Duangtawee Plaza, Soi Pratuchai, Soi Boy, the latest in a line of titular incarnations for a zone of sweaty, smoking corruption and debauchery, a scene of capitalism gone raffishly exotic, a siren’s call that entices not a voyage of heroes, but a confabulation of horny, ornery, egotistical old cusses. Whorehouses in the guise of clubs, massage parlors, and bars are everywhere. As are slovenly doe-eyed boys out for a quick buck, willingly trading their youth for easy money. Old hands know it as Soi Twilight, never a more apt name for a street twinkling its neon song of lust and sin behind a scrim of anonymity and darkness, hidden away by its in your face existence, a lure for the world’s lonely and clueless, its sweet whisper promising depraved but fun-filled nights and mornings of regret.
Smoke is everywhere, along with the bright lights of marquees proclaiming Boys, Boys, Boys, and more boys adjectified by size, tense, and place. The sense of squalor and cheesiness is ripe, satisfying the low-rent desires of travellers who came to Bangkok not for action but for the illusion of action. Cheap punters hit a state of nirvana catching a glimpse through briefly open doorways of what’s happening on stage, where a gaggle of plump, embarrassed boys shimmy-shammy to a disco beat in search of sensation no longer realized by their numb and used bodies and souls. It’s a scene of the flesh conjured everything that Bangkok, that Camelot of the libido, is famous for.
The soi is filled with lumpy old men set in their ways, dressed in attire mistakenly thought of as tropical and fallen, dark socks over footwear intended for a younger generation. The lenses of their glasses are thick, their eyes are bloodshot, their rheumy veins evidence a roadmap of their misspent years. Their jowls are fallen, their faces swaddled in fat and unsmiling, drawn, serious. They drink a lot, smoke a lot, curse a lot. They bitch a lot. They wear product of another age in their thinning hair. And look as if they’ve never laughed in their lives, or had a drink with a boy, or gone to a dance. Or a ball game. Or a party.
Their faces have the gray pallor of indoors at night. The waft and stench of cigarettes and cheap sex, the flickering glow of neon, tangy cooking spices that momentarily penetrate the cloud of pollution that’s moored like a zeppelin over the city all combine to illuminate the masses huddled together in solitude. They are old men of the city. Sly old bastards concealing a history of too many tricks, their souls filled with the delusions of old men who think of sex too often and hunt for it everywhere.
But it is just as much the camaraderie of the disenfranchised that draws them to this tiny, dark, stuffy alleyway alive with those who hope to soon feed from their wallets. The boys for sale are an indulgence, an excuse. To know and be known is what matters. Yet it is an existence of time and place slowly eroding, an urban rejuvenation foretelling their obsolescence, yet another muse for their disapproval and discontent. Even the use of its former name that once excited and sent blood coursing through clogged arteries is destined to soon become a thing of the past. The grande dame that once was, the pudgy worn harlot that briefly held sway, giving way to an unbidden progress that signals the end of a way of life that few mothers would have ever chosen for their children.
The babble of tongues once ringing with the missing consonants of cockney and the braying bastardized English favored in Hollywood is now muted by a cacophony of strange whispers filled with too many vowels and unnatural groupings of letters that the gods surely never intended. The once predominant glaring whiteness of bodies too long hidden from the harsh truth of the sun is now muted, deflected by dark skin in shades of longing and avarice as vivid in their need as the neon lights that reflect wanting in the dark souless pupils of their eyes.
Signs that once proudly proclaimed in a tongue foreign to these shores that Arabs were not allowed, now flash their promise in characters designed to be read in an order unknown to those whose wallets once sourced the life blood of this soi. Boys whose pact with the devil once guaranteed a steady supply of fresh blood for the needy no longer are eager to learn mispronunciations of their love for the loveless, clamoring instead for the words that will fill their pockets with yuan, yen, and HK dollars. The prey-seeking eyes of the soi’s barkers ignore the ghosts of another time and wait to come to life at the sight of easier pickings and those who wallets are stuffed with a currency that still has value. The conquerors of the past, now guilty for having broken their world, begin to sup at the bloated teat of the conquered. Their day is done, their nights of supremacy twinkling into a murky consciousness of a world that has moved on without them, despite them. Elvis has left the building.
Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.
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