From almost the first moment that Colin Cotterill and I laid eyes on one another, our acquaintanceship has been characterized by an easy back-and-forth banter, usually at one another’s expense. Forget your phone? Drop your keys? Don a shirt so loud that even Jimmy Buffett would cringe? Head for the passenger side of the car in Thailand without realizing that it is in reality the driver’s side, thanks to the right-hand steering wheel (guess who did that?)? Do it at your peril, for it will certainly come up in conversation at some later time, and with the requisite amount of embellishment that you might expect from folks who eke out livings as writers.
At the beginning of my stay, the “T-Belt” warning light flashed ominously in the instrument panel of Colin’s aging Toyota Mighty X pickup (this is the same vehicle as the Tacoma pickup in the US, albeit with a seriously puffed-up moniker). “What is a T-Belt?” he asked me, with some trepidation.
“You’re a guy and you don’t even know that?” I countered, scornfully, channeling my inner Tim Allen. I went on to explain its function to him, possibly incorrectly, figuring what the hell, he’ll never know. He did, however, schedule an appointment with the local Toyota dealer for two days hence. This presented a problem: the girls had gone home, so there was nobody to drive the second car to take him home after he dropped the truck off. Although I drive a motorcycle and a bicycle on the left side of the road in Japan, I was a little leery about driving a car on the “wrong” side of the road, particularly his nice shiny new Honda (and double particularly in Thailand, where the only rule of the road seems to be “me first”).
“I’ll just throw a bicycle into the back, and ride it home after I drop off the truck,” he said.
“Sounds cool,” I replied. “Mind if I come along?”
He looked at me dubiously. “It’s kind of a long ride, maybe twenty kilometers.”
No worries, I thought. I have ridden that far and farther many times in Japan. We noted the odometer reading when we left the house: XXXX26.3. Every so often I would steal a glance: XXXX39.7; XXXX44.2. He caught me once and said philosophically: “Too late to turn back now.” When we got to the dealer, the odometer read XXXX55.1, just shy of thirty kilometers. In all fairness, we would go back a slightly shorter way, but it was still a pretty long ride in the heat. I got off to a slightly rocky start: first I caught my pants leg in the chain, and then I suffered a flat tire, the rear one, naturally. The first was easily sorted, and thanks to the ministrations of a kindly stranger with tools, so was the second.
The rest of the ride went without a hitch, a nice ride along back roads dotted with temples at every turn.
Total elapsed time: just over an hour. Although I was a bit sweaty from the heat, I wasn’t winded at all. As we drank long pulls of cold water by his kitchen sink, Colin looked over at me and paid me a Colinesque compliment: “You know, for a rotund guy, you’re not entirely unfit.” I may have to get one of my quilting cousins to make me a sampler with that saying embroidered thereon for posterity.
I was put in mind of something my Uncle George told me shortly before my first-ever date: “Be sure to compliment her looks or her outfit. And make sure it is not a backhanded compliment, like ‘for a fat girl, you don’t sweat much’.”
I am now compiling a list of compliments to be doled out in Colin’s direction the next time I see him, for instance: “As English guys go, you don’t seem totally gay.”
Coda: When it came time to pick up his truck, I followed Colin home in his shiny Honda and I didn’t crash it or anything. No compliment was forthcoming.