Bad Santa, Bad Bali
He waved his crutch, held it aloft and cursed. One of those crutches for one-legged limpers, an aluminium job with a clasp for the forearm and a protruding handle, a potential weapon, a long gun-metal-gray billy-club.
- You bastards, he cursed, spluttering with anger.
Blazing red tee-shirt stretched over a belly bloated from decades of beer and sedentary lifestyle, fuzzy white beard and glaring eyes in a sun-burnt, cherry-red, anger-infused face, contorted and ugly. The image immediately came to me, this bearded big man all in red. He was a Baa-aad Santa.
I saw him start his antics from across Jelan Legian where I was hugging the shady side of the street and doing my best not to get angry myself at the insistent cries of shop-attendants and street-touts some of whom would go so far as to clutch at my arm to gain my indifferent attention. I was tired of the pseudo-Western fare at my Villa in Seminyak, and had come to town looking for genuine Indonesian lunch, and not tee-shirts (big size), sunglasses (I was already wearing sunglasses), hat (I was already wearing a hat) or beads (do I look like I'd wear BEADS?). I had even resisted a call from a young lady at the corner of a laneway - massage, mister, you want girl? Perhaps my search for authentic local cuisine was not ideally directed here in the heart of the tourist-dollar-directed Kuta shopping strip.
But all the touts too stopped and looked at the big man yelling and thrusting the tip of his crutch at a motorcyclist stuck in the traffic jam, in blisteringly hot sun, burning. His red shirt flashed bright and unbleached as he twisted and turned to confront all his silent opponents. I couldn't read the white printed message on the front of his shirt.
- You prick!
He thwacked at the wheel of the motorcycle. We got that message. The motorcyclist was one of three in a line, now slowly moving forward out of his reach, although the cars were still stuck.
- And you too, bastards!, he cried at the people staring near the footpath on his side.
He limped into the middle of the stalled traffic, looking around for someone to fight, someone who'd stand up to him. He poked his crutch at the darkened window of a small 4WD, jabbing at it but not quite touching it. Was it the rest of the world or just him? He knew the answer.
- You're another bastard too, you bastard, he threatened to the driver who maybe was smirking at these antics from behind the screen.
As he stepped around the cars, he was moving directly towards me. I moved forward trying to avoid meeting him face to face, to avoid seeing my own infrequent bursts of public temper-loss reflected in his carryings-on. He came straight at me, I couldn't avoid him. My face was blank. He seemed to pause but he was just negotiating the step up from the road to the red-paving-stones (fuck, is there nowhere on this planet immune to this accursed anonymizing town-planning virus?), and limped past me without recognition to the entry steps of a Circle K. Pausing, he pointed his crutch at three idle young Indonesians sitting there smiling at him, and yelled again.
- And you're just as bad! Don't think you can laugh!
Shaking my head as I moved past the scene. Several of the sunglass/bead/hat touts smiled, jiving with me, one held his index finger to his temple and screwed it in.
- Drunk fucked crazy man! he said.
- Certainly looks, I said.
There were no restaurants up ahead, I walked on for five more going-commando rash-enhancing minutes and then turned around, came past those touts again. They redoubled their efforts.
- Hey Aussie man, give me five, where you go, mite?
I held back for a second and then, something made me thing of the times I too had blown my fuse at people just trying to make a living, so I awkwardly ran my hand across his palm as I walked past, shrugging and smiling. Almost cool for a fat pasty faced tourist in a stupid hat.
But Baa-aad Santa was still the Circle K, silently necking a large Bir Bintang as he cooled down at the end of the steps, half-hidden behind an electricity pillar. His face was not so red now.
I found a restaurant next to the 24 Roses Hotel which claimed authentic Balinese cuisine. And, um, cookin'. I order a Bintang and a Nasi Goreng with seafood - supposedly local fare. Sipping on my beer I reflected on the two bombing sprees of several years ago, how they had effectively killed Australian tourism to Bali, except for hard-core surfers and "Oh I'm innocent because I have big tits" drug runners. The plane from Singapore had been caviar-tight packed with Russians, women in calf-high white boots over ass-tight jeans and flouncey beige shirts, block-jawed men broad and hard-beady-eyed. My Villa was chocka-block with Bosch, laying towels on the pool-chairs at 6am, drinking the bar out of gin and schnapps, keeping the two Balinese waitresses working way past closing time.
- He had the AUDACITY, the EFFRONTERY to refer to me as a "dickhead"!
I looked up, time-warped back to the present from my racist reverie. Bad Santa had cornered my waitress at the steps by the entrance to the restaurant and was explaining himself, justifying himself, describing his reactions, his bravery, redoing his threatening gestures. She was blank faced. He held the point of the crutch to the waitress's belly.
- I was not to be intimidated! I retaliated THUS!
He jabbed at her belly, not quite touching it.
- It more than a man can bear to be treated with such a lack of respect. It is not right for...
He continued raving but I couldn't make it all out, could only grab snatches of the plum in his accent, the self-conscious vocabulary he flaunted. He was too prestigious a man for us all this, too important to be treated this way, too noble a creature.
And I began to see him in another way. No longer as Ba-ad Santa, no longer the drunk and sun-struck tourist who has had it with the subtle cooler-than-thou arrogance and barely hidden disdain for the easily misled and ripped-off tourists these touts and locals would be starving without. The hungry feeding off the ugly - le condition humane.
His high-blown language placed him into another metaphor, another analogy.
No, he wasn't Santa. He was a person living in a fantasy world where people should be honourable and show respect to all others, even those lowest in the Balinese social scale - white tourists.
He was Don Quixote, standing up for the oppressed rich, over educated white person, tilting at the windmills of traffic jams, jousting those disrespectful knights on their two-wheeled steeds, holding at bay the hordes of thieves and robbers milling by the tavern...
Here was honour, here was chivalry.
One of our Balinese waitresses, Wayen, had been baby-sitting for T&P till late on New Years Eve. She was riding home on her scooter at about 2am through the streets of Legian when two local guys, drunk and gesticulating, obstructed the road and forced her to stop. One of the men kicked out at her bike, the crack of splintering plastic faring, the force pushed her over to the ground. The other man flashed a kris-knife and slashed at the handle of her bag as it lay across her elbow, slicing into the flesh of her arm. Blood spurts, slippery, his grip on the bag faltered and he stumbled away. She was screaming, he slashed again, cut her on the wrist. Her other hand clutched hard, preventing him taking the bag. People were now aware of the ruckus in the dark, approaching silhouettes from down the road. The men ran away, laughing funnily enough, but empty-handed, blood-stain-handed. (What explanation will they offer to their concerned family when awake next morning, their clothes crusty with the nauseatingly sweet rich coppery smell of guilt.) She was crying now, bleeding into someone else's arms, but not so bad - the leather of the bag handle had prevented the knife cutting dangerously deep. Someone supported her, comforted her, someone else picked up her bike but it was unridable, the thin front struts bent. They hailed a taxi for her, she arrives home intact but upset. Her young brother is awoken, he goes back to get the bike. She was shivering, teeth chattering as her mother washed the wounds and then, uncertain about whether stitches were needed, she took her prized daughter to a hospital. The shaking won't cease for a few hours - it is fright not tetany. The busy Doctor gives her a tetanus shot nevertheless, no stitches needed, some antibiotics, call someone else in the morning.
She tells me this next afternoon when I ask about the small bandages. She is smiling constantly. She has the nicest smile. She laughs about the drama now.
Yet here was nastiness, here was criminality: here was Indonesians dropping live calves into the seething volcano, heathen, pagan, uncivilized, beautiful, repulsive. The human condition.
And where was Don Quixote when he was needed? Pissed, no doubt, stuffing psychedelic mushroom pizza into his fat gob in some sleazy warung off Poppies Lane 2, blasting the world for the indignities it has inflicted upon him.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
nice. Ba-ad Santa reminds me a bit of wotsisname from Confederacy of Dunces.
your (ironic) Christmas present awaits you.
Couldn't tell you his name, never read it!
oooh, $%$%$ (cyber-rattles pressie)!
Home for next 10 days.
it doesn't rattle. it's a book. no, not confederacy of dunces.
but I've already GOT a book...
not this book. wanker.