Friday, December 25, 2009

Rare and Unusual Christmas Train Sets

For Tom Ronca,
Is one of your most precious Xmas memories your stubby fingers helping (or trying to help) lay out the tracks of the family Christmas train set, while a beloved parent or older sibling set it up, prying little people and fences out of your paws to set up a tiny automated transportation nexus that connected the provinces of delight and wonder in a giant circle that was whole, that was Christmas? Me neither. Yet, apparently it’s part of someone’s memories, probably someone who didn’t wake up to find their Christmas gifts had been devoured by spiders, or had to eat a horseshoe crab for Christmas dinner because you lived in an abandoned lighthouse; someone who sleeps well, has a steady job, a spouse and children and never gets in trouble for downloading Asslicula, even though it is something you are researching, for the stories you write, you know, for the internet and that’s important, Dad.
Anyway, apparently the great lines of the Christmas trains extend all the way here to Bangkok, where there is an exhibit of rare and unusual Christmas train sets here at the Siam Paragon, where I go to the gym and download various pieces of important research while writing these informative pieces. It is the sort of recherché and outré exhibit the Paragon seems to specialize in, like displays of golden Chinese torture devices and powered hang gliders. I will not bore you with the many examples in the catalogue that were merely expensive, owned by famous people, or made of bones of extinct animals and jewels. These are the ones I found interesting. Unfortunately, photography was prohibited, so we will just have to make do with the exhibit as I recall it.

The Monster Poops Christmas Express
Based on the popular Revell Monster Poops! series of model kits (featuring a determined, yet sad, anxious and lonely Creature surreptitiously taking a nocturnal dump at Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s door, a surprised Dracula soiling Mina Murray’s nightdress and her balcony, a sad throned Mummy contemplating the sphinx of how to hang the toilet paper roll (over or under), the Werewolf lovingly decorating his favorite fire hydrant, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon just standing in the Black Lagoon looking sheepish), the Monster Poops Christmas Express features the classic creatures each straddling a different car on the train in the posture of relieving themselves as the train itself shoots across a Halloween themed graveyard landscape of tombstones, mausoleums, outhouses, latrines and commodes.
This set has the strange representational conundrum common to themed train sets and old school children’s Halloween costumes: the characters themselves ride the train past tableaux of themselves that light up and make the appropriate noise the creature makes while evacuating (Frankenstein’s Creature bleats with Tolstoyian suffering, Dracula ejaculates something Yiddish sounding something like Count Floyd, the Werewolf yowls, the Mummy makes the same pathetic tongueless phatic he uses for everything and the Creature from the Black Lagoon makes an adorable sound like a baby raccoon on the toilet). The possible psychoanalytic dimensions of monsters riding a train watching their doubles poop remains unexplored outside of the still unpublished Sylvia Plath. It does not help that the train set only plays one song, an unlicensed cover of “Jingle Bell Rock” with the words “Monster Mash” incoherently substituted on the chorus.

Sha Na Na vs. Happy Days: The Final Conflict Christmas Set
Twin “hot rod” trains chase each other through the town and the charred hell hole their rivalry has made it. Notable details include the pathetic chimerical comfort that Mrs. C is offering a disembowled Ralph Malph, who is clearly going to die from his Bowzer inflicted injuries and his communication of this horrified realization back to her; the possibly not coincidental resemblance between Tom Bosley and Slobodan Milosevic and his expression which seems into indicate he always knew this was going to happen; the conflicted Squiggy.

The Mitchell Brothers' XXXmas Express Train Set
Predictable and tasteless interpretation of the Mitchell Brother’s careers in terms of a Christmas train set, Mitchell Brothers’ XXXmas Porno Train makes its prurient turns around Toluca lake with obvious homages to green doors and all the obvious visual puns trains, tunnels and an engine with a likeness to John Holmes with real hair can lend itself to. The designer (if he can be called that) seemed to be torn between as to whether the whole device was to be more of a tribute to sexually explicit films or cocaine and so has devoted equal space to both, the result looking like someone had an “O scale” set, a box of nude Barbie dolls, a case of hand mirrors, fake snow, issues with the breast and a glue gun.
Worst of all, upon close inspection, it is, in fact, simply the Berenstain Bears’ Hanukah Train with garish stickers applied to it.

Our Gang Old Timey Decorative Christmas Train Set: The Little Rascals Assemble the Ancient Pyramids
This “H” scale set is noted for it’s considerable detail and historical accuracy seemingly based upon actual scholarship, with the exception of the presence of the Little Rascals and a their snow capped train.
At top the pyramid itself is Buckwheat in his rightful place, Pharaoh among men, next to a chubby bald shirtless Spanky serving at his side as a competent and cruel administrator. Only nominally a Christmas train set at all, with a great deal of the display given over to the intricate details of worshiping Ra. Supposedly part of The Little Rascals explore the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a rare series of sets much sought after in the Thelemic and Occult communities.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Xmas at the Gym In Bangkok

I had started exercising beyond doing fifty push-ups in the morning, because that's what you're supposed to do when you're looking for work, do lots of reps while shouting out your objectives and qualifications, so when the interviewer asks you what your greatest weakness is, you can reply: pity for mankind. Besides, living on 20 baht a day had thinned me out somewhat so I started to look like John the Baptist and exercising gave me at least 45 minutes a day where I did not feel worthless.

There is a charming outdoor gym in Chatuchak Park สวนจตุจักร that looks exactly like the sort of gym the Flinstones would have had, if the Flintstones had been set in prison, complete with barbells made from poles set in two buckets of cement at either end, lots of broken mirrors and a wrecked car you are allowed to pick up. Refreshments were just around the corner, in the form of a girl with braces mashing papaya and her cooler. She asked where I was from. I explained that I was Thai, but I grew up in the United States (not everyone in Bangkok knows this yet, only every single person I've ever talked to). I added that I had come to Thailand to learn Thai. Oh really, she said, what's this then?

She was a pretty harsh instructor: it was cute. She asked if I had come with my girlfriend. No, I said, I came here to exercise. I exercise alone.

I haven't been back to Chatuchak Park recently, because my cousin Pui was kind enough to get me a free month's membership at her gym, The California Scarface Xperience. It's not really Scarface themed, but it is a something of a theme gym and an experience.

When I told my father that I was going to the gym he took one of his noted unspoken rhetorical stances where he doesn't actually speak, but it is clear that what you are suggesting is both stupid, dangerous and certain to fail, like taking a cab or getting a haircut by yourself. He said to be careful and see that they don't rip you off. Curious about his reaction, I googled the gym and found that indeed, there were complaints about memberships in an unrelated Korean company.

Thus forearmed, I was determined to give the poor staff there nothing during my induction, which featured me standing in my socks holding on to some Hubbard E-meter which measured the amount of body fat and true grit in my system. When it came to paperwork, I managed to maintain that I had no cell phone and did not know where I lived or what email was. This is one of the few times that fact that I sound like a complete idiot in Thai and have the demeanor of a simpleton really paid off. They smiled understandingly and as they took me through the gym to orient me, stressed that none of the handles were for the mouth.

They also asked me what my fitness goals were. I said I wanted my torso to blaze like the Face of God. What about your legs? No one should live to see my legs. I'm not sure that they understood, but they smiled again and gave me over to the trainer that had a bracelet made from real barbed wire.

This first time at the gym I discovered that the lock I had wouldn't fit on the lockers, so I had to work out in my slacks. This really isn't a problem in Thailand, where people can be seen working out in track suits, suits, jeans, and the denim outfit Neil Diamond wears on the cover of “Hot August Night.”

My biggest disappointment is that I'm not the biggest guy in the gym, not nearly. Once, at midnight in the Shanghai Hilton, on a weekday, I was the biggest guy in the gym. The other people seemed tiny and confused and pinned beneath the foreign equipment. I was magnanimous: helped them up and pointed out that they were flexing on a stapler. If I could work out in a retirement home, I probably would: lord knows, it's the only time I lap anybody in the water.

No, instead, the California Scarface Experience, being a really expensive gym, has some really huge dudes in it, guys who have like Anime-style muscles, or look like they came from Street Fighter II. In fact, the guy from Fist of the North Star is here and it looks like he's benching twice my max. On the other hand, it turns out we're both about the same height.

This was kind of a revelation, as what you generally hear about the youth of Bangkok is that they are spoiled, shiftless, lazy and girly. I contrast this with what I know to be best and truest about myself, namely that I am spoiled, shiftless, girly and lazy. Yet here I am, stuck between Sagat (สกัด), Blanka and Guile, who are doing concentration curls with depleted uranium.

The music is bad. BAAAAAD. The kind of pointless techno that lays eggs in your head that hatch hours and hours later, so this insipid thing with no memorable beat or melody becomes inseparable from your precious engrams and waking thoughts, cysting throughout your ganglion to gloat: I will always be with you. When age and senility have rendered your head and empty ruin I will be its final immovable tenant. On your deathbed, I will be there. I will be the last thing you hear. WOOOT-WOOT!

Things that make good gym songs:

  • Songs about being a vampire.
  • Any song about the First World War and What it's Done to the Narrator of the Song.
  • Slavery Work Songs, particularly those dealing with the construction of railroads.
  • And song where the lyrics about how much blood there is and how it won't stop coming out.
  • Bernard Herman: Psycho, Taxi Driver
  • All Songs About the Devil
  • Devil Music
  • Songs by and about Satan
  • Rap songs about Mongols and Lane Bryant Models
  • The Three M's: Monarch, Mortician and Black Sabbath

I don't care for the trainers they offer, though. I work out alone. On my headphones I have Rob Zombie to spot me.
“Pussy” he says, spitting tequila on me.
I do a few more reps and he gives me a swig.
Then he goes: YEEEEEEAAAAAH! on extension.
URRRRRRRRRH! on contraction.
Then AAAAAWWWWWWWW MAAAAAAAN! on extension again.
Then there are some chainsaw sounds and Sherri Moon moaning.
"Nexus 6!" he shouts, "Get it up there, Nexus 6!" He's gone from ashing on my chest to hanging and unfinished six-pack off one side of the bar. He's dropping dead soldiers all over the place.
"Come on man, get that axe up there! Chop 'em down! Chop em all down! Come on slimeball, you rinky-dink, CELTA having piece of shit! Don't you quit on me! Don't you quit on me! Don't you quit on me! You carpetbagging, fleabagging, no iPhone having monster poop eating loser!"
I'm tapped. I tell Rob as much.
"How'd that Halloween remake of yours, do Rob?"

I like to mediate in the sauna after my workout. This was more freaky back in Chicago when I had the long hair and Mongolian mustache. In Thailand mediating is about as unusual as wearing flip-flops. In the sauna it feels a lot like sitting in the sun, on a very sunny day. Then the sun gets much, much closer. I feel like a dripping statue, my cupped hands fill up with sweat. People talk about how hot it is and decide to go to Sizzler. I let all such phenomena go and sit and concentrate on my breath, which becomes tricky as my nose starts to burn with each inhale, like the shuttle on re-entry. All this time I have a familiar sly beatific smile, right up until the moment I snatch up my key and shoot across the room like butter on a hot skillet to the showers.

The shower room is vast and spectacularly lit. It's like an automobile showroom. There's a chandelier. The circular floor rotates and takes one past different nozzles. This is one's moment of victory, where one celebrates one's body. Between the many mirror on the walls there are also flat screen LCDs showing clips of shower and muscle scenes: Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, Christian Bale in American Psycho, as well as Conan the Barbarian and Al Pacino's counterattack from Scarface.

This is a critical moment, because sometimes at this point I feel like I am not ripped enough. I feel small and vulnerable among these titians, grunting, posing and shaving by just using their fingernails. I feel I want to cry and hide, but I know I can't. Sometimes I have to go run back into the gym and do a few more sets, but the truth is that I'm tapped; so I get caught in a cycle going back and forth from the gym to the showers sometimes until the place closes.

Christmas in Bangkok is a fine time to go the gym. Most of the equipment is red and white anyway. Being a very expensive and theme driven place, the design staff have done a nice job of decorating the place for Christmas, wrapping the weights in paper, and the bars in tinsel. The dumbells are hidden under a little drift of fake snow. I have a creatine egg nog smoothie at the bar and a monohydrate martini. I get offered some sort of free shooter. I'm not sure if it's alcoholic or not, but it's holiday green and tastes like Red Bull and ground Centrum. The bells on the barbells tinkle as I cheat out some reps.

They also have a “Fitness Santa” You can sit on his knee and tell him whether or not you made your fitness goals and what your goals are for the future. Then Fitness Santa explains that it's up to you and not him to make these goals come true and either punches you in the stomach or tweaks your bicep. Then he gives you a Cliff Bar.

It's not that unusual that Santa is here, since the California Scarface Xperience is run a lot like a theme park. That's why it's an "experience." Sometimes there are even trainers in plush character suits to meet and greet you, but they're really for the kids. I've only met the Ab Crab, but that's because we tend to work the same machines, over by the wall-sized poster of Yukio Mishima. I try not to get in the way of Sharky the kick boxer. That guy is ripped.

For going to the gym on Christmas is really the ultimate in nihilism. It is Christmas from the Angry Naked Way. You know that Santa isn't real. It doesn't even really matter if you've been bad or good. This is real, it says. You don't want promises, you don't want wishes. You know you don't deserve anything that you can't carve out of space and time with your fingers inserted into the busted gouged sockets of the face of existence. This is how Conan prays to Crom: grant me revenge or to hell with you. You'll have that milkshake when you're good and dead. Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Avatar Spoilers

  • Less like Aliens, more like Titanic, especially with all the Celine Dion songs.
  • Not advertised as musical
  • Film begins with James Cameron in an empty studio asking audience to close their eyes and be open to the power of “wonder and imagination.”
  • 3-D effects impressive: blue people's tounges feel like sand paper.
  • Subplot involving kid on 1980’s Earth trying to help by reading magic read-a-long book seems forced and really drags.
  • Less like Terminator, more like Fraggle Rock with boobs and VTOL.
  • Interactive part of movie allows audience to "get down" and dance with aliens.
  • Lance Henriksen surprisingly limber during final dance showdown.
  • 3-D glasses comfortable. Revolutionary technology involves putting tiny magic ticket under tounge.
  • Main theme song "Avatar" is just the 1980 ELO/Olivia Newton-John single "Xanadu" with the word "Avatar" dubbed in.
  • Alien planet: clothing optional
  • All in all, James Cameron's edgy high-tech re-imagining has heart and some the charm of the original, but is incredibly violent compared with the original Smurfs it is an adaptation of.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hollywood Bablyon

For NK

It was Hollywood and she was the real thing, except for the parts that were made from cartilage and fat sucked from other bodies. That part was a dream, like the sun setting between two hills that were like firm nipply breasts that were on fire and all the kids danced the sock-hop, they did the fug and walked through mirrors with slicked hair and the smell of Fresca. She had a convertible; I had a motorized surfboard with wheels. I had a switchblade, she had pregnant nunchucks. Pregnant with what? Pregnant with “WaaaaaaaaH! Blam!” : parking meter decapitated.

We went to club and danced aggressively, like a bear and a shark that spot each other across a crowded gym and the air is filled with bad techno and they keep working out until the machinery breaks down and everyone is dead and they have no choice but to fight it out with weights snapped in half and dead fit people. Yeah we danced like that. Other people’s faces melted off. People shook like planes coming apart in our turbulence. I bought her shots of whisky. She said she had never drank no whisky before. She said it tasted like her mother’s blood.

We danced hard. I made that move I make where it’s like I shoot beams out my eyes and she danced like she was like blinded. She danced like she had one roller skate on and was being chased by a terrier. I danced like I was a ship and the shipbreakers. She dived in the lap of the guy in the wheelchair and rode him across the bar. I punched the saxophone and dented it. It was a crazy scene. Eventually we had two fire extinguishers and were just whaling on each other.

After the club closed we walked down the street. She was glimmering with sweat. The stores were closed so I broke into the Natural History Museum to get her a soda. I took the mammoth coat off the caveman and put it over her shoulders. She knocked me into a dinosaur and a space probe. I told her that I wanted her to be the empress of the empire development project deal thing that I had been working on that some really important people had expressed some interest in. She didn’t reply, and instead cuddled with the stuffed penguin and Eskimo she was holding. We didn’t go to the Egyptian wing. It was time to go.

I slid into the seat next to her. It was still a fine early morning. As we drove along the grey ribbon of highway we listened to oldies, broadcast to us from distant galaxies, millions of light-years distant, singing songs of love and loss in vanished civilizations and extinct species with too many arms and eyes. And I wanted her then. I wanted to make love to her so I could show her the happy trusting face I make after making love as well as a little house I had made out of peanuts. I wanted her, in the sheets next to me, looking at my peanut house.

I held her hand. I tried to pull her close, but she pulled away. I felt it then, the curse. The mummy’s curse. She was his girl. Toungless, eyeless, dry as dust. Old money, the oldest. But what was all that now? Could she really be into him just for a few gold trinkets and a social set and cache that was millennia out of date?

Oh, he was elegant in his shuffling, tongueless way. The way he wrote her little notes on papyrus that were all just squiggly little pictures. The way he moaned when she came back to him. The whole I-came-back-from-the-dead-to-love-you routine. Even now, he’d be back at the condo, lounging about in a track suit he filled out like a bag of bones, watching the History Channel. It made me mad, just thinking of his old man stinky hands all over her, smelling of frankincense, myrrh and dead, dead man.

And so we drove on, into the valley of kings that came and went like the waves of box office returns.