I was a San Francisco Sex Writer in 2004
I was in the back of the car. Mira was in the front with Jeff. His arms whirled as he swerved down McAllister to Fillmore. Painted ladies with boarded up fronts. Bean Bag Crêperie. A Popeye’s. A rock venue: The Independent, with its low red bulk shimmering below an iron cut-out marquee. The sun was bright.
“Thanks for the ride,” said Mira. Tossed her hair. “You’re a sweetie.”
“Gotta help my best customer.” Jeff was Mira’s speed dealer.
I giggled. “Yeah, last night was awesome.”
“And take good care of my Lena, right. She just needs to get home.”
“Of course. I know Lena from way back. I’ve got a little business I need to take care of first, but I’ll take her home. Don’t you worry. Jeff-style.”
Business. Business as usual. Mira’s business was the Haight boutique Quadra, where a mid-century white vinyl pedicure chair sat in state with a $3,000 price tag. Young couples gawked in the window, fantasizing about their lofts. Mira’s business was smiling. Nodding. She swiffered the black and white checked floor. Peeled off the Twiggy magnets. Replaced them with sugar skulls. She wore clothes carefully chosen for their hipster credibility. Treading the line between “Fendi scarf as tube top, are you joking?” and “Well, if she’s wearing it, it must be the nouveau vague. I guess. Where’s the Whole Foods in this stinking town?”
The Stinking Rose sits in state on Columbus, North Beach with its stained glass windows and burgundy curtains, pesto primavera and Gorgonzola gnocchi. Cannelloni. Fraying basketry around empty bottles of Chianti. They made garlic ice cream.
But I was not a waitress, as I crossed my ankles in the back of Jeff’s car. After we dropped Mira at Quadra, we begin to wend our way down Laguna. Up and through the hills. My business was words, lately. I had to get to Bernal Heights and Dustin that night to work through the new article I was writing for warhookers.com, the now-defunct porn site that I wrote for in 2004. I’d been twisting my lip and mauling my zits over this piece, bent over the keyboard. Dare I?
The piece was so scandelous.
That night in 2004 Dustin jogged his pen back and forth between two fingers. He took the mirror I handed him. Sniffed the cocaine. With his head tilted back, said, “I think this will work. Some women have rape fantasies. This has a boyfriend actualizing the fantasy. This was what I wanted you to write.”
“It doesn’t work for me and I wrote it.” I said.
“You’re one of those born of Mother Jones, aren’t you. Steinem in the womb.”
“Well, of course.” I sniffed. “Why do you think I took this gig?”
“Because you were sick of fish sticks and vodka.” Dustin did pay me well. Porn writing paid better then office temp work. I would take whatever work I could get at this point, sex work or no.
“No, I thought you had a mission.” Warhookers was described to me as a feminist site. I was a sex-positive feminist. I thought I could get behind the Warhookers mission but I was conflicted, as one so often is in sex work.
The curtains part in a small café: Paris, 1812.
I wrote the Warhooker Manifesto. I goes a little something like this:
Run with substantial female control, this site strives to depict women who are saucy and strong. Vicious and vampy. The hot ladies depicted are prime vixens. Chicks that would love to slap you around a little bit then go work on their performance art.
Our purposes are thus:
To provide a saucy yet aesthetically charged forum for women to explore and experiment with their sexuality.
To tease, tantalize, and run rampant over the nerve endings of either sex.
Through written text, to raise questions of gender, arousal, appropriateness and perversity.
To be prurient without degrading. Flagrant without withholding. Edgy without gratuitous garnishment.
To make you so utterly, deliciously, wildly hot that you come all over your keyboard.
To this we invite the viewer to transgress through the tulips and sample. It’s the mating of G.I. Joe and Barbie. The union of aggression and luster. A henhouse of hedonism that invokes great shy glances and much secret running off to canoodle.
So take a look. Come on in. We welcome you.
“So, yeah Dustin, when I wrote that and you edited the fuck out of it, I told you we were playing up the stripper goes to grad school cliché way too much. Not all naked girls read Kristeva.”
“That wasn’t what I said.”
“Anyway. But, yeah, I thought you had this big cause, this mission. Now you want me to encourage lil’ Jeffrey Dahmer’s?” The night outside his attic window was streaked with streetlights. A low hum of laughter from the taqueria downstairs could be heard along with the wail of a car alarm.
“Calm the fuck down. Finish your drink.”
“Do you have any ice?”
“No. I don’t believe in refilling ice cube trays. It’s bourgeois.”
Mira stood like a paper doll against the Quadra display window. Her hands were wide on either side of her. Her co-worker draped polka-dotted scarves from her wrists and blown glass Christmas ornaments from her hands.
“Here, crook that finger up a little bit — wait — oh yeah! This is going to be awesome.” The girl’s narrow body folded to impossible postures as she climbed around Mira. Pinned things to her Pucci scarf as butterfly top (really, darling, safety pins only go so far). Mira’s face was slack. Her mouth half-open. Eyes blank. Her heels sunk into her Irregular Choice flats. Sinking into the floor. Anchored there.
Business. Jeff had his own business with small plastic bags. Cash only.
Last night there was only the shimmer and white hands upwards on the dance floor. Dust on the mirror of a Studio Fix as I leaned against the red streaked walls of the bathroom.
“Yeah,” I told Jeff. “I’d love to see your etchings.”
Last night I leaned back on a white couch at Jeff’s house. My eyes were closed under sharply plucked brows. A smudge of purple shadow on the crease of one lid. My hair lay loose around my face. My lips were open in a delirious smile. Yellow teeth. Lipstick.
There were two lines on the table.
Jeff, next to me, had a handlebar mustache. Shoulder-length black hair. His leather jacket rubbed my bare shoulders. My yellow silk top draped black lace into cleavage. Or, not to say, cleavage: that blank space that exists between palm-sized breasts. Like the space between two words that strive to express.
Is it Mira, or is it me that speaks? Or are all the nights the same? It was all about that moment.
I believe in words not bodies. Not words not bodies. Not anything at all to give.
“So what do you do?” said Jeff. The car sped down a street that wasn’t mine. Down through the lower Haight. Up Van Ness with the boarded up Walgreen’s. Scaffolding over a pockmarked corner with homeless women huddled by the tatters of trash bags and shopping carts. Screaming up the street past the gleaming dome of City Hall, reputed to be real gold leafing the cerulean blue. I had often chewed on my straw and joked about scaling the ornate columns to the cupola and chipping it off rosette by flake.
“I’m, um, a waitress,” I said.
“Where?” His big hands wrapped the steering wheel with assurance. Twirling a CD on one finger, he slid it in. “Cars that Go Boom” flooded from the speakers.
“The Rose Pistola. It’s in North Beach.”
“Oh, you wanna go up there, get some food? You wanna get us some lunch?”
“No, I think they’re closed. They’re closed Thursdays. That’s when they overhaul the menu and reassign the sections, I think.”
I hunched over in my seat.
“No, no. That’s okay.”
Jeff disappeared into the ochre glow of the lobby. Spindly columns hit the pavement on either side, where a smashed bottle of Smirnoff Ice festooned a condom wrapper.
Jeff revved the engine. I looked up. His lips curled in a smile. Q-ball eyes. I shivered.
“Okay I have one more place to stop at, and then lunch, and then I’ll drop you home.”
“Um… I have a lot of…um…stuff I need to go home and do.”
“Well, this is what I need to get done today. This is how I make it all go. Do you want to do a bump? Perk you up a little bit?”
“Okay…” I nodded. My hands hovered above my knees. The car moved through the dense streets of the Tenderloin. Past the cracked-out maws of residence hotels. The hopeful curtains at the windows torn of sheets and dishrags. I remembered it had been some years since I had owned at the same time paper towels, toilet paper, napkins and Kleenex to boot. Diversification of paper products was a level of adulthood that I was not up to yet. A sodden mattress tilted against a dumpster seeping flies. A flower shop hoisted blue-dyed carnations to a cloister of men outside the M & K Market. A transvestite hooker in Lucite platforms sauntered past a row of boarded up storefronts that promised, “Coming soon, Anton’s tax services. A1 ASAP.”
Towering apartments laced with fire escapes like dead tinsel strewn reckless yet regular sped past. Each one was unique like a starfish. Jeff pulled in to an alley between Polk and Larkin. He looked around cursorily. Fumbled in his sock. Deep into the crevice between ankle and tube sock. Pulled out a bullet. Handed it to me. I wound the silver cylinder. Glanced around at the chain link. Snorted it quickly, my head tilted back. Dropping it into his palm, I shimmered. Felt momentarily, thrilled.
“So, yeah how long have you been doing this? It must be so interesting! Oh, wait, I’m not supposed to ask that. Okay, what do you want to get for lunch? I don’t think I’ve eaten in a couple days. I keep forgetting. Things are just too exciting. Do you — “
“Yeah. Okay, kiddo. Let’s go see Tonya.”
I leaned against the wall in Tonya’s apartment. The piles of disemboweled electronics in her place. Gilt-framed mirrors. My little ponies with scrawls on their faces. The remains of a pizza. Three ashtrays, one shaped like a cat. Three cats, one shaped like an ashtray. Big, fuzzy fur person. I blinked rapidly. Repressing the urge to talk. Tonya was freaking out about something. She’d been doing meth for the last five days. Thought Jeff was trying to rip her off. He tried to convince her that a 60 was quite enough.
“No, but I’m not like other people,” Tonya said.
“You’re exactly like other people,” Jeff said.
Tonya said, ”I’m really onto something with this theory of language, I think it was the sparrows. Not speaking is the new speaking. I’ve got my own telepathic language that they’ve been telling me. I’m transcribing it. Do you want to see my notebooks? Oh wait, I’ve been writing in my own language. I’ll read it to you.”
“I think we have to go.”
“Oh.” Her hand twitched. She ran it through her ragged brown hair. Her white T-shirt with a sharpie-inscribed “META!” rippled above her small breasts.
“But, wait, here’s another 20 if you’ve got some cash. Gotta help my best customer.”
In front of Love ’N’ Haight, Jeff whisked out the door. Yelled, “One sec!” I slouched in the grey leather seat. Picked at my cuticles. Flipped a nail along one lip gloss-smeared finger. I felt my stomach growl and flutter. The hand-lettered sign, with a giant heart hung above wide windows stuck with posters for mock duck and tempeh. Cars whizzed by around us. We were double-parked against a blue Vespa. I hoped the owner wouldn’t pop out of the falafel place and key us. I lifted tense shoulders. Closed my eyes. Blinked them instantly open. Bright. Wide. It was a wonderful day.
Jeff bounded out. Handed me a warm paper bag.
“Gonna get cigarettes!” He disappeared again, this time to the liquor store on the corner. I slid a hand inside the paper bag. Pulled out two diagonally cut sandwich-halves. The wax paper revealed a moist spine of avocado, mock chicken and sprouts. I began to eat. As I ate, the jitter and the tension and the fear and the worry of the past day, the driving and the dealing and the shiver of my palms began to go. I reached into the bag. I continued to chew. Masticate. Swallow. My eyes glassily aligned with the silver Mitsubishi logo helming the glove compartment. A long glowing wail swerved from a siren around the corner. It passed.
Jeff settled both hands on the open windowsill. Said, “Okay, girl. Give me my sandwich.”
I reached into the bag. Grasped at nothing. Heavens. In my furor I must have eaten both sandwiches.
“How do you feel about Sun Chips?” I asked.
Mira leaned on the edge of the Wasteland counter. Idly fooled with a rack of Chanel-C earrings. Each CC lay above a skull and crossbones. The plastic mimicked the Rosetta Bar flyers Mira and I were MySpaced that morning that in turn begged John Solo’s Improperazzi buttons, that he’d been handing out at Bordello two weeks ago. His ragged blond hair around a face worn thirty-five over everyone else’s twenty-two. Solo had taken on the role of culture manufacturer to a rack full of overexposed ingénues. Limone and John talked close together in the club lately
Mira’s ankles hurt. Her eyes took in the splayed silk kimonos hanging high on the fifteen foot walls. Gold and crystal gowns past bound waists. Taut, seamless jeans. Below, she fingered each C and the gold chains supporting. At the bottom of the counter a hand-lettered sign read, “No checks accepted. Credit/debit with ID only. It’s not that we don’t trust you, it’s that WE DON’T TRUST YO MAMA.” There were red contour lines around the T’s, around the M’s.
Limone, Mira and I were Bordello the night before. The club was dark. A boy in eyeliner shoved past my shoulder. My lips were tight.
Limone had an arm loosely around my shoulder. She wore a simple black dress and a necklace with a white guitar pick. Her long brown hair fell lushly over her shoulders.
My dark hair was slicked down with pomade, around long earrings of twining gold chains. They touched the puffed shoulders of my denim blazer, above a cigarette burn. My tight gold turtleneck hugged my body, over black jeans. My hand was loose around a gin and tonic. Well gin. No ice. A neon green straw stabbed upwards against my breast.
Limone’s head turned. Her lips whispered against my ear. “Hey, do you want to go to the bathroom?”
I nodded slowly. A flicker of excitement creased across my eyes. I turned to follow.
We threw all of our money and effort into nights where we strove to be brilliant and gorgeous and decadent. Then we went back to our tiny, dirty apartment. Ate a bowl of cheese grits with the last of the red onion. Waited to go to sleep while the cocaine percolated through our systems. I talked. Limone talked. Mira talked. But we lost interest. Ended up lying side by side on the bed staring at the phone numbers scrawled on the wall.
In Wasteland Mira turned to Karyn. She was ringing up a short man in a scarf.
“Hey, do you know of anything good going on this weekend?” Patter of her eyelashes against over-powdered cheeks marred by acne and the gouges of narcotic-sped nails. Blink up. She looked up.
“Yeah,” she said. “I know this girl who’s doing a fashion show at the Silver Fox. We need models. Do you want to be in it? Do you know anyone?”
“Do I have to be naked?”
“No, silly. This isn’t Cheetahs. Do you do scantily clad?”
“Depends on how much you pay me and if the door’s left open. Drafty, no go.”
“Oh, get real. No. There’s no money. We will do hair and makeup. The outfits are cute. Sarah Damage made them. It’s her show. I think the place has a leather curtain over the door. Black. There’s an awning. Come on, you know you don’t have anything better to do.”
“Sure, okay. Drink tickets?”
Fumbling through the rubble of cosmetics on the table, I plucked out the Revitalift eye cream. Dipped a finger in the pearlescent jar. I smoothed a dollop over each eye. Glanced up. Began to pick through my hair. It hung in knives around my face. I pushed back my part. Examined my roots. Disconcerting. I was aging. There was nothing I could do. Soon I would be thirty.
The space heater smoothed warmth on my ankles. I let the kimono fall open slightly. I pinched my arm. Pulled back a wedge of skin. Loose skin. Like cheesecake.
My cold sheets and take-out egg rolls had become a constant. I sank down on a pillow in front of the mirror. Kneaded my hands into the red velvet.
“Do I really need it that bad?” I looked around my room to the box of condoms that had sat in the drawer for two months before opening. Now it lolled, ripped, on the bedside table.
“Hells to the yes. Apparently.” I reached for the vodka tonic on the vanity table. Took a long swig.
Dustin was drinking a forty oz. when I got to his house. The midday sun wrecked havoc on his attic dust. He leaned back in his swivel chair. His computer was alight with a SuicideGirls screensaver.
“Lena! Wahoo, baby!” Dustin said. “What have you got for me today?”
I was in the middle of fallen down his attic steps when I heard him. I extricated myself painfully from the steps and roller skates. “Right. I finished the one about the Power Exchange, and the third sex tip about the etiquette of polyamory.”
“Let’s see it.” He outstretched his hand.
“This one’s called, ‘How to fuck in small circles and avoid that foul reputation that you all truly deserve.’” It went a little like this:
It is right to declare yourself amoral, but don’t claim polyamorous as you open yourself to talk of earth mother malignancy. First thing to remember: You are a free frolicker. As long as you have not had “the exclusivity talk” with some smoldering amour you are free to fuck on with whoever. As long as they are not this person’s best friend or housemate. Best friend’s housemate, however, is fine. It’s all about the degrees of separation, i.e., a direct-intense line from one of your current partners to another is bad, but a second degree is a-ok. Choice two knowing said fuck is fine. The two partaking in bathroom conferences is fine. Fingerbanging one in the other’s best friend’s housemate’s bathroom is not. Am I making myself perfectly clear?
Perhaps I am not.
This is why it’s important to keep your booty calls, comfort fucks and true yet obstinately unattainable loves separate. If you taking one home; yet see another and must grope them in the vestibule, remember that choice one will likely come up behind you and bash you in with her handbag. Well and good. Because you see, once the choice for the evening is made, it is considered bad form to reverse. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but expect a little bitch-out.
Additionally, try not to talk too much smack. A bit of comparing notes is reasonable since the San Francisco sex lottery runs like a deck of cards thrown up in the air and matched. Remember that once you and your friendsters have all fucked the same ilk, the cock sizes will have been detailed and the rattiness of panties and relative palatial vs. stench of boudoir refined. After a certain point it’s all hot air for the five am coke conversation anyway. You’ll forget all the tragedies in ten years.
“Polyamory,” Dustin said. “What do you know about polyamory? You haven’t had a boyfriend in three years.”
I laughed. Glancing at his altar with the ritual blade and Goat of Mendes statuary. A Spanish rag doll lolled between candles.
“Anyway, let’s look at the material, alright?”
“This one’s called, “Cab Driver,” I said. I read it to him.
“Legs crossed in tart heels, tracing up to fleeting skirt. Lara rode a cab up Mission Street. It was past four am. The party sunk in absolute dreariness. She had escaped without gleaning prey and was irked.”
Dustin swiveled around in his chair and looked at my computer screen. Read.
The cabdriver pattered. She tuned in, “‘Silent one back there? How was your party?’
“Oh, boring. Total waste of a good outfit.”
“You like to party, hmmm?” She looked up from her hands. Noticed the white teeth. Benevolent voice. Accent Argentinian.
“Umm, yeah. I guess so.”
“You like blow?”
She chuckled, “Sure, I like blow.” This was getting good.
He pulled over. Flipped the parking brake. Moved catlike to the back seat. “Here, I’ll give you a bump.” He picked up a tape case. Dished out lines the size of cigarettes. White glow like calla lilies. He passed her the case. She swooped hers up whole. Leaned back for that cellophane thrill. She shivered. Watched him take two delicate sniffs.
He looked like an old friend of hers, she decided. One long gone. So not to worry when the flare exploded through her legs. He crept his hand onto her knee and further and further up while she leaned her head back in the streetlight’s yellow glare. Double parked by Taqueria Cancun and rising. He flipped a hand in her panties. She sighed blissfully as he slid two fingers in. Wet.
He did look like her friend, she decided. She slid her bleached curls along his shoulder. Warm. Smelling of martinis. Her head slipped farther down to his pants, regulation brown. Shopping cart rattles down the sidewalk outside as she unzipped his fly. Slipped her hand in. Pulled his cock out. Gave it a soft, leisurely lick. He sighed. She began to suck it in earnest. Working her red lips up and down. Twirling her tongue along the purple head.
He still had a few fingers inside of her. Thrummed them on her clit. She felt the phosphorescent jangling of an orgasm hitting on. He grabbed her by the shoulder.
“I am sorry,” he said. Came in a white-hot spattering down her throat.
Dustin twiddled his pen against the mouse pad. Reached for his forty. Nodded.
“These are great,” he said. “We’ll post “Cab Driver’ Monday with some minor edits that we can go over now. The polyamory one we’ll wait a few week until “It’s About Subtlety,” your other Dolores Switch advice piece, has gotten more page views.”
At the makeshift fashion show the makeup artist daubed Benefit High Beam under my eyes. Smudged it across the apples of my cheeks. My deconstructed sailor suit, pared down to a halter-top and boy shorts, hastily pulled on a moment ago. I was freezing. The room, an anonymous bedroom off of Capp Street, was full of girls and boys in various stages of undress.
“Hey, you okay?” said some guy. Long fingers wrapped around a half-pint of Maker’s Mark. He held it out to me. “Here, warm yourself up.”
“Thanks. What’s your name?” I said.
“I’m Travis. But wait, you’re Lena, right? I think I’ve seen you on MySpace.” He tugged at the lining escaping one sleeve, the blazer now deconstructing itself. Tan. Smooth. The first sip of the whiskey hit me. Turned my insides all rosy.
Brush clenched, the make-up artist gripped my chin and turned me forwards. Her lips pursed with concentration as she lined my lids with MAC turquoise.
Flat faced, I mouthed, “I go by Lena. I’m no one, really.”
“Oh well then.” He tucked the whiskey into a tailored pocket. The seam where the paisley ties had been sewn together began to unravel. “Shit. I wonder if they can do triage.”
“I think you’re fucked.”
“Well, you’re really fucked if that starts to go.”
“Oh, don’t think I haven’t thought of that.” I pulled a silver staple-gun out of my clutch.
Motion. Light. Bodies moving around me. More whiskey. More powder. Lashes curled with a speculum. As a body, as a motion, the six girls and six boys moved through the procedure. Dresses. Places. Stitches. Moans. Staples and out into the rapidly falling night.
Backstage at the Silver Fox, in a cramped utility closet with crates of Popov and Anchor Steam, I sulked. I watched as Mira flounced her golden locks at Travis. She said, “It’s all about the Blonde Brigade! Are you with me or against me?”
An Amazon with a botched bleach job, tendrils falling into dreadlocks and a silver clip anchoring the rest, said, “Oh yeah, baby! Oh yeah! Blonde brigade! I’m in.”
“Awesome. I think if we choreograph this it will really work.”
“You have got to be kidding,” I said, leaning against kegs. “This is so off-off Project Runway. I don’t think we even have a runway. Come on.”
“Oh, cheer up.”
“No,” said Travis. He peered through the indigo curtain at the smeared faces lining the bar. “We’ve got card tables.”
“Dare to dream Lena. Come on.”
“I don’t know.” Mira said. “I think I look weird. You got the hot outfit. It’s so Querelle. I look like an Oompa Loompa.”
“A leprechaun, maybe,” I said.
“Hey!” said Mira. “No, really, green Capri pants? This jacket? Leafy? I don’t care how many semesters at FIDM she has. This is so not okay.”
“Look, I think we’re going on. Calm down, alright. Put on a happy face,” said Travis. “Do you want some whiskey?”
“You have beautiful breasts for someone of your age, Lena,” said Travis, caressing one of them lightly. The blue fairy lights warred with the dawn. Outside, delivery trucks pulled up to Ti Couz.
I ran a finger across my rouged eyelid and said, “Just try to avoid that thought, shall we?”
The fog machine giveth, and the fog machine taketh away.