A literary journal for the tramps. It is a truth universally ignored that a pound man with no fortune must be in want of a wife too. Or at least someone to sleep with, now and then. Or at very least a reasonable facsimile. Such a man is sometimes forced to resort to an inflatable blonde with unbearably chafing though cooperative vinyl parts, until one day he can stand it no longer and takes desperate steps.
After years of teaching literature to high school students who were remarkably immune to the sense and sensibility of the great writers and whose own writing efforts had the eloquence of a bad stutter, I was acutely susceptible to anything written with a modicum of literary skill. I liked the way Brandi expressed herself and I was willing to believe that it was intentional. If I were going to have to pay for sex, I wanted it to be with someone I could at least enjoy talking to after it was all over.
Vinyl Doll, or VD as I called her, was a good listener but a bit deficient on the response side. Two men of dark complexion, one shiny bald and one wearing a red baseball cap, sat further down the bar. They were arguing in what I recognized to be Portuguese. Once upon a time — six years and one hundred pounds ago — I had a Portuguese girlfriend and knew the tongue.
Midway down the bar, eight stools away, was a middle-aged man who would have been considered impressively fat had I not arrived on the scene, but in comparison was reduced to merely chubby at best. There were a few people at tables against the wall opposite the bar and one lone young black man in a camouflage jacket shooting pool at the dimly lit table in the back toward the rest rooms.
The periodic clacking of his balls annoyed me. The bartender had told me to call him Mickey, but I heard the mini fat man at mid-bar call him George. So I just waved, like a man bidding a fond adieu, until I caught his attention.
I said call me Mickey. He took my glass, went over to the tap, filled it and brought it back. He looked at the small bowl of peanuts I had already exhausted, then looked at me. He reached under the bar and brought out a bigger bowl and a bag of peanuts and filled it up to overflowing. I was taken aback by his question. It was just easier to tell the truth. George put the big bowl of peanuts in front of me, as if rewarding me for my honesty. What kind of problem? I had gotten good at deflecting the looks and laughs, ignoring the jokes and gibes that my flesh was heir to.
It took a lot to jolt the little planet I had become out of its familiar and solitary orbit. But the idea that I might not be acceptable to a hooker gave me painful pause. And in that pause, I started to get anxious.
I had never been to a prostitute before and was unsure of the etiquette. How did you introduce yourself? Did you use your real name or an alias? In our email exchange, I had stuck with my screen name, ReadyReader. Did you specify what you wanted or wait for her to offer a selection of services, like a menu?
How did you know what it cost? No prices on a menu are always a bad sign. When did you pay, before or after? Did you tip in addition to the agreed upon fee and was 15 percent sufficient? Did you bring your own condoms or were they provided? I was beginning to think I should just forget it and go back to my inflatable sweetheart VD and breathe some life into her for the evening when I noticed George giving me what looked like a little wave and a nod.
I turned around and found a pretty young woman standing just behind me. She put a hand on my arm. Even I could hear the nervous quiver in my voice. She seemed to have come in off the street in her gray long-sleeved turtleneck dress that fit her to a lovely T and seemed to show what she had without showing anything at all.
She wore black leggings and knee high black boots. Her hair was blonde and straight and shoulder length, her complexion fair, almost pale, her eyes big and hazel, her make up modestly applied. She had a small scar over one eye. She was neat as a pin and to my mounting alarm — petite. Sitting on my stool and a half next to her, I felt like a very big bull about to enter a very small china shop.
I decided to play it safe. Had I been a girl I would have been Elizabeth. She smiled and it was a pleasant sight. That must have been fun for you in high school. The difference is now I can send the smirking little bastards to detention.
Maybe everything would be all right, I thought. Brandi was a professional, after all, and probably knew how to handle any challenge that her work might entail. I once saw two moving men hoist a baby grand piano on ropes and swing it through a sixth story window with barely an inch to spare. The pros know their jobs. Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead! He was giving the corner pocket the finger.
And none of them are things I could do with you. I was glad for the interruption. I got some in the back. But I could get you a few. Brandi put her hand on my arm. Why should I be mad? Brandi shook her head. Just a chat in a warm bed with a pretty woman. She gave me a long look. We get into a nice clean queen size bed. We keep our hands to ourselves. And we have a nice talk. One hour, one hundred dollars. Had it come to this? But no dirty talk. George told him to take it easy. The man playing pool chalked his cue.
A woman at one of the tables laughed and kissed the man with her. Brandi sipped her ginger ale. For an instant everything froze and I was somewhere else. I saw myself standing at the foot of a steep snowy hill and wondering if I could get to the top or would I just stumble and come rolling back down, not like Sisyphus, but like the huge rock he pushed eternally. This was a new low for me. For my self-respect I had to decline, with a Falstaffian flourish, and make a graceful exit.
Right over the bar. Brandi waved George over. I put a twenty on the bar. He picked it up and handed it back to me. Brandi led me out the door into a hallway on the side to a steep flight of stairs. I climbed steadily behind her and made it to the top without even breathing hard, although I coughed a bit.
The man who first climbed Everest. Apparently talk was not cheap. The apartment over the bar was as Brandi had described it — nice.
The living room was neat and plain, furnished with a comfy-looking couch, a wood coffee table marred by intersecting coffee cup rings, like the trademark of the Olympics, and an old leather easy chair facing a TV between two windows. The windows looked out onto the snowy street. On the seat of the easy chair I saw, with the shock of recognition, a doughnut pillow, comforting friend to those aggrieved by hemorrhoids a truth universally acknowledged by those in need of such friendship. Off the living room was a small kitchen and down a little hall what looked like a bathroom and two other rooms, bedrooms I assumed.
We have an arrangement. I rent work space from him. Now you go in and get comfortable.