Short Guy is a fixture on Soi Twilight in Bangkok. He’s been around forever, and always seems to be present when the soi stirs to life. Occasionally he finds employment of one sort or another at one of the bars, but working or jobless he’s there nightly. I don’t know his real name – or should say I don’t remember his real name – but Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, came up with the nickname of Short Guy, and it works. He is short, even for a Thai. He barely comes up to my armpit. More aptly his nickname speaks to the general disregard and lack of esteem he is held in by all the other denizens of the soi. Being Short Guy is not an easy life.
I first met him at Future Boys, the gay gogo bar that preceded Ocean Boys. At one time Future was the bar of the soi. It always had a large stable of guys and its shows featured more hard, naked male flesh than its competition. Like most bars with a large stable, Future had a boy for every taste. Which is a nicer way of saying they were not too picky about the looks of the guys they hired. And they out did themselves in hiring Short Guy. Short Guy was the last guy you’d ever hire to incite lust in your customers. A tit-less ladyboy would be a bigger draw.
The one positive thing you could say about Short Guy was that he recognized his own short comings. Even he knew that his chance of being offed was slim to none. And so he tried a different and undeniably unique tack. Like a leech clamping its little mouth firmly to a new host, Short Guy would attach himself to an unwary customer. And then offer his services as a pimp. About the only thing more worthless than a pimp in one of Bangkok’s gay gogo bars is a Jehovah’s Witness. Wave 100 baht in the air and a dozen boys will flock around you, all willing to fulfill your fondest desires. Paying someone to get a boy for you just doesn’t make sense. And Short Guy was so singularly unappealing that most customers would rather take on a Jehovah’s Witness than deal with him. But the leech analogy was perfect for Short Guy, step into a pond that’s filled with leeches and one will attach himself to you. Step into Future Boys and the chance was just as good that Short Guy would soon be sucking blood out of your wallet too. Short Guy descended on fresh meat faster than Oprah on the last slice of a chocolate cake.
And Short Guy was persistent. Formidably so. Screeching fem bar boys would take no for an answer better than Short Guy would. And I speak from experience. The first night I met him, unbidden and unnoticed, he joined the group of boys hanging around me at the bar. Instead of blood or baht, he got busy sucking the bottle I’d bought dry. Among his other non-redeeming qualities, Short Guy was an alcoholic. Since then he has overcome his addiction to booze. He’s replaced it with an addiction to yaba. Nice to know that even Short Guy is capable of personal growth.
That night, it wasn’t long before Short Guy maneuvered himself into a spot next to me and started his pimp act. A polite, “No thanks,” did little to reign him in as he called boy after boy over to present as the perfect guy for me. Not surprisingly, the boys willing to allow him his quasi-mamasan role were the lame, the ugly, and the fem. Guys who stood at least a one in ten chance of landing a customer on their own ignored Short Guy. He seemed to be as unpopular with the boys as he was with customers. He also put the mamasans to shame in the arena of greed; begging for a tip was a passion in his life. One that he pursued relentlessly. I believe even Short Guy realized how worthless his services were, but used them as ploy for his true act steeped in the knowledge that if you are annoying enough, someone will give you a few baht just to go away.
I offed some forgettable guy that night for no better reason than to escape Short Guy’s attentions. Future Boys was my go-to bar ion those days and I returned the next night. Short Guy came running when he spotted me and I flinched first. Fortunately that was the night I met Noom. Short Guy and every other boy in the bar faded into a scrim of murky memories. Never one to pass up the chance at glomming onto someone else’s good luck, Short Guy pushed his way close and asked for a tip as Noom and I got ready to leave the bar. Noom snorted, picked out a one baht coin from the check wallet, and passed it on to Short Guy. Short tipping Short Guy became a tradition.
That was five or six years ago, depending on whether you use the Thai or western version to count anniversaries. I don’t think I’ve ever visited Soi Twilight since then without running into Short Guy. Noom is almost always with me and is in charge of dealing with Short Guy. Sometimes he spots him headed our way and raises a fist. Short Guy makes a quick about-face and heads the other way. If we’ve recently paid a bill and have small change sitting around – which I think Short Guy senses like a shark smells blood in the water – he hands over a baht coin or two with a laugh. Respect is not something Short Guy warrants. Derision is.
It’s been years since Short Guy has been able to find a bar that will employ him. For a while he managed to latch onto a quais-manager position at the host bar cum pool hall that opened up next to the stairs at Dream Boy. Employment-wise, Short Guy is Short Time Guy. It’s not unusual when sitting at Dick’s Cafe to see Short Guy go into his lamprey act and hit up some other unfortunate soul whom he recognizes for a tip. I’ve never seen a potential donor seem pleased at Short Guy’s appearance. Most wave him off in disgust. Some pay him off to get rid of him.
Over the years Short Guy has grown shorter, thinner, and uglier. His barely acceptable looks have soured quicker than a two-dollar bottle of Chianti. It’s obvious that most of the money he manages to scrounge goes to feeding his yaba addiction. Short Guy is quickly becoming Crazy Amped Up Guy. The last few times I saw him he was hanging out at the mouth of the soi; I think the barkers and bar owners have chased him off the soi proper. He’s not exactly what you’d call a good advertisement for the wares they offer. His appearance is sure to put even the horniest visitor off his feed.
Noom’s short tip for Short Guy became such a standard that anytime I made a purchase somewhere and got a few baht coins in return one of us would exclaim, “Short Guy!’ referencing the worthlessness of both the amount of money and Short Guy. Thais enjoy jokes they’ve heard a million times before and I always try to feed Noom’s Thai humor jones. If we are on Soi Twilight, Noom holds onto the change until Short Guy makes an appearance. Noom finds a use for five baht coins, those he’ll pocket. But the baht coins usually end up in Short Guy’s pudgy little hands.
On one visit Dick’s was packed and the only available table was one streetside. That’s usually a bit too close to the soi’s action for me, but we had no choice and settled in. Short Guy zeroed in on us babbling away in Thai as he approached, obviously speaking to Noom and not me. Noom translated as he usually does by not telling me what was said but rather what participation was required on my part. Noom held out his hand and asked for 100 baht. Instead of opening my wallet I gave him a look that said, “Why in the hell would I be giving Short Guy 100 baht?”
Huh. I trust Noom, even when I don’t understand what he is up to, and passed over the 100 baht. Short Guy waddled off while Noom explained that Short Guy had just had a baby and needed money to buy milk. I’d hate to think of how low a woman’s life would have to have spiraled to have sex with Short Guy, much less to have a child with him. And have to think that the poor child must have done something pretty rotten in its previous life to come back with Short Guy for a dad.
A few minutes later Short Guy came back, carrying a brown paper bag filled with boxed milk. He stopped to show it to Noom, proof that he’d spent the money on what it was intended for. And then asked for a tip. I don’t know what Noom’s reply was, but I’m sure it was not polite. Regardless, I assumed I’d be forking over a few bucks on all future trips to help feed Short Guy’s kid. And I was good with that. But the next time we saw Short Guy, Noom took one look at him, shook his head, and pulled me away. Once on the soi, shaking his head he muttered, “Yaba,” in disgust.
Noom had hoped that the responsibility of having a child would have straightened Short Guy out. It didn’t. Noom was disappointed and disgusted. Often, we still see Short Guy hanging out at the entrance to the soi, but when he sees Noom some atavistic instinct prods him to scurry off. I have to assume that Noom, who is not in the least bit reticent about stating his views, had words with Short Guy, and Short Guy wisely avoids Noom now. He’s no longer a running joke, and no longer worthy of the baht or two Noom would throw his way in the past.
Thais are generous with those down on their luck. Raised in a collectivist society they feel obligated to help fellow countrymen in need. Beggars, who are not obviously part of the Mafia scam to get cash out of soft-hearted touri, make a decent profit off of locals; it’s not unusual to see a Thai stop and drop a few baht in a beggars cup as you walk down Bangkok’s streets. Even when Noom doesn’t have much cash, he too offers a bit to beggars we pass. And baht, no matter how minuscule, is still baht so even though it earned a laugh, the baht he’d pass to Short Guy in the past still counted.
The last time I was in town I noticed Short Guy was not lurking in the spot he usually hangs out and mentioned his absence to Noom. It was at the time when the floods were at their peak in Bangkok, and I suggested that the rising waters would be problematic to anyone of Short Guy’s limited stature. Noom managed the opening of one of his giggle fits, but then pulled up short when he remembered who it was we were joking about. Even in the less than salubrious world of Soi Twilight, there are limits on acceptable behavior. It’s a short road from mockery and scorn to invisibility and disregard. Even when you are Short Guy.