I had arranged to meet Bill in Waikiki. He was writing an article about prostitution for Honolulu magazine and had interviewed a woman who had been arrested for soliciting. He had gone to her trial ($100 for the first offense, $500 for the second). He knew about an older woman, a Baptist preacher they called "The Condom Lady," who had made it her mission to hand out five contraceptives to the street-walkers. He had made friends with some of the people on Morals Detail. We watched the prostitutes, who usually seemed to travel in twos, strutting and twitching like herons. They took no notice of us, we were invisible to them, and every now and then they would stiffen and make a beeline for the men behind us. Japanese, On Koa Street, where many girls lurked, a pair of girls pushed past us and pounced on two Japanese, and if you happened to be of a sensitive turn of mind you could find something awfully depressing about the girls ignoring us in favor of two callow sauntering youths in baggy shorts and T-shirts. After a while, Bill spoke with a girl in a tiny orange skirt, but it was a brief conversation. The girl hurried away from him.
"I told her I was from Honolulu magazine and she just took off," he said.
"I don't think these girls want to get their names in your magazine."
"Sometimes saying you're a reporter opens a lot of doors," Bill said.
"Not whorehouse doors."
"I guess not."
Walking past me a skinny girl in a skin-tight dress said, "You want a date?"
"A hundred dollars."
"I'm not Japanese, you know."
The girl laughed - and all her youth was in her laugh; she could hardly have been more than sixteen.
"If you were Japanese I'd charge you double that!"
"So I give you a hundred bucks, and then what happens?"
"We go to my hotel. It's the Holiday Surf, just down there. And you have a great time -"
But instant she saw me vacillating she walked away. Hustling was the perfect word for this activity.
"There's one wearing a beeper," Bill said. "That's for escort calls, a hotel job. The pimps have beepers, too."
The pimps were much in evidence. The beeper was only one point of identification. Pimps were also stylishly dressed, and they carried leather handbags in which, you gathered, a lot of money was stuffed. Most of the pimps were young black men who walked with a kind of menacing confidence.
"When I started, I wanted this to be a real upbeat American story about free enterprise," Bill said. "But it's depressing. these imps meet girls in Canada or wherever and say they love them. The typical girl is a runaway. She's been sexually abused as a child. The pimp says he loves her. They come to Honolulu. then after a week he puts her on the street. It's exploitation, coercion, abuse and disappointment. I'm real unhappy about that."
In the absence of a heavy mob in Honolulu, rackets like gabling and prostitution are a free-for-all. The Japanese mob, the Takuza, are involved in other long-term investments, like real estate and building contracts. this leaves vice somewhat unorganized and even amateurish, and the pimps are very obvious dudes - all olopos are, in Honolulu - as though they rather like playing the role of superfly, bobbing between the pair of whores they are currently running. A pale girl, standing by a lighted doorway, handed us a bilingual (English-Japanese) leaflet reading Foxy Lady! Girls! Girls! Girls! and invited us upstairs.
"What have you got for us?" Bill asked.
"Naked girls who love to party."
"Will they sit with us?" bill asked. He was trying to find out the varieties of sexual experience, for his article. what would they do? How far would they go? What would it cost?
The girl in the doorway began to frown.
"Wanna tip?" she said. "Wanna get laid?"
Bill was smiling through his big beard.
"Crawl up a chicken's ass and wait," the girl said, turning her back on him. "You'll get laid."
"What are you writing? Bill asked me, but he knew. "My magazine won't print that. I can't put it in my piece. Rats."
"Then I'll put it in mine," I said.
We went to Chinatown, in a corner of Downtown; what had seemed amateurish and depressing in Waikiki looked dirty and dangerous here. "That there's a safe bar," a prostitute called out to us, pointing to a doorway. She accurately saw that we were simply passing through. "The rest of them are bad." There were no cars. Lining the streets were ragged, muttering men and bad-tempered women. The only people smiling were the mahus, obvious transvestites, who regard Hotel Street and Mauna Kea Street in Chinatown as their natural habitat. They walk the streets, not going anywhere, waiting for a passing car to pick them up; - and they might well be politicians or tycoons living their secret lives. Many scandalous stories originate in Honolulu's Chinatown - and that includes Maugham's story of Sadie Thompson, who began her career here and ended up in Samoa.
"This was going to e a great story," Bill said, surveying the dereliction of Chinatown. "Maybe even funny. but it's not. A whole got stabbed to death in that parking lot last week by a soldier. It's depressing. On another night, still in search of Honolulu, I went to clubs and I remembered what bill had said of the hookers - you expect hilarity, you look around, you end up depressed. There are Japanese clubs, very sedate, where each patron keeps a bottle of Chivas Regal with his name on it behind the bar, the carry-over of a practice common in Japan. At these clubs, which are no more than dimly lit rooms, neatly dressed Japanese hostesses join rowdy Japanese men and smile and act submissive while the men, becoming drunker, grope them. It is all chilly and sexless and overpriced, but the massive number of new Japanese have made it a booming business. so much for the Club Tomo, and Mugen, and the others.
Apart from the Club Mirage, which was empty - perhaps this name was a deliberate joke? - the other clubs were a little livelier. club Cheri had one named girl doing kneebends on a table. In club Top-Gun three overdressed Japanese men screamed songs into a karaoke mike in front of a television set, and in Club Hachi Hachi one man was doing that. In the butterfly Lounge young soldiers heckled a fattish dancer, and in Exotic Nights and Club Turtle asked dusky girls posed on a small state for sweaty men in baseball hats, who were encouraged to buy beer at five dollars a bottle.
Saigon Passion had a successful theme the last days of the Vietnam War. It was soldiers from Schofield and Vietnamese hostesses, dressed casually, in jeans and T-shirts, and lots of army memorabilia. It was one of the few clubs that held my attention, because the music and the faces made it seem such an atmosphere time warp. A young girl sat with me - Ruby, from Saigon, lived with her mother in Waipahu, about twenty or so. I began asking her questions until finally she fell silent. then I prodded her.
"No. Of course not. I'm not a policeman."
"I think you undercover."
"Why do you think so?"
I went to the Carnation Lounge, to the Misty H Lounge, Kita Lounge, Les Girls, Club rose and Club Femme Nue. there were twenty within a three-block area. some were run by Vietnamese women, most were run by Korean women - because of this, their generic name in Honolulu was "Korean bars."
At one time they had been famous for the tricks women performed in them - one club was put on the map because a woman in it picked up coins with the skillful manipulation of her vulva, another boasted a woman who inserted a cigar between her labia and puffed it (men crowded near to see the tip of the cigar brighten), and that same woman could play a clarinet in a similar way. there was a club where a woman stood behind a transparent shower curtain while men groped her (introducing another sort of club in Honolulu, the "feelie bar"), and there was one on Keeaumoku (known as "Korea-Moku," because of the nationality of the proprietors) where an agile woman came on stage, leaned back, parted her legs, and expelled ping-pong balls from the depths of her vagina cavern - and the balls, still warm and damp, were fought over and clutched by grateful men. This last example of conjuring had been popular at a club called the Stop-Light, but the place had since changed hands, it was now called the Rock-Za, and in its way it was typical: loud music, expensive drinks, naked girls. the bouncer, John - an enormous Samoan from Pago Pago - said it was a gold mine. It was his job to prevent patrons from touching girls.
"They get one warning, and the next time out they go," John said. But he was ambivalent about the honor of the performers. He said the girls were spoiled and overpaid. Now and then a Japanese tour bus would stop and sixty or eighty tourists would pile into the bar - aged men, old crones, couples, honeymooners - and they would sit, have a few expensive drinks, and would marvel at the big white women displaying themselves stark naked at very close range. Men - all sorts - sat on low stools, with their elbows on a twenty-foot table. the young women, posturing more than dancing, struck poses and squatted. I sat a while, watching everything. And what seemed at first like a fantasy realized, a centrefold coming to life, turned into a raucous gynecology class, in which proximity was everything. there was a certain amount of comedy in that. People say, You have to see this, and they think you'll see exactly what they do. I went, trying to be open-minded, but my reaction to these clubs (after I had a little time to reflect on it) was quite different. the clubs were so ritualized I came to see them as temples in a pagan rite, in which the women were priestesses, like the women in ancient Babylon who whored in the temple of the goddess Ishtar.
There was something undeniably strange and solemn and even somewhat religious in the fervor of the men who sat like intense votaries waiting for a woman to come near. the man's patience, the woman's confident movements, edging nearer and nearer on the altar-like table, squatting, opening her legs very wide, her thighs enclosing the man's heard, and the man staring hard in the frenzy of concentration as though a mystery were being revealed to him that he must memorize. It was public, and yet highly personal - only the chosen man could see clearly. there was as much veneration in this man's goggling at a woman's everted private parts as you would find in most church services. the man slipped a dollar or more into the woman's garter, and she lingered, and the man stared straight on, serious and unsmiling in his own private vision. From this sort of ardent behavior, it was a very short step to the Hindu worship of lingams and yonis, or to the cultism of the Komari, the vulvas carved in stone all over Rapa Nui.