“Hey! That a guitar?” Jimmy shouted, pointing to the case slung over my backpack.
“No, it’s a mandolin!”
“Perfect! We could use some more music around here!” And with a big grin, he sped off on his motorcycle.
About a mile down the road we saw him again, this time leaning back in a hammock inside a joint cafe and bookstore.
“Where you from?!” He shouted at us. His volume wasn’t really that loud but he had this childlike enthusiasm that just seemed to make everything a bit more elevated.
“Los Angeles” Matt replied.
“Pffffttt Giants are superior obviously…” He continued on to tell a story about heckling a player from the Dodgers who had responded by cussing at him in Italian and Spanish… I don’t know. I gathered the topic was baseball and that was about it.
After an awkward pause and nodding heads, clearly showing we had no idea what he was talking about, we started to leave.
“Hey wait! What are your names?”
“I’m Jess and this is Matt”
“Janis?! Like Janis Joplin??!”
“No. Jess… Like…Jess..ica…”
(My name is not exciting.)
After dropping off our packs, sufficiently caffeinating ourselves and exploring the small town, we circled back around and found him in the exact same spot.
“How long you been here?” Matt called to him over the noise of passing motorbikes.
“Ah, I’ve been in this hammock for about 10 years. My ladyfriend here is a great cook and we’ve got this used bookstore. 10,000 books and I’m gonna get through ’em all. Just picked up this one. It’s nuts, man!” He held up a copy of “Cities of the Red Night” by William S. Borroughs. “One helluva crazy fag poet. Real beatnik era, you know?…” That pause felt a little heavy. “… I have a tape of him reading his poetry… crazy stuff.” And then: “You hungry?!”
We looked at each other, shrugged, and sat down at a table. And I swear to you, it was some of the best food we’ve had so far. (I intend to steal the recipes. I’ll let you all know when that happens)
Jimmy talked at us while we ate and brought us some mixed drink made out of bananas and rum–not really our thing but he seemed so excited that we accepted his offer just to see him smile.
“It’s not every day you get some Californians in here.” He said happily, turning up some Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Feels so good talking to you all. It’s hard being hitched to someone of a different nationality. Some things don’t translate well…you know humor, arts, culture and whatnot…” He trailed off. He seemed to want to say more but either held back or entirely lost his train of thought.
“You know what they say though,” he continued after a minute, switching tone. “If you want true love in Thailand, get a puppy! Hahahahahahaahhah!” He slapped his knee and threw back his head.
The next day we passed the cafe on our way to the bus station.
“Hey baby! When you gonna play me a tune on that mandolin?!” He shouted at me. “You heading out of town?”
“Yeah, headed to Kanchanaburi today.”
“Aw alright… next time around then you play me a song. Happy trails, baby!”