Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Adjusting to the Underground--Part 2


Exiting the darkness of Mr.Ali’s studio, the bright, city lights force my eyes into a tight squint as I hunt for the illusive working payphone. After finding one, three blocks up from Mr. Ali’s, straining to hear Ellen’s instructions over the honking zooming taxis, I head to the Waldorf Astoria to meet one Francis Madison.

‘Do a good job for me babydoll.’ Ellen has said. ‘He’s one of my best customers.’

And I will.
In my mind, Ellen has become the gatekeeper to a new financial life. I want to make her proud of me as much as if she were one of my teachers at the RFDS, as if she were my soul mate, as if she were my mother.

Twenty minutes later, away from the dankness and quiet of Mr. Ali’s, I revolve through the threshold of the grand, bustling hotel. Behind me, taxi doors are slamming, letting out passengers, taking new ones in.

Two security guards flank either side of the elegant staircase leading up to the elevators. It is not yet 11:00 so I am not eyed suspiciously. That may change on my departure depending on the time.

From high above, chandeliers seem to weep stars. Mahogany walls are buffed to such a shine, I can see my reflection as I pass. The carpet beneath my heeled feet, swirl in unrestrained paisley.

What must it be like to be able to afford to stay here?
I feel so lucky. So proud of myself to be invited here and to be paid to visit.

Overnight, this frightening choice I made has transformed me from a poverty-stricken, un-entitled, Salvation-army clad, disposable woman, into an up-and-coming, money-in-her-pocket, highly-prized, pay-to-be-in-her-company lady.

Why?

Because I let men have sex with me? Couldn’t be.

Francis Madison was an curious mix of mass and petiteness. His refrigerator-size stature seemed to contain a pre-pubescent boyish spirit. At 6’3" and 268lbs, he couldn’t be considered fat, but rather like an ex-football player gone soft in the middle. A Pillsbury dough boy-man. Crowned with soft blond hair, he emanated ‘I was an only-child, poor little rich boy me’.

He ushered me into the room with a flourish of his hand, and a tittering ‘hee-hee-hee’ girlish giggle.

The laugh exposed him to me. I possessed that same nervous tic.

Although outwardly it wasn’t obvious, I knew, he too was not entirely at home in these surroundings.
We let each other off the hook, silently knowing but without mention, agreeing to the pretense of our roles.
This space was special.
This paid-for space and time.
Just like the consort between audience and actor, during the two hours of the play, we agreed to suspend reality and believe like children again.
And when the play was over, the emotional cost was nil. Dinner and drinks were waiting. The only cost was the price of the ticket.

Maybe, in my own unusual way, I was still in the theatre, still acting, still doing what I loved, being paid for my innate and hard-won talent.

Or maybe it was just pussy after all.

Maybe it was both.

Sitting sipping expensive champagne, making charming chit-chat with Francis as we sat on the elegant cream-colored divan in his suite, my thoughts clicked back six years earlier, to Christina, my first good acting teacher on our first day of her class. To begin the class, she asked,
"Can anyone tell me what ‘acting’ is?"

The desperate hunger to live out the emotionally heightened realities that bubbled inside me, to unbind and express the searing depths and soaring joys, and by sharing, to connect what it is to be human, as a twin-soul with the rest of humanity, was all I knew myself to be.
It was the only real talent my spirit was made of, but it would only be a gift, and only touch hearts if it was used as an art form and I hadn’t yet the language to release it.

The answer to her question had been what I had been asking and seeking since I began studying.

As a class, we ventured all sorts of non-sense typical of beginners until she finally stopped all voices and spoke into our begging ears:

"
Acting is living truthfully in an imaginary circumstance."

In one sentence my world altered.
Simplicity contained in absolute truth.
The air seemed to hush and expand to let this revelation blossom.

Then she said,

"Acting is just re-acting. The only way to re-act truthfully is to listen. Listening is the most important skill. To listen with commitment. To listen with all your senses and to believe in what you hear and create."

I was up-side down. I felt as if she had cracked open the mystery of the art of acting.

She continued,
"You must say a silent ‘yes’ to whatever is presented to you and find a way to go with it. Nothing the other actor does is wrong. It is just different or not what you expected, just like in life. That’s what makes it interesting. You must have the words ‘yes, and…’ living inside you."

I was dizzy. I sprouted wings. I was soaring above the Universe in a sudden epiphany. I understood. Not only was this was the way the soul of every art form vibrated, but it was also the way to live a life.
Learning to do it, would be a matter of talent and practice but, that was the easy part now that it was finally clear what the result at the arrow’s end was to be.

"Na-ta-sha," Francis was rolling the syllables of my fake name around his tongue.

Francis had requested a top-of-the-line-girl, not the girl-next-door.
My expensive name was supposed to be ‘Tasha’, such as Ellen had christened me. This was my first high-priced excursion.
But when I called the office to start my time, ‘Tasha’ felt so false, so prostitute-like, (and therefore not me,) that it just came out of my mouth as:

‘Hi. This is ‘Na-tasha’.

Ellen scolded me but quickly acquiesced, first because she wanted the call to go smoothly and second, because she didn’t have a Natasha in her stable anyway. From then on, my three hundred-dollar name was ‘Natasha’.

I knew the time was ticking and didn’t want him to think I was frittering it away in conversation so I offered to start with a massage.
Instead, he clutched my hand, keeping me seated and said,

"You are, Natasha, so beautiful. Here’s to a long friendship." He lifted his flute.

I didn’t raise my glass.

Agents had tossed me away for not being pretty enough.
Men had let me go because I wasn’t the ideal.
Ellen almost didn’t take me on because of how I looked.
I thought he was joking.
I was hoping he wasn’t.
I stared at my lap.

He took my hand, and kissed it—a Knight rescuing his Lady-Fair.
Taking his own immediate rush of feeling so to heart, he brought tears upon himself.

Then I realized.
He needed me to be all he imagined I was.
He needed me to be expensive, sophisticated, illusive ‘Natasha’ so he could be unrequited, lovesick Francis.

I wanted this man to like me. I wanted him to keep me an extra hour. I wanted him to call back for me. I wanted to rise up Ellen’s imaginary ladder—to be her best girl. I wanted to be ‘Natasha’ and even ‘Gwen’ so that ‘Lane’ (my real self) could be more. I wanted to traipse into lovely hotels and drink champagne from glasses that chimed when they touched. I wanted to be thought of as worth keeping, worth fighting for.

Yes, I wanted to be an actor, to act, to be an artist, to live the actor’s life, but I wanted the future this path offered. I wanted to be wanted by men like this—men, who in my old life (three weeks ago) I would have never had the opportunity or occasion to meet.

Unlike actors, who were at the mercy of others, these investment bankers, lawyers, venture capitalists, were men whose money and position had the power to move the world. They were grown-ups playing in the ‘real world’.
The men of my past suddenly appeared as boys living in their own needy narcissistic bubbles.
These new men also possessed a quality the boys lacked. They seemed to find me beautiful—indisposable, even though they were paying for the opportunity to do so. They didn’t want to. They wanted me to want them. They saw me through eyes I hadn’t felt before. I wanted to be what they saw, so I played the part.

Clinking my glass to his, I surprised myself and broke the hard, fast rule—a rule I had never questioned—a rule all the girls in my profession seemed to abide by.

I touched my lips to his.
In this scene, Francis was the other actor and the phrase, ‘yes, and…’ was vibrating in my bones.

That heart-felt, full-mouthed, wet kiss, shattered my own self-imposed invisible barrier and I was suddenly floating like a sea creature at one with the water, border-less, without gravity.

That rule, though it provided an emotional protection wall, when followed, made the relations so unnatural it was like wearing a uniform that declared ‘this was work’. And if this was work, then my job was prostitution.
But if there was no uniform, only costumes like an actress has, then true, it was still a job, but it could also be a part of me. Two consenting adults playing adult games in the privacy of a space made sacred by the exchange of money, agreeing to believe and then to let go after the show is over.

Maybe it would always sound like prostitution to the outside world, but for me, it was this vision that allowed me to live in this new underground world.

Francis kept me for two hours of ‘normal’ play, that evening.

I would see him again and again until my career had ended, but it was one of the last ‘normal’ evenings we would spend together.
Eventually, his own sense of drama would challenge mine, until he knocked me off of the stage.

When I arrived back at Ellen’s that morning to tender to her my windfall, I was greeted with:

"You are my superstar! I don’t know what you do, and I have no idea why they like you, but keep doing it."

And so, ugly or not, my career had begun.

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