Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus
Last night I was drinking in the Wooly Gastropod Bar on Kata Beach. I like drinking in the WG because there’s nobody outside the men’s room charging you two baht to take a leak. When your plumbing is as old as mine you could spend your life’s savings two baht at a time outside Kata Beach toilets.
I was drinking with Willy at the bar. I like Willy because he’s one of those perfectly normal guys who will suddenly, with no warning, say something completely off the wall.
The Wooly Gastropod was crowded and noisy last night because it was Jim’s birthday. Across the room Jim was the center of attention for Toom and all the other girls who work out of the Wooly Gastropod. There was much fussing over him: cool towels, flower garlands, kisses on his bald spot, shoulder massages, expressions of admiration for the hair on his forearms, and endless soprano choral renditions of “Happy Bird Day Do You.”
The room was hung with streamers and balloons, and there was a buffet set up with food from the restaurant next door. Jim, a doughy, shy, insecure mid-level manager with a pronounced Hapsburg jaw, was so drunk I doubt he could have stood upright even if there weren’t two barely-out-of-their-teens hookers seated on his lap. His fiancé Toom hovered around him making sure his cigarettes were lit and his glass was full. The party was actually in celebration of both Jim’s birthday and his engagement to Toom. The engagement made the women of the Wooly Gastropod more boisterous than usual.
Bar girls love an engagement; hope springs eternal.
Willy and I watched Toom bring in the birthday cake and place it with a flourish on the table in front of Jim. She had ordered it from Ocean Department Store and paid extra for custom decoration on the theme of the rock band Kiss. Atop the single scoop of vanilla banality that is Jim there is a dyed and chemically preserved cherry of lifetime enlistment in the Kiss Army. The cake featured the faces of all four musicians, with the six-inch-long scarlet tongue of Gene Simmons the only spot of color in an otherwise starkly black and white fresco of frosting.
Jim howled with glee when he saw the cake. He absolutely loved it. There was a look of honest relief on Toom’s face. She obviously wanted to please Jim. She lit the candles and he blew them out and the room cheered.
I was looking at Toom looking at Jim, and wondering why no woman ever looked at me that way, when Willy came out of nowhere with this:
“Why do guys come to Thailand and fall in love with a hooker who barely speaks English, has no education and sells herself for a living? Would the same guy date a girl from his country who had similar traits and job?”
“Well,” I said, watching Jim cutting a slice out of Ace Frehley’s enormous hair, “If Jim had any success mating with women who spoke his language he wouldn’t fly half-way around the world to celebrate his birthday in the Wooly Gastropod Bar. But even so, the biggest gap between Jim and Toom is not one of language or education or employment; it’s one of gender. She’s a woman, he’s a man, and never the twain shall meet.”
The Kiss cake was being dumped onto paper plates and passed around the room. Within moments people were shoving handfuls of the stuff in each other’s faces. There was quickly black and white frosting on everything: furniture, floor, walls, balloons. Alcohol and hope had made the girls effervescent. There was laughter, screaming, profanity and playful pulling down of each other’s tops. A couple of girls almost got into a fist fight but were pulled apart by their boyfriends, who then almost got into a fist fight.
But so profound was Willy’s self-righteousness that I could hear his “tsk-tsk” over the sound of the laughter and screaming and swearing and God-awful music. “Why on earth would anyone want to marry an uneducated, bad-mannered hooker?”
“My grandma was from Lithuania,” I said. “She had no education at all. And she was a mean, cranky old woman with absolutely no respect for anybody else’s’ personal space. But she and Grandpa stayed married for more than fifty years, and Grandpa cried at her funeral.”
“Look, don’t get me wrong,” Willy said, watching suspiciously as a girl so covered in black and white frosting she resembled a panda politely and gracefully placed a paper plate of cake in front of each of us. “I have friends who are in successful relationships with Thais and generally they all have the same traits – the girl speaks excellent English, studied or worked abroad, or at the very least has a degree and a family who can look after themselves and not rely on handouts from some farang. I think a lot of guys in Thailand really need to maybe try and date someone they have basic things in common with.”
“Well, Romeo and Juliet had a lot in common, practically grew up next door to each other, but that didn’t turn out so well. And since we’re throwing around anecdotal evidence, I’ve been in love with an uneducated bar girl, and I’ve been married to a good girl with a college degree. It was the marriage that wrecked me, not the love.”
I took a tentative taste of my cake with a plastic spork. I had received a piece that was solid black on one half, solid white on the other. I was surprised by how good it tasted. Between bites I said to Willy, “Look, the thing with men and women is, it doesn’t matter if you grew up in the same building or on opposite sides of the world. You’ve got a penis and she’s got a vagina. That means you’re from Mars and she’s from Venus. The only place you’ll ever see eye-to-eye is in bed.”
I had finished my piece of cake and was looking wistfully at Willy’s uneaten portion. He had a piece of Peter Criss’ face: a white eyeball in a solid field of black. I imagined that if I got up that eye would follow me around the room.
Willy pushed his plate toward me with an index finger, then wiped his finger on his napkin. “Every time I am in Thailand,” he said, “it always amazes me at the amount of mixed couples who are at restaurants or bars and either do not talk or have the most basic conversations or even worse, the guy is talking like a 5-year-old to her to be understood.”
I put his loaded paper plate on top of my empty one and dug in. “Willy, if I’m understanding your meaning through your tortured syntax, either you’re just playing the jaded expat, a pose that doesn’t impress anybody in the Wooly Gastropod, or you’re trying to solve a right-brain problem using the left side of your brain.”
I was speaking with my mouth full, and I could tell from Willy’s expression that it was a pretty disgusting sight. I didn’t care. It was good cake.
I said, “Look, Jim’s about to go spend a week with Toom’s family up North. Here’s a guy who, a month ago, was driving his air conditioned car from his air conditioned condo to his air conditioned cubicle and back again. Until a month ago Jim had never been any place more exotic than Six Flags Over Texas. He’s a flabby, pasty, TV-addicted product of the decadent West. But tomorrow morning he will get on a bus with Toom and go spend a week sleeping on the floor under a mosquito net, with four generations of Toom’s family sleeping within arm’s reach. He’ll need to remember to carry his own toilet paper to the outhouse every time he wants a shit. He’ll spend a week in a house without walls in a place where the mosquitos are so big they fuck the turkeys standing up.”
I pushed the empty paper plates away and grinned at Willy with black teeth.
“Believe me,” I said, “Jim was not using the rational part of his brain when he made that decision. He made that decision with the part of a man’s brain that bets everything on one spin of the wheel. The part of him that puts on makeup and screams I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night. The part that can’t stand one more day in the air conditioned cubicle. The part that falls in love.”
I wiped my mouth, leaving black streaks on a pink Happy Birthday paper napkin. “Jim’s on an adventure,” I said. “It’s the adventure of his life. And no adventure is risk-free. A fellow died at the bungee jump last week. Tourists on Phuket drown in the surf every monsoon, they fall off of motorcycles every day. They get hit by trucks walking across the street. Frankly, if I have some bad karma coming my way, I’d rather it came attached to a pussy than to the front bumper of an Isuzu truck.”
My tongue was slimy with frosting. I lit a cigarette. The smoke tasted like plastic. I took a big drink of my beer. It tasted like what I imagine you’d experience if you chewed on one of those knots of fur that collect behind a dog’s ears. Since Willy was still listening I kept talking.
“You take a risk giving your heart to anybody. But every time your heart gets stomped on, you pick it up, brush it off, and start looking for somebody else to give it to. You know the risk and you accept it, gladly, because the payoff is worth it. And any love that qualifies itself, any ‘I love her but I don’t trust her’ love, isn’t really love. If you’re not risking everything you have, it’s not love. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances.”
The sugar rush was bringing out my inner Broadway. I raised my glass to the big mirror behind the bar, in which the whole room was reflected: Me, Willy, Jim, Toom, the girls of the Wooly Gastropod, Starchild, Demon, Spaceman and Cat. “Here’s to you, beautiful dreamers. Happy Bird Day.”
And suddenly I felt a rumbling in my stomach. The floor under my feet took a little dip to the right. “Uh-oh,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be sick.”
Willy sniffed. It was a Serves You Right kind of sniff.
“Well,” he gloated, “that’s the risk you take eating that shit.”