The Old Man and Me

To explain the old man, first I have to explain my very first boyfriend, Taylor. Taylor is best explained as well-intended and genuinely sweet. He was short and muscular, with bright blue eyes, a disarming smile,and short blonde hair- other than his height, a paragon of Texas perfection. A year ahead of me in high school, we met through mutual friends and began dating almost immediately. He easily won over my parents with “yes ma’am”, “no, sir”, and his mother loved talking art and design with me- an interest we shared.

We had a very happy year together, his senior year in high school. While charming and handsome, Taylor was not the sort of guy who had colleges incentivizing his attendance, and instead decided to join the army immediately after graduation. As a naive 17-year old, I found his patriotism endearing and never stopped to think about the implications of a 4-year absence from one another’s lives. I’ll never know if he thought we would break up, or if he hoped to find me dutifully waiting for him. We never talked about it until it was much too late to end things gracefully.

Some of his friends threw him a farewell party at a pool hall that he had apparently frequented before we’d met (as I would later find out, during the same phase in which he was smoking meth on a regular basis). Leading me through the crowd by my arm, he introduced me to several of these old-time friends, and they smiled at me with most of their teeth. It was a strange night under the dim pool-hall lights, made stranger by the introduction of the old man.

The old man’s name was Jason. I wouldn’t say I was instantly attracted to him, but I was certainly intrigued. As we shook hands, he smiled and said “nice to meet you.” The firm grip of his large, rough hand was indicative of his age and confidence, but his eyes and voice had a boyish, playful quality. Other than his fully gray hair and slightly weathered olive skin, nothing else about him gave away his age- he was tall, muscular, and handsome in a way that complemented his impish demeanor.

As we broke our slightly prolonged eye contact, Taylor explained that Jason was one of his oldest friends, and that they had met in the very same dive bar, years ago. Before moving on to greet other friends, Taylor paused to insist that Jason and I exchange contact information. I looked back and forth between the two of them, gauging Jason’s reaction to this odd request. He seemed unfazed as he took my phone and punched the buttons to save his number.

“Gotta know that someone is gonna look after my girl,” Taylor said as he grinned and patted Jason on the back, “You two really oughta hang out. Jason’s my boy. He’ll take care of you while I’m gone.”

An odd statement, but I simply smiled at the two men and followed Taylor as he shouted an incomprehensible greeting at another crowd of people. I wrote the encounter off as an drunken anomaly, and forgot about Jason quickly. I didn’t actually expect to see him again. After all, I thought, what self-respecting grown man would want to hang out with a 17-year-old girl?

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

A Pimp’s Secretary

I was on break from college. I attended a private university in Denver- several schools had offered me a partial scholarship to study art (useful, right?), but the city of Denver seemed to me far more appealing than Philadelphia or Raleigh. The small liberal arts school operated on a trimester system, which meant that we got a very long break between the fall and winter trimesters- about 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always enjoyed traveling home to visit my family during this vacation, and this particular year I was hoping to return to school with some money saved up. My third day home, after the novelty of boredom had worn off, I retreated to my room with my laptop and a cup of coffee to search for a short-term job.

Sifting through everything from catering assistant to delivery driver, I found an ad requesting someone to answer phones and do administrative work in an office. I was intrigued- office work sounded considerably fancier and more lucrative than slicing pizzas or wiping tables for 6 weeks. The instructions I received were to come in for an interview the next day, a Saturday. I thought this was unusual, but the next morning I got up and put on my best clothes, a pinstriped gray blazer and black slacks, and drove over to the location specified.

The office wasn’t far from my house- maybe 10 or 12 minutes driving. It was a nondescript, tan building that I must have passed a hundred times before, but never noticed. Finding the glass doors locked, I called the number for the business and a man answered, saying he would be right out. I was surprised when he came into view. Based on the lackluster appearance of the building, I had somehow expected my interviewer to appear equally drab- but this guy was easily over 6 feet tall and probably 250 pounds. His white teeth gleamed, a sharp contrast against his dark skin as he smiled and shook my hand. He was wearing jeans with carefully embellished pockets, and an untucked polo shirt. Recovering my manners after a moment of shock, I smiled and introduced myself, following him down a nondescript hallway to the office suite.

Halfway down the hall, he stopped abruptly to open a door marked with a nondescript name plate I can’t recall. We entered a cramped room, jammed full with 2 tall cubicles set up facing away from one another. The large potted plant next to the door, the only form of decoration, seemed like an afterthought next to the cubicles and undecorated walls. Stepping past the cubicles, he opened another door, and when I stepped inside  his office my mouth fell open in shock.

The walls, the desk, a small side table against the back wall- every square inch seemed to be covered in framed photographs of girls. I couldn’t help but stare around the room, trying to process what I was seeing. Most of the pictures were of women, posing erotically for the camera. Was it porn? No, it couldn’t be- most of them weren’t quite naked, and there was no sex happening in any of the images. Many of the girls had posed for their pictures in obscenely skimpy bikinis that were somehow more risque than if they had been naked. Unable to shake my surprise and confusion, I felt vaguely out of place in my conservative, professional clothes.

I tried to collect myself, dazed by shock as I sat in a guest chair in front of his desk. The man took a seat. If he was aware of my shock and confusion, he didn’t show it as he calmly and congenially addressed me. I don’t think he ever told me his name- if he did, it certainly wasn’t his real name. He explained that the position would pay $8.50 per hour, and that there would be no official paperwork. I would be paid in cash once a week. Wait, I thought, surely this man does not think I’m going to do anything as indecent as these women? And especially not for $8.50 an hour? I mustered up the words to form a question.

“Uh, can I ask what exactly the position entails? I’m not sure I understand.” I asked tentatively.

“Here, let me show you,” he said, standing to usher me back out to the front room with the two cubicles. At this point, my shock had been replaced with insatiable curiosity. What the hell had I stumbled into? I had already decided that if this man asked me to pose or do anything indecent myself, I would absolutely refuse. But for being such a large man, he was somehow very nonthreatening, and I was dying to know exactly what this operation was. It turned out to be even more absurd and obscene than I could have possibly imagined.

The man walked around one of the cubicles to the desk. It was appointed with a desktop computer and multi-line phone, like a real office. But then he pulled out a porn magazine, asking if I had ever looked closely at one before. I shook my head. He flipped to the second-to-last page, which was covered in a grid of about 25 photographs of women, with names and phone numbers listed underneath each.

“These are my ads. We have ads for about ten, fifteen different girls, all with different phone numbers. We make it look like their cell phone numbers, but they all route here” he said, motioning to the phone on the desk. “The guys call in because they want to talk to the girl. Your job is to figure out which girl they think they’re calling. You pretend to be her, and you give them directions.”

“Directions where?” I asked, struggling to understand. Giving directions didn’t sound much like phone sex, either, so I still had no idea what his business was. The man didn’t answer right away, instead pressing the power button on the computer. Once it booted up, he opened a web browser and clicked a shortcut to a site that seemed to be a live camera feed of the inside of an apartment. The screen was broken into two sections showing different rooms- a kitchen with the early morning light streaming through the glass doors, and a living room with a view of the front door and a staircase. Suddenly, a woman entered the frame. She was wearing lingerie that showed off her tan skin, and her long dark hair flowed down her back. Another girl, blonde, followed behind her.

“These are my girls,” the man explained, “Once you figure out which girl the guy is calling for, you need to look and make sure that we have someone working who looks a little bit like her. I usually have two, maybe 3 girls working at once.

“When a call comes in, you figure out who they should be matched with, then you call the girls and let them know someone is on their way. Tell the guy how much money to bring and give him directions to the Walgreens around the corner. Have him call to let you know when he arrives there. Then, give him directions to the place. If he doesn’t show up within 5 minutes, then we know some funny business is up. But they almost always show up.”

I was quietly processing the information. So this was a prostitution-type situation? It didn’t look anything like what I would have thought, much more organized than scenes in the movies. I found it oddly fascinating- who knew that pimps could be so strategic?

“When the guy shows up, you will be able to see him in the doorway here,” he said as he motioned to the camera feed of the living room, “The girl will tell them to put the money down on that table in front of the hidden camera, so you can see them pay. Once they go upstairs, you start the clock. If they don’t come back down within an hour, call and let me know.”

I was dumbfounded. What should I do? Really, I knew that I should just leave and go get a normal job making sandwiches or operating a cash register, but those jobs wouldn’t pay any more, and this one seemed infinitely more entertaining.

“Okay,” I said tentatively, waiting for further instruction.

“Okay,” he replied, “you start today.”

And so it began. I quickly realized that my normal “Good afternoon, thank you for calling” technique wouldn’t work for answering these sort of calls- after all, these guys thought they were calling some slutty girl’s cell phone. So I quickly adopted a sort of breathy, psuedo-pornograhic tone of voice when I answered. It seemed to work well, and soon I felt more confident picking up the phone pretending to be Kimmie / Lola / Da’niqua.

Once I had mastered the voice, I had to learn to deal with the strange and varied situations that cropped up on a daily basis. First of all, figuring out which girl to be was not as simple as it sounded. Luckily, once I said “hello?” in my best Marilyn Monroe impression, the guys usually followed up with something to the effect of “Uh, hi, is this Tiffany?” Once I familiarized myself with the fourteen different girls on the ad page, I was able to quickly adapt, even if the guy tried testing me. And some did test me, suspiciously and eagerly asking for my measurements to see if it matched whatever image he had in his head.

I did get a few creepers, of course. Some guys wouldn’t say anything, just breathing heavily in the background while they presumably jacked off to the mere concept of a female human on the other end of the phone. There was one guy, Jose, who would call every. single. one. of the fourteen fake girls- stringing the conversation along in the same broken English each time. It didn’t take long for me to lose my patience with this, as he thought he was calling all different girls, but it was me every time. I tried my best to vary the pitch and tone of my voice to create the illusion of different people, but he eventually caught on that he was talking to the same person- “Mmmm, hello there. Wait… did I just talk to you? No, you’re the same girl!”- and hung up in a huff.

Overall, it was an incredibly easy job. Other than the busy hours full of lonely callers on Friday and Saturday evenings, the phone didn’t ring all that often. And since the pimp rarely stopped by, I was completely unsupervised. I spent most of my time there creating elaborate doodles with professional markers on cold press paper, texting my friends back in Denver, and napping.

Often, I would entertain myself admiring the antics and mannerisms of the girls in the apartment. They were constantly prancing around, flipping their long hair, and sipping mysterious beverages. After weeks of watching them on a daily basis, I developed a voyeuristic curiosity, and sometimes considered asking them how they came to choose this as a profession. I was always too shy about the strangeness of it all, though, and would keep my phone conversations with them brief.”Hi, just letting you know, a guy who calls himself Scott is coming over. He wants Tammi. Yeah, the blonde. Ok, I’ll call you after he gets to Walgreens. Thanks. Bye.”

On the busy days, things could be surprisingly stressful. One such moment came when a john called in requesting Lily, a gorgeous, slim Asian woman with dark flowing hair in her picture. I gave him the usual directions and told him to call me when he got to the Walgreens parking lot. Unfortunately, upon consulting the webcam, a wave of panic hit me. We had only two girls working that day – a busty blonde, and a petite black girl. Neither of them remotely passable as Asian. I called the pimp and urgently informed him of the problem. He told me to stall him as long as possible so he could call in another girl who had the day off.

It turns out, stalling a horny guy in a drugstore parking lot is not that easy. When he called me back to say he was ready, I pulled every card I could think of, saying that I was “getting ready for him”. A fake bubble bath and three imaginary changes of lingerie later, the pimp called me back saying that he couldn’t get anyone else to come in, but to give the john the green-light anyway. I let the girls know, and I watched them rock-paper-scissors for the awkward conversation. The blonde ended up answering the door when he arrived, and I could tell by the confused look on his face that it wasn’t going well. They argued for a moment as he tried to peer suspiciously around her. When there was no sign of anyone who looked remotely like Lily, he walked away shaking his head. I sighed. All that skillful lying about bubble baths and lingerie for nothing. Oh well.

By the time six weeks had passed, my curiosity had long been satisfied. I knew I would never do another job like this again, a realization which came as a bittersweet relief. I had peeked into a strange underworld I would never have imagined- and who would even believe me if I told them? I felt lucky to be able to leave that strange occupation and return to my normal existence of classes and keggers in Denver. Soon after returned to school, my brief stint as a pimp’s assistant became a hazy memory- a strange joke meant for an absurd comedy flick. But it was real. I wondered occasionally if the operation was still up and running.

It is only in recent years, as an adult, the moral ambiguity of my actions has come into sharp relief. I feel some guilt for my privilege of treating it as an entertaining experiment, and I wonder with some sadness if the girls ever got out, or if they even had the option to leave. I had never known their real names, much less if they were happy. But I always got the impression that they were satisfied with their lives. They had always seemed content, lounging around half-naked in the sunny apartment, counting their cash in neat stacks and laughing at jokes I couldn’t hear. I hope they were.

Laura*

*These are true stories. This is not her real  name.

I’ve never been the type of girl to have “frenemies”.  For those of you who don’t watch enough reality TV to know what “frenemies” are, god bless you. I’ll explain. “Frenemies” are acquaintances that vacillate between being BEST FRIENDS attached at the hip, to hating one another with a fiery rage. Usually women, if you can’t tell by how nonsensical that concept is.

But Laura was my frenemy since the 7th grade. Both of us awkward and uncomfortable in our skin, we had banded together with about 15 other “misfit” kids. Now, bear in mind that we were good kids from primarily functional middle to upper-middle class families.  But by Texas standards, anyone who wasn’t blonde, beautiful, and perfectly proportioned was relegated to the less popular class. Our middle school was the “feeder” school for Pearce High School- a paragon of football-playing, cheerleader-hair-swishing Americana.

Needless to say, there was no shortage of kids who didn’t fit in. Laura was very heavy-set, with thick dark hair, a pretty face and striking blue eyes. I always envied her gorgeous eyes. Mine were brown- same as my thick, frizzy, out-of-control hair.

Out of everyone in our large misfit crew, Laura was the most capable and willing to find and get us into trouble. I remember countless sleepovers at her house, which seemed to me like the wild west compared to the amount of parental supervision I was accustomed to at home. My mom never suspected a thing- she and Laura’s mother were well-acquainted, both part of the Jewish community and PTA.

Who knows what they thought we were doing- reading books, braiding each other’s hair, doodling on our notebooks? Instead, Laura helped me bleach my bangs and dye them neon red to match hers. She taught me how to trick people on the internet into thinking you were a) attractive and b) several years older. Laura had a Xanga blog, a kickass MySpace profile, and flattering selfie angles before selfies were even a thing.

I’ll never forget her teaching me how to smoke weed for the first time. Alex, a skater kid I knew from school who constantly giggled at nothing and fell asleep in class, brought it over to Laura’s house late one night. The finest brick weed that 7th grade money could buy. I remember a distinct feeling of trepidation- her residential street was eerily silent at 3:00am as we sat on her porch. Alex watched us load the dry, crumbly green into the apple pipe that we had spent hours carefully crafting via instructions from the online Anarchist’s Cookbook. I must give us credit, though- it worked, and we got buzzed. Even Alex, a semi-pro stoner, had to admit that it was a pretty good pipe.

Our next attempt at smoking was much clumsier. Noah, a tall kid I had known since elementary school, and the crush of my life since the 5th grade, had agreed to meet Laura and I with some weed. He said he knew how to roll a joint if we would bring papers. Now, this was not my proudest moment. I had read online somewhere the idea of using pages from a bible to roll a joint, which to me seemed deliciously rebellious. Only one problem, though- we weren’t Christian, and I didn’t have a bible. So I did the next best thing and tore a handful of dry, crackly pages from my Torah that I had received from Sunday School. Like I said… not my proudest moment.

We met Noah behind the Target Supercenter near our houses, a secluded spot that was easy to reach if you jumped a fence. Upon trying to roll his weed up in the Torah pages, Noah found them much too dry, and lacking adhesive. But we weren’t quitters. The whole objective, we reasoned, was to get the weed to burn and inhale the smoke, right? So we settled on a small Torah-and-weed bonfire as the appropriate solution. As it burned, we frantically tried to scoop and wave the smoke toward our faces, breathing in as much of it as possible before the wind dragged it away. Fortunately, before the wind could sweep up any of the burning pages, Noah stomped on the growing flames, declaring our efforts valiant but futile.

Drugs weren’t the only thing that Laura introduced me to. When we were both in the 8th grade, preparing to enter high school the next year, she invited me over to meet her friend, Ryan, who was a year older than us, and in high school. When I laid eyes on Ryan, I was smitten. He wasn’t especially tall, but he was bulky and muscular, with a great smile. He was dressed in the usual rebellious garb of our teenaged friends- punk with a little touch of goth. But I remember his self-assured attitude and sarcastic sense of humor are what really won me over. We snuck beers out into Laura’s backyard, and the 3 of us drank, listened to music, and goofed around until the late hours of the night- when Ryan kissed me.

Technically I had been kissed before, but it was an awkward, formal thing that I had initiated with a previous boyfriend who had been too scared to make a move on me. Ryan was not scared. His lips and tongue guided mine as his hands explored my body over my clothes, roaming firmly down my back, around my waist, and eventually between my legs. I shivered and leaned in. The aroused forcefulness of his groping was something I had never experienced before, and it intoxicated me. I was hooked. I would lose my virginity to him not long after, and we had an on-and-off fling until my second year of college. But that’s a story for another chapter.

Kids at school were often cruel to Laura, mocking her weight or the way she dressed. To be fair, she was notorious for wearing her pants so low-slung that even with a belt on, the instant she sat down her entire ass-crack would be on display. Even I made fun of her for that occasionally. The majority of the “misfit crew” I hung out with rejected Laura, and I struggled with the occasional pressure to mock her or talk badly behind her back.

So although I would miss her as we went on to attend different high schools, in some ways our separation made things easier. We would still reunite to shop the clearance section at Hot Topic or drink booze she had stolen from her mom, but I no longer struggled to balance or integrate her with my other friends.

Instead of attending Pearce High School, the aforementioned educational mecca of Abercrombie & Fitch models, I leveraged my budding artistic ability to gain entrance into Richardson High School. RHS was a “magnet” school, meaning that they offered specialized programs focusing on art, law, robotics, theater, etc. I was pleased to discover the diversity of kids in attendance, and I modified my former wannabe-punk image to artsy girl/whatever the f*ck I want to wear, which suited me much better.

The less time I spent with Laura, the more she clung to our friendship. It escalated to a point where I told her I needed some space to do my own thing, which didn’t sit well with her. About 2 weeks later, I walked out to the dark blue ’98 Toyota Camry that my parents allowed me to use as my own, only to find the word “bitch” clumsily keyed on the front driver-side door. Although we had no proof, I knew it was her. She was angry with me, and besides, no one else I knew was nutty enough to key someone’s car. I tried to cover up the word with touch-up paint, but when the light hit it, the word still lit up loud and clear. Since I couldn’t hide it, I decided to embrace it, dubbing the car the “Bitchmobile”- a name that would stick with it even after my younger brother took ownership of the car 2 years later.

Laura and I didn’t speak after the “Bitchmobile” incident, but she would resurface in my life in a VERY unexpected place a few years later. Years later, I was working briefly as what can only be described as a pimp’s secretary. That’s another story for another post. A few weeks in, when I was well-accustomed to doing this strange work in an empty office by myself, I came into work one day and immediately realized that someone else was there. I heard sniffing in the far cubicle- almost like someone was doing a line? I braced myself to meet my new coworker. “Hello?” I said tentatively, waiting for a response.

“Hiiii!” came the squealing reply as none other than Laura, my childhood partner in crime, poked her head around the side of the cubicle.

“Oh my god. Hi!” I responded,  dumbfounded. What were the odds that we both decided to do this absurd and indecent job? But it was good to see a familiar face, at least better than working alongside a stranger in an already strange profession. I walked around to the inside of her cubicle and gave her a hug. My gaze fixated on the pile of white powder that was sitting on her desk.

“It’s SO good to see you! I can’t believe it!!” she exclaimed.”Want a line?”

That Christmas and New Year’s would be a white one indeed, thanks to Laura. I was a little worried for her- although I enjoyed sampling blow for the first time, I could tell she was balls-deep in the drug, whereas I had just begun to dip in a toe. But I didn’t mention it, and we had some good times with a few of our other old friends that we reunited that year. It would be the last hurrah of our friendship, our final reunion before we parted ways for good.

Although I vaguely kept up with Laura via facebook, she had all but fallen off my radar 6 years later, when I was checking my email in my car, bracing myself to get out and dart through the rain to reach my apartment. Reclining heavily in the seat, I saw an email from my mother with Laura’s name in the subject line. I sat up, confused, and opened the message.

It was an obituary. Laura had died at the age of 26, and although the obituary didn’t specify, I heard from mutual friends later that she had overdosed on heroin. At that moment, I was glad to be alone in my car, listening to the rain on the windshield and roof. Dismayed, I sat there another half-hour, remembering the experiences we had shared, and mourning her loss. And I resolved to never forget these stories.

 

 

new year, new light for old stories

Hello internet! I don’t really anticipate too many people reading this blog, although I hope a few people might stumble across it and enjoy it. I’ll try to make it entertaining, just in case.

For awhile now, I’ve had an itch to share some of my stories with the world. While I was living them, I didn’t think them to be anything out of the ordinary, but in retrospect I suspect I may have gotten myself into a few more… shall we say… interesting… situations than many girls my age. That being said, I’m writing this mostly because I don’t want the memories to slip away. They’re hard enough to hold onto, with bits and pieces jolting back to mind at random moments; probably my fault for pickling my brain a little bit with too much fun in my younger years (that probably makes me sound about 90- I’m 26.)

Although this is largely personal, I appreciate any feedback, requests, or suggestions. Thanks for reading!