Sunday, June 23, 2013

Who Mourns for Michael Bollinger?

The male trailing spouse is officially in mourning.  A great friend recently died in Bangkok. This is my testimonial to Michael "The General" Bollinger. A man who typified the rugged image of the American hero; honorable, direct, caring, larger than life and twice as ugly!

Michael "The General" Bollinger 1948-2013

In Bangkok, an expat city of rogues, wastrels and bullshit artists, Michael Farrell Bollinger was one of the few good men. With his neat, white hair, polo shirt, pinstripe trousers, wingtip shoes and walking stick, he was a feature of daily life on Soi 22 for three decades. 


We first met outside the Moonshine Pub in early 2004. I was shooting the shit with Suntory Simon when he came barnstorming into our conversation.


"You guys are English ain't you, what the Hell is wrong with you people?  You should be supporting your Prime Minister (Tony Blair) instead of trying to get rid of him, what is it with you limeys? You got to support your leader in wartime, like we do." 


And then, without uttering another word, the bombastic American did an about turn and limped to the bar. Suntory Simon looked me. Agasp


"Do you know that nutcase?" 


"No," I said, "I thought you did."


"Of course not," he said, "he's a fucking psycho. You don't walk up to perfect strangers and talk to them like that."  


Simon was right. And wrong. Mike was a stranger to no one.


The second time we met, he had just arrived for happy hour in the Moonshine with his old buddy, Jay. Mike was sober, Jay was tipsy. And a little bit obnoxious.


"Don't mind Jay," he said, "he just hates English people." 


Our third meeting was at Daeng's Place a haunt for every crazed expat in the city.  It was one of those rare moments when Mike was having an alcoholic drink (a large bottle of Chang beer).  He was complaining about "soccer."  He thought it was "a sissy assed game only played by girls in the USA," and considered "grid iron football" far superior to "that fag pastime you like in Europe and them other places no one gives a shit about." 


"That's the trouble with you Yanks," I said, cheekily winding him up, "you lot don't wanna play ball... same as your politics.   


Mike slowly got up from his bar stool and fixed me with rattlesnake eyes. He was sizing me up for the kill. It didn't happen. He stormed out the boozer, shouting anti soccer obscenities all the way back to his flat above Ampa Salon (his wife's business) at the end of Soi Sai Namthip. 


We became firm friends soon after and spent many hours, days, weeks and years discussing life, death and politics.  Mike had a ferocious intellect and he did not suffer fools gladly. He was an outrageous conversationalist, a provocative debater, an informed observer but, above all, a Southern gentleman who knew when to stand his ground or concede a point.


I will never forget the conversation that he had with my wife the first time they met. 

"I was gonna join the KKK when I was a teenager," said Mike, "but a nigger saved my life in Vietnam. And that's what's great about America, you can be a nigger, a kike, a wetback, we're Americans, no distinction, no class, we're all the same man and woman under the old red, white and blue."  



 She was mortified


"That man is a complete redneck!"


"I know," I said, "but that's what I like about the guy."


That was Mike in a nutshell. Always out to shock, always out to test. He reminded me of another great American, my Father.


Stanley Reynolds in his Guardian days. Yes, he really is J. Jonah Jameson. 


Because of the proximity of Mike's flat to Daeng's Place, and various other bars, he got into rows and fights with a LOT of "dirtbags".  This could be difficult. Mike had a handicap. Several years earlier, he had been run over by a car whilst out jogging on Soi 22, and had a below knee amputation of his right leg. His health was also impacted by a triple heart bypass, and the scars of the operation were visible on his left arm. (However, this did not stop Mike from chain smoking L&M cigarettes and knocking back coffee and Coca Cola).

"Nobody fucked with me when I had two legs, now everybody wants to mess with me. Well, I got a .38 upstairs... and that motherfucker's the equalizer!"


Despite a peg leg and a dodgy ticker, the old Staff Sgt was a one-man-army. And his qualifications were Harvard bad ass. Mike had clocked up 22 years with the 82 Airborne, had served in Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War,  and been stationed all over the world.  Rather than fade away, as old soldiers are supposed to do, the warlike man attacked the sexpats and low lifes of Soi 22 -- the distorted mirror images of his own personality.


"I been a lucky guy. I ain't never had my ass kicked."


When Mike was on the rampage, dishing out punishment beatings to farangs who did not measure up to his personal standards, he was John Wayne unstoppable.

"This Indian's on the warpath, this hillbilly boy is mad again. Make no mistake," he'd say, quoting George W. Bush,  "they've roused a mighty giant."


If somebody had called him names, he was marked for slaps; if someone had insulted the land of the free, he was as good as lynched; if someone was a junkie, Mike would fix them; if someone had a predilection for sex with underage Thai girls, they would be immediately warned away from his company, or beaten half-dead.


"It comes to something when guys like you and me are the only good guys in town," Mike would often say. "There's a lot of dirtbags and scumbags round here, a lot of bad people, best to keep them away from you, by any means necessary, if you catch my drift."   

Sometimes Mike would get the wrong end of his walking stick. Justin, a local American who was in his late twenties, was having a romance with Alice the Exbrat, a redheaded English fashion model who used to slum at Daeng's Place. There was one snag: Alice was 17.

"I don't approve of that Justin fella going around with that underage girl, no sir.  That's statutory rape where we come from. That's why I'm waiting on him, am gonna give that boy a whupping."

"It's OK, Mike," I said, "she's English, and it is perfectly legal in the UK, the age of consent is 16..."


"Say what? Something ain't right there in merry old England, you need to fix that Law and make it 18, or better still 21. But I'm glad you told me that. He's down at Daeng's right now. Like I said, I was about ready to fuck-him-up."    


Thanks to my intervention, Justin did not get a savage beating from Iron Mike Bollinger.  

Mike had been (sort-of) barred from Daeng's Place for fighting customers. One night, he duffed up a German who had called George W. Bush a "fucking asshole" and a "warmonger like Hitler." After flooring the Hun with a bar stool, Mike threw 200 Baht at Daeng (the proprietor) to cover damages and marched off


"I'm fed up of old men fighting in my bar," said Daeng, "it's no good for business, neighbors talk and they hate me too much already."


Daeng had "order" restored in his volatile boozer, and Mike was not around to berate patrons who openly smoked cannabis on the premises (with Daeng, the owner, who was also the supplier).


"I'm ain't going to Daeng's no more. Too many potheads and liberals anyhow, doing shit they shouldn't be doing, how can you take a 60 year old man seriously if he's smoking pot, I ask you?"



Mike had a desk made outside Ampa Salon at the top of the Soi. He would sit alone, and guard the entrance to the one way street like Cerberus at the gates of the underworld. 

Behind his desk, in a black swivel chair, the crafty old curmudgeon would try and lure customers from Daeng's Place!



"How you doing, young man? Pull up a chair, sit down, I got beers, 40 Baht each," he'd say, opening up a mini-fridge to show the selection of Leo, Singha and Chang, all sold at prices cheaper than Daeng's.

From this vantage point on the Soi, Mike was a friendly and unfriendly face to locals and passing folk. Mike liked to talk politics.  In youth, he was a Democrat and had voted for Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.  That all changed in 1980. Mike took his sympathies across the floor to the Republican Party and stayed there. Because politics was his pet subject, he would often get into fights. The pattern was simple. Mike would invite some passing farang to sit down and as soon as they said anything bad about American foreign policy ...

The Fighting American would leap off his stool and bash them up! Many foolhardy expats, sexpats and douchebags made the mistake of rattling Mike's kennel. 

He beat up men of all ages, sizes and nationalities. Mike did America proud out boxing Sir Bob Wilde, thrashing Scottish John with his walking stick, wrapping a crock pot round the head of Ronnie the Nonce and booting Alan the Cellphone Thief square in the nuts (without losing his balance)

Mike loved America. It was obvious to any fool who met him. He talked, dreamed, lived and breathed the United States of America, and there was a lot about the place that he missed. On trips to the USA, I managed to get him the last packet of tomato seeds in a Kansas Wal-Mart in 2004 (the seeds in Thailand were "no good darn good"),  and in 2006, 2008 and 2009  I stocked up on boxes of Twinkies for the sweet toothed old timer.


"God damn, I went through ten of those Twinkies in a minute!"


Not many men who knew Mike mourned his passing in 2013.  Mike had made a LOT of enemies with his unashamedly Republican-abroad political views. But most of the time it was a wind-up. One American in Bangkok hoped, now that Mike was dead, that he would "burn in Hell". I was shocked. But then I remembered who this "scumbag," as Mike would say, was. In youth, he had fled to Canada to escape the draft to Vietnam; Mike was drafted and found a career in the Services. And the same chess playing American claimed to have been part of a human trafficking ring. No wonder they hated one another. He was a bad guy, and Mike was a good guy.   


Who mourns for Michael Bollinger? I do.  I am sitting here, at 2.55am on a Sunday morning in Atlanta, crying to myself and thinking of all the wise and funny things that he said to me in nine years of friendship. They broke the mold when they made Michael Bollinger. He was a dying breed, a one of a kind, a good old fashioned American patriot. I shall miss him dearly.