Friday, November 16, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Gold Club

As far as the scene in Port Moresby goes, the Gold Club in the Lamana Hotel is probably the most popular joint in town. Interested to check it out, I went over on a Friday evening.

I didn't know exactly where the entrance to the club was, so I entered the hotel lobby and inquired at the reception desk. The young lady on duty was more than happy to point me in the right direction, and she sent me down a corridor that was actually for employees only. I didn't realize it at the time, but her backdoor shortcut saved me from the 25-kina (~$9.44) cover charge.

When I entered the Gold Club, I wasn't immediately impressed. There was a nice enough bar off to my left, but to my right, there were loads of video poker machines (pokies) and there were plenty of people glued to them. Just past the bar, there was a buffet that didn't look half bad, and beyond that there was a band playing 80s rock covers. There was a small dance floor in front of the band.

There was a good crowd gathered, so I weaseled my way to the bar to buy a drink. I ordered a beer.

“It's still happy hour,” the bartender informed me, “buy one, get one free.”

“OK,” I said. “Give me two.”

I had meant that I would buy one and take one for free, but the bartender instead thought I wanted to buy two and get two free. He popped the tops off four bottles before I realized the misunderstanding.

The quantity wasn't an issue really, but I didn't like the idea of taking four beers at once. Besides looking silly carrying around so many drinks, the beer would get warm before I could drink it.

Anyhow, what was done was done.

I grabbed my stash of beers and found a corner of the bar to park myself.

As happens in a bar, I started talking with some people sitting near me.

My first friend on this particular night was a lovely young woman named Helen. She worked in a building across the street from the Embassy. We talked for a while before she had to retreat to a quieter area to take a phone call.

The woman on my left must have been waiting for Helen to leave, because Helen had barely gotten up from her chair before Marigold introduced herself. Marigold told me that she was a travel agent, but it was later revealed that her sister was actually the travel agent. Marigold just did odd jobs around the office.

Upon hearing that I was new in PNG, Marigold took it upon herself to introduce me to people she knew. She trooped me around the bar, through the pokies lounge, and even to the high-stakes pokies room. All the while, she introduced me to friends of hers. While this was a nice gesture, it was also useless unfortunately. I am doing good to remember people with whom I have real interaction. In the case of all these people whose hands I shook and whose names I heard once, it was almost guaranteed that I would have forgotten them by morning.

Marigold was a trip, and we shared a few drinks and a lot of laughs. Helen, meanwhile, returned from her phone call and sat back on my right side. I briefly carried on separate conversations with both her and Marigold, but this was way too much work. I attempted to merge us all into a single discussion, but this didn't take. Helen, in particular, resisted, preferring instead to have a discussion with just the two of us.

This was a miscalculation on her part, though, and eventually she resisted herself out of the conversation all together. Perhaps it was bad form for me to stop paying attention to her since I had been talking with her first, but then again, she was the one who had left to talk on the phone.

In any case, Helen decided to move on before long. Before she left, we exchanged mobile numbers, so I guess there were no hard feelings.

When Helen left, Marigold and I continued talking. Soon enough, though, Helen's chair was back in circulation. A most scandalous young woman named Millie was now on my right side.

As extroverted as Marigold was, she couldn't hold a candle to Millie, who managed to insert herself into our discussion and dominate it from the start. Everyone was playing nice for a while, but eventually Marigold excused herself so she could go talk to her uncles whom she had spotted elsewhere in the bar. I don't doubt that she wanted to talk to her relatives, but I think she really left because she was tired of competing with Millie. As she left, we exchanged phone numbers.

Once Marigold left, Millie asked me to dance. I agreed, but one dance was definitely enough for me. The first thing that didn't work for me was the ridiculous height differential between us. I towered over Millie by a good two feet, and I'm sure I looked like I was dancing with my 10-year-old sister. No one would have really mistaken her for a 10 year old, though, because of what she was wearing. She had on a silver dress that could not have been any shorter and still qualified as a dress. I felt a teeny bit conspicuous on the dance floor with her.

The Gold Club is divided into two main parts. Up to this point, I had been in the inside bar and pokies side of the house. There was also a connected dance club which had a stage and a large dance floor that were open to the night sky. There was a bar outside to serve the nightclub.

For people who had ponied up the money to become members of the club (and for those people who were friends of members), there was an upper VIP level of the club. There was also a room with pool tables that was just off of the main dance floor.

As Millie and I made our way off the inside dance floor, I told her that I was going to go outside, and she followed along.

Things were pretty quiet outside. The dance club hadn't sprung to life yet, and the stage was being decorated for some little girls' beauty pageant that was to be held later in the weekend. We got a drink at the outside bar, and while we were there, a woman involved in the pageant starting talking with us. She had a daughter who was going to be competing, and she tried to hawk us some tickets for the show. I wasn't interested in the pageant in the first place, and when I heard that the seats cost a few hundred kina each, I was even less interested.

When we finished our drinks, Millie pointed out how dead the dance club was.

“I know a better place,” she told me. “We can go there for a few drinks, and by the time we get back here the party will be going.”

The place she was pushing was the Country Club. I had never been there and I didn't know where it was, but Millie assured me that it was nice and that it was close. As an added bonus, her uncle owned the place and she was sure that we could get freebies.

I agreed to give the Country Club a look, and we left the Gold Club. We hailed a ratty taxi outside the hotel, and we both had to get in on the same side of the car because one door didn't work.

In a few minutes we were at the gates of the Country Club. The taxi wasn't permitted to enter, so Millie paid the driver 5 kina (~$1.90) and we walked down the driveway to the bar.

As we entered the establishment, I felt that Millie had misrepresented things just a bit. The place itself was nothing special (a run-down bar and some pokies), and forget about a good crowd. Besides the two of us, there were only a handful of people scattered around the room.

At least if the place sucked, there was still the possibility of free drinks. Wouldn't you know, though, that this didn't pan out either. Millie's uncle wasn't there that night, so she called him on his mobile. Her aunt answered instead, however, and she read Millie the riot act. I was sitting next to her, and I could hear the discussion quite well.

Apparently, Millie had recently treated other friends to drinks and had rung up a substantial tab. Her aunt cut her off, which meant that I wasn't getting anything on the house that night.

So, compared to the Gold Club, everything at the Country Club sucked. Since we were already there, though, we settled into a couch and ordered some drinks.

Then for over an hour Millie dished out a series of tales that revolved around her former relationship with an Australian man, Trevor, who was thirty years her senior. She very freely discussed how he was her sugar daddy – how he supported her and gave her money and gifts in direct exchange for sex – and many of her stories were R-rated.

She was a feisty one, and her stories were shocking, touching, and amusing in turns.

She and Trevor had been together since she was in high school. At the time, she was really in love with a classmate of hers, a Filipino boy named Albert. They had dated for years, but when he learned about Trevor, he told her that she had to choose between the two of them.

She continued seeing both men, but told Albert that he was the only one. Trevor was never under this impression, though, because Millie would often tell him about Albert to make him jealous. She did succeed in making Trevor jealous and he continually tried to follow her to Albert's house so that he could confront him.

Things eventually came to a head at the Gold Club of all places. While Millie was on a date with Albert, Trevor showed up at the club looking for them. He found them, and a fight erupted. I find it hard even picturing a fight between a 17-year-old boy and a 45-year-old man, but this was the scene. As they slugged away at each other, Millie fled the club in tears, overcome by embarrassment and shame.

That night, Millie’s relationship with Albert died on the floor of the Gold Club. He knew for sure that Trevor was not out of the picture and that Millie had been lying to him. He dumped her straight away.

There were several more chances for her to mend things with Albert, but she admitted to him each time that he asked that she wasn't going to leave Trevor. Young and shortsighted, she chose the established man with money over the young man who only had potential. The sad irony of the whole situation is that Albert became successful in his own right and is now an engineer in Canada. Even on the day he left for Canada, he asked her to come with him. Millie obviously didn't go, and as I was talking with her, she was still regretting her decision.

Her choice to stay with Trevor wasn't without problems of its own. Trevor was a drinker, and he would often abuse Millie when he was drunk. As she put it, he would typically belt her while he was wasted and not even realize it. The next day when he would see her, he would be horrified. Once, he beat her so severely that she was hardly recognizable the next day. Instead of taking her to the hospital like any decent person would, he kept her locked in the house for months so that no one would know what had happened. It was weeks before she could even open her eyes, and a month before she got out of bed.

While she was under house arrest, her aunt stopped by once to check on her, having not seen her around for several weeks. Trevor allowed her to see Millie, and her aunt took her away immediately. Her aunt also threatened to kill Trevor if he ever laid a hand on Millie again.

The abuse resumed once the healing was done, of course, but Millie concealed it from her family.

Over the course of their rocky relationship, Millie did extract revenge of her own from time to time. After he nearly beat her to death, she decided to give him a taste of his own medicine. Once she had recovered and they were back together, she made sure that he was good and drunk one night. Then she worked him over with a bat and hid at a friend's house for several weeks while he simmered down.

Another time, she had him in bed with a knife at his throat. On that occasion, he threw her across the room by her hair and beat her up again.

Trevor had 2 young children and Millie would sometimes watch them. The rest of the time, they stayed at their mother's, Trevor's ex-wife's, house.

Trevor sent Millie to Australia several times, and on one occasion, he sent her with his 2 kids. When he came to meet up with them a few days later, he found that Millie had left the kids with his mother and gone off to visit her friends and family elsewhere in Australia. He tracked her down and beat her.

While I'm on the subject, Millie also told me how she also used to fight with Trevor's mother. They would often stay in her house in Brisbane, and during any argument that would spring up, Millie would always toss out something about how she was f**king her son. During one such argument, Trevor threw her down the stairs.

Millie knew about Trevor's two little kids, but on one trip to Australia, she learned that Trevor also had a much older son who was in fact Millie's age.

In an effort to hurt Trevor, she tried to seduce his son. The boy wouldn't take the bait, though.

Besides the failed seduction attempt, she and Trevor's adult son had other recurring problems. To show him that she was not one to mess with, Millie told the son’s Australian girlfriend that they were sleeping together. His girlfriend promptly left him.

She told me how her father had tried to kill Trevor when Trevor had accused him of having an incestuous relationship with Millie.

She also told me how Trevor had tried to pay her father her bride-price so that they could get married. (Bride-price is paid to the parents of the bride by the young man who wishes to marry her. It can be in the form of cash, land, pigs, shells, etc., or it can be a combination of things.) Anyhow, Millie's father refused to accept Trevor's bride-price.

In the end, Trevor lost his job in PNG, and his work visa was cancelled. Now he lives in Fiji and continues to beg Millie to join him.

According to her, they are definitely finished, and she hopes she never sees him again.

I don't know if all of her stories were true or not, but I don't really have any reason to doubt them. In any case, they left me thinking that she and Trevor were both mentally unstable.

In the time that it took her to bring all the skeletons out of her closet, we had each finished two drinks. When she suggested that we go for a third, I suggested that we head back to the Gold Club.

It was after 11:00 when we left the Country Club, and the crowd was no less pathetic than when we had arrived.

We caught a taxi back to the Gold Club, and the party was in full swing. We went to the dance club outside, and it was good fun dancing in the rain that was pouring down.

Millie didn't like the rain, though, and she suggested that we go play pool where it was dry. I was amenable, so we went down into the billiard pit. The area was full of people, and all the tables were in use. There were also several people waiting for a turn.

We didn't have to wait long because a group that was using one of the tables allowed us to work in with them. Millie had really played up her skills, and I got the impression that she was a shark. This couldn't have been farther from reality. She actually had no skills whatsoever, and I ended up carrying our team with my own sorry skills. The other people were much better than we were, but we won a few games in a row because of errors that they made (scratching on the eight ball and so forth). Winning because of luck time after time was nothing honorable, so I bowed out after three games.

As we were coming out of the billiard area, I spotted my good friend and colleague Carolyn in the VIP area. I waved to her and walked in her direction. I hadn't realized that she was coming down to see me as well, so by the time I reached the place she had been, she was gone. We never did find each other in the crowd.

Still trying to avoid the rain, Millie suggested that we go back to the inside bar, and we did. No sooner had we ordered drinks than one of Millie's friends came up. Her friend, a Papua New Guinean woman, was with her boyfriend, an Australian man. His name was Trevor. Not really.

Anyhow, the boyfriend was a maintenance man for Air Niugini, and he told me a bit about the Air Niugini fleet. The bottom line was that the planes were maintained well and that I should fly with confidence.

I had truly grown tired of Millie's company by now, and I was hardly paying her any attention. I was hoping that she would get the hint and go stalk someone else, but instead, she started getting clingy. As we talked with her friends who were sitting across from us, she also got a bit handsy under the table.

At the time, my car hadn't arrived to PNG yet, and I was still dependent on motor pool. I had pre-booked a ride home from the club, and as the pick-up time approached, my phone rang. I was saved by the bell.

The phone call was the driver telling me that he was en route, although I told my tablemates that he was waiting for me outside. As I excused myself, Millie grabbed my hand and walked with me to the door.

“I have a place just across the street,” she said.

“Be sure to look both ways for cars before you cross,” I replied.

And I left. We didn't exchange phone numbers.

Then with several minutes left to kill, I stood in the rain with the cabbies and smoked a complimentary cigarette or two.

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