My dad used to play a game with me. After he suited up for work in a jacket and tie, he’d dig in his pockets for change then he’d ask me, “Who’s the President on the coin or bill?” If I guessed right, I’d get to keep the coin or bill. I rarely got it right. I didn’t understand that I needed to value the coin. I had to want it. I didn’t want it. I just wanted to follow my dad around before he walked out the door and into his silver-blue Chrysler. After my parents divorced, whenever I wanted something extra (a ski trip with a friend, a dress for prom, new clothes) my mom’s response was “Money doesn’t grow on trees” then, “ask your dad.” He’d given her the house, the car and me. He paid alimony.
I could tell he didn’t want to give me extra money. Maybe he wanted to teach me the some-people-have-to-dig-ditches-lesson. My dad got up at 5a.m. every day and worked until 5 or 6pm. He still does. He built his own practice from an empty building on a quiet street to a thriving business. Asking was so uncomfortable that I learned that I’d rather drink a pint of my own piss than ask anyone for help.
By age twenty-two I was already lap dancing in San Francisco’s seedier strip clubs, hell bent on being self-sufficient. My mom was wrong. Money did grow on trees; I just had to figure out how to climb the damn thing, snatch it and steal off with it. I wasn’t afraid to work. I would earn the shit out of that money. In sex worker circles, there are names for girls like us; our relationship to earning: lazy bitches, wolves, hustlers, money- makers, campers, sharks or cougars. One of my managers called me a “piranha,” and by this he meant, I only left bones. “Other girls are sharks,” he said. “They take a chunk and move on.”
With practice and time, I found out what men wanted: a counselor, comedian, sex therapist, bartender, a hand job, a hug, a nipple in the face, a counseling session, an escape, and mostly, to feel desired. Unlike most women who had the sense to make a mint and pursue non-stripping careers, I only got better with time. I blossomed into a piranha. I also got older, injured and twenty years later, stood at a crossroads with a boyfriend and MFA, unsure of how to quit. I’d aged out.
At the end of 2011, I quit. It wasn’t a parade kind of leaving with cymbals crashing, drum rolling or high-fives. I didn’t have fifty G’s in the bank. It was a gentle leaving: one night after a mediocre Wednesday night at the Bruiser, I walked onto Bourbon Street into the drizzle with my stripper bag full of my costumes and shoes in search of a cab with this knowledge:
$10= A. Hamilton (non-president)
On the Rumpus, Stephen Elliott writes daily emails that are often beautiful, thoughtful springboards that launch me into thinking about stuff: movies, plots, books and money. Yesterday’s Daily Rumpus, “The Artist and the Apartment” therumpus.net/subscribe/ was borrowed from Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” The content of Stephen’s email gracefully referenced her interview in The Paris Review www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6073/the-art-of-nonfiction-no-4-janet-malcolm that was sent to me by my friend D. I found it compelling, so I shared it with Stephen, who also likes Malcolm. In the Paris Review interview the journalist scoured Malcolm’s apartment looking for details, some secret pathway into Malcolm’s personality. Stephen’s DR followed that line of thinking, as he mused about the importance of a tidy apartment. I also borrowed from the Paris Review piece.
In it, Malcolm said, “You have led us into deep waters,” a response to the journalist’s comment that Malcolm’s apartment was “carefully unpretentious,” which had a nice sting. I took the murky terrain idea and used it in a story in which I write, “I’ve led you into hazy terrain where you might call my behavior “acting out” or a “reckless act of despair.” I knew seeing Joe could seriously fuck up my life, but who gives a fuck? I thought. I have to pay my rent.” Taking our cues from writers we admire is as bold as lunging over a table and licking their faces. The writers I licked in 2011 were mostly Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch and Michael Ondaatje, but there were others too.
Which brings me to the epic texter, Marie Callaway and her story about the writer she fucked, and then blogged about while exposing him. There’s a romance associated to work that’s considered “raw” because it’s unfettered by formality or training. This also goes against what I’ve been told and what I believe (and what Stephen has said in many DR’s to the point where it borders dogma) that you have to write for ten years to be good.
That’s not always the case. There will always be a Marie Calloway hanging around; a star that burns bright for ten minutes then dies. Also, there will always be a fresh voice that stands out from the rest like William Burroughs, Kathy Acker and Sara Gerot (Black Clock #14).
I don’t know if Marie Calloway is a twinkling voice that will last. Time will tell. Stephen recently interviewed her about her text message story. If you don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, skip everything and just read this essay by Roxanne Gay about it: http://htmlgiant.com/web-hype/the-price-of-revelation/
In the DR interview, Marie Calloway mentioned doing sex work and brought up the class differences, which is interesting. In the interview she mentioned girls who were fucking for $40 and I don’t know where she’s writing from, but I’ve never heard of such cheap prices that weren’t junkies living in their car with cocks in their mouths.
It’s true, we, the people (99′ers) were broke and pissed off in 2011. The bleak economy changed the way everyone experienced and thought about class (the driving force behind RSW http://therumpus.net/2011/11/recession-sex-workers-14-phoenix-rising-an-interview-with-nadia-payne/ also on The Rumpus). I think of sex workers as a hole in the class argument.
For instance, my friend Jen was raised middle class-ish. Then her father got hooked on heroin. By the time she was a teenager, she was doing heroin with her father, who sold her out of his van. She would call a liquor store to reach him. She later got clean, became a paralegal to the stars, drove a jag and made $75K a year. Then she went back to sex work, specifically doing sensual massage (handjobs) in NY and LA. Which is how I originally got into the sensual massage game—she passed me her clients when I was in grad school. What class did she belong to? How about the nice girl from Jersey who got involved in an international prostitution ring? My friend L has stripped for years in LA and NOLA. She’s from a semi-rural depressed economy in Indiana. Her parents had money. She calls herself “spoiled.” But her dad lost his business and now when she visits him, she sleeps in a cot in the kitchen. She’s getting all A’s in college where she’s attending. She’s decided to do escorting on the side. What class is she?
It’s not as simple as making a good decision or bad decision. There are only decisions.
There is always a price to pay.
It seems like a million years ago, J and I were feature dancers at the Market Street Cinema. We had a certain amount of money we needed to make, we put on four shows a day: 11am, 4 pm, 7 pm and 11pm and then worked the audience, by giving lap dances. We were two of very few white women at that club and were considered the “clean girls.” At first, I thought it was because the girls found out we didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol, but it was because we didn’t do any “extras.” Then the club jacked up the stage fees to $180 every four hours and everyone started doing handjobs, including J and I, leveling the playing field.
In this molting, I hope to write like a motherfucker in 2012.
Lastly, thank you for your generous donations to my blog: reading me or sending money. You know who you are.