from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2009), revised 2016
"Are you going with me to my hotel? I just ask you. Because otherwise I must have #97."
The man who spoke was from Lithuania, "a tiny microscopic country, you are from America, you have never heard of it, you do not even believe it exists," but now lived in Switzerland. He was a small, carefully tended man, perhaps 50. When he spoke of retirement, I said, "Oh, but for you that's a long way off!" "I use many creams!" he confided. He was delighted with me. I have had far too much practice flattering middle-aged men.
We were sitting in Soi Twilight at the cafe opposite Dream Boy. He was talking fast, drinking his Singha, ignoring the young Thai man at his side. He'd decided that I was innocent and nothing could dissuade him. He pledged to take me to the very most secret, most wicked places, which he named, one after another, and I had to tell him no, no, no, I'd been to all those places already. And I was not going to Dream Boy, definitely not, even though Dream Boy had the best show, because the last time I went I wound up on stage stripped to my underpants as part of the comedy routine.
We'd met at Balcony on Soi 4, a place for straight people who want to go to a gay bar. From there we went to Soi Twilight, where the go-go boy bars are. He wanted to give me a tour but I'd been to every seedy and wicked place he named. Finally he said, "How about Jupiter?"
I'd never been to Jupiter. He turned to the young Thai man beside him and said, "Take us to Jupiter." The young man’s name was Ook. He'd sat with us all night and been more or less ignored. "He is very passive," the man from Lithuania explained. "In bed he will do nothing but his cock is like this--" and he indicated a place on his thigh above the kneecap. "I can introduce you if you like. It is no problem. Tonight he is just my friend."
Ook led the way to Jupiter and the man from Lithuania told me that the night before he'd had the best boy ever, one of the best anyway. "I was so tired from my flight. I went to the bar at midnight. I have known the mamasan there for a thousand years. 'Give me one with some meat on him and a big cock.' '#97' she said. And #97 it was."
Jupiter was obviously a place for big money. The staff stood, floodlit, outside the door: men in pink suits, a kathoey with hair like Diana Ross. He were led to a couch beside a glass tank where two naked men covered in soap suds slid artfully over each other. Their cocks had been pumped so much that they looked entirely unreal, like gigantic latex strap-ons. The man from Lithuania didn't wait long before going out for a smoke. Ook and I looked at each other; we both had the same small nervous laugh. We were already bored. Actually Ook looked as if he'd been bored for a number of years.
I've followed many middle-aged men desperate for talk as they toured Bangkok's nightlife. About this man one thing was unique: he was paying for my drinks, which at bars like Jupiter are exorbitant. He kept me on one side and Ook on the other and I was pretty sure we were both in the same category.
The audience at Jupiter was primarily Japanese and they looked every bit as humorless as they did back home in Tokyo while enduring their morning commute. The stage had two levels. The top-floor boys were bigger and better-looking. They stood in formation and, every twenty seconds or so, shifted position slightly. It was impossible to watch without thinking of rotisserie chicken. The Japanese snapped up boys in a remarkably short time. Five minutes after the show was through most of them were already gone. Once, in Darjeeling, I'd watched a busload of Japanese buy out a tea shop in just the same way.
In twenty years, when I can no longer bluff my way into being an object of desire, will I learn to look at men the that way Johns can--to admire their bodies without encountering their eyes? How does a man purchased for forty dollars--as those men are, as I have been--recognize again his own true worth?
Ook turned to me and asked, "Do you want to get out now?" I agreed vigorously. We fled Jupiter. The three of us returned to the cafe Opposite Dream Boy, where the man from Lithuania learned that I was not available for sexual services that evening. So #97 it was. He hurried across the street and made his request to the doorman. #97 was still available; the bar fee was 400 baht.
#97 came downstairs a few minutes later, a sturdy young man in blue shirt and blue shorts, like a soccer player. It seems moralistic to report how forced his smile was but it can't be avoided. He was magnificently handsome; his smile was terrible to see. Nice to meet you, he said and shook my hand. He and Ook carefully ignored each other. Ook had followed the man from Lithuania all night for nothing. All he'd gotten was free drinks, same as me.
The man from Lithuania said stay, stay, but I said I must sleep. It was almost one A.M. anyway, the bars were about to close. "Why don't you take #97?" suggested the man from Lithuania. "I can have him any night." #97 didn't understand but continued grinning. Ook sulked and slouched in his seat. I apologized and said good night and hurried past the colored lights and tired doormen out of Soi Twilight.