Homeless in Narnia

Tales from a scatterbrain musician trekking across the tattered globe.


COLOMBIA IS THE WRONG PLACE TO LOSE YOUR MIND.

Santa Marta, Colombia - May 2011

Colombia is the wrong place to lose your mind. Safe? Nah. Keep your wits. Bring a travel compadre. Bring a map. Bring a gun. If you don’t have a gun, put an orange inside a tube sock and swing it at the other person’s gun. Get some sleep, but make sure it’s with one eye open. This is the Old Wild West, and rules are a loose formality.

 

Once coined “The Murder Capital of the World” during the reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar, Colombia has slightly cleaned up its act, allowing myself and childhood friend Gerard Peterson to seek out Roberto Escobar, brother and right hand man to Roberto. Roberto was still living somewhere in the hills of Medellin, Colombia, wasting away with one ear and one eye.


If Pablo Escobar was the Michael Jordan of drug dealing, Roberto Escobar was the Scottie Pippen, and the two were crushing more nose candy than Burt Reynolds if Boogie Nights had three sequels.  Today, Pablo was long gone, but Roberto was still living on, hiding away from the new Colombian thugs that were after his blood.

Colombia had almost killed us a few nights before. Traveling from the Capital of Bogotá, Peterson and I had been dropped off on the most dangerous street in Santa Marta at 3 a.m.  Otis, our cabby, drives us through the hard knock streets. He explains (In Spanish) that we will be held up at gunpoint if we hang outside too long, signaling a 9mm handgun with his finger and making a “pow!” sound with his chapped lips. Peterson searches the guidebook for lodging before putting his finger on “Hotel California”. This would hardly be what Don Henley had in mind.

 

Otis drops us off and we hand him a fist of sweaty pesos. It’s 3:00 a.m. We are now very alone in the “Compton” of Colombia, a jungle waiting to take our money, pride, and probably our “worthless gringo lives”. Prostitutes lurk on the street corners of paint-chipped storefronts that formerly encompassed all the colors of the rainbow.  Drunk locals line the porches, armed with 40 ounces of malt liquor and other buzz pumper-uppers and downers. The street is bumping heavy Latin music out of a retro Boombox straight out of a Spike Lee Joint. 

 

The locals begin to take notice of us. Though these aren’t the regular locals, they are the crackheads, thugs and she-daddy hookers that give Colombia a bad rep. Our cabby is long gone, leaving us to be heckled by a transvestite in her underwear and a bra. She is now the victim of heavy addiction, scratching her neck and wobbling down the sidewalk like a Veloca Raptor. Everyone is on some sort of illicit substance, petitioning us for drugs and sex.

 

It’s dark. No street lamps. Everything appears in black and white, like a 2pac Documentary minus the pretty ladies and hints of destined glory. Here, Peterson and I sit, two bitch gringos alone in a world where there can be only one highlander, and it´s not going to be us.

 

We knock on the door of the first hotel, no vacancy. More crackheads begin to take interest in our vulnerability, lurking like a zombie apocalypse toward our defenseless selves. Peterson and I slip inside the second hotel barely in time. This place is a rat hole. An open-air gated fence separates us from safety and the Jurassic Park outside. Two disheveled men wait outside, starring at us with their hands gripped on the bars. It’s quiet now and I can hear them breathe. A third thug joins the two men at the barred window. He is tall, mustached and heavily tattooed. He asks ¨´van a hacer?´´, translating to ´what are they going to do?´.  These men had plans for us. And if our wallets weren’t involved in their scheme, our butt-holes certainly were.

 

We ran upstairs to our dirt-nest room on the second floor, peeking from behind the blinds at the chaos just 10 feet below. The security is zero, the lock on the door is broken as the wolverines watch us just ten feet below.

 The view in the AM

We scavenge the room for possible weapons and reinforcement. Fortunately, Peterson is a bit of a MacGyver. In high school, he built us a catapult so we could sling water-balloons and road kill at the neighbor girls. Maybe that’s why none of us had high school girlfriends.

 

The two of us scavenge the room for defense mechanisms. Peterson finds a stick in the closet and jams it in the sliding window. Locked. The door is missing the chain lock also, so we use a small screw to jam the door shut. Peterson hands me a long board he had torn off the wall.  He grabs a hard cover bible from the nightstand. We analyze possible hand-to-hand combat moves, should someone come busting through the window.

 

“Newski, if anyone comes through that window, I’ll smash em’ in the face with this bible. You come in for the second attack with that 2x4,” says Peterson. We grin at each other. It’s the first moment of relief in an immensely intense hour.

 

We sleep less than sound, jacked on adrenaline and fear, waiting for daylight to make our next move. I was stone cold sober, but I’d never felt higher in my life. It was time to find Roberto Escobar.


Manila, Philippines - Sept 20, 2011

“We need to talk” Never Precedes Something You Want to Talk About.

Middle-aged Filipino men have a solid sense of humor. Within a 10-minute walk, I just witnessed three male potbellies covered in shirts reading “I Like Girls That Like Girls”, “My Pen Is Huge”, and “Female Body Inspector”. These guys aren’t necessarily perverts, it’s just the only apparel you can find in Manila’s Red Light District.
My hostel sits kiddie corner to the red light district in Manila City, Philippines. I am walking home around noon, protected by the sanctity of daylight. All is well for now. The usual crowd of hookers, vampires and breast promoters have retreated to the dark backrooms of their clubs.  The street is seedy, poor, and tattered, but I haven’t felt unsafe yet.
Manila

The walk home is smooth up until I am approached by a large he-man of a lady who introduces herself as Josephina. Josephina is about 5’10’’, thick, Filipino, poor complexion. “Excuse me may I ask you a question?”, she says unassumingly. “Do you have a big di**?”.

 I trip over my tongue. “Umm. Sorry what?” I reply. “Do you have a big di**?” she asks again, more assertively this time.

“Umm. I haven’t measured it against my friends yet,” I reply. “Well, do you think you have a big di**?”, the lady fires back at me like I’m a moron. “I’m not sure…I mean…I like to think I haven’t seen enough di** to know.”

She has no responses to my answers, only grimacing looks and unrelated follow up questions. “Can I ask you a question?” she says sternly. Her tone is the same as if your boss tells you “we need to talk”. “We need to talk” never precedes something you want to talk about. My hair stands on end. “Let me ask you a question white boy….Where you from?”

“Canada,” I say, figuring this conversation can only end with her not liking me or my nationality.

“When you last have boom boom with girl?”, she says. Josephina claims to be assistant manager at The Golden Mango, a brothel where “extra services” are on special for 500 pesos (roughly $10 USD). She explains her club is “just around the corner and has many beautiful girls”. She continues her sex interrogation questions, including “how many girls you want to boom boom?, “you like butts big?”, and “is your co** hard?”

These all felt like quotes out of a Sir-Mix-a-lot song, but this wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. Josephina was stone-cold serious. Business was hurting, and she was desperate to get me in her club. She had hit me with so many ass-backwards sex questions, I had become desensitized to the conversation’s awkwardness. Like after you shower at the YMCA a few times, old balls no longer freak you out. Total immunity. I held my giggles back. Josephina was pissed off at the hand she had been dealt in life. She was sad, and I felt bad for her.  And then she asked me this. “Is your co** hard?”

“Bah. Umm? Like, right now? Hard? I’m sorry, I have to go”. I duck into a 7/11 to end the solicitation. A man would have needed 20 Viagra to pitch a tent in front of a 7/11 for a woman that looked like Kevin Nealon. I browse around the seaweed crackers and larb flavored pretzel snacks for five minutes and proceed to leave. I think that I have shaken this demon, but Josephina is standing outside waiting for me.

“So you like Filipino girl? They very beautiful”. There is a tremble in her voice. Desperation mixed with anger. Her eyes are glossy, maybe even teary. Trying to change the subject away from prostitutes, I reply “I like all Filipino people. They are very nice.”

“But it’s only 500 pesos for massage, blow***, and f*** she says.

“No thank you,” I reply. She ignores my answer and repeats the same “special offer”.  “No thanks. Please leave me alone”. She will not let up.

At this point, I am simply being a pussy. Too passive, afraid I will shatter her feelings if I run away. I need to find my inner prick and tell this lady to shove off. “What’s your name?”, she asks. “Ummm, Brian…Brian Noonan”, was the first fake name that popped into my head.

“So Brian, do you even like girls?” she mocks, questioning my sexuality. “Sure, I like girls fine, but I’m not going to buy them. Sorry.”

Josephine then claims I can get a regular massage with no “extra services”. I ask her how many clients out of 20 get “only a massage”, free of sex.

“Mostly zero, but sometimes one”, she says. I proceed to walk back to my hostel, pulling out the business card to “Friendly’s Guest House” so I can see the address. Big mistake. Josephina sees where I’m staying.

The “special offers” keep coming. I try all sorts of tactics to shake this lady. I start making stuff up. I tell her I have a girlfriend. I tell her I have erectile dysfunction. None of this works. At one point I even tell her that I’m gay, figuring that will end it. Nay.

“No problem. We have men for boom boom. Just come see my club”, she begs. “Five minutes. Just look. No buy.” I try to walk around her but she steps in front of me. “Just look please”. I have little choice at this point.

Figuring it will make for a good story, I agree to follow her to the “Golden Mango”. She says it’s nearby. Three minutes walk. It’s even on the same street we are on. So I follow her.

Three minutes turns into six minutes. We take a few turns. The streets get shadier. My conscience starts to tell me this is a bad idea. No shit Brett. It dawns on me Josephina probably doesn’t even have a club. It comes time to run or die.
Shazam! I sprint in the opposite direction as fast as I can. Adrenaline rushes through my brain. Turning the corner I run out of breathe. It feels as if I just escaped Alcatraz. I nearly pitch a tent. Looping back toward Friendly’s Hostel, someone is waiting for me. Brian Noonan is fu****.

Two blocks away from Friendly’s, Josephina confronts me in the street. Enraged. Her eyes buldge from her skull. Her Latin fire ignites. “Who the f*** you think you are? You trying to play me? I turn around and see you runnin’. You think I’m a damn fool? You want to play games muthafu****?”

“Un no. Sorry.”

She takes a step closer. “I’ll make you see something you’ll never forget. You want to play games with me? This is my country. This is my hood. I know 100 people who could cut you right now? You’re in the Philippines, bitch. I’m going to cut your face.”

This I believed. Josephina has killed men for less. Her arms are twice the size of my torso. She could have easily been a man in her previous life, or in this life. Maybe she was still packing. Her rumbling voice of rage lowered with every threat. This was the exorcist in real life.

“You scared now, aren’t you?” Josephina could smell my fear.

“Yes. I am scared. Please don’t shiv me,” were the words that came out of my mouth. I watched her hands move toward her back pockets, fumbling for a potential weapon. She inched closer. She was trying to break me down. And she was succeeding. Glancing around for potential help, I spotted a security guard outside a Japanese restaurant. I began inching toward the security guard with Josephina trying to block my path.

“You want me to do something you’ll never forget?! You don’t know what I been through. Play me for a fool! How about I cut your face right now!” I find myself apologizing for nothing. I try to strike a monetary deal, but you can’t reason with the irrational.

We are on a busy main street just two blocks from the hostel. I decide to take my chances and swiftly walk around her to the security guard. I feel if she was going to stab me in the middle of Main Street she would have done it already. I approach the security guard.

“Excuse me sir, this lady is going to stab me,” I say as Josephina stands next to me. The security guard doesn’t speak English, but he can smell the sketchiness. He motions for me to go inside the Japanese restaurant he is posted at. Josephina doesn’t follow me inside, but instead motions for two thugs who join her. The three wait for me outside.

Josephina and the barbarians talk and exchange glances back at me through the restaurant window.  One of them is taking pictures of me with his cell phone. Their posse is straight out of Wringling Brothers 3 Ring Circus. A bearded lady, neck-tattooed strong man, and some sort of she-male trapeze clown in a purple tank top. Of the three thugs waiting outside, I can only be certain that one of them is a dude. The other two are bohemian looking he-she’s; scraggly, tattooed, missing teeth. They mean business. I am not here on business.

Weighing options, I pull out my cell phone. Do I call the police? They might just be corrupt and help the thugs. Maybe throw me in a prison cell where I’ll never grow up feeling like a real man. Feeling my pockets for my cell phone, I glance my directory.

I have two contacts in my phone. Pavlo Llueva was the first, a cool Filipino I had met at breakfast the previous morning but didn’t yet fully trust. The second was JC Slater, a friend of one of my USA friend’s. It becomes time to choose between a guy I didn’t trust and a guy I’ve never met. I opted to call JC, who came highly recommended from my friend who had hosted him as a couchsurfer. The phone rings…

JC: Hello.
Me: Hi JC. It’s Brett. I emailed you once. Remember?
JC: Oh yeah! Hey Brett.
Me: Hey man, I was just chased by thugs in downtown Manilla. They are waiting for me outside a Japanese Restaurant on Adriatico St. What should I do?

JC comes through in the clutch. He tells me to give my phone to the security guard so he can translate directions to him. The guard walks me back the hostel. The thugs’ eyes follow me as I pass.  The guard hands me the cell phone back as I duck into the hostel.

“Hey man. It’s not a good idea to stay there tonight. Stay inside the hostel. Don’t leave. I will come get you in about ninety minutes,” instructs JC. The hostel security guard calls us a cab and we dive in. Whisked away to another province of metropolitan Manila, far away from the brothels of downtown’s concrete jungle.

JC relocates me to the neighboring district of Makati, a wealthier business district of metropolitan Manila. We eat some fried chicken and compare our dishes to the triple portion-sizes of American fast food. JC tells me about “kid flash mob gangs”; homeless packs of children that swarm pedestrians, stripping them clean of all valuables like piranhas. All I want to do is eat chicken.

It was a relatively boring day that quickly became a rush of high-risk thrills. I played out all the potential outcomes of that scenario in my head. Had I gone into the “club”, I would have almost definitely been robbed blind. 5:1 shivved. 9:1 molested, 50:1 chained up and peed on. The doors would have closed behind me and two hoodlums would be there take my wallet, pride and blood.

My second grade elementary school teacher told us to “never talk to strangers with candy.” The same can be applied to strangers with prostitutes.

Bangkok, Thailand - September 28, 2011

One of Those Nights You Don’t Want Facebook to Know About.


Despite near social media perfection, there are moments when Facebook bites you in the ass. When you catch her posting pictures you don’t need on your profile.  When your significant other gets pissed because you fail to list him or her under your “relationship status.” There’s no escaping it. Even if you’re not signed up to Facebook, you’re on Facebook. You’re in a picture somewhere, untagged. People have commented on you, attempted to tag you, and perhaps clicked through your photos at bar time with no pants on. You just don’t know.

A year or so back, Facebook released an application that allowed users to see who was viewing their profile and how often; a “stalker tracker” so to speak. Many of my friends, myself included, opted to refrain from downloading this tracker. When I asked my girlfriend at the time why she chose to deny the tracker, she said “It’s the feeling that someone is watching you sleep, and you cant ever escape that feeling, even when you’re awake.” The world is watching; parents, friends, acquaintances, hackers, masturbators. There will always be filters, but their effectiveness is trivial. Partying in the presence of cameras can now cost a man his job. We hope the Facebook hack in HR Recruitment will forgive the occasional whisky coke.

In a small, wood-lacquered dive bar in Bangkok, Thailand, people are picking their faces up from the floor. The celebration has hit them with force. British promoters “Popscene” are putting on a folk/rock show featuring artists from the UK, South Africa, and the USA. I am supposed to represent America, and I would do this without a single person yelling “Freebird!” Thank Buddha. The beer buzz of the room builds toward the end of the set as I try to incorporate some louder, shoe stompin’ tunes, working to combat the cluttered noise in the crowded venue.  The show goes swimmingly. Hugs are shared. Beers are cheered. Patrons toast in three different languages, “Cheers! Chiyo! Salud!” I wind up my guitar cords. The DJ starts spinning.  

Setlist that featured several audiblesMy old friends Lawrence & the Machine happened to be in town. A four pack of road-worn Brits that could drain a pitcher in a New York minute.  They would be the tone setters for the evening, bringing the shameless sweat and grime necessary to take us to a parallel universe of outrageous nightlife. The best part was, The Machine brought their cameras to document potentially hazardous Facebook material.
For some reason there were cameras everywhere. A flash would go off every minute capturing some sloppy moment in smoke and swill. People spilling drinks, kissing, posing droopy eyed with big grins. It’s pictures like these that always get to Facebook before you can, pictures tagged too fast for comfort. Pictures that HR people see and form unjust opinions on. But now is not the time to worry about that. “Let’s get incredible!”, someone yelled through the foggy room.

Lawrence himself
The debauchery ensues with Iggy Pop shaking the half blown speakers. Smoke rings chain up the air. A pint glass shatters on the floor near my shoe. Gin and Tonic’s look like Kryptonite lanterns illuminated under blacklights like some twisted disco.  If there was a song to describe the moment it was “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, and we all needed more cowbell.

It was as if these people hadn’t been out of their homes in weeks, saving their energy for some legendary party prophesized from the sky. A well-respected local art teacher named Kate Kassidy rolls cherry cigarettes the size of Snoop Dogg’s ring finger. Punk-rocker dude Wilson Matthews is chugging mercilessly on a liter of local beer, eyes void of all sanity. A gangly South African expat known only as “The Steve” lies passed out on the sidewalk outside the bar. We wake him up and put him in the cab to go to Wong’s Place Pub, a skeezy late night joint in Bangkok.

The Machine

Wong’s place had recently been featured on the city news, making it the most happening bar in the latter hours. It is also a hot spot for drag-queens and various alternative lifestyles, a selling point for tourists looking to see some crazy shit.

“Wow this place looks really Chinese”, I said as we opened the oriental brown doors. “Have you ever been to China?”, asks a smug, eavesdropping hipster to my left.  I have never been to China. But I have seen Rush Hour 2. One thing was certain; I was not cool enough to be here.

Mr. Wong himself is notorious for being difficult. Jumbo-thick glasses. Mean stone-face. Motley Crue mullet. He stands on the bar with a microphone, making sure everyone is purchasing drinks at a steady pace and yelling at those who don’t. “Pay now. Pay for that beer!” Wong struggles to keep control of the huddled mass, shouting through the karaoke speakers thumb-tacked to the wall. Despite running the biggest party joint in Bangkok, Wong hates to party.

I walk in the bar with a bottle of water 1/3 full. Mr. Wong snatches it out of my hand. “No carry-ins! I owner. You buy new water,” pointing to a fridge full of beer. Too full on beer to drink more beer, I purchase a $2 water from Wong. “No, you buy more. Must buy drink,” says old man Wong, looking more like Kim Jung Ill than I had originally noticed.

“Can I have a moment to decide Mr. Wong?”, I reason. “No. Buy now”, Wong says. I proceed to ask Wong for obscure drinks like aloe vera juice and organic apple cider, stuff I thought he wouldn’t have. Waste his time a bit. But by some act of the orchard-farming Gods, Wong had organic apple cider. “Damnit,” I thought out loud. “You pay now!”, he repeats twice more, as if I just killed his dog or something.

Wong took advantage of Bangkok’s lack of fire code, jamming the room beyond a visible inch of floor space. Cramped and soggy with sweat, I walk outside, slamming  water in the alleyway to shake the fog from my thoughts. Refreshed. Time to rally. I attempt to go back inside to meet up with friends Kassidy, Wilson, and The Steve, but Wong won’t let me back in. To Wong, I had failed to purchase enough alcohol to make my presence of any value. Wongzo the Grouch points me in the other direction. Defeated, I follow his finger. Mankind has seen hundreds and thousands of people get kicked out of bars for being too drunk, but never have I seen a man removed for not being drunk enough. Perhaps Wong is right just this once. Perhaps I need to learn how to party. I’m going to bed.

The next day Facebook would release the documentary of the evening from four cameras present on the scene September 17, 2011. The catalogues of photos are remarkably crusty and unrefined. Here are a few accounts of the camera…

  • 1)   Conservative looking expat passed out face down on the sidewalk.
  • 2)  Innocent schoolgirl smoking what appears to be a George W. Koosh cone joint.
  • 3)   Goateed Thai man doing karate.
  • 4)   White girl rubbing the Buddha belly of an overweight customer.
  • 5)   British guy folding his arms over his crotch, giving a WWF “suck it” gesture with determination. 

I spent hours grazing these albums on Facebook; couldn’t look away. While Facebook may not be the greatest use of time, it is easily the greatest way to waste time. We hope HR Recruitment will forgive the whisky coke, plummeting of pride, and prominent rise to shame. And if they don’t, well, sorry for partying. 

About

A rock n' roll band from Saigon, Vietnam.
"Tiny Victories" is an album for the underdog. It is about completing the mission at hand whether it takes minutes, hours, days or years. TOURING THE USA THIS MAY and JUNE.

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