There are some women that have always reminded me of fruit. Luscious, fragrant, a glossy sheen and smooth skin -- all ripe for plucking or sucking or biting. Penny was one them, but Vickie outshone her by a mile. Penny was a mere banana compared to the sweet, firm juiciness of Vickie. She even smelled like overripe strawberries.
I heard Vickie before I ever saw her in the flesh. She regularly clomped in at 5:30 a.m. in huge platforms, up the wooden stairs of Q's apartment building, strode right past our sleeping heads, separated by a mere tissue-paper thin wall, then banged her apartment door shut. He was used to Vickie's hours and didn't even stir; I, on the other hand, would wake up irritably, then spend the next few hours wondering just what Vickie did that brought her home at such an absurd time, in such absurd shoes.
The first time I met her, she'd come over to return his vacuum cleaner. We all stood in the kitchen and debated the merits of upright vs. floor models. "At least I should get a DustBuster," she sighed. She was wearing a tiny tank top that grazed the top of her abdomen, and baggy sweat pants. Her hair was piled on her head and she wore no makeup.
I realized I was intensely aware of her breasts: They were high, pert, not particularly big, but just so right there. Her little undershirt was simply a thin sheath, a millimeter of fabric barely containing the two perfect orbs that it seemed should rightfully be released. I glanced over at Q. I could tell he was struggling not to stare. Instead we both concentrated intensely on Vickie's frown. She was disturbed at the prospect of having to go to a mall to find a Target.
"She's a stripper," he said after she left. "I forgot to tell you that. I ran into her the other day. She said something like, 'Oh God, I'm so tired after turning all these tricks.'"
"Whoa, whoa." I put up my hand. Not that this news surprised me about Vickie. She had such raw sensuality it would be sheer stupidity on her part not to cash in on it. But I had so many questions I didn't know where to start. "First off, strippers don't turn tricks. That would mean she's a hooker. And secondly, where does she work?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "I didn't think it would be polite to ask."
"Oh, for heaven's sake." I rolled my eyes. These freshly immigrated Celts were good for many things but investigative research on the sex industry was not one of them.
"Well, you go ask her," he said, waving his hand. "She knows you're a writer. It'd be different for you to talk to her about it than me."
He did have a point. "I don't mean to bother you," I began after Vickie had answered her door and seemed unsurprised to see me standing there again. A waft of sandalwood incense floated into the hall, and I realized I had prepared no good excuse to pester the poor woman.
"Come in," she gestured, speaking in her high, little girl voice. "I'm studying for a final, but I need a break. Did I tell you I'm at medical school? Do you want some tea? I have chamomile or orange blossom."
We settled down in her bright yellow kitchen. "I know that you want to talk to me about my work," she said as a tabby cat jumped on her lap. "That's cool. He told me what you do. Fire away."
As I had thought, Vickie was not a hooker. Far from it. She works at a high-end strip club that caters to businessmen and well-heeled out-of-towners. And as the stereotype goes, she makes quite a tidy sum -- enough to pay her medical school bills, her rent, her expenses -- for merely three nights a week of work. A poor-to-average night for Vickie is $800, after tipping out the security, the backstage manager, the bartenders, the DJs and anyone else who's helped her out that night.
"What exactly do you do?" I asked. "Lap dances, or just dancing on stage?"
"No, no," she said. "See, this is the hardest part. How people typecast you. That all sex workers are the same -- that we all hook on the side, do drugs, support a habit, are single moms. Sure, that stuff is true for some. But I make the most money just sitting at the club talking to my regulars, having a drink, relaxing. I have a core group of clients --"
"Nah. Men, women -- this is San Francisco, remember. Lots of couples, groups of friends. And they ask me to come to their table. So I sit with them, and we chat. Sometimes they ask me to do a private dance. And I do that. And sometimes I dance on stage, but I make the most by being upstairs at the VIP room."
"Wait, wait, wait. Are you naked? Or just topless?"
"God, no." Vickie looked horrified. "We aren't allowed to be topless when we're on the floor. Only onstage. We can't even wear see-through dresses or lingerie when we're sitting at the tables. We have to wear very sexy cocktail dresses -- and I wear stilettos. Basically, I just look like a hooker. But because the club serves alcohol, we can only dance topless onstage, and the audience has to be at least six feet away. When I go over to pick up a tip, or have a guy slide it into my thong, I legally am required to cover my breasts with my arm. Silly, huh?"
"Let me get this straight." I sat up. "You sit with a guy. You're wearing a sexy dress. He's buying you drinks --"
"Maybe. Mostly I just have one drink a night. Otherwise you start losing money, because you lose track of time and you have to keep moving."
"OK. So you sit with your cranberry juice, and he eats dinner. And you just ... talk? And then he tips you?" I was trying to figure out where the sex came into this. "Do you talk about, um, the weather? Or is it sexy talk? Or lewd?"
"We talk about everything. Books. Politics. His family. Sometimes his business. Sometimes my studies. But no, it never gets lewd. If it does, fuck it -- I just get up and walk away. I don't need that. All my regulars are gentlemen, and they're very respectful. I mean, sure, I get marriage proposals all the time, gifts, and yeah, they say how attractive I am and how they could make it worth my while -- but most of the time they're just lonely. They really just have this fantasy -- they just want a beautiful woman to be nice to them."
"Good Lord." For some reason, a vision of how much Q owed in taxes popped in my head. I thought about my water bill. "Talk is not cheap with you, I guess."
The cat jumped off her lap and Vickie winced. "It's all a fantasy, Courtney. I like my regulars, but I'm doing it for the money and they know that. They know me as 'Pansy,' and we chat and I do a little dance sometimes, and then they tip me, oh, $200 or so for about an hour. It varies. I had one guy, this beautiful black man in an incredible Armani suit, come up and ask me if I would drink Cristal with him. 'Of course,' I said. And we went through 4 bottles of Cristal -- I was hammered off my ass -- but we had a great old time. And at the end of the night, he kissed my hand -- normally they can't touch you, but I allowed that -- and gave me $1,000. Another night I sat with this very attractive gentleman, did a private dance which was actually a real turn-on for us both, which sometimes happens. We talked about his family, and I walked with $3,000 that night."
"Sheesh." Vickie was starting to sound more like a geisha than anything else. "Who are the best tippers?"
"Pro athletes are the best. [Here she names a famous basketball coach and a movie star, calling them great guys.] I mean, these famous people can't go out to a club and just hang out -- they'd be mobbed. Doctors are the absolute worst. Cheap, arrogant sons-of-bitches."
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me." We sipped our tea.
Vickie tugged on the spaghetti strap of her shirt. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I'm still a hustler -- the girls, we all call each other hookers, you know the way black people will call each other nigger or gay people faggots to each other. And us chicks -- we talk about the most raw, raunchy stuff with each other, way worse than anything I've ever heard from a guy. I have seen some shitty things -- women getting fingered by clients, guys saying stuff like, 'Show me your pussy,' girls letting guys kiss their breasts. I get infuriated if a girl lets that happen, because then those assholes come back and expect that from me. I will just stand up and tell him to fuck off, and get them thrown out." She looked at me apologetically. "I have to go back to studying now."
There was a lot more I wanted to interrogate Vickie about, but it seemed it would have to wait. When I got back to Q's apartment, he was poring over a pile of bills in the kitchen. Some fruit flies that I hadn't noticed before were lazily circling around in a shaft of sunlight. I narrowed my eyes and studied him. "Hey, I've got an idea," I said. "Aren't you Celts known for the gift of the gab?"