public housing in Singapore

Three Pauls

Paul Dodd, Paul Stamets and Paul Theroux.

I have spoken to two of them. I listened to a talk by, and wrote a short story about, the other.

Paul Dodd.

Scorgie's. If Scorgie's was in New York City, it would've been more CBGB than CBGBG. Unlike CBGB, Scorgie's toilet usually flushed. Scorgies was by the river in downtown Rochester, New York. Personal Effects probably played at Scorgies more than any other band. Paul Dodd played drums. Somehow we met and one thing led to another and now, Paul and his wife Peggi and I have been friends for over thirty years. But, Paul's art is the thing. More than technique, more than style... there's always a lot of that undefinable-whatever-it-is appearing and disappearing on his canvases. I am very happy to present his work in SPOKEN.

Paul Stamets

Well, Paul Stamets knows about SPOKEN and he is listed as a writer, but the text associated with his name was simply copied from a Youtube video. And that's OK.

Paul Stamets is busy saving the world and that isn't hyperbole. The book of his that is featured in SPOKEN is Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save The World.

I did speak to him once, as I was researching the agaricus blazei Murrill mushroom for a book project. I approached him after his presentation at the 2001 Bioneers Conference.Later, his company Fungi Perfecti was extremely helpful to me . I was sourcing agaricus blazei murril extract for a medicinal company who later greatly disappointed me with their unprofessionalism.

Paul Theroux spoke at the Singapore National Library in 2005. In 2001, while I was living in Tokyo, I had, for no real reason, photocopied a number of pages from Theroux's book entitled The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific. Those papers travelled with me to Singapore . Theroux's talk was serendipitous and just what I needed to finish the story that began at one of the copying machines on the 10th floor of the Chofu Library. The following is extracted from Who Will Bite My Head, one of the short stories in Furikake.

“You sure you don’t want to go back? You’re 5 minutes from your hotel. It’s almost twelve.” “No, no this is alright, this is alright. Where to next?” “The East Coast”.

The bungalows were full of parties. Crazy kids, yelling on bikes, zoomed through roller skaters and joggers.

Groups around barbecues played charades or guitars or just sat drank and talked. Offshore there was a long row of ships, their tiny lights sparkling on the waves. We really didn’t talk much. We were totally relaxed, the night was flowing nicely and that was that. Once, though, he said he was the same age as Dick Cheney.

Again I was lucky; the fishermen had just brought their buckets ashore. They had catfish and rays and thick green and blue fish. They remembered me and the four of us sat at the picnic table quietly drinking beer. Rosey was writing, preparing for his talk. Every once in a while one of the white buckets thumped and splashed as a fish tried to escape. Eventually we all made a decision: the fish and the fishermen were expected in Geylang, so Rosey and I went along ”as planned”, drinking beer in the back of the truck, surrounded by buckets of fish.

We watched the fish get sold and picked our meal-- we were hungry again. More beer and we finally talked: Detroit in the Fifties, the skies of Beijing and the Sydney Olympics. The life history of Nadia Comenichi. Why John Arbinger couldn’t make the 1984 Olympic rifle team. Rosey once sold a young Brigit Bardot a vacuum cleaner in New Orleans. Wink wink ,nudge nudge.

We strolled over to the swarms of Chinese girls. Rosey told me to keep an eye on my wallet and walked into the perfumed crowd. I eventually found him again and again he winked. “Research”, he laughed. ”I wanna know all of the latest trends in Chinese house cleaning!” Things began winding down. Pete walked over and stood in front of me, thoughtfully rubbing his hands together. ”All right, all right. This has been much more interesting than I would have expected. Despite the sameness of the government.”

We headed back, asking the taxi driver to go down Arab Street very slowly. Pete remembered this and that: a knife fight here, a friendly shopkeeper used to be there, prata guy with a pony tail who was always on that corner, etc...

In Bugis too, we went slow. Stopped across from the National Library. Slow, slow, slow: too slow for me. I was now more sleepy than drunk. It was almost dawn.

“Alright, let’s call it a night. Take this and no arguing.”

He jammed two fifties into my hand. I just nodded.

“Can I drop you off somewhere? Where do you stay?

“Um… the Mitre Hotel. Near Orchard Road.”

“The Mitre! The Mitre is still around? Let’s go! Christ, it’s been what? Thirty odd years? My god…the Mitre.”

He looked at me differently than he had before. “You know all about it, right?”

“1860, nutmeg plantation. The Japanese military headquarters. The guys from Vietnam, the offshore oil riggers. The ghosts, the gambling, the girls, the parties.” Someone could write a book about that place. Pete smiled.

The taxi driver drops us off at the bottom of the hill. The dark tunnel of trees, then the dramatic appearance of the dilapidated grand hotel. We piss in the driveway and walk up to the gate. I gently call for Uncle to let us in. He’s snoring deeply on the old couch, two meters away. Finally he wakes up and wobbles over on his bad legs. He looks at Pete, then looks at me. “Uncle, he’s gonna help me carry something out of my room. Fifteen minutes.”

With a sleepy scowl, he limps away to get the key.

He returns, stares at the keys, then tries a few. Finally we are in.

Pete walks slowly over to the bar and runs his hand across it, then looks around the decrepit lobby. The dim bulb behind the bar gives him a saintly glow. He could be an angelic detective poet, looking in that big old dusty space for clues or inspiration. The tinny radio plays a sad Teo Chew ballad.

”No beer!” Uncle barks.

Up the dark stairs. Another cavernous room, lit only by a single fluorescent tube on the dirty wooden  floor. Covered shapes of boxes and broken furniture are barely visible. Rosey lights a match to discover books and the rusty springs from a mattress. The flame flickers and we see a long box the length of a man.

His match goes out. Darkness. Pete begins babbling to himself. I fumble my way to my room; fumble my way to find the wires for light. A final fumbling before my hands make sense. The light flickers on, lighting the high ceiling covered with mold and dusty peeling paint. Ballpoint pen graffiti is written all over the yellowed walls. A sink in the corner, ready to fall of the wall. The rotten window area is without any glass.

In the center of the small room is a miserable bed, at least fifty years old. On the bed, Nenek, my black and white cat, watches us. Pete’s eyes move from the room to the desk and he picks up the photocopies, oblivious to my embarrassment.

“Um... one of these days I’m going to write something based on those. It’s an experiment. Important, but really not that important. “ He begins reading: I sometimes felt like the only person in Oceania who had wrecked his marriage, and I was reminded of that overwhelming sense of remorse I had felt thatdark night in New Zealand, when I looked though the front window of the California Fried Chicken family restaurant on Papenui Road in Merivale and I saw a happy family and I burst into tears.

“This is me,” he says, crashing onto the filthy bed. He bursts into tears like the man in the book. Nenek licks his hand. ” This is me.”

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