The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”
(This concludes the story I began in Blog #102)
I was very successful in Bangkok. My band was playing regularly in our club, “The Electric Shadow.” We were often pictured on magazine covers. Our posters were everywhere. We were living the life.
I was happy, but things were getting hairy in Southeast Asia. I knew it was time to leave. Of course, that would require bribes. Probably, LOTS of bribes. My wife Savitri had been arrested years earlier for gambling. I paid to have her record expunged. We had never been legally married. Now that she had a clean record, I bribed a Thai official at the American Embassy for a marriage certificate and visas for her and our children. Her daughter Anjali was not legally my daughter. I had made the decision to bring her to the States, despite her grandmother’s protestations and her mother’s ambivalence. Another bribe secured a birth certificate stating I was Anjali’s legal and biological father. I was NOT going to leave her behind.
All that was left was my securing an exit visa. That meant finding Anand. That would prove to be easier said than done. That meant either hiring a private army or somehow finding Anand alone, without his goon posse.
I sent my family off to wait with my mom in New York and began inquiring discreetly about his habits and whereabouts. After a hefty bribe, one of his guys told me that he went to the racetrack every Tuesday, always unaccompanied. He went there alone because he would head straight from the racetrack to the house of his “Little Wife” (his “chick on the side”), a woman named Noy over on Sukhumvit Road. There the Fat Man would indulge in a little afternoon delight.
I went to the racetrack and there he was in the grandstand. He was very focused on a race and didn’t notice me in the crowd. On his way out he took a shortcut under the grandstand and headed for his car. I saw my opportunity. I slammed his fat ass up against a concrete wall, my face inches from his. He reeked of fear sweat and Old Spice. I felt like puking but I was angry, VERY angry. He was the only thing standing between me and my family. I informed him of my predicament and made him an offer he could not refuse. He whimpered and simpered and acquiesced. I was to buy a one-way ticket on that night’s midnight flight out of Bangkok on the Russian airline, Aeroflot. I was to bring a carton of filtered Marlboros and a bottle of Johnny Walker Red as a bribe and an indication that I was his guy.
I had just a few short hours to get my affairs in order and head out to the airport. As I stepped out of the taxi at the airport, the thick Bangkok night air hit me like a steaming hot wet towel across my face. I was scared, VERY scared. I was all too aware of Anand’s potential for treachery. I knew I could be walking into a trap. There was no way out but the course Anand had set for me.
As I walked through the nearly empty airport, it seemed like every eye along the way was casting a suspicious glance in my direction. The atmosphere was tense and heavy. I felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I suspected to be whisked away to a Thai prison at any moment.
I was led to a sparsely furnished room. There was a picture of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the beloved King of Thailand. In a corner stood a Buddhist alter with joss sticks pouring their perfume into the air. Five men were staring at me as I stood alone with a small suitcase on the floor and the requisite bribes in either hand.
I was asked for my passport. I hesitated. I knew that once I handed that over, I was at their mercy. I asked in Thai who the boss was. One smiled and stood up. He took the bottle and cigarettes and said, “You are with Anand?” I nodded and the tense air grew just a bit lighter. I gave him my passport. It was stamped and I was escorted to the waiting aircraft. I was the last passenger.
I didn’t relax until the plane lifted up toward a brilliant full moon. Bangkok and all it’s memories fell far below me. I had gotten away once again.
It’s 4:00 A.M. I can’t sleep. I could feel it coming on, alone in bed. Tears have been frequent visitors in the past few days. They come each time I stop and think: I have finally pulled the trigger on my trip to the motherland: Cuba. One of the main reasons I left New Orleans and headed south of the border was in order to connect with my Latin roots. The goal was always Cuba. I spent about an hour working out my travel itinerary with Interjet. The flights are so amazingly cheap! Because of my residential status in Mexico, there’s no problem with a visa. I’ve been dreaming of this for so many years that it all still feels like a dream. I’m in a very emotional state.
I’ve needed to get out of San Miguel for a while now. It’s the type of place you need to leave occasionally. Then when you return, you appreciate it so much more.
I’ll take a bus to Mexico City, spend a couple of days there, then fly to Puerto Vallarta for a little beach time at a friend’s condo. After a week there, I’ll fly back to Mexico City and hook up with my flight to Havana. I’ll spend a couple of weeks there (including Christmas and New Year’s Eve!) then return to Mexico City. I’ll spend a day or two there then fly to San Francisco and visit my granddaughter along with my dear friends Barry and Maya. After that it’s back to Mexico City for a couple of days, then back to San Miguel de Allende and a private engagement with the band on Jan.16, which just happens to be my birthday.
Now the studying begins in earnest. I’ll double up on Spanish lessons for the next month, read the pages and pages of info I’ve gathered about Cuban history, geography, social life, music, etc. I’ve been collecting this treasure trove of life in Cuba over the past two years. I’ll plan out some of my time while I’m in Cuba, leaving lots of time for unplanned adventures.
I’ve been given a lot of contacts that will help me hit the ground running. For $20 a day, I’ll have a taxi driver all day and night each day that I’m there. I’m told he’s “in the know” and can get me to all the right clubs and great music. Before I go, I’d better brush up on my bachata and merengue dance steps.
When you dream of something just about your entire life and you turn it into reality, it’s a little challenging to accept. Every time I think or write about it, tears fill my eyes. I’m actually going to Cuba, to see, feel, touch and taste her. Life is pretty amazing, eh?