|A "help wanted" sign in Pattaya. Note the age range.|
Chaa's co-workers were downstairs by the time he'd cleaned up and come downstairs to meet them. Na came over as he entered, put his arm around him and asked quietly "Are you OK?" "It hurts," Chaa replied, still a little overwhelmed by what had just happened to him upstairs. "If you're lucky he didn't like you and then he'll leave you alone," said Na. "I don't think I'm lucky, " frowned Chaa, sharing some of what Boss had told him.
Boss came downstairs shortly before opening time and had mamasan Dee gather the guys together for what he called his "pep talk". In actuality it was more or less their usual marching orders for the night: get off the stage and into a seat next to the customer, hint or ask for a drink, agree with whatever Dee said, don't say "no" and do whatever it takes to get the "off" fee into the register. Na leaned over and whispered to Chaa that he'd start out smiling and calm, but would often end up red in the face and shouting. "He shout a lot!" said Na.
"HEY! Pay attention, dammit!" shouted Boss, as if on cue. He's seen Na and Chaa whispering, and didn't like it. Chaa jumped a little, but Na just smiled. "Sorry, sorry!" he said, and he was sorry to have begun the tirade so early in the meeting. It soon degenerated into Boss's usual rant about putting up or getting out. Everyone seemed relieved to see the door open and the doorman's head poke in, saying "Customer." Dee clapped her hands and the guys hopped up on stage. The music came on, and they were open for business.
The first customer was followed a couple of minutes later by two more, and the rest of the evening was an ongoing ebb and flow of older Caucasian males, punctuated every so often by a younger man, someone of a different race and a pair of women who seemed to have snuck away from their tour group to see what a club was like.
Na had given Chaa some idea of what to expect while they were riding down from Saraburi to Pattaya on the bus, but told him more about what to watch out for and avoid while walking along the beach a few hours earlier.
"Protect yourself from disease," he'd started out with "Ask for condoms, even though a lot of your customers won't want to use them. Sometimes they'll tell you they'll pay you more if you don't make them use protection, but many boys get sick or die because of this. Two in our club have HIV, and one of them only took the extra money one time. He only got an extra 1,000 baht for it, too. Some don't pay you what they say they'll pay you, either. It's not worth it, Chaa, but up to you..." Chaa was upset listening to this, but he didn't comment.
Na went on: "Be nice to Dee, the mamasan. If you aren't she won't suggest you to the customers, and your income will suffer. Don't promise that you will do something with a customer that you don't think you can do, or your tip will suffer, too - and you're in big trouble if they come back and complain and Boss hears about it. Make sure you get a drink, if you can; hint about it if the customer doesn't offer to buy you one. You get 30 baht from the price he pays. And," Na lowered his voice and leaned in closer to Chaa to say "do whatever it takes to keep Boss happy. You do not want to have him angry with you." Chaa had already seen Boss's face darken when he'd resisted doing something Boss had been pushing Chaa to do upstairs earlier, and he suspected there was more to come.
The rest of the evening was somewhat of a blur for Chaa. He had been singled out by Dee as the new boy, but although a couple of guys had brought him down off the stage and bought him a drink, he hadn't learned how to play the game to get himself offed yet. It was uncomfortable for him to be sitting next to a customer - especially one who wanted to put his hands all over his barely-covered body - and that discomfort was too much for him to hide.
"You'll get used to it," said Na. "It's like being in the movies. You smile and act like you're having a good time and you get rewarded." Chaa wondered if he ever could, but he trusted Na and made it through the shift.
It had continued to be difficult for Chaa to play the game to make his money, and even more difficult for him to perform the first time few times he'd been taken off. Dee had been pushing him as "the new boy", and later on his second night a large German man had offed him. He'd been very kind to him inside the club, complimenting him on his darker skin and his looks. He'd bought him a couple of drinks and tried to talk socially with Chaa, but Chaa knew only a little English and absolutely no German whatsoever. The man did some talking with Dee, and Chaa had understand when she'd pointed at him while nodding her head and saying "Sure, everything, can do everything." Chaa was uncomfortable with that, but went along to be agreeable, dressing and leaving the club with the German.
As luck would have it, his first experience was a very simple one, with the German man asking very little of him - and certainly less than Boss had the previous night when he'd climbed on top of Chaa, pinning him down and forcing himself inside of his "back door", essentially raping him.
Chaa soon learned what to say and how to manipulate a situation as best he could to his advantage. Things went better for him for another month, but then it all turned sour. More than sour: it turned downright ugly.
Next time: the conclusion.
Next time: the conclusion.