Fifty-five steps. At the hand job place, I climb fifty-five steps carrying heavy bags of shit: towels, sheets and pillow cases bulge out of a leather bag on one shoulder; on the other hangs my computer, gym clothes, lunch and my organic grape seed oil that costs fifteen bucks a bottle. I lug the loot in my hand job getup: a soft pink and black blouse, leopard print leggings, flip flops; a uniform that suggests comfort and allure; the cotton promise of bare shoulders, yoga poses and soft hair. I smell like coconut and vanilla sweat. I’ve eaten my egg whites. Guzzled way too much coffee. I’ve run my five happy miles in the dirt and I head from the blazing LA sun into to dark rooms where there are feathers, flower arrangements, dead flowers, and remnants of come.
On the last wooden step I set the bags down. Breathe hard. I remind the writer me that I do the hand job gig to pay my expenses so I can write my book. It’s almost over, I tell myself. The mileage between almost and actual can be vast or it can be as small as a six foot fence separating two neighbors. A fence I could hop over quick in the right shoes.
In the stripper world, I’m the queen of Ziploc bags. Folded, clean costumes are separated in color-coordinated plastic bags: the animal prints go together, pink and white go in one bag, black is bulky so it has its own bag. My Mom, who labeled every single drawer by color, passed down this organization technique genetically. Ziploc Bags contain certain rhinestone ropes and bracelets; the fishnet shirts to cover tattoos are separated from the pack because not all clubs require tattoo camouflage. The stripper uniform varies from club to club depending on what body parts you can show, but really it comes down to a version of sleazy Barbie.
In the hot sticky room where I work, It’s my job to dispose of dead flowers when they fall on the floor. It’s a priority to keep the alters clean; like church. The women here are not Barbie sexy but Yoga sexy. They invest time shuffling tarot cards and collecting long milky white crystals that look like swords tied with suede ribbons. There are dozens of candles that I have to replace. The candles are always lit during sessions for prayer and energy and breathing. Shit like that, the goddess-y thing. I’m amused and curious about eye gazing but I’m more concerned about dirty hair and remnants of come.
Of course, I fetishize ritual. There were years of Catholic school where I’d kneel on cool wooden pews and look up at the stained glass in awe, sing songs about blood and lambs and watch the adults in pressed slacks take communion (I wasn’t allowed to take communion. My family was not Catholic; we were Baptists). I memorized the Our Father and clapped to the songs not knowing what they meant. Except for the word Forgiveness. Forgive us our trespasses.
Inside the hand job room, a familiar knot throbs on the left side of my neck from lugging the heavy bags up fifty-five stairs. By the end of my shift, the knot will have moved to my right side, finally settling into the middle. Part of my job involves cleaning. Here at the hand job place, I’m the keeper of towels.
Washing off remnants of come is important and towels are paramount. After the hand jobs, the towels go into soggy piles: beige, brown, blue or white. I place them in pillowcases until later. Sometimes I wash them twice, to be sure.
There is Comet. There are Clorox wipes. But I’m never clean here. There’s a thick film of organic grape seed coconut oil on my skin at all times, reminding me of slippery cocks and pendulous balls.
My mind is clogged with conversational hairballs about weekends, commutes and baseball games. The fifty-five steps slip into conversation and the knot in my neck wakes up. I briefly dig my fingers into it which helps for a half second. I know the nomenclature of teasing gestures, the compliance of a smile and nodding in the face of paid touch. As we forgive those who trespass against us.
I remove my underwear patiently, like in the movies. My skin and wrist know the trade by Braille but my brain knows other things, like when I’m giving hand jobs, I’m not writing. And lead us not into temptation.
My client arrives. He looks like President Obama: a svelte salt and pepper professional black man with a face that could be considered beautiful and a voice that could be called eloquent. He’s shy and says little. He’s an attorney, like my Father. He unbuttons his white oxford shirt and I notice that he has more than one set of nipples. Consequently, they are called accessory nipples: an additional set of nipples right below his real nipples.
At first, I politely ignore them and imagine the fun he could have with nipple clamps. Would Obama pierce his accessory nipples and how would he sneak his nipple clamps through security? I’m terribly curious so after a few moments of massaging Obama’s smooth skin, I squeeze them.
“Do you have sensation in these?” But deliver us from Evil.
“Yes, but not as much,” he said. He explains they are a birth defect.
“You could have a lot of fun with these,” I said. The nipples are discussed but the towels are never mentioned, even though they’re the most important things in the room. They are everywhere, waiting to be held, squeezed and wringed out.
They’re offered like treasures, clean and soft and pure; they’re plopped into warm water doused with eucalyptus oil. They’re stacked counters and rolled into baskets, they’re folded over towel racks. They soften the corners of this dark room.
While I do the do, I worry about hair and lint, burnt candles and stale incense. Light barely enters this room of oil, skin and hot water because the window is draped with burgundy scarves and long dripping beads. Steel grey doors slide shut and lock. I am trapped here for hours. I don’t want to be here, but I settle in. I convince myself I’m not trapped here. I want to read Lorrie Moore and rewrite the chapter about the Lusty Lady Peepshow. Finish my fucking revisions.
I forgive myself for being here, even though I know there is hair falling on the floor. I will sweep it, vacuum and sponge it up. I’ll miss a strand or two. There’s the lingering smell of beer and bleach and it gets stuck in my hair.
I’m still nude when I tell Obama, “I’m going to take a shower. Lie there and breathe.” The room seems smaller. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever.
I ring a soft bell and the sound reminds me of India where there’s a call to prayer at dusk. Bells rings and bats fill the sky and vendors drop blankets in the street then fall on their bellies in front of their Gods.
My friend and running partner has wild curly hair that shoots out from a scrunchie on top of her head like swarming butterflies. She swears by the Swiffer, but I don’t have one of those. I wonder if her stray hairs collect in her corners and if she has enough towels for the job.
In the shower, I get on my knees and wash and wash. I see hairs and scoot them into the drain with my foot.I hope I’m forgiven, even in this dark room with remnants of come.