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.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

"Beware the slippery slope." Finale


My first time.
And maybe my only time.
But anyway, it was time.
And what a blessing for a first time: I don’t have to go alone.

The moment Linda called my name, my legs felt as if they had been de-boned and my brain softened to Swiss Cheese. I'm sure I appeared calm on the outside, smiling and talking in hushed questions with raised eyebrows, following the leaders, but inside my head I couldn’t escape the furious ZZZt-ZZZt-ZZZt sound, like a tuneless radio, plaguing my forehead, blurring my vision.

I remember only snap shots from the time we left to the time we arrived at the call. I remember the three of us buckling shoes and tossing purses over shoulders. (In my case, a backpack.) I remember Cait raising her hand, hailing a cab from the corner of 1st Avenue and the three of us piling in. I remember Cait knocking on the apartment door of our destination. I remember the door being opened by a small Japanese businessman and seeing two more of the same standing further inside the apartment. And then, perhaps due to adrenaline and fear, the buzzing stopped, my legs became sea-worthy and the cheese in my head, hardened. My entire body watched like a sponge on red-alert.

Cait was a pro. Her demeanor changed the instant the door was opened. Her posture, slumped in the office, was now so erect that her enormous breasts entered the room before she did. She bestowed on each man a gushing smile, and in a voice that seemed to lose all traces of an accent, she asked to use the phone to call the agency to inform them we had arrived. Dawn, on the other hand, was more of what I had imagined of women in this profession. She stood aside, clutching her purse, paying only the necessary amount of attention, and granting a look up with a false grin only when she was addressed.

As Cait was on the phone with the agency, her eyes made a constant continuous round-robin scan, sure to catch each man’s gaze as she spoke. Her finger rolled and twisted the phone cord seductively.

"Hi!" she said perkily into the phone. "It’s Cait and Dawn and Gwen. We’re here." (Pause) "Yes, everything is alright." (Pause, checking her watch.) "Yes, okay. Talk to you at 10:34. By—ee!" (Phone back on receiver, big smile.) "Should we take care of the business now?" she suggested to them.

The man, who answered the door, removed money from his wallet and handed it to Cait. Immodestly, in front of the men, she counted the hundred dollar bills, six of them, handing two hundred to me and two hundred to Dawn. I stashed mine in my backpack.

The Japanese men collect in a huddle. We do too. We speak to each other only with our wide, rolling eyes. They speak in whispers, o-o-o-hi-o-o-sooo, disnaaayyy—o-o-hi!--deciding who gets who. Finally, the leader, the man who paid, points to himself, then to Cait, giggling, bobbing his head, showing teeth. We understand that he wants the one with the big boobs and reddish-blond-ish hair. He takes her hand, leading her off to the one bedroom for privacy. Cait looks back and winks at me as she is being led away. Dawn and I are left to perform in front of each other. Kinda yucky but kinda okay since, not only don’t these two speak English, but also I’m not sure what to do.

The remaining two men again do a huddle. Based on what I surmise is hierarchy, the next man chooses Dawn and moves her to a chair in the main living room that we are all in.

Now it is just me and the lowest man on the totem pole. This makes me have to pee. Almost everything that makes me uncomfortable makes me have to pee. I am the most-often pee-er I know, even without being nervous. I perform a clumsy game of charades for my guy, signaling to him that I need to use the bathroom. He ascents, finally understanding.

Behind the closed door, locked in the quiet reprieve of the bathroom, I am left alone with the banging of my heart and that terrible buzzing noise again in my head. (I’m sorry to put you through a crying jag. I know how people hate hysterical women. But that is exactly what I did.) Keeping my eyes squeezed tight so as not to allow any tears escape to smudge my mascara in case I decided live out this adventure, I lay down on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and stare microscopically at the linoleum. My body starts to shake with silent sobs.

How did this happen? How did I get here?
Granted I have one of those lives partnered not just by Murphy’s Law, (if it can go wrong, it will), but by Murphy himself. Still, all in all I think this must be one of my worst pickles yet.

I can still back out. But if I back out, there is no going back. As Linda said, she would ‘BLACKLIST’ anyone who did that and that would be it. Even my last option would be gone. At that moment, I felt Life, my own talents, my own shortcomings, my past history, and my sorry situation all finally met up at this point, finding me prone on this strange bathroom floor, leaving me no other choice.

Dragging myself off the floor, checking my make-up for raccoon-eyes, I slipped one strap of my backpack over my shoulder and went out to meet my fate.

He had been a bit impatient; my Japanese guy, as evidenced by his loss of clothing. He was down to his trousers, no shirt, shoes or socks.

Dawn was busy doing a fake porno-movie moan on the chair as her Japanese man sucked her nipple.

(‘I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.’ The mantra in my head is now a cheerleader.)

I smile at the man as I remove the Jewish candles from my bag. I keep my eyes on him, beaming him my best, isn’t-this-going-to-be-romantic smile as I light the wicks. His eyebrows are caterpillars crawling. I am confusing him. Not good.

(Mantra: ‘I am an actress. I am a woman. I have done this before only without money exchanged. Not a big difference.') Wrong. Big Difference.

I put my arms around his neck and bring my lips to his. He turns his face.

(Oh, okay. He doesn’t want me to kiss him on the mouth.)

I kiss his neck, trailing my lips down to his nipples as I did with men I made love to in ‘real life’. Impatiently, his hand clops down on the top of my head, pushing it lower and lower until I am eye- to-cock level. My cheerleader-in-a-competition smile is plastered to my face as I stare up at him pretending that I love this.

Planting little kisses around the waistline of his pants, I let my teeth grab onto the button to open them with my mouth. I thought it might be a good creative touch; maybe what high-paid call girls do. I bite the top of his pants by the button and try to push the button out with my tongue. Not smart really. My tongue is now caught between the material and the button. He lets out an exasperated groan and pushes my tongue out with his finger, then undoes his own pants. Ripping down the zipper, letting his trousers collect in a bunch at his ankles, he makes no attempt to step out of them. He does the same with his tidy-whitey briefs. They join the pile at his feet.

How can he be so immodest? So unaffected by a stranger seeing his pubic hair, smelling his personal odors, about to taste his private parts? When I was heavier, I could barely get intimate with men and when I did, I was so body conscious that I went to the sexual bed wearing a full-length flannel night-gown. If they could see me now...

The mystery of his unblushing nakedness distracts me only for a second because a penis, his penis, no bigger than my thumb, with it’s one eye, is gawking at me.

Condoms! AIDS! Do you do this—this oral thing-- with a condom? Surely one must. In a panic, I look up for just a moment scanning the room. Luckily, either Dawn or Cait thought ahead and left a pile of red Trojans on the dining room table, just an arm’s reach from my kneeling position.

Daintily, pinky up, I try to rip it open with my fingers but it won’t tear. My teeth are the only alternative. I take the wrapper in my mouth. Tossing my head from side-to-side like a playful puppy, I snarl up at him as I am ripping it. He is not amused. He grabs it himself, removing the latex thing and rolls it on his little cock. My head is grabbed from behind with both his hands and quickly my mouth is filled with hardness covered by loose rubber.

"Ooky, Ooky, Ooky…" he moans in rhythm with his hands pulling and pushing my puppet head back and forth over the thing. Then suddenly, a quick pull in, he clamps my lips to his pubic hair, jamming the hard little pole into my esophagus making me gag in a very un-feminine way, and he is done. Holding the end of the condom himself, he pulls out just as quickly and walks away from me to the bathroom.

That was it? I still have my clothes on. My make-up is only smeared slightly from the last gagging moment (and much more from my own tussle in the bathroom). Ooky-Ooky-Ooky, One-Two-Three, and I made two hundred dollars? Well, one hundred is Linda’s, but one HUNDRED dollars is mine. My god! It took me almost 20 hours working at a regular job to make that much. Twenty precious hours of life given up doing what I don’t love to make that much and to suffer the rest of the time in poverty waiting to do what I do love.

The phone rings. I hear Cait’s lilting voice talking in the bedroom. I blow out the candles, placing them back into my sack. Dawn saunters over by me, zipping her dress. Cait, fully dressed, still smiling, bounces as she joins us in the living room. We say our ‘thank-you’s, kiss our men on their cheeks and are let out into the hallway.

Once safely in the elevator, Cait rolls her eyes at Dawn and I. Dawn takes her finger putting it down her throat in a gag motion. The two of them burst into giggles. I join them soon after although I’m not sure why. Is it their moment of power? Their moment to say, ‘what fools are they?’

It’s 11pm by the time we stride back into Linda’s.

"Is that my little bunnies?" Linda chirps from her office.

She is Jeckyl and Hyde. Together, we walk into the back office, each paying Linda her cut. She orders the other two out into the living room, now teaming with waiting girls, and I am left standing at the side of her desk. She is on the phone and motions with a lit cigarette for me to wait.

In front of her is a tin take-out container of half-eaten sushi, and two ashtrays, each ashtray holding separate, lit cigarettes: one Marlborough (non-menthol) and one Newport (menthol). While I wait, I silently guess she must be a Virgo—particular about detail even down to the idea of mixing the butts of two distinct cigarettes in the same ashtray. I have good luck with Virgos. I, too, am a bit anal and detail-oriented so we usually get along. Philip S. was a Virgo and one of my best boyfriends. I am hoping Linda picks up on this subtlety and likes me.

It's gross. I know. I always want my bosses, or anyone in authority to like me. Actually, I am addicted to anyone and everyone liking me, but she being a Virgo is a good omen. If she is a Virgo. Just as she is about to address me, the phone rings again.

"Executive Club?" she answers, her voice sweet and high, so different from the smoky dark voice she uses for the girls. "How may I help you this evening?"

Her tone is so polite, so professional, much like the voice I answered the phone with when I was a receptionist, or working room service for The Ritz-Carlton. It is hard for me to grasp that this is a business—and a thriving business at that. It’s not what I pictured. Like I said, I imagined things a bit more loosey-goosey, run by low-life people forcing you out into the street in skimpy underwear with connections to the mob. But here she was speaking more politely than most corporations—nicer than the airlines, than the phone companies, nicer than most anyone really.

"I would be happy to help you with that sir."

She was calling these men, ‘sir’. Non-stop. Sir, sir, sir.

"What type of young lady are you looking to spend time with, sir? Perhaps if you give me an idea, I can whittle down the choices for you as I have so many lovely ladies working with me this evening, sir."

She pauses to take a drag of the menthol and listens.

"Well, if you would be so kind sir, to give me a moment of your time, I would be happy to explain whom I have available."

It was like she was selling furniture. Or cars.

"We have two categories of young ladies, sir. We have our girl-next-door category. And that is your very pretty, very sweet, of course girl-next-door type and that is our two hundred dollar for the hour category. And then we have our model actress category and that includes your very beautiful, very lovely, very charming, very elegant, well-educated young lady and that would be our three hundred dollar for the hour category, sir."

I grin. I now understand what the two different names are for. We are the same persons. Just sold in different categories. For two hundred I am Gwen and for three hundred I am the more glamorous, Tasha. Aren’t the men fooled? Either there is something I don’t understand about men or this is a very smart woman.

"In that category sir, I have a delicious young lady by the name of Megan. Megan is 5 feet 8 inches tall with a 36D, 24, 36 inch figure weighing 125 pounds. Excuse me sir. 120 pounds. Megan has long, wavy strawberry blonde hair and a lovely Irish accent, sir."

Who is Megan? It sounds like Cait.

"That would be fine sir. I can have her to you within the half hour. And how will you be paying for that, sir? American Express is fine. There is a twenty percent sur-change on all credit card payments sir, so you will be signing a slip for three hundred and sixty, sir. And I thank you sir."

As soon as the receiver is down, Linda’s two-pack-a-day cigarette voice calls into the living room,

"Meee-gan! I have a call for you. Get ready and come get your information. Don’t forget your slips. It’s a credit card call."

I hear a groan from the living room. I guess credit card calls are not favored?

"Would you rather no call at all?" Linda scolds. The groaning stops.

Into the room comes Cait. She is Megan. This is her expensive category call. She takes the slip of paper with the address on it, thanks Linda and says to me,

"I’ll see you around, then?"

I nod a hopeful nod to her as she leaves.

"How was it?" Linda asks, stubbing out the Newport, lighting the Marlborough.

"Easy." Is the only thing I can think to say.

"Ready for more?"

"Yes please."

"It’s a busy night, so I’m going to send you out a lot tonight. If you do a good job for me babydoll, you can stay."

"Thank you." I say, meaning it.

"But you have to do something with the way you look. Get a dress. Do something with your hair."

"I know. I am prone to hair anarchy." I say in an attempt to draw a smile from her.

"Let me see your nails." She answers.

I stretch out the broken and bitten stubs that cap off my bird-like hands. The sight of them causes her to rub her temples in disbelief.

"No." she says simply. "Fix it by tomorrow."

"I will." I say, not knowing if there will be a tommorrow for me in this business. And concerned about the cost of a manicure; worried it will eat up my profit from the Japanese man.

She hands me a stack of credit card slips and a small, plastic, portable credit card imprint machine and dismisses me, sending me back to the group room to wait.

The phone rang. Girls came in and out. Borrowing cigarettes from the other girls, I took up the habit of smoking again. I went to retrieve my book from my bag now appreciate why girls don’t bring candles on their appointments—the spilt wax had sealed the pages firmly shut.

I watched and waited. I was a toddler at her first day of pre-school. Everything was new. Everything was confusing. The world was upside-down. Everything was so covert. We were little ants, busy in our secret underground city.

By midnight I had my next call. A man whose apartment was on the Lower East Side, causing me to break my crisp, new, one-hundred-dollar bill for the ten-dollar cab fare.

He didn’t turn me away at the door. That was good. I remembered to call in right way. That was good too. And, I remembered to get the money up front. That was especially good. With all the business out of the way, he immediately fell back on his bed of tangled sheets and we pretty much repeated the same performance as the Japanese man, except this was in English.

Promptly, at the end of the hour, Linda’s call came and I left with a heavier backpack. One hundred dollars minus the forty for round-trip cab fare, plus the new one hundred. One hundred and sixty dollars. Easy.

By two a.m. I was entering The Waldorf Astoria. (A famous hotel in New York but one I had never dared enter nor had reason to.) The security guard stared at me as I went up. And stared again as I left an hour later. I knew he knew and he knew I knew that he knew but nothing was said.

When Linda called at the end of that hour she had told me to call her from the corner the minute I got out of the Waldorf, so by 3:30, I was wandering Park Avenue searching for a working payphone (not an easy find in New York), with three hundred sixty dollars in my purse. Almost two week’s salary. Finding a payphone, Linda gave me the info for my next call, ending her conversation with,

"Call me as soon as you get there! Quick like a bunny, babydoll!

I hopped into a cab and experienced my first lesson in the art of re-applying make-up in a speeding, bumpy taxi, hurling it’s way across the darkened streets of Manhattan. There was something about the nighttime in New York City, that made the job palatable. Most of the city sleeping. Sporadic lights on here and there in apartments I could watch as I sped by in a taxi on the way to the next unknown encounter. City buildings lit up, and streetlights dotting the Avenues. It was like a different New York. It was a different me. With a different name. So separate from my ‘real life’.

Around 4, I was entering the apartment of a man clad only in his tattered teddybear-print boxers. ‘Diver Dan’, (dubbed so not for his sexual proclivities,but for what was to come,) lived in what appeared to be a mountain of smelly old laundry. Not a space in his studio apartment wasn’t covered with dirty clothing. Even the bed, which we soon would be using, was a clutter of un-washed sheets, pillows with no cases and a few old, graying gym socks. The room was lit only by the colored blinking of the small TV set, tuned to Channel 35—a sex advertisement station.

I finished the business part (the money), called Linda to start my time and as I got close to Dan, was catapolted backward by the odor emanating from his skin. He smelled like a sponge soaked in whiskey. White powder caked around his nostrils. White goo pasted to the corners of his sticky mouth. How was I to manage this? How was I to touch him?

I needn’t have worried. He only needed me to ‘baby-sit’.

(I eventually learned this is a skill unto itself with clients who do coke.)

The job was this: Diver Dan sat in the middle of the pile of squashed clothes on the edge of his bed, sucking lines off a cracked mirror up his nose with a rolled up twenty dollar bill. I sat in a splintered wooden chair opposite him, my hand on his limp pee-pee, pulling and kneading it like pasta dough, while saying things like, "Oh god, I want you to fuck me…mmmmm…I can’t wait until you fuck me…"

He would reply by saying things like, "oh yeah baby, tell me again. Yeah, I’m goin' give it to ya good." And then, just about the time he would get lustful and reach out for me, he would widen his mouth, grit his teeth, sucking the goo back in and plunge head down again for another snort.

Linda called on time at 5 and asked ‘if he would like to keep the young lady or send her back’ and I was kept for another hour of the same. I collected the money again, which, in his state of mind, took about ten minutes and it was back to the routine.

By Linda’s next phone call, Diver Dan was out of money but too high to want to be left alone. That’s when he earned his nick-name.

"Wait here. Wait here." He motioned me to stay seated. Off he went burrowing into a closet in the darkened edge of the apartment. Amidst clanking, crashing, banging and items rolling out into the hallway, he kept pleading with me to ‘wait. wait.’ Finally, he emerged dragging an enormous scuba tank behind him.

I tried to explain that scuba gear wouldn’t be acceptable as a form of payment, but he was positive that it would and made me get on the phone with Linda to ask. As expected she ordered me to leave immediately.

Getting out the door was a Herculean task. Dan alternated between clinging to the elephants on the hem of my skirt and heaving the scuba tank at me. We played a few rounds of ‘hot potato’ with the tank until on the fifth go-around, when the ‘potato’ was in his hands, I managed to snatch up my backpack and zip out the door.

From the stairs on the way down, I could hear Dan calling,
"Hey. Hey. Where’d ya go? Where’d ya go?"

Diver Dan's apartment happened to be in Hell’s Kitchen, not too far from my own, so I asked Linda if I could pay her the commission the next night when I came in. She agreed, but only after threatening my life, my future, my unborn children and my soul if I didn’t return and, under the agreement that I call her the minute I got home. I thought this was because she wanted to make sure I got home safely. It was actually because she wanted to make sure the thing with the scuba tank wasn’t a ruse and that I wasn’t stealing the extra hour from her by staying with Diver Dan on my own time and getting full payment for it.

My thighs quivered with each step I mounted to my fifth-floor walk-up. Sitting on the edge of my bed never felt so comforting. Alone-ness was never this sweet. With my contact lenses creating a desert on my eyeballs, sticking the lids together, I counted the wad.

$640 dollars!

(Six hundred forty dollars at that time would be like two thousand dollars today.)

I spread it out over my bed, one bill at a time, and counted again. I was in shock.

I called Linda and gave my schedule for the week. I would be available every night this week, next week, the week after, and so on, from seven p.m. until whatever time she needed me.

When I lay my head on my pillow that night, the money was under it, as if waiting for the tooth-fairy. But she had already come. I would be safe. I would be able to stay an actress. I would be able to use my free time in a valuable way. I would be able to pay my bills. I might even be able to build dreams—to start a Theatre company of my own.

In my 'real life', I was so easily discarded after sex. Even after a relationship. Discarded without much to-do and forgotten about. How could I have imagined that what I did 'for free', so many times in my life, would be just the thing I could build a life on?

What were these men paying me for after all? It wasn’t the sex alone. I was just as average at that as anyone else. No. It was something else.

As I was drifting into an exhausted sleep, the epiphany came: I was still the disposable woman, the canary in the trash can, but this time men were paying for the privilege.

I was being paid to leave.

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