The balls on the black and tan Siamese cat were as big as walnuts, and they shimmied above the rim of my scotch and soda. I nodded and thought, "Okay, then, even the domesticated animals are now getting in on the act." Not that it should have surprised me. With the recent crackdown on flesh shows in the City of Angels, exploiting the shaved loins of house mascots was likely the only exhibition that many bar owners (unable to afford a police graft) were willing to risk. The Siamese gave me a bemused look and I quickly grabbed my drink off the bar, worried that he'd just decided to mark it as his own. With a disgusted "Phttt!" he jumped to the floor and headed toward the remains of a curry dish that'd been left as his dinner.
I spun my stool toward the street as the CD player settled on Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." It wasn't the first time I'd heard the 60's anti-war anthem while having a drink at Ol' Irish's street-front bar on Soi Cowboy, one of Bangkok's oldest and most infamous go-go alleys. The inside of the soi's bars never quite interested me-the girls on stage rarely dancing, high-kicking, or even smiling, but appearing rather like chattel led into a ring to stretch their hindquarters. I'd come to the conclusion that McGuire's song was fitting mood music for such an arena, as a customer's conscience was much easier left at the door when personal destruction appeared inevitable.
I hummed along with McGuire's gravely voice and watched the soi slowly come to life. It was about 5:30 p.m. and the girls were slowly trickling in. Portable noodle stalls and Hibachi carts appeared simultaneously to feed the incoming help-as well as vendors selling Cambodian-made designer knockoffs and stuffed animals like the Pink Panther and Winnie the Pooh, which the ladies purchased to enhance their "youthfulness." After tucking in, they began the evening ritual of applying makeup to each other's faces and practicing their lingua franca from dog-eared copies of English phrasebooks. Intermittent tourist couples, obviously advised that this was the "safe-time" to visit a sex district, would wander by blushing nervously. It was then that I saw Doug, bopping down the center of the soi, his Hawaiian shirt soaked through with perspiration, grabbing at the waist of his shorts and singing, "I'm too bulbous for my clothes…too bulbous for my clothes!"
I'd met Doug, a bankrupt ex day-trader, the month before on Khao San Road, hustling pool from yuppie backpacking kids in search of Leonardo DiCaprio's "Beach." Doug got pummeled when the Nasdaq tanked and escaped the States with about 50k, leaving a mountain of unsecured debt in his wake. He quickly fell in love with Thailand on realizing that his bountiful girth was an asset rather than a liability in wooing local women. Doug threw his weight on a stool and quickly dispatched a girl in search of a safety pin to replace the lost button on his shorts. He ordered a Heineken and turned to me, smiling.
"So, what are you doing here, David? I thought you didn't like this street."
"I'm just hanging out," I said. "A man's gotta be someplace."
Doug laughed. "Yeah, right. I know what you're doin' here, bucko. People watching, again. I'm beginning to think your either dangerously depraved or a budding fascist."
"Yeah, you oughta go back to the States, comrade. You could head up Bush's TIPS program, train citizens how to spy on each other." Doug glared at me, trying to fake earnestness.
"If you're looking for a way to get slugged, you're doing a good job dough-boy."
Just then a twenty-something girl dressed in a Tweety-bird tank top appeared beside Doug wielding a clothespin. "What the heck am I supposed to do with that?!" he cried. "I said safety-pin. Saaafetyyy Piiinnn."
"Mai mii. Mai mii," replied the girl. "No have. Only this." And she shoved the wooden clip into his hand.
Doug rolled his eyes, attached the clothespin to the open flaps of his shorts, and pushed out his stomach, sending the clip flying into the middle of the street. The bar girl giggled and clapped; then she lifted up Doug's shirt and rubbed his tummy, "Buddha."
Doug grinned and took a swig of beer. "Ahhh, you gotta love this country. So what do you say, David; let's finish up these drinks and visit a few stages? You might as well, since you're here. How about Baccara, you being the voyeur and all?"
Baccara was a relatively recent addition to Soi Cowboy, its go-go bar featuring a glass ceiling where one could spy the privates of pantiless dancers, dressed in school-girl uniforms, on the second floor. Irony not withstanding, it was a favorite haunt of employees from the American embassy. "Nah, Doug, you could do serious damage craning your neck like that."
"A little Long Gun, then? I know you must have been a Duke's of Hazzard and Miss Daisy fan."
I hesitated at the suggestion. There is something undeniably attractive about a comely girl in skimpy cut-off jeans, and most nights the Long Gun had it in spades. But just as I was about to buckle, two drunken frat boy types walked past us into Ol' Irish's poolroom. Doug could never pass up an easy mark.
A few hours later, after helping Doug liberate 3,000 baht from the boys, I was back on a street-front stool, waiting for him to return from the toilet, where he'd gone with a girl who wanted to "rub his belly." Things were beginning to pick up and the soi was laden with customers wandering in and out of its bars. I noticed Bangkok's infamous Stickman chatting fluently in Thai with a greeter in front of the Midnite Bar. Stickman, the creator of a highly trafficked Bangkok web guide, is a rather soft spoken New Zealander who I'd met up with a few months earlier to chat about life in Bangkok. He also operates a Bar Girl Investigation service for punters who want to keep tabs on their sweethearts-which is not such a strange request seeing that many foreigners send regular "gifts" (including payment for English lessons) back to Thailand after they've returned home. Stick was surprised when I guessed that Americans made up the majority of his customers, rather than Brits or Aussies. The reason being, I explained to him, was that most American men are volatile mixtures of sentimentality and fear, a combination that breeds both suckers and paranoids in vast numbers.
Farther on down the soi, I noticed a lanky fellow, wearing a fedora, and wobbling in my direction. As he got closer, I could hear that he was singing the old Johnny Lee classic: Looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in too many faces. Searching their eyes and looking for traces of what I'm dreamin' of… Just then a bar girl slipped her arm in his and led him into the always-popular Jungle Jim's. And I thought, yeah isn't that the way it always is, the mind says no but the heart says yes. Doug suddenly slapped me on the back and said, "Okay captain, ready to hit the Long Gun?"
I swallowed the last of my drink. "You, betchya."
D.A. Blyler's essays have been featured in such publications as Salon, Exquisite Corpse, Newtopia Magazine, and the Jack Jackman Project. A former creative writing teacher at the University of West Bohemia, he will launch his debut novel Steffi's Club, an absinthe fueled saga of prostitution, crime, and romance in the Czech Republic, as an online serialization and illustrated paperback, published by Friction Magazine in the Fall. He now lives on a banana plantation in Thailand