My first trip to Thailand as an adult came about by suggestion from a friend who had been there while in the Army. “The hookers there are unbelievable,” he said. “They meet you as you step off the plane, and in fifteen minutes they’ve got you in a hotel room and they’ve got your dick in their mouth.” At that time I was having sex, infrequently, with complicated women in the show business, relationships full of drama that always ended with bad feelings on both sides. I had been strongly attracted to Asian women ever since I had lived in Asia as a child. I was still a very young man with very clear priorities. Within twenty-four hours of hearing that description of Thailand I had booked a roundtrip ticket, applied for a visa and cleared my schedule for the next three months.
In the week before I left I did not masturbate. I wanted to save my vigor and my precious bodily fluids. It was like skipping breakfast the morning before a big free lunch. I fantasized obsessively about what it would be like. I was in a state of constant unreleased sexual tension. The flight to Bangkok took almost a day, and I was erect for the whole trip.
The plane was late into Don Muang and I missed my connection to Phuket. I thought I could spend the night in the airport, as I had done in other airports. I had a late meal in a coffee shop and at the table next to me were four Thai men, taxi drivers just finished with their shifts, drinking whisky and playing “Tay Me Ho, Cunty Loads” over and over and over on a guitar. They engaged me in conversation and when I told them my plan to sleep in the airport they laughed.
“You no sah-leep here, poleet catch you,” said one. “Airport finit at midnigh’. Better you come sah-leep my how.”
I thought this was an example of the famous Thai hospitality and I was quite moved by it. When they began to turn off the lights in the terminal my new friend took me outside to where his taxi was parked.
We drove and drove and drove. The streets became increasingly narrow. There were fewer and fewer street lights. There was a bad smell in the air. We finally stopped on a street with no lights at all, a street only about fifteen feet wide. My host ushered me into his house. It was a clapboard shack built on stilts over a stagnant canal. Inside was a sparsely decorated living room with a shelf of Buddha images, a shelf of royal portraits, and a lot of movie star posters on the walls. Three doors led off the living room.
One door opened and an old woman came out in her nightdress. I didn’t speak a single word of Thai at that time but I knew exactly what was said.
“Who the fxxx is this?”
“He’s my friend. He’s staying the night.”
“The hell he is. Get him out of here.”
“I’m a grown man and I can have guests if I want!”
“If you’re a grown man get your own place. He’s not staying here.”
“I hate you!”
“Fxxx it. Do what you want. You’re just like your father.”
His mother gave me a saint’s smile and went back into her bedroom. My friend took me through one of the other doors and tried to find space in the cramped room to put my bag. There was a bed about five feet wide and apparently we were going to share this. He took me back through the living room to the third door, which led out to a platform built over the canal. There was a clay oven and some pots and pans out there. He used a plastic bucket on a rope to bring water up and filled a shallow pan. We both bathed our faces and hands and I was glad that there was not enough light to see what was in the water.
We returned to the bedroom. He took off his clothes and lay down in his underwear. He was asleep almost immediately. He’d drunk a lot of whisky at the airport. I had had none, and my body thought it was two in the afternoon. I lay down next to him fully clothed. I had three thousand dollars in traveler’s checks, a thousand dollars cash, my credit cards and passport in a money belt. I did not sleep all night. At some point I got up to pee, and realized there was no bathroom. I went out on the kitchen balcony and pissed in the canal.
In the morning I woke him at dawn and asked to be taken to the airport. He was cranky and hung over. We went outside and his taxi was gone. He explained that the vehicle was shared by three men, each taking an 8-hour shift, and he would not have the car again until that afternoon. We walked through the awakening slum, taking turns carrying my big canvas bag. We finally reached a major road with a motorcycle taxi stand. There were two drivers waiting for fares. A big argument ensued. My friend wanted to engage both drivers, one to take him and one to take me and my bag. He said he wanted to go with me to make sure I made it to the airport safely. For some reason I could not understand why the two guys did not want the job. But he convinced them and we started off.
We rode and rode and rode. We went on busy expressways with giant trucks running alongside us; we encountered morning traffic congestion and wove our way between mile after mile of stationary vehicles. We got to Don Muang but instead of entering the front of the place we went all the way around to the back, drove through a checkpoint where we had to duck under a barricade and zoom past a shouting security guard, and then drive down the margin of a runway under the wings of taxiing aircraft. We got to within a hundred yards of the terminal and we stopped. By now I knew that something was very wrong, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
We all four dismounted. The two other drivers immediately moved around until they were behind me. My friend dropped my bag at my feet. He had not smiled since we got off the bikes. He held out his hand.
“One hundred dollar,” he said.
“Why so much?” I asked.
He grabbed my bag and threw it behind him. He stepped right up to my face. “One hundred dollar.” His breath stunk like death. Neither of us had brushed our teeth, or even had so much as a drink of water, since getting out of bed.
He didn’t show me any weapon, but I felt movement behind me and knew the other two guys had come close as well. We were out in the middle of a field a couple of miles wide. There were probably a thousand people who could see us through windows if they looked in our direction, people in planes, in the terminal, in the tower. But I was absolutely on my own with these guys.
I opened my shirt and dug into my money belt. I handed over a crisp hundred dollar bill, expecting that once they had seen where my stash was they would take that, too.
As soon as my money was in his hand my new friend was all smiles again. He stepped back and gently replaced my bag at my feet. His two cronies stepped into my line of sight again and, as if they had rehearsed it, they all bowed to me at once.
“T’ang you berry muss!” they all shouted. “Welcome to Thailand!” Then they got on their motorcycles and roared off, leaving me out in the middle of the airfield. I picked up my bag and hoofed it to the terminal, where I asked directions of a very surprised baggage handler who walked me to a back door that led up into a departure gate. I had to go backwards through a couple of security desks to get to a desk where I could check in, then come back to my gate through the same security desks. I finally arrived in Phuket at about four o’clock in the afternoon and checked into the Patong Merlin Hotel on Patong Beach. I had been awake for at least twenty-four hours and I fell asleep in the clothes I’d flown in.