I caught my dear friend Evil Neil going through his New Year's presents last week as I paid him a visit in his office.
PHOTO: PORNPROM SARTTARBHAYA, ILLUSTRATION: NATTAYA SRISAWANG
Despite his name, Evil Neil is actually a very generous, kind person; any guffaws you may hear across Bangkok this morning are merely sections of his staff perusing this column and getting to that sentence, but hey, you can't please all the people all the time. As a result of his intermittent kindness and connections, each year his office transforms into a sub-branch of Central department store. Boxes and boxes of chocolates, towels, diaries, calendars, framed photos of Doi Suthep, shirts and gift baskets clutter up the place, and it appears the Junk Factor is high in 2010, judging by his first question.
"D'you want this?" he mutters as he rips open another gift to reveal a delightful, but ultimately useless, pen holder.
"No, I don't want a pen holder, but the Penfolds red in that gift basket over there wouldn't go astray," I say, pointing to the black bottle perched beside a can of Spam.
(What's this obsession with Spam in these otherwise regal gift baskets? Hasn't anybody told Thais the terrible truth about this product? I mean, it's a bit like throwing in a bottle of lao khao rice whiskey amid a dozen Johnny Walker Black Labels. Gasp! Spam! Just what I wanted for Christmas! Come here and lets give you a big hug!)
Why don't you take the 2010 diaries or desk calendars instead? You're a writer, arent you? He points to 10 such diaries and desk calendars stacked on top of one another like construction workers in the back of a pick-up.
My feelings towards Smooth As Silk desk calendars are akin to how I feel about motorcyclists on Rama IV Road; I decline the very kind offer and steer the conversation back to the Penfolds, but Evil Neil is not taking the bait.
"What do you think this is?" he asks as he lifts up a flat box. He opens it, revealing a set of scales.
Who in their right mind would think to give a set of digital bathroom scales as a New Year's gift? It is the kind of gift you give Fat Aunty Val as a wake-up call, or to that person who for family, work or religious reasons you must pretend to like.
"I've got an idea," says Evil Neil. He puts the set of scales down at the entrance to his office. "Now everybody who comes in here has to weigh themselves first," he announces.
His long-suffering secretary is the first to enter. Ping is an attractive, trendy woman who is also a slip of a thing; one gust of wind and she's out of that 28th floor office window in Klong Toey quicker than a temple pigeon.
"I want to confirm your meeting this afternoon at 4pm with ..." but Ping has stopped dead in her tracks. At the word "afternoon" she has looked down at her feet and noticed the scales. She looks up at her boss and me with a smile and a strange "Okay, so what now?" look on her face.
"Go on," says Evil Neil from behind his desk. "Stand on the scales." Poor Ping has enough on her plate to warrant a set of scales in her boss's office, but she accepts this minor hiccup in corporate life without flinching. Stepping out of her high heels, she glides onto the scales.
A hand goes to the chest as she gasps: "Tai laew ... 47kg ... oo-an jung." Here is a bone-thin, beautiful young lady with a figure Western women would give up a lifetime of Vegemite for, looking horrified at the screen and thinking she is fat at 47kg. I can't even imagine how I would feel if I weighed 47kg. Well, I probably wouldn't feel anything at all, since it would require the removal of my head and nervous system to get down to that weight. But the revelation has changed Ping - she is not the bright and bubbly thing that she was just a moment ago. One gets the feeling Ping's cat is going to get a swift kick as she enters her fashionable apartment later that evening.
Not five minutes later and Grace, our big boss's secretary, is in the office. "Khun Neil, don't forget about the document that must be signed by tomorrow," she says, then looks down.
"Go on," says Evil Neil from behind his desk. "Stand on the scales."
Grace is a few years older and wiser than Ping. She is still very attractive but is clinging to precious life on the right cliffside of 40, though not for long. "Okay!" she says as she steps on the scales. Does anybody in this country think to rise up and go against the orders now and again? The numbers climb quickly, past Ping's weight where the number 47 thumbs its nose snobbishly. Grace is flickering between 51 and 52.
Again, her demeanour changes. She is holding a single sheet of paper in her hand, and she reaches over to Evil Neil's desk to put it down - as if that's going to make a difference. "Well, that's standard weight for a Thai woman," she says, stepping off, and brushing some non-existent lint off her jeans. Feisty Grace is now forlorn Grace when she leaves.
Once she is gone, it is time for me to leave. "I gotta go back to work," I say.
"Not before you weigh yourself," says Evil Neil.
"I'm not going to weigh myself," I answer, and an evil smile perches precariously on Evil Neil's lips.
"Oh yes you are. Go on."
"It's only for people entering your office."
"Stop changing the rules. I'm not standing on your damn scales! Look at the effect its had on your first two visitors! There's not a single person who will stand on those scales and feel happy. You have successfully managed to place an object in your office that immediately upsets anybody who walks in here - besides you, of course."
By this time Evil Neil is up and standing between me and the door, blocking my escape. I contemplate calling the police.
"Look at me - I can do it," he says as he stands on them himself. But there is an expression of lament that flickers over his visage as the Misery Plate announces he is 85kg. "I guess I'm back at the gym tomorrow." Then he is off the thing and clutching me by my shoulders as he attempts to physically shove me onto the scales.
"No Neil! Stop it!" I cry. "You don't know what you're doing!"
We are saved by his mobile phone, which springs to life. I make my escape. Soon I am safely in the lift and back down to my office, and for the first time I don't feel so unloved because I don't receive the same number of New Year's gifts as Evil Neil does. Instead I have an office filled with Thai desserts, chocolates and crisps left by me and my lovely staff for all to share - all those things that contribute to my being utterly depressed if I were to step on Evil Neil's latest toy.