One night in Katmandu, my friend Mark and I, weary after months of third-world travel, felt the need for a cozy bit of the homeland: we wanted to rent a video. Needless to say, there was no VCR in our cheap cell of a hotel room, nor even a television. However, Katmandu is a fairly cosmopolitan city with many modern conveniences, and there was a hole-in-the-wall video rental store on the ground floor of our hotel.
Perhaps they’ll rent us the equipment,” we thought. We marched down the stairs, through the courtyard of our hotel, through the passageway to the street, and into the storefront. After a few minutes of fractured English and flailing gestures with the proprietor, we came to the conclusion that they did not, in fact, rent TVs or VCRs — just videos. The store owner sensed our dismay and began talking with the owner of the hotel in Hindi. Both of them, eager to please, came to some sort of conclusion and motioned for us to pick out a video. Dubious, yet always willing to go along, we picked “Silverado”.
The video store owner, Silverado in hand, ushered us out of his shop, back through the passageway and into the courtyard of the hotel. He led us up to a pair of narrow doors which he opened to reveal a small room. A very small room. It was no more than four by six feet, just large enough for a single bed and a small end table with — aha! — a television and VCR!. It seemed that this was the back room of his video store, probably in fact where he lived, and it was this room with it’s appropriate equipment that he was offering to us so we could assuage our homesickness. The hospitality of strangers never ceased to amaze us.
The room, however, was a little too small for two large American men to sit comfortably in, so the hotel owner set up two simple wooden chairs and a small table in the courtyard of the hotel so we could watch the video through the narrow opening of the doors. I asked the hotel owner if it would be all right if we made a dent in the unfortunately huge hunk of hash we’d purchased the day before and he said it was no problem at all, so we settled down in the chill night air to a nice evening of video entertainment.
About ten minutes into the movie (which, by the way, was very confusing), we noticed that a man was standing behind us. Neither of us had noticed him approach and I turned to see who it was. It was an officer of the Nepali police force.
I turned back towards the television set in what I hoped was a nonchalant manner and glanced furtively at the small black hash pipe, still sitting sore-thumb-like on the seemingly giant expanse of stark white table directly in front of us. The police officer stood behind us, hands clasped rigidly behind his back, rocking back and forth on the balls of his jack-booted feet, the medals on his uniform jingling slightly. Occasionally he would clear his throat in a way that seemed suffused with portent.
After a few, very long seconds of this intimidation, the police officer walked quickly towards the passageway to the street. Immediately, the hotel owner came running out of the office, gesturing frantically at the hash pipe and mouthing “Hide it!”. With one swift motion I picked up the hash pipe and tossed it into the bushes nearby. A second later, the police officer walked quickly back into the courtyard, this time followed by a dozen other policemen who bolted upstairs and began searching the hotel room by room. As the sound of police pounding on doors came echoing down into the courtyard, the officer walked over and resumed his ominous position just behind us, resumed his grim-faced stance. Rock…rock…A-HEM!…rock…
At this point my mind started to play games on me. Perhaps he hadn’t noticed the pipe? Perhaps he’s just suspicious of us. Maybe he doesn’t know we’re stoned? I’d better try to act normal. I flashed back to earlier in the day, sitting in a restaurant, when I’d noticed a flyer on the wall. It was a plea for books and such from Americans languishing interminably in Nepali prisons on drug charges. Why do I consistently ignore such omens? I was now sweating profusely, quivering slightly, my bowels were warm and loose, and I had no clue what “Silverado” was about.
Cough, cough….A-HEM! Why didn’t he just DO something? We were paralyzed and continued to pretend that nothing was wrong.
The police officer left momentarily to converse with one of his underlings, and the hotel owner used the opportunity to usher us quickly into the small room with the television. He closed the doors behind us and we looked at each other with wide, fear-soaked eyes. Breathing heavily and still sweating, we sat there, cramped together on the small bed, the movie playing on. It was kind of warm and cozy in the room — there were nice Nepali wool blankets everywhere — and when, after a few minutes, nothing further happened, we began to relax slightly. My breathing slowed, circulation returned to my icy extremities…maybe this would all blow over, I told myself.
Just then, the thin doors crashed open and there stood the officer again, back stiff, brow furrowed, medals glinting in the blue light of the television. My breath caught in my throat but…he just stood there. He began talking quietly in Hindi to the hotel owner standing next to him. Confusion was beginning to overtake fear in my brain. This was too weird. I tried to pay attention to their conversation, tried to pick out what they were saying. Bits and pieces of their dialog sounded familiar, words here and there I understood. They were talking about….cowboys?? But… My mind stuttered and hiccuped. An icy wave broke at the crown of my head and flowed down my body and I felt dizzy and numb. All this time, this horrible, hellish time of intimidation, doubts, and visions of windowless prisons, the police officer had been watching “Silverado”. Watching it over our shoulders…
It took the rest of the movie for that to really sink in. After the movie was over, we asked the hotel owner what was going on and he said that the police come by about once a week for an inspection — it was no big deal.
To this day, I remember not a single scene from the movie “Silverado”.