Drunk Richard Dreyfus: an expat species that most commonly lurks in those corners of the world that are plagued with political unrest, food shortages, and natural disasters. No surprise then, to find a prime Drunk Richard Dreyfus specimen in the darkest corner of the Hotel Summit lounge.
It was my first night in country. He sat perched on a stool, adorned in typical Drunk Richard Dreyfus plumage: Desert khaki cargo pants. Blue button collar cotton shirt, emblazoned with the logo of some NGO or another. Canvas vest festooned with pockets for all the gear his cargo pants can’t handle.
The Drunk Richard Dreyfus diet consists primarily of alcohol, which should come as no surprise, but while in their natural habitat — hotel bars — their specific choice of alcohol tends to hail from the Bordeaux region, lightly oaked, with a finish of dark currant.
Drunk Richard Dreyfus eyed me with suspicion as I sat down a few stools away, but he approved of my order: a gin and tonic, another major staple of the Drunk Richard Dreyfus diet.
“Sorry for staring, friend,” he began. “It’s just been so long since I’ve seen another American.”
Drunk Richard Dreyfuses are notoriously patriotic.
I confirmed my American-ness (sometimes mistaken for Canadian-ness) and proceeded with the ritual expected amongst all Expatis Americanis.
“Which part of the States are you from?” I asked.
“Ah yes, Michigan.” I quickly scanned my database of state trivia, then held up my palm. “Which part?” I asked.
Drunk Richard Dreyfus smiled at my apparent encyclopedic knowledge of the Great Lakes region, and pointed at my thumb. “Just outside of Detroit,” he said.
Now I was in. I had gained his trust. Time to explore the mysterious world of this Drunk Richard Dreyfus.
“What brings you to Kathmandu?” I began.
“Oh, a little bit of this, a bit of that,” he responded cryptically.
Fascinating! His ambiguity suggests so many possibilities. He could be an aid worker. He could be a missionary. He could be a spook for any one of several governmental agencies. He could be a dirty old man who perpetuates the traffic of human beings, thus necessitating the presence of those aforementioned aid workers. Really, when it comes to Drunk Richard Dreyfus, he could be all of the above.
“And are you based in the city, or does your… organization keep you here at the Summit?”
He smiled, this time showing his teeth, dyed in tannic purple. “I just stay wherever business takes me. That’s the grand thing about this life, you know.”
With that, he emptied the remainder of the Château Louriol bottle crudely well past the halfway mark of his wine goblet, and promptly requested another bottle. Excellent. His defenses would soon crumble.
He took a mighty swill, and changed the subject. “Tell me, friend. Have you explored Thamel yet?”
“No, I’m still pretty new here.” I confessed. “What is this ‘Thamel’ of which you speak?”
“Ah,” his eyes lit up, reflecting fond, perhaps decadent memories of years past, “Thamel. Thamel, Thamel, Thamel. I tell you what one does in Thamel, friend. One goes to Thamel to get lost. To forget. To remember. And then to forget once again.”
More wine. Then he continued.
“Do this for yourself, friend. Go into Thamel. Don’t pay any more than 500 rupee for the taxi. Then go into Thamel. Go into Thamel, find an alleyway, walk down. See what you find. From there, find another alley. Then another. You can thank me later for this advice.”
Side note: Thamel is indeed a place where one goes to lose oneself, as I learned shortly after this encounter. The hub of tourism in the Kathmandu Valley, Thamel teems with rug shops, incense makers, bad Korean food, sweatshop souvenirs and sportswear, drunk Dutchmen, holy men, disoriented Christian missionaries, and hawkers of all wares from local hooch to hashish to human beings. And that’s all before one gets lost wandering down alleyways.
I thanked him for his advice, eager to drive the conversation back to his elusive origins. He was nearly ready for the next bottle of Bordeaux. I had to act fast. He might fall unconscious soon.
“It looks like you’ve just returned from the field,” I remarked, noting his rugged attire with its many cargo pockets. “How was it out there?”
“Oh yes.” A long, ponderous gulp this time. His eyes glossed over, wandering off someplace distant. “The Terai.”
Placing an article before then name of a place. Another trait of the Drunk Richard Dreyfus. See also: The Sudan. The Ukraine. I allowed him some time to drift away, to go back to that place.
“The Terai is…” he began, now surveying me with hesitation and a degree of paranoia, “..another place entirely. It is not Thamel, friend.”
Was that terror I read on his face? Or remorse?
I would learn later that week civil unrest in the Terai had recently hit a boiling point. Protestors beaten, arrested, and sometimes disappeared. Cops killed. Fuel, food, and other necessary imports blockaded at the border. Maoist insurgents calling for nationwide strikes.
Ten years ago, I’d have headed right back to the airport, but like Drunk Richard Dreyfus, this was not my first rodeo.
“Let usss talk instead of pleasant things,” he said, now slurring slightly, “You mussst try the hotel buffet, friend. Their tikka masssala is the finessst in Patan.”
Drunk Richard Dreyfus was eager to move on, and I was happy to oblige. We clinked our glasses and drank to happier days, eyes locked in that way two men’s eyes lock when they’ve seen some shit.
I never did learn what exactly this Drunk Richard Dreyfus did for a living, what horrors he had seen, or for all I know, what horrors he had perpetuated. Such is the nature of the Drunk Richard Dreyfus. I wish him well, in his lifetime of sleepless nights ahead.