A First Timer gets into my VW
Bug, and Iím all, Damn, boy is greener than a traffic light, no
more than eighteen or nineteen, and I recognize him from high
school last year. Anyway, his name is Adam, and I remember me and
my girlfriends knew fine when we saw it. And he still looks good:
a body tight from running track, thick black bangs that hang into
his lashes, eyes like green candy. So he gives me the I-canít-believe-youíre-a-girl
double take. Fine, fine, whatever, just get in, we gotta schedule.
I get that look from First
Timers. Then theyíll be all, You Ryan?, and I go, Yeah, Iím
Ryan and no Iím not a drag queen, just a plain old white girl
from the Avenues, and dontcha remember Ryanís Hope?
But Iím not even gonna bother
with the Ryanís Hope line ícause I know this oneís
too young. And Iím kinda shocked that I know him from school.
So I drive and he goes, But youíre
Typical. So to break the ice I
go, Well, if you are, none of us is getting paid tonight.
He sits frozen still, eyes dead
ahead, hands in his lap like in church or a job interview or
something. Sometimes a First Timer acts the total opposite: legs
all over the place, thumbs hooked in pockets, frontiní like a
pro. But I can totally tell thatís how he thinks a
hustler acts. Got My Own Private Idaho written all over
him. But not this guy.
He doesnít recognize me. Thatís
fine. Since Iím, like, three years younger. I ask him his name,
and he says, Evan, and I go, No, your real name. And he
throws me this look like I accused him of eating dead babies or
something. So I front my
been-in-this-business-a-lot-longer-than-you-babe expression. He
stares out the side window, pouts, and says Adam. Funny how my
boys hate forking over their real names, frontiní all
Rumpelstiltskin and shit.
Mineís really Ryan, I say, so
He grunts and plays with a
button on his blazer. A blazer! Just like a First Timer to dress
up. Button-downs, wrinkleless pants, aftershave and hair gunk, and
I always feel like a mom driving her son to his first day at
school. Of course, after a coupla tricks itís haggard jeans and
nasty T-shirts, and sometimes Iím all, Damn, bathe at least that
day, my God. This is business.
Anyway, he still stares. Silent.
I can tell that itís gonna
take more than an icepick to break this one, so I flip on the
country. I secretly love country, but my boys hate the stuffóthough
a few really like Patsy Cline for some reason. Anyway, I tell all
the First Timers to change it and theyíll be all, No, no, this
is fine. Total lies, right? But I mean, once you know some
sixteen-year-old girl from San Francisco is all into Johnny Cash
and shit, ya gotta say something, right? I make them talk any way
I can to tell them what to expect on their first nights. Lance at
the agency doesnít tell them much, but my experienced boys dish
the shit pretty good about the regular johns, so I know plenty.
Lance is nice and all, but heís got hella tonsa boys working for
him and thinks theyíre all experienced or he wouldnít hire
them. But a lot have never done this before. So if they blow their
first callsóand I mean "blow" in a bad wayóthatís
But Adam insists he likes
country and sounds real sincere. And the fact heís from my high
school bonds him to me like that. So I turn Reba down a notch and
ask, Why is it that they call girls hookers, but they call guys
Thatís always my first
question. I honestly donít know the answer or even if itís
true, but it sounds good, right?
But I guess it throws him, ícause
he turns to me and says, Whatta ya mean?
So I say, Well, it ainít hard
and fast, just something I noticed.
Hmmm, he goes, I donít know,
Itís not a riddle, I say,
thought maybe you knew or if you figure it out lemme know.
Yeah, sure, he goes.
So tonightís call is way
south. Palo Alto. In San Francisco, my boys take cabs or the bus;
I only drive the long distances. On the Palo Alto off-ramp I tell
him all about tonightís john:
Adam, heís a fat sumo
wrestler-lookiní Filipino with, like, these freaky-formed legs,
so he hobbles around on crutches and lies on the floor while you
service him. Real picky but totally nice. Tell him the story of
your life, and thatíll kill time. He likes that. Then bite his
nipples and neck a lot. Donít think about his belly or legs.
I pull up to the apartment and
by now Adamís sweat sours the cologne. Gotta tell him cologneís
a no-no. Later. I say Iíll wait here since heís my only drop
tonight. He grunts OK, gets out, goes in.
Lance always sends this Filipino
guy the new boys as, like, a screening process. It sucks, but
whatcha gonna do, right?
I reach under my seat for the
Evian water and set it on the dash, then fish out the little
package of Kleenex from my purse and put it on the edge of the
passenger seat and remind myself to bag more moist towelettes next
time Iím at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Itís hard thinking of Adam, so
time for country. Yeah, I mean, I kinda understand why my friends
and all donít like those lassos and spurs and bars and shit. I
donít even think I liked it all that much the first
couple times, but it kinda grew on me, you know? Or maybe I just
convinced myself it did. Anyway, each song tells a little story. I
donít really wanna be in them, but itís nice having
them in my car. Anyway, I flip on k. d. lang singing about black
coffee and cigarettes. Iím feeling mighty lonesome, havenít
slept a wink. I love songs about cigarettes and coffee even
though Iím not a smoker or coffee drinker. Out the window of my
dark, empty car, I watch the sky: lots of clouds bright from the
city lights and maybe the moon. Clouds clouds clouds, the skyís
frontiní all these clouds like the stars donít exist or
nothing. But I wish theyíd just fall right through. Canít wish
for a falling star when you need one to make the wish in the first
place, right? Clouds but no rain? Waiting for a First Timer seems
to go easier when it rains. A nice distraction. But nothing. If
only my friends knew: hustling and country music. Like thatíll
be the day. Iím talking to the shadows, one oíclock till
four. And Lord, how slow the moments go . . .
I mean, I never go into detail
with my friends about exactly what I do. Like theyíd
understand, or really care enough to ask. Not that Iím better
than my friends or nothing but I like my boysí company more.
Rather spend a Friday or Saturday night with them than kickiní
at some kegger where the jocks get drunk and stupid and shit, and
me and my girlfriends spent the whole evening getting all fine
just so we can dodge spitballs and beer-wet quarters. Come on.
And then my girlfriends act all banjie like theyíre from the
ghetto, and talk shit about the guys or what a bitch she is
or whatever. Whatever is right.
A night with my boys is
different. They talk about boyfriends who do or donít know about
the hustling, or their families that donít know where they are,
or the painting or writing they do (I even have a poem written on
a Post-It gummed to my dash), or they just sing along to Reba or
Patsy or Shania with me. Once oneía my boys gave me advice on,
like, blow jobs which totally grossed me out, but I mean, God, he should
know, right? So I filed the info away and secretly was
So finally Adam comes out from
the Filipinoís. Hands stuffed in pockets like all First Timers.
They never wanna touch nothing for a while. He gets in, the
Kleenex falls between the seats and the car fills with silence and
that sweaty sex stink like fresh sourdough or raw milk a minute
from going bad.
You OK? I ask.
Fine, he goes.
And of course I know itís not
fine. My boys canít front lies with me. Even if the john liked
it. I mean, especially this funny legs guy. But better they get
the worst first, right? Keep telling yourself that, Ryan. And what
about the new boys that start on nights I donít drive? I work
almost every night so I can be there for all First Timers.
So me and Adam get on the
freeway. I let him relax before talking. I mean, yeah, I kinda
grill people sometimes, I know. But never now. He ignores the
bottled water and stares out the window trying to hypnotize
himself by the road reflectors lit bright orange from my
You OK? I ask again.
Yeah, he goes.
I know it ainít easy, I say.
Letís not talk about it, he
OK OK, chill outta my face, just
And then heís all quiet as the
reflectors and silence hypnotize him.
You know, I go, itís easier
the more you do it.
And heís like, Yeah, sure.
So I push, Now I ainít
schooling ya or nothiní ícause I know this shit can make you
feel raw and all, but next time donít think about how fat or old
or gross they are, or how sketchy it all seems. Think money.
Money. Keep telling yourself that. Totally lose yourself in
nothingness like at the dentist or something.
But how do you know? he
Trust me, Adam, it works. You
donít have my job and not pick up a tip or two.
But he says nothing more, just
stares at the orange reflectors as they zing by one by one by one
by one, a steady stream with no beginning or end that you care
about, watches slowly, gives himself over to the orange, and I
accelerate to get us home fast, shift lanes, drive by Braille over
the reflectors . . . ka-kunk ka-kunk ka-kunk . . . whatever I can
to distract him . . .
You probably think, Damn, whatís
her mom think about this and all. Donít trip. I mean, it was her
job in the first place. When Lance started the Boys4Men Escort
Agency, Mom drove to the way-out calls: Marin, the Peninsula, the
East Bay. But six months ago on my sixteenth birthday, she
finished nursing school and started working nights. My sweet
sixteen gifts were keys to her Bug and a job.
Our little two-bedroom home out
in the Avenues was decorated for my birthday, black and orange
streamers left over from her Halloween party, some pink Happy
Anniversary balloons. Mom ordered a pizza and decorated a Safeway
cake with a little tube of decorating frosting. So while she put
the last touches on the cake, I sat at our folding card table in
the kitchen, picked olives off the rest of the pizza, drank a
Rolling Rock. Itís chill, ya know, drinking beer with Mom, and
she donít even trip as long as Iím not drunk or nothing. She
had to leave soon for work, and my friends were coming to
celebrate, and I felt something missing. I often do.
So she carried the cake over to
the table, sang "Happy Birthday" as I washed an olive
down with Rolling Rock. The cake said happy birthday ryan in stiff
blue letters that looked and tasted like hair gel. But the cake
was good for store-bought.
In her nurseís whites she
kissed me, then left me with the Safeway cake and the Rolling
So I waited for my friends and
realized there was something missing. There were, like, no
candles on the cake. I wondered if we had any, but could you wish
upon a cake already cut into? I told myself maybe my friends would
bring some, although I knew they wouldnít.
So itís been, like, six months
since my first night with Adam, and I recently asked Lance about
him, and he told me how heís, like, the most requested model in
the agency. Funny how Lance calls them models . . . like
this was fashion or something. Anyway, Lance says thereís a
dozen or so regulars in the City who request him. Damn, moving on
But tonight Evanís got a call
up in Marin. I pick him up and Iím all, This ainít my Evan.
First, his head is shaved, and his body is ripped. When did he
have twelve hours a day at the gym with so many regulars? And even
though itís, like, zero below freezing, he wears this
practically invisible tank top and some haggard olí jeans. And Iím
like, If it werenít for your big steroid neck, Iíd almost be
impressed. He climbs into the backseat like Iím a chauffeur
bitch or something, and slouches out all fly and shit.
Hey kiddo, he goes. And to
myself Iím all, This better not go where I think. He shifts all
over making it obvious my Bug ainít big enough for his big bodyówell,
of course, itís a Bug, you fool. And he stretches forward and
jacks the radio real loud to some hip hop shit, leans back, and
thumps the bass on his knee.
Howís it going? I ask.
Oh, itís great, he says, Iíve
been so busy. . . . And he carries on about a lot of I donít
know what. Hanging with a filmmaker, and Iím like, Sure, I know
what kind those are, but I say nothing. And he kicks it
with some other guy at a modeling agency, and Iím like to
myself, according to Lance, you already are a model . . .
and he blah blah blahs on and on about a lot of sketchy shit, and
Iím all keep it cool, Ryan, keep it cool, but heís just
working my nerves so finally real sharp I go, You need to hang it
Whatta ya mean? he says all
And I go, I asked you how you
were doing and youíre inventiní all this totally lowlife
tanjie shit. I know what kinda films youíre making, and
unless this is L. A. or New York, I donít know about that
What the hell do you know? he
Just be careful, thatís all.
Thereís a lot of sketchy shit out there. Donít want nothing
bad to happen to oneía my boys.
he laughs. Listen to you, what do you know?
So I go, You graduated two years
ago and know it all, right?
You just drive us around and you
act like some wise old woman. This is your after-school job,
kiddo. Some game. Iíve talked to the other guys. You really
crack us up.
You donít know shit, I go real
What, you think we need you?
And to myself Iím all, And
what do you know, how to suck dick for cash? So the rest of
the way up to Marin is total silence, and I drive quick and think
if we get rear-ended, since the engine is in the back, heís the
first to go.
As I wait for him I think maybe
itís my fault. Maybe it was my advice. I mean, I tell my First
Timers to forget. Think money. Think nothing. So the whole scene
donít fuck íem up. But not lose themselves totally . .
. like Adam, Evan, whatever. And I donít think this is
some game, do I? I read the Post-It poem on my dash that oneía
my boys wrote:
Ryan drives us round at nite
Destinations outta site
Never meets the guys we blow
Drops us off and off we go.
OK, so heís no Johnny Cash,
but at least he wrote it. For me. And I read it over and over and
over even though I know the handwriting by heart.
Evan comes out of the house,
climbs in the back, and we start home. The countryís loud enough
to prevent talking. He reaches forward, but I block the radio with
my hand. Donít even fuck with me now.
Hey, he shouts, I wasnít gonna
change it, I just wanted to say something.
So I twist it down and wonder if
this is an apology.
You know what? he asks.
I was thinking about that riddle
you tell us?
The one about why guys are
hustlers and girls hookers?
It wasnít a riddle, I say real
quiet, still feeling raw.
I think I know why, he goes,
because just look at me, Iím hustling and bustling all over, and
not just hooking people in on some street corner.
And to myself Iím like, Damn,
hella genius. Whatever. Drive, just drive, and the car feels
Today is my seventeenth birthday
and I fake sick. No work, no school, no nothing for a week now.
The day after my last night with Adam when he convinced himself he
was Evan, I lost the mood to work, and because Lance at the agency
and Mom are friends, I play sick so no one thinks nothingís up.
The past week has been nice. Mom sleeps all day so she doesnít
play nurse. I watch The Price Is Right, then fake sleep
till she leaves. She comes into my room, presses her knuckle
against my forehead, checks the empty barf bucket I put out for
show, sets a glass of water or flat ginger ale on my nightstand,
goes off to work. Then I play my country.
But today I get a card from my
father like I always get around my birthday. He skipped out when I
was seven. To Arizona. But I donít trip ícause I havenít
seen him since and hardly miss him. At least, I keep telling
myself that. Anyway, he sends one card every Decemberósometimes
a birthday card, sometimes a Christmas one, and always with a
crisp hundred. I used to be like, Damn, a hundred bucks! But now I
can make that in a night with three calls. Instead of wowing! over
its sharpness and the crinkly sound it makes like I used to do, I
fold the card around it, drop it over the edge of the bed to the
floor. Lands in the barf bucket.
OK. I could only fake sick for
so long before Mom knows somethingís up, right? So Iím all
better a week after my birthday. I miss my boys. And this little
house gets so dark and lonely at night. Noneía my friends
visited or hardly called.
So Lance has this first drop,
but his phones are ringing like shit and he hangs up before
telling me where the trick lives. I pick up the hustler, a new guy
Jesse who lives, like, a block from me. Damn, first someone from
my school, then this guy just around the corner. Whoís next: my
friends? Or Mom? Me? Yeah, right. Anyway, itís totally cloudy
the way I wish Decembers should be, even though once again
the clouds block the stars, but itís supposed to rain, and Iím
like, wish it had rained that first night with Evanówhen he was
Adam. Maybe that would have made things different.
So Jesseís real thin, but not
sickly thin, just skinny like an elf with this straight blonde
hair he pulls behind his ear, and a big boyish nose. He does all
the expected First Timer stuff: shocked by me, ignores Tammy
Wynette, sits perfectly still. And totally underage, itís so
obvious. We drive, and I ainít in the mood for my whole act: no
real name or radio test. No Ryanís Hope. They should know
what theyíre getting themselves into, right? Even if all they
know is from the movies. Iím not their mother.
So he gives me the Palo Alto guyís
address, the one with the funny legs, and Iím like, Oh, thatís
great. As we drive to the freeway, his nerves shake the Bug all
over. OK, so Iíll smalltalk.
So, why you doing this? I go.
The money I guess, he says.
Whatís wrong with a day job? I
I need some quick cash for
school, and then Iíll get a real part-time job.
And to myself Iím all, Yeah,
right, heard this one a hundred times before. But he sounds
sincere about it, so I go, Isnít this a real job?
And he says, Yeah, but you know
what I mean.
Why you think they call girls
hookers and guys hustlers? I ask.
His forehead crinkles. Then he
goes, You always see those women in the Tenderloin smiling and
waving, and they seem in control, like they can pick out who theyíre
gonna go with. But weíre taken where you drive us, like mail
order or something. But, I guess, but . . . oh, I guess I really
donít know. Why do you think, Ryan?
Which throws me because noneía
my boys never asked me that like they really meant it, like
they really thought I knew. But Jesse does, wants me to
tell him. Needs me to.
And then it starts hella
pouring, like the skyís dropping millions of rocky stars on my
thin metal roof.
And weíre quiet, I donít got
no answer, and start thinking about the sky and the clouds and the
rain and how itís like sometimes the stars donít exist, but I
hear them now. And I think how Adam doesnít really exist no
more, and hope he hears himself like I hear the stars. And I hear
him now: you really crack us up . . . you think we need
Wow, Jesse goes, sounding like
Evan for a sec, this rain means earthquake weather because it was
so hot out today, huh?
And he goes on about an
earthquake and hearing lotsa dogs barking and all the birds flying
today, and thereís something in his voice that sounds like he
really wishes for one or something to keep him from tonight, but
he stops talking and stares out the side window at the thick
hopeful drops dropping down down down, then out the windshield
where my tiny wipers beat off the rain hitting so hard like itís
trying to muscle its way into my little Bug. So I wing a sharp
turn, cut off someone who honks, and soar up onto the Bay Bridge,
head east instead of south.
Hey, Jesse says, this isnít
the way to Palo Alto.
And real quiet I go, Oh damn.
Where are we going, Ryan? he
asks, not frantic or trippiní or nothing.
And we just fly faster and
faster and faster.