I didn’t like the e-cigarette. A drug on the rise? Surely not for long, I thought. Do people really wanna suck on ball point pens? What do I know? I just drink. Still, the robotic smoke didn’t stop me learning something about Lira. She made two hundred and fifty dollars for a half hour of work. A thousand, sometimes it was more, for a full hour. Those were Lira’s rates, not that I was or would ever be a customer. My rates aren’t even close to that. Sex is obviously worth more than empathy. Pleasure’s a better deal than pain.
“Sometimes more? What is that, a sliding scale or something?” She returned a chilly, closed-mouth look.
“Just kidding,” I uttered, apologizing. Shit, No humor. This was a real problem, because without humor, I’m stuck. I’m really stuck. “Why do you do it?” I asked squarely.
“I don’t…not anymore,” she said after what seemed a lengthy, inner consultation. I’m not sure I believed her.
“Okay, why did you do it?”
Her face turned stony again. “Seriously? This is your idea of getting to know me?”
“Fine. Talk about another career path, or about finding a husband, making babies…whatever.”
“I’m not gonna make babies.”
A pause: a (ahem) pregnant pause. “Alright. What about hobbies or the Facebook lives of your friends? How long have you been pulling drunks from bars?” Seriously, I was slightly better with…with…whatever her name—fuck it—the Persian woman. Lira must have wondered why anyone would sit with me and tell their life story, which is why it surprised me when she rewound the tape.
“I needed money—the same reason any woman does that.”
“People pay you for taking drunks out of bars? I thought interventions happened in homes, with hapless relatives looking on, not the shadow cast of Cheers.” Was the microphone on? She looked away while I lamented my leaden wit, a lifetime of not giving women my best lines. “I’m sorry. Please, you were saying,” I managed with a gulp. She took another moment to collect herself.
“That’s it. I needed money. It was what I did to survive. What else is there to say?”
“I don’t know,” I said dully.
“Well, you’re lucky you never had to do that,” she added severely, and was then quiet, buried in martyrdom. I pulled my head back and frowned. A joke didn’t come to mind, but what I started next I shouldn’t have. I should have just written it instead.
“Wait. How do you know I haven’t?” She pulled her head back, showcasing a reluctant, wraparound smile.
“Are you messin’ with me again? You’ve been a male prostitute?”
“Most of my life, actually.” Her expression soured.
“Is this a joke, cuz if it is, I—”
“It’s not a joke. I think most occupations force people to prostitute themselves in one way or another.”
She tilted her head to one side, looking at me out the corner of her eye like I was an advancing arachnid.
“Oh my God, this is some kind of bullshit. You think doing what you do is anything like the danger of being a sex worker?”
“You’ve clearly never dealt with an insurance company.”
** a passage from Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole
A flippancy that illustrates a point, plus a theme that opens my novel. My protagonist, Daniel Pierce, calls an insurance company, frustrated that his claims for reimbursement are being ignored. He teases the robotic agent on the line, evincing a latent sexuality, also his preferred method of deflecting stress. Getting paid, earning: it’s an issue. It’s consuming, makes people do what they don’t want to do, sometimes temporarily, otherwise out of habit, a lifestyle. The habit of work breeds entitlement, a sense that one is earning, versus asking for things. “I’m a kid, really”, Pierce says later in the story, in another context. “We’re all kids,” I said to someone recently. The context was sex. “You don’t want to ask for it. You think because you paid for it you’ve earned it?”
A stupid question