Now I realize that there’s really never a convenient time to descend into jabbering insanity, but one would at least hope that such a singular event might be preceded by, I don’t know, a heads-up? A courteous note of forewarning? Just so one can put their affairs in order or at least activate the calling tree that will send trusted and discreet people to your home to incinerate your donkey scat porn collection before your parents find it?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Or at least it wasn’t for me. The precipice of an irreversible vegetative state rushed up on me like a 500 foot waterfall in a Road Runner cartoon right after the boat’s outboard motor dies. In an instant I found myself teetering on the very edge of madness and I might not have been able to pull myself back to the sane side of the universe if not for my unwavering resolve to see “A Colbert Christmas”. The whole episode was resounding proof that, on any typical day, none of us are more than an unexpected trauma or two away from permanent institutionalization.
Actually, it was far from being a typical day, though equally there was no hint that I might lose my grip on reality. I was only 10 hours into a sadistic 46 hour transit between Yangon, Myanmar and Minneapolis. I was preparing for my second flight of the trip, Bangkok to Seoul. It was 85 degrees in Bangkok and 20 degrees in Seoul, so a prudent change of clothes was in order before boarding the flight.
After whiling away my eight hour layover in Bangkok International Airport and spending the last of my Thai baht on a two hour foot and shoulder massage and a giant sushi feast, I walked into a random bathroom in the departures area, locked myself in a roomy handicapped stall, turned around, unzipped my fly, looked down and saw this:
I’m going to begin dissecting the multi-faceted distress of the moment by illustrating, in case there was any question, how uncommon my name is.
“Leif” is a traditional Norwegian name that means “beloved son” – my younger brother, Erik (meaning “undescended testicles”), has never gotten over this favoritism. Despite its epic coolness, like “Bertha,” “Marion” (for a man), and “Mr. T,” the name ‘Leif’ has fallen out of fashion, even in Norway.
Once or twice a year, I run across a guy with the name “Leif” (usually on a Norwegian genealogy tree from the 1800s) and it never fails to invoke a reflective pause. It’s even more rare to see it in contemporary use. Now, if my name had been “Dave” or “John'”or even ‘King Bhumibol Adulyadej,” seeing a sticker with my name on it slapped under a toilet seat in Bangkok International Airport would have simply been a little weird, but nothing to almost faint over. However, the likelihood of seeing a “Leif” sticker under the same circumstances would require someone to invent a new, subatomic statistical measuring convention in order to adequately calculate the odds.
What was even more troubling, the sticker didn’t simply say “Leif.” It said “Leif!” My incredibly uncommon name, exclamation point!! What the River-Dancing-Buddha is the significance of that exclamation point?
Was it a warning, like “Leif! Watch out for that falling piano!”
Was it an excited greeting, like “Leif! How the hell are ya? Any news on your brother’s testicle correction therapy?”
Was it a demand, like “Leif! Give me the effing $100 you owe me or I’m mailing your entire donkey scat porn collection to your grandma’s retirement home!”
The mind swirls.
Needless to say, I became temporarily unglued. I moaned softly, sagged against the wall and feebly tried to halt the downward spiral into my own private Fantasia. This took some time. Reality bobbed and weaved around my mental grabbing and clawing.
My attempts to dismiss the incident as a travel-related hallucination failed. If the same thing had happened 30 hours into my trip, coping would have been rather easy, but I hadn’t yet taken a sleeping pill, or consumed three glasses of wine, or been awake for two days, or been near-asphyxiated by a gassy airplane seat neighbor. There was no explanation, except of course sudden-onset lunacy.
I stared uncontrollably at the sticker for what seemed like several minutes. One of the alternate realities that flashed through my mind during that interval was that the toilet seat was in fact a Google Talk chat window with God and that any second the next line of text would pop up (“My son, your fly is open.”).
Still weak-kneed, I eventually stumbled out of the stall. First I checked the other toilets to see if they had all been tagged with my name. Perhaps in Thai “Leif!” means “lift the effing toilet seat when you do a Number 1 douchebag!” But mine was the only toilet ostensibly calling my name.
Then I combed the entire bathroom, looking for hidden cameras. There were only three or four people on the planet that knew my exact whereabouts at the time and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them had contacts at “Thailand’s Funniest Home Videos and Cruel Practical Jokes.” Nevertheless, I had to rule out the possibility, which I did, never finding a camera (or a toilet seat cover for that matter).
Eventually, my final and only recourse was denial, which I’ve managed to maintain to this day. I can talk about it, I can even laugh about it, but as far as I’m concerned, it never happened. That’s my official standpoint on the matter for the rest of eternity, despite photographic evidence. And despite the voices in my head telling me that it most definitely did happen and furthermore I should sell all my worldly possessions, set up a camp down by the university and spend the rest of my days offering to wash people’s feet.
Moving on, though the above event was by far the most life-altering thing that happened during my five week jaunt through Thailand and Myanmar, I do indeed have pictures that I intend to post here just as soon as I root through them all and think up snarky captions.