47 - Ambiguously Gay Evening (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Elephant cortisol and my personal TCDP. A melting pot of unrequited love and a gregarious polygamist. The buffet of dreams and an awkward slumber. If only I were Jesse’s girl…
by The Nostomaniac
CAREFUL WHATCHA WISH FOR, EH? I made it to Jakarta. The traffic gauntlet continued. I’d leave my hotel for a spin around town and return a couple hours later with enough cortisol coursing through my body to make an elephant sprint. It was trying. Taxing. I required alcohol to take the edge off. And yet, I can’t say it was terrible. Pleasurable? Not exactly. More like invigorating with an “edge of terror” vibe. An experience worth having but one hard to conceptualize without firsthand knowledge. I tried to imagine suffering that insanity day after day after day. Sure, mere commonplace for the natives, but even that’s an unsettling notion. Get used to that shit? No thank ya, ma’am.
Jakarta was an odd interlude. I had no goals. No “must sees” colored my objectives. In hindsight, I’m surprised I didn’t skip it and motor straight on to Sumatra. Then again, experiences are experiences. I’m sure curiosity propelled me inside the belly of the beast. No one event in Indonesia’s capital blew my socks off but the episode as a whole was rewarding in an off-beat, quirky fashion. Just being there, engaging in all manner of mundane behavior was more than sufficient to hold my attention. Back home such activities are of little import, passing by with little or no conscious notice. Being a stranger in strange land brought all the banal tidbits to the fore. In essence, the banal nuggets of everyday life became extraordinary, prized for their own sake.
My Traffic Chaos Decompression Protocol (TCDP) prescribed beer, Bintang beer to be precise. I consulted the oracle (the Lonely Planet guide) for a suitable watering hole. Soon after arrival, a couple at an adjacent table sparked a discussion. When Indira (male) and Lena (female) discovered I was American, their curiosity spiked. What was I doing? Where was I going? How long would I be in Jakarta? Their English wasn’t super. Good enough to carry on a meaningful conversation, just not quite good enough for me to intuit motives and estimate veracity.
I quickly surmised the pair frequented tourist haunts hoping to meet new and interesting people. For what purpose? Ummmmm… There were echoes of a predator/prey dynamic at work, but I brushed concerns aside in the spirit of camaraderie. I never did discover the nature of Indira and Lena’s relationship. They weren’t linked romantically (I think) and they didn’t work together. Beyond that, I was in the dark. Indira was a middle-aged businessman (late forties, early fifties) whose business had something to do with immigration. Whatever it was, it paid well. He wasn’t shy about buying drinks or making generous offers. Lena, thirty-five, worked at a cargo shipping company… I think.
Things got queer (as in “odd” or “strange”) fast. Indira took a liking to me. Was it my convivial magnetism or the liquor? I’ll go with a little of both, emphasis on the latter. Either way, a slew of personal details followed, details I might not share ten minutes into a new friendship. But, then again, who the hell am I? He had two wives—one Indonesian, the other Russian. Um, ‘kay. (Polygamy is legal in Indonesia.) He just married his Russian bride two months earlier and had apparently been paying the price both literally and figuratively ever since. I asked if they lived in the same house and was given the “No fucking way!” expression posthaste.
Apparently, there was animosity between brides. (Can't imagine why.) Team Russia was a money pit and loved to quarrel. I wasn’t sure if “fight” had a physical component but I got the distinct feeling Indira’s ass was handed to him regularly. Lena also informed me he had “too many girlfriend” on top of the matrimonial shitshow extravaganza that was his life. It was then I realized the duo made a habit of teaming up for a prowl. Lena’s gaze took on a possessive, hungry lioness aura. Maybe they cruised the night for unsuspecting solo tourists, lured them in, and then committed unspeakable acts of human indecency upon them. Roofies and a free colon cleanse? Yes. True, my imagination went a little overboard, but it’s always good to stay alert. In the end, I decided they were harmless… probably.
Indira’s background in immigration was ironic considering his son’s illegal status in the US. He was living in Los Angeles with an expired visa, having spent most of his nine-year stay on “the lamb” so to speak. He was afraid to leave the country for fear of retribution. A son he can’t see, two wives he can’t stand, and an endless string of mistresses. Talk about living the dream. Clearly, Indira needed a Buddhist intervention.
The more beer Indira consumed the more fond of me he became. He offered to let me stay in one of his empty apartments gratis, help me sell the Phantom for a fair price, get to Medan (in Sumatra), let me borrow a GPS device, and probably considered bankrolling my dream trip to Mt. Everest for all I know. (The language barrier was more pronounced with his intoxication and mine.) If that weren’t enough, he was playing inelegant matchmaker for Lena and I. Alcohol did nothing to heighten my situational awareness, but it did help gloss over all the awkward exchanges I tried to ignore.
With a change of venue (a bar across the street), came more introductions and a smidge of enlightenment. Indira ran into acquaintances from the UK living in Jakarta. One was an English female English teacher who’d provided him a few lessons. This gave me the opportunity to investigate my new friend’s bona fides. She also believed he was harmless. Constantly trying to get laid? Correct. Horny but harmless. (Hmmm, feels like a bumper sticker? T-shirt? Hip hop song? ♫ Horny but harmless, whorish not charmless…♫) He loved the nightlife and throwing cash around like a boss. (He was buying all the drinks.) If I weren’t male, I’m guessing the advice would’ve been a bit more cautionary though I still didn’t get the sense he was dangerous in any way.
The evening proceeded to Phase II. Indira was plastered and faded into the bar’s crowded backdrop, as did Lena. She moved on when she realized her and I didn’t share the same goals for the evening. Instead, I listened to two drunk female Brits espouse the shining contributions of Great Britain to the uncivilized world. I find these conversations fascinating though I should’ve known better than to engage. Never goes anywhere good. They made it sound as though the British Empire was the best thing to happen to the developing world since the discovery of fire. “Make the world England!” or some shit along those lines. Hard not to cringe when the argument put forth is founded on the net benefits brought on by colonialism. Spoken liked a privileged neocolonialist, eh?
Nationalism is bullshit. And stupid. Nationalism is stupid bullshit. Benign patriotism I can live with. Mindless adherence to random/meaningless distinctions? C’mon, gov’nah! Not quite how I put it, but the gist was the same. After all, we could’ve just as easily been born under the burning midday sun on the Kalahari plains. Existence is arbitrary, so let’s not get our panties in a bunch over nothing. Besides, whatever our ancestors achieved in “edifying” the uncivilized, we sure as shit had no part in it. We’re products, not producers. Get a grip, y’all.
My less than trenchant argument was lost somewhere in the haze of Bintang bliss. Mutual respect was a definite casualty as well. They were fascinated by certain aspects of my biography, i.e. spending half my life in school, incurring more debt than General Motors, eschewing the legal career funded by said debt, joining the military, and a stint as a private contractor in Baghdad, Iraq. And by “fascinated” I really mean “appalled.” Their thinly veiled contempt was a perfect adjunct to their conclusion I was a moron. Can’t say I had much of a rebuttal. Beer lowered my compensatory defenses and, the truth is, I’d arrived at similar conclusions. Touche, mon amie!
When my debate partners retired to the loo for dinner regurgitation, I made my escape—something of an Irish goodbye I’ll admit. Indira was too sloshed to notice an atomic bomb, much less my departure. I gave up on efforts to thank him and bid farewell when I realized he was getting his ass chewed off by his little babushka. Прощай, my friend!
All this occurred early on, so the night was still young. As I stood on the street corner formulating a plan, I was approached by another Indonesian male who, like Indira before him, struck up a friendly chit chat. Anton also enjoyed the company of foreigners, engaging whenever possible. As a middle-manager at the local Marriott, he was no stranger to globetrotting strangers. There was a symmetrical balance to our encounter: I left home to experience the world while he let the world come to him. He was particularly fond of America and Americans. This explained his desire for a transfer to an affiliated hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. It also explained his overwhelming generosity toward yours truly. I proposed we continue our discussion over dinner. This led to a handsome offer—a buffet feast at the Marriott. Things were moving fast. Perhaps, I should’ve been more circumspect. Nothing felt amiss but alcohol had clearly dulled my Spidey Sense. Anton’s behavior echoed that of Indira and Lena’s. I went with trust but verify… minus the verify. We hopped in a taxi and were off. Seduction? Candy from a stranger? Welllll…
The Marriott fell through as he couldn’t get in touch with his friend on staff. This forced me to settle for the Ritz Carlton, his former employer. His friends on duty were more than happy to hook us up with a luxurious repast fit for visiting royalty. All this inside an elite lounge on the hotel’s upper hoity-toity floor. My attire was classic soup kitchen chic, but they didn’t seem to mind. Anton was legit.
And the food? Magnifioso. Top shelf. Fresh seafood up the wazoo to include Alaskan King Crab, oysters, and sushi. It was off the chi-zain. Prime cuts of beef, pork tenderloin you’d sell your mother for, monster salad bar, multiple soup de jours, and so on. This embarrassment of riches nearly led to an embarrassment of vomiting. I mentioned shedding ten pounds since arriving in Indonesia. Anton took this as a personal challenge. Rarely before or since have I tasted such exquisite cuisine. Membership has its privileges. All that capped off with free cocktails in the lounge. Candy from strangers? Why not?
(Author's Note: A month and a half after my visit, the Marriott and Ritz Carlton were rocked by twin suicide bombings killing nine and injuring over fifty more. Thankfully, Anton was off duty. Makes you wonder, right? A slight detour here or there, and who knows? I could’ve been enjoying a free ground zero breakfast buffet instead of dinner. Kooky.)
And then shit took another turn for weird, or more weird as it were. Anton invited me to hang with him and his friends. I wasn’t in the mood for late night hijinks, but I deemed it rather rude to partake of his buffet largess and run. Also, one friend happened to be a fetching female coworker with a history of modeling. I sensed Anton might be trying to spark a flame between us when he called her and heaved the phone in my ear with zero warning. Bait and switch? Hmmmmm… The ploy worked. Though the introduction was awkward the conversation went well… allegedly. Then again, I’m probably much less smooth than I like to think. Aren’t we all?
Timeline: Bombings in Indonesia
17 Jul 2009
The simultaneous bombings at international hotels in Jakarta on Friday are the latest in a string of attacks to hit Indonesia.
July 17, 2009: Twin explosions hit the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the capital Jakarta, leaving several dead and injured…READ MORE
We waited in my room until pick up time. (She had her own wheels.) And things got more weirder. We waited. And waited. And waited. At 1:45 a.m. I threw in the towel. Between the drinks, free food, and days spent negotiating harrowing traffic under penalty of death, this little guy was all tuckered out. I could barely keep my eyes open. Numerous hints to such effect fell on deaf ears. Anton wasn’t taking the bait. He kept saying things like, “Riiiiichard, wake up soldier” and “Don’t fall asleep, soldier.” He appropriated this somewhat douchey American-style vernacular from a friend of the homeland. Normally, I’d chuckle childishly, but the context made the exhortations sound more than a bit creepy.
His offer to revive my motivation by massaging the bottom of my feet didn’t help the vibe. Nope, not weird… at all. At one point, I nodded off in the bed as he sat quietly in the chair. I awoke to find him staring at me, a question dancing on his lips. “Is that how you sleep?” (An inquiry directed at my state of dress.) In essence, he was asking if I slept fully clothed. I muttered a vague groggy rebuttal and dozed off again. He played music on his phone and then fell asleep. Yes, that actually happened.
Apparently, Jesse (his friend) must’ve been driving from Guam. Well after 2 a.m,. I dispensed with the hints and made my intentions clear. This occurred after he clutched my foot in what felt like less than platonic fashion to inform me of Jesse’s arrival. I declined and offered to meet up in a day or two. (Benefit of the doubt? Sure.) My wish to rendezvous with a relatively sophisticated Indonesian beauty led me to this, whiiiich is what you get for thinking with your wee-willy. I had, in fact, picked up on ambiguously homosexual undertones in Anton’s manner but brushed it off in the interest of diplomacy. I couldn’t care less if he were gay as long as he couldn’t care less if I wasn’t. I may have overplayed my sexual interest in Jesse to ward off a thorny exchange… allegedly So much for that. What do you expect from someone who sleeps fully clothed? Fuckin’ weirdo I am.
I remember thinking how jealous all my grownup friends would be, and how I bet they wish they could lay in a hotel bed in Jakarta and have an ambiguously gay Indonesian man watch them slumber. Who’s the big winner? Me. I was the big winner. I did spend more time with Anton when he invited me to chill by the pool of his apartment complex. And yes, things deteriorated, forcing me to depart on unfavorable terms. I appreciated his kindness by thanking him repeatedly, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the feedback he as hoping for. Frown.