The first familiar is being wet and grass-stained. Even in the summer, the fog in Humboldt hung so low it’s like walking through ghosts. Some afternoons, the sun burned off the mist that dangled off the tips of the Redwoods, like a scarf.
Heading north on the 101 towards Arcata or South towards Fortuna were thick layers of looming Sequoias. Shades of dark green above giant red trunks as far as one could see. The shadows they cast brought a quick and quiet night. There’s no quiet like Humboldt. Growing up, my backyard was a hill of Redwoods with grass and ponds and a rope swing. The sun blared through the branches but the sun was no match for the trees. I’d take a running head start to hitch my tennis shoes onto the spongy moss-covered stump with enough traction to pull myself up. I’d build forts out of pungent branches and watch the banana slugs leave mucus trails on the grass below. I’d roller skate down the steep hill in front of my house pretending to be Olivia Newton John in Grease, after she got slutty. I’d spin out of control and get rolling too fast then collapse into a blanket of spit-covered ivy. Later, I’d run into the forest and climb over the slimy, broken redwood fence and into another yard where I was chased by the neighbors mean goat.
I was surrounded by shadows and water. The nearby Pacific Ocean was freezing and windy. In high school, on rare sunny days, we’d cut class and head to Samoa Beach and sit on sun-warmed sand. Almost no one got near the ocean without a wetsuit but if I stuck my feet into the water, I’d squeal with pleasure and run for the dry sand. There’s the Humboldt Bay too, with seagulls flying overhead and pelicans that built huge nests on top of electrical posts. The crab boats were docked there, like Sausalito but shabbier. It smelled like dead fish and bird shit and was beautiful.
In the summer of 2007, I got pulled over by a cop, for flipping an illegal U-Turn over a double yellow line to park at Samoa beach where I decided to stop in a hurry. “Get your head together,” the cop said.
“My mom is dying. Her house is right there,” I said. But now I can’t remember if that happened right before she died or right after. He didn’t write me a ticket. I was after the comfort of chilly wind, and the familiar ocean to ease my shock.
Then there were the things I was told: I was born on the darkest night in November with no moon. Dad never wanted me, but my mom wanted me so bad she thought I was a boy and only had boy names: Anthony. Joel.
The familiar II.
I’m in New Orleans on Bourbon Street and the club is full of young guys wearing baseball caps. There’s a group from Alabama and a group from West Virginia. They all have T-shirts with those States emblazed on them in plastic letters. There’s a college football game tomorrow and they are revved up for a supposed win.
“You’re hot as shit,” one tells me. I twist around. This makes me feel good: attention from strangers at least a decade younger than me. I take off my polka dot vintage bra. On the floor, they’re not supposed to touch us, but the dances are twenty bucks, just a teaser to get them into the sixty dollar room where they can touch our boobs and we keep fifty bucks, and the house gets ten.
“Take this one home to mother,” an Alabamian says while his friends balance dollar bills on his nose because they want me to scoop up the grubby things with my tits and then give the kid a “motorboat.” This is referred to the big boobs bouncing in the face treatment, which I proceed to do, causing much laughter and high-fiving. They give me shit when I tell them the dance is twenty bucks per song. “She’s got at least forty right there,” they scold, watching me scrape up bills from the floor on my knees.
Later, sometime after 1AM, is the proverbial shift change from drunk into crazy. MDMA (ecstasy) is being passed around the room like Snicker doodles at an Avon party. I’m exhausted and way out of place: a Fellini character in a “Girls Gone Wild” video. My lower back screams, my heels ache, my head pounds and I’m coughing from the second hand smoke. Customers and dancers smoke cigars and cigarettes with wild abandon in the clubs here and I’ve developed an allergy to it.
One guy looks at me so I solicit him. “I’ve been up for three days. Hot is hot, honey,” he said and pulls out a twenty spot. I wriggle around in front of him and take his remark as a compliment. The song I dance to is one I remember from the early 90’s when I was tweaking my brains out with my girlfriend in San Francisco. Then I’m called onto stage because the other three girls the DJ called have vanished. I’m the only sober person in the building, I think. A blessing and curse.
On stage, I throw myself upside down in a move called the “descending angel.” I land on my wrists into a handstand, then slowly lower myself to the floor into a push up, straddling the pole between straight thighs and slowly, I slide down to the floor and flick my head up, giving me mild whiplash and a wrist injury I discover afterwards. After three songs, I gather the $4 from the stage I hand it to the DJ because we are supposed to tip him 10% of our earnings. My way of dealing with that is to just give the DJ whatever I make on stage so I don’t gouge my earnings at the end of the night. I decide to head upstairs to check out the scene on the second floor in search of customers. In the elevator, a girl in pink latex string, which is actually considered a dress, belts out a terrible, crazy-house giggle. Her whole body shakes. She says something incoherent about having energy and stumbles out of the elevator.
“What is she on?” I ask my friend.
“She has a baby,” my friend replies.
I stand in front of another redneck for an embarrassing amount of time, topless. He rejects me so I move on and he grabs my ass as I do so. This too, is familiar. With every step I’m aware of my burning thighs and sore neck. The crowd is under 25. It’s like one big hillbilly bachelor party and soon I’m passed around like onion dip in a trailer park.
A year ago, I fancied myself a seasoned, tawdry bandit hitting big on a semi-regular basis on Bourbon Street but not now.
I’m a thirty nine year old woman, having a stare-down with forty, with an MFA, dancing topless in New Orleans to pay my rent in Los Angeles where I write columns and interviews and stare at the sentences in a memoir I’ve revised a hundred times. All for free. I’ve got to dock this pirate ship and build a bridge to land but I’m scared shitless of the unfamiliar.
So my friend had a crazy idea: to allow people who like my writing to contribute and be a part of this process. I’m just out of my tree enough to try anything, so if any one reading this can help me soar into the unknown, you can find the pay pal account on this blog. I will not refuse any small act of kindness on your part. If I can transition out of the sex industry, I think I might be able to help other women do the same.
Love, The Oracle of all Things Whore-Related
(Thank you, David Sullivan, for tuning in, stating your passionate opinion and especially for that title above. I accept your tin-foil tiara.)