from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2008)
In the center of Babylon is a restaurant with glass walls: one side overlooks the courtyard and the other the pool, and everywhere there are tall palms, tile and glass, and gentlemen who make it to the gym not less than five days a week. As you sit with your Singha beer and plate of duck, perhaps feeling a little odd to be in such an elegant place wearing only a towel, you may read the slogan which is printed on the seat back: Twenty years of artistic endeavor beautifully disguised as a sauna.
Of all the sexual paradises gay men have devoted their lives to creating, the Babylon is perhaps the most exquisite. As the light fades, men gather in the courtyard to sip wine beneath the palms. If that is not enough for you, there’s also: a full gym surrounded by buck naked stone pharaohs with truly chiseled abs, a pool, more palms, another elegant bar, a coffee shop with fine desserts and classic movies, a huge wet area with steam, sauna and a honeycomb of tiled showers, the obligatory mile of dark mazes lined with cubicles, as well as a third bar hidden so deep in the guts of the place it’s unlikely you could get there or back without being fellated thrice, at least.
It is all very lovely—who looks at it?
OK, for ten minutes, maybe, when one first arrives. Maybe just after shooting a load. But mostly I’m just circling ravenously, elbowing my way through the dark corridors, chasing some Nordic-looking guy with three day stubble and a bulge in his towel. Fuckin’ a, he was here a minute ago, where the hell did he go?
At the end of the night my dick is sore and I feel like I’ve been duped. There is an honest bewilderment: it looked so fun. And yeah, maybe I got turned down a bunch of times, but other men grabbed my arm and dragged me off into a cubicle. Several of them were preposterously handsome. Bangkok attracts full-time sex fiends, graduates of gaydar with high honors. This is not the place for amateurs of promiscuity.
Still it seems that, at crucial moments, I was not there. Or it is as if, upon arrival in paradise, I am transformed into the most unpleasant person I have ever met.
If I was the only person doing this, well, I could institutionalize myself and the problem would be solved. But, looking around, it seems to me that I have never seen such a collection of glowering, stressed-out, miserable, sour faces as I see here, in this sexual paradise --entrance 260 baht, on weekends.
So much sunlight, so much glass, but most of the men are in the back corridors, in the dark, in the steam. We are at the baths, after all. And we have brought our shame with us from all the public toilets in the world.
Two hundred men nearly naked in this, the paradise of bathhouses, and it is remarkable, it is downright newsworthy, how miserable we make it. Into paradise we haul our dull old habituated stuck selves.
Something has gone wrong.
This is particularly sad since a lot men worked so hard to be here—hoarded vacation days, paid the gas surcharge, flew seventeen hours—all so they could stomp around all night with a pouty full-diaper face. Personally, since graduating high school, I have done approximately 300,000 sit-ups in hopes of meriting a friendly reception here. And so have a lot of other guys. This place is packed full of gorgeous forty-five year old men with washboard abs and the grimacing, bratty face of the most spoiled nine year old you’ve ever known, shoving forward for his share of the piñata.
“Dear God, I think, even if I am ugly, don’t let me have that awful look on my face.” But, of course, this place has mirrors everywhere and I can see—I’m working on it.
Some men worked to be here, others give their lives to build the place and keep it going. The lovely ladyboys at the front desk, the gym attendants in their white shorts, the invisible magnate who dreams up clever slogans. How disappointing for them to see that, in the end, they have provided us with only another arena for our despair.
The principal achievement of gay culture is the perfection of a global system for standardized promiscuity. Our network is better than Coca Cola’s and if you’ve got a big dick you can get laid in Greenland or Ghana in under fifteen minutes. This is our grand endeavor. Gaydar and Manhunt are our cathedrals, Ramrod is our opera, we have made statues of ourselves.
This place has been built, our vacations planned with everything in mind except an honest look at how desire works, how it becomes more demanding, more restrictive, the more that it is fed. This paradise is actually a gymnasium for the cultivation of ravenous hunger.
Not that I’ve learned this lesson. Fuck no. (Please here insert spooky hysterical laugh.) I show up here again and again. Because I know it’s a nightmare, I know it’s a drag but, but, but—it looks like it should work.
Two hundred men in towels, all clutching condoms and little packets of lube. This should be as easy as adding water to instant noodles. Right? Right?
Or how about what’s going on downtown: the boys on stage in little white underpants, each with a little red number. Right or wrong, it seems awfully straight-forward. I mean, it seems like it should work.
It’s like that Zen story: the guests are seated at the most sumptuous table and everything they could ever want is there. But, before they can get started, their arms are strapped to boards so that they cannot bring their spoons to their mouths. That’s where we’re at. As good as it looks, we might as well be trying to suck ourselves off.
Some nights there are the jackpot wins: Marco from Peru, Olivier from Toulouse, to say nothing of that Swiss porno Apollo. But a dull anxiety follows, because frankly there are very few years left when a god-ling such a Marco might chose me. (Maybe he only chose me because it was kind of dark?) Olivier looked rather disappointed, and, as for Apollo, well, I wake up with a dull ache missing him.
Satisfaction is satisfaction, blue ribbon, hunk angel. And at the same time it seems to me that satisfaction is the tent peg that keeps the circus of misery in town and intact. It’s just not very satisfying, satisfaction.
In the Zen story, one room starves while another, their arms similarly strapped, learn to reach across the table and feed each other.
And so I would like to send a little message out into all the gaydar and manhunt in-boxes, put a little card in the glossy magazines, stand on a street corner outside the boutique, outside the disco, and hand out little cards that read: is there something else we could be doing? Considering there are, like, only 24 golden lemurs left and 18,000 children who die from hunger every day? Considering we are destroying ourselves with truly 21st century efficiency and not even having that good of a time?
Here it is: an invitation to exit this paradise which, good as it looks, just doesn’t work.