Saturday, February 14, 2009

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

I woke disturbed by the same bad dream I always have of being chased by the police because someone told a lie about me. Janey and I showered together then dried each other off with threadbare bath house towels from a warm pile on top of the hot water pipes. Then bundled again, somewhere between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, we walked silently west toward the East River, Manhattan skyline red and gold beyond. She knew a man on the sidewalk and they talked a few steps away from me.

Walking away with her, I asked, did you sleep with him?

Just figure I slept with every man I talk to.

On the subway ride under the river into the city, I chewed on that pill and the last three days. We ate breakfast in a greasy spoon in the East Village before Janey said, I have to go.


A job.


Can’t say. I’m not sure. My work is irregular.

What do you do?

Help friends.

Help friends?

Like I said, it’s irregular. People don’t always need help.

I picked up the check and we split our ways.

I waited for Janey to call, but she didn't, busy as a call girl on Valentine’s Day, so I went back out for a drink to fill in the time until I die.

My carrot-topped friend Constance sat on a bar stool at the far end of my favorite haunt, a brilliant purple octopus tattoo engulfing her freckled left shoulder. I bought a round and told her, I been seeing this girl. She’s a stripper. I been taking her out. She won’t tell me where she works since the strip joints closed.

I can tell you, she dates men for money.

We went to the steam baths with a stripper friend of her’s.

Let me put this nice. You’re a trick.

She gave me this jacket.

I think a guy named John had the jacket before. Watch out. There’s two of them. They’ll steal all your money they can.

They don’t got to steal. I’ll give it to them. I don't care.

You should.

That night, the phone rang and Janey said, I have to talk to you.

I don’t want to talk anymore.

I have to see you.

What do you want?

I don’t want anything. I have to see you, Big Daddy. You know where to meet me. I have to see you now. I need to see you. I can’t tell you over the phone.

You got it. I’m leaving.

I trudged uptown from Chinatown through the slush and was surprised to see Tommy and Banana sitting in the window of an Italian restaurant on the way. They waved me in.

Where you going, Big Daddy? Tommy asked.

You look tired, Big Daddy, Banana said. Sit down. Have a drinkypoo.

I’m going to see Janey for the last time.

Have a little nibble, Big Daddy, Banana urged, hoisting a forkful of spaghetti under my nose. Tomato and meatballs. Your favorite.

I’m not hungry, I said, chomping the spaghetti. She could have taken me for more if she wanted. I tell you, a prostitute can fake love better than a frigid woman can fake she likes being touched. I don’t know.

At least a whore let’s you off the hook, Tommy said.

Shut up, Banana said.

I schooled Tommy, you know they beat you with oak branches for twenty bucks at the Russian baths.

Drink a little, he said.

I ain’t thirsty. Where you get that sweater?


Nice. You’re lucky. You like this leather jacket? You can have it. You need something funky.

What’s the matter, Big Daddy?

I know exactly how this is going to turn out, I said, got up and took a taste of Tommy’s bitter black beer, then tramped the last blocks to the Starbucks in the East Village where Janey wanted to play our story out.

In back on a plush seat, she made herself small again on my chest, on my lap, and asked, remember you said you want me to be safe and happy?


I need money, however much you can give me. I hate to ask.

I gave her nine hundred cash, more than I really had, and said, I ain’t no sugar daddy.

No, you’re not the type. You’ll pretend you don’t know me if you see me on the street tomorrow, but I’ll remember you for the rest of my life. She kissed me and said, Happy Valentine's Day.

Next: Handsome in America by Regina Edelman

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