Prison is torture for your pride. The most frightening part for me was when the cops broke into the apartment. They entered like studs onto a beach. I was giving a nude “massage without a license” to an Asian man, who, come to think of it, did explode into a smug grin when I oiled his groin.
The buzzer rang obnoxiously. “What the fuck?”
Aggressive male voices were outside the door. I opened and three Popeye-the-Sailorman types pushed the door and grabbed me. The baby-faced client jumped off the green massage table, put on his trousers and disappeared. The cops did not let me look through my bag since they thought I might have a weapon. After insulting my shirt, a 200-pound Irish man clasped my hands behind my back and handcuffed me.
“What’s this rag?” he asked as he picked up my wool jacket like it was infested with bugs.
I wanted to say, “That fucking rag is from Amsterdam,” but instead I kept quiet and croaked, “My coat.”
“Oh,” he said.
At first he wouldn’t let me put it on, but I fought back. It was November, and I needed that goddamn thing to go outside. I then asked for my cigarettes. I was a nervous wreck.
“No smoking.” he said.
The cops helped me climb into the back of a dirty white van. The hatch opened to reveal two handcuffed she-males dressed like rock stars. Both smiled like they were beginning a road trip. “Hi!” they greeted me, making light of the degradation.
I said nothing, refused to join the gang. I was not a junkie or a whore. I was an artist.
“She’s a nice girl,” said Obnoxious Irish.
I’d told him earlier that I’d attended Sarah Lawrence, the place where I learned to speak French and act in Chekov plays. It was the last respectable thing I’d done. The rest had been a mischievous life, pursuing stand-up comedy and corruption. Suave men, glamorous women, strip bars, movie stars, drugs. And drugs. And more drugs. So this situation was a pain in the ass. It got in the way of everything, you see. The honey blonde with man legs said I could get out at three in the morning. The cop in the passenger seat then turned and said maybe we could work something out. We prisoners complained as we shaked and rattled towards jail.
“New York sucks now, you can’t do anything anymore,” said Honey Blonde.
“I know,” I said. “I haven’t gone out dancing in awhile.”
“It’s not like the ’80s, man,” Honey Blonde continued, swaying back and forth with a pathetic, handcuffed rock. “Back then, New York was wild. Now it’s dead. Dead.”
Fifteen minutes later, she and her friend were coaxed into a small, graffitied prison cell. Obnoxious Irish was about to politely force me in, when his partner said, “No, not her. Keep her out.’
“Oh! Special treatment!” teased the she-males, clenching the bars and batting their eyes. They had obviously been there before. I stayed cool, but on the inside, I jumped for joy. He wants to fuck me, Thank God. I leaned against a brick wall, out of the girls’ sight and smiled. I felt like shit.
“We want to ask you some questions,” said Partner. They wanted information about the massage parlor. I told them the truth. I had two madams. One was a busty blonde who went everywhere with her baby terrier. The dog barked constantly. The other was a lean, cold woman with a scar extending from her upper lip. They claimed to be sisters. Obnoxious Irish and Partner questioned me artfully with an undertone of belligerence while I tried to hold onto my charm. After five minutes they concluded I had no Mafia connections. There was nothing to “work out.”
By three in the morning I was sulking in the large basement jail with 20 black women curled up on the floor trying to sleep.
“Jerry Springer” blasted from a TV outside the bars.
A woman had a crush on me, so I deliberately ignored her smile. A black Cheshire cat who would reel me in like a shiny, helpless fish despite her faded clothes and a face rampaged by crack. She was cheery.
“What are you in for?”
“Prostitution.” Shorter than “massage without a license.” Less nerdy.
She looked at me curiously. I kept my distance, though I could of leapt right into her eyes. She was calm, yet entertaining, handling jail like a pro. She smirked when the officers insulted us, throwing her hand, as if to say: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I caught her eye from across the cell. She smiled widely. I was incredibly turned on.
I paced under fluorescent lights while crack heads watched. Fuck! I missed my set at Spy Bar! “Yo! You need a cigarette?” asked the bully of the place. She weighed 250-pounds and sat on a bench in the middle of the room, wearing pajamas and an overcoat. She held out a Marlboro. She lit my butt and started bitching about the conditions. She also had better things to do.
“I don’t know, but you ain’t getting out tonight. Hopefully tomorrow. Maybe the next day. I don’t know.”
I hung on the bars tragically and understood how one could accept a jail sentence. Condemnation felt natural. All the activities that healed my childhood were illegal: charging for erotic massages, dropping ecstasy while making “art films,” political comedy shows backed by the Mafia. To be caged felt like destiny.
Laura Dinnebeil is a published poet, accomplished screenwriter and has appeared on Comedy Central.