The Story of a Sex Worker

August 31, 2004

Closing In

My apartment was right on Sunset Boulevard so it was loud with traffic. I considered moving to someplace quiet with my new money but moving was a pain and I found myself not using the apartment very often. Many times I slept at Bernard's or somebody else's house after a late night.

Far Out brought over a sleeping bag and a backpack. She sobbed periodically but then began to feel better once she put her sleeping bag on my couch and made a small home for herself in my living room.

"I have an extra key for you," I said.

"Far out, Shirley. But I think I'm only going to be here for a couple of days. I can already tell that I'm going to miss the shit out of Kirk."

"I think you should stay here longer than that, to clear your head."

"Thanks so much, Shirl."

She lasted five minutes trying to talk about other things besides her boyfriend. She said she liked the apartment and what a nice view, a view of a neon-bright strip mall, a thousand honking cars and a couple of broken streetlights. She paced around the room and then said, "Goddamnit. I feel like I'm in hell wearing winter clothes."

She shuffled back to the couch and sat down. "I just wish Kirk could understand that I don't feel anything even close to love when we're filming. Sure, I enjoy it. I mean, Jesus, even you and me have done it a couple of times and it was fun but it didn't mean anything."

"Of course."

"That's why I wanted to do a scene with Kirk because I enjoy the work and I thought it could be the best of both worlds."

"Maybe those two worlds can't be crossed."

"I hope not. That'd be more fucking far out than I'm willing to deal with. I've always said that if the work came between us I'd quit the job. But I don't know if I can do that now. I like the business and I've met so many good people here. Like you." It was a warm sentiment but she looked bitter. "And I don't know where the fuck I could go after this work. I hear there aren't that many places that'll hire you after you do this. I've heard employers have a way of finding out, even if you lie."

"It happened to Paula Jackson," I said. "She got a job in a commercial but they found out about it and they fired her. A porn queen can't sell bibles."

"Shit, right, so I'm stuck in the business as it is. Not that it's so bad but I don't know if Kirk can live with it."

"That's why I'm saying you should stay here a couple of days."

She sighed like smoke again. "I will and I thank you for it," she said.

She looked at the window which reflected back the room. I was sitting on the edge of a chair, leaning in to listen and console her, playing the role of mother to a girl two years younger than me. She stared at her crying reflection in the window and shook her head. "If he only knew how little of myself I put into the movies. Sometimes I make believe I'm a whole different person. I, like, make believe I'm this slut personality." She was smiling now. "I mean it. A cheerleader slut. I even named her. I named her Chastity. I thought that would be funny, Chastity, the cheerleader slut. Sometimes when we're filming I'm not there at all. Chastity's doing all the work. Me and her have a good relationship. I tried to tell Kirk about it but he just told me to shut up and that I was crazy."

"It is a little hard to believe."

"But it's true. I used to do it as a kid. I'd make believe I was different characters. There was Monica, the goody-two-shoes girl who did well in school, and Gwendolyn, the bad girl. I always loved that name, Gwendolyn. I wanted to use it as my stage name but it was taken by Gwendolyn Pierce, that woman with all the earrings."

She put a hand to her ear and shuddered. "When I was ten years old I made Gwendolyn get pregnant. I shoved pillows under my shirt and made believe I was. I had about five characters. You know, far out, I think I had one named Shirley."


"Yeah, but I can't remember what she did." She paused, sadly. "I went into the characters when my dad played around with me. I was lucky I could come out of myself like I did."

I was going to go over to the couch and start rubbing her back but she would start crying again, and for her crying didn't seem to be any kind of a release but just reminded her of her sadness.

"Kirk doesn't have anything to worry about," Far Out said. "I'm clean."

"Maybe he'll come around."

"Maybe. He's usually so gentle."

"No man is completely gentle."


We went to sleep with the loud city noise coming in from Sunset, the windows opened wide to catch a soothing breeze from the L.A. heat. I watched Far Out fall calmly asleep on the couch. She lay on top of her shiny purple sleeping bag as peaceful as an eight-year-old. I imagined one of her characters laying in my apartment, Chastity or Gwendolyn. I turned to go into my room when I heard her mumble something. I said, "What?" and walked to the couch. She was talking in her sleep. I heard her say, "Dad," and, "Kirk," and, "Far out," and then she was quiet.

I fell asleep to the traffic.

August 26, 2004

Far Out

I went in to Bernard's office to pick up a paycheck and I found Far Out doing the same. Her eyes were wet with tears and they looked red and raw. There was a shiny blue welt under her left eye.

"What happened, sweety?" I said and put my hand on her back.

"Oh, shit, Shirley," she said and started crying.

"Come here," I said and took her to the couch outside Bernard's office.

"He hit me," she said. "The fucker hit me."

"Who did?"


"Your boyfriend?"



"Why? Cause he's a fucker." She stopped and sighed as if that was all the information needed, then said, staring straight in front of her, "Everything was going all right. He was being fine about everything. We were going to do a scene together. I asked if he wanted to come to the set and see how it works, you know, as preparation."

She looked at me with her wet, bruised eyes.

"Right," I said.

"So I did my scene and could see him out of the corner of my eye, which kind of turned me on. I made believe the guy--I don't even remember who the fuck it was- I made believe he was Kirk. I'd done that before but having Kirk in the room got me really into it." She sighed through her mouth as if blowing out smoke. "So on a break he took me into the corner and started yelling at me about how I was enjoying myself too much. I tried to explain to him that I was thinking about him but that just made him angrier. He said that meant I was fucking the other guy the same way I fucked him. But that's not true, Shirl. That's not true at all. He got real angry and he hit me and stormed out."

"God, Cindy, I'm sorry. When did all this happen?"

"This afternoon."

"I'm really sorry."

"Now I'm screwed because I can't work with my eye looking like this." She touched it and winced and looked like she was going to start crying again. "And I can't go home because we live together and he'll be there. I've never felt so fucking lost. Man," she said and briefly smiled at her grief before crying again.

Instinct, I said, "You can stay with me."


"I said you can stay with me."

"Shit, Shirl, I'm not after that. I didn't mean to unload all this on you."

"Don't worry about it. You need to get away from each other. You need some time apart. I don't mind. We're family, right?"

She smiled weakly. "Right," she said.

She came over later that afternoon to my small one-bedroom apartment. I was happy to have Far Out as a guest. The apartment could get lonely. It was small but the feeling of empty space could fill up a stadium when I came home from a day of work. Being alone felt even stranger after a day of so much touching.

August 19, 2004

Florida Part II

I left my Dad and walked into Zowie's bedroom. I found Zowie lying on the bed, held tightly under the covers. The air in the room seemed stale and old. Zowie really did look bad without make-up. She had puffy, sagging eyes as if she hadn't slept for weeks. I could see wrinkles on her face that I had never seen before.

"Hey, Zowie," I said loudly, as lively as I could sound.

"Shirley, right?" she replied.

"Yes, it's Shirley."

She turned her head slightly and tried moving her arms above the covers but she was having trouble.

"What the hell do you have to be so tight under the covers for? Let me help you."

I lifted the covers and exposed her thin frame. She usually wore elaborate dresses and suits. Now she was wearing a faded blue nightgown. Her thin body almost seemed a part of the bed.

"I don't know why the sheets are so tight," Zowie said. "Joy tucked me in. You ever think I gave my daughter the wrong name?"

I laughed.

"I thought if I gave her the name she would begin acting like it but I think it had the opposite effect." She pulled hard at the hair on the side of her head. "Do you know when she's in here she whispers everything she says? I can't hear her half the time. This isn't a hospital, this is my house."

I sat on the bed next to her and looked at myself in the large oval mirror over the dresser. I almost shocked myself with my smooth skin and lively eyes. I was a monster of youth compared to Zowie.

"It's a helluva thing, lying in bed all day. Thank God I'm going when I am because I saw on the TV that the aliens have landed."

"What's that?"

"The aliens. They've come to take over the world. I'm too weak to fight them so I'd rather go the way I'm going."

I looked to the left of the bed. There was a stack, almost as high as the bed, of tabloid magazines. In the past couple of years she had gotten a subscription to three of them. She read them all cover to cover. As she got older she started believing every word printed inside. One Christmas it took all our might to keep her from going to New York City because she had read that Jesus had been spotted on 42nd street. The belief was a symptom of her old age but the stories just made her crazier.

"I'm surprised there's nothing in the paper about it. It's all over TV. I guess the news media is letting TV cover this story."

"It will be all right," I said.

"I suppose. I'm almost sorry I won't be around to see it."

She began coughing deeply and rapidly with a heavy gurgling in her throat and I was about to get my mom when it stopped as abruptly as it had started.

"Though maybe it's better if they blow up the whole planet," she said. "It's going to hell. It needs some mushroom treatment." She looked at me with a stern underbite. "You didn't tell me you had become a policewoman."

"A policewoman?"

"I saw it on TV. Ralph Ellroy from the complex brought over a tape and said he wanted to show me your new line of work."

"Jesus Christ."

"I'll say."

I played a cop in one of the "Jenny Highsmith Adventures" movies. I used my handcuffs to chain Harry Fidelman to the bed. I was supposed to have caught him robbing TV's and VCR's from the Hollywood hills neighborhood.

"It's fine if you want to be a policewoman. But I don't think it's right for you to be screwing criminals."

"I'm sorry," I said.

"As well you should be."

"You shouldn't have had to see that, Grandma," I said. I never called her Grandma.

She had another coughing fit. I waited for it to stop and then I walked out of the room.

"Damnit," I said to myself.

I went back into the living room where my mom and dad were sitting in silence.

"My God, Shirley, you look terrible," said Joy. "Is Zowie all right?"

"She's fine. She's doing fine."

"Are you all right?"

I didn't answer.

She stood up. "Here, come with me," she said and grabbed my hand. She led me to a small den next to Zowie's bedroom. There was a big TV and VCR in the corner that my mom and her brother had bought Zowie for her birthday a few years before.

I sat on the couch. My mom sat in a rocking chair.

"I didn't want to talk about this in front of Phil," she said. "I have a feeling Zowie told you."

"Told me."

"That she saw one of your movies."


"I thought so. She called me two weeks ago yelling about how you had started working for the police. At first I didn't know what she was talking about but then I figured it out."

"Why didn't you tell me?" I said. I was shocked by the sad frog in my throat.

"I didn't want to trouble you. It's been very hard on her."

Jesus Christ, I thought, I killed my grandmother.

"Mom," I said. "I don't think it's right for me to be here."

"Sure it is. Zowie's still happy to see you."

"I've seen her. She's seen me. That's what I came here for. I think I should leave."

"But you just got here."

"I don't want to be here anymore."

My mom paused and thought. "Maybe it is better if you leave for a little while. Mitch said he refused to come if you were here."

"Fuck Mitch."

She frowned at me. "He said people make fun of him at work. He says that his kids, your cousins, also get teased."

"Mom, why are you telling me this?"

She looked down. She tried to hold back a slight grin but her mouth twitched and remained a smile. Goddamnit, she was enjoying herself.

"I'm leaving," I said and headed for the front door.

My bag was sitting, untouched, by the front closet. I picked it up. My father was making another drink in the kitchen. I could hear Zowie's faint coughing coming from the bedroom. My mother remained in the rocking chair. I walked out without saying good-bye. No one called after me.

When I got to Bernard's the following day I felt like a person who had gone on vacation and realizes when they get home that they like it there just fine. Doing a couple of fuck scenes got my mind off of Florida and family. Out with the old and in with the nubile. My new family helped me forget about bad relatives past.

August 18, 2004

On to Florida

Two days later I went to Florida. I packed and flew and landed in Orlando on a Monday afternoon. My mom picked me up at the airport. The airport was half-filled with kids wearing mouse ears.

"Hey, Shirley," she said. "You look pretty."


"I mean it."

We were silent as we rode down the hot Orlando freeway. Orlando didn't look much different than L.A. Palm trees and ugly architecture.

"How's Zowie doing?" I asked, twenty minutes into the drive.

"She's not good. Health-wise the doctor says she's a little stronger than yesterday, but her mind's going and she sometimes gets hysterical and refuses to eat. It may be a shock for you to see her because she's stopped putting on make-up and some of the gray is peeking through her hair. You know how much she tried to hide her age."

I looked at my mother driving the car with her frail hands and arms. My mother wasn't a looker. Zowie was. Grandma Zowie was still a beautiful woman at eighty. She dyed her hair black and put on beet-red makeup everyday which really did hide her age. She always dressed sharp, usually shades of black and white, and went dancing a couple of nights a week. She was a drinker and loved parties. She was an even bigger partier when she was younger. It was the roaring twenties. Other women resented her for her suburban glamour. My mother also resented Zowie and only wore lipstick and some powder if she was going out to dinner. Throughout her life she was overshadowed by her own mother. That must have been tough on young Joy. I had to be stuck with the square growing up, the quiet woman, too reserved to raise a finger to hostility. At least I got the looks from Zowie. The good looks had skipped a generation.

Before I was born, Zowie created a minor scandal in our family. She started dating a guy named Charlie only four months after her husband, a poor, unsuccessful sports columnist named Ivan, died. They moved to Florida together. Charlie had enough money so that they could go out dancing regularly. There was a rumor that Zowie and Charlie were having an affair during the marriage. Until I started working in porn, Zowie and Charlie was the main subject of bitter gossip in my family.

"Do you think Zowie and Charlie had an affair during the marriage?" I asked my mom.

"I don't know. Nobody knows. The secret's probably going to die with them. It's better if you don't bring that up. Zowie's very unstable right now."

The drive took forty minutes. Zowie lived in a gated complex of identical homes that looked something like a moon colony. The plants and trees seemed to be made out of plastic, the black asphalt was perfectly paved, the unblemished stop signs were as red as cherries. My mom and her brother, Mitch, moved her in there after somebody got murdered in her apartment building. "The jigs are moving in," Mitch said. He paid most of the rent because he had more money. He worked in New York in business. He wasn't quite Wall Street but he had some money.

My mom said, "Rosetta," her maiden name, to the security guard and he let us pass.

Zowie tried to bring as much of the flavor of her old apartment to the stale complex as she could. She couldn't bring the red, brown, and yellow shag carpeting from her old apartment but she brought her black grand piano which was gravely out of tune, her vast collection of sculptures of animals made out of glass and wire, and a large portrait of her painted by a local artist in Newark. I had always loved to look at the painting as a kid because it showed her in all her early glamour, sequined dress and hair cut in twenties style, wearing a tiny black hat.

"She's in the bedroom," my mom said as we entered the apartment. "Let me go check on her."

I went into the living room and sat on a long black and white couch, a pattern of black and white flowers. This was going to be hard.

I was staring at the painting of Zowie when my father walked in from the kitchen carrying a whiskey with ice, his drink. When he saw me, he stopped and took a step back into the kitchen as if he wanted to go back. He looked at me, knew he couldn't escape, and walked slowly into the living room. He sat across from me in a tall black chair.

"Hello, Shirley," he said in a low voice.


We were silent for a long time. I looked to the door of Zowie's bedroom hoping my mom would come out. Dad drank his whiskey. I didn't care if we never said anything but "hello" to each other for the rest of our lives. But then after a while the silence seemed more uncomfortable than talking.

"You got yourself a whiskey," I said.


"Bourbon? I thought bourbon and whiskey were the same thing."

He looked at me as if studying an insect.

"I never have learned the difference between liquors," I said quickly. "I know Vodka's made from potatoes and Saki's made from rice."

"Saki," he said.

"You know, Japanese wine."

"I've had Saki. It almost made me sick. I could drink three gallons of it and it wouldn't get me drunk."


We were silent again.

My mom came out then, thankfully. She was holding her arms. She had fear in her eyes.

"You can go in now if you want, Shirley. I have to warn you, it's not that easy."

"What is?" I said.

August 13, 2004

Family Life

One of the reasons I took the leap into hooking in New York was to give the finger to my parents just like I had in junior high school by sleeping with their friends' sons. The same went with porn. Though there was something much more gratifying about working in porn. With porn I was giving the finger to the whole world.

So, all this said, I wasn't much looking forward to going to Florida and seeing family. My father hadn't beat me since I was seventeen and before that, maybe once a year since fifteen. The broken arm scared him a little. But I hadn't forgiven him. I never would. I did like my grandmother and was sad to hear she was dying. I wanted to see her one last time.

I couldn't leave for a couple of days. There were a couple of jobs I had been hired for that I had to do. I drove to Bernard's house.

Far Out greeted me warmly at the door. "Hey, Shirl, great to see you," she said and gave me a big hug.

We went into the living room and sat on red-wooden chairs with soft cushions.

"How's your boyfriend doing?" I asked.

"He's fine. He's good. He's the reason things are going so well. We watched a movie I was in with Ram Baker and Ivy Falls and he didn't get upset. He said it actually turned him on."

"That's good," I said.

I looked onto the porch. Bernard was standing over a grill and being passed meat from Ram Baker. Jenny Highsmith and Ivy Falls, an S&M performer, and Soozie Twilight, a girl I'd met recently who told me she'd been conceived on acid, were sitting in lawn chairs, drinking out of tall glasses, and talking. Behind them, the L.A. view was clear to the ocean, usually shadowed by smog.

"I may ask if we can do a scene together," Far Out said.


"I'm going to ask Bernard if me and Kirk can do a scene together."

"That's great," I said. "I'm happy for you."

Far Out smiled.

Bernard came into the living room from the porch. "Hey, Shirl," he said. "It's time to eat."

"I didn't know we were going to have a party today," I said.

"Neither did I. But it's such a beautiful day for it." He pointed up to the ceiling.

Far Out jumped out of her chair and ran to the porch. I followed her. Bernard went deeper into the house to find more people.

Soon there were about twenty people outside.

Bernard put hot dogs and hamburgers on a plate from the grill and people came up and started feeding themselves.

Almost everyone I'd met since I started working was on the porch: Bernard, Jay, Far Out, Trashy, Holly, a blonde with premature wrinkles at the sides of her eyes, Ram Baker, Johnny Boyle, Harry Fidelman, a heavily Jewish guy who I liked doing scenes with because he always nervously tried to make me comfortable, Barbie, her real name if you could believe it, Jenny Highsmith, Ivy Falls, Holly Blolightly, Maggie Streets, Laurie Dressing, Celia Brady, Mandy Thursday, and a slew of other people, some of whom I'd met and some I was getting to know. Carny lives, hitchhiker lives, labor lives, struggling lives like myself. They'd all come to the same place. They were people who didn't have a chance in the straight world because they hadn't been given one, and now they didn't even want to bother. They were satisfied with their well-paid, over-sexed freedom.

"First we eat, then we fuck," Bernard said, and everybody laughed.

Everybody was happy, eating and talking and looking at the L.A. lights. The smog seemed to clear for this day. It hadn't even rained the day before.

Eventually, we all went inside. We cleared the living room of furniture, lay blankets over the large Persian rug, took off all our clothes, and did it in one smiling heap. Bernard set up two cameras on either side of the room. Even he took off his clothes and got involved. And he hadn't been in a movie in ten years.

People were slow and warm and considerate, touching lightly and asking what each other wanted. I made out with Trashy and Far Out and Jenny Highsmith. They rubbed my hair delicately. "Mmmn, you're lovely," Jenny said. Some of the men were more aggressive, but then they settled down and enjoyed themselves. Everyone was generous and the sex felt as good as it ever had.

If I could never have a decent home life, the sweetness and care in that room was family how I'd always wanted it.

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