Tag Archives: Streetwalkers

Ui Turns 40

It wasn’t easy finding out about Ui’s upcoming birthday. The language barrier between us makes it hard to communicate even basic information and it took a few tries of her repeating her age and the date for me to un-derstand. But once I’d finally gotten things figured out — and confirmed she had no plans — I invited her out for dinner on her special day.

Though the last time I was involved with a Thai woman’s birthday had not quite worked out, I was confident that this time around — with me in charge — things would go smoothly. Given Ui’s occupation as a street-walker, it seemed to me she might appreciate going out on an honest-to-goodness date. It would be a charming, romantic dinner followed by red wine and a DVD movie back at my apartment. At least that was the plan.

We met in front of one of the ubiquitous 7-Elevens that dot Soi 4 and be-gan walking up the street until we came to one of the fancier restaurants. One with pleasant music and outdoor seating underneath colorful (though slightly grimy) illuminated globes. The kind of place where one can find middle-aged Western men anxiously talking to their bored-looking Thai dates, the women surreptitiously glancing at their smartphones. Studying the worn menu book out front (Thai cuisine of course), Ui signaled her approval and we got a table.

We decided to order three simple dishes to share between us. Waiting for the food to arrive, I presented my dinner companion with a dark green birthday card that seemed to surprise her — perhaps Thais are not into the Hallmark scene. I also attempted to brighten the mood by taking a few pictures. These didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Ui is not a bad-looking woman for her age, but I was not able to capture that and after showing her my amateur results, she requested I stop shooting.

B Day Cropped

It was an awkward meal, further hampered by our inability to converse to any degree. While this did not seem to upset the birthday girl — Ui isn’t complaining type — neither was she bubbling over with happiness. Nor did the evening improve once we went to my apartment where I quickly poured her a glass of the red wine. After only a couple of swallows, she didn’t want any more and after sampling it I understood why: the opened bottle had been in my fridge for too long and had turned sour. 

As a final attempt to salvage the occasion, I popped in a promising sci-fi/horror DVD I’d recently purchased. But this turned out to be so crappy I ended up tossing it into the trash. In the meantime, my date had fallen asleep (we were watching the movie while lying on the bed). She briefly roused herself for the start of the second feature — An American Were-wolf in London — but soon had returned to slumberland. Ether she was very tired or very bored. Having exhausted all my attempts to make her 40th birthday an enchanted one, I let her rest.

Ui ended up leaving shortly after 3 a.m, explaining that her mother was coming into town that morning, possibly a made-up excuse to escape the clutches of her birthday “celebration”. Not that I blamed her; I had bum-bled the affair every step of the way. In fact, I now suspect Ui agreed to the evening more to please me in my attempt to do something special for her than from any great desire to commemorate turning forty.

The lesson from all this is to be wary of what I’ve come to recognize as “the arrogance of good intentions”. I had assumed I knew how to make Ui genuinely happy, a notion that in hindsight was rather presumptuous. In the future I’ll try to be more realistic — and not use last month’s wine.

At least the birthday card was a good idea.

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You Say It’s Your Birthday?    Streetwalker Profile: Ui 

A Career Change

When I last wrote about my streetwalker friend Gai some nine months ago, we had gotten re-acquainted after a year’s hiatus and I had given her money to help out her ailing mother. This was intended only to get the family through a rough spot. What I did not fully realize then is that for too many of these girls, their entire life is a rough spot. Gai’s mom ended up having to make weekly visits to the hospital, causing the medical bills to pile up and forcing the family to postpone paying their rent. 

This put me in the classic Nice Guy Dilemma: either continue my gen-erosity, or turn off the spigot and let their life become inexorably worse. For someone like me, the latter would have been unbearable. Since I was going to be out of the country for awhile, I therefore endowed Gail with enough money for four to five months, at least by my reckoning. Yet this did not go nearly as far as I had hoped. When I returned to Bangkok — after seven weeks — I was shocked to discover she was down to her last one thousand baht ($30)!

What the hell happened? Well, there more medical bills, school tuition for Gai’s daughter, plus one-time purchases to try and make her mother’s life more comfortable such as a small air conditioner and a special bed. Yet this didn’t quite add up and my strong suspicion is that the rest went to help out some of her many siblings — to which Thais feel a strong obligation. I might as well have put the money in a wheelbarrow, gone to a family gathering, and dumped it out on the dinner table.

The good news was that the mother was feeling better. The bad news was that Gai was now unwell and needed to visit the hospital — for “woman problems” related to her profession. (She provided me with an English translation of what exactly was wrong, which I don’t believe I’ll share.) After enduring an unpleasant and painful procedure, she was released af-ter two nights.

The doctor’s advice was that Gai now needed three months of rest, then should find a new, healthier occupation. This was taken to heart and Gai began making plans to join her sister working as a hotel maid. Seeing a chance to help nudge her in a new direction, I volunteered to continue my support during the recuperation period. This was an easy offer to make. Gai is an admirable woman who continued to take care of her mother and raise her daughter during this time and deserved the help.

I made my final “payment” to Gai in mid-January, completing my three month commitment. (Actually three months and two weeks.) I also used the occasion to make my exit, telling her I did not want a Thai girlfriend — which was most emphatically true. I know this hurt — she had told me on occasion that she loved me — but even if I was interested, there would be more family crises and financial needs awaiting down the road and I’d growing weary of playing the hero. 

I am now steeling myself for the next time I run into Gai down on Suk-humvit Road, once again out waiting for customers, the hotel cleaning gig having not worked out. In this country, improving one’s lot is extra-ordinarily difficult. However, in this case I can at least console myself that I did my best for a good person.
Gai - Brighter
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Streetwalker Profile: Ui

Ui is a regular fixture on Soi 4 and can be found most nights waiting on the sidewalk around the entrance to the now-closed Nana Liquid Disco. I imagine I’d passed by her dozens of times before curiosity finally got the better of me last year and I took her back to my apartment. She was at that time working in a factory and supplementing her pay by going with the occasional customer at night. Since then she’s quit her day job to be a full-time lady of the evening. 

I imagine that around a decade ago Ui would be considered reasonably attractive with her long black hair and dark complexion. But at thirty-eight, age is beginning to take its toll. One time she came to my place on a pre-arranged date without any makeup and I was surprised at how worn out she looked. But I still appreciate her figure. She is taller than most Thais and doesn’t have the usual beanpole legs and float-a-supertanker pair of breasts that frankly turn me off. (I prefer a more balanced arrange-ment.)

From what I can understand, Ui was once a wild woman, using heroin and mixing with the bad crowd that the drug trade attracts. Then she was in a serious motorbike accident which landed her in the hospital, unconscious, for most of a month. With neither of us speaking the other’s language beyond three or four word sentences, I haven’t been able to piece together what happened after that. I do suspect the accident impair-ed her facilities — in even short conversations, she’ll sometimes repeat herself. Reminds me of my father when he started coming down with dementia. 

Despite this background, Ui is the kindest and least-demanding of all my Thai lady friends. Simple and completely without guile. One time when I was ill, she stopped by to see how I was doing — an act unimaginable to the many grubby and greedy women who inhabit the bars and sidewalks on Soi 4. Nor has she ever pestered me for money, despite a mother whose care she is solely responsible for. For these reasons, she survived the Stalinist purges of my harem last month. In fact, I continue to provide modest amounts of cash on occasion, entirely on my own initiative.

Though I always keep an eye out whenever I’m strolling by her hangout, it is Ui who usually spies me first, stepping out from the shadows with her arms extended wide, looking like a lost child who has finally located a friend. I get a brief hug followed by a near-pleading “Go home with you? No mon-ey.” This not a manipulative confession; it means she’s willing to take care of me free of charge, partly because of my prior gen-erosities but also because she’s quite fond of me. 

Our dates have their own distinctive style. Early on I discovered that she, unsurprisingly, is not into “the act”, so we’ve learned to enjoy each other by indulging in vices and special desires (Current Perversion: slow danc-ing). On the occasions she stays over, we sleep like brother and sister. Yet I do not feel deprived; it’s refreshing knowing someone whose motives never need to be second-guessed.

I try to avoid worrying about the women here that I’ve befriended, many of whom are struggling to support themselves, a child, and sometimes an ailing parent. I cannot magically turn their lives around — a bitter lesson I’ve had to learn. Ui’s future appears especially grim. Because of her memory problems, it’s hard to envision her working at anything more than menial jobs once her looks have faded away. And the hope of some Western suitor finding interest in her is almost cruel to contemplate. I can only do what I can, brightening up her life every few weeks with a fun evening and surprising her with unexpected gifts of money. 

Streetwalker Profile: Paw the Pixie

I caught Paw on a good night. When I rang, she was with one of her reg-ular customers, a sixty-three-year-old Aussie. Living with his Thai wife somewhere out in the rural boondocks, he escapes down to Bangkok on occasion for a week or two of carousing. (I assume this is done with the little woman’s consent.) Paw will often spend the night with him at what-ever hotel he is staying at.

This time, the deed having been done and said customer soundly asleep, Paw was ready for a break in the action and was at my door within ten minutes. (Which was barely enough time for me to tidy the place up.) As she entered, she quickly discarded her high-heeled sandals, then began removing her clothes in the same casual manner a visitor would discard their overcoat. Since we usually do nothing beyond massages, cuddling and kissing, I’m considering suggesting in the future she save herself the effort of disrobing. 

Paw’s figure, which she obviously has no reticence in displaying, is elf-like, almost emaciated. It’s like one of Santa’s helpers decided to become a triathlete. She also has a beak for a nose, meaning she is not one of the in-demand ladies who congregate outside Nana Plaza in the middle of the night. I, however, appreciate her unflagging good spirits. Being a street-walker means standing around for hours on end waiting for a customer — who may prove to be a thoroughly miserable experience. Despite this, Paw is always cheerful and smiling as she regales me with her latest ad-ventures, her English being fairly good. (On the other hand, Thais can be reticent about displaying disappointment or sadness, so I could be getting the sanitized versions.) This is also one of my special friends whom I can easily get a laugh out of, something I enjoy almost as much as they do.

For this particular visit, she described her Aussie customer for the first time. The thought that she’s helping him cheat on his wife contained no moral revulsion. It’s simply a business transaction from her perspective, nothing more. There even was an element of fondness as she mentioned a couple of his foibles. 

When it came time to leave, Paw was trying to decide whether to return and sleep with the Aussie or go back out on the street, trolling for new prospects. She has said that I’m good luck; that on the nights when I call, she often has more customers. Glad to help out. Perhaps for that reason, she elected to do some more hunting, slipping into her tiny pair of jeans and performing strategic tugs on her blouse as she checked her makeup in the mirror. Exiting the apartment, she flashed me a bright goodbye smile.

Nursemaid

Soon I will be leaving for my annual U.S. pilgrimage. This will involve the usual family and friends visitations plus some serious decompressing. (Bangkok can take a toll on a person.) When I informed the apartment manager I’d be checking out (I lease month-to-month), I mentioned that after I’d left, there would be many women crying in the bars on Soi 4. She got a kick out of this. I laughed too, not realizing how true the joke would turn out to be.

I had been out doing some late-morning chores which included getting a haircut and a bit of shopping followed by a hamburger lunch. (Strangely, I hardly ever eat Thai food.) I was returning to my room when I hap-pened to see Noy #3 (I know three Thai women named Noy), a casual acquaintance, waiting for customers in the parking lot across the street from Nana Plaza. A couple months had passed since our last tryst during which time I hadn’t stayed in touch, so I was not surprised to see her appear faintly annoyed as I approached. As I began talking with her, however, it became clear she was actually very upset.

It’s important to take a moment and review the rules of engagement here. If, after a roll in the hay, the farang customer wishes to see his one-and-only again, it is entirely his choice. There are no obligations unless the woman has somehow wheedled one out of the guy. Both parties go their separate ways. Noy #3 I had seen twice in May, but prior to that it had been two years outside of a few brief hellos.

Yet somehow I had transgressed.

“You not talk to me for two, three months. But I not come to your apart-ment. Maybe you have mistress. Not want see me.”

I attempted to explain that I had not been feeling well, which was quite true. But more than that, I simply wasn’t interested. My prerogative. But I could not say any of this outright as it could be construed as a loss of face and I was afraid how she’d react.

“You good man. I not come here every day. Today I come, hope see you. I have good man before from Singapore, but he die fourteen years ago.”

No kidding? Not quite sure where this conversation was heading, I tried to regain some control. Gently, I inquired why she had not called or sent me an SMS if getting together was so important. But that went nowhere given her emotional state. Soon I was standing on the sidewalk next to a Thai woman crying her eyes out. (Much later I would find out she is from Laos. Not that that made any difference.)

“You talk good long time with me. Two years (sob). I lucky see you to-day.”

If so, she was expressing her gratitude at her good fortune in an unusual manner. Not wanting to leave her there, shedding tears on the pavement for all to see, I took her back to the apartment. As we entered, she sud-denly kneeled to remove my shoes and socks. This “servant girl” routine was her way of trying to rekindle my affection. But sadly all I could do was gently dissuade her and offer extra Kleenex to staunch the tears that soon started up again, accompanied by her litany of woes. Searching for a way to somehow turn off the hydrant, I told her of my upcoming U.S. vacation, explaining that all my friendships here were coming to an end (at least temporarily). No luck. I was not able to comfort her in any way. She was pining after a connection that in fact had never existed between us.

I ultimately got her to leave by telling her how tired I was. In response, she offered to stay and give me a massage, but I wanted an end to the soap opera. Being turned down, she accused me of liking lady boys (Thai men who dress as women). This struck me as so silly I actually chuckled, then abruptly stopped when I saw her unsmiling face.

She walked out the door without looking back.

A Novice?

I paid scant attention to the woman coming up the steps. Even in the mid-dle of the night, people are always coming and going in this part of the city (Sukhumvit Road, near Nana Station). As she went by, she playfully tapped me on the back. Continuing to the far side of the overpass, she paused, seemed to make up her mind about something, then began walk-ing back my way.

Her name was Naan and it was hard to tell what she was up to. For one thing, she wasn’t wearing a short skirt or stiletto high heels, which are standard attire for many of the women strolling about at that hour. This made it hard to discern her figure, which from the glances I could steal appeared nondescript. Her short hair was finger-combed to one side and she appeared quite comfortable in a light lavender top, worn jeans and moccasins. Almost looked like she could do a granola commercial.

When it’s coming up on 3:30 in the morning, casual chitchat becomes arduous. I therefore wasted little time in discovering she was offering to give me a massage for the ridiculously cheap price of one hundred and twenty baht ($3.60). I couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of this and told her I’d instead pay five hundred baht, similar to what is charged at the ubiquitous massage parlors here. Why? Well, I liked the way she had found the courage to walk up and talk to me and felt she deserved the go-ing rate.

I brought her back to my apartment and to my delight, received one of the best massages of my time here in Bangkok. When she left, sans any hanky-panky, I gave her a one hundred baht tip and a hug. I also got her phone number — something I often neglect to do — and later texted her a thank you, though this didn’t earn me a reply.

In fact, getting any response out of her proved to be a problem. Over the following week, I twice sent an SMS asking if she was “working”. The first time I heard nothing and on the second occasion, after waiting an hour, decided I’d had enough and deleted her from my cell phone.

It wasn’t fifteen minutes later that I got a return text from Naan, asking me what time I’d like to have her over. I deliberated on this for a bit, then elected not to reply. When trying to get to know a woman from another culture, it’s important they respond to my messages and calls within a reasonable time frame. To be halfway punctual. Naan had not shown her-self to be that kind of person.

That really should have been the end of things, at least for that particular go-around. But no, Naan soon called and quickly hung up. I did nothing. Another fifteen to twenty minutes went by, then a text arrived: “I sorry.” Obviously she wanted to see me again, and in the past I might have been moved to answer. But I have discovered that my initial impressions of these women off the streets are more often than not correct, and in this case I needed to be moving on. It wasn’t like I was breaking off a rela-tionship, or so I thought.

Two days later, I received what I hope is the final round of fun in the form of two more messages. The first was a simple afternoon hello which I ignored. The second came four hours later and read: “f*ck you  ha, ha, ha.” I’ve never been treated to the “f” word from a Thai lady before — it is considered incredibly rude here and when combined with the absurdly cheap massage price she initially quoted, makes me wonder if perhaps I was one of her first-ever customers. Or, there might be some deeper, darker issues at play. In either case, I’m glad I didn’t get further involved, possibly ending up in a starring role in some Thai version of Fatal At-traction.

The World’s Oldest Profession

The sight can be entertaining, enraging or downright depressing depend-ing upon one’s background and point of view: a lumbering, overweight Caucasian, sporting a Goodyear Blimp for a belly, walking down a Bang-kok street hand in hand with a small Thai woman. If an earthquake would suddenly hit, the guy could easily topple over and flatten her. They’d end up having to scrape her remains off the sidewalk.

What are we witnessing here? Is it a deep, lasting bond between two cul-tures? Or perhaps a wayward tourist needs directions. Sadly, it’s neither. What we are privy to is a glimpse of an occupation that has been around as long as Homo sapiens. No, not soccer, but (gasp) prostitution. Right in the heart of the capital city of Thailand. Who would have thought?

Actually, it turns out that a lot of people (or at least a lot of men) have contemplated this. Procuring a lady for the evening can be done in prac-tically every country of the world (with the possible exception of Iran). It’s largely a matter of knowing where to go and whom to ask — a task I never was up to during the course of my many journeys. The Thais are simply less coy about the whole process. It’s as if they are saying: “Let’s cut through the BS, big boy. We know you aren’t here for the food. The ladies are waiting, so quit dawdling and make your choice!” It’s almost as easy as going into a 7-Eleven convenience store, which can also be found on almost every street corner in my neighborhood. (Indeed, one wonders why the Thais have not discovered a way to combine the two services.)

I grew up in a small town in the midwest U.S. where, I think I can state with little fear of contradiction, a fellow did not stumble across available companions on the way to the grocery store. I also, for some unknown reason, happen to prefer Asian women, a condition indelicately referred to by a fellow blogger as “Yellow Fever”. Residing on the fringe of a bar-ridden red light district in Bangkok has therefore presented some over-whelming temptations. At times I’ve contemplated purchasing a pair of horse blinders to keep me focused on my tasks, but that would be defeat-ing one the reasons I chose this area to live in: taking in the sights. At least I’ve trained myself to stop drooling when I see a woman who strikes me as particularly alluring. And when I encounter a fellow Caucasian strolling down the Soi (street) with one of them, my first reaction is now one of curiosity as opposed to condemnation.

Interestingly enough, the longer I stay here, the more natural these every-day pay-for-sex affairs appear. My wholesome all-American upbringing, by contrast, strikes me more and more as being rather uptight and not as healthy as I once imagined. But that is one the reasons why we travel: to gain new perspectives.

Pitching In

Today I received an SMS from one of my streetwalker acquaintances, Gai, informing me she is “yaritai”. This is an informal Japanese word meaning “want to do”. Want to do what, you may ask. Well let us just say she’s not coming over to my place to debate drone strikes in Pakistan.

I’ve known Gai for over a year, but had gone awhile without seeing her until we bumped into each other down on Sukhumvit Road a few months back. I was returning home after an evening of Eight Ball while she was just beginning her “day”. Upon seeing me, she gave me a big hug, telling the other ladies that I was jai dii — good hearted. (I appreciated the com-pliment.)

Like most Thai women in her profession, Gai’s life has been difficult. Her husband died a dozen years ago, driving while drunk, leaving her to raise their daughter. Thailand can be a hard country, especially for single mothers. Though wages have risen noticeably in recent years, most wo-men still only make ten thousand baht a month at best ($300). Not the kind of money that leads to a better future.

Both this year and last, I have paid part of the school tuition for Gai’s daughter. This was done on my own initiative. By Thai standards, I am unimaginably wealthy and there are occasions when helping one of them seems like a good idea. Admittedly, there’s no shortage of Bangkok bar girls and go-go dancers who are simply out to see how much money they can extract from a naive farang (white foreigner). But the solitary street-walkers who linger on Sukhumvit into the pre-dawn hours are in general far less predatory and manipulative (and, unfortunately, less attractive). In some cases they have been dealt a very bad hand.

Such as Gai. This year, her seventy-six-year-old mother has become very ill and is possibly dying. Though it sounds like there are numerous child-ren around to help out, the primary responsibility for her mom’s care has fallen on Gai, meaning she can no longer work the streets and thus has no money coming in. Again, I have provided assistance by paying for two hospital visits, the most recent involving a CAT scan. Nowadays, when-ever we talk on the phone, Gai has her mom say a few words of simple Thai to me, expressing her gratitude.

Guess I truly am jai dii.

Skirmish With a Ladyboy

Bangkok

First, some background. The term “ladyboy” refers to men in this country who dress up as women. This condition — if that is the proper word — is largely accepted by Thai society. Ladyboys can be found working in all kinds of jobs such as the cosmetics section in drugstores or even as bank tellers. Admittedly these occupations pale in comparison to the United States, where a cross-dressing man can become head of the FBI, but they suffice.

Like all things in life, there are both good and bad permutations of the species. The latter can be found in the area around the go-gos and bars of Nana Plaza in the post-midnight hours, aggressively soliciting unwary tourists. They must do good business as any given night will see well over a dozen lined up along Soi 4, checking their makeup and chatting with their friends.

My issue with them is their boldness. When passing by on my way home, a few of the bolder ones will sometimes grasp my arm and when I say (in Thai) no thanks, they won’t let go, even going so far as to intensify the encounter. In the past month, I’ve had my left nipple twisted (ouch!) and my crotch grabbed. Though the standard advice is go out of your way to avoid these night creatures, I decided I wasn’t going to cede the street to them. If my wishes would not be respected, then I would escalate. It is not just my distaste at being touched; some of the ladyboys are pick-pockets and use the close contact to try and lift a fellow’s wallet. This had happened to a tourist staying at my hotel/apartment complex few days earlier.

To dissuade my would-be muggers, I decided to employ my folded, com-pact umbrella. If they were going to ignore my protests, I could use it as a club to swat at their hands. This tactic got its first trial a few nights ago. While talking with a couple of streetwalkers (women), a ladyboy strolled up and took hold of my arm. When I declined the offer and he began to press in, I swung and knocked his hands away. Unfortunately, this had the exact opposite effect of what I’d intended. Before I knew it, he was screaming and swinging his purse at me. I responded with another swipe that connected solidly to the head, but this seemed only to further enrage him. Startled, I retreated across the street where I stumbled and fell. As I lay there, a lady’s high-heeled shoe landed next to me. It seemed my as-sailant was going to attack with his entire wardrobe.

Scrambling to my feet, I retrieved my weapon I had dropped and con-tinued to back up. Reaching the other side of the street, we squared off again and I landed a third umbrella blow, this one around his ear which had to hurt, but didn’t slow him down one bit. Who would have thought an effeminate guy in makeup and a dress could absorb this kind of punishment?

That last blow had bent the shaft of my impromptu club, rendering it use-less. So I initiated Plan B: run for it! The ladyboy followed in hot pursuit, throwing his high heels at me, then pausing to pick them up for another toss. This reloading allowed me to open up some distance between us. Finally, about a block from my apartment, a motorcycle-taxi driver who had witnessed the scene drove up to inform me that my assailant had giv-en up the chase. I was hugely relieved as I did not want him to discover where I lived. It was scary, how furious he had gotten.

Being a red-blooded American, my inclination is to now begin toting a baseball bat. But besides looking silly (and just asking for trouble), this kind of weapon could easily inflict serious damage; injuries that the Thai police might frown upon. Their sympathies in a conflict of this nature are always going to be with their fellow Thais, meaning that even if I (in my view) justifiably defend myself, I could wind up in jail.

There is absolutely no point in doing anything deliberately foolish in a foreign country. So, I am going to begin curtailing my explorations of the seamy Bangkok nightlife. I have nothing against ladyboys or the trans-gendered; I simply do not want another altercation. 

Thank You for Smoking!

Bangkok

It’s time to admit to a perversion that goes beyond my affection for the Washington State Cougars football team: I have developed a fascination with Thai women who smoke. Not all of them; just the ones who do it in a slow, sensual manner.

Unfortunately, smoking is becoming less and less popular in Thailand. The government forces tobacco companies to adorn each pack with pic-tures of tumours, eaten-out throats and receding, blackened gums. (The people posing for these photos look almost as miserable as WSU football fans come early November.) However, this does not seem to deter certain segments of the population. For example, I’ve never witnessed a Thai bar girl, overcome by the gruesome photos, crush out her half-smoked Men-thol L & M in revulsion.

My favorite smoker can be found just down the road from my apartment, a couple blocks from the go-gos of Nana Plaza. Her working name is “Kinky Girl Cat”, a Fetish Mistress who at age thirty is still “working her way through school”. She specializes in the kind of activities that most of us would not want to know the details about, but has nonetheless become my evening nicotine-watching fix.

“Hello Cat! How are you?”

“Oh, Monte! I OK, but no customers tonight. You want spanking?”

“Ah, no thanks. But I have a present for you!”

“L & M cigarettes? Why you give me?”

“It’s because I care.”

Baffled by my generosity, she nevertheless opens the pack, pries out the first pleasure stick and prepares to light up.

“Do people smoke in your country?”

“Not many. Smoking is a dirty, filthy habit… Is your lighter working? Here, I brought one with me.”

“I not need…” A brief flash. The first, deep breath and slow exhale. “Tell me really, why people not smoke in America?”

Mesmerized by the wafting carcinogenic fumes, I’m slow to reply.

“Huh? What did you say? Oh, about smokers in America. Well, the gov-ernment makes rules. For example, no smoking in public places.”

“What ‘public places’ mean?”

“Restaurants and bars. Customers must go outside and smoke twenty-five feet away.”

“How they know twenty-five feet?”

“It is where all the cigarette butts are lying on the ground. And in Seattle, if they are near running water, I think they also have to wear some kind of life jacket.”

“Life jacket?”

“Not important. Seattle wants smokers to feel bad.”

“If feel bad, tell them to come Bangkok. They can smoke no problem and I whip them good!”

And so my faith in human nature remains unshaken, knowing there are compassionate people like Mistress Cat; a kind of erotic Statue of Liberty beckoning to all nations for their poor, their perverted, their three-pack-a-day sufferers, all longing to be free.