A Popcorn Fiction selection. Two salesmen see the dark side of Bangkok in this short story from screenwriter Darby Kealey. Oh yeah, and one of the salesmen is: you.
The first thing you notice as you step out of the airport is the heat. It’s hot in Bangkok. Not like LA heat, either. It’s thicker, almost soupy. You feel like you’re walking through the head of steam that affronts you when you open your dishwasher just after the Super-Clean cycle — but this place doesn’t smell like detergent. They probably don’t even have dishwashers here.
Your associate — he’d probably call you a ‘buddy’ — gets right to it: “Whores, buddy.” He’s a simple guy, Hank, which you envy at times; you can see him eternally happy with a bottomless case of lite beer and a ball of twine. That’s why he’s in sales. But right now, all Hank wants to do is buy. He’s heard Thailand is the place to come for prostitutes, the Mecca (your cultural reference, of course). He told you about it the whole damn flight. You would’ve preferred a crying baby.
“So this is Bonehenge, huh?”
“Huh?” Hank says. You catch the glimmer off a string of drool issuing from his mouth; Pavlov would’ve had a field day with Hank. “Whores,” he says again, trailing off at the end of what for him amounts to a sentence. He’s staring through the welter of buses, taxis, cars, and rickshaws clogging the airport entrance, to a back-alley in the distance, which he must think leads to the section of town where all the hookers are hooking. Or maybe there is no Red Light District here. Maybe it’s the whole city — the whole country, even. A Red Light Country. The thought makes you sad for a moment, but you don’t really have time to ponder it, as Hank is ambling off into almost certain death down the random back-alley. It’ll be a miracle if he survives this trip.
“Easy, Hank,” you say, grabbing him by the collar of his Lacoste shirt, which is already drenched in boozy sweat. “Hotel first, man. We gotta drop off our stuff.” Though clearly irked, Hank accedes. Despite the fact that you’re in the Far East now, the fundamentals of civilization still apply: you’re his boss. Well, not his boss, exactly, but his superior. And while you don’t like to assert your authority over anyone, particularly not a guy two years your senior, you believe that a strict adherence to hierarchy, to discipline, is the only thing that keeps foreigners alive in these inscrutable lands. You hail a taxi from the taxi stand, as the almighty Travel Guide told you to do.
Driving in Bangkok isn’t like driving in The States. It’s not even like driving in LA. It’s not even like driving, really. It’s more of an all out Battle of Wills. Right now, you’re sitting at a stoplight, but the semiotics of traffic signals has been diluted to the point of utter meaninglessness. Your driver blares his horn, screams something, then attempts — really tries, you can tell — to bash another taxi next to him. You think of cheap Chinese cars with no airbags and human crumple-zones; of substandard hospitals and poorly trained shamans; of some rich Frenchman with a penchant for champagne and a need for your liver. You know it’s cliché, but at this moment you hate the French.
The light remains red, but you’re off again, swooping through traffic like a bat into hell. A rickshaw sidles up next to you, making you flashback to the chariot-racing scene in Ben Hur; you slide toward the center of the backseat, half expecting a spike to pierce through your door at any moment. You finally understand what Hobbes meant by the State of Nature. And you’re plodding straight through the heart of it now: The Jungle. The thought makes you cringe.
“You seem a little jumpy, dude. You cool?”
“Fine, Hank. Just a little crazy, driving here.”
“Yeah,” Hank says, chuckling with an insouciance that, given the circumstances, indicates one of two things: A profound, Zen-monk acceptance of the comic-tragedy that is life — or mild retardation. And you’re pretty sure Hank doesn’t meditate. “Way I see it, I’m the type of guy who doesn’t worry too much about this kinda stuff, ya know? Fuck it, man.” You hate people who use phrases like ‘I’m the type of guy who…’ It seems so affected, so ersatz heroic, like Hank pictures himself standing atop some jagged cliff, sunset glowing behind him, every time he’s describing himself and his preferences, even if it’s just whether he likes chunky or smooth peanut butter better. Hank probably eats a lot of peanut butter.
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