Chapter 23 – I Hate Molesters
Contrary to my immediate inhibition regarding the removal of my shoes, Home Sweet Home hostel turned out to be a lot nicer than the place we’d stayed at in Phnom Penh. Not a speck of dirt had turned up on my socks and, in our room, there’d been actual beds as opposed to futon mattresses laid out on a sticky tile floor that’d been covered in ants.
Just because the place had been physically clean and free of infestation didn’t mean that it wasn’t subject to visits from another sort of vermin. Posted in the halls and on the walls of every room had been some rather disturbing signs urging guests to report any suspicious activity involving foreign grown-ups having sex with local children. Needless to say, these notifications provoked rather chilling thoughts. I mean, honestly, who does that?
“So Bob,” asked Bob’s co-worker while standing by the water cooler, “how was your vacation to Cambodia?”
“Oh,” Bob let out a pleasurable sigh. “It was amazing. Soooooo relaxing.”
“Cool. What’d ya do there?”
“I spent a few days exploring the ruins of Angkor.”
“Yeah, how were they?”
“Nice. That’s great man. How was the nightlife? You get out at all?”
“You know, I actually did get out a few times.”
“Well,” Bob’s buddy wanted more of the vicarious thrill, “how was it?”
“It was awesome.”
“Yeah, yeah. Well, tell me a little bit more about it. What’d ya do?”
“I, uh, fuckin’ went out ‘n’ paid some shady dude I met in an alley to take home one of the caged children he kept in the back of his car and then spent all night poundin’ that ten-year-old’s ass from behind up in my hotel room.”
“Jesus Bob. Get some fuckin’ help, you sick bastard.”
I’d seen a Dateline special a while back where Chris Hansen packed up his Predator game and took it to Cambodia where he helped bust a bunch of Brian Peppers wannabes that’d actually taken field trips halfway around the world to fuck kids. It was a great episode. All those molesters who’d traveled thousands of miles to shag toddlers had thought they were gonna get some action with no chance of getting caught and then “WHAM!” outta nowhere pops in the show’s host. “Hi, I’m Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC,” he begins, “and we’re doing a story on twisted fucks like you who try to have sex with children.” Upon finding out they’re going to jail and will be exposed to their families and friends back home as the monsters they really are, the men break down and repent. But it’s too late for them. Their worlds are shattered and the looks on their faces are priceless.
I grew up across the alley from a convicted child molester. He looked like a bug-eyed, hunchback lab assistant from one of the early Frankenstein movies and lurched around the neighborhood like the walking dead. He had a distinct fashion sense. He’d always be wearing a short-sleeved, plaid collared shirt – any color – on top of short shorts with high socks. He’d never wear pants, even in the winter. It was always the baggy shorts that rode a good eight inches above his knees and the high white socks below. When we were kids, we were fuckin’ terrified of this guy.
Igor, we’ll call him, had lived in a beat-up, spooky-ass, hundred-year-old mansion that looked like the type of place someone’s estranged great uncle would make them spend a night in before getting all the money he’d bequeathed in the will. Around the neighborhood, whispers of the goings-on at Igor’s haunted house abounded. It was believed that the basement of the place had been some sort of torture chamber where the walls had been lined with shelves housing jars of severed penises. None of us would dare go near the place which is probably why he’d so often been out on the prowl.
Igor’d had a knack for walking his dog every day right around the time school would let out because, hey, what attracts kiddies more than a cute puppy wearing a homemade sweater? When he wasn’t able to work that angle because school had been out for the summer, Big I would cruise around the neighborhood with the top down in his LeBaron convertible blasting the very same soundtrack the Good Humor man would from his ice cream truck. It was the perfect way to lure some eye-candy out the safety of their homes and into his line of vision.
After having spent nine months in prison for doing whatever it was he did to a young boy he’d sponsored in the Bigger Brother program, Igor began writing a newsletter to fill everybody in on what he’d been up to. He’d hand deliver these updates to all the houses on our block. When my brother and I had been playing in the living room and we’d see this guy coming up the front stairs, we’d run and hide under the table or behind the couch because we’d thought that he was coming to get us. Of course, in reality, he’d just been dropping off the latest edition of the Igor Chronicles. Among other sick things he’d discussed in these issues that my mom would try to hide from us had been a bit about how “they” jammed a cotton swab in his penis-hole while in prison. Years later, once I was too old to be fancied by Igor, he’d released a series of short stories which he’d also hand delivered. The only one I can remember had been about a half-man, half-television that became sexually aroused when people would adjust the volume or change the channel using the knobs that doubled as his nipples.
Believe it or not, Igor has a wife who’s stuck with him through it all. She’s about the same age as him and looks like Elton John. They still live together in the spooky old mansion to this day. Back when I was a kid, Elton had been a member of the choir at the local Catholic parish. She’d sing there every Sunday. Igor would tag along and sit his creepy ass in the front row every time. From sixth through eighth grade, I served as an altar boy at this church. Although that in itself sounds like an invitation to be molested, it wasn’t. Neither I nor anyone I served Mass with over the years had ever been touched by this dude, but each and every one of us (males) had been eye-fucked by him from head to toe.
As if going to church and being an altar server didn’t suck enough on its own, Igor’s presence had made the whole experience ten times more grueling. I remember one time holding a candle at the side of the podium at which the priest had been standing while reading a passage from the Bible. No more than twenty feet in front of me had been Igor, sitting with his knees pulled up to his chin and his arms wrapped around his folded legs. Basically, he’d looked the way someone would while doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. Aside from him, I’ve never seen anyone above the age of four sit like that in a public place, ever. And being up at the front of the church like that, there was nothing my parents could do to keep me from being exposed to Igor’s violating gaze. The rabid way in which he’d looked at me had been frightening. It was like the devil’d had a front row seat at the House of God.
The house I grew up in has a swimming pool in the backyard. Igor never came onto our property – at least, to our knowledge he never had – but sometimes when we’d be in the pool and he’d be walking his puppy in the alley, we’d catch him peering through the cracks of our wood-plank fence. One late summer afternoon when he didn’t think we were home, Igor entered our neighbor’s yard and walked right up to the chain link fence that divides the two properties. There he’d stood for several minutes just staring into our pool where our toys had remained from our early afternoon frolic. But it turns out we actually were home at the time. My brother and I had been watching his every move out the back window. Even though we’d been behind a locked door, we were scared shitless. We ended up getting our mom from upstairs who’d gone running out into the yard, shooing Igor away while imparting a few choice words.
Igor knew that nobody on the block liked him and that we all just wished he’d go the fuck away. He was particularly hated in my household because my brother and I were at an age that’d been just his type. Since he’d been well aware of our disposition, when someone had keyed his car – not us – he was quick to point a finger in our direction. He ended up printing signs and writing messages in sidewalk chalk near our garage. This went on for months and each note had relayed the same message. “Beware of the car key idiot. May kangaroo poo find its way into your nose.”
The guy was off his rocker. He was a scary dude. I would have nightmares about him. These dreams were never about me being molested or him coming after me or anything like that, but they were all disturbing nonetheless. The one that stands out most vividly in my mind had been one involving the swimming pool.
It had been late May or early June. The weather was starting to get hot and we decided it was time to take the winter cover off the pool. So, as a team, my family and I unhooked all the clips around the edges and began to peel the thing away. Underneath it had been the two feet of water that we’d left in there when we’d closed it up at the end of the summer previous which appeared clear and algae-free. Everything had looked normal except for the bloated body that’d been floating face down until a wave caused it to turn over. My stomach sank when I saw it was Igor who’d been drifting dead in my pool. Although I’d spent most of my childhood hating him and wishing he would just die, I never wanted it to be in the refreshing, chlorinated waters of our family swimming hole.
Back in Siem Reap, the following day, Mr. Tino came in his tuk tuk and scooped us from Home Sweet Home hostel bright and early.
“Good morning,” he said. “Are you ready to experience the ruins of Angkor?”
“Hell yeah we are, Mr. Tino.”
“Excellent,” he said as we’d climbed into the back of his auto rickshaw. “In that black bag there,” he pointed near our feet, “is a case of water. It gets quite hot here during the day and it’s very important to stay hydrated. So, help yourself. Take all you want.”
“Awesome,” I said and began chugging one right away. “Thanks a lot Mr. Tino.”
Mr. Tino put on a helmet, hopped on the motorbike at the front of the ride and pulled away from Home Sweet Home hostel. About ten minutes later, we’d arrived at the UNESCO World Heritage Site whereupon our guide handled the entrance fee at the front gate before we entered the grounds. As we whipped through a forested area, I finished chugging my first bottle of water. Minutes later, we emerged from the trees, neared and began to slow down in front of an absolute whopper of a temple. Mr. T parked the tuk tuk off the side of the road and hopped from his bike. We climbed out the carriage and joined him. There’d been no other tourists around. I was in complete awe of what I’d been seeing.
“Okay, so, this one right here is a temple that goes by the name Pre Rup,” Mr. Tino said. “It is made of sandstone and is over a thousand years old. It was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and built under King…”
Mr. Tino knew his shit. As we stared up at the magnificent monster, he proceeded to give us a thorough rundown of Pre Rup.
“Any questions?” he’d asked after a three-minute monologue.
We all shook our heads no.
“Okay, very well,” he nodded before holding his hand out towards the temple. “Would you care to explore?”
“Yo, wait, hold on a second,” I said. “They actually allow people to go climbing all over these buildings?”
“Yes,” he grinned, “if that is what you would like to do.”
“That’s definitely something that I’d like to do.”
“Well, alright then,” he said while climbing into the shady carriage of the tuk tuk. “You guys go right ahead. I will be waiting for you here whenever you are finished looking around and taking photographs.”
Being free to climb, touch and even do cartwheels on these ancient beasts seemed too good to be true. It felt like the complete opposite of the experience I’d had in Rome. When visiting the Roman Forum and other historical structures around Italy’s capital, I got the same feeling I do when at a strip club. What I mean by this is that for a certain price they’ll let you in and let you get near the beautiful ruins but if you overstep your bounds and put your grubby mitts somewhere you’re not supposed to, you’re more likely than not gonna end up getting your ass kicked by some big Italian guy and getting dragged outta the place in a bloody mess. But visiting Angkor was different. I felt less like a visitor and more like a guest.
Following Pre Rup, Mr. Tino took us to a similar temple called Ta Keo. On the way over, I’d chugged another bottle of water. When we got there, Mr. T had once again given us the story behind the temple-mountain at hand before setting us free to explore. After having a look around and snapping a few shots from different angles, we were carted over to a temple called Ta Prohm.
Ta Prohm had been used a few years back for a scene in Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. TP isn’t as large as the first two temples we’d visited, but tends to be a big tourist draw due to the ominous Strangler Figs that grow there. Over time, the Strangler Fig has adapted and developed the ability to germinate in unusual places. From wherever its seed has sprouted – be it the middle of a forest or on the roof of a twelfth century temple – like the arms of a giant octopus, the plant’s serpentine roots rapidly reach downward and begin to strangle the host structure in a quest to feed its increasing demand for nutrition. Meanwhile, the twisted trunk and arthritic branches writhe steadily upward, grasping for sunlight like some wretched beast from a claustrophobic Tim Burton nightmare.
During the time we’d spent exploring the Strangler Fig infested temple of Ta Prohm, I’d put down yet another bottle of water.
Lining the approach to our next destination, on both sides of the street had been a block-long row of statues taking the form of short, stumpy, expressionless men. At the end of this stretch had been a sixty-foot-tall stone gate with a giant face staring down at all who enter the ancient city of Angkor Thom.
Within Angkor Thom, Mr. T pulled up to a place called the Terrace of Elephants. It was probably around noon and I’d just finished my fourth bottle of water. Mr. T did his spiel and we made plans to meet with him back there about an hour later. He’d indicated that there were stands serving food nearby had we been interested. We were interested and decided to head that way.
In that area had been numerous tents from where t-shirts, hats and other keepsakes were being sold as well as those offering food, drinks and ice cream. As we approached these tents to see what kind of lunch options they had, we were besieged from every angle by aggressive hawkers pressuring us to buy this, that and the other thing. Among these fiends had been a nomadic pack of trinket-selling children.
I was overwhelmed. The way the sun had been beating down made me feel like an ant under a magnifying glass, my bladder was on the brink of exploding from pounding waters all morning long and the last thing I wanted to do was be anywhere near a pack of unaccompanied children after having read the sign on the wall of our hotel room about what sick shit some visitors like to do to kids in Cambodia. It all made me feel super uncomfortable.
Ya see, I used to have this catering job back home at a place called Unforgettable Edibles. All it entailed had been delivering food to the people that ordered it – pretty basic shit. These deliveries were done in company vehicles. Oftentimes, the only company vehicle available had been an unmarked white work van without any windows in the back. Of course, when I was a kid, thanks to all the police blotters reporting how often this type of vehicle had been used to abduct children, we’d referred to these as “molester vans.”
A lot of the clientele for UE happened to be Catholic grammar schools around Chicago’s northwest side. The faculty at these schools would often order group lunches which were to be delivered right at the heart of recess time during which loads of children were running around the playground. Some of these schools are quite big and have many doors. Since I’d never been to these schools before and had never been given specific directions as to which door the food was supposed to be delivered, I was often at a loss for what to do and I’d end up slowly circling the building in this white molester van while recess was in session, peering out the window in search of a door that looks like it might lead to the main office.
One time I’d been assigned to deliver lunch to a place called St. Tarcissus grade school. The molester van had been the only vehicle available at the time and, you guessed it, all the kids had been out for recess. The idea of parking the van and walking around the school to first find the office, then going back for the food afterwards hadn’t occurred to me at the time so I proceeded to circle the premises at about three miles per hour trying to figure out where in the fuck I was supposed to drop off that goddam food. During my second roll around the school, one of the recess dads had set a barricade in front of the molester van. My hair was long at the time. I hadn’t shaven in like three weeks. I looked like a total scumbag. He approached the driver’s side door and I rolled down the window.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Oh shit,” I thought, putting myself in his place. “This guy probably thinks I’m lookin’ to get me some. This must be what it feels like to be on an episode of To Catch a Predator.”
“Look guy,” I started off, “I’m just here from Unforgettable Edibles tryna to drop off a buncha sandwiches for the ladies of the school office.”
“Sandwiches? Do they know you’re coming?”
“Yeah dude. They ordered the sandwiches, I bring the sandwiches to ‘em. That’s the way the system works.”
“Where you from again?”
“Unforgettable Edibles,” I pinched my shirt and pulled up the part housing the company emblem.
“Hmm, alright,” he still seemed totally skeptical of my reason for being there. “Well, the office is right over that way and up that flight of stairs.”
I felt like such a molester that day. And I wanted to never feel that way again.
So, back in Cambodia, the savage pack of children had us surrounded and were waving all sorts of garbage at us while shouting, “Dollar! Dollar!” Next to some of the tented venders had been a bathroom. Since I really had to piss and didn’t wanna be around all those kids, I opted to kill two birds with one stone by taking a little stroll. But as I stole away to the urinary sanctuary, a few of the kids decided to follow after me, continuing to yell about dollars while waving cheap bracelets around.
“Nope,” I waved ‘em off. “No thanks.”
“Dollar! You buy!”
“Nope,” I said as I neared facilities. “I’m not buyin’ it.”
“You buy! Give me dollar!”
By this time, we’d reached the door leading into the men’s room – a place where I was about to pull out my penis so I could take a piss. I don’t know whether or not these kids would’ve actually followed me in there trying to sell me their bullshit, but I didn’t feel like finding out.
“NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!” I shouted while pointing at each of the kids. “I’m trying to take a piss here! Get the fuck away from me! I don’t want any of your stupid fuckin’ bullshit!”
They all scurried away.
Following their banishment, I entered the facilities, looked down and noticed the feet of someone who’d been taking a shit in the stall next to the urinal who’d definitely just heard me yelling at a bunch of kids. I felt like a total jackass but I had to stick to my guns. I fuckin’ hate molesters, man. And I don’t want kids anywhere near me when I plan on letting the beast out of its cage.
Photos from Angkor…