Some girls shove cupcakes in their mouths and obscene hot dogs wrapped in bacon when there are holes punched through their hearts. I wander into strip clubs, hotels and casinos and offer my body to strangers for money. Not my whole body, just certain parts. Maybe it’s a Dad thing. He was a cheater who met women in motels until he finally left. Maybe it’s a mom thing. She wanted a best friend, not a daughter. Sex work has always been a great place to shove my feelings so far down that I go numb, and when deadened, I can do anything.
The second time my mom got cancer, I slid back into sex work again. I never thought I’d go back but I always do. This time, it was comforting. It was a relief to be touched and desired but not felt and most important, I was always the one who left, with cash in my hands, which is something like empowerment while sleepwalking.
It was Christmas and, as usual, I was short my rent with no prospects. My friend Kara suggested I put up an erotic massage ad on a site with her and she offered to show me the happy ending ropes. I figured, no matter how much porn guys consumed, touch is something computer screens hadn’t yet replaced, so we took pictures with her phone and uploaded them onto the escort site. I offered a full body massage and showed up either alone or with Kara for one hour of manufactured intimacy with oiled hands and skimpy lingerie, ending in a hand job.
The clients’ desire to be groped bled into me long enough to give me a hit of the attention I craved, like a baby after the nipple. Sexual attention was an emotional oxygen mask. I stopped breathing when I didn’t get it. For the guys, it’s never just about the boner. Kara and I provided distraction, entertainment and a place where men could tell their secrets to someone who wasn’t invested in them. Secrets, like being in unhappy marriages and a preference to be paddled, or wanting a naughty nurse in thigh-high fishnets to stick a thermometer up their ass, or smoking weed and popping Vicodin when everyone in their lives thought they were clean and sober. The men wanted a hand job from a woman who didn’t want anything from them except cash. They wanted comfort, they wanted to get off, and one hour later, they wanted me to leave. Anonymity was part of the allure for both of us.
On Christmas night, Kara and I had a client at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton smeared foie gras on rice crackers and got shit-faced on gallons of Crystal. A tall pale guy with silver hair answered the door. “You’re so amazing. Such beautiful souls,” he said. His attention warmed my insides like alcohol used to. He was a tower of pale flesh, covered in tiny scabs. What’s wrong with him? I thought and noticed the fruit bowl piled high with figs and pears. I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. I spit out my sugar free gum, ripped open a fig and licked the gelatinous pink center.
“There’s so much love. So much love,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot and there was something wrong with his skin. It hung on him like sick flabby meat before it’s tossed down the garbage disposal. I remembered my mom in bed with a feeding tube attached to her stomach. Her volleyball playing legs had shriveled and her genetically blessed golden skin stretched away from her bones. I reached for her but it hurt her to be touched. When she was asleep her eyelashes fluttered. That’s how I knew she was alive. Earlier, I dreamt I heard her voice on my answering machine saying, “You’re going the wrong direction. You need to make a u-turn ahead.”
The Four Seasons suite had beige wallpaper with fuzzy black designs on it. I saw a stocked bar and a polished wood desk. I held our client in an executive embrace and surveyed the many tones of beige. He said he was an attorney. Like my Dad, I thought and wriggled out of the hug. Intimacy made me squeamish. When Mom died, I didn’t want to be touched by anyone I knew. I didn’t want to have sex with my boyfriend. Clients were easier for me because I could be naked without the weight of personal attachment.
I got undressed except for my shoes, bra and fishnets. Kara liked to be naked. Our client wrapped his long freckled arms around us. “Such sweet energy,” he said. Grisly hair covered his chest and sprouted from his ears. We walked over to the California King mattress where he lay on his back; A beached whale in soft sand with his belly up; big as a watermelon. The white sheets were expensive.
“Are you married?” Kara had her methods with married men. She wanted to teach them to bring their wives to a better orgasm. It’s stuff that she learned in a sex cult that she lived in for years in Nor Cal. “She passed away two years ago,” he said. He didn’t look sad. He closed his eyes on the soft white pillows that caved with weight-the memory foam stuff. “You’re so amazing,” he said to me. His voiced reminded me of soft crying. I wondered if he missed his wife. I felt sorry for him and had an impulse to kiss his neck.
“Do you mind if I dim these lights?” I asked. The lighting had to be right. I was a stripper first and foremost so I made a big production out of taking off my clothes. After my bra was twirled and tossed off, I joined Kara, who was on top of him already, with her legs straddling him. I followed suit.
“You were wearing too many clothes,” she said to me, a robotic phrase that she said to me at least once every time we did a session. Her small palms were on his chest, rubbing him with coconut oil. That’s when I saw his feet. His big toes were rotting off at the tips; the skin was like chewed meat. He had no arches at all. His feet were flat as skis and the rotten skin spread to his calves in splotchy bruises up his legs. He was scaly, freckled and had scabs the size of ticks on his ankles.
Jesus, I thought. This guy’s got AIDS or leprosy.
Kara kept the fantasy going. She talked dirty. “I feel like you’re inside me,” she said to him. Her hands were behind her back, pointing to his junk. This was her signal to me to look at him more closely, which I did. “What’s your fantasy?” she asked our man. I dug my hands into the brown tub of coconut oil, and massaged his thighs and put my face in his crotch to get the skinny on his condition.
“I’m a kid in art class and my teacher calls me into her office. She wants me to take my clothes off. She photographs me. Then she demands I play with myself but I hear girls giggling.” Kara giggled on cue. I massaged his calves, careful to avoid any open sores, a maternal gesture. I saw that his cock had tiny raised red pustules on it. My greasy hand held it in a firm grip during my investigation. “Will you suck it?” He asked with his eyes still closed, mouth open, on his back, still as death.
“You have some red spots and it looks like they could be genital warts,” I said.
“The doctor says it’s just age. Promise. And,” he said, pausing for a moment, “I have a blood disease.”
He thinks we’re stupid whores, I think: Blood cancer, Gangrene, Hepatitis, Diabetes, HIV. Then, like always, I think about the cash. It’s Christmas and I haven’t bought any presents or sent any cards to anyone in my family. I feel ashamed, even though I know this money will go towards rent.
“A promise isn’t enough,” Kara said, forehead to forehead with our man. She had a way of saying hard things that landed like hollow chocolate bunnies on Easter Sunday.
“Do you have a condom?” he asked stroking his cock now. Only twenty minutes had passed but it felt like years. Kara stared into his eyes. She’s into energy work and the shaman thing. She says I work too hard and I don’t think she’s wrong but this is a service job to me. The trance broke when he opened his eyes. “There’s more in it for both of you,” he said. I sprung up and leapt to the bathroom, where there were billion thread count towels and downy white robes hanging from the door; Petite glass bottles of Evian; Guest soaps worth more than my car.
I found two types of condoms, one with lube and one without. For oral, the best one would be without, because they don’t slip or slide off.
Four hundred bucks, I thought. Almost half my rent. I looked into Kara’s blank blue eyes and our tongues met in circles around the latex condom. I wondered if his wife died of the same blood disease that he had and if they had ever spent Christmas together here in Los Angeles.