Without the wind of a moving train blowing in my face, the heat of South East Asia takes over. My brow beads with sweat. I wipe it off. The sweat immediately returns. In my hands are two large bottles of beer. One is half empty. The other is half full. We walk off the train. Terry makes a beeline for the toilets.
“Hey! You pay!” the waitress hollers out the window at me. I wedge the bottles under my arms and reach for my wallet. I pay the waitress, tipping her forty baht. She blows me a kiss. As I am trying to put my wallet back in my pocket, one bottle slips from my arm. I reflexively try to catch it, releasing the other bottle in the process. Both bottles hit the ground. The half empty one shatters. The half full one remains intact. Chang sprays everywhere. Miraculously, I manage to avoid most of it. Only the lower part of my trousers receives a splashing. I look around. Embarrassed. No one seems to be looking at me. I step over the broken glass.
I spend a few moments taking in Hua Hin’s train station. It’s not all that impressive. A track. A platform. Some people. Maybe it is better during the daytime? I look around for a cab. One man looks promising. His mustache looks like catfish whiskers. I like catfish. I approach him.
“Not this one. Not this one,” Terry says, returning from the toilet. I ask him why not. “You never get a ride at the train station, my boy. These Thais will rob you blind. Trust me. We will walk down a little ways and find something better.” We walk down a little ways. We do not find something better. We don’t find anything at all. “It’s actually good that we can’t find a cab,” Terry says. “These people love to rip you off. Don’t worry. It’s not too far anyway.” We keep walking. “Didn’t we have beers when we got off the train?” he asks. “We already finished those,” I say. The dark patches on my trousers are just beginning to dry.
My vision is less blur. My head is less buzz. Terry is moving slower, though. His words taking longer to travel the distance from mind to mouth. The streets are almost empty. This is strange. Hua Hin is a popular tourist spot. And while the nightlife here is not as notorious as some corners of the country, you can still find plenty of diversions and perversions. Just not tonight, it seems. We turn a corner. We turn another corner. “This is it,” Terry announces as we turn down yet another dark street.
Everything is shuttered. No lights. No diversions. No perversions. I ask if we are in the right place. Terry assures me that normally this street is packed. Beer. Bar girls. Boom boom.
A man walks by. “What’s going on?” Terry asks. The man looks blankly at him, not understanding. “No bars. No lights. No boom boom. Why?” The man cocks his head slightly and smiles. “Erection night,” he says.
We walk to the one place with lights on. It is a fish spa. Since our options are limited we figure, what the hell? Terry, very delicately, takes off his socks. They are pastel green. I put my feet in the water. Dozens of tiny fishes swarm to my feet. It tickles.
The travel guides all say the same thing about Thai culture: the head is the most sacred part of the body. The feet are the least sacred. As to exactly why this is, I do not know. But I do know you don’t touch a Thai person’s head. And you never point with your feet. I wonder what they think of an animal that feeds on the lowest part of the body? An animal whose purpose is to feast on flecks of dead skin and toe jam?
“We need some beers,” Terry says. The man running the fish spa shakes his head. “No beer,” he says, “erection night.” Terry motions to the man and whispers in his ear. The man wanders off. He comes back a few minutes later with two beers, wrapped in newspaper. “I knew he had beer somewhere,” Terry says, “these people will always hold out on you. If he has some, others will, too.”
After the fish spa we wander. Our feet are very smooth. Our goal is very simple. But the 24-hour moratorium on alcohol before local elections seems to be holding. We pass row after row of darkened bars. The few that are open have signs proclaiming they “CAN’T Sell AlcOhal”. Terry becomes agitated.
“I just don’t get it,” he says after an unsuccessful attempt to buy Chang at 7-Eleven. “This just isn’t fucking right. I’ve never seen anything like it.” His frustration is growing. He stops a man. “Where can we buy beer?” he asks. “No beer tonight. Erection tomollow,” the man says.
He is sweating. A lot. He holds the damp handkerchief in his fist. Dark patches are forming under his armpits. He is not walking as much as he is shuffling. I am trying to calculate just how much beer he has had tonight. It is at least double what I have had. Maybe more.
His anger boils over. “I pay fucking taxes in this goddamn country and I should be able to buy fucking beer!” There are only a few people on the street, but they are starting to stare. I am trying to calm him down, but the happy bunny is hopping mad. “What is wrong with these fucking people? Don’t they want my money?” Terry sees a policeman. He motions to him. I quickly steer us as far away from that potential disaster as I can.
I try to reason with him. “There’s no beer,” I say. “We picked the wrong night. We can come again. Next time, there won’t be any erections. It will be great.”
I am tired. It is getting late. I suggest we find a place to sleep. We turn a corner. This street is even deader than the last three. We walk in semi-darkness. A soi dog barks in the distance. I have no idea where I am. Where am I going?
“Hey! Where you go?” a voice says. The car pulls up next to us. “You need taxi? You need tour?” Terry responds by saying we need beer. “No beer tonight. Erection. You need taxi? You need tour? What you want?” This doesn’t look like a taxi. It just looks like a white Toyota. The driver couldn’t be more than 25. If that. I hesitate, but Terry has already opened the door. We get in.
The driver introduces himself. He asks us how long we will be in Hua Hin. I tell him we are just here for the night. “You should stay longer. I can give you tour. You know Monkey Mountain? Good price.”
We pass a small shop. “Pull over,” Terry says. The proprietress is a shriveled woman. “This one will sell me beer,” Terry says confidently. He disappears into the shop. The driver again asks if I want a tour. I tell him we just need a place to spend the night. A cheap place.
Terry staggers back. With a six pack. He opens my door. “Other door,” I say. He walks to the driver’s side and gets in. He shakes his head. He scrunches his eyebrows. He looks confused. He turns to me, “Sorry, my boy. I think I have lost the plot,” he says. I do not entirely understand what this means. He shakes his head again. “Where are we? What are we doing?” Something clicks in my brain. I begin to suspect Terry might have a drinking problem. I am glad the night is almost over.
“We are in Hua Hin,” I calmly explain. “We are in a cab. We are going to find a place to spend the night.” He nods. “Jolly good,” he says. His senses seem to have returned. He seems neither shocked nor surprised that he has consumed enough beer to induce a blackout.
And he just bought six more.
The car is moving, but we have no place to go. “So what you want? What you need?” the driver asks. I am about to reiterate our desire for inexpensive lodging when Terry leans forward and wraps his arms around the driver’s seat. He grabs the driver’s crotch and kisses him tenderly on the ear. “We need a place to spend the night,” Terry says. “How about your place?” My brain clicks again. The socks make a lot more sense now.
The driver’s arms do not leave the steering wheel. Terry’s hands do not leave the driver’s crotch. I open my mouth. I close my mouth. There is silence, save for the now continuous clicking inside my head.
“You bad boy,” the driver purrs. He puts his blinker on. The sound synchronizes with the one in my brain. He makes a right turn.
The car picks up speed. We drive through empty streets. To an unknown destination.