I am tough on Southeast Asian kings.
A few years ago, I was in Phnom Penh when the Cambodia king died – sending the capital into a state of mourning and quiet. Last November, I arrived in Thailand right after their king had died and coming back again now, the country still mourns.
The Grand Palace is partially open again. Phoebe was able to see the Emerald Buddha amongst the hordes of go-here, go-there Chinese tourist groups but the majority of the grounds remained closed.
I woke up the day after our visit to “dreadful news” – my friend, mentor, and older guy in my life, Paul Nace had died. When it is morning here, it’s the previous night back home so all my friends had had the day to send emails, comment and absorb the news. For me, the email and the news arrived with my coffee and the birds along the canal where I stay.
Luckily, I learned my lesson with Nace.
He and I didn’t talk all the time, once a week or so. Often it was phone tag, but then he’d pick up and we’d catch up on his alternative energy business, my book, his boat and my kids – and politics. I meet Nace in 2004 on the Kerry Campaign – he had been in Naval Training with JK, San Diego I think, and the two of them had formed a lifelong friendship. Nace was part of the old Vietnam Veteran crew I enjoyed so much back in 2004 and had stayed in touch with since. From Tommy Vallely to Max Cleland, it was John’s fellow vets that really had his back and all volunteered to do what they could to help John win.
Nace then lived in the same town I do – north of Boston, in Gloucester with his amazingly funny smart ass wife Sally. Sally is such a comical woman that when she emailed that she had lost Paul, I assure you I am not the only one that wanted to say ‘go find him then Bones.’
A few years ago – back to the lesson learned – I got out of the country to Africa having not spoken to Nace in a bit and by the time I got back I found out he was in the hospital – suffering from CPD. He’d carry oxygen with him the rest of his life – it cut back on his golf but he made it out on his boat. Sally got her captain’s license. And so he got to spend a lot of time on the sea.
So I made a point to actually talk to Nace before I left. He was enthused about his business – excited to hear about the book launch and more excited to read it when I got back and had some more copies. I thanked him in the credits – I didn’t tell him on the phone – I wanted him to see it.
I thought of all of this all day and then headed out that night in Bangkok.
Comparatively speaking, Thailand is pretty close to Vietnam and I felt near to Nace in the hot humid air. Like most Vietnam veterans if not all, there is the sense that if you made it back you did better than some so the rest of life is extra.
I headed south from the hotel cutting around the madness of Khao San preferring the quiet of the river – up and through the new shopping mall and to the far side of the palace where the guards were lined up in the night.
Nace had a great laugh, a full throated laugh that turned into a snicker and I thought of him sitting at Duckworth Bistro at the bar and his laughter came back to me as I picked up the pace.
Billboards of the dead King fill the streets months after his death. There was the line of men and women inside the palace waiting to pay their respects – on the far side of the palace they still stream out – a man with a loudspeaker tells them to come this way – there is free food and cold waiter and a nurse in an old fashioned nurse’s hat for whom the heat or the sadness becomes too much.
Nace taught me a lot about politics. I had never worked on a political campaign till 2004 and I learned more about what was really happening upstairs at the campaign office with Nace, Vallely, and that gang than I ever did downstairs in the main campaign. Peter Daou and I spent hours with that crew and we tried to fight back against the Swift Boaters with the resources we had there – we tried we failed.
Six months after we lost, I called Nace. “I am only spending half the day in a fetal position, so I am getting better. How are the kids?”
He thought the DC consultants were morons (they are) he was skeptical of Hillary (right again) and he thought Trump had a chance (because of a and b above.)
Bangkok is a massive beyond modern city but at a night the old Thailand comes out. You see it in the small markets that pop up on what are massively busy streets in the day. You see it in how people sit on the steps of buildings and talk. Even on Khao San, an old man pulls out his Singer sewing machine and sews among the boys holding the signs advertising three buckets of beer for cheap, cheap price. I went all the way down to Chinatown, turned around and followed one of the canals back. All through the city, the old king’s faced stared down on me as memories of Nace large and small came back to me. And through all of them, his laughter and charm dominated.
The King will be missed by his family those that knew him and by millions more who felt as if they did. One of the popular mourning t-shirts being sold has on it – I was lucky enough to be born in the reign of the King.
Nace will be mourned by all that knew him – from his friends in the Navy, from politics, from golf courses, from those on both Capes, and in many more places around the world. I’d never get a t-shirt made up saying I was lucky enough to meet Paul Nace, but it’s not the worst idea.
Two hours later, I came back to the Democracy Monument, and up over the small bridge where I turn left to get back to the hotel. The sweat pours off of me. My phone picks up the wifi from the hotel as I turn my music off.
The Google news headline that pops up is about how Chelsea Clinton is receiving a lifetime achievement award and is looking to run in 2020 for the Senate in New York.
Nace would have fucking loved that.
Walking The Earth is a creative expedition designed to highlight places worth saving and people worth supporting. Back in 2004, we ran into a young Iraq war veteran named Paul Reickhoff. Paul and his crew run IAVA and I know Nace was impressed by how much they had done. I have always thought that the exposure to chemicals Nace had in Vietnam could have contributed to his CPD (I could be wrong) but I know that Nace would agree that DC politicians are a hell of a lot better at creating veterans than they are at taking care of them – as Reickhoff is at the front and center of helping this generation of vets, take a look at his site.