Thursday, September 6, 2012

THE END OF BABYLON by Peter Nolan Smith

Pattaya had long been recognized as the world's leading destination for sex addicts and lowlifes attracted to the sordid city on the Gulf of Siam by the countless bars, the easy women, lax enforcement of law, crooked police, rampant drug use, stunning ladyboys, and young boys. My ten years in the Last Babylon furthered my research into the darker side of life without any desire to reform a single sinner. Pattaya became home, then again everywhere is home once you buy you're first roll of toilet paper.

My friends remained men on the run from the banality of western life. Our pasts were forgotten as long as our pockets were filled with baht. We were rich men in the Orient and I thought that this anti-Eden would last forever.

Sadly my booming fake F-1 enterprise was shut down by the Thai cyber-police, who treated my crime as a misdemeanor to the annoyance of the Ferrari representatives. The cops suggested that shutting down my business was in my best interests and I complied with their wishes.

Without this income I was forced to return to the USA.

New York to be exact.

I resumed selling diamonds on 47th Street and traveled frequently to Thailand to see my children.

Both families had decamped from Pattaya. My time was split between Chai-nat and Sri racha. The allure of a go-go bar could compete with my love for Angie and Fenway, plus Mam, my son' mom, was the only woman in the world for me and she swore my fidelity wasn't the result of a magic love potion or sa-neh-haa.

"I am cute. I not need magic to make you love me."

She has that straight and I spent most of this last sojourn in Thailand with her along the Cambodian border visiting her two other children. My step-kids; Fluke and Noy call me 'papa' and I call them 'luk'. Saying they aren't my kids are fighting words and I have a short temper.

We returned to Sri Racha is a little less than four hours flat. I dropped Mam and Fenway and a cousin at our small house west of the town and headed to drop off the rental car in Pattaya.

I was six hours late and called from Sukhumvit to ask how much extra I should pay. The Thai mechanic said, "Up to you, but a small pack of beer would be nice."

400 baht and 4-pack of Leo beer was a bargain.

Pisan's repair shop abutted a shrinking swamp off Soi Bongkot. The wetland remained a haven for birds and mosquitoes. I parked the car under the makeshift awning of corrugated plastic. Pisan and his son were burning old tires. A toxic black smoke floated over the marsh. I handed the beers to Pisan and we drank talking about the old times, as his 18 year-old son tended to the mad blaze at the water's edge.

Pisan regarded the encroachment on the wasteland.

Pattaya's coconut groves had been razed to provide retirees over-seized bungalows. The corner restaurants serving spicy Isaan food had been replaced by KFCs and 7/11s. Condos shadowed the Beach Road and huge shopping malls dominated the tourist market. Babylon was falling under the onslaught of globalization, but a few places remained true to the tradition of a-tham-ma or lawlessness.

"Nothing same. Puying old now. Not beautiful. Only have farang old too or fucking Russian and dirty Arab. No fun." Pisan shook his head, thinking as much about the loss of Babylon as his youth.

Neither of us could pretend to be young anymore except with a younger woman.

"You want to meet at the Buffalo for a beer later?" We didn't drink in the bar. The stools were reserved for farangs. A warped bamboo bench along Sai Sahm was our spot.

"Sorry, I stay here. Live here. Go nowhere. For what?" He was paying 8000 baht for an elevated patch of land. His shop had no fences to protect against thieves. This was home. He even had some chickens in the back.

"Enjoy the beers." I thanked him for the rental and headed off to my tailor on Sai Song, calling several friends from the back of a baht bus.

Sam Royalle was busy with his kids up at his house on the reservoir, but Big Al and Ulf were available.

"Meet me at the Buffalo around 6."

My suit was ready.

I had an hour and a half to kill and took another baht bus to Soi 3, which was a short walk to the Welkom Inn. I had been a faithful afternoon customer for years. None of the girls in the front courtyard recognized me, although the service girls in the garden asked for my dog. I never left home without Champoo.

"She's good." Champoo was up country with my ex-wife. "How's business?"

"You look. You see what?" She pointed to the new hotels rising over the trees. "Pattaya change. Now city want family. Not want men like you."

"We're a dying breed." The tired farangs at the bar were nursing their beers like they were the last beers in the world. No one was sitting at the tables and I asked, "Has it been like this long?"

"All year." The bargirl put ice in my beer. It kept it cold. "You want lady?"

"No." Not that she believed any man could be 100% faithful in the long run. I couldn't believe it either considering the playboy nature of my younger years. Mam was running me on a long lease. She hadn't called once. I tip the bargirl and said, "Thanks for offering."

After finishing my beer I walked along the Beach Road to Soi 6, the wickedest street in town. The bars were fronted by packs of short-time girls. Not one of them caught my eye and they were more interested in stuffing food in their mouths than a single older male. I was no longer 'sexy man', but neither was anyone else. The street was dead.

A motorsai taxi driver drove me to the Buffalo.

This bar had been in business for over 20 years. It was around the corner from my old house. The girls behind the bar greeted me my name. I was not a forgotten man here. I bought a round of drinks for my old favorites; two lesbians no longer in love. I was the only farang at the bar.

Big Al showed up first and commented on my weight.

"Better watch out for your gut." Big Al tipped the scales over 300.

"I can still see my feet." My BMI was a little over the edge and I sucked in my gut. I hated looking fat to someone as big as Big Al.

"As long as you can still touch your dick, it's okay." The ex-extreme fighter had left the USA for good, although all his businesses had failed in the past two years. "Even worse my wife found out that I went short-time with someone her family knew."

"That's not good." Thais hated losing face or nah sia.

"I should have known better." He explained that his wife was more pissed at his spending money on another woman than his butterflying on her. "I calm her down, but I got to get something together."

He told me about a film project about a detective in Thailand.

"It's a long shot." Making movies require money. Big Al had none. He wasn't even drinking beer.

Ulf showed up at the bar. The German bank robber had traded Pattaya for the Philippines, but his bar had failed in Angeles City. He had returned to my old business; selling first-class motor-sport gear.

"Working bad almost killed me. Trinken, trinken, trinken." Ulf enjoyed a good time, but drinking six nights a week was a deadly pace for men like us. He had been with me the day that I met Mam. We had been toasting a fallen comrade after the temple service. Mam had smiled my way. I had been her prisoner since and happy about it too.

"A friend of mine had offered me a job running a bar here."


"I turned him down." I wanted to reach 60. Go-go girls and drink would lead to drugs, which was a fatal combo for anyone with my vices. "For health reasons."

I excused myself from the two men to go to the bathroom. The two ex-convicts were a little alike and now reformed in their ways. I returned to the bar. Big, Rolf, and I talked about robbing banks. They used guns. Mine were only in thought.

A girl grabbed my arm.

"Where you go?" She was about 23, long-legged and beautiful.

"Home to my wife." I didn't have a watch, but I knew the clock was ticking back in Srirahca. I bid farewell to my friends.

"I'll see you in the new year."

I got back to Mam's house before 7.

She looked surprised to see me. Fenway was happy with the toy I brought him. I kissed Mam on the cheek.

"You go short-time?" She had to ask.

"Not one second." And it was the truth.

Happy to say it, but the Last Babylon is gone for me.

Same as 42nd Street, which is now a shopping mall for fat people, but it doesn't really matter, because as the Wicked Witch of the West rued as she melted at the end of THE WIZARD OF OZ.

"Who ever thought a little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Ughhhh!!! What a world. What a world!"

What a world indeed.

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