NANA PLAZA

The older I get the more I tend to sit outside go go bars and watch the action rather than inside and watch the girls dance. Because over the decades I have seen go go dancing until it has come out of my ears; and I often find it is outside the bars on places like Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza where the show is at its best.

One night not long ago I was sitting at Lucky Lukes, along the rail of one of the open-air beer bars at Nana Plaza; the one not far from the shrines. It was about 6:30 at night and already Nana was coming to life. The barsí neon signs were lit up, the sequence of their lights timed to flicker or rotate or gyrate or whirl or twirl or spin or do whatever they could to attract attention. The huge red lips of the Red Lips bar pulsated away. The mirrors of several parked motorcycles reflected these lights in all directions.

Go go dancers in street clothes and street makeup walked by, eyeing the potential customers (and being eyed by them) and heading for their respective bars. Many stopped to wai the Buddhist and Brahman shrines, some lit incense or bought garlands or fruit from nearby vendors to place on the shrines. Others stood about deeply engrossed in cellphone conversations, no doubt assuring men overseas that, no, they definitely were not working in the bars anymore so please keep those checks and wire transfers coming.

Men of all shapes and sizes and ethnic backgrounds were walking in or sitting about the beer bars drinking beer and sharing laughs with the girls serving them, killing time while waiting for the dancing to start. Children chased one another around the bars, a bar girl holding a gigantic stuffed snake chased screaming bargirls about. A black cat sat on the roof of the Lollipop Bar silhouetted by the light of the second floor Hogís Breath Saloon. Several cats stalked and chased one another about the various wooden and tin roofs, delivery vans delivering bags of ice and crates of beer and soft drinks had somehow managed to squeeze past an elephant standing with its mahout near the entrance to the Plaza beside a stand selling snacks of beetles, crickets, scorpions, worms and other Thai delicacies.

The sounds of bargirls speaking English, Thai, Laotian and Cambodian mingled with those of the Germans, Americans, Koreans, Japanese and others speaking their languages. The TVís were loud (Yes, both kinds Ė televisions and transvestites) as were a few already inebriated foreign men with their shirts off.

A dwarf stood in front of one bar trying hard to guide locals and tourists inside, a one-armed Thai boy was saluting people with his stub, well made-up little girls were selling garlands, and shabby little boys offered to shine shoes. Hill tribe women in hill tribe costumes hawked hill tribe purses and clothing. There was the usual abundance of flowers sellers, peanut vendors, watch sellers, map-of-Thailand sellers, sexy-shaped-cigarette lighter sellers, wicker basket sellers, puppies-with-nodding-heads sellers, clothes sellers, stuffed toy sellers, loud sounds of the latest music, drunken laughter and motorcycle engines piercing an air tinged with humidity and reeking with eroticism.

I was simply sitting on my stool at the rail watching the action and drinking my Singha Gold when a well dressed Thai woman walked up to the rail and said, ďDean, hi, do you remember me?Ē

I have a terrible memory and try as I might I couldnít place her. I didnít think she was a dancer I had barfined recently because I hadnít done that for a long time, well, at least not for three or four nights.

It turned out she was the wife of an American fellow selling man-sized condoms in Thailand and I had met them both at a party. Nice people. She was here now (with her bodyguard) to sell condom machines to the bars. After we chatted a bit, she reached into a large box, scooped out a huge handful of condoms and gave them to me, then went off to do business.

I wasnít sure what I was supposed to do with that many condoms and had no place to put them so I simply kept them in my right hand while drinking beer with my left. Then a Thai woman holding a luk-krung baby walked up to the rail and handed the baby to the bargirl sitting next to me, no doubt a close friend.

The bargirl was wearing a back-revealing top which clearly revealed a scorpion tattoo on her right shoulder. She had been munching fried grasshoppers with nam prik and sauce and discarding only bits of legs before placing the entire grasshoppers in her mouth. Mmmmmm-good! They chatted for a minute while I made faces at the baby who stared at me as if I were from another planet.

The girl noticed me playing with the baby and without asking handed it to me. The baby sat in my lap, its shoulder supported by my left hand, my right hand still clutching the condoms. The baby was I think about seven months old and suddenly it leaned its head over and the bargirl started berating me about didnít I know how to hold a baby and didnít I know I was supposed to support the neck of a baby?

Well, no, actually, I didnít know how to hold a baby as I never had one and nobody told me little kids donít have enough common sense to hold their heads up without assistance. So I moved the baby a bit so my torso could support its neck and I held it from falling with my left hand but my right hand still had the condoms so there was no way I could take a swig of my beer and Ė worse - meanwhile the ladyboys stopping to buy garlands observed me doing this and started giving me the eye because apparently they figured anybody kinky enough to hold a baby in one hand and a stack of condoms in the other would be up for anything.

I looked around Nana Plaza trying to see the ladyboys, vendors, bargirls, hill tribe women, tourists, drunkards, locals, elephant, cats, dwarf, one-armed boy, flashing go go signs, exotic shrines, etc., etc., through the eyes of someone who had never been here before; someone, say, who had just arrived from Kansas. I think there is no doubt he would feel he had suddenly been dropped into the Twilight Zone. One Step Beyond.

But it sure beats Kansas.

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