I don’t want to tell you that I am a hooker. That story’s old news. I don’t want to tell you that in my luggage, I’ve packed twenty condoms and two vibrators, six changes of lingerie, three pairs of fuck-me heels and enough personal lubricant to fill a kiddie pool. I don’t want to tell you that I hate this gig, sometimes. I don’t want to tell you that sometimes I love it.
What I want to tell you is that it’s 2005 and I’m flying alone for the first time, from Minneapolis to Philly, to visit a regular customer. Because I’m 22 and occasionally naïve, I think $800 for three days of unlimited access to my body is a pretty good deal. It’s not. But when your income depends on the sexual whims of others, you take what you can get when you can get it.
Kent, my Philadelphian client, is a cheap piece of shit. I like him. The first time we met, in Minneapolis, he bought me a single red rose and then, the next morning, showed me how to steal breakfast from the hotel’s a-la-carte banquet. He’s a touring children’s book author who writes bad poems with worse titles like “Homework Soup” and “Miss McGee’s Missing Bees.” He’s got this wiry grey-brown beard hair that somehow gets lodged in the nook between my two front teeth whenever we kiss. He’s got a small dick. He doesn’t really know how to use it.
But he’s not a bad man. We talk about literature and philosophy. Bukowski, de Beauvoir. He treats me like a woman, or a girl that could become a woman with a bit of coaxing. When I ask him about his poems he rolls his eyes, says They’re trash and you know it, and then signs his newest book for me: Sadie, it was REALLY great meeting you! Best, Kent.
In the 72 hours I’m in Philly—that’s $11 an hour, if you’re counting—we’ll drink martinis at a South Street tapas joint until we’re falling over and I’ll let him grab my tits in full view of the bartender. He’ll do something to piss me off and I’ll scrub the toilet with his toothbrush, then feel bad, confess and accept my compensatory spankings. He’ll still pay me. He’ll even give me a $20 tip before I leave to go home. Don’t spend it all in one place, kiddo. I will—two trashy magazines and two vodka tonics while waiting to board my return flight.
But right now none of that matters, because I’m just some big-eyed, mouse-haired girl sitting in a Northwest jet on a Minneapolis runway, waiting for takeoff. A girl with soupy, sweat-stained armpits from hauling her scandalous carry-on fifteen blocks to the train to save on airport parking fees. A girl who took her shoes off and paraded, awkward and obedient, through security. A girl sandwiched between two suitcoats that eye her up and down, hungrily or haughtily, before returning to their Palm Pilots.
Please direct your attention to the front of the cabin. I refuse to watch the safety demonstration. I keep my earbuds in and fiddle with my SkyMall instead. Acknowledging the chance of disaster feels like accepting the inevitability of death, and I’m not going to die today. Not with an entire palace of pleasure in my purse, I’m not. What would the coroner think?
The man in the window seat is trying to force small talk already as we taxi. Philadelphia, eh? I nod, look down at my trembling hands, say nothing. You look like you know how to have a good time, is what I hear. Because my paranoia sometimes overcomes me at times like this, and because I’m a little drunk already, I wonder if he knows. I wonder if everyone knows—the stewardess, the mothers hushing their wrinkled offspring, the motherless teens sitting across the aisle, limbs akimbo. I wonder if they can smell the whore on me like a sickness, the sour scent of latex seeping from my pores. Clogging up the recycled cabin air. Making it so desperately hard to breathe in here.
I white-knuckle my seat cushion on liftoff as though it could, in case of emergency, billow into a soft cotton parachute—cradle me—set me safely on solid ground again.
Sadie Palomino prefers the aisle seat.