Have I mentioned that I love Bangkok? Something about that city raised my confidence level considerably. Or maybe it’s just a spirit of exploration that I haven’t been stirred by since I was doing the semester abroad thing in college.
We’d been guided around the Philippines and most of the trip was old family and friends, so there was really very little of the excitement of discovering a new city. With me as de facto leader of our little group, I found myself playing Cruise Director Julie, and kind of getting off on it.
Which brings me to the subject of Thai names. This is the only country on our odyssey where English isn’t a dominant language. Thai doesn’t even use our alphabet. So, though most people do know English, the language barrier can be difficult.
And then there are the funny names. Now, I fully realize that in the Philippines, we had lunch with two women named Baby and that I have two cousins named Twinnie and Twinkie. But in Bangkok, we had a tour guide named Mister Pole. We had a Taxi Driver named Mr. Suckwang. (God forbid he should move to the states and enrol his kids in school. “Class, meet our new students. Jimmy and Tod Suckwang.”) And we had a waiter who charmingly said to us, “Hello, I’ll be serving you tonight. You can call me Milky.” Peter and I, in unison: “I’m sorry?” “I’m Milky.” He points at his name tag: Milky.
Things You’re Supposed to Do in Bangkok, Part Two: Shop
In Bangkok, merch is cheap. Really cheap. The three of us spent a morning trolling the wholesale shopping district and picking up wonderful things. Among the booty: A flight bag with a photo of Audrey Hepburn on it (from a selection of Audrey Hepburn flight bags), A bronze statue of a fat lady doing yoga, loads of funny T-shirts, and a lime green silk elephant. This doesn’t even include mom’s considerable haul.
I also ordered some custom shirts. Bespoke (custom) tailoring is very cheap in Bangkok, so I thought, “What the hell.” There’s a shirt I’ve longed for but can never find: long sleeves, yummy color, a placket covering the buttons and a TALL Mandarin collar. (Lately, I’ve developed a Katharine Hepburn thing about high collars.) So, since I can never find it, I decided to have some made.
With mom tuckered out by the morning’s shopping, we needed to get home. Unfortunately, the only cabbies we found in the shopping district insisted on either charging us twice the going rate or taking us to a “special gemstone shop” to “get a great deal.” Which is a well-known Bangkok scam. So I said Fuck It, loaded us OUT of the cab and hailed a tuk tuk. If the jeepney is the signature conveyance of the Philippines, the tuk tuk is the signature conveyance of Thailand. They look like this:
And when you squeeze three big people in one and it hurtles through potholed, shortcut alleyways, you look like this:
But we arrived intact.
Mom bowed out for the evening, so Pete and I did some of our own sightseeing.
Things You’re Supposed to Do in Bangkok, Part Three: See The Red Light District.
I haven’t trolled a lot of red light districts. Amsterdam, London, a bit of Paris. But Bangkok is, well, Bangkok.
Patpong is regarded by many as a sort of “entry-level” red light district. It’s where the tourists go for their first taste of Bangkok sleaze. (The more experienced sleaze cognoscenti apparently go to Nana or Soi Cowboy.)
But Patpong plays host to the Patpong Night Market, a tumultuous two-alley squeeze of stalls selling every sort of crap imaginable.
Then there are the clubs. True to what we’d been told, there were hucksters about every five feet trying to get you to come in and see the girls.
“You want girl? See Ping Pong Show. Best in town.”
Given the sampling of the girls in the street… I don’t know about that. I like my Ping Pong performers not to look like walking Hepatitis.
Of course, the girls aren’t the only ones being hawked. Bangkok also has gay red light districts, though they seem to be rather set apart from the girly shows. This alley, for example, was a block away from the Patpong throng. And it had MUCH better lighting.
The fare here is twofold: gayboys and ladyboys. Ladyboys are just what you’d expect them to be. Only less convincing.
And before you ask, yes, we took in a show. In the interest of being discreet, I’ll say this: there were no ping pong balls or (shudder) animal acts, and the show on the whole (divided into acts like an old Burlesque revue) was totally ridiculous and ultimately boring… if, um… gymnastic. There were two shows on offer, one right after the other, and we left shortly after the second one began.
The last thing I’ll say is this: I have a TOTALLY new perspective on how to think of the houses I play in as a performer. These guys and gals have a LOT to deal with. I mean, if I ever think to myself from now on, “This lighting is so unflattering” or, “I can’t make this quickchange” or “this house is terrible,” I need only think of Patpong and count my blessings.
Things You’re Supposed to Do in Bangkok, Part Four: Get a Thai Massage.
Not that kind, you sick people.
Peter’s the massage guy in the household. He really likes having strangers dig their elbows into his back. I don’t see it myself, but he loves it. So he went to the Hotel Spa and had an hourlong session. And before you ask about Happy Endings, the whole thing was done with great propriety by US standards. They even made him wear little pajamas.
That’s what he told me, anyway.
Things You’re Supposed to Do in Bangkok, Part Five: Get Inked.
I’ve been thinking of a tattoo for years, and I finally went and took the plunge. I mean, Bangkok, right?
Bangkok has some Tattoo legends. Jimmy Wong and Mr. Tung are both very respected Tattoo Artists, and they both have great reputations for their beautiful, original designs.
But I’m a noob, and I had something very small and very specific in mind. I found a tattoo parlor with a great reputation for hygiene, and a tattoo artist who seemed to get universally good marks for her precision and quality. The consensus seemed to be that “She uses the right ink, and she goes deep. Real deep.”
Okay, sure! Her name is Jeans. She’s a tiny woman, and her shop is in the shopping district, not far from our hotel. So I hoofed it over there.
She squeezed me in—the last appointment of the year. That’s kinda special, no?
As for the design, as I said, I wanted something very specific. I’m a big Type Geek, and I’m absolutely in love with one glyph in particular, which will seem extremely weird to the uninitiated: it’s the ampersand (“&”) of the typeface Caslon 540 Italic. Not Caslon, not Adobe Caslon, not Big Caslon—Caslon 540 Italic. It’s a typeface cut for the American Type Foundry, which was founded by the great American type designer Morris Fuller Benton based on original type specimens by William Caslon I, the dominant English typographer of the late 18th century. Caslon’s type is the type that the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution were printed in. That means a great deal to me. (I teach typography, so I’d better know my stuff inside and out. I can give you a nine hours of extemporaneous lecture on this shit, easy…)
And the ampersand means a lot to me, too. In my formative college years, when I first met Pete, we were both steeped in the Del Close school of Improvisational Theater. And the primary tenet of that school is, “Yes, And…” You must accept any reality your partner creates unreservedly (“Yes”) and you must add to that reality (And…).
“And…” means a lot to me. My partnership with Pete has defined my life in every aspect, and “And” is a representation of that. “And” is also a symbol of continuation for me. There are no happy endings, only happily-accepted continuations. Everything moves on (And…). We have to contribute to the world (And…).
Beyond that, the Caslon 540 Italic ampersand is a goddamned sexy motherfucker of a glyph. I’ve got a huge painting of it on the office wall.
I was very nervous. About the pain. About where to put the damned thing. I conferred with Jeans about it. “I was thinking either the shoulder or the forearm.” “You want people to see?” “Only if I show it to them.” “You wear lots of sleeveless?” “Never. I’m a prude. I never show anything above the elbow or below the knee.” “Then you do shoulder. If you want people see, you show them.”
“Is it big enough?” “No. We make bigger.”
She painstakingly reproduced the glyph and transferred it to my arm. “Good?” “Perfect.” Then she methodically changed her needles and filled a small pot of ink. “I try one line first. You tell me if it okay.” It was. Actually, it didn’t hurt at all. She outlined the whole glyph. In minutes. “It okay?” “Shit, yeah.” Then she filled it in.
Okay, that hurt.
But it was perfect, meticulous, blacker than black.
As I was leaving, Jeans asked me, “Where your friend you come in with earlier?” “He’s back at the hotel having a massage. He’s my husband.” “I thought so. I like gayboy. I have many gayboy friend.”
You rock, Jeans.