A Friendly Whore in San Francisco


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I was cruisingaround here last night, soaking up the atmosphere. I felt like I was in America.Or old America. People are allowed to fall apart here out in the open. And ifthey want to pursue vice, then they can pursue it, though with some supervision,some threat of arrest, so there's not total chaos?I did see one cop car lastnight. And it all makes me realize how antiseptic Manhattan has become. I almostfeel like singing sadly for New York, like Simon & Garfunkel, "Where haveyou gone, you beautiful whores? Jonathan Ames turns his lonely eyes to you...woo...woo...woo"
So I hadcome out of my hotel last night around 12:30 and was walking up this streetcalled Eddy. I had taken off my tie, which I had been wearing earlier, and Idrew the collar of my coat around my neck so I'd look a little less muggable(a taxi driver told me you can get mugged in the Tenderloin) and at first Ididn't see anything. And then my eyes adjusted. Night vision so to speak. AndI realized there were women in the shadows of doorways, and men in tight jeansin alleys. There was a staticky streetlight glow and a cool breeze. It's likefall here in San Francisco. And the buildings, in this part of town, like mostof the town, are only a few stories high, so you can see the sky and you don'tfeel so tiny and diminished. And in the Tenderloin the buildings are kind ofcrumbly and need painting, so it gave me the feeling of being in an old city,a Western-frontier city, and it was nice to remember that America is not allspit and polish and phony-looking Plaza Hotel brass.

I made aleft up a hilly street called Hyde. I was walking on the outside of the parkedcars, in the middle of the street, so nobody could jump me, and on the otherside of the street, coming the opposite way down the sidewalk, were two not-very-dolled-upprostitutes. They were wearing jeans and tight little coats. Nothing about themwas gaudy in the way you'd expect, but their leisurely walk told you why theywere out there. I made that special kind of eye contact with one of them. Herface was unusual, striking. High cheekbones, a fierce jaw, a wide, thin redmouth and kinky curly blonde hair. And her skin, in the light, was some weirdkind of translucent, diluted white, like underneath it was some original coatof paint, color unknown. But it was there somehow, as if that top layer of white hadn't been painted on thick enough. So I held her eye and she sidled acrossthe street toward me.


"What areyou doing tonight?" she asked sweetly, gently. She was humble. Shy even. Nowthat we were up close she didn't quite look at me straight. She was worriedI wouldn't want her. There were small thin scars on her face and on her belly,which was exposed?her jacket was open and she was wearing a tanktop?and lightbrown discolorations and green bruises. She had been on the street a long time.She was probably in her late 30s, and she didn't necessarily look older thanthat, except she was old the way young people look old when they're dying.


"I'm justwalking around tonight. Looking," I said.


"You havea room?" she asked.


"Yeah, atthe Phoenix."


"That'sa nice hotel. Nicer than the others around here... Why don't we go back to yourroom and have a lovely time and in the morning go to Reno and get married."She laughed. A nice laugh. A laugh at herself. But that's probably why she'sstill out there?the one-in-a-million chance that some man might yet save her.


"I don'tthink I want to go back to my room, but thank you for offering," I said, wantingto be polite. I started strolling. She walked alongside me. "Where you from?"I asked. "I hear a bit of an accent."


"Australia,"she said. "I'm half Aborigine, half white. Where are you from?"


"New York."


"What areyou doing here in San Francisco? You're a businessman?"


"No, I'ma writer. Also, I perform. I do storytelling. That's what I came here for. Idid some storytelling at a club tonight."


"I tellstories," she said. "Why don't we go to your room and I'll tell you dream storiesand you tell me stories from New York. I've never been there."


"Dream stories,"I said. "I like the way that sounds."


"So whatdo you say? Why don't we go back to your room? It doesn't have to be a big sexthing. I'll tell you my dream stories and I'll give you a nice massage." Shesaid "massage" like a real Brit colonial, with an emphasis on the first syllable.And I looked at her. Her nose was wide and interesting-looking. I could reallysee the Aborigine in her. And her mixed blood explained her odd skin, skin I had never really seen before. But I didn't want to be alone with her in my room.To see her body would be to know too well the agony of what she's been through.


"I don'twant to waste your time," I said. "I really don't think I want to go back tomy room. But if you want to walk with me, I'd like the company and I'll giveyou 20 dollars for that, if you don't mind." I had called her over with my eyesjust wanting to talk to her for a moment?I like to talk to people when I'm outhaving adventures?but I felt bad to have led her on, to have given her somehope of making money, so I was glad to try to hire her as my guide, companion.


"You'llpay me just to walk with you?" she asked.


"Yes," Isaid.


"Are allgentleman from New York like you? I heard men from New York will say fuck youif you ask them the time."


"No. Thereare no gentlemen like me in New York," I boasted. "I am completely and hopelesslyunique." And I laughed and so did she.


So we walkedand I felt safe with her. We passed a number of small packs of homeless addictsand drunkards, all of whom looked pretty feeble, but they might have tried somethingon me just because of their sheer greater numbers. Because I was with her, afellow street person, though, there was little chance anybody would try to hurtme.


I got abit of her life story. Not much. But a glimpse. She came here in 1985 and rightaway started working the streets. Her husband was her pimp. They were marriedseven years.


"He didn'tmind you being out here?"


"No. Hesaw it as a business and so did I. When I first came out here it was good. Allthe girls were in furs and heels. You could meet a businessman and he wouldgive you a 150 dollar tip. Now it's all changed. There's not as much money,so the girls aren't the same. No more furs. And AIDS scared people away too...Now it's hard to get by. A lot of the girls are on drugs. That makes it realtough to keep your head above water."


"Are youon drugs?"


"I smokemy weed, but I'm not on drugs... Well, to be honest, I'm on methadone. Threeyears."


"What happenedto your husband?"


"He wentto jail. He's still in there."


"Why?"


"Some kindof fraud... But I don't miss him, really. He didn't beat me, but I wasn't inlove with him. I loved him, but I wasn't in love."


We keptwalking. The whole neighborhood was filled with SRO hotels with locked gatesfor entrances. We passed other whores. There was this one old blonde whore,she was maybe 40, but she looked 50, and her face, tanned and leathery, wasmad, stricken. She was wearing a loud flower-print dress and white heels.


"Do youwant to stop being out here?" I asked my friend.


"I'd liketo. My sister is always writing me, telling me to come back. But I guess I'mone of those people who has to be on their last leg and limb before they'llgo home."


And thinkingabout her saying that, it's hard to imagine that she won't die here, that she'llever make it back to Australia.


"I've nevermet an Aborigine before," I said.


"I'm nota full Aborigine. I'm not really even half. My father was half... There area lot of people like me in Australia. A lot of people with black blood. That'swhy my hair is kinky... And my face is kind of like a boy's 'cause it's bony,which I get from my father. Sometimes people mock me, say I'm a queen. Otherpeople say it makes me pretty. I don't know how I feel about it. If I look likea pretty boy it could be a compliment. A lot of the queens out here are beautiful.More beautiful than the real girls."


"There arequeens around here? I've written a lot about queens."


"They havethe next street. That's their corridor. You want to go there?"


"All right,"I said.


We wentto the queens' street and it was good to see them again, especially since incleaned-up New York they're nowhere to be found. We passed two large, buxomblack queens, and their flowery scent was strong. Queens often lay it on thick.



"You canreally smell their perfume," I said, when they were out of earshot.


"Oh, yeah,"said my friend, laughing. "That's true."


Then wecame upon a drag bar called Motherlode. "That's where they all hang out," shesaid. "If you go in there you might find something more to write about queens."


I decidedto go into the place, but my friend didn't feel comfortable coming with me;she didn't want the queens to think she was trying to compete with them in theirbar. So it was time for me to pay her, and I gave her the 20 and the few extrasingles I had. "Be careful in there," she said. Then she thanked me and kissedme on the cheek goodbye and walked away, and that was it.


I went insidethe bar and sat in the shadows. It was a narrow place, and near the entrancewas a small elevated stage with a big mirror behind it. A few queens were upon the stage and I watched them dance by themselves. They faced the mirror andwhile they danced they adjusted their hair, their breasts, their lipstick. Ialways like to watch queens. It's like theater.


After halfan hour, I left the bar and headed for my hotel. A few blocks from the queens'street, I saw three young blondes with long, thin legs. Two of them were peroxideblondes, one of them was natural. They were all quite beautiful. Quite young.Not one of them more than 20. Where had they come from? They were on heels likestilts. Their dresses were short. They teetered and clicked down the road. Theywere all leg and white-blonde hair. I passed by them. Stared at them. They werelike slivers of light, wavering. I kept going.


I scannedthe streets for my friend, and didn't spot her. But if I were to be out in theTenderloin tonight, which I won't be, I'm sure I'd see her again.


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