Hanging Out At Louie's Place
I used to hang out with the whores at Louie's place.
Louie's place was an all-night restaurant. I was there because it was convenient. When I got off my nothing, second-shift job I would go there to hang out, to read and work on my novel. The whores were there because it was "their place." They gathered there after their evening's work was done.
When I started hanging out at Louie's place I didn't pay attention to them and they didn't pay attention to me. We were regulars though, the whores and I, so we noticed each other. My books and I were an oddity to them that caught their eye. In turn, their conversations caught my ear. Eavesdropping on conversations is something that a writer does by habit. Besides, a man always pays attention to a group of women, no matter what he might say.
We got to know each other. I don't remember exactly how it happened but I guess they made the first moves. They weren't shy about talking to strangers; it was part of their stock in trade. I wasn't exactly part of their circle - we sat at different tables - but I participated in their conversations from time to time and I listened to them. Women are interesting to listen to when they're talking among themselves. Their conversations don't quite run the same way as men's conversations do. For that matter women don't talk among themselves in quite the same way as they do when men are present. It's the same with whores - they're still women.
I became their pet. Most of the time they ignored me and carried on as though I weren't there. Sometimes, though, they would tease me and fuss over me.
My girls, the group that I became friendly with, all worked at a nearby house, Sadie's house. There were half a dozen of them. Sugar Mae was the ring leader; Joyce was the smart one and Rosie was the ditz. There were other whores who hung out at Louie's place, streetwalkers with their pimps, but I didn't know them very well. The streetwalkers tended to come and go; Sadie's girls were regulars.
After we'd gotten to know each other they used to tease me about not going over to Sadie's. Usually I just blew them off but one evening it got serious. Sugar Mae put it to me, "Hey, Joe, what's with you? You're our friend. We all love you. C'mon over. Are you worried about paying for it? It's on the house. You get to pick your girl and she'll give you the house special."
I said, "Thanks guys, I'm honored and all that, but I just couldn't. You guys are my friends and if I did, no matter how much you like me, I'd still be a John if I did. It wouldn't work. I couldn't deal with being a John and a friend at the same time."
Sugar Mae laughed, "Honey, when I get through with you, you won't be a John and you won't be a friend. You'll be flat out exhausted."
I laughed and thanked them all but I never went.
One evening I put a question to the girls. "Hey, you guys," I said, "I've got a question about something I once read. It's kind of personal and maybe it's dumb, but it stuck with me."
"What?" someone said.
"I was reading an account once of some whores talking about what they would do if their father came in. One of them said that she would do it if he paid, that he was just a John like anybody else. Is that for real? Do you guys ever talk about what would happen if your old man ever showed up. Would somebody say that?"
The girls sort of froze. Finally Sugar Mae spoke, "Yeah, it's real. You've got to remember that it wouldn't be nothing new for a lot of us. My dad had me when I was 13. I don't know what I would do if my old man showed up and wanted to pay to fuck me. I hope to God he never does. I don't know if it ever really happens, though. I suppose it must."
"Something like that happened to me," Marie said. Marie was a thin, mousy, quiet woman. She was a good Catholic who went to Mass and confession and everything. I don't know how you reconcile being a whore and a good Catholic but I guess the Church is up to anything. She went on, "One night my priest came in. I guess I don't have a problem with a priest being a John. I mean, priests are men, aren't he? They're supposed to be good but they aren't perfect. They sin and go to confession like everyone else. I guess I could fuck a priest if I had to, but not him, not my priest. There are some things you just can't do. I mean, how could I go to confession on Sunday and confess that I fucked him on Saturday? He didn't pick me out though. Thank God; I don't know what I would have done if he had."
Sugar Mae laughed crudely, "Yeah, I can see it now. 'Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I fucked you last night.' 'Bless you, my child, that'll be three hail Mary's and a blow job. Go and sin no more.'"
Joyce spoke up. "It actually happened to me about a year ago."
The table grew very quiet. Everyone looked at Joyce expectantly. She went on.
"I guess you know my old man was a bastard. He was a preacher. He would preach righteousness on Sunday and run campaigns against drinking and dancing the rest of the week. Everybody thought he was a godly man and he was - in public. At home he was a real bastard. He used to beat me and my mom. He was always screaming at me that I was a whore. I cut out when I was 16 and never went back."
"One night, about a year ago, he came in. He didn't even recognize me but I sure as Hell recognized him. I didn't say anything and he picked me out. I didn't let on. I just waited until we went to the room. When we were alone I looked at him and said, 'Hello, Father.'"
Joyce stopped talking. Sugar Mae burst out, "So what happened. Did you do it? Did he read you a lecture? Couldn't he get it up? What happened?"
Joyce smiled, "I'm not telling." Her smile was something. You could tell that she was never going to say what happened. Whatever it was, though, her smile said that she'd paid off the scores of a lifetime in that one evening.
Every once in a while I would drop in at Louie's before going to work. It was usually quiet then and I could read without being disturbed. One afternoon, not long after that conversation about Fathers and Johns, Joyce was sitting there drinkin coffee when I dropped in. She waved me over. I sat down and we chatted.
Talking to her one on one was different. When I was with the group in the evening I was an annex to their conversation. This was a real conversation. At first we just chatted about the other girls. Then she asked me about what I was doing and about the novel I was writing. It occurred to me as we talked that this was the first time any of them had taken an interest in me personally. Oh, they had asked about what I did and what I was doing but it was as though they were gathering just enough information so as to know what pigeon hole to put me in.
It became a regular thing; Joyce and I would meet for coffee at Louie's before we went to work. We talked about everything - about our families, about growing up, about our work and friends, about books, about whatever we happened to be thinking about. Joyce didn't have much formal education but she had a good mind and a keen insight into people.
The other girls didn't say anything about our meetings. They knew about them, of course. They had to have known about them. I think our friendship was something special to them, something precious, even more than it was to Joyce and I. A whore doesn't get many chances at real friendships outside of the business.
One spring afternoon we were both early. I didn't feel like sitting inside so I said to her, "Hey, instead of sitting here sopping up coffee, why don't we take a walk. It's a beautiful day and the Public flower gardens aren't far from here. Why don't we take a stroll through them."
She looked at me uncertainly for a moment and then said, "Okay, yeah, that'd be great."
It was a beautiful spring day and the flowers were in full bloom. The gardens were full of courting couples strolling along. Without even thinking about it I took her hand into mine. She jumped as though she had been stung by a bee. She stood there for a moment and then defiantly put her hand in mine.
"I'm sorry for spooking like that," she said, "but holding hands is so goddamn innocent. I haven't been innocent for a million years."
We didn't say anything. We just walked through the gardens, hand in hand, soaking up the sun and looking at the flowers. When we left the gardens on our way back she stopped, dropped her hands, lowered her face and looked at me from underneath her eyelashes.
"Joe," she said, very softly and low, "you're awfully sweet. I like you a lot, you know I do. If you want to, I'd really like it if you came over to the house tonight."
I stood there for a moment. "Joyce," I said, "you know I can't do that and you know why. I like you a lot too. If you want to sleep with me I want to sleep with you too. But let's do it at my place."
She looked panic stricken. "Oh, God no, I can't do that. If I were a call girl it would be okay but I'm not; I'm a house girl. You just don't understand. When you're a whore you've got to have lines. You've got to be able to say to yourself, 'this really doesn't count because it's part of the job.' If you don't have the lines that tell you what counts and what doesn't you're lost. I just couldn't do that, Joe. It would be too real."
We didn't say anything after that. We just split. She went to Sadie's and I went to my nothing job. That night, after work, she wasn't there. The rest of the girls were there but she wasn't. They didn't say anything about why she wasn't there and I didn't ask.
The next day I stopped in at Louie's in the afternoon before going to work. She wasn't there. Sugar Mae was, though. We talked a bit about nothing and split. It went like that for a few days. I would show up in the afternoon and one of the girls would be there, a different one each time, but no Joyce. They never said anything about where she was but I could see that they were trying to be kind.
On the third night she did come in with the group but she was awful quiet and she wouldn't look at me or talk to me. It was as though I weren't there. That bothered me but I figured that she had to work it out and that she would do it on her own time.
She was there the next night and the night after. She did talk to me, sort of, which is to say that she stopped pretending that I didn't exist, but she kept her distance and really didn't say anything to me. I caught her looking at me a couple of times, though, when she thought I wasn't looking her way.
I kept coming in on afternoons. One day, after about a week, she was there. We were shy with each other at first. I didn't know whether she wanted to talk about it so I played it cool and said that I was glad to see her. And I was. I was more than glad. I had really missed her.
We didn't say anything about that afternoon in the gardens; we carried on as though it never happened. We didn't need to say anything and we didn't want to - it was dangerous territory. Instead we went back to being coffee friends. It was good.
One afternoon, about a month later, we were sitting in Louie's chatting and laughing over nothing, when I said to her, "Can you do me a favor?"
She said, "What?"
I said, "They're doing a production of The Mikado tomorrow night. I want to see it but I don't have anyone to go with me. Theater is a lot of better if you go with someone. Would you mind terribly going with me?"
She started to freeze up. I hurried on, "Look it's not like it's a date or anything. We're just two friends going to see a musical. You pay for your ticket and I pay for mine. It's no big deal."
She sat back and thought for a bit. "Okay, I guess," she said reluctantly, "but it's not a date. It's dutch all the way. Right?"
"Right," I said.
So we went. We met at the theater - I didn't pick her up. We bought our tickets separately. We sat together though. We enjoyed it. She liked Gilbert and Sullivan as much as I did. Afterwards we went out for drinks and talked over the play. We must have talked for hours. When we finally left the club and were standing in the street she looked at me and said, "Joe, remember when I asked you to come over to the house?"
I said, "yeah."
"Remember how you said that you couldn't do that and you asked me to go to your place and how I said that I couldn't do that?"
"Joe, let's go to your place."
We've been married for a dozen years now and we've got two kids. Some guys would have a problem with their wife having been a whore but it never bothered me. We've had our problems, what married couple doesn't, but we've worked them out. We've always been open and honest with each other and we've never concealed anything from each other except for one thing.
She's never told me what happened that night her Father was a John and I've never asked.
And I'm not going to.
This page was last updated January 20, 1999.