Sunday, August 02, 2009

Of Appearances

from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2008)

How can you stay in Bangkok? After three days it is finished. There's nothing to see, nothing to do.

True, of course, but still I needed a haircut. I walked to Silom and asked a smiling lady in front of a foot massage place if she also did hair. "Sure I do!" she said and led to me to a chair.

Now there's a first time for everything and this may have been her first time to do hair. She snipped a little, at random it seemed, then stepped back to study the effect. Snipped a little more, stepped back. Laughed uproariously.

"Don't worry," I said, though she was not the one worried. "Just make sure it's short." She was so charming I knew I'd be powerless to complain even if she left me looking like I suffered from mange. I consoled myself that, realistically, there isn't much that can render me more funny-looking, or less.

She clipped another twenty minutes or so and proclaimed me a handsome man. Really it was not so bad. Especially the left side. The left side was really quite professional.

A few minutes later I was back on the street admiring myself in a mirrored window when a white guy interrupted me to ask for money. I gave him twenty baht, asked where he was from.

"I'm Thai," he said. "My Dad was white, so everybody thinks. . ." His skin was gaunt, his eyes sunken and red-rimmed. His English was perfect and spoken with a heavy German accent. He said he needed 300 baht for a bus ticket back to his village near the River Kwai. He had eyes green as green glass, same as another Thai man I'd met, the child of Thai mother and an American soldier, who was working as a bar boy in Pattaya. He'd hovered around the edges of the bar, skittish and uneasy, and did not join the other massage boys as they gossiped by the door on folding chairs. He seemed estranged from himself, a Thai man who looked 100% suburban New Jersey, a body that distanced him from his own family and countrymen, a body that now was up for sale.

"I hate this city," said this moment's green-eyed man. "It makes you sick." He continued walking down the street.

I stopped for a beer in Soi Twilight, which is an entirely different place, in the middle of the afternoon. A few tourists were sitting around, impatient for the night, looking extraordinarily sour-faced.

When I am in a pissy mood I make plans for a shrill and unpleasant book, which is to be titled The Gay Men's Guide to Mastering the Art of Unhappiness, because I believe we've brought unhappiness to whole new levels and straight women ought to come to us to be tutored in this, instead of hair and interior decorating. Has there ever been a group of people so good at making themselves and each other miserable?

Or, how about this, there could be a TV show with five gay guys and one straight guy. The gay guys would sit the straight guy down and explain to him why he was never ever going to be good enough.

You've got to have washboard abs and perfect pecs, you must get fifty dollar haircuts, you must have an enormous prick. You must have a very respectable job, you must be a success. You must be an original and also the same as everyone. Why are we even bothering to tell you all this? You are already too old. Save your money. Stay home. Maybe some day you can fly to Bangkok and buy someone pretty.

That said, there were two guys in the cafe who were having a really good time. (My theories are extraordinarily short-lived.) They were deaf and cussing each other out with tremendous merriment. This was an extraordinarily efficient process. I reckon they managed to curse each other 150 times within 30 seconds, a whirlwind of gestures that proceeded naturally to poking and slapping.

Can I ask a really ignorant question? Do deaf people get into more fights? Fighting words are already almost fighting.

The light outside was gentling now. It would be night but not soon enough. I had no idea what to do. That was a relief. I resolved to wander some more. As my master, Robert Walser, wrote, "We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when I read your writing, I think that I too, must be gay.

I would be so good at it, if it weren't for the whole sexual aspect.

Is there a chapter in your Unhappiness guide for this?

Aging does not come naturally, of this much I am certain. We work hard at it. We age ourselves with every labored breath. Each morning, when we look in the mirror, we create the very lines we seek. Gravity is our accomplice, but we are the mastermind. We choose between the aching back and the sloped shoulders, just as we choose between an extended hike and an afternoon in the dark.

Ben O'