Generally, I don’t talk to roommates, but I like Bert. Today I don’t mind him; people are neurotic, a drain, they speak and fill my lungs with used oxygen so I can’t breathe, but not Bert- he sees right through Mayor Bloomberg. If he were 15 years younger and had teeth, I’d be sexually conflicted.
“I hate the cold, I really do,” I say, opening the refrigerator.
“You’re lucky you didn’t go out last night. It was a killer.” Bert eats ham and eggs, his only friends, while reading the news.
“I worked last night! I waited an hour for the Q29!”
“You must’ve froze,” he looks up, wiping his mouth with a napkin he stole from Dunkin’ Donuts. “Yeah, I never liked the cold, but I hate summer too. Now that I’m old, I get this prickly heat rash.”
“You get itchy?”
“Naw, my arms get little bumps.” He puts out his wrist like he’s giving blood. “It never goes away. On T.V. they tell you, ‘You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.’ What a crock of shit.”
I laugh and pour milk into cereal. Each night in a small room, Bert blasts a T.V. near his face. All I hear are screams when I go to sleep- you wish it were orgasms, but it’s always some woman terrified for her life.
“God has a sense of humor. I lose the hair on my head, but it grows out of my ears and my ass. Yeah, I’m getting better. Fucking bullshit.” Hunching over, he slurps one-dollar-per-pound coffee. “Ahh.” A bitter cup washes down another morning.
An old heathen from Queens, he smokes, of course. Porn’s tricked him into living when there’s nothing to live for- the future’s rotting him alive. I looked at Bert a little too long with admiration. He doesn’t bother me one bit when I’m writing, not one. Unlike his brother.
Fred, Bert’s brother, has wet brain, foggy eyes and no teeth- he’s Howdy Doody. However, if he didn’t drive me around like a chauffeur in Army pants, I’d be dead. I met him at an A.A. meeting in 2007- I was insane. I used crutches to walk in dirty jeans, raving about the Mob while stealing all the Oreos. Fred saw me and thought, “Whoa, she’s sexy.”
One day Fred drove me home from a meeting, slightly high as usual. We rolled up to my landlord throwing my stuff out, everything: my clothes, plates, bed, etc. He stood in the doorway and casually threw my laptop onto the cement like it was a pillow. I was evicted- I’d been in the hospital for a month and didn’t pay rent. Fred says he’ll never forget the look on my face, that I was shocked, but I disagree- I wasn’t the least bit surprised. At that point my life was a snuff film directed by God. Fred packed all my belongings into his van and drove me home; he essentially moved a vagrant into his house to fuck.
So now I’m in a neighborhood of trim lawns called “Get out Laura” Village. Boys on hoverboards sail by trees and pretty houses. The district started as a collection of farms in the ‘50’s. (Fred says his house once overlooked a mud road). The fathers are all Ukrainian, beef-eating cops; the mothers glare at me as I limp down Fred’s driveway to throw out the garbage. They hustle kids into family cars and tell them not to talk to me.
Fred asks me out every time I come downstairs. Lately he restrains himself- he’ll wait before flirting. “Need a ride anywhere?” he’ll say, sipping 7-Eleven coffee through a straw. Parked in a zigzag on the curb, his van says “fuck you” to the neighbors. I call it the “pedophile-mobile”. The seats are always dusty, a window’s cracked, the heat doesn’t work, the dash board’s filled with tissues for nose-blowing, the engine needs $600 in repairs and his license is suspended- yet the back holds the sweetest leather couch. Fred’s always ready for guests.
But Fred’s on psych meds, so getting a lift from him is like getting one from ISIS. He smokes weed on top of the pills (he says it helps him sleep) plus long ago, his brain shrank from drinking quarts of vodka- it literally receded from the sides of his skull. So, he has problems concentrating. Often if he talks and drives, he’ll turn into on-coming traffic or accelerate into a bunch of cars. Just yesterday he almost got us killed. I gave him candy at the light and he got so flustered, he stepped on the gas and rear-ended a BMW. The guy in the car was a 210 lb. bruiser. He got out, looked at his fender and walked over, ready to beat the shit out of us. Instead he eyed Fred, called him an idiot and drove off- I think one look at Fred’s face was like Cupid’s arrow. So the van might be a vehicle of death, but in my opinion still better than Access-A-Ride: just to watch innocence kill grown men.
2. Brothel- 1998
Due to the number of visitors, frescoes in the Vatican are decaying-they won’t last. “They’re the greatest paintings in the world and no one’ll ever match or surpass them in excellence.” cried a bishop. Finally, a Catholic said something true. Modern art sucks. We need to stop funding girls who get their MFA’s in sewing quilts. And the girl who wrote Eat, Pray, Love (she fucked a Latino, called herself the mahatma of marriage and then announced she’s gay- that’s every chick I knew in college). Americans have no culture, we’re all PR and gossip. We check FaceBook for likes, not Raphael. But social media doesn’t expand our consciousness; that’s done by either viewing the Sistine Chapel or mugging the chick who wrote that book. Genius is sidelined in America; yuppie con artists are paid.
While working as a prostitute, I painted like a slut in a beret, because frankly I’d no idea I was a whore. I was an artist– I did “massage” to pass time like a rebel. A friend said:
“You should paint your enemies instead of insulting them- there’d be less flack. Do murals like Diego Rivera. It’d be so rich! There’d be a madam with a scarred lip, heroin addicts, drug dealers, strippers, a horny comedy booker, groupies, a camera guy from Greenpoint. Get it out! Can’t welfare give you $300 for an easel and oil paints? There must be a special department for white girls who take The Tropic of Cancer too seriously.” My friend dropped out of Bard because she hates homework; for some reason, bulimics understand life.
She was right: Picasso, Van Gogh, Klimt- they all saw “ladies of the night.” They painted with grit, passion and syphilis. I took a brush to the massage parlor and depicted boys in a thunderstorm or women in red. The guy downstairs gave me watercolors- I often visited to smoke all his weed. Every time I’d make a picture he’d kiss me and say, “You’re brilliant!” But as luck would have it, I’d died erotically way before I met him; I acted rude and aloof, but was really just tired- only pot vaporized the stink of cheap sex. He was one of many drug connections.
Brothels are supposed to be exciting. I have short flashes of where I worked, all of them drab. Sometimes I’d hear a truck through heavy curtains but the studio itself was as quiet as God. Hidden in a building with no foot traffic (the madam must’ve had a deal with the landlord, because she’d be open days after being busted by the cops), it was a different breed of whorehouse, you felt it when you knocked: the serious freaks came here. Against the wall was a desk, rotary phone, dresser and a large TV that didn’t work. The massage table stood in the middle of the room like a casket.
Orgasms were forgotten as soon as they exploded- I’d cum, smoke a joint and take the next call (I know prostitution isn’t about my climax, but it is when I do it). I was in a dream world during sessions, an anti-corporate one; sex crushed the patriarchy, the uncles, the bosses, the nine in the morning, the torpedoes bursting all around me in Manhattan. Hazy with candles and incense, the parlor was a secret shade, a hideout for perverts. Fridays were serious. The clients would establish relationships with you, so by the third time of seeing you- or sometimes the first- foreplay was involved. They’d book an hour for a slow, deep massage: an intense, sensual experience. There was a rigid Israeli dressed for synagogue; a gentle black guy who frequently wiped sweat off his face; a chubby garmento- all shunned conversation, thank God. I’m terrible at small talk. Seasoned comics don’t smile at jokes- we’ve heard’em all. And johns tipped when I didn’t make any, that cut me to size.
So I hushed my voice, giggled a lot and played a dingbat to flirt with lecherous men. Work as a masseuse supported my art- in fact, it paid better than when I was VP of a real estate firm. “I’m getting over on God,” I thought. “I’ve stumbled upon mankind’s biggest scam.” What a fool I was. I saw nothing but the fact that I’d no boss really, or so I thought. But I did have a boss, an invisible one: the TV staring out like a cold, black galaxy. It was a spy cam. To this day, there’s no doubt in my mind that DVD’s of my ass are being sold in Romania.