the people of west kalimantan vs. the glorious kayan warriors of borneo

Finally we had it out, me and the leaders, who were these two pimply rockers with tattoos of Elton John, can you believe it, what kind of stoner idiot would put a drag queen on his body forever…”


by brian doyle


I’ll tell you a story. My friend Dickie was once taken hostage by revolutionaries in Borneo, and the way he tells the story is that the whole thing was like one of the old great Woody Allen movies, before the Woodster got all neurotic and obsessed with adultery and blind rabbis and people with English accents humping each other while waving tennis rackets.

The revolutionaries, says Dickie, were mostly teenagers, and all they did was eat and watch television, and a lot of the reason they took him hostage, he thinks, is that he had major cable access, and while ostensibly they were imprisoning him in his hotel room, and barricading themselves in with motion-sensitive bombs, and making rabid incendiary political statements to the media through cell phone and internet and telephone, really what they did was flip through the cable stations so fast that c and Dickie, who was a software engineer, had to fix it with a battery from his phone.

Which pissed me off royally, says Dickie, and finally we had it out, me and the leaders, who were these two pimply rockers with tattoos of Elton John, can you believe it, what kind of stoner idiot would put a drag queen on his body forever, you know? Gives you a sense of their priorities. Anyway I finally dropped the bomb on them, and pointed out that technically they couldn’t rebel against the government of Borneo, because there isn’t a government of Borneo, there are three governments in Borneo, the island’s divided up into parts, they’d have to pick one to rebel against, so which one would it be, or is that too complex a decision for stoners with gay piano players on their arms?

Well, that set them off howling like Levon Helm, says Dickie, and they even turned off the cable for a while to have it out. Some of them wanted to rebel against the government of Brunei because it was the smallest, and some picked the government of Malaysia because they didn’t like the colors of the flag or something, and one guy, who needless to say was one of the stoners with Sir Elton on his arm, wanted to rebel against Indonesia because they had a weak-ass soccer team that hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since before he was born, and I didn’t help matters at that point by encouraging them to rebel against the Malaysian government of Borneo because that was the government that once encouraged the parachuting of 14,000 cats into the country, true story, I always thought that must have been one of the great governmental meetings of all time, you know, the deputy minister for cats making a considered motion and the prime minister agreeing cautiously after conferring with his aides, you know, and then probably taking a break to go hump somebody waving a tennis racket.

Anyway, says Dickie, teenage revolutionaries have the same attention span as regular teenagers, which is to say zero, and the argument quickly shifted back to the television, some guys wanted to watch soccer and some guys were desperate to find the pornographic channels, and right about then the police finally gained access by pretending to be room service guys bringing burgers, so that was that, and I was left with a really messy room and no battery for my phone, but I got a good story out of it, right?  And the end of the story is that because this all happened in the city of Kendawangan, which is in one of the Indonesian provinces of the island, the Indonesian government asked me to testify against these guys, but I just could not stop laughing at the idea of Sir Elton John in the dock, so I had to plead diplomatic immunity and the necessity for geopolitical secrecy and all that, which was a crock, you know, but I think it did help reduce their sentences. I did ask my staff back home to intervene and make sure the teenagers were held in a low-security prison in Telukbatang where, bless my soul, there is cable access, so there you go.

Originally published:
Issue Fifty-Six
November 2009


(illustration: john richen)

Brian Doyle is a muddled male mule who has committed eight books rather like a series of venial sins: five collections of essays, nonfiction misadventures about hearts and wine, and a collection of “proems” that the great American poet Pattiann Rogers says darkly will ruin the word poetry for ever and ever. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2009)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.



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