I made it to Cambodia. I was pretty sure I was never even going to see the runway, it seemed so ridiculous when I first went online to check ticket prices, but then another fight with my girlfriend, similar to the one that had me pressing the ‘purchase’ button in the first place, got me packing, just the night before my plane was scheduled to take off.
“Where are you going?” she asks, looming over me in the doorway, not ten minutes after the last shouts were fired (hers, a burst of unappreciated, victimized tears and mine, a general curse against all of unrealistically high-standard, passive-aggressive womanhood).
“Cambodia. I bought this ticket months ago. I am getting the hell out of here. Away from you, away from this chicken-piss fucking chicken coop of a chicken ranch-style duplex. I’m going to where it’s fucking warm. I’m going where everything costs pennies! Oh, yeah. I’m going to fucking Pnompepahpepayng! I’m gonna survive up the river, leech off their WiFi, eat coconuts and fucking jack monkeys off! I’ll send you the postcards!”
And she paused for a moment. And all she could think to say in response was: “That’s not a real place.”
And so I did. Took me nineteen hours, but I finally arrived. Got off the plane, got my luggage, reciting the theme to the Great Space Coaster in my head the whole time to stave off the culture shock because I really wasn’t fucking prepared for this, and then nearly passed out onto my face when I stepped out of the airport into the “fresh air.”
My knees gave out for not quite the smell of panther urine that was washed onto the exterior of the airport, but rather for the combination of smells, of which panther urine was but one, wrapped up in a neat little gaseous cocktail, cut by pure ammonia and methane, shaken inside a mixer of 104 degrees Fahrenheit with a 99% humidity chaser.
One of the spry, keen-eyed cabbies must’ve seen me swoon, because he was on me like human feces to a public sidewalk. He ushered me inside his cab, threw my bags in the trunk (I assumed) and then asked me where I wanted to go.
“Well, a hotel,” I said, looking for the piece of paper that contained the name of the one I’d picked out on the plane. The guy starts trying to make small talk with me in the meantime.
“Sowhereyouf’om?” he says.
“Where am I from?”
“Oregon. Eugene. The Pacific Northwest. The West Coast. America.” I didn’t know which, if any of those, except the last, he’d recognize.
“Ahhh, America. Is very cold, very cold there today?” and he pointed out the window in the direction of America, and then proceeded to wrap his arms around himself to simulate shivering as the taxi, by the passing seconds, slowly started to careen into oncoming traffic. A terrified car horn blared right into my open window, and he grabbed the wheel and swung us back into our lane.
“Yeah. Yeah,” I joked. “That was why I left. Wanted to get away from the cold weather. You know, come out here where it’s warm, survive up the river and just leech off the WiFi, eat coconuts and jack off monkeys. You know. I’m into the clean stuff.” I noticed he was just staring back at me in the rear view mirror, so I said, still rustling through my carry-on, “No, I’m kidding. I came here to try and join the Cambodian hang gliding national team. I hear they have awesome T-shirts.” He just looked at me again in the mirror. “Oh, hey, I need to grab a bite to eat. Do you know a good place? That won’t give me some incurable variety of sepsis or have me eating someone’s pet?” His eyes looked up at me in that same way again, and he cuts a hard left and starts whizzing me even faster through traffic.
Ten minutes of silence later we stopped. I got out, he got my stuff out of the trunk, I paid him, and as we’re exchanging cash the host comes out in white pants and flowered shirt and says something to me in a language I don’t know, possibly French, and then the cabbie says something back to him in Cambodian, and his face lights up, looking at me, then he says something definitely insulting, or at the very least at my expense, back to the cabbie and they have a good laugh, and then he says to me as the cabbie gets back in and drives away, “Come in! Yah! You hungry. Come, come.”
The place looked like a fourth-rate Cambodian-themed casino in Winnemucca. There were even girls in black tailed suit coats draped over one-piece bathing suits in high heels walking around, taking people’s orders.
So, we’re walking and suddenly the host leans in to me and says: “Lemme guess—is you first week in Cambodia, yah?”
“First day, yeah. Just got here.”
He looked left, then right. “You wanna be mastabatin’ monkey, don’tcha?”
“What?! No, why would I want to do that? I need a bite to eat and a hotel.”
“Everbody does, mahn. Eeeeverbody does. Ten dollar.”
Then I suddenly remember joking to the cabbie, who obviously brought me to this place especially, and must have told the host I was one of “those” Americans. Of which some actually do exist? I mean, outside of Fox News program hosts? Was it really a real thing? I actually had to make a conscious effort to intervene on behalf of my interneurons and suppress the neural activity which would have ultimately led to my handing ten dollars over to the guy. Just for curiosity’s sake. “Is that Cambodian,” I said, “or…?”
“There a little room over behind a curtain,” he pointed, still smiling with a glint in his eye. “For when you still sensitive about bein’ seen doin’ it.”
“Hang on, hang on. Is that kind of thing even legit here?”
“Yah. Legit. For another five dollar I get you underage monkey. They no know what’s happening. They think you feed ‘em peanuts or somethin’. Little pellet extra. It all straight. All legit, Joe. You can rent little cowboy outfit for ‘em. Silver six shooter.”
“Yah. Dress ‘em like Fadda Greedo Sarducci.” There was a pause as he let me consider the whole thing. “Some perv let ‘em smoke,” he said, almost disdainfully. “Hey, we no judge. Bill O’Reilly come and want monkey family dress like Brady Bunch. T’ree girl, t’ree boy. Mudda, fadda. E’en Sam the butcher, mahn. This place hotter than Contadora Island, Joe. You get my say?”
“Anything really does go around here, doesn’t it?” I couldn’t help but say.
“Yah. Anything go, Joe. You dream it, we make it happen. Ten dollar.”
In the end, I just couldn’t. I did stay and eat, though. Hung around at the bar all night afterwards. Got so drunk I had to spend the night upstairs in one of the rooms-for-rent, surrounded all night by all these average looking American businessmen and middle-aged tourists, engaging in such unspoken, immoral acts of foulness that I couldn’t even begin to recount to you.
Except to say, that they sometimes involved underage monkeys.
“What happens to the monkeys when you’re all…when they’ve been…retired?” I asked the host as he led me to the bar, almost as an afterthought.
“They work jacuzzi. Bellboy hat and vest. Peanut dispensers no longer got a peanut, if you get my say,” he nudged me. “But ‘member,” he stuck up a finger, “you no give opioid to underage monkey. See sign?” he pointed. “You must be at leas’ this high to be this high,” he gestured. “Okay, you stay, have a good time. First round on us,” and he said something to the bartender in Cambodian, then left.
“Why do you think the tacos here are so cheap?” some fat American businessman laughed, wiping his greasy hands with a handkerchief and dropping it onto his plate.
And the taco eaters, as well, apparently. Who were still probably double-dipping long after I’d gotten the hell out of there the next morning.