Friday, February 13, 2009

Busy as a Call Girl on Valentine's Day - 3 of 4

Janey called and said, I stayed over my friend Carson’s last night, didn’t get home till this morning. We stayed up, talked all night. I told her about you. You’ll love Cars.

She a stripper too?

Yeah? So?

You got a lot of stripper friends?

She’s my only friend. She knows what being a society dropout is like. She says I shouldn’ta told you and your friends I strip, but I like to be honest. You want to meet her, meet us at the baths later?

When I got there, Janey was sitting in front on the top step. She wore the gray hood of her sweatshirt low over her brow like a boxer, a white towel around her throat. She looked down and smiled at me, squeezing lemon halves into a plastic gallon jug of spring water between her legs.

This is the secret not to dehydrate, she said.

I hiked up the steps, kissed her lips, her eyes.

Carson’s coming later, Janey said and jumped up. Let’s go in! She took my hand and led me up to the counter. This is my friend, she told the desk clerk. Treat him good.

I leaned my elbow on the countertop and gawked at nothing much, old Russian couples drinking vegetable juice at linoleum tables, a wrinkled Rembrandt print captioned Bathsheba at her Bath hung in a pine frame on the wall behind them. The clerk banged a long metal box across the battered desktop.

Put valuables in box, he said blandly.

Janey flirted with him, and then rolling a thick rubber band with a locker key up over my bicep, pulling the little hairs on my arm along the way, she muttered in my ear, Jackass won’t give us a discount. You pay later. Men’s locker's to the left. I’ll meet you back here. A layer of hot wet air slowly rolled over my face and made me sleepy.

Exhausted from the heat, a skinny Japanese boy slept naked in a chair in a corner of the men’s locker. I stripped, slipped into a thin robe from a stack of robes, put a brown washcloth on top of my head, then waited for Janey in the hall.

I wasn't the only one who noticed when she came out the women’s locker in a macramé bikini. Guys herded around her.

C’mon baby, she said and took my hand, cutting them off. Those guys wanted me dead, maybe Janey did too. I always get what I want from men, she went on. A couple days ago, I saw a man I know at the front desk. I rubbed up on him and asked can I get in on his ticket. I always get in free or half price at least.

She tugged my hand downstairs where robed men and women milled from one steam room to the next. Pushing past cedar doors into a great brick room, moist eucalyptus seared my lungs. Half naked bathers sat spaced like broken teeth on three tiers of wet leaf-covered stone steppes. The hot air got hotter the higher we climbed to the top row where we hunkered down next to an old goat with more hair on his back than on top of his head. He turned a spluttering spigot in the stone wall, splashing cold water into a twenty gallon plastic bucket. Across the great hot hall, a girl moaned, two brawny men flogging her with long leafy branches. One beat her back; the other whipped the bottoms of her feet.

What a way to go! the old goat bleated, pouring the bucket of cold water over his pate. Rapture! he shivered.

At the bottom of the circled steppes, in the center of the wet concrete floor, the eucalyptus-steeped water made a hollow sound dropping down the drain. Strangely, a cantor across the way wailed an eerie song that echoed though my body like a ghost. The bathers broiled, hypnotized. I surrendered to the heat, lowering my head between my legs, and closed my eyes. Red dots swam in ink. My bones warmed, I spaced out when suddenly shocking ice water splashed my neck.

Wow! I shouted, jumping.

You like that? Janey asked, giving a drum solo of karate chops to my neck. Hey, look who’s here!

Baby girl! a mousy brunette squealed in a Bronx accent and clambered up the steps in shocking pink flip flops two sizes too big. Who’s the handsome man?

Big Daddy, Janey said, Carson Welch. Cars, this is Big Daddy I was telling you about.

Sizing me up with a grin, the perky mouse ran her fingers through her short curly hair. Hi. Nice to know you, she said. First time here? Purifies the system, don’t you think? Gets the dirt out. All this hot air, I mean.

I feel good, I said a little dizzy.

You’re flushed, Carson said.

You’re not used to it, Janey said. Me and Cars can stay in heat for hours.

We got practice, Carson added. You don’t.

See how soft my skin is? That’s from coming here for years, Janey said, offering her leg on my lap. Feel.

I rubbed her thigh, her calf.

Carson leaned over, exposing long nipples lolling in loose hammocks under my nose. You seem like a nice guy. I don’t see many.

Isn’t she beautiful, Janey said, caressing Carson’s cheek. We had it tough. Me and Cars are used to dating creeps. That’s what I like about you. You don’t look at other girls. Janey moved a hand under my thin shorts and Carson kissed my neck.

I’m not making this stuff up. It’s true; two hot women paid all their attention to me in the sauna. I wasn't handsome or rich, except for a hundred thousand dollars I inherited from my stepfather when he died, so is it possible I'm good?

It’s too hot, I said. I can’t take it. I’m stepping out a sec.

Drink some lemon water, Janey said. I left the bottle at the far end of the long bench in the hall. You got to stay hydrated.

I kissed her salty lips and shambled down and out the blonde double doors. Sitting at the end of the bench in the middle of the spa, I tried to focus, and tugged the plastic jug of lemon water tucked in our towels from under the bench and took a swig. I tried to think, but felt lazy. A sleepy walrus dropped his towel from round his droopy waist and dove deep into a pool the size of a mattress. Chicks showered together and men shaved in a row of sinks and mirrors. A twink in nothing but blue mud on his face brushed the back of his hand across his boyfriend’s nipples. The walrus pulled his pinkened body from the icy pool, elbows akimbo, and the floor said

Janey blew in my ear from behind. C’mon in the wet steam with us. It’s Car’s favorite room, she said and gulped and gulped the lemon water before passing the jug to Carson. Then they took my hands and we padded like mad, me and my girls, into another sauna, just the three of us. I couldn’t see my nose or the shape of the room in the thick steam then found a tiled bench under my hand. Someone touched my knee.

Be careful what you wish for, Carson said. Steam bath makes you feel like a millionaire. You know? Everyone feels good in the womb. A body is a body, more or less. Who got money anyway? You? I never did, or if I did, I always blew it. Orphans never have money.

I know what you mean.

Maybe you do if you're a real writer. Maybe you don’t. Lemme tell you, I been doing this life alone. Everyone asks what I get out of it. They ask if I do it because I’m a drug addict, but I don’t live for that. I can show those phony do-gooders in so-called nice society knowledge I got out of this life that they couldn’t get if they wanted. They can’t get understanding in straight life because they're too afraid and never saw nothing and never had any sympathy for what they saw unless it profited them. I get money that comes and goes in this life, sure, but I see what's going on. You know? Because, see, there's lots of things you have to know that you can't know in society. It’s a different way to stand up and see how people really are. I knew a writer like you once who was slave to bosses who gave payola to school administrators so they'd buy the salesman's schoolbooks. Writer had to shut up about his bosses' crimes if he wanted to eat. He hated being slave to thieves and liars, slave to retarded bosses who didn't know they were slaves too, just slaves who stole from other slaves. That writer just couldn't believe eveyone he turned to thought it was okay to steal from innocents, everywhere he turned those cynical good ones who don’t do anything but work a thieving nine to five, send their kids they're embarrased by to school if they go, come home, cook dinner, and go to meaningless sleep or maybe go to a movie once a week or out to McDonald’s and cheat on their wives. The writer can't get a job because everyone—everyone everywhere—is in cahoots hiding their crimes. They care less he's innocent, because the society of companies like liars and cowards. What do you think? Who wants to be in that society? It's better to work for yourself, b
ut if you’re going to do it, you got to do it the right way. You can’t do it the wrong way. I’m twenty-two. On Eleventh Avenue and Forty-Fifth Street there’re some girls who are so pretty and smart they could do anything they want with their power, but they got a fucking curly haired pimp riding around in a big old fucking car, Rolls Royce, a Mercedes, a big Cadillac, all souped up. She’s been working five years. Sure, she dresses nice. She got nice comforts, but when she leaves him she gets none of that. You understand me? He gets it all, just like the school book salesman who thinks his vices are his virtues. After five years, what does she have when she leaves or he puts her out? You know what? The same thing she came in with. Nothing and no references. Anyway, before I buy some tricky punk a Mercedes Benz, this that and the other, I’m gonna work for myself. You know what I'm saying?

Yeah. I could write a book about it.

You two just relax, Janey said. Breathe it in. Forget about creeps. Let's go ahead into the future.

We slowed our breathing some before I bowed out and drifted upstairs to dress. I paid for everyone then waited at the juice bar, sipping a coke, scrutinizing Bathsheba at Her Bath, and wondering about the upsidedown world.

It was raining and snowing when we got outside. Warm and relaxed inside, we kissed Carson goodbye then started to walk to the subway.

I don’t want to take the subway, I said. Let’s take a cab.

Bougie, she said. Bourgeois, bourgeoisie.

We held hands in the cab over the Manhattan Bridge to Greenpoint, then tromped against the sleet and slush to the back of an old house, and down her basements steps. I waited silent in the dark next to an old boiler while she unlocked her apartment door.

Warm inside, hot water pipes pinged and hissed. Under a snow-filled window well, a cozy crazy quilt smothered a thick mattress on top of giant iron bedsprings, a black rotary phone in a bramble of bills and letters on a card table beside a torn pleather reclining chair. In the far corner, tiny toys, marbles, charms, stuffed animals, and greeting cards taped to the wall formed an altar on two sides of a small futon mattress on the floor, new age and inspirational magazines and paperbacks with titles like Psychic Sapian and Stars Inside Your Head strewn everywhere.

I like to sleep in both beds, Janey explained then played her messages, smiling at me like I’m in on a joke. A guy on the machine said he’s in town and can he see her for a drink.

Stupid prick, she said, hasn’t called in months. Now he wants a fuck.

She showed me a photo of a guy with long blonde hair like Fabio running on a beach. Then she showed me one of her on the same beach in the macramé bikini, flashing her tits for the guy, his thumb on the camera lens.

Yale boy, she said, sitting on the tall bed, taking her boots off. Thought he was so big, so full of himself and his apartment on the upper east side.

I’m on your side, I said, rubbing her ass as she laid on her stomach. I mean, in the class war.

You can rub my ass all you want. It relaxes me. That’s why I don’t mind when men rub my ass at work. It’s my sleeping pill.

Your skin is soft.

That’s what they say.

This will keep me alive for at least another week.

I feel alive now too, like I can see things. All life in the universe is vibrating energy. I can feel the vibrations changing my molecular structure right now. Everything is vibrating. Everything is alive, even that chair.

A chair can’t have children. A chair doesn’t eat. Chairs aren’t alive.

Janey unbuttoned my jeans. You don't know what you're talking about.

You a call girl?

That’s a personal question, don’t you think? You worried it’s gonna cost you or you get off thinking you get it for free and everyone else got to pay? Lots of men fall in love with me for the wrong reasons. Janey got off the bed and went to her closest. Here, I got something for you, she said, tossing a beautifully battered tan leather coat with giant lapels on the bed. It’s cheesy, she said, an artist’s coat. You need something funky besides me. It’s got two buttons missing. Janey got on top. Put your legs together and stay still, she coaxed. Let me milk you. Then she heated up, flushing red.

©2009 Daryl Edelman

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. Brenda, Better Late than NeverFebruary 15, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    I'm late, it's the 15th, but I'm with it.