The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 8

It’s Friday, reader. My last one in quarantine, and my last one spent outside the red-light since the first week in March. Below is the next chapter of my semi-fictional semi-autobiography, written and self-published around a decade ago. But the observations contained therein are still relevant—especially the ones about LA strip clubs, and especially given that my present life is the perfect opposite of those bleak, lonesome times. Whenever I read this old memoir I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Thailand—the greatest country on Earth, with the best red-lights on Earth.

“Chapter Eight

It’s not exactly prison, but you’ll never be forgiven for whatever you’ve done

with the keys.—Leonard Cohen


            There are many ways to deal with heartbreak.  Over the years, I have run the gamut, from denial to outright hysteria, and the last several spells have been inexorably connected by the fact that every sorrowful experience has come from the influence of one person.  The worst of these was when I was trapped on the peninsula, hallucinating that I was silverware and licking the dirt off my kitchen floor.  But that has all been replaced by the goings on of the recent weeks, and as of now no relief is in sight.  Love has given over to blindness.

I sunk to record-breaking new lows tonight when, in a fog of suicidal depression, I wound up at the Cat, all by myself.  I had become one of those pathetic souls I always looked down on who wander into a strip joint alone and pay their last few dollars to get validated by women who don’t care that they are alive.  Which is ironically how I’ve always pictured marriage to me.  But I digress.  The guys I always made fun of and inwardly cringed over, seeing their depravity.  But even they were better than me, as I had come broke, hungry, and unshowered.  Subbing is slow, since summer recently ended and Christmas is coming, so teachers don’t see a reason to take a day off.  Therefore there’s no reason for me to clean up, and no money in my wallet.  But there is still the need to stare longingly at femininity—even cheap, second-rate, topless femininity.

There was a girl there who’s name was Jane, a lovely blonde who had shown interest in me on previous visits.  I remembered her because of that, and because of her name.  She remembered me as well, and seeing me alone sidled up and asked what was wrong.  I told her someone had broken my heart, and she kissed my cheek.  Then a big ox carrying a dozen roses burst in and whisked her off to the back of the bar.  I thought how I’d somehow acquired a knack for being interrupted by men with flowers.

Remarkably, the place was actually littered here and there with women—not strippers, but regular women of the common world—something I’d never seen in a strip joint.  One ambled up and accused me of looking down-hearted.  I knew then that she must have been some kind of rocket scientist over at Boeing or JPL, and complemented her on her powers of observation.  She responded sympathetically, adding that she, too, was sad and lonely.  I quickly excused myself and went and stood in the men’s room for a few minutes.  Then I came out and sat at the stage, training my attention on the thoroughbred hanging by her crotch from the dance pole.

She was unreal.  Her body was so perfect it had an air of holiness, a dim aura, as though if I were to reach out to touch her, my hand would pass through her shoulder, perhaps into a corner of Heaven or to a world where my tears would stop.  The song she was moving to inquired if I was strong enough to be her man, and though I was assuring myself that I was, the nagging truth was there.  I was not strong enough to hold onto my dignity, let alone my manhood.  I was worthless, gutless, hopeless.

Watching those perfect derrieres, delicate breasts, flat stomachs, and smooth, candy-like legs actually did cheer me up after a bit.  The fact that I wouldn’t go home with any of them didn’t seem to matter either.  And I could almost sense the dim, all-but-forgotten inkling of contentment begin to inch its way over my mountain of pain.  That is, until the bouncer, noticing I wasn’t paying for anything, threw me out.  Earlier, I thought there was nothing more humiliating than going to a strip joint alone.  Then I thought there was nothing worse than going to a strip joint alone and confessing to one of the girls that I was dumped and had nowhere else to go.  But then I realized that being broke and friendless with no reason to live, and going to a cheesy topless bar to rub elbows with lowbrow trash, and being run out as a cheapskate does, in the end, take the cake.

*   *   *

            The last few weeks has been the traditional slow period for substitutes—as holiday seasons tend to be—so lately I’ve taken up the highly inadvisable practice of spending money I don’t have.  It’s easy to do when your credit card is accepted everywhere and there is no food in the refrigerator.  It’s a lot like digging a hole with a blindfold on.  By the time you figure out that you’re so deep that you won’t be able to get back out again, it’s too late.  And your credit card company will be happy to loan you some dirt, but that dirt’s from another hole, so if you get out of this one, it’s right into the next one.

In the last two weeks, I’ve lost 12 pounds.  This would be exhilarating if I hadn’t already been underweight.  I buckle my belt one hole tighter than I did ten days ago.  I sleep an average of four hours a night, and almost never crap anymore.  But I can’t go to the doctor because I have no money, and no insurance.  My teeth hurt, but the dentist is out of the question.  I’ve been entertaining the thought of whoring, except that I don’t know any women who’d pay to sleep with an emaciated, constipated, toothless insomniac who’s idea of a good time is pondering the worthlessness of one’s existence.

Maybe I’ll become a cop.  They’re desperate for people down there.  They pay a fairly reasonable amount for risking your life every day, and they have more clout than teachers.  It might even be fun.  I could rough people up, maybe get shot in the back by a nine-year-old white-hating gangster and collect disability.  And when the time was right, I’d have a gun with which to blow my own brains out.

Although, money’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  The other day I talked to a guy I knew in high school who now works for Litton, pulling 16-hour days, making 90 grand a year.  But he hates it.  He says it’s just like college.  He procrastinates, fiddles around, does the mindless work they give him, and tries to look busy the rest of the time.  The only difference is, he says, he has no free time.  And he can afford a better watch.  I’m not sure if I’m ready for that kind of life, or if I ever will be.

What really makes me sick is the seemingly endless parade of people complaining about money when they have absolutely no right to open their filthy mouths.  The other day, Michael Jackson announced he’s in financial difficulty.  He thinks he’s going under because he couldn’t buy Grenada or some asinine thing like that.  (Actually, he’s probably just trying to get people to stop suing him.)  Or these people who live across the street, who say they’re bankrupt and need to go on disability, but they have gardeners and a cleaning lady and they go to Tahoe twice a year.  I’ve house-sat for them a couple times.  They whine about being poor but collect famous paintings.  I want to kill these people.  They can’t handle their money wisely so they pilfer from the government.  It’s idiots like them who ruin everything.

There is one area, in spite of my poverty, where I’m guilty of splurging, and that is with wine.  Not the way a rich person might splurge—I don’t buy Opus One or Screaming Eagle—but I refuse to drink bad wine, even if it means spending beyond my means.  I’m particularly fond of French Burgundies and Bordeaux, especially because it’s often easy to find very good ones at reasonable prices.  This is because Americans are not learned enough to know what’s good and what isn’t, which is why a good California red is 40 dollars, while a better one from France will go for half that.  That’s not to knock    California, though.  There’s great stuff coming out of the Central Coast, and nine times out of ten I’d rather have a California wine with my meal, especially a Pinot Noir or a well-crafted Claret.  But since I haven’t had money for food lately, I’ve just been getting inebriated on French reds, mainly Cotes-du-Rhone, Moulin-a-Vent, Pauillac, and Haut-Medoc.  So I’m not a drunk, I’m a connoisseur.

*   *   *

            Tonight I’m back at the speakeasy, waiting with Liza to watch Beth cat-dance to Baltimore’s gruff groove.  Liza is fuming over a rude confrontation she had with the girl at the door.  She says she wants to kick the girl’s ass.  Evidently she’s a model-recently-broken-up-with a guy who really wants to sleep with Liza (every guy who sees Liza wants to sleep with her), which has also led to a fight between Liza and me.  She’s angry that men don’t see her intelligence and charm, and I told her they’re too mesmerized by her T and A.

I have exchanged smiles with the pretty back-up singer, who for some reason can’t stop staring at me.  I have been reduced to searching out shreds of worth in flippant glances, as if she even cares that I’m alive.

Liza and I both really don’t want to be here.  There’s a profusely obnoxious beautiful girl with a man’s voice and a sailor’s mouth screaming in my left ear about a problem with her landlord.  The person she’s talking too is just as uninterested as the rest of us, but we have no choice but to listen since her voice is like a megaphone.  There are three thugs next to me in wrinkled thrift-store leather jackets, looking like models trying to be mobsters.  I hate the 20-something Hollywood set.  They’re completely worthless, wordless dolts trying to live their own personal Tarrantino film and looking like rejects from Mtv’s “The Real World.”  The average IQ in here is about 80.  They are like monkeys pulling on each other’s tails and urinating on themselves.  Everyone in here knows everyone else; they’re all the children of movie stars, producers, agents, and the like.  They shmooze with a blend of urgency and fear, reminiscent of adolescence, wondering whether anyone can see through their facades to the spineless idiot magpies they really are.  Beth just arrived.  She asked the baboon next to me how his movie is going.  He affects a cool detachment that suspiciously resembles stupidity.

Liza has gone to wipe the drool off her that had dripped from the half-dozen silky-smooth grease balls hovering around us.  Thankfully I am not introduced to anyone.  The barren, sickeningly mono-syllabic lives these people must live, and the frenzy with which they seek to cover and forget themselves (a truth that sadly does not escape their feeble capacity) has made me realize how I loathe this place.  I must never come here again, to this contest of the idiotic eclectic and their harlequin holy man, Baltimore.  But the music has started, so I must groove.  Groove, nowhere boy, groove.

Baltimore’s novelty has worn off. The show is exactly the same as the last one, except he’s in red and white spats this time.  Tonight he’s also removed his jacket to reveal a 40’s gangster-style holster (sans the heater) which would perpetuate the cheesiness of the act if he didn’t believe in it so devoutly himself.  The commitment is enough to win over the Cro-Magnon crowd, who behave as though they have discovered their own planet and named it “Cool.”

The music, for all the lackadaisical atmosphere, really is excellent.  The girls are twisting on the tables around us.  Beth is squeezing her breasts and bucking her hips in my direction.  When her song is over, she disappears in a huff.  Liza explains that Beth hates one of the other dancers.  Evidently each night she gets more attention from Baltimore outside the club.  I am suddenly struck with the need to escape Beth and her petty self-absorption, so Liza and I get up to leave.  As I do so, I slip a hastily-scribbled version of the stock poem to the backup singer, knowing I’ll never see her again and not really feeling affected either way.  The purpose of my existence is gradually slipping from me, and I find even my own pathetic self-indulgence—the only thing I have left, really—uninspiring, if not nauseating.  To be or not to be.  Could that be my dilemma?  And has anyone ever died from too much melodrama?”

Until re-reading this, I’d almost forgotten about Liza. For years, it was one of my deepest regrets to have missed my chance with her. It used to keep me up nights. Now, of course, as an expat expert whoremonger in Thailand for a decade, she never once crossed my mind. This paradise truly is a cure-all.