Friday, July 15, 2005


There is no such thing as a gullible cynic. This is what I've come to believe. It's one of those thoughts I have late at night or early in the morning, when the lightning is crackling and the rain is strong and daylight is far, far away. Sometimes words and phrases pop into my head and I tell myself that I have to remember them, write them down, make sense of them, but then I drift back to sleep. The sound of rain on a rooftop does that to you.

Whenever I start to feel that I'm getting a wee bit cynical, I remember my gullibility. Stephen King has a wonderful introduction to his 1992 story collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes in which he recounts that, as a child, he tended to believe anything and everything that anyone and everyone told him. I'm the same way. (Just, you know, minus the marvellous storytelling ability and the millions upon millions of dollars in the bank. Other than that, we're identical.)

A few months ago I happened to be at a small dinner party thrown by the French manager of the Cambodiana hotel, one of the biggest, classiest hotels in Cambodia. (Granted, that doesn't take much, does it, this being Cambodia, but you get the picture.) We were in the living room of his apartment, which happened to be in the hotel itself, and what an apartment it was. Not large, no, but stylish, decorated, compact and comfortable. On the wall were various paintings that looked quite familiar. They were Picassos, I noticed. One of them was even the famous sunflower picture. (Or wait -- did Van Gogh do the sunflower one? I think he did. Which just kind of proves my point to come...)

"Is that the real one?" I asked, pointing to the picture.

"Yes, it is," the manager said.


Of course, the logical part of my brain, that part that paid attention in school, should have realized: Those must be copies. But I didn't think of that. Where I come from, where I grew up, people don't usually hang reproductions of Picassos (or Van Goghs) on their walls. So here was this guy -- rich and French and owner of the swankiest hotel in the country -- and, well, it was certainly possible that he was loaded, and had bought the real thing. Wasn't it?

Uh, no.

When a few other guests and the managers chortled that chortled that makes you realize you are, without question, the biggest knob in the planet, if not the galaxy, you slap your hand to your forehead and tell yourself what a goofball you are.

Of course it wasn't the real one, Spencer.

I felt stupid, but later rather relieved. Because for a second, a moment, I had believed in something that was rather absurd. I had been taken in. I had been had. I wasn't as cynical as I thought. Hallejuah. I'm still able to believe the unbelievable.

I'm still convinced that there could be a Santa up there in the North Pole, working hard all year long, cranking out toys with his merry little band of elfin helpers. I mean, shit. I've seen stuff in Phnom Penh far, far more absurd and ridiculous than a kind old man in a red suit living north of Norway and greasing down his sleigh. Who's to say the dude doesn't exist? Until it's proven otherwise, I'm down with Kringle, is what I'm saying. (And I still plan on writing my Santa Claus novel, someday. Just not today.)

There was a bad storm here last night. Rain, thunder, lightning, the whole deal. The kind of storm that forces you to lay in bed, sweating, staring at the darkened ceiling. Thinking strange thoughts. Coining odd phrases that sometimes dissipate come morning, but every now and then linger.

I hope it rains again tonight, too.

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