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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Otis, the sicko

A proper man, the kind that averts his eyes when driving by a bloody wreck, would not look in the rearview mirror like I do. A good fellow, the kind that holds his wife's hand in public, wouldn't tap the brake to see what reaction follows. This is to say, a respectable human being wouldn't be so curious about the Orders Street hookers.

When I leave work, I take a shortcut through an old mill village near my office. For those who have't lived in the land of textiles, back in the day, entire communities built themselves around the neighborhood textile mill. Yarn men and thread men would walk to work together, down the hilly streets, cashing thier paycheck at the company store, then home to the wife and kids, all of whom probably worked at least a few hours a week in the mill. Rarely did anyone have to venture far from the mill village. Many of the communties had their own baseball teams. Shoeless Joe Jackson himself played ball in a little mill vllage around here before going off to find infamy up north. Each village was a self-sustaining microcosm of the American work ethic at large.

Times, though, have changed. Most of the mills were long ago abandoned. Those that are still standing are giant firetraps, homes to the homeless and kids with a penchant for pyromania. The communties around them have crumbled as well. Some of the older folk still live there and talk fondly of the old mill days. But more and more, the mill villages are becoming home to the poorest of the poor and the most desperate of the desperate. And Shoeless Joe? He's a statue in the now-fashionable West End arts district.

Several years ago, frustrated by traffic lights along the main road to the office, I started cutting through the mill village. Back then, I was more likely to run over some poor kid than get flagged down by a hooker. The street, just a few blocks long, is home to a church, a scrap yard, about 30 mill village homes, some odd sort of halfway house, and a porn shop around the corner.

It is also home to a collection of hookers that rivals any I've ever seen outside of Las Vegas.

At first, it was just one. She stood abuot 4'10", 95 pounds, and redefined the word homely. She had no sales pitch, no particular swagger. Every once in a while, she'd just climb in some guy's car. On other days, I'd pull up to the stop sign just as she was getting out of a car. And other days, she'd just walk, carrying her homeliness like a giant cross.

As the months passed, a new girl would arrive, then another. Now, I can't keep track of them all (although, my mind has tried to catalogue them for some sick, confusing reason). There's the short ugly one. Then there's the mid-sized dirty blonde. The plump black girl. The skinny blonde. The blonde with too much red lipstick. The biggish brunette with the conservative clothes. And then there's the new girl on the block, the one who sits on the curb and just waves business in. The first day I saw her, I thought she was tired. I've come to discover, she must be just lazy.

Up until recently, we had ignored each other. I treated them with much the same concern I gave to the kids who ran in the street. They kindly stepped out of the way when I was late for my morning meeting.

But in recent weeks, the hookers have started paying me more attention. In the beginning, I did nothing to attract it. They just started doing little half waves as I approached or as I passed. Then they started looking over their shoulder. Then they started stopping the middle of the road and turning around.

I figured it out eventually. I'm a guy, in a suit, driving through a neighborhood that obviously isn't my own. I look like a John.

A few weeks ago, I started tapping my brake and looking the rearview mirror. Sure enough. They think I'm a John.

Though my wife's baby-making body has been unavailable to me in recent weeks (er...months), I have no interest in employing the girls' obvious business acumen. Still, I can't help but be fascinated by the constantly changing signals of silent hooker speak.

I think this makes me a sicko.

There. I've said it and feel better for it.


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