with curling finials, white columns, me in shorts—and when he showed
it to her, she said, “It doesn’t look so poor there. Do they need him?”
My father hated poor people. He thought they brought on their own
misery by irresponsible habits and misguided decisions and then they
complained all the time and wanted special favors. He truly believed
that wealth was a sign of good judgment and right behavior, and that
free market forces naturally brought about justice.
It was a utopian notion, really—without interference, true freedom
would exist as it was meant to. He loved freedom. The demonic forces of
interference were always lurking.
At work one of the new hires, a twenty-three-year-old from Miami,
had her purse snatched by a guy on a motorcycle riding by. She was
knocked off her feet by the speed and roughness of the grab and was
badly shaken—she had screamed from the sidewalk. She came to work
with bandages on her arm and leg where she’d hit the pavement going
down. Clarice, my ex-friend, said, “I had that happen once too. It can be
very fucked up here.”
“It’s getting worse,” someone said. Someone always said that, all the
years I’d been here. What did they know? Okay, there were more for-
eigners now, with more money to take.
I remembered my own brief life as a thief—episodes of minor shoplifting, culminating in the entirely insane adventure of scaling the fake
castle that was a restaurant in Vermont. I could’ve killed myself! I’d
been in real terror up there, and then the thrill of finding the cash box
inside. The bills that would fuel my escape.
I was moved to tell this story to Rachel the next time we were having
a conversation on Skype. Telling made me come up with lots of details.
Three stories up and some of the shingles were loose under my grip. I’d
had to concentrate so hard as I crawled and clung. “What a hoodlum,”
she said. “I’m sorry I didn’t know you then.”
Definitely one of the better things anyone ever said to me. I was hold-
ing on to it, trying to keep the way she said it, while I took one of my
walks at the end of the day. I was going along the riverbank, around to
the spot where the Tonlé Sap met the Mekong, as I waited for the air to
turn cooler. The water was calm and silvery, and as the sky went from
pinkish mist to gray dusk, the lights came on along the tourist boats.