Two blocks from where I live there is a prostitute who spends her afternoons standing on a busy street corner. I noticed her when I first moved into my suburban neighborhood. I thought it was strange that a woman dressed in a tight mini skirt would stand in the same place, every day for an entire afternoon. Every time I drove past that street corner I would check and see if she was there. I was not doing this because I desired this woman and wanted to have a sexual experience with her. No, I was not attracted to her at all. From an objective perspective there was little to be attracted to. I was interested in this prostitute because I thought it was very odd that there would be a prostitute standing on a street corner in the middle of a middle class suburban neighborhood. I had lived in the ghetto of Oakland, California for a long time. Seeing prostitutes there was as familiar to me as seeing bullets flying in the sky. It was a daily occurrence. But in this Los Angeles suburb, she was the first and only prostitute I ever saw. She had my full attention.
A month after my wife and I moved into our new home we bought a German shepherd. I started walking my dog everyday past the street corner where the prostitute stood. Sometimes she would not be there but most of the time she was standing there, waiting. Toyota Priuses, Jettas, Ford mini vans and various other symbols of the middle class on wheels would drive past pretending not to notice that there was a prostitute standing on a middle class street corner. A block away was a school. Across the street was a Starbucks. Was I the only one that found it so strange that there was a prostitute hanging out there? I became obsessed. I started walking my dog twice a day. I would sit on a bench across the street from her and observe. Even my dog knew that something strange was going on across the street.
She would wave at cars with single men in them. Often times these men would look shocked. They were either young men driving there parents car who had yet to experience the sexual transgression of being with a prostitute or they were middle aged men who had been locked up in an office someplace and were utterly startled to notice that a middle aged woman on a street corner was waving at them. Rarely did any of these men stop and pick her up. She looked treacherous and scarred by an unfair life. There was something frightening about her. But occasionally a man would slam on his breaks and make a hand motion for her to get in the car. She would run up to the passenger side car window, bend down to check the man out and then jump into the car with the fluidity of a gust of wind.
If it was raining out she would be standing on the street corner dressed in a shabby raincoat and holding a cheap umbrella. Her long grayish red strands of hair would stick out of what looked like a hand knitted ski hat with flower patterns. On the days that the sun would be out, her long hair would blow freely in the afternoon breeze created by all the passing middle class cars. She would wear a black min-skirt with some kind of shirt that would almost always reveal her aging stomach. I could see some sort of piercing on her belly button and I also noticed a tattoo that ran down the side of her legs and into the blue high heel shoes that she was always wearing.
After a month of observing the prostitute I decided to confront her. I was so fascinated by the life that she seemed to be living. I made up all kinds of stories about her. Was she a middle class homeowner who had lost her home in the great recession? Did she have a family? What she was doing for work was so outside of the middle class norm that gradually ate away at the souls of almost everyone that I lived around. I have always had a certain fascination with deviants and those who decide to live way outside of the norm, I just never thought I would become fascinated with a prostitute that was working on a street corner two blocks down from where I lived.
The first time that I approached the prostitute I remember having the thought that it was life, not drugs that had worn her out. She did not have that familiar drug abused gauntness in her face that most aging drug addicts display. Her skin and eyes looked hydrated and unravished by any kind of drug addiction. There were no dilated pupils or bags under her eyes, just a sadness that tried to hide the fact that she had fallen upon difficult times. Before I could say anything to her she shouted, “please keep your dog away from me! I am terrified of dogs!” I apologized and told her that my dog did not have a mean bone in her body. “But she is a German shepherd. Those dogs are viscous,” she pleaded. “That is a huge misconception. They are trained to be viscous but naturally they are one of the sweetest breeds of dogs,” I said. She looked at my dog as if she was thinking about what she should do next. She was in a contemplative kind of deliberation. I heard a car horn. She looked up to wave and then looked back down at the dog. “Ok,” she said. “What the hell, but hold on to her tight.”
After the initial cautious greeting, the prostitute and my dog were like close friends. Before I even had a chance to introduce myself, the prostitute was crouching down hugging my dog and enjoying the disgusting privilege of being licked by a dog that is obsessive compulsive about cleaning her own private parts. She hugged my dog and rubbed her face in my dog’s furry neck. It was as if this was the first time in a long time that the prostitute had given or received love. I watched the prostitute and my dog exchange loving gestures in the same way that you may watch a person getting the help that they are in desperate need of. After a few minutes of this the prostitute stood up, looked at me and said, “so what is with the fascination, huh?”
I was surprised and caught off guard. What did she mean by fascination? I was silent and noticed myself stepping away from her. The prostitute then smiled and said, “what took you so long?” “What took me so long?” I replied. “Yeah, I have noticed you sitting over there across the street for more than a month now. Seems like you just sit there and watch me.” How could I be so inept to not think she would notice me sitting on the bench across the street? At first I thought about denying it but then I realized this would be like denying the obvious. Only unstable people do this sort of thing. And even though I had spent the past month obsessing about a prostitute on a street corner- I was not unstable. So I looked her in the eyes and said……….nothing.
“Look honey, you do not have to be shy. Wanting to get off is a natural human impulse. So what, you want to get off with no strings attached. Big deal. I know what it is like to be shy and all, but let me promise you that once you break through your shyness you will feel like you parted the waters of the Dead Sea.” The prostitute said this to me with a promiscuous smile that revealed a need for some dental work. I giggled a bit and to be honest, it took me a second to realize what was going on. The prostitute was thinking that I wanted to hire her for a sexual experience but could not get up the nerve, so I sat on the bench across the street too afraid to approach her! “And honey your dog, well you do not need to bring her for protection. I got all the protection you’ll need in my purse.” Then she laughed.
You know what they say about finding yourself stiff and unable to articulate words when you are in a moment of shock? Well that is what happened to me. Every nerve in my vocal cords wanted to tell her that I was not interested in her in that way but it was as if someone had put a tight sheet of plastic, saran wrap or wax paper over my face and I was desperately trying to break through. You got it all wrong lady, I kept thinking to myself but for some ridiculous reason (the answer of which can probably be found in my childhood), I was unable to talk. It was at that moment that a black Toyota Prius pulled up to the curb. A white balding man in a white collard shirt rolled down the window and said, “it is four o’clock baby.” The prostitute turned towards the man in the car and said, “I’ll be right there.” She then turned to me and said, “look I got to go honey, but come find me tomorrow and I’ll show you what all that shyness has been cheating you out of.” She then bent down and gave my dog another love starved hug and then disappeared into the black Prius.
I stood there on that corner with my dog sitting by my side. I watched the black Prius get smaller and smaller in the distance. I felt like a failure for not having had the courage to tell her that she was all wrong about what she was thinking about me. I did not want the prostitute to think that I wanted her services, because then I would never be able to come observe her again. I really wanted to ask her why she was standing on this particular street corner, day after day, but I was unable to get a single word out. My month long stretch of curiosity had resulted in nothing but shame and embarrassment. I stood on that corner until the sun fell behind the busy Starbucks across the street. My dog did not put up too much of a fuss about standing there with me. It was as if she knew that I needed some time to myself. I stood there on that corner and watched the cars pass by. I imagined what it would be like to be her standing in that very spot. I noticed all the men who were driving in their cars alone as they passed by. I felt the breeze created by the numerous passing cars blowing my hair.
When I finally returned home that evening my wife confronted me and said, “where have you been?” I took the dog off the leash and opened the back door for her to go run around in the yard. I looked at my wife and did not know what to say.