Happy Friday, mongers. It’s a magical day for me, Bangkok Seven, because several businesses on Patpong Soi 1 are set to open today, including a trio of gogo bars run by the King’s Group. I can almost taste the lime in my San Miguel Light. A full report on the state of these bars is coming on Sunday, but in the meantime, here’s the next installment of my self-published, critically panned meh-moir, “The Suburbs of Babylon.” If you’re not up to speed on this chapter (Chapter 9), you can find it by scrolling down my home page…
“I made it back to the room a little after 8:00, slept till sundown, woke up, showered, joined the boys for dinner and drinks at the Peppermill, and now we’re sitting in the upstairs room of the world-famous Palomino Strip Club. Right off I have to say I’m sick to my stomach. The girls here are positively repulsive. And the brash way in which they walk around naked, the cellulite on their asses shimmering like jell-o, their lifeless teats sagging, makes me have to struggle to keep my gorge down. I have been approached by a toffee-colored jungle queen with a formidable chest who wanted to know what I was writing. I said I was a critic for a national magazine, here to review all the strip joints in Vegas, and that her performance would be judged. She made haste to get away from me.
Art’s friend Jack, who up until now has said almost nothing the whole trip, just hustled up and told us that all the girls on the runway are disgusting while the beautiful ones are holding out for table dances, which is where the money is. And now a buxom blond has just come over to inform us that we have become known to the girls as “the three guys who are afraid of…” and then she used a word which I will not repeat to refer to herself and her friends—a derogatory term for a part of the female anatomy. Needless to say, I was nauseated by this woman. We resisted pointing out that any man with taste and an ounce of self-respect would be horrified at the monsters lurking in this half-lit hell and just let her have her joke, since saying so would beg the question of our being there in the first place. But that didn’t stop Art from giving the girl a five just to go away.
Art is a puzzle to me. He’s teeming with personality, but I sometimes wonder if he has a soul. When Jane left, his advice to me was, “Go out, find someone who looks just like her, sleep with her, and dump her. You’ll feel a lot better.” I was shocked. His ideas fly in the face of love, of care, of humanity. He is heartless toward women, who flock to him in droves, and regards most relationships with people as battles to be won. He was beat up a lot as a kid, so power may have something to do with it, but for the most part it just seems like robotic calculating malice. The few friends he has are men who have similar interests and philosophies. He and I are friends because we share a sardonic impression of people, which in a nutshell consists of the belief that most of the world is populated by mindless lemmings who wait for someone else to tell them where to go, what to do, and how to think. We both loathe the existence of this kind of person, and that alone has been the cornerstone of our friendship.
The patrons in this place are a fascinating group. Much like the people I just mentioned. Once can almost hear the flies buzzing in and out of their ears. Inbred trash, retarded mules. The stench of the unclean is too much, so we opt to move downstairs, where an old-time burlesque-style strip tease is being performed by an elegant woman in a black satin dress to the tune of “Minnie the Moocher.”
She pulls off a glove with her teeth to reveal long, silver nails. Her back is smooth as milk. She is totally nude now, her body a sculpture. Bright green eyes, long black hair. The temptress is before my friends now, wiping the sweat from her breasts with Art’s drink napkin. Art is a regular john with the ladies in these places. Sluts stick to him like glue, and the immediate proof is this madam, her legs spread in front of him, everything she has to offer splayed out like warm lunch meat. It takes away her humanity, her mystery. This act minimizes everything else she is and has. If anyone who loved her saw her right now, they would be heart-broken.
It seems I have outgrown the notion of lust as love. Perhaps this is an accomplishment, to stop fooling oneself about such matters. Art prefers to think the opposite. Anything else would break down the fabric of his existence. He is trained on the woman with carnal intensity. She has run out of things to show, and the excitement is winding down. Someone better start unwrapping another piece of young, leggy eye candy or else people are going to leave.
Now a young blond bunny is dancing to “Wait a Minute Mr. Postman.” She is dressed as some kind of Nabakovian, sequined, farm-girl-hooker-mail carrier. From where I’m sitting it looks like her body is perfect from head to toe. She has stretched one bare leg behind her head, much to the delight of the crowd, giving me visions of Quasimodo. . .
On the other side of the runway sits a man with his mail-order Thai bride. The little woman is putting a dollar between the blonde’s breasts. She looks as though she may burst into tears, the expression on her face a mixture of awe and torture. The husband seems distantly pleased.
None of us are tipping, and I am keeping an eye out for the maitre de, expecting to be thrown out any minute. The men around the runway slip dollar bills to the girls with a tenderness resembling worship. As they lay the money between the girls’ breasts, the women purposely trap the men’s hands along with the cash, which causes in the men an effect similar to butter on a hot skillet. They try so hard to connect, to feel the brief relief that a woman’s smooth skin and strong muscles can give to a lonely life. This is what I have been buying into, in an effort to survive losing Jane, out of a need to escape my awesome solitude, and the lack of her touch, her scent, the voice and the body I grew accustomed to falling asleep with. But all this naked flesh doesn’t help me leave her behind; it only accentuates the pain. I now feel even less worthwhile, even more pitiful, more completely lost.
Here’s something new: amateur contests.
A local girl is swaying nervously, prancing clumsily around the stage, stark naked, unsure, her aspiration evidently to spread her legs for strangers. She is lost, like the men whose eyes devour her. Lost like me. The unaccepted searching for acceptance, a desperate dance, a humiliation masked in velvet and red lights.
We elect to leave. We are more empty than when we came in.
* * *
It is late afternoon, the following day. We had a late dinner—or early breakfast, depending on your point of view—in the hotel restaurant, slept for a few hours, and are now packing to go home. I lost my pen in the Palomino last night, so I have stolen a new one from the gift store in the lobby. I have begun to see every action in this town as if it were a gamble. In the case of the pen, I wagered and won.
I have composed a list of the casinos we patronized during our two-day stay: Luxor, Excalibur (where we fell in love with Ann, our blackjack dealer), Circus Circus (Dante could’ve written volumes), the Flamingo, Caesar’s (gorgeous women there), The Mirage, the Tropicana (a hallucination), Bourbon Street (more like Ripple Street), Aladdin (where I won back some money playing the slots), Harrah’s, the Frontier, Bally’s, the Golden Nugget, the Las Vegas Club, and one which I can’t remember.
We’re on our way home now, somewhere past State Line. Anyone who has traveled this road knows the flat, tan sand stretching off to the dark, rough, piled-up mountains. It looks like some other planet. Like Mars, where nothing lives and everything is still and the only thoughts are of the heat and the absolute absence of anything good and hopeful. Devoid of life, incapable of sustaining it. I would like to go to such a place, since I am already there in my head, and because the scenery and activities of this world carve into me like a knife, combining pain with self-hate and hopelessness through memory. Sentience.
* * *
I lay here—on my floor—thinking it quite poetic—getting progressively more intoxicated—trite, pathetic (I love that word)—feeling equally silly and sublime. What can one do when one hates oneself so completely except saturate his senses with the loathsome story of his abominable self? Does that make sense? I’m rather drunk.
Alcohol, my foul-weather friend, courses through my brain, making it lighter, smoothing the edges, a child’s fingers pressing the play-dough into the table. I am on my second bottle of wine, the first being a savory Grenache from Santa Ynez, the current delectable a twenty-dollar Bordeaux (too young to be drunk yet too cheap to age). The Romans used to say ‘en vino veritas,’ and if that’s the reality, then the truth of my life is a hellstorm. But I suppose the opposite—that I drink to escape that truth. You think that the nightmare will fade, that the numbness will move from your lips to your heart, but the dream will never leave; the terror and the agony never go, they just simplify, breaking down into primary colors, reiterating in less sophisticated language (mono-syllables on the mind’s typewriter, clack-clack-clack).
I chuckle at myself. The ridiculousness of my thoughts, the worthlessness of my words. I picture myself in a coffin and hear thunderous applause from an unseen audience (is it you?). I consider murder, rape, debauchery, but with due respect to Camus, the ideal falls flat. It won’t fill the void. There is, however, something else in the works.
It is the only thing that gives comfort now. It has something to do with a story and how it is playing out in my mind. About a man in the shadows. There is a familiarity, almost like a memory, yet it keeps reinventing itself anew, as if it were a reality as worthy as the one I live in, if it can be called that (real). It’s almost like another dimension of this life—not only of sight and sound but of lost mind. Your next stop: insanity. The only place where there is a semblance of happiness, and even then it is coated in fear, immersed in despair, as if goodness and pain were physical and one could drip from the other like chocolate, only it tastes like bile.
I am falling into this other world. The reality I know is becoming a comic book—pastel drawings with square white borders. The new world becomes clearer. Its images are sharp and thrumming. There is a story unfolding. It has to do with a man who is lost in the darkness but is about to find his way. It carries more weight than this other tale, the one about my little journeys, which is lifting like helium, swelling and fading like heartburn. I am shrinking under the burden of this man in the darkness. I am losing myself; I am not fighting and losing. And in this state, as everything softens, I can hear something—a song—distant, light, inevitable.”
In the next chapter, the semi-fictional narrator of this tale takes a mentally unstable turn. If I’m honest, I’ve had more than a few similar breakdowns in my younger years. That all stopped when I found Thailand. TLOS cured all my ills. It makes me all the more appreciative when I revisit the events recorded in “Babylon.” In fact, it kind of calls for a sequel that explicates the radical turn for the better brought about by simply purchasing a one-way plane ticket to Thailand. I could call it something like…”From Rags to Bitches.” Stay tuned…