted away.
I knew that what I had to do I had to do today.
I let myself be carried out, be swept up in the wave,
Just thinking of the universe I knew that I could save.
And lost in thought I gazed out at the empty perfect black,
A wondrous quiet symphony, except that at my back
Lay earth, a festering problem which I hoped to now resolve,
A cosmic goof, a planet which should never have evolved.
I basked in contemplation of the awe-inspiring scope
Of what I'd set out to achieve, of space's final hope.
I thought, "All will be simple, just as simple as my plan
To turn and kamikaze, ending life, and earth, and man."
When suddenly a look of fear replaced awe on my face,
For drifting deep in thought, I'd also drifted deep in space.
My fuel is now expended, I have no more left to burn,
I cannot now destroy the earth, neither can I return.
I'm floating through the darkness, only waiting now to die,
A self-created exile to the lightless, timeless sky.
So though I cannot reach my goal of mute infinity
For all of space and time, I have at least reached it for me.
The plops of ploop came falling plinker plonker from the sky.
I gazed aloft only to have one spladge into my eye.
Now I cannot read, I cannot write, I cannot see.
Oh, why'd that plinker plonker plop of ploop have to hit me?
So at last the time has come to tell about Jakarta. Looking back on my two weeks there is like gazing into the sky after a fireworks display, seeing filaments of smoke dissipating through a splotchy colored screen of retinal images which render indistinct specific memories of discrete episodes, preserving them as a shifting translucent stack of impression and perception.
In retrospect, our time there seems to have been spent in two worlds, divided into opposing categories of experience, each fascinating and full, but the contents of which could of necessity have nothing to do with one another.
The first of these could be called sin, if a moral judgment should be called for, which in a city like Jakarta isn't likely. Rick and I went out in Jakarta every night we were there, returning home in almost every case after 4 am. It became something of a joke. I'd say, "You know, I wouldn't mind a quiet night sooner or later, not necessarily tonight, but sometime... do some reading and writing, and go to bed relatively early." "Yeah," he'd invariably respond, "take it easy for a change, that's a good idea." But good idea or not, it simply didn't happen. Jakarta is a sprawling beast of 10 million people, an organism in its own right, and Rick and I were both keen on taking advantage of the first really big city we'd been in in some time. Other towns and smaller cities had plenty of daytime activities to offer; what we craved only happens after midnight, and only in cities with a sybaritic bent.
On our second night in town, we decided to follow the advice of a woman I had spoken with months ago in a bar in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. We had met and talked, and gotten along pretty well. She used to live in Jakarta, as it turned out, and upon hearing that I'd probably sooner or later end up there, did the obliging thing and told me where to go. "Jalan Falatehan, Blok M," she wrote on a napkin, and handed it to me. "What's there?" I asked. "Bars you will like," she replied. So heeding, Rick and I arose from our siesta, what the Indonesians call "tidur siang," i.e. "afternoon sleep," and dressed to go out.
And I suppose that woman had formed the right impression of me as a voyeur of the diverse perverse, because what a weird strip Jalan Falatehan turned out to be. The first bar we sampled was an American-style sports bar complete with darts and pool, pennants and espn, and completely devoid of customers save for the two of us and one aging American businessman making a clearly futile effort to pick up both of the very bored-looking young bartendresses. They humored him, politely laughing at his drunkenly slurred jokes, and refilling his glass as often as was necessary. We ordered beers, played pool since it was free, and moved on down the street.
Next came Oscar's. What can I say about Oscar's. In entering, we crossed a threshold into another dimension, a brownish yellow dimension with a mariachi band, framed scenes from classic Hollywood films on the walls, and hookers everywhere æ more than one per table, and in some cases more than two. People were dancing, and the clientele, most of whom seemed to be expatriate men more interested in the girls than the music, but who were occasionally dragged out onto the dance floor to humiliate themselves in front of their potential evening conquests, were doing their best to sweet-talk their way into various and sordid business transactions. Oscar's is a lurid box frequented by a weird collection, a menagerie of stereotypes all housed within a clich_ and excellent fodder for voyeurs like Rick and myself. From our inconspicuous spot at the bar we could see slender and graceful working girls in innocent-youngster get-ups side-by side with pudgy permed prostitutes in checkered spandex and ruby lipstick. This place had a girl for every palette from the most discerning to the dazzlingly tasteless, all gathered under one smoky roof replete with Christmas lights and glowing beer signs, all of the bar's products in plain view from any angle you could choose.
And the men provided no less entertainment than the girls. We saw a geeky dweeb pouring beer from his pitcher for a group of four sleazy ladies all seated at his table by the door. We saw a young-faced big-haired heavy metal man courting a middle-aged matron of the night. We saw Australians in t-shirts and neck-bandannas with their jeans tucked into their workboots eyeing a couple of young things for hire, and we saw older businessmen in suits and ties grasping at whatever they could get ahold of. A truly sick scene, made sicker by the Latin beats in the background, and overseen by portraits of Clark Gable and Lana Turner from their places of honor behind the bar.
After we'd had our fill of that, I noticed a stairway leading to another part of the bar we had yet to explore, and pointing it out to Rick, we headed upwards. The first thing our eyes met as we ascended was a printed sign something roughly to the effect that "we regret to inform you that women unescorted by their boyfriends or a male friend are not permitted on the second floor," sort of a business boundary, if you know what I mean. But Rick and I were unprepared for what awaited us above. It was the same bar only completely different. The second floor had a comfortable loungy feel to it, with big couches and lots of space. The brown floors and beer signs had been supplanted by black and white checkered linoleum and French posters, and the Christmas lights by clean white light, resulting in an airy, progressive feel. Cool music emanated from somewhere, and there was a pool table, free of charge and unattended. This was a really cool spot, like a jazz bar, a sophisticated little nook, and totally out of keeping with what was transpiring below. We played some pool, and then returned to the perversity of the first floor to see the bar close and the results of the night's pairing-off process. Eventually it emptied like Noah's arc, two-by-two, the newly negotiated couples destined for their respective cabins below deck, and we too were turned out into the night to seek alternative entertainment. We did not have to look far.
Across the street we found a disco, the name of which I have regrettably forgotten, but many other details of which I am reminded of with horrible clarity. As in many discos, we found ourselves bombarded upon entry with the familiar throb of low-quality house music accompanied by the toxic glow of blacklights and televisions. Resolved not to stay long, we ordered our beers, and I headed for the bathroom to expel some of the liquid I had already accumulated in my system. There I met an Indonesian guy, Balinese, not more than 19 years old, and who for lack of a better name (and I think that even if I could remember his true name it would not be as fitting), I shall call Ernst.
Ernst delivered one hell of a first impression, something like an Indonesian nazi. He wore those wire-rimed glasses they use in the movies during WWII interrogation scenes, and had a sharp jaw set with a firm row of teeth that looked downright Aryan in his tan-skinned head. I suppose it was more due to facial structure than anything else, but for the remainder of the night, I was not so sure I could rely upon him. Little did I know what I was to see.
I met Ernst because as I shouldered my way into the restroom, I came upon him and his buddy taking hits from a joint, the first marijuana I'd seen in a long time. They wordlessly offered it to me, I helped myself, and handing it back to them went to pee. When I was done, they told me that if Rick and I were willing to buy another beer for them to split, they'd gladly roll another spliff for us all to share. Hungry for pot after such an extended absence, I quickly agreed, and we three returned to the disco to inform Rick of the situation, and to drink. Once our beers were consumed and the basics of polite conversation exhausted, Ernst and I returned to the bathroom to roll the joint of promise. I have always held some reservation about following another guy into the bathroom of a public place with his assurance that there I will find something I like and need, but I went along anyway. Ernst led me there, and then locked the two of us into the small stall reserved for the poor unfortunates who, upon going to this particular disco, discover that they actually have to take a shit that can't wait for home. Great. The stall is dirty, the floor covered in mucky black shoe-goo, and it smells bad. But whatever. Because of this, I'm gonna get high for the first in a long string of times, and I accepted the brutality of the situation without complaint.
Producing the precious packet of pot (upon further inspection it didn't look so fine, but it's too late for that now), and scrounging around in his pockets for a crumpled rolling paper, Ernst began to compose a cigarette for our group consumption. Now, I've watched a lot of people roll joints. I've gawked impressed as a small amount of pot became a smooth doobie of machine-rolled quality, and I've spectated in horror as huge amounts of high-grade bud were squeezed into pin-thin spikes with no draw and which give you more of a buzz from the effort of smoking them and from the density of the paper than from the drug itself; but I have never witnessed anything like I saw in that Jakartan bathroom stall. Rick, impatient in the main disco chamber and ever looking out for my potential rectal welfare, joined us in there, and I was glad of it, because only with such a solid witness can I continue to believe my memory of Ernst's joint-rolling technique.
He handled the pot itself, as he should given its relative value in a country which will kill you if they find you selling the stuff, with great delicacy. But the death penalty notwithstanding, there was no call for the amount of priority he placed upon every shred of the holy stuff. Because as everyone who has ever tried to roll one knows, joints are a tricky business, and sometimes, sometimes, a little bit of pot gets spilled. Not much in most cases, just a few crumbs. But that was too much for Ernst. So Rick and I got a neck workout as we looked back and forth with utter incredulity, first at each other seeking confirmation of the reality at hand, then to the floor where Ernst was busy groping about in the black gunky sludge-smudge for the no-doubt-but-not-that valuable trimmings of pot which had alledgedly fallen there, and then back again at each other. He was actually combing the floor with his fingers in the toilet of a disco for a product which he meant to ingest... and which he meant for us to ingest too, because whenever he'd triumphantly come up with whatever it was that was by that point maybe or maybe not marijuana, he'd add it to the joint-in-progress and the dive back down for more. Gosh and yuk. And this in a country where to shake with your left hand is impolite.
But the pot-whores that we are, upon returning to our table, Rick and I did each indeed indulge in the cigarette of combings from the toilet floor, and, believe it or not, got a bit of a buzz from it as well. But, I suppose, given what it was laced with from the toilet, how could we not? But regardless, it felt like pot, and we left it at that.
For the rest of the night there's not much of interest to tell, except that when that disco closed, we followed Ernst and his friend to another place across the street which featured only the sleaziest type of dancing couples and sex-house music, and where we were introduced to some extremely meretricious girls who wanted us to buy them beers, and for whom we didn't. Rick and I wowed them with our pool playing ability, drank a few beers as the slutty girls watched in envy, and then, at the ripe old hour of 4 am, stumbled out into the street headed for home, having seen easily enough for one evening.
Other nights we explored other parts of town. We checked out a disco called Tanamur, a raunchy high-class place with an $8 cover charge and the higher kind of street girls working the premises. There were more hookers there than you could shake a badge at, including one girl I had actually met in Yogyakarta weeks earlier, who lived on the same street on which Rick and I were staying, whom we ran into all the time, and whom we had nicknamed "slutty-girl". We had gone to Tanamur on her recommendation, and arrived there to find her doing her job, at which she was extremely talented. Slutty-girl, whose real name is Ad_, had that unique combination of whorishness and sexiness that actually works, and she knew how to use her body. I know, because I saw her using it on a series of guys, wiggling and dancing for, at and with them, her tight shirt and jeans eyeball magnets as she undulated and swivelled, beckoning men to dance humpingly with her until she finally hooked one, and then off they went, not to be seen again that night. So it goes. Pretty intense to watch, though, and a little confusing for the next time that I saw her. I mean, what do you say to her, "I saw you working, you're really good at your job, you know?" Probably not... at least not in her case, and so I let it slide.
But Slutty-girl introduced us to more than just a disco and some hooker-how-tos. Through her we also met Doni, a young clean-looking man so obviously and happily gay that he makes no attempts to conceal or downplay his orientation, an unusual attitude in the strictness of Indo society. Every time we'd see him, he'd regale us with stories of his latest conquests, his collection of boyfriends, and his philosophies on homosexuality, dating and life. Doni, unlike Slutty-girl (who, now that I have full confirmation, might be better named "Slut-girl"), fucks only for fun, not for money, and has playfriends from all over the world. His openness and attitudes were so well-spirited and refreshing for me and Rick that we grew to like him quite a lot.
One evening as the four of us sat over beers in a little bar on Jalan Jaksa, Doni told us how he first knew he was gay. "I knew I was gay when I was fifteen years old," he said proudly, boastful of his homosexuality and of his early recognition and acceptance of it. He went on. "My teacher brought me into an empty room at school and told me to close my eyes. He was my teacher, he was older than me, and I trusted him, so I did what he said. Then he told me to unbutton my shirt. And of course I did." Doni's voice lilted as he talked, mellifluous and cheerful. "Then he started kissing me, and I liked it. This happenned many times after that, and he gave me really good grades. And," he said inflated with honor, "I've been a homosexual ever since."
"But even though you're happy to be gay your teacher shouldn't have done that," I told him.
"Yeah, but we both liked it, and I got all A's. I did the same thing with my teachers in college."
Rick and I smiled at him. Here was a case where child molestation actually made the child happy, and provided him with a framework upon which to build a very free and fun-loving lifestyle. Chalk up one point for NAMBLA. We finished our beers and Doni set off for Tanamur, accompanied by Slutty-girl, leaving Rick and I to decide how we would spend our evening.
We went to many different places in Jakarta. We became regulars at a neighborhood pool hall, a shotgun corridor containing maybe ten tables all in a row, and with a staff of young middle-aged women whose sole job is to rack up pool balls. The price was 35 cents a game, 25 cents on Sundays. We visited a disco called Zodiac which comfortably held thousands of people, the huge dance floor a swarm of dark seething motion, everyone trendy in black clothes and sunglasses, swaying and posing to the house-beat background which saturated the space with a very real physical throb, while teams of dancing girls wearing costumes that'd get the Solid Gold Dancers banned from broadcast TV gyred and gimballed on pedestals rising out of the Brownian crowd. We glanced into the M-Club, with its lasers and strobes alternately piercing and shocking the dark air. We hung out a few times at a new-age bar with barefoot carpets and conspicuous halogens. We visited cheezy 2nd-rate hotel lounges where middle-aged losers dancing to middle-aged loser music paid more for their drinks than the high-class places dared charge. We met financial advisors from England, and grade-school teachers from Norway. We met a bad-vibed Indonesian guy named Joe whose life ambition is to go to America to sell guns and drugs, and whom we ran into all over the city, almost as though he were following us around. After a point it became absurd how many times and places we saw him, and soon every corner we turned felt sharper for fear of finding him around it. We watched in bemused horror as the dumbest Australian I have ever seen struggled unsuccessfully to learn a single basic Indonesian phrase from some friends he had made in a little out-of-the-way bar. (I mean, come on, if I tell you how to say "Selamat Malam," how long do you think it would take you to learn it?) And we saw lots of people whom we didn't meet, but who intrigued us to no end. This is the glory of new places, and is why I can say with assurance that I haven't ever been to a bar that I haven't somehow enjoyed.
One night Rick and I were meandering our way through town toward Blok M, perhaps to check out Oscar's again, when we happened to pass the Holiday Inn. Now, we were by this point no stranger to the finer hotels. There's a lot to be had at such places, and many times we had availed ourselves of their facilities: their bars, their air-con, their concierge's expansive knowledge of the city, their TVs full of CNN and HBO and of course their first-class restrooms. Anyway, since we hadn't yet encountered the Holiday Inn, we thought we'd give it a go. Smart move.
"Yes, sir, follow me," the doorman responded before we had a chance to speak. He ushered us up the escalator (now that's service, where the staff ushers you up a machine that already ushers you up itself) to the third floor, where he turned us over to a smiling woman with a trayful of mugs of beer in her hands. At her request we helped ourselves and entered the next room to enjoy the vast food buffet full of luscious international specialties. Wandering into a ballroom crammed with tables, silver and white linen, we found seats and began to dine. Only then did we stop to wonder: what was this place, where we were fed pasta and calimari while sipping coffee and beer out of bottomless mugs while a string quartet played in the background... heaven? Some kind of trap? Well, sort of both: we had merely been mistaken for motorcycle racers, that's all. The Marlboro Grand Prix had just finished a week-long stint in Jakarta, and we had stumbled, or to be more accurate, we had been stumbled, into their finale party. The other people there, teams and promoters, girlfriends and wives, most wearing shirts saying things like "Marlboro", "Dunlop" and "Penzoil" were milling about, talking shop, and drinking themselves raucous. So we ordered some more beers, helped ourselves to more food, and hung out with some very funny and very cool Italian timekeepers who couldn't have cared less that we weren't supposed to be there, all on Philip Morris' tab.
A photographer roamed the room, snapping and flashing, and I waved her over so we could pose for a shot with me in the middle, my arms around the shoulders of the two Italians on either side of me, smiling: just another piece of evidence for my crimes-against-humanity trial. It really just goes to show you: some of the weirdest fun happens when you just sit back, relax, and let it happen to you... all it needs is the opportunity to strike. After enjoying ourselves and getting a good free head start on the evening's beer-drinking, we bid our timekeeper friends farewell and headed back out to the bars.
We visited a variety of other Jakartan night-spots as well, but none so often as J.J. Duit's. JJ's is a new place in Jakarta, still undergoing beta-testing prior to official opening, and is one of the cooler-looking bars I've encountered. Funky and haute, with big-screen animation and gloopy, Seuss-like appurtenances, this bar was the newest, hippest thing going, with the added adventage that it hadn't really been widely discovered yet. The DJ there played some of the best music I've heard in a club anywhere, much less in Asia. He spun a mix of soul and acid jazz, and maintained an impressively constant funky vibe echoing throughout. Of course, the place wasn't without it problems. Pool cost $2 per table, and it had a definitely cliquey atmosphere to it, since many of the customers there knew each other and were the same kind of hip. And although its design was innovative and fun, it seemed a little too self-consciously so, just a touch too arty. But still, it was the coolest place we could find, it stayed open until 5 every night, and we went there with relative frequency.
And though we did meet a few people in our several nights spent there, we ended up knowing the staff of the place better than any of its clientelle. Perhaps the employees were instructed to learn customers' names, or maybe they were just super-friendly, but on our first visit there we introduced ourselves (Rick and I were going under the names Hank and Alyosha at the time), and our every entry from that point on would be punctuated by the staff's voices ringing out to us, "Alllllyoshhhha! How are you?" and "Haaaank! Nice to see you!" Now, I mention this for a reason, and that reason is Melvin, or at least what I call Melvin, since I don't know his real name. Melvin is as gay as Doni and as obviously, only not as openly. Of course he employed some degree of innuendo, like touching us affectionately as we'd ask for more beers, and in one case when Rick was there late one night by himself, Melvin asked, "Haaaaank, are you waiting for me to get off work?", a fact made all the more funny by the reality that Rick was indeed waiting for one of the waitresses, with whom he ended up that night. But Melvin's way of speaking was so soft, smooth and soprano that I just had to laugh, as as I'd enter he'd come over to me and say seductively and without a trace of grit, "Alyosssahhh... " He practically sang it, more like a smear of saccharine sound than a name, assumed or not. This greeting became something of a ritual.
On one of our last visits to JJ's, Rick and I sat watching people playing pool when a woman sat down beside me with an unlit cigarette in her mouth. Ever the gentleman, I treated her to some flame, sparking not only my lighter but a brief conversation as well, brief not because it wasn't interesting (it wasn't), but because it took her all of about 30 seconds to get to the point: "How long have you been here?" "Two weeks." "Where are you staying?" "At a small hotel." "Do you want to come to my house?" I was a little surprised at this, but not opposed to a touch of adventure. "Sure," I said. She went and fetched her brother, beckoned me and Rick to follow, and the four of us piled into a cab bound for home.
Oh, gentle reader, what are you thinking lies ahead for our noble heroes now? The two of them are picked up in the wee hours at an expensive trendy bar by a brother/sister couple who insist that we must all spend the night together. Any number of scenarios-to-follow could spring to mind, from incestuously bisexual mansion-mongering orgiasm to torture dungeon white-slave-ring imprisonment. I hope your imagination is abuzz with the potential fate that was to befall Rick and I as we sat in that cab whizzing through the Jakarta 4 am breeze bound for who knows where. Mine certainly was, conjuring up all sorts of hallucinations both wild and mild, but not once did it ever approach what actually lay ahead for us... And now we rejoin our story already in progress.
The cab stopped in an alleyway. The brother paid off the driver, we descended to the street, and Rick and I stood awaiting further instructions. When the taxi had gone, the girl, whom I shall call Myrna, led us up a plastic stairway behind a buiding, the kind of folding ladder used as stopgap in construction, awaiting a more permanent medium of ascension. This led up through a hole in a ceiling which from the other side turned out also to be a floor, outside, and surrounded by potted plants. We stood there for a moment in this skeleton of a building, while Myrna fished out her key and, producing it, unlocked a sturdy door in the brick wall to our rear. We entered.
Inside lay not the palatial loft expanse I had hoped for, nor the dark and gloomy chamber of horrors I had feared; inside lay a fluorescently flooded single chamber apartment, completely suburban in a very second-and-a-half-world sort of way. The one room, barely five meters square, contained a large bed with frilly pillows, two TVs and a full-height dresser in the style of pasteboard and veneer. Containers hung from the ceiling, brimming with bottles, hairspray cans, and other items of obscure identity. A refrigerator took up most of one wall, projecting itself into the room as though it were the most important object present, self-inflated with the pride of class in a country where coolant is a rare luxury. Atop the fridge sat more knick-knacks, bottles, and one not-inconspicuous pink vibrator. Every shred of wallspace was covered or occupied with some picture, poster or object. Every flat surface was littered with a neat disorganization of the necessities of a daily life corrupted (or enhanced) by the will toward westernism. On the bed lay a sleeping form. "My brother," Myrna explained, shaking him awake enough to roll him onto the strip of carpet in front of the bed, which was then left clear for us to lounge upon. "He has to work tomorrow morning." I glanced at the clock over the left TV. 4:30 am.
"Do you want beer?" Myrna and her brother, whom I'll call Roy, plied us with drink, and then began to undress. "This promises to turn real strange," Rick's glance told me, but then they re-dressed... in shorts and t-shirts: bed clothes. "Do you want something to sleep in?" they asked. We really didn't, but our underlying uncertainty and discomfort led us to politely accept. Rick was given a pair of knee-length shorts with a bad-plaid motif. I hit the jackpot: also knee-length shorts, but sprinkled all over with Budweiser logos. Mmmmm. As he handed them to me, Roy said, "I hope you're wearing underpants, because... " and he wiggled a finger at me through a hole in the seat of the shorts. I felt at once wary of donning a garment with that kind of gateway in such surroundings, and glad that he wished upon me another layer of shielding. I put them on, and Rick and I sized each other up in our new clothes. We felt silly.
We four talked for a bit, sipping beers. With no serious common ground to bind us and fatigue setting in, the topic wove staggeringly, from questions about America to Roy's import/export business dreams to Jakarta nightlife, and beer. At one point, don't ask me how we got there, we were talking about surgery and sickness. "Look," said Myrna, and pulled up her shirt to reveal her right breast, transversed by a long, clean scar. It looked fresh. She then launched into an explicitly unclear explaination of why and how, until somehow the subject changed again. By quarter to six, we were all drooping, Myrna had decided on our behalf that we all wanted to go to Taman Mini, a children's park, the following day, and Rick had had enough. He changed back into his normal pants amid Roy's protests, made an excuse about being too awake to sleep and since we had a hotel room with beds, it'd be more comfortable for everyone than sharing one bed among four people, thanked them, and left. I decided to stay: I was amused, and into the oddity of it.
Then we crashed, three of us in a bed, me in the middle. Myrna and Roy dropped off immediately, but I couldn't sleep. It was hot. it was weird. it was crowded. The clock was ticking. The light was on. I lay there shifting, trying to acheive comfort. It didn't work. I thought about the next day, about to dawn, and the Taman Mini, which I didn't want to see. But when Roy began to snore - at me - that was enough. I climbed over him, quietly dressed, and slipped out silently under cover of morning mist. We never saw them again.
Ah, dear reader, I could regale you with more episodes from our lifetime after dark, but I think you get the idea. The list goes on, because Jakarta is a weird city by the standards of a weird country, and every night led to an adventure more full than every other night, but for fear of boring you, I shall cut to perhaps the weirdest thing of all that occurred during our stay in that extraordinary town, the flipside to the natural goofiness of the sordid edge. You see, when you go out hunting for bizarre experiences and then they happen, it's no great surprise, and soon the unusual smears into backdrop of normalcy. Thus the most normal things become the oddity, and in this light we spent a great deal of time in that other world I mentioned, not the sinful lusty world of third-world urban street- and nightlife, but in the sheltered questionless universe of the Desis.
The Desis are a pair of twins who Rick and I double-dated whilst in Jakarta. We met them on the train into town from Semarang, and were happy to have secured a date for dinner at their house by the end of our journey. The Desis were identical 20-year olds, full of nubile young energy, and cute as buttons. But as we were later to learn, cute just doesn't cut it. In a country whose educational and social systems downplay the value of individuality, being a twin doesn't help enrich the independent spirit, and when this is further complicated by the fact that for whatever reason the twins' parents had seen fit to give their identical daughters identical names, well, let's just say that these two were about as unique as things that aren't unique at all. We ended up just calling them Desi1 and Desi2, which nomenclature suited perfectly their intra-dependent mentality.
As I mentioned, these girls were beautiful and fun, but in a too-young way. Although they were twenty years old from a physical standpoint, they behaved like emotional and intellectual 13-year-olds. As my friend Pablo put it, they needed to be microwaved: they weren't cooked enough on the inside. Always wearing matching outfits and often even speaking simultaneously, this pair were about as sweet as people get, but in a sheltered, naive way, completely unaware of the often distasteful realities of the world around them, and of its potential for complexity. More than being taught not to think independently, they were taught not to think much at all, and this became a source of frustration for both Rick and me as our encounters with them grew in number.
I should say from the outset that after our first date with the twins, Rick wanted to have little to do with them. He wasn't into the game of exploring these young people's even younger minds, regardless of how adorable they were, but they fascinated me, and in a very younger-sister-whom-I-wouldn't-mind-molesting-ly way I really enjoyed being with Desi1, so I continued to drag Rick along on our dates. The Desis were as extreme as anyone we met in Jakarta, not because of any perversity but because of their sheer ignorance of perversity, and I loved trying to test the boundaries of their limited tolerances.
At the appropriate time we showed up at their house for our first dinner date. Their mother had cooked the most delicious fried rice I've ever had, but before we could partake, we first had to deal with the proper formalities. Desi1 showed us into the living room, a small cubicle furnished with a living room set which for Indonesia counts as high-class by virtue of being a living room set at all, but which were in fact stiff and uncomfortable seats. They served us coffee and cake, and we were then introduced, quite formally, to the Desis' father.
And I thought that the chairs were stiff and uncomfortable! That conversation was like an iron maiden in comparison. In a mixture of broken languages and strained silences punctuated by the slurping of coffee and the munching of crumpets, he learned that we considered ourselves professional wanderers, which he didn't seem to like, and we learned that he was a military policeman, which didn't please us too much, either. I mean, it's a stable enough job for someone in a militant police state, I suppose, but bad news in terms of parental discipline, and his daughters were the gems in his wrought iron paternal crown. The message came through very clearly as we sat with straight backs in a room graced by a huge authoritarian portrait of the man himself in full uniform: don't fuck with my daughters, literally, figuratively, mentally. Then he left us, and the smiling mother came in to invite us to eat.
Dinner itself was warm and relaxed without the overseeing eye of dad around, and we enjoyed our food with the Desis and their siblings, all of us sitting on the living room floor, watching TV and talking during commercials. It felt familiar, fun and very comfortable, almost Western, despite the fact that their living room doubled as the family garage. After eating, we watched Kindergarten Cop on TV (which title hauntingly underscored both the immaturity of the twins and the fascism of their father), and then it came time for us to go. The Desis walked us to the main road.
"Will you call me tomorrow?" Desi1 asked child-guilt-wide-eyed-seductively.
"Maybe," I replied. I'd only just arrived in the city after all and didn't want to get enmeshed in a restrictive routine.
"Please promise please please please," both Desis crooned.
"We might," we replied again.
"Please promise please please please," both Desis crooned again.
"Possibly," we replied again.
"Please promise please please please," both Desis crooned again.
It went on like that for a while, but we refused to promise them anything of the sort, not because we didn't want to call them, but because we didn't want to have to call them, and ultimately left them pouting on the sidewalk near their home. We just wouldn't be manipulated. "That was weird and fun," I said to Rick. He half-heartedly agreed, and we went out to bars and clubs until dawn.
Of course, in the end, I did call them. We made a date for a few days later to meet at Monas, the big phallic freedom monument in the center of the city, but when we met them there, no one had any idea where to go or what to do, so we hopped on a bus toward the waterfront. An hour and a half later, we still sat on that bus, not because Jakarta is as big as it is, but more due to the fact that its geographical size is magnified by its nightmarish traffic. We sat for a seeming eternity, gridlocked, imprisoned in a grimy glass box on the grisly grey road, and, Jakarta being the car-crazy town that it is, we could actually see the air around us, which moved frustratingly faster than we did in the direction we wanted to go, passing us by in huge brownish clouds of monoxide haze. Rick's discomfort mounted visibly, a blend of claustrophobia and frustration at the stupidity of a date he hadn't wanted to attend in the first place. Finally we dismounted and set off on foot, leaving our bus behind us in the logjammed thoroughfare. But by that point none of us really felt like strolling along the waterfront. We all really wanted just to go home, although the Desis wouldn't have admitted that they wanted anything other than what we wanted, and so in the end we all got some burgers, and headed back to our point of origin. After fending off their cries of "call us tomorrow call us tomorrow" and "promise promise please please" we retired to our room to rest up for the no doubt raucous night ahead. These girls were so damn pristine, so just on the ignorant side of innocence, that I think even Rick enjoyed the contrast they provided to the remainder of our lifestyle, a reality to which we couldn't even refer when in their presence.
Over two weeks in Jakarta, we went out with the Desis 7 or 8 times. I won't subject you to all the gritty details, the holding-hands and the grade-school conversations, except to make clear the extent of their unalloyed naivety which so offset the drunken revelries to which we had become nightly accustomed.
On our third meeting with the girls, we went for coffee at a popular shopping-mall. It was there that Desi1 broke the harsh news to us: their dad didn't like us. He had concluded that we were interested in only one thing with respect to his daughters, that we were in their words "brainsex." Oh, no. From that point on, all of our meetings were clandestinely arranged and alibilically covered by friends and with the help of their understanding mother. I must admit that their dad was sort of right, which seemed ironic given how sure they were that he wasn't. But it turned even more ironic when we learned that by the twins' own sensibilities, sex was an off-limits topic. The mere mention of the s-word would send their hands up to cover their ears like 4-year-olds at a fireworks display. Even the most oblique references to recreational aspects of reproductive acts were out of bounds. In one conversation we had with them a week or so later, it came out that I had once lived with a woman for 5 years. Their hands shot to their ears. On another evening Rick mentioned that he had slept at the house of a female friend, and that they had shared a bed, but nonsexually so. Ears covered. I started to explain that things in the States are sometimes different, but they couldn't hear it through their protective audio finger-shields. I therefore couldn't even begin to tell them that these things also happen here in Jakarta, and I certainly couldn't very well invite them up to my room for anything even remotely brainsexed, now could I? Their father had nothing to worry about.
But, sex and romance, especially for young girls who learn about these things from histrionic indocheese lovestory movies, are very different events, and Desi1 had pretty much set her sights on me as a target of conquest. She tried to be coy with me, as transparently as you might expect, saying things like "maybe I think of you like a brother and maybe I don't." We held hands a lot. She showed me her diary once, filled daily with notes like, "talked to him today", "miss him", "why doesn't he call?", "miss him", and "talked to him today", all written in English so as to make it easy for me to read. Silly girl. Nubile bodies turn me on. High-school drama bullshit doesn't. But at the same time, I really did like her and I didn't want to hurt her, so I didn't get mean, I just stayed cool and abstained from anything that might further encourage her affections.
Of course, sometimes things can't be helped. One evening we had eaten with the Desis' friend, Uut (which I think is a great name,a bisyllabic glottal stop) at Uut's house. Uut turned out to be really with it and cool, certainly more realistically grounded than the Desis, and Desi1 apparently noticed a connection of sensibility between me and Uut that she could not share. On the ride home she pouted. Refusing to play her games, I simply ignored it, until she looked up at me with a tear in her eye and asked in a grade-school whine, "Do you like Uut?" I couldn't believe that this woman was 20 years old. "Yes, I like Uut," I told her, "I like all 3 of you." And she barely talked for the rest of the ride. I wasn't aggressively trying to teach her a lesson, but by the same token I refused to sugar-coat the world for her. Some shit doesn't flush.
Our last date with them was the weirdest. We had arranged to go to a twins-day festival, where they promised that we would see hundreds of pairs of twins, an opportunity we couldn't let pass. I had been to one such event in Twinsburg, Ohio, which with 3000 sets of twins and triplets was weird enough, but to add the element of Indonesianism into it... the possibilities escaped my comprehension. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
The Desis picked us up looking beautiful as always in matching suits, and we headed to the convention hall. But upon arrival, it turned out not to be a Twinsburg-style festival at all, but rather a children's event. The Desis were literally the oldest pair of twins present by a margin of 10 years, and the entire population of the room could not have exceeded 200. Rick and I looked at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.
The festivities progressed, including twin-participation sing-alongs, talent contests, and a stand-up-comedy thing by a famous Indonesian child filmstar all of which was clearly, even in a language not our own, geared toward children. But we didn't watch the show so much as we watched the Desis. To our disbelief, they loved it! They sang along with the group and laughed at the dumb jokes, and genuinely accepted this idiotic Lunacy heart and soul as a privilege of their dizygotic nature. Whoa. We're talking 9-year-old stuff here, folks. This, more than anything that had gone before, confirmed for us exactly how limitlessly sincere immaturity can extend itself, and that no matter how cute and urban they seemed, these girls were just plain silly.
Therefore it presented no problem for us to bid them goodbye for the last time that evening. Rick and I had tickets to Singapore in a few days, and we wanted our final time in that deliciously wicked town to be as steeped in iniquity as possible. At the last, Desi1 made her tearful declaration to me: she would never forget about me, she would never have another boyfriend, and she would, if necessary, wait the rest of her life for me to return. Hmmm. But after so thoroughly displaying the depth of her childlike capacities that afternoon, I had no sympathy for such baseless and infantile assertions. I told her as supportively as I could that I would not be back, that she'd be better off forgetting about me, and that she should go out and find herself a man who could be good to her. Of course, halfway through this little speech of mine, her hands shot up to cover her ears, so when I was finished, I simply gave her a little hug, waved good-bye and walked off down the street, sure that a week later, she'd find herself another idol to worship.
And two days afterwards, having spent two weeks so schizophrenically interwoven with depravity and innocence, Rick and I headed to the airport bound for Singapore. As we waited in the departure lounge for the flight to be announced, I heard a voice from down the corridor, a voice I couldn't believe I was hearing. It was soft and smooth, and it said, "Alyosssahhh... " It was Melvin, at the airport, there to pick up a friend, and, by coincidence, to see us off. I felt suddenly that he embodied my entire experience of Jakarta, at once blending Doni's gayness with the twins' softness and repression, appearing with the ubiquity of Joe the gangster, and reminding me of so many drunken nights full of billiards and dance music which had concluded at his bar. We exchanged the requisite information as to our plans and destinations, and when the announcement came, we bid him, and the city, farewell, and walked up the ramp to the plane.