Why Does He Do It?
Anus Moony and I were in a Sukhumvit billiards hall called Stick and Balls, watching our friend Denis compete in an 8-ball tournament. (This is a different Anus Moony, by the way. A lot of guys use the name when they visit Thailand. Being anonymous is one of the big draws of the Kingdom.)
Denis was paired in today’s match with a guy who used to play pool professionally, before he moved to Thailand and became whatever an ex-pro pool player is in Thailand. Denis is rated A+1, and the other guy was rated A+20. That meant Denis would only have to win three games to win the match, but the ex-pro would have to win twenty-two. I didn’t realize when I accepted Denis’ invitation to come watch him play that I might have to sit through as many as twenty-four games of pool.
Denis is one of those guys who has to find something to do in the daytime when he’s in Thailand. I think he just can’t explain to his friends back home, or maybe to himself, that he flies half-way around the world just to buy sex, so he always makes sure there’s a big tournament scheduled during his vacation. I used to do the same thing with Buddhism. The time Denis has spent perfecting his bank shot on the table in his basement in Pasadena I spent perfecting my samaa arahant in the Thai temple in White Plains, New York.
Denis and his opponent were gravely lagging for break when Anus asked me, “Why do we do it?”
I thought he was asking why we were spending a handful of irreplaceable hours of our lives watching two men knock little plastic balls back and forth across a table. “Well, Denis is our friend,” I said.
“No. I mean why do we live here, in Thailand.”
Over the next six games Denis sinks only two balls, and Anus fills the empty hour telling me how much he hates the local drivers, the local food, the scenery, the cops, the taxi drivers, his Thai coworkers and the customs of Asian face and khreng jai. He hates them all. Anus is a glass half-empty sort of guy.
“And then, there’s the women,” Anus said. “Sure, they’re great in the short run, but after a while the cons simply outweigh the pros. Try having an intelligent conversation with the average Thai girl.”
“I gotta stop you right there, Anus. If you’re looking for intelligent conversation in a whore house, you’re misunderstanding what a whore house is for. And as much as I respect your self-awareness when you describe sex with you as ‘the short run,’ I have been in enough of these conversations to know that you’re going to complain about Thai prostitutes, not anything close to the average Thai girl. When I lived in Thailand my wife, my daughter, my boss, and most of my colleagues were Thai women and girls. The woman who drove my favorite fried chicken cart, my veterinarian, and my dentist, all Thai women. None of them were women you want to lump together with the women you pay for sex, Anus.”
Everybody who knows me knows about my peeve with fuzzy language. Anus was familiar with it.
“Shit,” he said. “We’re two farang sitting in a Bangkok bar. It’s a given that we’re talking about Thai prostitutes. Don’t be pedantic.”
“Can’t help it. Like breathing to me. But stipulated. Proceed.”
It’s game seven, and after sinking every ball he shoots at, the ex-pro finally makes a mistake. The 3 ball rattles in the pocket but does not fall. Denis runs the table and finally puts a win on the board.
We gave Denis some thumbs-up head nods and Anus picked up his thread. “Anyway, it doesn’t even matter if her English is good or your Thai is good – you may as well speak Swahili to her, because she only hears what she wants to.”
“Do you speak Swahili, Anus?”
“Huh? No. Why?”
“Because I’ll bet you don’t speak Thai very well either. So far, your conversation does not demonstrate a facility with language. And you certainly don’t hang out with the kind of Thai women who would speak an educated brand of English.”
“It doesn’t matter if a Thai girl can speak English or I can speak Thai, because she only hears what she wants to, and will twist what words she does hear. If a Thai girl has no legitimate reason to be angry, she’ll sure as hell fabricate one.”
In game 13 the ex-pro hooks himself on the 7, and goes to get his jump cue. This ought to be an amazing shot, and it is, because he completely misses the ball. He's left Denis with a very easy three-ball run out, and my friend puts his second win on the board.
“Listen, Anus,” I said, “My idea of an intelligent conversation might begin with an examination of why the modern theatre began in 1879 when Nora slammed the door at the end of Act III at the premier of ‘A Doll’s House.’ Would you like to have that conversation with me?”
He made a sour face. “Hell, no.”
“Is it because you’re too stupid?”
He made an angry face. “Hell, no!”
“Of course not, theatre is a populist art form, the concepts involved in that discussion would be within the grasp of any prole. ‘Doll’s House’ is consistently one of the most produced plays in the world. It’s been translated into more than 70 languages because it is a story of married life and sexual politics, themes that are universal and domestic. You don’t want to have that conversation with me because you’re unfamiliar with the subject, you lack the specialized vocabulary to discuss dramaturgy, and you know that the conversation would end up being me lecturing you on something you care nothing about.”
Anus made a bored face. “I think that’s what’s happening now.”
“Well, I would bet money that’s what happens every time you try to have a, quote, intelligent conversation, end quote, with a Thai woman, or any Thai for that matter. They know you’re not interested in the things that interest them. They sure as hell are not interested in whatever you think is important. Neither am I, frankly. I am fairly certain that disinterest in your conversation is not a condition limited to Thai girls. I’ll tell you that to your face, but being Asian, rather than provoke a confrontation, your Thai girls will simper and giggle and feign ignorance. If you’re lucky, they’ll try to suck you off just to change the subject. But it’s an act, just like Nora’s acting like a happy housewife at the top of ‘Doll’s House.’ And if you insist on provoking a confrontation about it they’ll slam the door just like Nora did. As you say, fabricate a reason to get angry.”
In the next game, the ex-pro is forced to play safe on the 8-ball, leaving it in middle if the far rail. Dennis plays safe right back at him, and finally all the other balls are gone and the ex-pro has a very long shot on the 8, with the cue ball parked on the rail. He shoots and the 8 hits the pocket, rattles in the jaws and finally drops in. Denis sucks his front teeth.
Anus pouted. “Alright, but I’m still saying that communication is a problem.”
“Sure, it’s a problem,” I said. “It’s a problem between you and your hookers, just like it is between Othello and Desdemona, Lucy and Ricky, and Nora and Torvald. Just like communication was a problem between your father and mother, and between you and me any any woman we’ve ever known. Admit it, if either of us had had any success communicating with women at home we wouldn’t be sitting in a Bangkok bar.”
“It was feminism that drove me here.”
“Right, and there’s a dead alien in a freezer in Roswell, the American Cattleman’s Association killed Kennedy and the earth is only six thousand years old. Listen, you ever hear of Briffault’s Law?”
“Good. It’s bullshit. But you’ve heard of ‘survival of the fittest,’ right?”
“Sure, Darwin said it.”
“No, but close enough. Here’s what Darwin said, ‘It’s not the strongest or most intelligent who will survive, but those best able to manage change.’”
I was talking to this particular Anus, but I was watching the ex-pro circling the table. He was looking at the balls the way a fat housecat in his own front yard looks at a wounded sparrow. Every shot ever made on a pool table has had a unique result, one never duplicated by any other shot. Every time a player looks down the length of his stick he sees a layout he’s never seen before. His job is to adjust the mechanics of his body and stick so that this new situation will have the result he desires.
“So? What’s managing change got to do with being able to talk to Thai girls?”
The ex-pro was running the table again and again. Denis looked sad.
“Think a minute about the lives of your Thai girls. Every day they go into an environment full of predators. They’re always going to be smaller than the predators, by a lot. They’re always going to be physically weaker than the predators, by a lot. Almost always they’re younger and less experienced than the predators. The predators have a sameness about them, but in fact each is unique. A Thai girl has to adjust her game for every one of them. Your Thai girls have to go with the predators into unfamiliar hotel rooms, into their lairs, where God knows what is waiting, and let the predator lock the door. Look around you, Anus. Look at all these morbidly obese guys, and think of one of them laying on top of you, and he says, ‘Let me choke you just a little bit, Baby.’ Look at the iron pumpers, and think of one of them pinning you to the wall, digging his fingers into you. Guys with jailhouse tattoos, guys with dead eyes, guys with whisky on their breath, guys with Ruffies in their pockets, guys with dildos in their suitcases. Guys in biker drag, guys on the run from the Ukranian mafia, guys who donated to Bush 43’s campaign. Scary guys. Scary guys who scare each other so much that some of them pay still more scary guys for protection. Guys who are angry at their ex-wife or the scariest guys of all, the ones who are angry at their mother. Guys who think they’ve come to a place without rules, guys who aren’t using their real names, guys who have let go of so many inhibitions they won’t even take a fucking bath.”
Anus and I both looked around the room. Actually, we were in an upscale joint and there was an 8-ball tournament in progress. Most of the guys in the room looked pretty well put together.
“You know what I mean,” I said. “We’ve both had the experience of walking into a bar in Thailand, sizing up the other farang in the bar, and walking right back out. But your Thai girls don’t have that option, for the most part. They walk out, their babies don’t eat. So they have to go into the bars and cuddle up with the big, hairy, smelly, angry predators. And they survive, Anus. How many times have you seen an article in the paper about some farang guy who took a dive off a Pattaya condo balcony? Or a guy who owned half the bars in Nana Plaza but died a young man, hiding out in Chiang Mai? Guys who fall off motorcycle taxis, give themselves alcohol poisoning, get busted by the cops, get knifed in an alleyway, disappear in the Golden Triangle or go home to take the AZT? How many guys have you personally known who came to Thailand and walked around for a year bragging to everybody how they’d found Shangri-La, then walked around for a couple more years pissing and moaning about the food, the scenery, the cops, the weather, the taxi drivers, and the Thai girls, and then finally just disappeared? They leave with their tail between their legs and with a hatred of Thailand in their hearts. How many have you known, Anus? Because I’ve known dozens.”
The ex-pro was running the table, game after game, like a machine, regular as physics. Clack – thunk. Clack – thunk. Clack – thunk. A gunshot break and the balls scatter like hydrogen atoms at the big bang, a table full of random objects with speed and mass but with no pattern and no plan. They finally come to rest and then the machine goes to work putting them into their combinations. The 3 and the 5 in the bottom corner, silica. The 9 and the 7 and the 5 in the side, iron. The 2 and the 6 and the 1 in the top corner, water. Add a little sunshine, and badda-bing, you’ve got a world. You’ve got life.
“But Anus,” I said, “the girls survive. Sure, a few fall to drugs or violence or disease, but most end up owning a hair salon or a few acres of Korat. Some end up in big houses in England or America or Germany. Almost all feed their babies and put a roof over their old mama’s head, which is how they define success. Most of the tiny, weak, uneducated, unemancipated and by your measure unintelligent women who work the bars come out of it alive and well paid.”
“But how many farang expats retire happy in the Land of Smiles? I know five or six, tops. The reason the average big, smart, wealthy farang man fails in Thailand, Anus, and fails on an epic scale, is because he can’t manage change. He comes here and sees the place through farang goggles. He thinks he’s escaped whatever Orwellian hellscape he grew up in, but when he discovers that he’s just traded one oppressive system for another, and he must give up something for everything he gains, he can’t handle it. At first there’s some humor in watching him try to force the new system to conform to his fantasies. He tries to fit his square farang peg into one round Thai hole after another, and then one day he insists on lecturing the wrong Thai girl or the wrong co-worker or the wrong taxi driver on the “right” way to do something, and BAM! The poor sap catches a woman’s shoe on the side of his head, or gets his assed kicked in the middle of Soi Cowboy, or finds his next visa application denied, or ends up a gooey puddle on the sidewalk under his balcony.”
Clack-thunk. Clack-thunk. It was hypnotic.
Anus yawned. Steve’s lectures and watching 8-ball. We could sell it as a cure for insomnia. Anus stretched. “How many games to go?”
“If he doesn’t miss, five.”
“Jesus. Do people really watch these matches all the way through?”
“I suppose,” I said. What I was thinking was, monks can chant the same two words all day long and be in bliss. That’s not for me, and neither is 8-ball, but in 1985 I stage managed a production of “A Doll’s House” starring Holly Hunter. She was amazing in it. I watched twenty rehearsals and sixteen performances, all the way through. On strike night, when Holly slammed the door to end the play, I was heartbroken that I’d never see it again. Different strokes.
But I don’t say that. I say, “I suppose,” and I suppose that the comment sounded unintelligent to Anus Moony. But I was just tired of talking to him.
The ex-pro rattles the 8 in a pocket but it does not drop. He leaves it resting on the lip of the hole, with the cue ball in the geometric center of the table. Denis takes a moment to push his jaw closed and sort of sneaks up on the table. He leans, slooooowly, over the table, and his concentration on the constellation of a single black ball and a single white ball on 40 square feet of green felt was so complete I was able to walk out of the place unnoticed. I like my chaos with a touch of the unknown, and if he wins I can always congratulate him next time I see him. I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll ever see this particular Anus Moony again. I have a feeling he’s not going to be around much longer.