I have the week off. I don’t know why I said that. I have no idea. A day? A week? I don’t know. But it sounds like something regular people say.
“Hey, pal, c’mon, you’re gonna be late for work.”
“Nah, it’s cool, I got the week off.” ...Like that.
I worked behind the bar at the Mardi Gras last night. The MG is always looking for new girls the way the circus picks up showgirls and clowns at every stop. The MG is the Big Top. It’s the Show. Not some little roughneck joint like the Golden Dollar with one or two barmaids and five or six girls rotating on and off stage. The Mardi Gras looks high class from where I stand.
I walk in and the bouncer, clean cut in a suit and a smile, cause like I said, this is the fucking Show, this bouncer, he stops me just as I come through the double doors. His voice is soft, his smile, soothing. Double J, You’re not working tonight, he says. I’m not saying you have to go home, his hand on my shoulder, an older brother, looking out for my best interest, but you should, you should go home, take a few days. Someone will call…
Did I think it’d be different here? Because of a few suits and ties? It’s not.
But, I want to be here. I want to get lost in the vastness of here. I’m tired of Myron making me cry. Of Maxie treating me like crap. Or maybe it’s all about the Big Man. I expected them to take care of me. I’m not even sure what I mean by that, but I damn sure mean more than just 86′ing him for two weeks. So I left. I finally walked the two blocks.
And somehow I’ve fucked this up before I even get a chance to fuck it up.
Myron’s mad cause I’m making money for someone else. I like being important enough to fight over. There’s a sit down to decide where I’ll wind up working. No one asks me what I want. No one cares what I think. I’m worth fighting for. Shit. That’s enough for me.
It’ll be years before I realize that everyone I know, everywhere I go, everywhere I work belongs to, and all the money I make goes to, Matty the Horse. Years before I get that that night was all about respect. No one was fighting over me. I was evidence of disrespect, of middle management not following protocol. It’s like a Detroit assemblyline. I get tired of screwing this bolt on the Pintos so without asking I move over to the other assembly line and start screwing the lugnut on the Mustangs. Same job, two different line bosses. I was a labor dispute between two middle managers and Matty the Horse was Ford. And Chrysler. And General Motors for that matter. It was about them showing each other respect, it never was about me.
Go home, they tell me. You don’t work here. I don’t work anywhere, that’s the implication, I get it. What they mean is No one will hire you. You’re a problem until we decide you’re not.
It wasn’t about me. Not even a little bit, not even for a second. I was still no one. Only now I was no one in a bigger bar.
“It’s two blocks, you could walk faster than…”
“I could. But I don’t hafta. I have cash, see? Cash? So, I don’t hafta walk. I don’t want to walk two blocks. I don’t want to walk one block. I’m paying you, so just drive….” I settle back into the seat making myself comfortable, two blocks or twenty, it’s all the same to me. “Sonofabitch,” I mumble under my breath. I’m a loud mumbler.
Piper and I have some version of this conversation every time we cab it from the Lollipop to Paul’s Mardi Gras. It’s a quick two blocks, well, two if we walk, which we don’t. We won’t. It’s six blocks when you drive.
I can walk. I’m not a cripple. But goddammit, why would I walk when I can be driven? I’m making all this fucking money, isn’t this exactly why? So I can do whatever I want, whenever I want and don’t have to take shit from anyone about it?
And Piper is simply not the kind of girl who walks, but rather she is escorted places. And, to be honest, the conversations with the cabbies are much nicer for everyone involved when I let her do the talking. That goes for almost all conversations involving men, and except for talking to Pipes and my mother, all my conversations are with men. And, if I’m going to continue being honest, I have to tell you I cannot remember the last time I spoke to my mother, certainly not since that night.
Piper is better at charming than I will ever be, especially these days. She is more about the batting of the eyes, where I come across more like a bat upside the head. I’ve tried it her way, but it’s like putting a party dress on a monkey. The monkey looks pretty, sure, but you’re not actually going to take the monkey home to meet the family.
The new Mardi Gras, Paul’s Mardi Gras, is to the Lollipop what Vegas is to Tuesday night Bingo at the VFW hall. It’s like drinking inside a Christmas decoration the size of a football field wih live djs sending music pounding out of speakers as tall as goalposts. Everywhere you look, cash registers, balloons, streamers, mirrors, men in suits, women in nothing or almost nothing. Photos of dancers and celebrities line the mirrored walls. New Year’s Eve streamers give a festive illusion of privacy to the tables and alcoves along the walls. An endless river of dancers, waitresses, floor girls and barmaids sardine-can themselves in and out of the two stall bathroom and call it a dressing room. It’s a really BIG Christmas decoration, with vodka. Endless bottles of vodka.
We’ve been coming here to relax and drink here for a couple of weeks, whenever we need a change of scenery from the little Lollipop with its eight barstools, rinky-tink flashing jukebox and ten foot ‘stage’.
I slide on to the first empty barstool and hustle drinks I’ll get no commission on. I could pay for them myself, but why, when I can get a customer to pay $20 for my $2 vodka and help one of the barmaids make her bonus at the same time? The vodka’s the same no matter who pays or how much. I don’t care about making money or spending money tonight. I’m here to drink, the music is good, and it’s not work. These are my people.
The Lollipop has Myron’s crew of wiseguys, some middle management office drones and a few frat boys, but everyone comes to the Mardi Gras: cops, on duty and off, New York and New Jersey; wiseguys also on duty and off, also New York and New Jersey; street hustlers, doctors, pimps, loan sharks, bookies, lawyers, psychiatrists, couples, off duty dancers, nude models, live sex show performers from ShowWorld relaxing in-between their live sex shows, celebrities, newscasters relaxing in-between casting the news, and a dancing dwarf who claims to be the real money behind the bar and demands blowjobs from each of the new girls.
A month or a week from now when I find myself dancing on this very stage and he sidles up to me, his face level with and pressed up against my barely g-stringed crotch, I will threaten to drop kick him across the bar. Dwarves freak me out. Sue me, sorry, but they do.
And while there may or may not have been a Robbie at Robbie’s Mardi Gras, which has since disappeared, there is most definitely a Paul at Paul’s Mardi Gras.
There’s guinea money behind the bar; there’s guinea money behind all of the bars, but Paul’s name is on the liquor license. He sits with me while I drink. He escaped Auschwitz with his parents when he was a boy, but he doesn’t talk about it much. Instead, he tells me I’m a good Jewish girl. He complains about his kids to me, worries about them, they make him crazy. He says Teddy is hard-headed and angry, always getting into fights; Fern is unmanagable, she’s dating a schwartze for God’s sake, a schwartze!; Elliot, the baby, Elliot is a good boy who helps him run the bar at night. Paul strokes my face, watching me with rheumy eyes, he tells me how I look just like his wife, Paula, when she was my age. At first, I think she must be dead. She’s not. She manages the day shift and hates me on sight. So although I find myself in need of a new job and it would be ever so nice to work days and sleep nights like a semi-normal person, I’ll get no help at all from the wife.
Wives are rarely, if ever, helpful to me.
Paul, however welcomes me. The Mardi Gras is a family business, he says. And I’ve always wanted a family.
I’ve been gone. I’m sorry. I’d tell you where I’ve been, if I knew.
I’d like nothing more than to know where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’d like to pull my brain out through my ear, pop it in the VCR, sit on the couch with you, a vodka and a bowl of popcorn and see what happened; see the things my brain is busy blocking out. Or maybe it’s the vodka that blocks it all out. There is no way of knowing.
“The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.” The movie in my head that we’re watching has been edited by a monkey, but not that Shakespeare monkey. I have a shit-tossing, public masturbating, screaming howler monkey. He’s collected random outtakes found on a barroom floors across the city. Blasts of dialogue. Seconds of music. Bits of light. Sound and vision run sideways, backwards, not at all, skipping, skipping, skipping. Some things look familiar. A flash of a foot, cut to a hand holding a glass of vodka – it could be mine, there is no way of knowing. Jump to nothing, nothing, nothing, an unidentifiable horizon. Pan to darkness, nighttime, maybe the lights are just off. Maybe none of it’s real. Maybe all of it is. There is no way of knowing.
I never talked about the Big Man again, I know that. I never report him to the police.
Police don’t take care of people like us. We take care of us. Except when we don’t, and then you’re on your own.
I was on my own, I knew that, too.
Remember and know are different animals.
I know I was born. My mother remembers it.
Here’s what I know: You can’t see the bruises and burns for the welts my own body has created. From my collarbone to my pubic bone, and every inch of skin in between, I’m covered with hives. My face has cracked open. My cheeks, my scalp, my eyelids, even the tender skin under my eyes, dried and cracked like a desert floor.
Here’s what I know: Rape is trauma. If it happens to you, you should see a professional, you should see several. Police officer. Registered Nurse. Social worker. Trained counselor. Trusted clergy. Medical doctor. Lawyers. Therapist. Psychiatrist. Maybe a support group.
I consulted a dermatologist who said I’d developed an allergy to commercial soap. I never use soap on my face again. Ever.
Here’s what I remember: Being raped did not affect me at all.
Thirteen years and 100 men later I will finally take another man into the same bed I was raped in. Although I will not notice it at the time, he will be look exactly like the Big Man. It will take me weeks to make the connection, despite the fact that the next morning my body is covered in hives.
Two years after that I will write about that night for the very first time. And once again, my body will be covered with hives.
Twenty-nine years after the fact, just the thought of writing about that night will send me into a depression that will swallow Thanksgiving and everything in its sway until some time around St. Patrick’s Day.
But that’s the future, none of that has happened yet. Today, like a shark, I move forward because there is no other choice. I leave the Lollipop and think, I’m going to start over, make a fresh start, a new life. I’m fine, I just need a job. And a cocktail.
It’s 3AM and the Lollipop is empty, except for a few regulars. Everyone’s feeling good and it’s like this morning never happened. Piper’s sitting up on the bar, chain smoking Newports and laughing about something Chief’s saying; Myron’s in the back with a new dancer who believes him when he says he can make her a star, and me and Max are huddled across the bar trading insults. It’s what passes for flirting between us and I’m so into this game, I didn’t notice the Big Man come in; I don’t even know he’s in the bar until I hear the tap tap tapping of his diamond pinkie ring on the bar.
“Amaretto sour”, he says and smiles directly at me.
Everything stops, frozen. Then the floor falls away. White noise floods in, fills my ears. I’m deaf. I can’t hear the jukebox, the conversations. People are moving again, their lips move but I don’t hear anything.
This morning, as he was leaving, he told me that he loved me, that he’d never really hurt me, that he’d be there, watching over me for the rest of my life. That’s what I hear. Over and over. “I ain’t going anyplace, baby. I’ll be watching you, for the rest of your life.”
Everyone is far away. I am trapped in the wrong end of a telescope. Trapped in the silence. In the white noise. In the rest of my life. I’m trapped.
I don’t know where I am.
It’s not real.
He’s not really here.
“I told you I can’t stay away from you, you’re my girl. ” He reaches out, stroking my face with the back of his hand. I step back, staring. I still cannot find my voice. “How ’bout that drink, now?” The Big Man smiles as he pulls out a cigarette, tamps it lightly on the bar. “Gimme a light, girl.”
I smell singed hair. I smell burnt flesh.
I grab a bottle of vodka and just walk away. I don’t say anything, don’t make eye contact, not with anyone, but I see him in the mirrors. There are mirrors everywhere, on every wall. I cannot not see him. He’s spun around, arms stretched out on either side of him, resting on the bar, leaning back. He owns everything.
For this minute, at least, he owns every piece of me.
My vodka keeps me safe, it is my vaccine, it is my shield, it is my bullet proof vest. My vodka is my body guard, my sword, my rosary.
“You’re mine now, girl,” he says from his spot at the bar. His voice reverberates off the narrow walls of the staircase, surrounding me, smothering me.
Vodka is my armor, I shall not be in want.
I reach the bottom step, crack open the bottle and crawl inside.
It guides me downstairs to the basement, it restores my soul.
Curled up on the cold cement floor next to the lockers, I try to listen to the muffled voices and footsteps from upstairs. The vodka helps stop the shaking, the little epileptic like spasms.
and I shall dwell in the house of the Vodka.
Half the bottle is gone by the time Piper sits down on the floor next to me and takes a swig. Big Maxie stands in the shadows on the wooden staircase watching both of us.
He loves us. I know he does, in his own way. We’re his A-Team, his moneymakers. He just stands in the shadows and watches.
“Is he still here, Piper?” I hand her the bottle.
“He’s gone. Maxie 86′d him for a couple of weeks.” She takes a swig and passes it back. “What happened J? Did he do this to you?”
You know, you don’t think this kind of thing happens to girls like you. This kind of thing happens to stupid girls, new girls, young girls, girls with no…affliation. Not you.
You have Huntsberry. You have the Ice Man. You have affiliations. He’d showed you where his baby daughter lived. You’d met his friends. Everyone had seen you out together. So when you said he could sleep on your couch instead of driving back to Jersey, you thought you were being nice.
You tell how you woke up when he was already halfway up in the loft bed. You don’t mention how you and your mom get matching robes for Christmas every year and he was wearing the red robe you got last year, the one with the hood. How seeing him in that robe made everything seem okay and not okay at the same time.
You tell how you right away figure he’s too big to fight off, too big to kill with the skinning knife you keep wedged between the mattress and the wall ever since you threw Red Wolf out. You say how you thought he would just fuck you and leave and that that was better than him beating you senseless, then fucking you and leaving. You remember thinking you need to get a bigger knife, a thicker blade.
You tell how you couldn’t breath with his weight on top of you. How you lay in bed after, staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of him dressing, calling his baby daughter, getting his things together, getting ready to leave. You lay there staring at the ceiling, listening and waiting for the sound of the door closing behind him.
Then he starts yelling about the diamond pinkie ring you stole, he drags you out of bed. You know you didn’t steal anything and you thought he’d leave, but he isn’t. He isn’t leaving. He isn’t leaving without the ring he says, his girls sold good pussy to pay for that ring, he says, good pussy and your pussy ain’t shit, bitch and throws you against the wall.
You don’t remember getting dressed up. Or when he tied your wrists and ankles with the mens neckties you had hanging on the ladder to the loft, each one a romantic souvenir of some man whose name you’ve forgotten.
You tell how he shoved his fist in your ass looking for his ring, how he made you shit and piss in front of him, dragging you from room to room because your ankles were tied together so you couldn’t walk, couldn’t run away.
You tell about the cigarettes, the smell of burning flesh; the lit matches flicked at your hair, the smell of singed hair.
You tell how it went on for hour after hour. Two hours, three, four, more than that. It went on until it was over. You tell how the ring was in his cigarette case the whole time, how it was all a game, a turn out.
You tell how he untied you, kissed you gently on the lips, told you he loved you and left.
You don’t say anything about how even after he was gone and the door was closed you couldn’t move, couldn’t get up to lock the door after him and even if you could, what was the point, really? You don’t say if you cried or not, cause what’s the point, really?
You simply polish off the last of that bottle of vodka and say “That’s what I get for trusting someone.”
“That’s what you get for hanging around with niggers” Maxie mumbles as he turns, walks up the stairs and leaves the two of you on the floor.
“Jesus, JJ. What the hell…?” Piper flips her hair away from her face and drags me into the light for a better look at my face.
“I’m fine, Pipes. Forget it.” I just want to get behind the bar, to get a drink, to work, to forget this happened.
“What? Are you crazy? J, you should really have someone look at that. What happened, baby? Does it hurt bad? Sit. I’ma make you a drink…Maxie said you had an accident?”
“Maxie says, this ain’t a freakin’ tea party. That’s what Maxie says.” How a big man like Max slips in and out of a room unnoticed is beyond me. But he does. You never notice him come in, and you never see him leave. “Behind the bar, both of youse.”
“Max,” Piper cracks a fresh bottle of Smirnoff for me and flashes her best St. Louis smile for him, “just let her sit for a minute. I can handle everything for a while. Don’t I always get you every last dollar and send ‘em to the bank for more?” She giggles at him, pushes a rocks glass full of vodka in front of me and heads towards the back room. She touches my hair as she passes, just a brief touch, a second, and for that one single second, I think, I’m safe now, and then it’s gone.
Maxie slides onto the stool next to me and looks at my empty glass. I’d swallowed it in one gulp.
“Here, kid. Ya look worse’n usual. You could use another.” He pushes the bottle towards me. I can always use another, I think. “Now, spill it,” he says.
I pour my own drink, skip the ice, and look up slowly into those watery Bassett hound eyes. I wish he could just make me his, look after me, protect me, make it all go away.
“What’re you my boyfriend now, Max? My father? What? Leave me alone, OK?” Finishing my cocktail in one swallow again, I get up to go behind the bar, still holding that bottle of vodka in my other hand. My bottle of vodka. The only thing that’s making me feel safe at the moment, my vodka.
Max grabs my free arm and pulls me towards him. “You want me to be your daddy? You’d like that wouldn’t you? Not that I give a shit,” I can feel his belly press against me, his stubble tearing at my cheek, his voice rumbles about my face and ears. “But tell me, who hit ya?” He pops bar nuts into his mouth and waits for my answer.
“Nobody, Max. I told you, I fell is all. It was an accident. Lemme go, you’re hurting me. You’re gonna leave a bruise. I gotta set up the bar.”
“I’m gonna leave a bruise? Take a look at yourself.” He flicks his head in the direction of the mirror behind the bar, but he doesn’t let go. “Do ya know the guy?”
“It was an accident.”
“Do I know the guy?”
“An accident Max, it’s nothin’.”
“Fine,” pushing me away, “You wanna protect some piece’a shit, then maybe you asked for it. Maybe you got what you deserved.” He spits on the floor and walks into the back room, still popping nuts into his mouth.
What could I say? How could I explain any of it? I invited him in. I’d offered to let him sleep on the couch. I didn’t think anything of it. I thought I was untouchable. Safe. I thought I had Nigger JJ on my side. I thought I had the Ice Man. I thought we were friends. I thought…
Glad to be alone and busy, I start setting up the bar.
Idiot work for an idiot girl.
I fill the tiny champagne bottles with ginger ale, screw the tops back on and tuck a new bottle of Smirnoff away under my cash register. I was sure Myron watered down the booze. Piper thought so, too. We set aside a fresh bottle every night. Tonight I wanted one all to myself.
“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.
I don’t do that, look at myself. Not my whole self. Just the bits and pieces I absolutely have to. One eye at a time, or just my mouth. But I don’t ever look at my whole face in a mirror.
“Take a look at yourself,” he’d said.
I look up into the mirrored wall opposite the bar, behind the tiny platform the girls danced on. I see my reflection standing behind the bar, my body from the waist up, but I can’t see my head at all. I am the headless barmaid.
The clinking of quarters in the jukebox brings me out of my reverie. Customers. It’s Showtime.
The sounds in my head aren’t quite human, they’re pre-verbal, a jazz opera of pain and fear and a survival instinct I didn’t know I had. It clatters and crashes; it bubbles up and breaks free from the antediluvian soup at the base of my brain and bounces around my head. I stay on the floor, just for a fraction of a second, to catch my breath, to get my bearings, to make sense of it all before the next blow comes. And the jazz congeals into coherence: Make it stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. StoWhack – a fist connects with the side of my head, sending me crashing into the oak table I’d found on the street and rolled home. Things shatter / fly apart. Things are broken / beyond repair. I scurry blindly on all fours /cowering /trapped /desperate for a way out. A few pathetic gurglings are the only things that find a way to escape. He feeds on my terror, growing larger with every mouthful he takes. Make it stop. Stop. Stop. Please, someone make it stop.
“Hey… it’s me. Lemme talk to Big Maxie.” I cradle the phone against my cheek, examining the bruises on my face in the cloudy antique mirror above the futon in the living room. Where he’d slept. The sheets still smell of him, of his cologne, his sweat, my blood. His smells engulf me, smother me as I watch myself talk, like talking to myself, into the phone.
“Yeah, what?” Maxie says, “you’re late… Ya gonna bother to come in?”
“Yeah…yeah, Max – I’m comin’. I had a little accident, is all.” The odor of the Big Man covers my face, burning my eyes. Staring into my muddied reflection, into my own eyes, testing my black eye and swollen nose with one finger, my nail polish almost matches the dried blood on my cheek. My blood. My blood is Vamp Red. “I’ll be a little late, but I’m comin’, Max.”
“You’re already a little late. Get your fat ass in here.” Click. Disconnect. The phone slams down on Maxie’s end; on my end, the receiver slips from my fingers.
Still staring at my reflection, I gingerly press my fingertips against the burns on my chest. And just like that, that smell is back; the sulfur of match-heads, the slightly sweet hint of tobacco, burnt hair and flesh. I begin to shiver, then convulse. Choking sounds gurgle up as I twitch/twitch/twitch, my eyes never leaving their cloudy reflection, my other self, my shadow sister, the sounds turn to laughter, loud and raucous.
I’m going crazy is what.
I’m losing my mind is what, but
I’m comin’ in to work.
Gotta get ready.
Gotta get ready.
Stepping around overturned the chairs and tables, over knick-knacks and clothes, sidestepping shards from broken mirrors and glassware, I make my way to the tiny bathroom and step into the old claw foot tub. Hot water pounds down, streaming down my body, burning my open wounds.
Slowly, I remove the costume he chose.
The black chiffon peignoir, the push-up bra and G string all drip down to the bottom of the tub, clogging up the drain. I plop down beside them, mesmerized by the way the chiffon keeps finding its way down the drain each time I pull it out. The drain trying to swallow the whole thing. I pull, it swallows, I pull, it swallows. I give up that game when I notice my feet. Come-fuck-me pumps my father used to call them. Stiletto heels. Black patent leather straps. Bound so tight they cut into my ankles and little trickles of my blood float in the water. Seeping through the chiffon, oozing across the patent leather straps. Slowly I release first one foot and then the other.
Oh, God, make it all go away,
make it not true, not true.
I Gotta get ready.
The first two tears roll slowly down my face. My feet throb painfully as the blood starts flowing back into them. I slump over, sobbing. I can’t stop myself.
Get it all out now, bitch.
I didn’t cry in front of him, wouldn’t let him think he’d beaten me, broken me. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he could hurt me. And now I can’t hold back. My tears, my blood, my shit, my clothes and his semen all mix into an after-rape soup in the tub.
Pull yourself together.
Get ready. You’re late.
and move the fuck on.
I stand up, take a deep breath, thrust my face into the stream of scalding water, letting it wash everything away, soap up and began to get ready to go to work.
Every memorable night deserves its own theme music.
Antonia Crane is one of Naked Ladies. You can read her bio here.
She has her own blog, where she writes about her life as a stripper, sex worker, HIV Counselor, writer, daughter and sister. This piece was originally posted in Antonia’s blog on 1/1, it’s reprinted here, in toto, with her permission. It bears repeat reading if you saw it there already. And it’s here, just in case you missed it.
Almost Girl: A Classy Holiday
by Antonia Crane
Some girls shove cupcakes in their mouths and those hot dogs wrapped in obscene bacon on Sunset Boulevard when there are holes punched through their hearts. I wander into hotels and casinos and offer my body to strangers for money. Not my whole body, just a little bit of it.
Maybe because I’m the girl in second place. I’m the Almost Girl. I’ve been runner up my whole life and am troubled by this. I crave attention and something sick happens to me when I don’t get it.Everything’s complicated when you’re this raw and yucky. Even casual encounters hurl me into Walgreens for Rolaids. I’d sooner douse myself with gasoline then be rejected by a man. I’ve got to win. Even when I don’t.
Growing up, I was nominated for things but never won. Like “best looking,” “homecoming queen,”and I was a contestant in a reality TV show to win $25K which I promised my mom half the winnings for her chemo and radiation bills. It was down to the final two. Me and one guy. In those last sweaty moments before the panel, the producer whispered to me, “You’re about to win a lot of money right now.”
I sat in the metal chair, waiting. I was high on adrenaline like it was happening to someone else. But, I lost to the surfer kid who lived with his fisherman Dad.
Mom died after that and there went the beach property in Humboldt that I was supposed to inherit.
Recently, I’ve leapt from the topless clubs on Hollywood Boulevard to Craigslist. I offer the promise of a happy ending to an otherwise dismal life for men who travel alone during the holidays. After all, the holidays mean things to people. There’s obligation, anxiety and volcanic loneliness.
People need to be touched and that’s a fact. Touch is the first and final language and it’s the one thing computers haven’t figured out how to replace. Casual, profound touch book ended by cash. No fights or let downs. No disappointed wives or nagging kids.
Sometimes, I show up alone. Sometimes with my friend, Elle for one excellent hour of manufactured intimacy. Their loneliness bleeds into mine just long enough to give me a hit of the attention I crave, like a baby after the nipple. Together with Elle, we provide distraction, entertainment and a hand job in the sessions. I’ve not had to go hog wild with my pepper spray yet.
Christmas night we had a client at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton smear fois gras on rice crackers and get shit-faced. A tall white guy with silver hair answered the door at the end of a long skinny hallway. There’s construction paper on the floor. They’re remodeling.
“You are amazing. Such beautiful souls,” he was tower of flesh, covered in tiny scabs. What’s wrong with him? I thought, coveting the fruit bowl piled high with ripe figs and greasy pears. My mouth watered. I didn’t eat dinner.
“There’ sooo much love. So much love,” he said. His eyes watery. According to Elle, he’s a powerful attorney. Oh brother, I thought. A new age attorney.
There was something wrong with his skin. It hung on him like sick flabby meat before it’s tossed down the garbage disposal. It made me sad and grateful to be alive and not have cancer or some skin disease.
I held him tightly in a three-way hug for as long as possible. This seemed to be what he was after, at least, for a few quiet moments. I got sad and the bright room went dark.
We got undressed. I like to keep my shoes and fishnets on for as long as possible.
Elle likes to be naked. He wrapped us up in his pale freckled arms. He had grizzly hair on his neck, chest and in his ears. He laid on his back. A beached whale sunk in soft sand with his belly out, big as a watermelon.
“Are you married?” Elle cut to the chase. She has methods with married men. She likes to help teach them to bring their wives to a better orgasm. It’s stuff she learned in that crazy sex cult she was in for years in Nor Cal.
“She passed away two years ago.” He didn’t look sad. He closed his eyes on the soft pillows that have that posh memory foam stuff. “You’re so amazing,” he said again. His voiced reminded me of soft crying.
“Do you mind if I dim the lights?” I asked. Lighting is everything and I’m prone to migraines so bright lights make me cringe. I love dimmers. I’m a stripper. I make a big show out of taking off my clothes and tease it out some. The lighting has to be right. We draped and dripped our limbs over him on the bed.
That’s when I saw his feet: His big toes were rotting off at the edges, the skin chewed up. His toes were eating themselves and turning black. He had no arches at all. The blackened skin spread up his calves in violent, splotchy little bruises like tiny prunes up his legs. The surfaces of his stomach was freckled and paper thin. I wondered if he hurt. Jesus, I thought. This guy’s got Diabetes or leprosy.
Elle’s great at keeping the fantasy going. She talks dirty.“I feel like you’re inside me,” she said in his face. Her hands were behind her back. She pointed to his junk. This was her signal to me to look at him more closely. “What’s your fantasy?” she asked our man. He ate this up:
“I’m a kid in class and my teacher calls me into her office. She wants me to take my clothes off for her. She draws me and photographs me. Then she demands I play with myself. I hear girls giggling.” Elle giggles. It’s creepy but not as creepy as his cock, which upon close inspection I find the reason why we haven’t touched it yet with our coconut oil. His cock had little warts on it, tiny little red pustules. Angry red strawberry skin at the shaft. Elle’s still giggling like a horror film.
“Will you suck it?” he asked me. His eyes open slits now and his mouth open. He looks like a chubby salamander in a trance.
“Well, sure, but you have some reddish spots and it looks like even warts which can lead to HPV,” I said, crash landing the buzz-kill. I play it safe. I’m an HIV counselor.
“No,” he said. “The doctor said it’s just age. Promise. And. I have a blood disease.” He stroked his cock.
“It’s sensitive at the shaft,” he said. I’m thinking this guy thinks we are stupid bimbos. I’m thinking about the money.
“A promise isn’t enough,” Elle said, her face close to our man who was losing his smile. I’m glad she has a way of being submissive and tough. She has the body of a twelve year old but she’s direct and mature.
“Do you have a condom?” Elle makes herself more available than I do. I’m there for the money. I watch the clock. She’s into energy work and the shaman thing. She says I work too hard and I don’t think she’s wrong but I just can’t shirk my blue-collar roots. This is a service job to me.
“There’s more money in it for both of you,” he said. I jumped up at this and jogged to the bathroom,which was like a mini-spa resort. Huge shower and billion thread-count towels. Two virgin white robes hang from the door, which I consider stealing. Several glass bottles of Evian. Guest soaps that cost more than my car.
I found two types of condoms, one with lube and one without. I think, for oral, the best tasting one will be without lube. They don’t slip and slide when I put them on. I reached into the fancy basket.
Four hundred bucks, I thought. Merry Christmas, darling.
9 AM. I’d only just crawled into the loft bed when the phone rang; I was still playing solitaire, obsessively. I play three games, every night. I have to win, or lose, three in a row before I’m allowed to sleep. I was so wired even if I could get the cards to work right…but Laurie? She was never up this early, or this late, depending on which side of life you’re looking at it from.
“What’s wrong Lo?”
“Your friend. The guy…from last night? His car wouldn’t start, he said. He just wanted to use the phone. I thought, I thought you were still with him, out in the car… but you’re home. And, and he’s here…and… waiting for the tow truck, I guess, and I know it’s…I thought you could come back and…
“Lo? Are you okay? Did he hurt you?”
“Sit tight, I’m on my way. Say whatever you think you need to say to make him happy. He’s crazy Lo, you understand? Crazy. But, he’s just fucking with your head. He’ll leave with me, so, really, no worries, okay? He’s watching you talk on the phone with me, isn’t he?”
Every time we go out, me and the Big Man, we stop at the diner on Eighth Ave, across from Piper’s building and around the corner from Possible 20. P20 is supposed to be a jazz joint, but it’s really just one more pimp bar. Piper’s building is crawling with pimps, too. My neighborhood has junkies, hers has got a pimp infestation. A pimpfestation. Anyway, the Big Man gets me broiled lobster with melted butter and a baked potato. To go.
Piper doesn’t want him in her apartment, P20 closes at 4am and he won’t let me eat in the car.
My girls worked hard to pay for this car, he says.You can’t be disrespecting them with that fish stank, spilling butter on my leather. Lots of good ass got sold to pay for that white leather and not a dollar’a that come from you.
So, I wait till we get to 366 or Harry Brooklyn’s or some other afterhours where I sit in a dark corner and eat lobster with my hands while he sits at the poker table.
We never just stay at the diner and eat like regular people.
366 is around the corner from Laurie’s apartment. I thought, just once, it would be nice to not eat in the dark. And she always has wine. We did line after line of the Big Man’s coke, washing it down with wine stolen from the Italian restaurant where she worked.
I meant to be generous, to pay her back for taking care of me. That’s what I meant to do. But once again, I’d brought crazy into Lola’s house. She had no business getting involved with Havasha. Lola was strictly a good girl. She was strictly Long Island Jewish. She didn’t know what to do with a crazy man, what to do when they turned on you. H fractured her cheekbone. You’d think she’d of learned after that, that my boys were out of her league. She should not be allowing them any one of them into her house if they weren’t with me.
Havasha’s crazy couldn’t hold a candle to the Big Man’s.
I was at her door before she could hang up the phone.
The door is unlocked. He’s sitting in a chair across from her; quietly crushing cigarettes into the bare skin of his chest and watching her reaction. One after another. He lights one, takes a few puffs, staring at her, then grinds it into the festering sore in the center of his chest.
His name was Michael and Sammy and JJ. He had other names, I couldn’t know them all, didn’t know if any were real. He was a big man, about six five and somewhere between 280 and 300 lbs. Maybe not. Maybe he’s just grown in my memories.
But he was big and I shoulda seen it coming.
Just another pimp doing just another pimp job. In the antiseptic halls of my intellect I know he didn’t have the right. But deep inside, in the darkness that hides my heart and soul, I know they were right.
JJ doesn’t come around the Lollipop, like he didn’t come around the Butterfly. He sticks to the big joints – the Mardi Gras, the Metropole – where you don’t notice so much who’s where doing what because there’s so many people that everyone blends into the crowd; or the afterhours like upstairs at 366 8th Avenue where it’s dark enough for a nigga to not be noticed no matter what he’s doing.
Other pimps look to be noticed, but JJ’s all on the soft side with his grey flannel and his whispers, all on the downlow. Even so, even though I don’t see him except when I’m hanging out at the Mardi Gras or the afterhours, everybody knows about him and me.
They know I got my name from him, that we’re connected. They know even though he’s not pimping me, they know they don’t have a chance to either, cause he’s got my back, he hipped me to what was the what when I first showed up and he’s still looking over my shoulder, keeping a big brother, cock of the walk eye out for me.
That thing in the motel?
…and the broken window?
That was nothing.
That was just
That wasn’t supposed
I’ve got the Ice Man, too. So, the guinea wiseguys like Junior and Joey Two Shoes, they know they can only go so far. The Ice Man’s looking out for me.
I’m covered. I’m a year past my expiration date, yeah sure, but that just means I’m untouchable now. I’m cool like that.
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Using a variety of methods, including role playing and hands-on activities, former $pread editors Audacia Ray and Eliyanna Kaiser teach participants to navigate the pitfalls and opportunities of today’s media. You’ll learn to evaluate, and respond, to media requests using a variety of formats. There’ll be instruction on writing press releases, op-ed pieces, and letters to the editor, building a press list and pitching a story to an editor, as well as a crash course on starting your own podcast, blog, or video podcast. Current sex worker media will be examined with an eye on how to contribute to these existing efforts. Click here for more information about Sex Work Awareness programs. Click here to go directly to the Speak Up! application
(Please note this workshop is not restricted to Naked Ladies. Naked Men are welcome as well, but it is limited to 10 participants and all identify as current or former sex workers)
As a long as there’s been music, women have danced for the entertainment and titillation of men. Scheherazade. Minsky’s Burlesque. Cage dancing go-go girls in the psychedelic 60′s. Times Square strippers, pole dancers and lap dancers. Women dance….Men watch.
Just one Naked Lady. Because, if it’s the right one, one is all you need….
purple boa by luma rouge
Image by the gorgeous Luma Rouge. Luma can create an image for your erotic event or from your erotic event, recreate a scene from a show or photo. View more of her work here or email her here.
What the hell, I thought, looking at Junior laying there on the floor rubbing himself, and remembering how he’d needed a firm tongue up his ass that one night, pussy can’t taste any worse than all the other things I’ve put in my mouth. I got off the couch and walked into the bedroom.
“Hey. Hello? Bored out here…” I sat at the end of the bed playing with Joey’s toes, working my hands up his leg, I took a deep hit off the joint in my hands and passed it over to him.
Joey looked at Piper for permission. She smiled and nodded. I kicked my shoes off.
“Do her first.” He locked eyes with me, like he was watching for my reaction, like we were the only two people in the room, and this was the only room in the world. Like there wasn’t a room full of men a few feet away, watching and listening. He locked eyes with me while he held the joint to Piper’s lips with one hand and started pulling on her nipples with the other. Getting them hard again. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you Piper-cub?” he said to her, all the while, looking at me.
“You don’t have to if …,” I was half way up her leg before she finished the sentence, “you don’t want to, JJ.”
We do everything together. Sex’ll be just one more thing. Like the princess she always wanted to be, Piper lays back and lets me do all the work. I run my hands up her short muscular legs. She’s so tiny, I can reach her whole body from wherever I am. My fingers reach into her pubic hair, naturally blond and softer than mine. My thumb finds her button and rolls it around gently. I slide my body up one side of her. Joey watches from the other side.
Her breasts are larger than mine, soft and pink and the nipples look sore. I put one hand on each and feel their weight, their silkiness, brushing my thumb across one nipple, gently. She lets out a little gasp and I lower my head to take it into my mouth. Turning it over with my tongue, flicking it around, nibbling only a teeny bit. Joey takes my hand and slides it back down between her legs. Piper inhales the smoke from the joint, moving her hips up to meet my hand. I feel around, tentatively at first, now bolder, parting her warm lips with my fingers. She starts to rock with me. I move my mouth to hers and take her tongue inside me. She tastes of pot and Joey’s Two Shoes’ semen.
“Fuck her, fuck her hard.” His mouth is right at my ear, his breath damp and a little sour. My finger is deep inside her, probing. I open my eyes and see Joey stroking himself as he watches us.
I slip a second finger inside her and pump. She rides my hand and we kiss. Sucking each others tongues and ears and necks. Her hands find my tits and pulls at my nipples.
“Eat her pussy,” he murmured, pushing my head down, shoving me off of her face.
Men are crude, but I wasn’t in a position to be offended by anyone’s choice of language.
I glided down between her legs and like that, the magic was gone. It’d been kinda fun. The coke and the vodka, the porn and Piper, not having to be at work. It was all fine. Fun even, until I found myself face to face with another woman’s chocha. Wet and red and smelly from being in a leotard all day and fucked all night.
And I remembered the audience in the living room. There was no way out of this; I’d never live down the humiliation if I chickened out now. I dove in and licked and sucked and prodded and nibbled like I thought I’d like it done to me, if I actually liked having it done to me, which I didn’t. I heard the glass crack of an amyl nitrate ampule and felt, more than heard, Piper suck the pungent odor in. Her body tensed, all of her contracting, then releasing.
Joey cracked another ampule, for me. I inhaled deeply and reached out for his cock. Sucking his cock. He’s kissing her. The audience cheering. The world spinning. My head expanding until it almost explodes. And contracting too fast. The amyl nitrate. My heart racing. Please, please, don’t let my heart explode. Everyone’s watching. I kinda like Eddie, but I don’t know how to talk to the nice guys….
The effect fades as quickly as it came and I worry about how I look to others. Is my hair is messed up? Is my makeup smeared?
Do I look fat from this angle?
How I looked was like a whore.
Piper would always be the good girl. I was always the whore. It was never going to change.
That night in Little Italy when she walked into Stevie G’s restuarant, drunk? When she pulled a gun out of her pink leather clutch–the one that matched her pumps–and held it the head of the idiot bartender who wouldn’t serve her because she was already insanely drunk?
That was my fault.
Myron called me at home, angry. “Go fix this!” he says
“He’s an idiot Myron. Just tell him to give ‘er a fucking drink,” I say, “and she’ll put the gun away.”
“Fix it. You fucked this up, you need to go down and fix it.” Myron says, and slams the phone down. When I get there, everybody, except Piper, looks a little tense. The bartender is ghost white, standing frozen in a corner of the behind the bar.
“I knew you’d come,” she says, smiling, slowly batting her eyes at me. “They won’t give me a drink, J. I just want a little drink is all.” She hands me the gun–I don’t even have to ask. I order two vodkas from the idiot bartender, one for her, one for me.
When anyone else tells this story, anyone but me or Piper, I’m the one they’re mad at.
When Piper disappeared on a three day drunk, surfacing in some sleazy spade bar on 133rd Street, that was my fault too. When she got so fucked on ‘Ludes she kept sliding off the chair? My fault.
She was everybody’s darling, no matter what. She lived in a fancy doorman building on 55th Street and 8th Avenue. It didn’t matter that the building was chock full of pimps. I lived in a run down tenement in the East Village. It didn’t matter that half the tenants had been born in that building. No matter what, I was trash. It’d been like that since we met at the Butterfly.
Everybody loved Piper.
She had Myron, Joey Two Shoes, the Fat Man and me.
Junior’s is the first face I see when we get to Joey’s. We lived together.
No, that’s not exactly true. Junior lived on my couch. Briefly.
Having Junior there was like waking up to fresh flowers every day – nice to look at the first day or two, but that’s about all and after a week it’s just a vase full of dirty water and dying organic matter. He’s on the rug, watching dog porn and rubbing himself –nothing’s changed, it’s pretty much all he did when we lived together he lived on my couch. In a little while he’ll head to the bathroom, jerk off into a towel and hang the towel back on the rack.
That part drove me crazy. Getting out of the shower, grabbing a towel and… “Junior! You motherfucker! Get me a clean fucking towel!”
We’d been together. Once. Before he moved in.
Thing was, cocaine makes men feel like sexual giants, like they can fuck all night. Okay, maybe they can, but not in any way I’ve ever found satisfying. There always needs to be something “extra” in the mix. Like a single girl and the usual holes are not enough and sex becomes something devised by Rube Goldberg rather than Mother Nature. You need extra hands, extra stimulation and sometimes you need an extra person or two. Junior’d needed me to do all the work, follow instructions, move this here, put that there, left, right, inside out, upside down, tongue here, okay, okay, now, now, wait, now…okay.
Sometimes, once is more than enough. But, he was still pretty, goddamn it, and he was connected. So I’d let him stay. On the couch.
Two Shoes and Trigger the Greek bookie hovered over the pile coke on the table. The more the Greek sniffed, the worse the spasms in his leg got. Hence, the nickname. Tonight, he was threatening to wear a hole in the carpet. There were two actors, A. was famous–but just for the moment, Eddie was not, a few unidentified wiseguys on the couch and a few unidentified guns on the table.
Piper brought the bottles into the kitchen and mixed us a couple of drinks. Vodka. Ice.And a splash of Seven-Up for color.
“Here,” I dropped the bullets between the guns, “we took ‘em off a cop at work.”
Joey looked up from his cocaine. “Five?”
Piper grabbed him by the arm, laughing and pulling him into the bedroom. “Stop it now. Come with me Daddy and let me tell you what a bad, bad girl I’ve been.”
I made drinks for the boys, settled next to Eddie on the couch, and to the background TV sounds of girls giving head to German Shepherds and horses, we watched through the open door as they undressed each other and made love, laughed, smoked, slept, got high, fucked some more. From our spots in the living room we watched them and we laughed, got high, smoked, slept, got high and laughed some more.
I liked Eddie. He was sweet and handsome. He paid attention to me like I was a regular girl. But, he was no one, going no where. Eddie’s only juice was being friends with Joey.
And the only way to Joey, was going to be through Piper.
“Hurry up,” he grumbles counting the money in my register, “Two Shoes is waiting.” I shake my generous butt at Myron and smile over my shoulder as I flounce out of the bar and into the back room.
Piper and Carl are sprawled across one of the loveseats. The Lollipop “private lounge” is pitch black except for the high school stoner/head shop black lights. White clothing gleams, dental caps radiate pale blue, lipsticks glow bright orange and hair dye shines with a dull greenish hue, but black things, like Carl, are nearly invisible.
I don’t need to see to know there’s a loaded gun between Carl’s legs. Piper would be stroking it, saying oh baby, it’s so big, it’s so hard, pushing the gun up against the flaccid penis in his pant, the cock that never got hard. Sometimes he’d rub his “cock” over your face or your nipples. It made him harder, he said. He liked for you to stroke his cold metal “cock”, to push your tits up on him, whispering into his ear how big and black and hard he was, how you wanted it inside of you, tearing you apart, pushing, deeper & deeper. He wanted you to do that until the soft piece of flesh inside his pants exploded, leaving a small stain on his dark pants.
Piper & I trade on and off with Carl. He’s a good tipper, easy to work and a vice cop. Carl has the good drugs, all the time.
“Hey Carlos, my man, what up?” I drop down onto the couch besides him. He has a joint in my mouth before my ass hits the cushion.
That meant they were finished. The stain was already there. It was the way it went, part of the ritual, first the cocaine, then the “sex”, then the pot and a coupla drinks. I don’t really like pot. The better it is, the more I hate the way it makes me feel. But, sometimes doing stuff I don’t like is just easier than saying No.
“Mmm. All the pretty white girls,” he mumbles into my hair, reaching inside my top to fondle my breasts. I take a couple of tokes as my eyes adjust to the darkness, and look down at Carl as he plays with my tits. I hear a sharp metallic click.
“You need help up front J, or you just need a break?” Then, a small quick series of clicks. “Carl, here. Your turn.” Click.
“Myron says we’re going up to Joey’s.” The clicks again. “What the hell is that?”
“Here, baby girl, your turn,” Carl slurs as he places his service revolver in my hand and nestles his face against my chest. “It’s OK – Piper took the bullets.” He holds up a handful of bullets, takes the gun back and puts it up to my neck, wedging it up under my jawbone, pointing up to my brain, the long way. Click.
“One of these days they’re gonna cut you loose on a psych Carl, you know that don’cha? You’re gonna be out on your pension, living in a locked ward, shuffling around in paper happy face slippers, spending your days playing dominos with the wet brains and waiting for the nurses to bring you your meds. You be lucky if you don’t wind up with electro-shock and a bite stick.” I take the bullets away from him with one hand, push the gun away from my neck, grab Piper by the wrist and stand up.
He smiles and lays down on the couch, “But you’ll always love me, won’t I?”
“Always, Carl. You sleep a while now, I’ll send someone back for you later, before your shift is over.”
Piper and I leave Carl to sleep it off and head down the stairs, back into our street clothes. Little Maxie’s taken our place behind the bar. There’s a hundred-dollar bill stuck to his forehead with spit, a stunt usually reserved for the afterhours. It cracked him up, the way the girls reacted to him then. We grab the booze–Black Label and champagne for the boys, Smirnoff for us–and a cab uptown. There’s a party at Joey Two Shoes’. Well, there will be when we get there.
Leaning back, I open my hand. “Pipes? Honey? If you took all the bullets outta the gun, how come I only got five here in my hand? Doesn’t that gun hold six?”
She just bats her eyes at me, tosses her hair over her shoulder and starts to laugh.
“Jee-sus,” I reach over, crack open a bottle of vodka and take a swig, “you’re gonna get me killed one day, Piper, you seriously gonna get me killed. Maybe I’d be better off in a locked ward.”
“Maybe, J, but it’s a helluva ride till then, ain’t it? It’s a helluva ride.”