The Bar Scene Finally Explained
I am a great reader and admirer of H.L. Mencken, who is probably one of America’s greatest writers, or at least one of its greatest satirists. When I start to get gloomy about this old world we live in, I pick up one of his volumes and soon I am laughing about the absurdities of life. Anyway, I was re-reading some of his essays from The Smart Set magazine when I came across this article. Printed in 1916 and titled, The Incomparable Buzz-saw, I was struck by the clarity and insightfulness of this writing, especially considering that Mencken was a near lifelong bachelor. Maybe a detached view from a distance is always better. Although Mencken probably had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek when he wrote this, these two paragraphs explain to those still wondering why men and women continue to play in the Thai bar scene beyond any application of reason.
The allurement that women hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hateras holds out to sailors: they are enormously dangerous and hence enormously fascinating. To the average man, doomed to some banal drudgery all his life long, they offer the only grand hazard that he ever encounters. Take them away and his existence would be as flat and secure as that of a moo-cow. Even to the unusual man, the adventurous man, the imaginative and the romantic man, they offer the adventure of adventures. Civilization tends to dilute and cheapen all other hazards. Even war has been largely reduced to caution and calculation; already, indeed, it employs almost as many press-agents, letter-openers, and generals as soldiers. But the duel of sex continues to be fought in the Berserker manner. Whoso approaches women still faces the immemorial dangers. Civilization has not made them a bit more safe than they were in Solomon’s time; they are still inordinately menacing, and hence, inordinately provocative, and hence inordinately charming.
The most disgusting cad in the world is the man who, on the grounds of decorum and morality, avoids the game of love. He is one who puts his own ease and security above the most laudable of philanthropies. Women have a hard time of it in this world. They are oppressed by man-made laws, man-made social customs, masculine egoism, the delusion of masculine superiority. Their one comfort is the assurance that, even though it may be impossible to prevail against man, it is always possible to enslave and torture a man. This feeling is fostered when one makes love to them. One need not be a great beau, a seductive catch, to do it effectively. Any man is better than none. To shrink from giving so much happiness at such small expense, to evade the business on the ground that it has hazards – this is the act of a puling and tacky fellow.
I know some of you will say that the interactions in the bars are business-based; a trade of services for money. But that does not explain why some girls still ply their trade when they have lots of money in the bank and a caring husband at home. Nor does it explain why some men with loving and beautiful wives waiting for them, still stalk the streets of Patpong on weekend nights. I have always contended that there was something else at work here, and whether Mencken’s article fully explains it or not is certainly worth a good debate.
After examining my own feelings from the first time I set foot in a Bangkok gogo bar, I can affirm that the words exciting and dangerous can be used to describe them. That thrill when the first half naked Thai girl walked past me and flashed that amazing smile, if it could be bottled it would sell for ten times its weight in gold. Viagra could not compete. Once over that rush of excitement, the amazing fact that she could be yours for a small fee starts to gnaw at you; like prolonged hunger pangs. When the deal is sealed, soon she is walking with you through Bangkok streets you have never been on and you are alone together in strange hotel room. Will she provide pleasure or pain, or both? Where will you wake up in the morning? Will she still be there?
For long-time punters, this may seem like the musings of a newbie; but for some who still make these excursions into red light districts an infrequent pleasure, the feelings from the first adventure continue to happen. Like drinking infrequently vs. every day, or eating a good steak once a week instead of every meal. I, myself can understand the drinking and eating analogies much better than I can my continuing excitement of entering a Nana Plaza bar and casting my sight 360 degrees across a sea of beautiful humanity and wondering what will happen next. Mencken may not have offered the best explanation for this phenomenon, but it is as good a one as I have ever come across.