It wasn’t all familial duty for me that Friday in Manila. I also allowed myself some time for play that night. Of course, meeting up with my friend, East, along with our other friends in the city, for theater and dinner was all part of that plan.

East and I told the rest of our friends after dinner that we were going to Malate, Manila’s new hip hub of homo culture. Who were we deceiving? We ended up going to Adonis, a strip club, right after dinner. We had gone to Adonis the night before and had lusted after this dancer named Wendell who had a really lean and sexy bod that he worked to his advantage as he gyrated on stage. We were both virgins to the lapdance-in-a-private-room business in Manila so we were beat to the game by an old checkbook-wielding Korean woman whom we nicknamed Granny. Granny snagged Wendell before I could even shake his hand. Deflated, we went home that night. (East had work the following day and I did not want to be the overimposing guest — I felt that asking him to hang out with me to redeem me from the dullness of a family night dinner in a Brazilian churascarria at Rockwell Center was already imposing enough.) Malate was a further drive out. Adonis was right in the neighborhood of the restaurant we had dinner in. We opted to live out our frustrated fantasy from the night before over the thrill of creating new ones in the city’s own gay ghetto.

The first point in the night’s plan was to find out if Wendell was around and if he was available. Apparently, Granny was back there again that night and had, again, beaten us to him. Danny, the strip club’s floor manager who struck me as a cross between Mr. Clean and Boy Abunda, a faggy Filipino talk show host, was gracious enough to invite us in to stay. It was only half an hour before midnight and we decided to go in and wait it out. We were men on a mission.

The place was a dark and dank basement. Tables were cluttered around a stage that had 2 poles lined out at front and a beach background painted on the central wall in the back. There was an empty bar on the left and the notorious private rooms on the right. Masseurs littered around the tables like roaches on the edges of wood parquet floors. Wendell was sitting with Granny on a table in the back, his arm around her shoulders, sharing drinks and what very small talk there is between a Filipino go-go boy and an old Korean tourist. One nasty stripper after another drifted in and out of the stage, unimpressively if not ridiculously. There was Walter, a chubby, butt-slapping, dick-crunching go-go boy who turned in the most irregular of angles and amazingly made butt-slapping more obnoxious than it already is. (Walter was, incidentally, Wendell’s brother. Is the world really getting that smaller?!) There was another one who could not only dance but did not even have the face and the body to be up there for that reason. He was just so forgettable if not for the sole reason of providing a counterpoint to the go-go boys who give that career a good and thrilling name. Then, there was another one who fit this mold. And another one. The music began to be more appealing than the dancing. The ice began melting into our Diet Cokes and our disinterest in the dancers began morphing from mild frustration to outright ridicule.

Then, Ace came onto the floor. He was a big Filipino-Chinese boy with long, black hair, a strong, square jaw and a beefy but very smooth and sexy body. He looked good, he danced even better. He gyrated slowly to the song, accentuating the sexy curves in his abdomen, flicking his hair back and smiling inhibitedly, teasingly. He even seemed to turn the motion of stripping his shorts into an art. It could have been that everyone else turned it into a rote and disruptive routine by simply yanking their shorts off and mechanically walking to a corner of the stage and dropping it there. Ace unzipped it, let it fall to his knees, made it fall to the ground, stripped it off the floor. Technique folded into gravity in one smooth swoop. It was titillating. Surprisingly, I liked him. Shockingly, I found someone I liked enough in this skanky joint. East liked him too. We motioned to Danny to call Ace into our table. Our night was looking up.

Ace came over and sat between East and myself. We were having Diet Cokes and he ordered an iced tea. He made a comment about us ordering beer instead, any alcohol, to make the night more fun. In hindsight, I guess he was speaking more for himself than for us. I didn’t need any alcohol to pump myself up for a homoerotic moment. Apparently, he must have. Anyway, East and I started amusing ourselves by talking to him. It was only the night before when we started making fun of Granny and her small talk with Wendell. Now, we found ourselves in the same hold with Ace. The art of conversation with a go-go boy in a strip club in Manila is more like being in a busy intersection in a third-world city than it is a straight-through-4-lane-highway in, let’s say, the American Southwest. There’s always a stop after every few minutes. It’s always a frustrating struggle to get back on track and groove into an effortless, fluid motion.

We began by making up personas. East was Dennis and I was Jon (who were the names of our friends’ husbands.) Ace was Ace which, surely, was a stage name. But, beyond the names and addresses, there really wasn’t that much enthusiasm nor desire to build up a fake story on each persona. We began talking about what and how we were doing based on what was real in our lives. Ace began to tell his story too.

He hails from a southern city and went to Manila with dreams of making some money. His degree at a private Catholic college was becoming too expensive for him and his family to sustain. He got off on the avenue by Adonis and found himself walking into the club needing a job. He has been doing this for a year — but only on weekends — and claims to tell his family that he has been working as a waiter at an Italian joint the whole time. What struck me more than what he said — besides his naturally smooth body — was how he said things. He was shy, but not only at first. He was reserved for what seemed to be the entire time. It was very reassuring knowing that there was something deeper in him that he wants hidden. I found that demeanor very erotic. Slowly being made aware of his mystery made me want to know him more. (I wonder if it was a very intelligent ruse on his end or if I was simply imagining these things to indulge my fantasy.) Needless to say, I was falling under his spell. So was East.

Ace got up to dance. Then, Wendell came over. Either Granny must have grown tired or Danny must have pulled some strings to yank him away from her. We told him the story about how we saw him the night before and wanted to talk to him but was beaten to him by Granny. I’m sure he was pumped up by that whole story. Wendell struck me as being like a kid in a candy store when he was on the table. He was all hyper and laughed uninhibitedly. He also had this roughness to him that can only be borne from a hardened life in the streets. He struck me as a guy who was just raw. Everything was lain on the surface. Nothing was held back. It was exactly what overt stimulation was all about. Utlimately, it was thrilling but also fleeting. I was already getting bored with him as soon as I got over feeling his sculpted abdomen and hearing him laugh in snickers the whole time. Then, Ace came back and sat down. The night turned up again.

It was interesting having all 4 of us on the table. I found the whole prospect of East and I and 2 go-go boys being paid to pleasure us charged with sexual energy and heavily shaded with the politics of personal power. East and I were in control because we had the cash. It seemed even more perverse in that setting considering that the go-go boys were treated mainly as objects rather than people who provided a set of services with defined parameters and set objectives. Apparently, the only goal was to do as we pleased. It was exhilarating, could be maddening.

There was even more pointless talk at this point. Wendell was just yakking beside East in his gruff tone and macho manner. Ace seemed to have a plan to make a connection beyond the time we paid for him in this establishment. He took out his cellphone and was bent on getting our contact info. It was moot to get mine since I was headed back to NY the following day. He did manage to get East’s number though. That was an interesting twist.

Thankfully, Danny must have sensed the fork in the road. The time for small talk had been long enough. Either we were going for their private show or we had better order more more drinks for a longer version of the nonsense we had sunk ourselves into. He led us into an even darker room at the back of the club where there were 2 couches and a table illuminated by an eerily green light. I’m sure there was a stench to it but its thickness had already been masked by the numbing effect of our having spent a long time in the club. We had gotten used to the froth of smoke, stale air and (pent-up and explored) sexual tension that hung heavy in the air.

There was that dynamic of greater ease that the private room afforded. At least, I was more at ease, more ready to hang loose. Ace and Wendell seemed to feel the same way. Was it calculated ease? Was it, again, an intelligent ruse meant to play us up? This was not, after all, their first time at the rodeo. I will never know. Alll I know is that East sat on the opposite edge of the couch. He seemed uncomfortable but open, uptight but expectant.

We were entitled to three songs. Ace danced for me first. He showed me the reason I love lapdances. He pushed me willingly into a private world where I was able to live out my fantasy for the moment. His body was right next to me, in front of me. He was literally on my lap. He could feel each heavy breath of air I took. I could feel his every contour — his beefy chest, his strong arms, his powerful legs. He wanted me to, holding my hands to cup his pecs, pushing them down to feel his thighs. I was helpless to obey. That whole notion of the irony of my helplessness coupled with the paradox of my ultimate place of power in the context of that couch was the culmination of the fantasy.

At the end of the first song, East wanted the boys to switch to which they enthusiastically obliged. Wendell told Ace that they should take their shorts off. (These shorts were nothing more than denim cut-offs. The Dukes of Hazzard were already so last-year but it seems these Daisy Dukes are here to stay in Manila.)

Wendell was a pin-up boy fantasy. His strong face crowned by neatly-buzzed hair with only the slightest hint of a boyish mullet at his nape resembled that of a basketball jock whom I secretly lusted after during my outwardly-hetero-but-repressed-homo college days. His cut-up pecs and his four-pack abs could have easily made him an A-lister among the Asian-American gym bunnies at the NY Sports Clubs. His lean legs would have easily made him blend into the hapa surfer dudes lounging in the North Shore of Oahu. We were not mistaken in calling him the hottest go-go boy in the club.

He was wearing grey briefs that he filled-up quite nicely. Ace felt like a hairless teddy bear. Wendell felt like a boy who had spent so many hours at the gym with the goal of being lean and defined — he was a well-chiseled stone. I was tingling all over as I touched him. It was too easy to play with him. He got a hard-on as soon as I ran my hand over the cotton that covered his dick. His package became more evident and the head of his cut dick began to creep up from the garterline of his briefs. I started playing with it. He obliged me for a time, then, he hid it back into his undies. It was okay. I was already satisfied. My desire for this boy had already been fulfilled in this lapdance. I tried to grab a hold of my sense and not plunge into the irredeemably deep cloud of delusion that was so easily tempting to be cloaked in in this place. I was paying for the moment and nothing more.