from Three Coin Prose: Bangkok (2008)
He told the doorman, “I’m looking for my friend Tom. Seen him? Big guy. White hair.” Then he poked his head in the door. A flash of bored men slouched at the bar, men who jumped up and were boys, grinning boys in white underpants glowing purple under the black lights, waving him in, “Hell-o! Hell-o, sir! Come in!” Most of the time he backed out. Did the same thing at the next place. By the end of the night I still wasn’t sure if Tom was real or not.
I’d met him on a back street near the muscle bar Tawan, where the bars are cheaper and more direct than those on Soi Twilight. Men do not go to these bars to see shows.
“What are you looking for?” he asked me. I said, “Some place I haven’t been.” He accepted that and for the rest of the night I followed him, through the alleys, to one bar after another. The rooms we visited sank from view in a stream of beer and talk.
“I have three lives,” said Kurtz. “One with my family, my ex-wife and kids. They’re in Las Vegas. I’ve got to be straight. They couldn’t handle it. Sure, she’s thrown it in my face a couple times—hey faggot! I think I ruined her life. It wasn’t her fault she married a queer. I try to make it up to her. When I go home she gets everyone together. Tries to make it like old times. That’s her thing.
“My second life’s in Germany. Been there twenty years. I’m pretty high up now, I can’t come out, I wouldn’t get the same respect. Then there’s this life, where I can be myself.”
Bald, beer-gutted, 59—Kurtz had been handsome, I guessed, but now he was clearly unwell, like a businessman who got drunk every night and never saw the sun or took the stairs. He was surprised when I said I could walk to my hotel. “My walking days are over,” he said. “I walk to suck cock. That’s it. That’s all that keeps me going.”
At Super A one boy * stood on the stage alone, blank-eyed, shifting from foot to foot. Super A is a place I know I will return in dreams: rain-damaged walls and decaying Christmas decorations, tattered banners and homeless boys asleep on couches.
Kurtz chose a boy to take upstairs. He lurched up and cheerfully he said, “Everyone’s got something, right? This is my thing. About most things I’m a straight arrow.”
I sat and waited for him, as the boys sitting with me became bored. One who’d massaged my arm was passed out now against on my shoulder. The boys chatted with each other, other boys came in, went to sleep on a couch. It reminded me of a place I’d been years before, in Boston, a drop-in center for hustlers, where they gave me a ham cheese sandwich and let me sleep.
Maybe twenty minutes later Kurtz came back down. “Told you it wouldn’t take me long,” he said. As I followed him into the street he did a tally. “That makes six today. Three at the movie theater. You been there? Nice young guys. Didn’t cost me a penny.”
I tried to make a determination: was six so many blowjobs, really? I mean, if you have a strong jaw and a sense of enthusiasm? Popsicles spring to mind. Popsicles tend to be very well received. You’re bound to be popular if you’re just giving popsicles away. Perhaps my opinion of these matters had shifted over time. Perhaps I should revisit the question later, with less beer.
“One more story,” Kurtz would say and all his stories were the same, of some straight guy who’d let him suck him off. Leading to each conquest was extensive work, staying up all night, sitting for hours at the bar, long afternoons at the video arcade, finding some guy who needed a place to stay. Many times during the night Kurtz said, “80% of what you want you can have.”
Kurtz said, “When I get back I’ve got one day off, then it’s suit and tie and back to work. I know my secretary is going to ask, 'How was your vacation?' And I won’t be able to tell her a damn thing. I didn’t go to the Grand Palace. I didn’t go to the National Museum. I sucked cock and sucking cock was all I did.”
I wanted to tell him, “The river is still there, you know. You can take a boat.” But I know how the system works.
Kurtz said, “I’m a spiritual person, not religious.” Kurtz said, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” Kurtz said, “I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve really been down.” Kurtz said, “There’s such a thing as evaporative action. Like you could have got hurt but you didn’t. Like you could have got caught but you didn’t. Whatever it was, doesn’t count. That’s evaporative action.”
And for once in my life I was absolutely totally one-hundred-percent certain that every one of my thoughts, words and actions would dog me until the end of time.
And what was I doing? Sitting in the bars, draped with boys, Kurtz said, “You love this, right? You love it.” The answers I gave Kurtz were spectacularly stilted. I said, “I’ve spent much of my life in dark places, in places where it is always 2am. I’m comfortable.”
This was the best I could do, considering the tight place I was in, with my dick hard in my pants and zero belief in evaporative action.
Kurtz had been coming here for twenty years and, as we walked, he showed me his life, pointed out a bartender or hotel staff or a woman reading palms on the street. “I’ve been seeing her for twenty years,” he said. “She’s always happy to see me.” But the person to whom he pointed or waved never seemed happy to see him at all.
“I got a big dick,” Kurtz said. “Eight inches on the ruler. I tell the boys ‘I’m too big for you’. They like to hear that.” Still, he complained it was sometimes difficult to get laid. “Boys aren’t interested in me. They look at me and think, ‘I already have a father’. They don’t see my inner qualities.”
At 2am the bars shut down and he took me around the block where hustlers waited on unlit corners. He knew a lot of them. I shook hands in a friendly careful way, like a minister at the end of the service. He pointed out one boy. “I knew him when he was fifteen.”
Kurtz was so cheerful, so upbeat. He could have been an Iowa state legislator. He was even chipper as he said, “I’m a body without a soul. I suck cock. Sometimes I don’t understand it. Other people have culture, they go to movies and museums. I suck cock.” A vast and gaping blackness came into view as he spoke, as if we’d abruptly arrived at the end of the Earth. I was pinned against the locker as the Ghost of Christmas Future cut to the chase: take a good look, motherfucker.
We had at last arrived at Burger King. Kurtz said, “I should eat something. I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” It was three o’clock in the morning. He wanted me to stay. There were other places he could show me. I said I couldn’t eat anything, not even a bite. No need for a taxi either. It would do me good to walk.
* Important note: In this essay, the word "boy" is used in the modern gay sense. Anyone with a penis is a boy. Everyone I am writing about is an adult. Only on one occasion did I encounter someone I believed to be under 18. I contacted an organization in Bangkok that works to stop child sex trafficking.