gathered in the hour before noon every day on the scuffed sofas
and worn leatherette armchairs in the lobby of the hotel and waited
for the tour director to show up and go over the day's schedule.
Every one of them had a tale to tell of the night before and a bar
to recommend. "At Pussy Galore, Steve. There's this girl who inserts
darts into her--" "Can uncap a bottle of Coke with one quick pelvic
thr--" with this fucking eel, Al, I couldn't believe--" There were,
by my count, a dozen of them: a blond and ruddy hail-fellow-well-met
type who looked like he coached girls' softball back in the States;
an ex-hippie of indeterminate years with an enviable shock of ashy
blond hair and a doughy, seamed face, like gently folded batter;
the dapper Southerner called "Doc" who made no secret of the pills
he washed down with quick slugs of Pepsi; a Viet Nam vet who wore
a light-weight hiker's vest everywhere he went and claimed a special
bond with Southeast Asia that no one else could possibly fathom;
the designated asshole of the group, a redhead of about thirty with
the meticulously trimmed beard of a junior naval officer who incessantly
intruded into conversations with puerile allusions to the size of
his cock, "Mr. Moby Dick"; a semi-retired bailbondsman whose advice
to his tour mates on all matters pecuniary was an emphatic and succinct
"Buy Debt! There'll be a check in your mailbox every month!"; an
octogenarian former professor of rocketry of Teutonic stock who,
to my knowledge, never once uttered a word to anyone except Hummel,
the tour director, and then only in hushed, brief asides; and maybe
a half dozen others, all fiftyish and paunchy as yours truly, and
to each and every man jack of them his own peculiar kink: trout
flies, Tonka trucks, tutus.
I sat across the lobby from them on
these late mornings, inconspicuous in my tropical khakis, feigning
absorption in the splashy brochures available on the tourism counter,
listening, daring to jot down a phrase or two of conversation when
a word or image struck a note. The drawn, weathered Thai woman with
the dime-size chocolate mole on her forehead behind the reception
desk attended dutifully to a clipboard and issued perfunctory instructions
to the maids as they trundled up to the desk to collect the room
keys of the late risers. It was all business to her and her drudges.
She batted not an eyelash whenever one of the group erupted with
an observation on the previous night's forays into the fleshpots
of Patpong or Soi Cowboy or Nana's Plaza.
"I tell you she had one," insisted
the ruddy girls' softball coach.
"And I'm telling you you're nuts,
Jack," the one called Doc countered with peppy finality, swigging
on his Pepsi. "There's no such thing as-"
"If she did," Designated Asshole interjected,
"you'd've been a fool to let her slip away like that. If you were
a man you'd still be upstairs right now in your room with your wick
"I think she had to go to the dentist
this morning," Jack defended himself. "She's very quiet. Never says
a word. A toothache or someth--"
At this the entire group burst into
a shower of derisive guffaws.
"Buddy, if she's got teeth inside
there you're lucky you're not in surgery right--"
"You sure you're last name's not Bobbit!"
"Ha! Fucking is probably just her
way of flossing!"
"Jack, I'll tell you what," offered
the rotund bailbondsman with the trout-fly-nipple fetish. "Ask her
out to lunch and if she starts shoveling food under her skirt--"
"Well," snapped Jack, his ruddy moon-face
flushing deeply. "I know what I know."
"It's possible, you know," the ex-hippie
declared, searching the eyes of the others with an anxious New Age
proselytizing zeal. "I met a guy who sighted a Vu Qiang ox in Cambodia
last year. He was as close to it as I am to that guy over there."
He pointed at me and I casually retracted the tip of my ballpoint
pen with a discrete pump of my thumb.
"Shit," sniffed the Viet Nam vet in
the hiker's vest. "Anything's possible in this part of the world.
In Nam some of the whores put razor blades up their pussies. They
were working for Charlie. A guy would take her up to her room and
jump her bones and zip! the head of his dick would come out
looking like a bloody radish rosette."
The Viet Nam vet and the ex-hippie
locked glances, unlikely allies in Jack's defense. Only the morning
before I'd listened to their brief, heated exchange about Nixon's
invasion of Cambodia and the torching of the ROTC building at Kent
State. Today they were delivered from the awkwardness of sharing
sides by the arrival of the tour director, a lanky man assembled
utterly in different shades of gray-slacks, shirt, socks, watchband,
hair, eyes, down to the twin sheaves of quills bristling out of
his nostrils-like camouflage for a descent into an ashheap. He had
very bad teeth-gray, naturally-and long,nervous fingers and a striking
Thai woman with liquid, molten eyes in tow. She was darker even
than the rural village girls who flooded down from the impoverished
northern provinces to work in bars called Pussy Alive and Baby A-Go-Go
and Bunny House. The tour director introduced the woman as Toom
and let the group know she'd be guiding those who wanted to take
in an afternoon of muay thai. Blank stares hung in the air
all around until Hummel explained, "Kick-boxing. It's the national
sport here. Like baseball back home." At which point the group swung
its collective head in the direction of Toom. But Designated Asshole
had already taken her aside and was looking down on her meaningfully,
once or twice giving her elbow a pat with the cupped palm of his
Jack, it appeared, was my man. Of
course it was more than possible that what he took to be a mai
kee-certainly he had never heard the term before-was just a
love muscle, the overdeveloped constrictor vaginae you can
find represented in almost any human female population from Burton's
Abyssinia to Malnikoff's Aleutians if you look hard enough. There
was no reason to assume he had any expertise. Men are astonished
all the time by what a woman can learn to do with the right regimen
of contraction exercises or the proper spring-loaded device ordered
by catalog from the Euphoria Collection or Vibrator XXXpress. Ask
And there have been hoaxes. The "Snapping
Pussies of Lamu'u-nika" scandal in the late 1930's was a case in
point-with its outrageous rumors of voracious vaginae dentatae
devouring whole native villages grass huts and all just as the globe
was about to be sucked into the maelstrom of another world war-and
suggests that in times of social and political upheaval the human
psyche is quite capable of projecting its deepest fears on the nightmarish
screen of tabloid headlines. One did not, at the risk of one's own
sanity and safety and reputation, go traipsing across the globe
in search of the merely sensational. Poor, hapless Federsen and
Wohl, trapped in the crocodile-infested lowlands of Lamu'u-nika
just as the Japanese Imperial Army "liberated" the island's capital
from its colonial overlords.
Yes, there have been hoaxes. Occasions
for knowing titters and sly winks, in retrospect: the "Snapping
Pussies of Lamu'u-nika" sham with its subtle overtones of castration
anxiety was the Piltdown Man and Cardiff Giant of the Freudian Era
rolled into one. But Jack knew what he knew, as he said. And it
would have been folly for me to take him cum grano salis after
so many mornings and afternoons of sitting around lobbies of two-star
hotels listening to realtors from Spokane and purchasing agents
from Albany compare prices and performances and tits and muffs.
That the others in his group considered him a bit off his ruddy,
moon-faced head was fortuitous. Frankly, I wanted him shimmed away
from the pack just a tad, if possible. The more likely he would
gravitate toward "his" girl. And the sooner. And I on his heels.
Human psychology is funny. These male tour groups were spontaneous,
makeshift societies in miniature. Members forged tribal bonds the
first couple of days of knocking around Bangkok together, wisecracking
and sharing confidences and exploits, masking their fundamental
unworldliness with a shared good-old-homeboy skepticism: "I'm telling
you, Jack, such women don't . . ."
Jack joined the muay thai contingent
as it followed Toom single file out the hotel doors. Coal Black,
I thought, and Her Seven Moral Dwarves: Horny, Lusty, Randy, Rutty,
Humpy, Rammy and Doc, who had switched his wash from Pepsi to Singha
beer with suave prestidigitation. Two others followed a street kid
who claimed he knew the best place in Bangkok to buy bespoke silk
shirts. "No reep-off, meester. You come tailor today," the kid lied.
"Ready tomorrow." The trout-fly-nipple fetish bailbondsman and the
Viet Nam vet discovered they had something in common-they liked
selecting girls from a gallery of choices-and set off for a massage
parlor whose glossy fliers promised miniskirted masseuses seated
on tiers and foam lavings on air-mattresses. Designated Asshole
alone remained seated in the empty lobby.
"You're not interested in muay
thai?" I ventured from across lobby, folding my brochure in
"Seen it. Last time I was here."
"You've been to Bangkok before?"
"I take it you like it here."
"The girls are too small. That's my
problem," he complained and shot me a look of imperial condescension.
"Even the ones who have had a kid."
Designated Asshole stroked his red
beard. He had fine blue eyes with tiny pupils and a narrow, unimpressive
chest. It was difficult not to glance down at his crotch seam to
surmise if everything there were as grandly appointed as he would
have others believe.
"You fellows were pretty hard on your
buddy this morning."
"There's one like him every year on
these tours. Some guy thinks he's discovered the most unique bit
of gash on the planet. Then two days later he's waltzing in the
hotel with a new girl. Then she's
the most unique bit of gash on the planet
"Well, what was so unique about this
one, if I may ask?"
"Hah! Listen to this. He claims the
girl has a tongue inside her cunt. So it's like getting laid
and a blow job all in one."
"A tongue," I said.
"Can you believe that. Of course,"
he pulled up a bit, raising his eyebrows and shrugging, "maybe she
had some special action down there. But a tongue! The poor guy probably
just hasn't been laid right and proper in a while."
"A tongue," I repeated. "A mai
"Nothing. Just rambling."
"You don't believe-"
"Of course not. Poor guy, like you
Designated Asshole was still staring
at me through the filmy glass doors of the Hotel Sukhumvit as I
hopped a tuk-tuk-that onomatopoeic and ubiquitous motorized three-wheeled
contrivance with maniacally suicidal U-turn impulses and murderous
fumes-and directed the driver to take me to Banglamphu. Waiting
around the hotel lobby had given me an appetite, but my finances
forbade me little more than a bowl of Banglamphu street stall noodles
for lunch these days. Fieldwork, after all, can be expensive, especially
for an independent. But Bangkok can be a magical city, whatever
kind of budget you're stuck with. One morning you are fishing a
snake out of your toilet and the next week you are wolfing down
chicken and rice at the wedding of an Israeli backpacker named Schlomo
and a Thai Muslim bar girl named Sumalee. There are some four hundred
Buddhist temples in Bangkok-featuring the fifty-yard-long Reclining
Buddha, the mysterious and untouchable Emerald Buddha, and the five-and-a-half-ton
Solid Gold Buddha-and many times that many prostitutes in the bars
of Patpong and Soi Cowboy and Nana's Plaza ministering to pilgrims
whose reverence leans more toward the enchantments of the flesh
than the incantations of the spirit. Indeed, there's something for
everyone. Pirates from the South China Sea and dentists from Waukegan
will find themselves warmly received at a Patpong hole-in-the-wall
bar called Pussy Jolly Roger, where the girls dance naked with miniature
Captain Hook hats on their heads and white plastic molars glued
to their nipples. Their "tooth pasties."
only documented mai kee on record is a woman from the town
of That Phanom in the northeastern Thai province of Isan. And scanty
documentation that was: a letter dated July 17, 1969, from Michael
Fishbourne to one of his graduate students back home in the States.
In it he mentions almost in passing that a 37-year-old woman referred
to only as Noi was capable of extraordinary feats of dexterity involving
her "nether region." These included the production of sounds that
were "most human-like." The expulsion of air from the vagina is,
of course, hardly a rare thing and seldom silent, as impassioned
lovers know only too well, and serious scholars dismissed his claim
as simply a trick and a delusion. He had, after all, he later admitted,
paid the woman for a private demonstration.
And Fishbourne was grieving, in those
days, the death of a beloved wife. One of his colleagues pointed
out that when her cancer was in its final, virtually untreatable
stage, Fishbourne had carted her off to a psychic surgeon in the
Philippines and believed that the relatively comfortable last six
months of her life was directly attributable to the mass of liverish
material the "surgeon" had removed from her abdomen. Poor Fishbourne,
people said. He had always been such a rigorous man. And now pursuing
phantoms in the backwaters of Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, Fishbourne
claimed he had examined the Isan woman after her performance and
used the word "glossa" to describe an unusual structure he was certain
was involved in the enunciation of the most distinctive of the sounds:
mai kee. Thirty years passed since that letter was posted
and no one gave it another thought, save for the occasional cocktail
party joke (one party-there was pot on hand-finally broke up into
uncontrollable giggles when everyone realized they could not begin
a sentence with anything other than the word Mikey) at the
long-dead professor's expense, until Political Correctness and Sexual
Harassment Codes put an end to even that last little shred of immortality.
And then two years ago I arrived in
Bangkok on a wholly other mission. The UN wanted expert "classifiers"
to decide which of the refugees streaming across the Thai-Cambodian-Laotian
borders were true political refugees and which ones were just looking
for a free lunch. The job was easy. Everybody was hungry. Ergo they
were all refugees. From hunger, anyway. The UN didn't see it that
way. I was dismissed. My university department head wrote me a curt
letter letting me know my "unprofessionalism" had jeopardized its
standing with some important international programs and that I needn't
hurry back. They even dredged up the old Fishbourne business. As
a lark, weary of the bad food and beetles and tedious humdrum of
life along the Laotian border, I published a brief article in an
obscure magazine back in the States titled "The Talking Pussy of
That Phanom." I had not expected anybody back at Harvard would see
it. But people are quite cutthroat in their circumspection around
universities these days and they keep their eyes peeled. It was
a joke, really, the article. Though you do hear things upcountry,
talk. Thai rurals are an outgoing folk, especially when they get
hopped up on the local hooch. And, truth to tell, back in 1969,
I was that grad student. I had liked old Fishbourne, cranky and
supercilious as he could sometimes be. It hurt me that my mentor's
name had become synonymous with "delusion" and "gullibility." "Keep
your head about you," people dehorted jocularly at the airport as
they shook hands and bade farewell to colleagues embarking on journeys
that would take them deep into Stone Age turf. "Don't let those
Ifugao fishbourne you."
the bar of the Sukhumvit I could see directly into the lobby where
the group would be gathering to launch their evening sorties on
the bars of Patpong. I regretted having spoken to Designated Asshole.
It had been inexcusable and unnecessary. I hadn't needed any confirmation
of what Jack claimed he "knew." That was my job to verify it. And
I didn't want anyone to get wind of what I was up to. I had let
one-my one and only-slip through my fingers six months before by
loosening my lips too readily to a Delhi arms merchant at the bar
of Pussy See Pussy Do. It had never crossed my mind that the guy
might take me seriously, so much bemused condescension had I endured
at the hands of farangs I'd bellied up to the bar with over
the past year and a half. Or that he might want sweet little Pong
for himself. And have the bucks to spirit her out of the country
overnight right under my nose. What a fool I'd been! He had even
told me he was Collector of Oddities. A goat with three eyes. A
shell-less tortoise. Conspiratorially he intimated he had a line
on a Vu Qiang ox calf. Only three ever captured, and two of them
died within months. A sort of Southeast Asian unicorn. Poor Pong.
And for a while there I was beginning
to get a reputation. "See that Yank over there. That's the guy who's
looking for a girl with a tongue in her pussy." "Hey, Mr. Harry.
You see that girl dancing in red bikini? Tag say Number 46. She
got a tongue in her pussy. She my friend. You pay her bar fine.
600 baht. Take me too. 600 another baht." "Hey, Sir
Grandfather Big Nose. You want girl got tongue in she's pussy? You
put you's in mine! Ha ha ha!"
So I had to lay low from ridicule
for a while, if only for the sake of my dignity. And take stock
of my finances. The fact is that if you want to get inside a Thai
whore's quim and loll your finger or tongue or pecker around it's
going to cost you on average 1000 baht a pop. That's twenty-five
bucks at today's exchange rate. And then you figure at best, at
the very best, maybe one in five hundred might be a mai kee.
Twenty-five bucks times five hundred girls is better than ten thousand
dollars. Of course you could get lucky and find one your first month
or your first week or even your first day. But that's the stuff
of fiction and lottery dreams. And I suspect the ratio is closer
to one in two thousand. (Don't even reach for your calculator here-you
haven't got that much in the bank.) One in two thousand is a guess,
naturally. There's no way to tell. I made an appointment one afternoon
with a gynecologist at one of the V.D. clinics on Patpong. I figured
if anyone had come into contact with that many vaginas it would
have to be a Patpong woman's doctor. But this woman's doctor turned
out to be a woman doctor decidedly unsympathetic to abstruser avenues
of inquiry. "Crazy farang!" "Crazy foreigner!" Let's just
be generous and say that that branch of medical science is still
in its infancy over here.
And then, during this respite, I came
up with the grand scheme. Beautiful. Right out of thin air. These
budget sex tour groups. Twelve, fifteen, sometimes twenty men (and
curiously, now and again, the odd wife). Say fifteen guys times
ten days at one girl a day comes out to, what, one hundred and fifty
girls. Nearly half a year's research for one working alone on limited
funds. All I had to do was hang out in the hotel lobbies and do
a little harmless eavesdropping. Gents who back in Indianapolis
would never own up to ever even having chatted with a hooker would
carry on with expansive good cheer about the Patpong whore they
had bedded the night before. And, as often as not, in lurid, polychrome
detail. Of course, as I say, there was no way knowing if Jack could
tell the difference between a genuine mai kee and simply
a gifted, well-trained pubococcygeal. Not many men can, I suppose.
That, in the end, was my job.
The tour director arrived without
Toom this evening and took a quick head count. All born this side
of the Great War were present or accounted for: Doc and his white
pills and Singha wash, apparently, would not be bound by clock time
and had already hit the streets of Patpong. One chair sat ominously
empty of its usual occupant. But only now did this absence intrude
on the jovial anticipation of the punters. In the stillness that
spread out from the lobby even unto my stool in the bar could be
heard the soft rapping of the black velvet knuckles of the actuarial
glove. Buy Debt of the trout-fly-nipple fetish and a slack-jawed
office manager from Baltimore leaned toward each other and conferred
in whispers. Designated Asshole examined his fingernails and checked
his watch. The rest stared at Hummel or into their laps.
"Has anyone seen Professor Wunderlich?'
Then the Nam vet and the ex-hippie
spoke up simultaneously. They had the rooms on either side of the
octogenarian's on the third floor and had helped the old man fit
his key into his lock when he came back tipsy the previous night
with a sixteen-year-old bar-fined out of Pussy Delight on one arm
and a sullen Lao missing an earlobe on the other. He hadn't come
down for the noon meeting, but that wasn't unusual. And if anyone
had the right to sleep in, it was the professor.
"I'll just give his room a ring,"
announced the tour director in a sort of public whisper, and walked
over to the house phone on the reception desk. The poor guy. A corpse,
of course, is a tour director's worst nightmare. There would be
the embassy to notify. And the police. And what passed in the tropical
Third World for a coroner and morgue. The outlay for a casket and
the shipment Stateside. Thirty years ago when they shipped Fishbourne
home, with no next of kin, I volunteered to drive out to the airport
and claim the remains. They asked me to identify him right there
at Customs. Handed me a surgical mask and ushered me into a small
room and popped open the sealed coffin with a vacuum whoosh.
His face was puffed and purple, as if his head were in the process
of metamorphosing into a huge plum. His dentures were gone. Probably
melted down, I realize now, and cast into a souvenir gold ring for
a GI on R and R from a war just a mortar heave away in the rice
paddies of the Mekong Delta.
With the receiver tucked between his
shoulder and ear, Hummel stared dismally for some minutes at the
clasp of his gray watchband. He set the phone back in its cradle
and, as if he had locked in place a new fuse and completed a magic
circuit, the doors of the lobby elevator cranked open and out ambulated
the professor with the bar-fine from Pussy Delight at his side.
Hummel grinned in almost cosmic relief and steepled his hands together
and nodded in a mock-Thai bow. The Lao-she indeed was missing an
earlobe-floated down the stairway moments later. Many of the new
arrivals, particularly the hill girls, feared and distrusted elevators.
Escalators too, I'd learned the hard way, having spent a good quarter
of an hour in a department store one afternoon urging an upcountry
Isan girl (she hailed from a village near That Phanom and I had
hoped she might know a bit of mai kee lore) to "just step
forward and grab the handrail" while the pretty young clerks in
their spotless uniform dresses at the perfume counter sniggled uncontrollably
behind cupped palms. And finally, when Nok got the hang of it, I
had to drag her out of the store bodily, so fascinated had she become
with riding the "walking ladder."
With the professor of rocketry now
a securely identified blip on the tour director's screen-often at
these meetings I observed his head swing around evenly in the manner
of a radar scanner to keep track of his "boys." Hummel instructed
the group to rendezvous on Patpong at the flashy, neon-decked Pussy
Royale. He would send them off two by two in tuk-tuks from the streetcorner
outside the Sukhumvit. From the Pussy Royale he was to lead them
to the night's special destination, Carabao House, a cozy upstairs
nook specializing in oral delights. He had struck a deal with the
mama-san and they would have the place all to themselves for two
hours. "All girls in the buff and no tipping expected." A paragraph
in his brochure I had found stuffed behind a cushion of a lobby
sofa promised an "orgy of tongues, tit, and twat" and apparently
this was the golden night. But Hummel was a careful man, too. Although
Patpong would be teeming with thousands of pleasure-seekers, he
knew better than to arrive there in the mini-bus in which he ferried
his charges to the alligator farm or their afternoon of muay
thai. Mini-buses meant tours and a stop at Patpong meant "sex
tour" and it was no secret the local police chief would want his
palm greased to overlook so brazen a flaunting of the country's
laws. Sex tours are illegal in Thailand the way drug rings are illegal
in the States-"Like, yeh, right, man." One group I'd followed two
months before ignored this nicety of the judiciously placed bribe
and the tour director found himself being interviewed on CNN-from
a jail cell. So off the group went two by two in their tuk-tuks.
I hopped in a tuk-tuk at a stand across
the street and instructed the driver Ka-roo-na nam phom pai yang
Patpong. I paid up front and tossed in an extra ten baht. Reh-o,
I urged. "Quickly. Short cut." The Carabao House arrangement wants
an unanticipated snag. My hope was for Jack to make a bee-line from
the Pussy Royale to the bar where "his girl" worked. It was possible
there would be as many as thirty or forty girls dancing there and
I wanted him to lead me right to her. I didn't want to spend a couple
hours outside Carabao House while Hummel's crew sat around with
their pants down to their ankles and got their collective wad siphoned
off. Worse, once fellated my man might decide he had had his share
of libidinous play for the evening and spend the rest of the evening
tooling up and down the strip bouncing bottles of Singha off his
Royale was a newly-remodeled showcase with a huge rectangular bar
that took up nearly all its interior space save for the barstools
and the row of snuggle couches along each wall where, for the price
of a "lady's drink," you could tweak a waitress's bare boobs and
trade such vital information as your Christian name, your nationality--avoid
anywhere that sounds even vaguely "Arabic"--and whether you want
head and she gives it--"smokes," in the local slang--or not. A dart
show was in progress as I entered. A girl lay naked on her back
on the raised dance floor inside the bar firing tiny pointed projectiles
from her nether cleft at a cluster of colored balloons tied to a
pole. Blow-gun style. Pop. She was accurate. Popopop. Western women
especially tend to look down their noses at these kinds of displays.
But it is the sort of pointless talent men of all cultures--raised
to appreciate the absurd skills required to win foolhardy playground
dares and daffy barroom wagers--find eminently admirable. We've
been competitors since we were austrolopithecines, and we've never
been able to shake it. And it's certainly more entertaining than
watching some frumpkin of an Olympic archer from South Korea with
a high-tech bow that looks like a scaled-down space shuttle console
sling cupiditous bolts at a calibrated bulls-eye. But it will be
a long, long time before we see a trio of Patpong girls empedestaled
on the stepped platform of an Olympic awards ceremony to accept
the gold, silver and bronze in Pussy-Blow-Dart-Pop-Balloon as the
Thai flag is unfurled overhead and the national anthem pipes through
the stadium's loudspeaker system. And this is unfair, as the world
of sport's only real moral claim on our wallets and our enthusiasms
has always been its promise of equal opportunity to the disenfranchised
and unempowered. Imagine, if you will, snapping open tomorrow's
sports pages and coming across this:
P-B-D-P-B TAKES FIRST OLYMPIC STEP
(Reuters)--Pussy-Blow-Dart-Pop-Balloon took a first step toward
eventual inclusion in the Olympic Games when it was granted provisional
recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Monday.
But hopeful P-B-D-P-B sharpshooters can expect no smooth trajectory
to the Summer Games, IOC Director General Geraldo Rivera warned.
The governing body of the newly recognized sport--the International
Pussy-Blow-Dart-Pop-Balloon Association--will first have two years
in which to convince IOC members of their claim to full recognition.
If successful, they would join 17 other non-Olympic sports waiting
hopefully on the sidelines for the chance to . . .
But forgive me: it is a curious habit
of the expat mind at bar to editorialize to itself at length on
matters of little consequences to the World-at-Large.
Members of the tour group trickled
into Pussy Royale and gathered at a corner of the bar just as the
dart show came to a close and a string of dancers mounted the stage
in red or yellow or black bikini bottoms but no tops. The panties
would stay on for a while--pinned to them were plastic tags with
the girls' identification numbers--and come off as the girls neared
the end of their half hour shift. With, of course, your stunning
exception, the less they wore the more they looked alike. But I
oversimplify. From eye-level at the bar two distinct types emerge.
The girls with longer, prominent pubic bones, exposed, hard-nosed,
defiant cunts promising a furiously demanding fuck that will end
with one agonist's shoulders firmly pinned to the mat. (Not recommended,
you understand, for the cardiacally impaired. Every year, according
to the German Embassy, some dozen or so overweight male Kraut tourists
pop a couple hundred milligrams of Viagra and blow out their tickers
as bedsprings groan and then subside in baleful silence.) And their
meeker counterparts, the smaller pubises that seem neatly tucked
away, barely V-shaped at all, soft, puellesque, shyly hinting at
a gentle, swaying lay that dissolves at climax into childlike giggles.
There are sub-types too, naturally, and that occasional stunner
that defies all classification. But one man's meat is another man's
poisson, as the French say. If you ever want to hear two
men disagree on the transcendent merits of what is right smack there
in front of them, take them to Patpong.
The tour boys, jovial and backslapping
now that they were out on the town again, attracted the attention
of girls seeking a "lady's drink." Foreigners in playful high spirits
can be generous. A "lady's drink," little more than a couple ounces
of orange juice or cola in a tumbler of ice, runs about 100 to 120
baht--say three bucks--of which the girl is given a share.
At closing time, or before she leaves with the customer who has
"bar fined" her out for the night, she cashes in a handful of plastic
chips--one for each drink she has hustled--that the bartender has
doled out to her that evening. The girls, I knew, avoided the quiet
loner, nursing a beer and sulking, his solitary thoughts focused
on that whore he had once had long ago and now, through the warped
prism of memory melded to imagination, has become the ideal against
whom all the pretty tarts working the crowd and hustling drinks
are measured and fall short, his dashed hopes breeding in him a
stinginess that is but another face of despair. Such a loner they
took me to be, I suppose, and in the twenty minutes I had been sitting
at the bar across from the tour group boys, only one bothered to
approach my barstool perch, and she backed away in stunned bafflement
when I snapped at her, apropos of nothing at all, the last phrase
I remembered studying in my copy of Cricket Knight's Thai Spoken
With a Smile: "Maeng-ka-phroon!
Ra-wang!" (Jellyfish! Be careful!)
And then Jack made his move. He slid
off his barstool, spoke into Hummel's
ear under the disco music, and headed toward the exit. I tucked
eighty baht into the tiny wooden barrel set in front of me
that held my tab, and shimmied and wove my way through the yammering
shoals of grinning, cajoling Brits and Aussies and Frogs and Krauts
and Yanks and turbanned Sub-continent swarthies. Jack's chin sawed
through the crowd with gritty determination. He had forsworn the
Carabao House orgy and could only be headed for his mai kee.
There is a thrill that all men know at least once in their lives--even
the tender-footed urbanite who has never cradled a shotgun--when
the certainty that his prey is about to reveal itself comes as a
scent, almost an intuition, a sweet chill to the bone.
Hard Rock was an upstairs bar of the shabbier sort. Some twenty
or twenty-five girls altogether, a third of them "dancing," each
bending her knees in time to the music and, catching a customer's
eye, lowering her pelvic cradle into a squat and producing a bump
or two and a counter-clockwise circular rump grind. When you first
enter one of these places, your mind takes a moment to adjust to
the circumstances as your eyes sweep the room and your heart does
a little jig to syncopate its beat to the rawness and rhythm of
flesh and sound. Encoded in the hetero male brain is a triangle-shaped
hole into which only a triangular peg will fit. The deltoid female
pubic muff and the mound of soft adipose flesh on which it flourishes
is that triangular peg. The ancient Greeks intuited this and squandered
the intellectual capital of an entire civilization waxing poetic
and mystical about triangles in weird paeans to a Realm of Forms.
The Pythagorean Theorem has to be the wackiest statement of erotic
longing of all time--save perhaps for the Willendorf Venus. Had
these eminences taken their minds off of prepubescent boys for a
while and balanced their isoceles on its point rather than allowing
it to rest so dully and securely on its base, perhaps they would
have seen this. And I won't even go into the matter of old Imhotep
and his Pyramids. Suffice it to say that when our species shed the
matted hair from its back and chest and limbs and stood up so nakedly
and brazenly straight, the triangular muff remained, a signal detectable
across distances, stripped down and sleeked up as we were for speed
and agility and general mayhem on the broad African savannahs.
Jack sat on a barstool ensorcelled
by a dancer with a thumbnail-sized bit of pubic hair that covered
little more than her tiny crevasse. Barely five-foot, skin that
achingly lovely bronze that pallid Westerners bake themselves for
days on end under fitful suns to attain, she was an Alpha female
in the best Southeast Asian sense of the term--not a cigarette burn
or razor blade scar on her. She dipped into a squat and performed
a couple of jocular, mock-seductive writhes for Jack. She had a
wide smile and two rows of even, baby-like teeth almost identical
in size. She pointed at her cheek and rolled her eyes, a reference,
I took it, to her morning trip to the dentist.
As she rose up out of her squat and
brought her knees together, her thighs touched, just barely, leaving
a tiny open space at her divine fulcrum through which flitted a
splash of unearthly white light. And then something happened. A
strange and dark rage, like a fever unannounced by any other symptoms,
flushed through me instantly, subsided, and left my limbs swamped
and leaden. A film of condensed vapors like gelid sweat bathed the
roots of my hair as the floor under me gave with the spongy elasticity
of a trampoline. I staggered a few steps to my left and collapsed
on one of the empty snuggle couches along the wall and gaped helplessly
at Jack and then at his girl and then at Jack again. A plump waitress
in bikini bottoms and a flimsy negligee jacket homed in on me and
I managed to order a bottle of Singha, shooing her away with a feeble,
breathless Maeng-ka-phroon! Ra-wang! when she returned with
the beer and tried to hustle herself a 100 baht lady's drink.
I put the bottle to my lips and as I tipped it up caught again a
glance of that trigonal postage stamp of black fur and the light
that danced just beneath it. The hot flash of fevered rage descended
again and I closed my eyes in abject submission. Pools of iridescent
blue dots and shimmering red dots swirled into each other and separated
out again. The driving beat of "Gimme Shelter" pressed in on my
diaphragm like a bunched fist and I sucked in gulps of the bar's
machine-chilled air: It's
just a kiss away, it's just a kiss away. The
fear that I might possibly be truly physically sick hit and--to
try to get a grip on a reality that seemed about to abandon me to
a bottomless Void--I blindly ran through an inventory of afflictions
tropical and otherwise that might strike so out of the blue: Malaria.
Hepatitis. Typhus. Cholera. Coronary. Black Clap. Allergy. Acid
flashback. Male menop--
"You okay, pal?"
I opened my eyes. Jack's blond moon-face
swayed over me, searching and concerned, as if suspended on an invisible
"You don't look so good."
stayed in bed three days straight, getting up only to use the toilet
and boil myself bowls of bland white noodles. I sent my landlady's
son to a Chinese herbalist with a request for something that would
soothe "overwrought nerves" and he returned with an envelope filled
with a grainy brown meal that was apparently some sort of "tea."
I steeped this and drank it and did feel a little better. On the
fourth day I rose and dressed and walked shakily downstairs to use
the lobby phone of the lodging house. The desk clerk at the Sukhumvit--the
parched woman with the dime-sized chocolate mole, I assumed - replied
archly in high-pitched screechy tones that Mr. Hummel's group had
left for Don Muang International Airport the previous morning. I
had wanted to thank Jack for putting me in a tuk-tuk that
night. He had even paid the driver my forty baht fare. Your
typical American, so frugal when overseas these days, is capable
of genuine small kindnesses, if given half a chance.
A letter from my bank in the States
arrived informing me that my last thousand dollars had been wired
to my account in Bangkok. I stopped by a language institute that
had offered me a job teaching English some months before. The director,
a bloated Thai with sour pools of pinkish rheum collecting in the
corners of his eyes, grumbled that I had caught him at a bad time,
and maybe he would be able to use me sometime in the future and
maybe not. He couldn't be sure. There were hordes of young Brits
and Aussies and Yanks trekking off to the hinterlands with their
Patpong and Soi Cowboy and Nana's Plaza girlfriends to smoke dope
and copulate and goof on the wavy pristine drapery of nature, and
then returning to the city broke and eager to replenish their drained
wallets and empty stash pouches. They worked cheap. I envied them
their release and the impudent nose they thumbed at the workaday
world. They babbled of jungle visions and fondled exotic phra
phim amulets and griped about visa hassles and the capriciousness
of Thai law enforcement and bureaucratic red tape, but on the whole
were no more ridiculous than your suburban American clown grilling
burgers in his backyard and staring with suppressed menace at his
wife's fat-ass bermuda shorts and varicose veins.
And I thought about Jack's girl at
Pussy Hard Rock. There was no denying I had had some sort of "attack."
Or what brought it on. One could speculate, of course, and posit
what kinds of occult psychic machinery might lie behind the simple
cause-and-effect. But as the days and nights after that evening
wore on, the truth became simple and incontrovertible: I was heartsick.
A man of fifty-four in love with a hill country whore clearly not
yet twenty years of age. Whom he had never spoken even one word
to. Had not been in the same room with--save for ten minutes of
mental and emotional and physical disaster. I needed to see her,
and I feared that if I did I might relapse, or worse. It no longer
mattered much if she was a mai kee or not. Perhaps there
was no such thing as a mai kee, after all. Old Fishbourne
was a man in deep despair over a dead wife when he examined the
woman from That Phanom. He believed that the pig innards the charlatan
on Luzon pretended to tug out of a fold in his wife's abdomen were
her own cancerous bowels. And I had never had a chance to give Pong
the kind of thorough gynecological examination necessary before
the Delhi arms merchant whisked her away. She was shy that way and
ran screaming and jumping about my lodgings when I produced the
speculum. Every man, as I said, has this triangular hole in his
brain that longs to be filled, completed. But no man's hole is exactly
the same as another's. We're all different, absurdly so. My story
here would probably strike the average Joe bellying up to the bar
in Kokomo as the demented raving of a lunatic. So be it.
I wrote a note and signed it and left
it on the table of my lodging house room. I did not honestly know
if I would return home alive that evening. I wanted Julie to have
my Ibo fertility puppets and my Korean shaman wind skates. There's
not much an anthropologist can leave the daughter of a divorce,
in the end. I doubted the university would want my papers. And there
was nothing left in my bank account. That last grand was the silted
residue of a prematurely drained IRA. Then I turned off the lights
and sat in the dark and let my eyes adjust to the pair of cheap
sunglasses I had picked up from a street vendor. It struck me as
extraordinarily comical that I was like a man preparing to view
a solar eclipse, calculating the potential retinal damage and pressing
ahead just the same. Quite mad and quite in possession of himself,
just the same.
the murky darkness of Pussy Hard Rock I maneuvered my half-blind
way to the same snuggle couch on which I'd collapsed two weeks before.
It was still early in the evening and the only other customers were
a couple of young German tourists wearing t-shirts that proclaimed
in slick obscene mottoes that they were survivors of the greatest
fuckfest since the Romans carried off the Sabine women. Jack's girl
stood naked on the raised stage behind the bar, bending one knee
and then the other to the beat of "Light My Fire," holding on to
a pole fixed to the floor and ceiling. I fought off the impulse
to tear off my dark glasses and take in wholly. Already my heart
was racing and my palms wet. The heavenly blip of white light between
her thighs was muted to a gauzy glow. A plump waitress sauntered
over and plopped down beside me on the snuggle couch.
"How come you got a sunglasses on?"
"The better not to see with."
"Tik no understand."
"Your name's Tik?"
"My name Tik. What your name?"
"That girl up there. What's her name?"
"What girl? Got seven girl up there."
"The one," I said breathlessly, "holding
on to the pole."
"That Moi. Moi no talk girl. No hear."
Only now did I notice that as she
danced, the girl called Moi kept an eye on the legs of the other
girls on stage, divining the rhythm of the music from their movements.
"You want Singha?"
"Sure. Bring me a beer."
"You want Moi come sit with you?"
"Please," I said, as the room commenced
to tilt and spin and I summoned from the giddy depths of my being
the balance and equipoise of my spirit's sea-legs and my soul's
gyroscope. "Yes, please. But please ask her to put something on."
lay on my bed that evening and many an evening after that, her legs
spread in the manner of a Pussy-Blow-Dart-Pop-Balloon sharpshooter
casting a trajectory. I sat beside her on a chair behind my sunglasses.
With a handbook on International Signing bought at a used book stall
we learned to communicate well enough that way, silently. Eventually
a pink tip did emerge between her dainty nymphae and, improvising
on a technique known to ancient Chinese sages as Burbling at the
Jade Fountain, I managed to teach her a few basic phrases in English
like "Oh thank you, but you flatter me" for the inevitable comments
she was sure to receive regarding her stunning beauty and "Go fuck
yourself" for anyone making a snitty comment to her about our age
But learning a language is not like
turning a trick, and teaching one is not easy either. Even now every
syllable we attempt costs her a laborious effort, but she makes
it just the same, for me. Perhaps she has a hole in her brain too,
and something about me--though I cannot imagine what this could
be--fits it just right. But women aren't the same as men, that much
we all know. She'll never be fluent, and we've had to accept that.
We were the talk of the town for a while, so to speak, once back
in the States. Perhaps you caught us on the tube that afternoon
Oprah set her microphone on Moi's modestly skirted lap and all of
America heard her muffled pussy ask "Why is everybody in the audience
so fat?" She did me particularly proud that day, for I had not taught
her that expression. We had not practiced it. She had learned it
on her own. I had to slap my thigh and laugh when a hefty New Jersey
matron with blue hair stood up and pointed at us and howled "Ventriloquism!
I saw it! He moved his lips!" Jack got wind that Moi was in America
and phoned one afternoon from his home in Santa Monica. I don't
know why. He had to know she was deaf. But I was happy to have the
opportunity to thank him for helping me out of Pussy Hard Rock that
evening. "I couldn't have done it alone, Jack." I handed Moi the
receiver and she slipped off her panties and squatted down on the
mouthpiece and gazed up a me imploringly and squeaked, "It was sweet
of you to call, Jack. You were a dear. I'm happily married now."
And demonstrating that old Fishbourne
had not been so completely off his rocker after all helped reinstate
me at Harvard. My "Talking Pussy of That Phanom" piece--much elaborated--is
now often cited as a singular example of dogged pursuit of truth.
But I don't much care for teaching anymore. The students these days
have no imagination, no vision of the quest. Fieldwork for them
is drudgery. They would no more paddle a canoe up the Orinoco to
undertake protein efficiency studies of Yanomamo hunting methods
than scrub toilets in a bus station men's room. And my colleagues
are no better. At cocktail parties the younger ones corner Moi in
kitchen nooks and on bended knees address the most indecent proposals
directly to her pelvis. She's a good sport, of course, and lets
them off with a sharp knuckle-rap to the pate and a snappy Maeng-ka-phroon!
Ra-wang! from those very same nether regions whilst hers truly
stands off, nodding and winking.
But I guess I can't blame them. Just
the thought of making love to her is unutterably overwhelming. And
actually doing it--my god! Once a week is almost more than my constitution
can handle. And I have had to hang on to those shades. I still cannot
bear to take in her full frontal nakedness. That dancing splash
of unearthly white light between her thighs. We couple in the dark,
like shy honeymoon lovers. Her deafness is incurable. And she will
never learn to talk the way normal people do. So much for the magicians
at Harvard Med. At night we lie side by side in a dark world of
silence, punctuated only occasionally by tender whispers delivered
up from that sweet fissure between her legs: Please nudge me
if it starts to rain. I left the downstairs windows open. We
live in a world of silence. But speech, regardless of where it proceeds
from, is nothing more than manipulated sound, and sound nothing
more than agitated air.