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Little Engines Electronic Reading Tour

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2002

Hello! TNI Books (tnibooks.com) has occupied this website for a brief period of time. It will be over before you know it, and odds are good that if you’ve come here in search of something interesting, you won’t go away disappointed.

Welcome to the LITTLE ENGINES Issue Three Electronic Reading Tour!

The Pockets by Paul Maliszewski

“There is nothing that makes one feel so much at home in a foreign city as knowing a good bar: a place where on can feel comfortable quickly, and go back to, in the hope, if not the certainty, of being recognized.” —-Financial Times

Let me give you this example: In Marrakech, at Tapster’s, everyone knows my name. Because I tell it to them, straight out. In a way I instruct them, but totally without guile, mind you. I say to them, I say, Sound it out now. I say, Listen to me. I say, Watch my mouth. See my lips? It’s easy. I say, Listen, a wise man once told me that no sound is sweeter to a man than the sweet sound of his own name. And I say to them, Ergo, because I like the sound of that too, Ergo, I will pay you, right now, right here, understand? to tell me mine.

I’ve discovered that money, when strategically deployed, assists the process of memory formation and, in particular, promotes the cementation of certain long-term memories. The upshot there being that everywhere I go people know who I am.

I carry all the funny little pink and yellow and orange currencies of the world, in my pants pockets, my wallet, and stuffed in my back-up billfold. Some I have zipped into my belt, in a discrete pouch. I line my shoes with the stuff; I walk all over it. In my hotel room, alone, before venturing out into the night, I sit on the edge of the bed and fan a sheaf of bills into a thin layer and spread it over my calves. The TV in the corner is tuned to VH-1, replaying an in-depth documentary history of rock history documentaries. My gold-toe socks, pulled smartly up and over the bills, hold the thin layers of currency in place.

The wondrous elastic properties of my socks have never once embarrassed me. Disinterested third-parties have commented that the subtle effect on my legs’ musculature is somewhat stunning, provocative even, so long as I’m seated just right, and there’s the sort of light that not so much hides as forgives flaws and perhaps a little of that music they play, in the background, not blaring, never blaring, and so long as I have my one good leg dangling jauntily over the other, and then the cuff of my pants (worsted wool!) creeps up just so. It’s quite perfect.

You may have to work at it, but they’ll remember your name provided you get a fix on their price. Don’t let the "language barrier" grind negotiations to a halt. Use your hands, gesture if you have to, speak loudly. My name, I say, pointing to myself. My name, I repeat, thumping my sternum with cupped hands. Cupped hands being what you call your inclusive, gentle, and warm body language.

I have inner pockets, coin purses, money clips, a beautiful chrome change machine hanging from a leather strap around my neck. My checkbook’s the size of a photo album, one for a big family. Everything’s monogrammed, embossed or engraved or otherwise emblazoned with the initials that spell the very names by which I’m known and are sweet for me to hear. These days I pad the shoulders of my suit with rolls of American quarters, which coin seems to be hot with the kids. Used to be nickels were. Even my pockets have pockets, and they’re all full.

My bad leg doubles as a bank safe. The Vault is what I call it. It’s got a surgical steel, triple-tumbler combination lock machined right into the kneecap, just set right into the sucker. The combination changes each month. Has to, for security. Additionally, I possess a killer fanny-pack whose equal is not known, will not, in fact, ever be known, because I had it custom-tailored in southern Italy, out of Spanish leather and the finest Libyan thread. This southern Italian guy did the stitching using a fossilized pine needle from a rare tree found only near the very top of the western face of Mt. Sinai, he told me.

You can hold your fingers up to show how high you’re willing to go. For instance, two fingers means you’ll give them two of whatever it is they happen to want most of all in the place wherever you happen to be at the time. My name, I say, gesturing openly and warmly, and then hold up seven fingers in front of my face. Then I look at my fingers outstretched like that, nodding at them from left to right, to emphasize the sheer plenitude of digits I’m abstractly offering in place of what they want most of all.

When in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, you have to track down Lou’s or Tip-A-Few if that’s closed the night you go. The Kazakhs moved their capital last summer sometime, I think, or maybe the year before, so neither place is overrun with miserable administrator types anymore. You get a whole different crowd, friendlier and polite like you wouldn’t believe, while still not compromising the frisson of danger thing I associate with all those breakaway republics.

Which reminds me, there was a place on the island of Borneo, this is in the interior, that used to be called Olde Ale House. It got bought out five or six years ago by Slim’s. Slim’s is sort of a semi-local chain of similar independently-managed establishments in the western Pacific Malay region. In spite of the new owners and what have you, it’s still good. They kept the same bartender on. Definitely worth the trip if you have time off in Jakarta and just want to get away from everything for awhile.

In Cabo Frio, which I prefer to Rio de Janeiro - same coastal clime, same access to airports, same etc. - do yourself a favor and inquire about this place that’s a bar disguised as a fully-operational eighteen-wheeler. It doesn’t even have a name. Say the truck/bar is driving by, on the outside it looks every bit the spitting image of those trucks that carry the poisonous gases, all plastered with red signs and stern prohibitions, saying whatever ‘notice’ and ‘warning’ are in Portuguese. But inside they’ve got a teakwood bar that will quite simply impose a stiff excise tax on your lungs.

The next time you’re in Djibouti, try Ed’s. I met an Account Rep for Barbasol in Gdansk who told me about it. He was there creating some new popular thinking about facial hair. And go to The Pub in Perth. That’s what they call it, everyone’ll know what you mean. At the South Pole, there’s a little place, Eddie’s Tavern. It’s quaint but not too. Not so many people know about it yet. You can walk in there a second time with every certainty of being recognized as a regular. You don’t get that whole expense-account crowd in there.

For a paper copy of this story, along with other fine surprises, check out the newest issue of LITTLE ENGINES at tnibooks.com.