Monday, July 06, 2009


After some soul-searching, this is the future of Grace Undressed:

This blog will remain at this site indefinitely, accessible to anyone. I also have a new blog, where I will be doing most of my writing from now on. Not saying I won't pop up here once in a while, but my life is weirder and darker than before, and requires a greater degree of privacy, in keeping with which, the new blog will be members only, available by subscription.

I commit to posting on the new blog no less than once a week, for not less than one year. I haven't got the ghost of an idea what I'll be doing a year from now -- my life now is a maze of temporary solutions -- but you will know as soon as I do.

General Public: A subscription is $25 -- the price of one lap-dance and one drink, or about what you would pay for a hardback copy of my book if I wrote a book, only this is more fun because I don't know the ending any better than you do. You can subscribe by making a donation to my PayPal account -- bright yellow button located over there in the side bar.

IMPORTANT: An invitation will be sent to the address registered with your PayPal account. So, if this address is not correct, please include the correct address in the message PayPal allows you to send with your donation.

Facebook Friends: Subscriptions are available to my imaginary friends at a reduced fee of $15 -- the paperback price.

Students, Artists, Sex-workers, and Sweet Young Things: It wouldn't be a party without you, so a number of slots are reserved with you guys in mind. Give what you can and/or write to me at graceundressed at g mail d0t c0m and tell me why you want to read. It will help if you a) have been a regular commenter in the past b) have a kick-ass blog of your own and/or c) spell and punctuate your e-mail carefully.

I hope to see you at the party. To those of you who cannot or choose not to subscribe, it has been great having you along and I wish you all the best. Maybe I'll publish a book one day and we can catch up then.

Peace. Namaste.


Friday, June 19, 2009

no experience necessary

"What clubs did you dance in?" Tom wants to know. Just small talk, before the dancing starts.

Tom is some kind of attorney. He got divorced two years ago and has lived in this apartment ever since, which is weird because it doesn't look like anybody really lives here. There's a couch and a coffee table and a big TV and that's pretty much it. Nothing on the walls. No smell. This whole place is as bare of personality as a nice hotel.

"A few," I say. "But I started at the Crazy Lady."

I always milk this line for laughs. The Crazy Lady was a dump, a dive, squeezed into a little strip along the access road, between a porn store and a discount coffin outlet.

"No shit?" Tom says. "I used to go there in college. Wow. The Crazy Lady. I should have met you back then."

Yeah. Except back then there was no me. Back then there was only a scrawny stripper named Jordan in a ratty wig and before that there was nothing -- a tired teenage waitress on the late-late shift at a diner by the highway. Everything else sitting on this couch tonight, the long red hair and the gym body and the glossy lips -- all this I made up in the meanwhile.

My first day of dancing I walked out of the dressing room with my wig pinned down to my head with bobby pins. I'd filled out a W-9 in the office with the lady manager, who inspected my thong to make sure it was "legal" -- i.e. not transparent or break-away. And then she'd turned me loose.

There were only three or four men in the club, and they were all sitting with girls already. All except for one guy, about my age. Curly hair, I think. I walked up and stuck out my hand and said my name and then my mind went blank. Until this very moment in time I had had approximately three modes of social behavior: invisibility, impassioned earnestness, and -- method of choice with possibly attractive members of the opposite sex -- weird sarcasm. None of which was going to get me anywhere.

So I sat next to this young guy, this boy, although he hadn't exactly asked me to. I must have asked some questions, must have tried to make what I thought was small-talk. I guess I asked him if he went to the university; campus was just across the highway. I remember he said yes. I told him I went there, too. I wanted him to know that I was smart, that I could be anywhere I wanted right then, and I was there because I wanted to be. Not nervous. Not desperate.

I thought I saw him eyeing me, weighing me -- judging, and discarding. It didn't occur to me that he might be uncomfortable, embarrassed, or shy. In my panic, it was all, all about me. I saw his mouth turn thin and smug. I wanted to wipe that look off. I cared, suddenly, what he thought, this absolute stranger whom I would never know. I wanted to change his mind. I wanted to make him want me, make him know he was fucking lucky to have me sitting there, jumping to take my dress off for the low, low price of $20.

We ran out of things to say. There was an awful little pause. I asked him if he wanted a lapdance just to put and end to it. He looked at me sideways. "I think I'll pass," he said.


I got up. The club was so small. There was nowhere to go but back in the dressing room, so I went. The "dressing room" was really just a short, cramped hallway behind the stage with a row of decrepit high-school gym lockers pushed up against one wall, covered in graffiti and torn, glittery stickers that said "99% Angel" and "Princess" and "Boys Suck." It smelled like mildew and cheap make-up and it was always cold. In those first weeks, I spent a lot of time back there.

I didn't give my first dance until the end of that first day, and I was so desperate by then to be giving one that I barely remember it. His name was Neil and he was pretty fat. When I was dancing at the Crazy Lady, I used to say a good day was a day when I didn't remember any of their faces.

The men there on the dayshift were guys who didn't have anywhere else to be. They were plumbers and electricians stopping in between jobs, day laborers who didn't get hired that day, retired guys living on fixed incomes. They didn't have much money, and all any of us girls wanted was to take that little bit away. Relations between the dancers and the customers were tense at best.

We knew they would give us the money, sooner or later -- not because they like us, but because we are the only option they've got. They knew if they waited till we were desperate we would beg the DJ to run a 2-4-1 special. Resentment and discontent hung in the air there like a smell. I taught myself a basic hustle of big eyes and persistance, my face wiped blank like a slate. Smile, nod, play dumb but not too dumb: a bubble-gum naivete -- just smart enough to understand your jokes. Like me. Please like me. Feel sorry for me. Give me your cash.

The guy in the suit who walked in that one summer afternoon stuck out like a sore thumb. Aaron. He said his name was Aaron, and he said he only stopped in because the club is right off the access road to the highway and it's rush hour and traffic is standing still.

Sure. Whatever. I don't care. I just hope he brought some money with him, because it's getting boring sitting back in the dressing room watching little blond Celeste dreamily run her hair-dryer up and down her white arms and legs.

He is tall and thin, and going bald, not in a bad way. He has a nice smile. He does not seem to be angry at me for having breasts and charging money to look at them. When I ask him to dance he says yes right away.

I dance. In the dark, I look pretty. They always keep this club so dark, and my pale skin glows in the blacklights. Even my wig looks great, if you don't look too close. I have just learned how to glue false eyelashes to my upper lids. I made $42 on my first day, and I went to the dollar store and bought lipstick.

After the dance, Aaron keeps talking. I like him. He's funny, and smart. He also gives me $20 to sit with him while he talks. I like him even more. He starts telling me about himself -- his job, which sounds impressive. His house. The trips he's taken. I understand that this man in his suit is trying to impress me. Behind my stripper smile, I am really smiling.

I have an imperfect but solid understanding that this is probably not real. When he starts asking me out, I smile and shake my head. Bubblegum. Big eyes. I say, "You don't even know me."

He is leaning forward. His body is taught as a wire. "Listen," he says. "I'm a really great guy. I swear. I wrote a book about bicycling in Mexico. I'm awesome. You owe it to yourself." He's funny. I laugh. It feels -- interesting. I have a sense of having been handed a kind of power, but I have no idea what to do with it. It's not really real. It feels kind of real, though.

I remember him saying, "Please." I remember him pulling a pen out of his pocket and writing his name down, first and last. "Please, I have to go. What can I say or do in the next five minutes to convince you to come with me? Listen, I'm going down to the coast. I have a boat down there, a little sailboat. I want you to come sailing with me this weekend. Please."

I keep shaking my head. I run out of things to say. Finally, I take the napkin. I tell him I'll call. I feel guilty. My palms are sweating. At this point in my life, I have done very little lying.

"You will? No, you won't. Will you? Jesus."

He does leave, finally. I take the napkin back to the dressing room and tuck it into the front pocket of my backpack. Later I take it out and read his name to myself silently, first and last. It is a beautiful, alliterative name.

I see myself sitting at the prow of a little sailboat, dangling my feet down so the spray of each wave as we crest it slaps up the inside of my thighs. When I was small, my family had a little boat like this. We took it out in the summers, and had sandwiches with pimento cheese spread. Big motorboats would go by us, throwing up huge wakes that made our tiny boat rock and yaw.

But I am not ten and these are not the yellow-green waters of the Chesapeake. This is the gulf, and the waters are blue as steel. I hear seabirds and cracking canvas. My arms smell like sunlight and salt. At this time in my life, I do not even own a bathing suit; if I want to swim I wear cut-offs and a man's undershirt. They'll kick you out of the city pools like that, so I go to the greenbelt and wade down the muddy banks to swim. On the deck of Aaron's boat, my bathing suit is two-piece, yellow with white polka dots.

Aaron is on the boat somewhere behind me, at the rudder, but I do not see him. Later I will go back and he will be there. My mind never goes any farther than this.

"Are you ready to dance?" Tom asks.

"Born ready." I put the music on, stand up and put my hands on his shoulders. I start to sway. I start to pull my shirt over my head, and teasingly turn away just at the moment when my breasts would pop out.

"Wow," Tom says. "You're great. I wish I would have met you at the Crazy Lady. We should have met then."

I laugh and finish taking off my shirt, toss it at him. Sure. We should have met years ago, when I was young. You were married then, of course, and I wouldn't have left a club with a customer to save my life, but if this is your dream I'll dream it with you: We would have been the ones to save each other and neither of us would be here now, in this barren room that still smells like paint making this transaction of skin for cash, survival for survival.

Sure, baby. Sure.

Friday, June 05, 2009

not now, but soon

Jim found my blog and read the last post. He e-mailed me and we had one of those largely pointless exchanges singular to people who spend too much time online.

But my very real chagrin -- because nobody should have to read another person's uncensored opinion about themselves, ever -- was squelched for good around the time he envinced to be shocked (but shocked!) that I would publish something as private and personal as our lunchtime conversation online. Given that the culture of review-posters more or less revolves around the online airing of intensely private moments -- who does what and for how much and will she take the condom off -- this seems just a little rich.

So, Jim, this is what it's like to be reviewed. I don't blame you if you don't like it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't either.

Enough of that. But it is a good reminder that times have changed and the days are over when I can blithely talk a ton of shit about whoever I choose (names and identities properly obfuscated) with the security that no one is really listening. It's been a year since the Boing-Boing folks showed up, and once I got over the initial shock, it has been a hell of a party.

Still, times have changed. Blogging has been a lot like dancing in a certain way, with the mirror-twin pleasures of exposure and anonymity. The perfect drug for shy exhibitionists like me -- naked on a lighted stage in front of a house of strangers, and no one knows my name, or anything about me, really, except what I choose to show.

But the island of my privacy is getting a little smaller all the time. If you've been reading for a while, you know I don't post as much as I used to. I have to think harder before I do, every time. For months, I've been thinking about quitting. I went out and bought myself a journal, the real kind, with covers. It's good, but it's not the same. I've thought about running away and starting a new blog, but I'd miss your tiny voices, my old imaginary friends.

So I don't know what I'm going to do, but something's going to have to change. Maybe not quite, quite yet. But soon.

Monday, June 01, 2009

the hobbyist

There is something preposterous about Jim and at the same time something mysterious.

Jim was a customer of mine. Sort of. Not a great one. He never bought many dances, and he talks a lot -- softly, quickly, continuously. There never is a good moment to get up and walk away. You just have to get up and go. Then again, the things he says are fascinating, whether they are true or not. Some of them seem like they could not possibly be. Others I know for myself are fact.

I used to ask him to tip me for my time. "Oh my God," I would say. "I could just sit here and listen to you talk all night." (True.) "I've totally lost track of time." (Not true. I am a cyborg with a digital time-keeping device implanted in my lower left eyescreen. I know exactly what time it is all the time and every ten minutes an alarm goes off that says you owe me money.) "I could have made a hundred dollars by now if I was working!"

Gee whiz mister, and he would reach deep into his pocket and pull out a money clip stuffed with cash -- now who on earth carries a money clip stuffed with high-denomination bills? I have to think that the bottom 3/4 of it is all ones with just some Bens and Grants and Andies dressing up the outside -- but he peels off $100 and gives it to me. And I open up my eyes like tin cups, Gee thanks mister.

A friend who works at another club he frequents told him I was dancing privately now. He e-mailed me. We agreed to go to lunch. I did not think Jim would probably be very interested in getting private dances from me. Jim's extracurriculars are at another level. He is what you call a hobbyist, one of those men for whom paying for sex is not only an expediency but a lifetsyle and an all-consuming passion. They hang out in the Locker Room forum on ASPD and coin the acronyms -- DFK, GFE, DATY -- that make some of my favorite sex acts sound like something being traded on the NYSE. They have elaborate personal scoring systems for the women they pay for sex, based on their age, their looks, whether they are pro or non-pro. They have ATF's. They have types.

Jim's type is young. Not dancers -- waitresses. New waitresses, green but not innocent, knocked around a little bit already but still fool-hardy. He takes them out to lunch and opens the door for them. He treats them to the hair salon and the nail salon and Nordstrom's for a pretty dress and a pair of shoes and then to a comedy club downtown and then back to a hotel room where they fuck, for about the price she would have made in tips that day if it had been an average-good day.

Jim tells me all this over lunch, explicitly. Some of it I knew or guessed before. He describes his last girl for me, tells me her name and I remember her: a pugnacious little cocktail waitress with glossy, dark corkscrew curls and pale, slender arms and legs. She was 20. Jim says she used to meet him at the club and leave with him, ditching her car in the parking lot so her boyfriend would think she was at work.

He says she's a dancer now, but not doing well. She called him up a few nights ago, panicked, begging for money. He met up with her and gave her a few hundred bucks. "I told her she shouldn't have started dancing," he said. "She's the kind of girl you want when you can't have her."

As always, I am appalled and transfixed. I feel like I'm talking to an invented character. He can't be real. Maybe he is a woman. Maybe he is a pathological liar. Maybe he is a kingpin of the underground. I just don't know. And always so open with me, I don't know if he is confessing, or oblivious, or truly, gloriously unashamed.

"I like girls who've never been anywhere or done anything," he told me once. "They're easier to impress." And another time: "I want someone I can't picture myself with in real life." And again, "I don't want someone who might make me feel insecure. You know us men, our fragile egos."

I can't say I've known a lot of men with egos quite this fragile, or haven't known them well. I try to be a little careful with the kind of men I know.

He says things like that, us men. He speaks for all men everywhere. He speaks for men everywhere now when he tells me that I'll never make a living doing what I'm doing, just dancing. "You know guys are going to be disappointed when they find out there's no desert menu," he says.

"Everybody knows that up front," I tell him. "I make it really clear. The only guys who do business with me are the ones who want what I offer."

He shakes his head. He tells me it will never work, and when that doesn't get me, he leans across the table, whispering, covering my hand with his: "Listen, honey, it's not safe. Sooner or later you're going to get raped. It happens to all the girls. Can't you just work for an agency? At least you'd have somebody looking out for you."

I am pretty confident there is no agency out there that would screen as obsessively as I do, that would look out for me as well as I look out for me. With all that, I know there is a non-zero chance that something bad will happen to me, but that's true every time you leave the house. Or even if you don't leave.

Besides, I can't really work for an agency because I don't do sex.

"I can't work for an agency. I don't have sex."

"I know, honey, I know. Say anything you want, but sooner or later some guy is going to make up his mind he's getting laid and he's going to get laid, understand? It always happens. Listen to me. I used to be part owner of an agency in Houston, and it happened to one of our girls, and it was a guy we all knew, a guy who was part of the community. It happens, you know. Guys are guys."

Which is not a particularly great argument for agencies and the screenings that they do, or for references, or for the so-called community, or for Jim. I don't know what to say. I'm still deep in the empathy-space I go into when I'm working, even though it is perfectly obvious to both of us by now that we are not doing business together.

I'll think about this story later and I'll want to say, Fuck you. Fuck your part-time pimping and fuck you for getting your girl raped. You are a lousy pimp, maybe lousier than most pimps, because you're really a mortgage broker or something and it's only a hobby to you so you don't even give the fuck you would give if it was your livelihood.

I shrug, fork up a cluster of salad. I tell him I feel about as safe as I've ever felt.

"But, sweetie, can't you at least go to a modeling studio or something? Somewhere you'd be safe. Somewhere somebody would look after you. I'm just worried about you, OK? You're a fantastic woman and I would really hate to hear that you got hurt."

I think of the modeling studios you drive past as you leave town: Mardi Gras, Ramses, Foxxies, The Doll House. Weird little storefronts tucked into shady little strip malls, next to porn stores and sex shops and the cheaper kind of nail salons. I've never been inside of one, but I imagine it's a lot like the lower-end clubs I've worked in -- the Crazy Lady or the Glass Slipper in Boston. It's small. The carpet is damp and smells damp, so at the end of the day you need a thirty-minute shower just to get the smell off you. People come and go in dark hallways lit with black-lights to make your white G-string glow like some kind of underwater fish. It feels like 1 a.m. at every time of day and it's always hovering over you, the silent pressure of everyone else is doing it and if you want to make money you will too.

"Nah," I say. "I think I'm pretty happy with the way things are going."

He throws his hands up in a heavens-what-will-we-ever-do-with-you gesture. "I guess you know best," he says.

I sneak a look at him over my next tine of salad, sopping with thin vinagrette. This is not really a very nice restaurant. I don't care if the menu is in French.

I would not have sex with Jim for any amount of money the two of us could ever agree on. Not just because he's ugly. I stopped looking at people's outsides a long time ago. It doesn't make sense when you're a dancer. What people looks like doesn't matter. What matters is if they will look in your eyes and listen when you say no and touch you like they would like to be touched instead of fondling you and rolling you around like a melon at fruit stall.

It's not just because Jim's skin looks like the top of my kombucha jar. I'm not that shallow. Or maybe I am. And if I am, well, then I wouldn't make a very good escort, even if I wanted to. God knows I haven't got any moral or ethical dilemma with it. The two main components of escorting -- money and sex -- are both things I like a lot. But goddamn if I'm not just picky.

After lunch Jim walks me to my car. "You know," he says on the way, "I've always thought you were one of the bravest women I ever knew."


He makes a fluttery gesture with his hand over his belly. "You know. The scar."

Oh. That. I don't even think about it anymore.

"You never covered it up. You were just out with it. And all the other girls worrying about how to pay for their boob jobs."

Smile. Laugh. Shrug. Hug. I don't have anything left to say.

One time he told me he'd never ask a woman to sleep with him if he didn't know she'd say yes. "I don't want to be shot down," he said. "Men hate to be shot down."

Everybody hates to be shot down, not just men. He comes close though, as he's hugging me goodbye. "If you ever want to do the professional girlfriend thing, you know who to call first," he says. "When you're ready for somebody to take care of you."

End hug. Disengage. Smile again. Still deep in empathy space, although we no-sale'd so long ago I couldn't even find you the receipt. So maybe the empathy thing is not something I do for the customers. Maybe it's something I do for myself.

I roll the window down to wave as I pull out of the parking lot and then he's gone except for the smell of his cologne which will make it with me all the way home.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I hate my haircut. I really hate it.

I'm just going to thin it out a little for summer, the stylist said. I said, OK, not too much though.

She holds the mirror up so I can see the back of my head and it is -- yes, it is thin. Little rat-tails hanging down my back. Well, it's too late. She can't put any back.

I get home and the boy at my house tells me I look like Aileen Wuornos. Aileen Wuornos, if you don't know, was a north Florida roadside prostitute -- abused child, unwed mother, teenage runaway. We just watched a documentary about her. Sad life. According to her court testimoney, she was raped by at least one john, sadistically -- afterwards, she said, he poured rubbing alcohol on her vagina and her anus, to make it hurt more. She shot him dead.

She went on to shoot six more johns, all of whom, she says, were trying to rape her. But you have to think that after so much hurting by so many, the lines got blurry in her mind about who was trying to hurt her and who wasn't, necessarily. She was put to death by lethal injection in 2002, but not before the police made a deal with the productions companies and there were a couple of movies about it and everybody made a lot of money.

Anyway, she's dead now.

"Just, you know, how it's kind of thin at the bottom and poufy on top," says the boy. It's a spectacularly cruel comparison, and I don't think the boy means to be this cruel. I don't know what he means. I look in the mirror. Thin little rat-tails and poufy bangs. It's supposed to be trendy. This is what I get for letting a hipster stylist cut my hair when I am not really a hipster. North Florida psychotic roadside prostitute death-row hair.

My hair is one thing about me I've always thought was beautiful. It's the color of lightly tarnished copper and it's shiny and thick. When I was fifteen it was down to my waist. I let it hang in my face -- a curtain of lovely between the world and my ugly mug. That year somebody took a picture of me. I hated having my picture taken, anyway. The picture came back and it was so fucking hideous. Thick stripes of hair and a thin strip of face in between: Wednesday Adams scowl and big purple circles around my eyes like somebody punched me twice. I demanded my mother cut my hair off, all of it. She did. I mourned. Not pretty anymore.

A few years later, I'd learned to give myself bangs by pulling my hair to the front, twisting it into a spiral and snipping it off with table scissors. I was 19 and proud of being rough. My everyday uniform was wifebeater undershirts and jeans rolled up to mid-calf. I flicked my cigarette ash into the cuffs. Burn marks from working as a grill cook latticed up my arms and made me feel hard and good.

But that was ten years ago and today I'm meeting a new dancing client. On the drive to the coffee shop I keep checking my hair in the rearview mirror. Sometimes it looks OK and sometimes it really doesn't. Also, I've got band-aids on both elbows from where I flew ass-over-handlebars off my bike Saturday while attempting to drink lemonade and ride downhill. It was a good fall; I covered my face and took it all on my forearms, leaving big smears of DNA on the pavement. At least I didn't hurt the moneymaker. But I've also got a spray of dime-sized purple bruises on my thigh where it hit the asphalt. They look like they could be finger marks, which is bad; customers wonder if you're getting punched up at home. I look in the rearview mirror again. I feel rough, and today it doesn't make me feel good.

This business is all about looking good, and not just good, but expensive. Like a luxury product, like someone who can set their price and stick to it, someone who can say "Don't touch me there" and mean it. Desirable. Professional. Sought after. In control. You can't look desperate. You can't look second-best.

I could cancel, but dudes get cagey when you do that and sometimes that's the last you hear from them. Unless your leg is in a cast, it's better to just play through. I get to the coffee shop early, order my latte and sit down with my book. Over the top of Mandy Aftel's Essence and Alchemy, I scout each man who comes through the door. I think it's the guy in the plaid shirt with the blue eyes. He pays for his iced tea and meets my eyes. Smiles, walks towards me. Yes. OK. I stick out my hand.

Monday, May 04, 2009


I went away for a week last month, north and north and farther north. I took a plane and then a train and then the venerable Sixty of Sixty's Place met me at the station and delivered me the last leg of my journey, into the mountains.

Sixty is not sixty and he does not have hair growing out of his ears, so I lose a bet with myself and must now buy myself dinner. Indeed, he is charming and witty and literate, as any reader of his blog might expect him to be. He is also sweet, which one might not expect. And, I suspect, sensitive, though I didn't get a chance to pinch him, so I can't say for sure.

A scheme had been floated to have lunch at Sixty's beloved Club M. and take a tour of the local beauties there, but at the last minute we didn't go. I think he got shy on me. We also didn't go panty-shopping at the outlet mall. Instead we spent a couple of hours of a perfect, golden afternoon drinking wine in the bar of an empty restaurant.

He dropped me off at the yoga institute, where I spent the first day being cynical and exasperated, and the second day alternately crying my eyes out -- the good kind -- and sweating my ass off in the darkness of the cedar-scented sauna, til all the water drained out of me and I was empty as a shell.

It was good. Then I went around writing down interesting things people said in a notebook, which I lost on the train home.

I remember writing down: Cultivate the space between thoughts.

And: Brahman, Vishnu, Shiva: create, sustain, destroy.

And: Resist the urge to make life a story. Life is not a story.

And: Learn to discriminate purusha from prakrti. You are not your possessions. Your are not your name. Your are not your body. Your are not your recollections of the past or your fantasies of the future. You are not your discomfort or your disease. You are not your impulses or your lusts. These things are ripples on a pond. You are.

I'm sorry I lost my notebook. I think there were other good things in there. Hopefully they made some impression on me somewhere.

In the train station, waiting: two women in the bathroom, standing by the sink.

"I didn't know you were J.R.'s girlfriend," says the one with the sunglasses and the full-sleeve tattoos. "I used to get all my shit from J.R. But he don't return my calls no more."

"He got a new phone," says the tall girl with the pink bandana. "You should call him again."

"Yeah, cause I been getting all my stuff from Donald. And, you know -- rip-off."

"Yeah. Did you know he got robbed? Him and his girlfriend. All their stuff, and their money, and their T.V. It was somebody that knew them, too."

"Now, that is just messed up."

"Yeah, but you know we all been there. I know I've been, just, going crazy thinking, what am I going to do, cause I've got to have my medication, and I don't know what I'd do for it."


The world goes on singing a song that sounds an awful lot like a story sometimes. The train is late and we all sit outside on the curb by the tracks in the early spring afternoon light, like a row of blackbirds. Finally it comes.

I love the way trains slice through the landscape like a slow knife through butter. Trains go behind the backs of things. We see the hidden faces of the towns, the backs of people's houses, where the trash cans are. We pass a prison yard with razor wire.

We go through woods that are barely beginning to green, the first hint of buds on trees looks like a layer of frost. Locals tell me it's been a slow spring. I miss slow springs. In Texas, spring comes so fast. On Sunday you see little bright green buds, and by Friday they are full-blown leaves. If you have a deadline the week that spring comes, you can miss it.

For a while, we run neck-and-neck with a little river. It is not a sunny day, but the water is full of lights. I try to see these things like I have never seen anything before. I try to cultivate the space between thoughts. I try not to make a story. I feel alive, a little more than when I left home, and that's a lot.





Tuesday, April 28, 2009

be my imaginary friend!

For the truly insatiable, I now exist as a unit of social media on Facebook (Grace Fuller) and Twitter (graceundressed), even though I don't really understand what Twitter is for. If you're into these things, come find me!

Ed: To those who have expressed concern, no I am not giving up blogging in favor of tweeting. Just, this way I get to spy on your lives like you get to spy on mine. :)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

in like a lion

I remember this:

March 9, 2009.

Driving across the high and lonely West Texas plains in Jeff's Escalade, the fine gray rain turns into stinging gray ice. I cut our speed, although it's hard to make yourself go slow on these long roads that stretch on for hours between nothing and nothing. The broken yellow dividing lines tick off the seconds. Outside, the world aches with cold -- smoky lilac sky and miles and miles of winter-worn prairie grass frozen in mid-wave, the color of dishwater. Inside the car everything feels warm and safe, as though the outside were just a movie. That's why you have a big box of an automobile like this, I guess.

In the passenger seat, Jeff taps fretfully at his laptop and curses because he can't get a signal. Like there was any ghost of a chance of a signal out here in the million miles between Amarillo and Odessa, even without the weather turning nasty. Once upon a time Jeff was born in the country like me, but he's a city boy now through and through and he wants what he wants when he wants it with no interference from natural law.

The roads are getting slippery, but my feet feel sure and my legs are strong. I will take us through the storm. Like the car, I was made for this.

Last night, in the hotel, Jeff asked me to run a bath instead of a shower. I filled the tub and added bubbles from the hotel's fancy soap. We undressed and got in together. I leaned back on my side of the tub and let the hot water soak out the day's long drive. Jeff sat forward, reached for me, took hold of me, pulled me towards him. I made my body hard, a pillowcase full of coat-hangers.

"Don't worry," he said. "You're virginity is safe with me. Unfortunately. I haven't had anything like an erection in almost four years."

I made my body soft. He pulled my back tight against his chest, wrapped his arms around me underneath my breasts. I listen to his breathing as it slows. I do what I learned to do when I was dancing: I take pleasure in the pleasure that he takes in me. It works. Too well, maybe. I get lost inside the roles I play for other people, though never quite lost enough. In the end I always have to be myself; in the end, I always have to disappoint.

My legs are strong. I take us through the storm. The ice is picking up as we hit the wind-farms in Culbertson County. I've always loved driving through them, valleys of skyscraper-high turbines that remind me of giant electric fans. Like the fan my mother used to put next to my bed on summer nights and I'd put myself to sleep humming into it and listening to the spinning blades shake my voice to pieces.

A layer of ice must have built up on the turbines. They are still, all of them. Every giant fan frozen in it's flight against the purple sky. Everything is so still. Everything is so quiet.

In the bath, I made my body soft. I slowed my breathing to match Jeff's breathing. I took pleasure in the pleasure that I gave, though even at the time maybe I knew I was giving up too much, and I wouldn't be able to give that much much longer.

Jeff cleared his throat. "Once upon a time, in the jungle, there was a small monkey," he said.

He paused. With my eyes closed, I heard the vibration of his voice inside his body. I heard his voice inside my ear. I nodded my head against his shoulder: Go on.

Jeff is not really a mean guy. He's a kind guy and a funny guy, but his pain makes him fret, and the more he frets the worse it hurts. I watch his anger tick upwards, and that's when he starts to get mean about little things. I grew up this way. My method for dealing with unpredictable adults is all mapped out: Smile. Be cheerful. Act cute. Stay out of reach.

"The monkey thought of himself as a real playboy," Jeff said. "And he went all over the jungle asking the different female animals to have sex with him. And the female lion said no, and the female rhinoceros said no, and on and on. But finally the female elephant felt sorry for him, and she said yes."

Jeff is a large man. His chest is warm and solid against my back and for the moment it feels strong, like something I can rest against. It feels good to rest against another person's body. I nodded my head again. When I took this job I wanted something stable, something I could count on. Money I didn't have to hustle for, that I could get just for showing up to a certain place and doing a certain task, like regular people do. It has not worked out just like that.

"So the little monkey is going to town on the female elephant, and just then a coconut falls off a tree and it lands on the elephant's head. And the female elephant says, 'Ouch'."

Jeff is smiling. With my back turned and my eyes closed, I hear him smiling. Like everybody smiles right before they spill the joke, when they know the punch-line and you don't, yet. Jeff tightens his arms around me and kisses my cheek.

"And the monkey said, 'Suffer, bitch.'"

Friday, April 10, 2009

small things

Scarlett glared angrily down at her pho and jabbed at the floating raft of noodles with her spoon. "I don't know why you don't just quit," she said.

I'd been telling her the things I don't like about my job. Small things, or they seem like small things.

On Monday, Jeff scolded me for unspecified "unprofessional behavior." I don't really know what I did wrong. I think I didn't do anything wrong. I think he was just in pain that morning and needed someone to take it out on. Or maybe I really am stupid in some way I don't even understand. When I left the house that afternoon I cried. That made me feel even stupider.

Last week he promised me $50 if I got exterminators out to the house to trap the raccoon in the attic by the end of the day. I did. He didn't give me my $50. He laughed when I asked for it. I didn't say anything else. I don't know why.

On Wednesday he asked me in the shower if I liked anal sex. I shook my head. What I meant was, stop. Please stop. "Well, what kind of sex do you like?" he wanted to know.

"Uh. That's private."


Small things, really. Aren't they? I don't know anymore. So I tell them to Scarlett and watch to see what happens. Sometimes I can't get angry. Scarlett doesn't have that problem. Together, we are like one normal person.

"He's a dick," she said. "Your boss is a dick. You know, just because somebody is disabled doesn't make them a nice person."

I don't know if Jeff is or isn't a nice person. I don't know if anyone is a nice person, really, or what that means. I know he hasn't been very nice to me lately. And I know I can't seem to get upset the way I should, which really is the scary part. I can't seem to stick up for myself. I can't seem to put my foot down. I don't know why. Maybe compassion really lays me open too wide.

Scarlett bangs her spoon down on the table so loud it makes the little waitress look at us. "I just don't like to think about anybody treating you like this," she says. My sweet mosquito. My little flame. "He's testing you, and he's not going to stop. Believe me, he won't stop. I know men like this. I knew men like this before I ever should have known men like this, and he will not stop. I don't want to be sitting here when you tell me what he did next."

I see water in her eyes and I know it stings. Her anger heats me, feeds me. Makes me feel like I know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know why I'm not angry myself. The things I've told her aren't even the real reasons I want to quit.

The real reason I want to quit is because I hate his soap, the transparent, light violet slime I wash him with every morning. The bottle says "Lavender" something; the smell is camphorous and sneezy with notes of tar. Somehow it fills every cubic inch of that big, empty house and hits me every morning when I open the door. It clings underneath my fingernails, so the days I go there I smell it on me for the rest of the day.

In desperation, I dig a sample of Chanel Allure Sensuelle out of the back of a drawer and start spritzing it on me on every morning before I leave on that long drive out to the hills. That way I smell like full-blown, heavy roses, syrupy vanilla and dirty, dark amber/pathouli funk. Expensive slut. I tilt my head down to my shoulder during the morning just so I can smell it.

I feel so sorry for Jeff. I'm so sorry he's in pain. I'm sorry he is so alone, sorry he has no one to love him. I'm sorry he's so angry and so sad that he has to yell at the girl who comes to give him his showers in the morning. I'm sorry that's the only power he feels like he has left.

I wish I could help more. I've done a few small things. I got the raccoon out of the attic. I think I've done all I can do. I wish it were more. But I've got to leave while I can, before he takes more from me than I want to give while I watch myself give too much and can't say no because I'm programmed to want to please the sick and ease the hurting. Because I'm helpless in the face of a certain kind of anger and a certain kind of pain.

Last night I had a premonition that I would go to work again this morning. I got there and opened the door and the smell of artificial lavender hit me in the chest like an icy, dirty wave. I knew I wouldn't be back again tomorrow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


There will not be any peaches this year. The Japanese beetles have got at them again, whole orchard is full of their metallic buzzing and strange smell like honey and rot. My mother is speaking to me, yelling. I don't understand the words but in the roar of her voice I hear I am a terrible daughter. I don't care about my family. I don't care about anyone but myself.

So soon. Just minutes ago, just now, the peaches were little green bumps like fuzzy christmas lights, now swollen sweet, too ripe to touch and too ripe not to rot. Rain of rotten fruit and the ground is slippery under foot. My teeth are rotten in my head. They shift against the muscle of my tongue, I feel them move. They are hollow as the dead bodies of bugs, fragile shells.

I have to get help. I have to hold still. If I do not move my mouth at all, if I do not open my mouth to speak. If I hold my lips and tongue quite still, and breathe shallowly. I will go somewhere. I will find someone who can help me, a man in a white coat will glue my teeth back into place and they will not fall into my hands with a rattle, pearl-white and empty as husks.

My mother raging over me. She floats above the ground. Tall, taller than me, as she is in life still. Her hair long again, because I am a child. She flies towards me and hovers in the air. I am a bad child. I do not love my family. I do not love anyone but myself. There will not be any peaches this year. The peaches are all rotten and the bugs are in them, tunneling.

I will find someone to glue my teeth together. They will not fall, if I am careful. If I am careful, and I do not move my mouth at all, I will not move at all and it will not be too late.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The escape artist

Jeff clears his throat. "I like your breasts," he says. I am surprised. Not because this is a particularly perverted thing for him to say. We are, after all, buck naked, both of us, in the shower. But Jeff is one to maintain a certain professional distance. He is, after all, my boss. I have had this job for four days.

Jeff has some sort of condition. Medical professionals do not really know much about it or what to do about it, but one thing they know is that it does not usually hurt this much. Jeff hurts a lot. He is on pain-killers pretty much all of the time. I remember being on round-the-clock pain meds. Mornings are very bad, because the meds wear off through the night and you wake up hurting. Hurting is what wakes you up.

So I am there in the mornings. I make the long drive out to the ritzy address in the hills, park in his garage and punch in the code for his door. He is not talkative, especially if he had a bad night. Last night was a bad night. Jeff does not get out of bed when I let myself in the door. I go upstairs and he is naked under the sheets. He opens one eye. "Don't get too turned on," he says.

I laugh and go into the bathroom to undress. In a minute I hear the bed creak, and he joins me. He wraps his arms around me from behind and we rock gently side to side. Ostensibly, I'm here to help him bath and shave and dress, and to call the cable company and the pest exterminators and answer the phone, to look for the things he loses, to do a little yoga with him if he feels well enough, and make lunch and go home. But really, I'm here to touch him and for him to touch because it is touch, skin on skin, that seems to make the pain clear for a little while at a time.

In the shower, I adjust the water a little colder than I like it; luke-warm water is what he likes best. I squeeze a blob of shower gel into my palm and make a lather. I wash him from head to toe. He closes his eyes and lets the water run over his face. "May I touch you?" he asks. He always asks first, which I like. I say yes, and he wraps his arms around my waist. He rests his head between my breasts as I wash his hair, which is coarse and beautiful and thick as bristles on a brush. Today I shave the back of his neck and make the hairline particularly sharp and fine because he has a meeting in the afternoon. Then I shave his arms because tomorrow he's going to the hospital and he doesn't want the IV tape to hurt when they rip it off.

I rinse the soap away and turn off the water. His arms still wrapped around me, he kisses me between the breasts without opening his eyes. He turns his face into my flesh as if there were a place there that he could hide.

I got the job through an ad. That ad just said "assistant" but it was listed in the adult personals. "I'm looking for someone to help me shower and get dressed in the mornings," Jeff said in his e-mail. "It's humiliating enough being stripped down and hauled around like a side of beef. Maybe if a pretty, naked girl was doing it, it wouldn't be so bad."

Made sense to me, although when I try to explain it to my friend Nancy, herself an ex-stripper, the look she gives me says I won't be talking much about the job with anyone.

I notice that when Jeff hurts more, he wants more touch. He distracts himself by flirting, by making dirty jokes, by reaching out to pat my leg, to tuck the hair behind my ear. I don't mind. It makes sense to me. When he's hurting really bad, he just disappears. It looks like he's there, but he's not. It's a good trick. My mother could do it, too. Sitting around the house between chemo treatments with her flower catalogues in her lap and her eyes fixed no place.

I'd go up to her and shake her, saying "Mom. Mom. Mom." Til her eyes came back to me. It never occurred to me she might be happier where she was, with the tulips and the climbing roses, the gladioli and crocuses and lilies of the valley. I wanted her back with me.

Jeff opens his eyes. "Did you wash my hair yet?"



I don't let myself think too much about how much Jeff hurts. I don't think that's my job. I am here to carry on, to make things normal. I am here to hold the space, and the space I hold is that everything is OK, that the pain and the fear and the isolation are just facts about a person about whom there are many other facts.

The next day I drive Jeff to the hospital and we wait in the lobby together. He whispers in my ear, "Please don't laugh when they ask if you're my daughter."

The nurse with the clipboard comes to the door. "You can bring your wife back with you," she says.

He winks at me.

I don't think about how much Jeff hurts. I squeeze his pain into a little ball in my mind and flick it away with my fingers. Sometimes it comes back, though. If I'm alone too long in the evenings, like I sometimes am. Like I am tonight. If I am alone too long, sitting still. Pain, amorphous and un-localized; pain that is not really pain but the idea of pain, which is also painful. I have to get up and move. When I am moving it is not pain, just sensation. Sensation is not good or bad.

The yoga I was trained in -- firm, stoic, alignment-based Iyengar -- does not quite cut it anymore. I have to flow the feeling up and down my limbs and through my joints. I have to make it move like water. I have to dance. At the moment there is no one to dance for, so I dance alone in my room.

Monday, February 16, 2009


"This one? Do you feel it?"

His hand hovers above the needle freshly planted in the base of my thumb.

"A little."

His fingers make a delicate adjustment and my arm jumps with feeling. Not a stab or a prick. More like a small electric shock, a leap of awareness.

"Yes, I feel it now."

Toby, my acupuncturist. He soothes me. His big ears and soft chin; his quiet, steady hands. His touch is comforting and dispassionate. He sinks every needle just where it should go. This is what it's like to be taken care of.

He asked me how I felt today. I told him I felt heavy, sad. He nodded and made a note in his chart. He treats me for the excess of water in my constitution, and my deficient stomach chi. He says it is normal for people with too much water to feel sad. I like thinking of it this way. It's just water pulling me all the time towards the ground. Drain the water and I'll be light again.

"Here?" He touches me lightly just where the bottom of my sternum dives down between my ribs. Holy. My face contorts to a sob like someone pulled shut the drawstring of a purse. "Ah," he says softly. He pulls his hand away. "Take a breath."

I take a breath. I talk to myself like I talk to the beginning yoga students in my Wednesday night class. Breath in: let the heart be lifted. The very tip of the needle feels like a flaming arrow hitting bullseye. I sob, out loud this time. He pulls back. Touches again with the pad of his fingertip. It feels so deep, this hole, a fontanelle above my heart.

I met with a long-time submissive client the other night. Dinner was alright, but back in the room the scene went south fast. I had tried beforehand to talk about limits, but you don't always know them til you reach them and when we hit a snag he snapped. It was so sudden. I had no moment to prepare. He frightened me. I put my hand over my face. He sat down at my feet again but by then I was crying. He took his shirt off and gave it to me. He put his head on my lap. I told him things I never meant to tell him. He said, "This will make us closer." I cried harder. He stayed with me till I was done and then he called me a taxi.

Closer. Maybe. Until you're bored with being close and then we won't be close any more and I won't care because we were never close. Sometimes it's hard to figure out who's making the rules. It feels like the money, at least, should make you think you're worth something to someone and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. But these thoughts are attachment thoughts and attachment is the root of suffering. If you love a certain cup, drink from it as if it were already broken. I think that's how the koan goes. With every sip you will treasure the reunion with the thing that was lost.

Toby taps with his fintertip again, so soft, and he is putting his finger right into the red. My heart will not break. My heart is already broken. The hurt moves outward like the ripple of a rock dropped in a pond. He withdraws. "OK," he says. "Not today."

I am not a prisoner underground. I am a seed, sleeping in the earth under these soft, cold, February rains.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

cleaning out

I was cleaning out the top lefthand drawer of my dresser the other day, the one where I keep all the junk -- the box of broken jewelry, my will, a copy of my mother's Do Not Resuscitate order. All the way at the back is where I keep photographs I don't want to look at but can't throw away. Me on Halloween when I am 22, with tinfoil antenna and fake blood coming out of my nose. My lover the alcoholic mailman back when he was still handsome, giving the camera his best bad-boy glare. Me and Terry.

I sat down with this one to look at it for a while. I forgot this picture was ever taken, but now I remember everything. It was little Celeste who took it, the fragile blonde Italian girl with the child's body and the husband stationed in Iraq. Out in the tiny, smelly lobby of the Crazy Lady, by the fake palm tree.

Terry was the guy someone who's never been to a strip club imagines when they imagine a Strip Club Customer. He was short and dumpy, with Coke-bottle glasses. A comb-over and dandruff in a cheap golf shirt. He was a club regular, had been for years. He was not the first customer I danced for, but he was one of the first and after that he would come in and sit with me nearly every day.

"Can you sit on my lap?" he would ask.

"I'd love to," I lied. "I'm sorry. I'm not allowed." This was technically true. It was one of the rules the redheaded lady manager taught me my first day. She also taught me how to loop a rubberband across the arch of my stripper shoe and around the heel so I could strap my money there. And then you just walk around and make money and walk around and make money, she said. And she turned me loose.

Terry would look around. "Go ahead," he would say. "You can sit on my lap. All the girls are doing it. Celeste does it."

It was true. All the girls did it. I don't know why I clung to that rule like it was the spar that would keep me afloat.

"I'm sorry. I can't."

Terry would make me wait until the DJ called 2-4-1 dance specials and then he would buy two and give me $20 dollars. On the dayshift, and the Crazy Lady when I was brand new, that was enough to keep me hanging around. I wanted him to give me more but I didn't know how to ask.

When I started dancing I always danced with my eyes closed so I couldn't see their faces. So many people asked me why I closed my eyes, I started to open them. I pretended to look into their faces while really I let my gaze slide out of focus till I was seeing myself in the mirror over their shoulders. I was astonished one day by the sight of my breasts. So pretty. Like apples.

Terry had three little dogs. Some lapdog variety. Terriers, maybe. He talked about them all the time. I learned their names so I could ask after them every day, but of course I forgot them a long, long time ago. "You know why I love dogs?" he asked me one day.

"Why?" By this time I was sitting on his lap. All the girls did it, even Celeste.

"Because they're grateful. You give them just a little bit of food and and a treat now and then and they love you for it."

It startled me that he would tell me what he seemed to be telling me so bluntly. Maybe he didn't mean to be so blunt.

One day Terry brought a camera to the club and asked if he could take my picture. I knew it was a bad idea, and still I watched myself agree the way I was learning to watch myself agree to things. The way I agreed when I turned around one day during a dance and saw my customer jerking off into a cocktail napkin and we locked eyes a long second and then he held up his hand in a little gesture that said, don't stop and don't say anything, and I nodded and I turned back around.

Out in the lobby Terry put his arm around my waist. I had to stoop down a few inches to put my cheek next to his. I smiled, big. Celeste snapped the shot and there it was for all eternity. Then I took one of Terry and Celeste. Then Terry took one of Celeste and me. I wish I still had that one. Celeste was quiet and gentle, never mean to me even though before I started working she was the only girl on the dayshift who ever made real money.

The day the other girls were talking about beating me up back in the dressing room, Celeste brushed up against me. "Don't worry," she breathed in my ear. "It doesn't mean anything. You go home from this place at the end of the day with your money and so fuck all these bitches, alright?"

Terry brought the picture for me to see and I must have said something nice while I pretended to look at it. I hated it right away, like I've always hated pictures of myself, only more. I stuck it in my backpack and then brought it home and shoved it in the back of this drawer. I didn't throw it away. It's hard to throw away a photograph. Something about them -- the glossiness, the precise corners, the officialness -- demands they be kept.

And so I see myself finally. I see that I was tall, and sturdy like a young tree. I see I was so thin back then that Terry's short thick arms wrap all the way around me nearly to the elbow. I see my breasts really were like apples. I see I was smiling. It is my real smile, my goofy big-teeth smile, the only smile I had back then. I look happy and maybe I was.

Terry is smiling, too, and he's just a guy. Just a regular, ordinary guy.

I'm surprised I kept this picture. When I first saw it I couldn't wait to rip it in half, but then I never did. There's nothing here to hate. I put it back in the drawer, at the back, with the others. I don't know why I'm keeping it, but I can't think of any reason to throw it away.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

system of touch

The first thing he said was, "I can't do this." He fidgeted with the stem of his wineglass. "I'm just going to buy you a drink and go home. I'm really not interested."

Mike was from out of town. He answered an ad I placed that offered "private dancing." Private dancing might mean almost anything you can imagine, but I sent a detailed message to everyone that contacted me. The message said, you will meet me first in a public place so I can decide if you're a safety risk. You will pay me by the hour, up front. You will not touch my pussy. You will not touch my boobs. This weeded out nearly everyone, as it was meant to. Weeding out non-starters is part of why I decided to go the private dancing route in the first place.

Mike didn't mind the no-touching rule but his e-mails to me sounded nervous, spooked. I half expected him not to show up to the bar where we agreed to meet, but I do my make-up and curl my hair as though everything were going to go according to plan. I put on an office-appropriate skirt and an angora sweater over my bad-girl lingerie and take a taxi downtown.

I'm inside the bar before it occurs to me that this part might not be easy. Usually, if I'm meeting up with a stranger for the first time, I just look for the person who looks like they might be looking for someone. The bar is not busy, but there are several men here who might be Mike. Men in suits, with end-of-the-day faces. They are all looking for someone. I take a seat where I can see the door and order a martini. The third time the guy to the left of me catches my eye I stick out my hand. "Are you Mike?"

"Sorry. Not me." We scan each other. "Meeting someone?" he asks.


"Blind date kind of thing?"


I over my shoulder at the room. Men. Eyes looking and looking away. The guy to my left leans in again, starts to say something else. The waitress is bringing a menu to a man with glasses. I look at him. He looks away. I look away. I look back. He nods, finally and gives me a small reluctant wave. He's been sitting there a few minutes. Long enough for the waitress to bring him a glass of wine. I wonder how many times he looked at me and away from me before he met my eyes.

I get my coat off the back of the barstool and walk over, martini glass in hand. I keep telling myself this is hilarious, because that's how I deal with nerves. And then I sit down and he tells me he can't do this.

I know more is coming. We are not nearly done here. As soon as I see how nervous he is, I am not nervous any more. I look at him while he looks at the inside rim of his glass like something is written there. He is a small, neat man, bullet-headed, with a crew cut and black-frame glasses that would make him at home any time in the last fifty years. All the lines in his face turn down, but it isn't an unfriendly face.

He starts talking, still looking into his glass. He tells me he is married. His wife is "gorgeous" he says, and he loves her, but she has lost interest in sex now that they are both in their fifties. He has not. He misses sex, and not just sex but physical intimacy all together. "Sometimes I go to hug her -- all I want is just to hug her, just hold her and feel her against me, and I get--" he mimes a condescending pat on the shoulder "--dismissed."

I hear this story all the time. It always makes me sad. There are many kinds of loneliness, but the loneliness of the body is a fierce kind. I remember a night years and years ago when I couldn't sleep for aching, getting up and looking all over the house for something I could put in bed with me to make me feel like somebody was there.

"She keeps telling me sex over-rated," he says. "How is that supposed to make me feel?"

Bad. It's supposed to make you feel bad. Like a pervert. Like you should be embarrassed to even mention that you have desires. That's how it's supposed to make you feel. Or if it's not meant to make you feel that way, it might as well be.

He tells me about the strip clubs. The massage parlours, like the one on the edge of town back home where he goes sometimes after work, for a happy ending from somebody who'll "break the rules" in exchange for a nice tip. He looks at ads like mine, and he writes to women like me, but he's never gone through with it and he can't go through with it now.

"Don't be offended," he says. "I'm not looking for someone so young. Forties -- thirty would be the youngest. I'm not trying to re-live my youth. I don't want some perfect, model-looking girl. I want a real woman. I miss that so much, the feel of a woman, just seeing and touching."

He finishes. I lean in. I tell him that I understand. I tell him touch is a basic need, not just for us, for humans, but for every mammal. I tell him it's OK to want to look and touch. Everybody wants to look and touch. I tell him sex isn't over-rated. I tell him how much I love to dance, how much I love the sensuality of it, sharing it. I don't tell him that I know what it's like to be ashamed, to feel like a freak and a bad person for wanting what you can't beleive everybody else doesn't also want. I don't tell him that, but I tell him I understand. I tell him again that I understand. I ask him if he's ready.

He says yes, although he hasn't touched his food, hasn't even picked up his fork. He asks the waitress for the check.

It's a very nice room in a very nice hotel, but it doesn't have a good place for lapdances, just a big, stiff armchair in the corner next to a floor lamp. I turn off the fluorescent overhead light. I put music on: slow songs, mostly. It is still a hotel room. It is still frighteningly quiet. No flashing lights, no pounding bass or DJ hawking drink specials, no waitress coming by to ask us if we want a shot. Nobody but the two of us. This is not a party. This is fucking serious.

He sits in the chair. I kneel down on the floor in front of him and rest my arms on his thighs. "You're really quite beautiful," he says, looking down at me. He says it with an odd inflection, like he is contradicting what he would have thought was true.

In the end, I undress too quickly, like I did when I was new. He keeps brushing my hair out of my face but he won't meet my eyes. We don't look at each other. No ones says anything else. Everything is much too real. The CD runs out.

He asks if we can lie down on the bed, and I think it over and decide it's OK. He asks if he can undress and I ask him not to. For what seems like hours he touches my legs and back and belly. He is tender and thorough and I imagine he would be a decent lover. Finally he lies next to me and we do look each other in the eyes. I run my hands softly over his chest and he cries out in pain.

I always wondered if I could be a whore. Now I think I could be. Lying here looking at each other is so intimate, I don't think fucking could be much more so. And it doesn't hurt at all. I don't feel shame. I'm not afraid. I feel quiet, gentle.


Around midnight he says he needs to go to sleep. I get dressed, sitting on the edge of the bed so he can watch me, and then het gets up and finds his wallet, hands me an amount of money that would have been a month's salary back when I was washing dishes at the diner by the highway.

After the money changes hands, things seem to get quite cold for a moment, and I make a mental note that in the future I will always ask for money in advance to prevent this. But by the time I have my shoes and purse, he likes me again.

"Are you going to be OK?" he asks. "I hate to let you go like this." And again he says it with that odd inflection, like he's saying the opposite of what should be true. At the last minute I feel a real burst of affection for him. I lean over and give him a saucy kiss on the cheek. He looks surprised and not particularly pleased and that old joke runs through my head, You don't pay a whore to fuck you, you pay her to leave. So I leave.

I walk out past the front desk and wonder if they know what I am and what I'm doing here. Probably. I tuck the money down through the torn bottom of my coat pocket, into the lining, safe. Out in the street, even, hailing a cab, I feel like I'm trailing a vast silver comet's tail marking me out against the dark.

"Busy night tonight?" the cab driver wants to know when I get in. I squint at him, wondering what he means. He's just making conversation.


I reach down through the lining of my pocket so I can touch the money again. I still don't feel at all afraid.