Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 12 • Winter 2004 • Fiction

I Like To Give Women Pleasure

Michelle Tea

The man from Israel came for a two-girl call at the Comm Ave. whorehouse. Let me tell you that the Comm Ave. whorehouse looked like a fake place on the inside, a place where people pretended to be living a certain life, sitting on the puffy black lease-to-own couch in the 'living room,' or eating take-out from the Boston Chicken across the intersection at the glass-topped table in the 'kitchen.' On the clear kitchen tabletop would be my plastic spoon and my paper napkins and my tiny square packets of salt, pepper. The kitchen and the living room were one large room, undivided. At the smeary kitchen table I was spooning corn from Boston Chicken into my mouth. Corn I knew was not vegan because the girl standing before the steaming trough of vegetables, when I asked her if there was butter in the corn, she said Yeah! all bright, totally happy to be scooping me a Styrofoam container of buttery corn. Until she saw my face sort of fall and sharply caught herself and went Uh-uh! I mean, no butter! I don't think. You Don't Think? I led the question hopefully. My stomach was all air and wind, a blustering storm in my middle, the intestinal weather knocking over telephone poles and whipping branches of trees into the street. My belly was a black hole, matter eating itself, folding inward with a groan that reached the ears of this blond girl who snapped a plastic cap onto my half-pint of buttery corn. You sure that's all? she asked, wrinkling up her nose the way grown-ups demonstrate concern to small children. She had heard the deep echoes of my rumbling stomach. She was a helper. I looked at her tag. DONNA, the white letters contrasted against the red pin above her heart. DONNA was really cute. My blood sugar was low, it flooded me with a manic euphoria edged in doom. DONNA's eyes were on me. Maybe DONNA thought I was cute, too. Maybe I was in love with DONNA. Any chicken today? she asked kindly. I shook my head, checked my takeaway bag for the necessary eating accessories, the napkin and spoon that I would not find in the vacant cabinets of the whorehouse -- which, incidentally, we never called whorehouse, us females who worked there. We called it the in-call. I decided to come back to the Boston Chicken once my blood sugar evened out and confirm the cuteness of DONNA.

We called it the in-call, the place with the kitchen cupboards perpetually bare, the pretend-apartment. Once I thought of it as a movie set, a place we filled as actors. Really it was more like the fake offices flung up inside tall buildings where elaborate scams take place and people are bilked out of millions of dollars. Our building was not so tall, your average Boston brownstone crammed with low-rent college students, old women riding the elevators with their aluminum walkers, their pushcarts of groceries. And our scam was not so elaborate. There could have been other in-call operations tucked into our building, the women washing their laundry in the fluorescent-lit basement all whores, who knows. Not an elaborate scam, prostitution; a simple scam, ancient and famous.

Back to the layout of our illicit digs. My point about the kitchen was: even if you wished to be away from the smoke of a coworker, one who enjoyed the steady ignition of a chain of Marlboros while fixing her eyes to the magnetic glow of the endless television, even if you would have liked to eat your not-so-vegan corn in a less polluted environment, it would be too bad for you because the living room and kitchen were that one long, phony room and there was no escape. I could go into the bedroom to eat but come on -- gross. The reek of swindle was strongest in the bedrooms. I ate in the smoky kitchen with the empty cabinets. There was one little drawer that slid out from the counter, if you pulled it open you would find take-out menus and a gangload of cash. It's where we left Lynn's cut. After pleasantly escorting the john into the room -- we're escorts, people, we escort -- and sweetly requesting the wad of money which had been withdrawn from a teller or machine especially for me, I'd instruct him to make himself comfortable, and swish back out of the room. In the 'kitchen' I'd separate Lynn's cut from my small stack of money, toss it into the menu drawer. The rest got stuffed into my army bag. On the days Lynn didn't come in, days and nights I was alone in the apartment, I kept it all for myself. Being alone in the in-call with a trick was creepy enough to justify the small theft, I thought. I should get paid extra for having to endure the ringing lack of sound outside the bedroom; the understanding that, should screams erupt from my throat, they would call absolutely no one to my rescue.

When I returned to the room the john better be naked or else I'd have to assume he was a cop and thank god that never happened. What would I have done? Probably give him an hour-long back rub. Which would've involved a lot more physical energy then just lying back and being fucked. If I had the energy for physical labor I'd be at a real job in the first place, right? I didn't have a lot of energy for physical labor right then, what with my vegan diet and shitty attitude.


So the man from Israel -- he called on an afternoon when I was there alone, all alone. Lynn was earning her business degree at BU and Marina was long gone. Steph, my beloved girlfriend, was nowhere to be found. She was lying at home stoned on pot or else shopping, spending the money she made the day before. Steph was lazy, she hardly ever worked. I thought it was perhaps because Steph was rich, and had parents who would be rich forever. I thought about this spoiled parental situation, thought about Steph at home, the morning lazily stretching into day the way her body stretched naked across the futon, the words I'm not working today coming out of her mouth on a breathy yawn. All I could do is work, work, and work like some fairy-tale girl turning straw to gold by the ferocity of her labor. I had to work, or I'd have nothing.

Dinah would be in later, to keep me company in the apartment that grew creepier as the sun dripped away outside the big windows. The TV illuminated the perpetual cloud of smoke, our atmosphere. Nobody was there when I answered the phone and officially became three people. First I was Bev, the phone girl. Bev didn't take calls, though the men tried like hell to set up dates with her. Bev would be flattered when they tried, she acted like, though she worked at a whorehouse it had never, ever occurred to her to turn a trick herself. Bev would tell the men that such a thing was forbidden, and she would be fired -- fired! -- by the cruel madam if she was caught stealing calls from the girls. Being the first female voice a prospective trick encountered would give any girl an unfair advantage over the others, the lines of mute type and measurements lacking the dynamic personality of Bev's chirpy voice. The girls would kill me, Bev would explain to the men. They would slice her face with their long long nails, they would rip the tongue from her mouth and see if she got another job answering telephones in this town. I enjoyed creating dramatic soap opera excuses for the men. The place could use a cat fight every now and then, if you asked me. It was beyond boring. Bev -- whose name was lifted from the cursive stitching above the breast of a recently thrifted work shirt -- would be completely sweet about these guys trying to turn her into a prostitute when she was just trying to be a receptionist. Unless the man was particularly relentless, giving Bev the suspicion that he was just calling to fuck with the phone girl and not schedule an actual paying call with anyone. Then Bev would snap, I Don't Want To Fuck You. You Can't Afford Me. Would You Like To Book A Call With Someone You Can Afford? And the phone would click dead in my ear.

If the john was able to snap out of the spell of enchantment Bev's voice cast upon him -- a real female voice! they got so attached, so quickly -- he was allowed to choose between two girls, Allison and Tiffany. Both of them were me. Allison was me regular, more or less. Me with some makeup maybe, but not if I could slide by without it, not if Lynn was at school instead of chasing me through the hall with a pink-dusted brush. Allison was a college student, sort of quiet; she radiated a low contempt that seemed at odds with her smile. I think that it was the tension of these opposing forces -- Allison's sincerely kind smile and her truly bad vibes -- that kept the men coming back. There is no other explanation. She had no tits and didn't go out of her way to either look or act sexy. She came with hairy armpits, and if you removed her thigh-high tights you would know her hairy legs as well. Men inevitably asked Allison if she was a feminist and she would answer honestly, she would say Yes. If you were stupid enough to discuss feminism with a prostitute, Allison would go there. You would have to forget everything that came out of her mouth in order to enjoy it later on your cock. If you asked Allison if she was a lesbian, though, she would lie. She did not want tricks to imagine her having sex with another girl because she didn't want to sell out a sister like that, not without her consent, not even an imaginary one. Allison had a boyfriend, a real open-minded one, an artist, if the john needs to know. The john, if he'd made it this far, would inevitably comment on Allison's intellect, or her apparently bohemian lifestyle. The john would sound a bit surprised by the intellect, a bit envious of the bohemia, and a bit scared of them both. Allison had short, reddish hair. She had measurements, a chain of numbers that didn't mean anything to me but were what Lynn told me to tell the callers. The numbers were listed in my ad in the Phoenix, a magic combination that unlocked the safe of men's wallets. Allison's measurements exaggerated a little. Allison's measurements rang falser each day, as my compassionate vegan diet hijacked what little tits I had to start, narrowed my hips, flattened my ass.

Tiffany was me with a big blond wig and a slightly better attitude. Tiffany smiled a good deal more, a toothy happy-to-see-ya smile. If Tiffany's smile was a state it would be Texas. Tiffany was, I imagined, very Texas. Not that I'd ever been there. Tiffany was a joke, a giant caricature. Her measurements were even larger then Allison's lying stats, hilarious. Tiffany would toss on a little lipstick, Tiffany went the extra mile. Tiffany was not a feminist -- Tiffany had no idea how that hair got in her armpits! Tiffany was so embarrassed! She totally forgot to shave! Tiffany went to college -- they all went to college, it's the only way to excuse this prostituting behavior plus it's practically a fucking tax write-off for the men, a donation toward tuition with a complimentary blowjob -- but, Tiffany wasn't sure what her major was. Allison was more like me but I always preferred being Tiffany. I liked to do the least amount of work possible, and I found it was more work being myself, easier to let my personality float away on some current, airborne. I became buoyant with Tiffany. Her only major drawback was her wig and its hot itch, the way her hairline tended to shift as she crawled across the bed.

The man from Israel wanted girl on girl action. After a brief attempt to turn out Bev the phone girl, he asked for a double call with Allison and Tiffany. He wanted to watch them kiss each other with showoff tongues. He wanted their tongues to have the shape and texture of strawberries, he wanted them to nuzzle, to spar gently like baby rams. I wished someone was in the apartment with me, to witness the hilarity of me trying to get out of doing a two-girl call with myself, but that's the point, no one was there but the me and my ghostly trinity. Oh, Allison And Tiffany Don't Do Calls Together, I said. But you said they did, he corrected me. Oh, Well, They Do Girl-On-Girl Calls, Just Not With Each Other, I told him. I lowered my voice -- Bev's voice -- into a gossipy whisper. They Don't Like Each Other Very Much. No? he asked. No, I confirmed. I thought about it, briefly -- yeah, Allison and Tiffany really wouldn't like each other. Tiffany was exactly the kind of female Allison perceived herself locked in philosophical battle with. Tiffany would think Allison frighteningly unfeminine, would worry about the implications of such a lack of femininity. They don't have to touch each other, the man from Israel adjusted his fantasy to fit these new limitations. They can both touch me. No, I said sternly. They Can't Even Be In The Same Room Together, I whispered. They Really, Really Hate Each Other.

Who is better, Allison or Tiffany? Oh, It Depends What You Like, I said breezily. I just couldn't play favorites with myself. Sure, Tiffany was more cake for me, but I couldn't bring myself to encourage the guy to choose the blond bimbo over the angry, sullen feminist. I didn't want these guys to have a good time. The man from Israel wanted Allison, but he just couldn't let go of his two-girl fantasy. Would Bev do a call with Allison? That's Disgusting, Bev scolded. Bev is sometimes a raging bulldagger, sometimes rabidly homophobic. It all depends on the desire I'm trying to extinguish. When will a playmate for Allison arrive? There was Dinah in later. I liked Dinah a lot. We both had the same sort of low self-esteem that allowed for close relationships with people like Steph. What was Dinah's whore name, I shuffled through the ad clippings in the three-ring binder. Veronica Comes In At Eight, Bev purred into the receiver. You Can Have A Session With Them At Eight O'Clock.


Poor Dinah had barely a second to breathe. The minute her key let her into the place she had to shuck her slovenly jeans and sack-like t-shirt. Dinah was impossibly tall and I think what is called 'willowy.' She was languid. She actually looked like an actual model. All that height, and the sharp cheekbones her vegan diet has accentuated. Her eyes were that prized blue color, her nose sort of big but in a way that was decidedly European. It added to her model-ness, and made her look haughty and intimidating, a decent mask for her nervous passivity. Dinah's hair was long and always dirty, but again, it looked deliberate, like very clean hair that had been spritzed with a product designed to make cared-for hair look unkempt. Dinah looked like a junkie whose habit was on the verge of becoming a problem, but is still just the tiniest bit exciting. Really she was just a sloppy vegan. She had some sort of musky-smelling soup in a plastic container, and she was dying to eat it. I imagined the combined rumbling of our stomachs overwhelming our faked shrieks of passion. By the time our call was done Dinah's soup would be cool, the surface clotted with vegetable muck. She pulled stockings onto her endless legs and clamped them to the garters that dangled from her corset. She looked like a spider. A little makeup made Dinah look incredible, like a magazine. A little makeup worked to make me look more convincingly heterosexual. I was hoping that I wouldn't actually have to suck face with or otherwise interact with Dinah, as she was my friend and roommate and it would just be weird. It would be weird enough, I knew, to watch her get fucked or give head or whatever would be expected of us. I couldn't bear the thought of having to touch her boobs or something. Luckily, Dinah had better boundaries then me. No, we don't do anything together, she said simply. No offense. She winked at me. Really? I asked. We Can Just Say No? I just figured, a two-girl call and you'd have to lez out for them. Don't worry, she said, and slipped a tight dress over her head, pulled her stringy hair from under the collar. Dinah's mouth was just like Mick Jagger's. Maybe that was it, the crux of her beauty, a mouth so wide.


In the fake kitchen me and Dinah, who is now Veronica, divided up the dollars. In the balance hung Lynn's cut, about a hundred. Fuck her, Dinah decided. We split it, dawdled so that the man from Israel had adequate time to "get comfortable." He was good-looking in a bland way, as all men were. I mean, they just didn't move me. Probably he'd move someone else. Do You Think He's Cute? I asked Dinah. Dinah was straight. She probably still is. She shrugged. I guess. No one cute ever came into the in-call, cute wasn't a relevant category. They were either gross or not-gross. The guy from Israel wasn't gross. He was clean, his thick dark hair was groomed, his face shaved soft. He had wide shoulders, was sort of big. His clothes, when we reentered the bedroom, were folded into a neat pile on the chair. He had his tighty whities on. He sat in the middle of the bed with his arms outstretched, marking the spaces we were meant to fill, a girl tucked beneath each arm. Come, girls, he boomed. He was happy. He talked to us. He'd been in the Israeli army, he just got out. He DJed a radio show on Sunday mornings, all Israeli music. He asked us nothing about ourselves, it's how we all liked it. Dinah and me were like a couple of bobble-headed dashboard toys, heads waggling in unison to the beat of his talk. Heads nodding on our skinny vegan necks. Oh. Wow. Oh, Wow. Lots of smiles.

The man from Israel was one of those guys who like to give women pleasure. They always said it like that, the grossest possible phrase: I like to give women pleasure. Lucky Dinah got her pleasure first. She lied on her back and he put his face between her legs. It must suck to be Dinah, I thought. It must suck to have there be so little to distinguish your tricks from the people you actually dated. From what I could see, the only thing that kept the bike-messenger types Dinah went out with from being johns was their inability to pay for it.

I spaced out to the soft rock that streamed from the clock radio on the bedside table. That radio station always played Sting, and always I will resent him for being the soundtrack to my sex work. Always will Sting be the musical equivalent of the gruesome phrase I Like To Give Women Pleasure. I was losing myself in the mind-numbing groove when Dinah faked her orgasm. It was a good one. A little dramatic, but that's what they pay for. Not too dramatic. The guy pulled himself up on his elbows and glowed proudly at Dinah, awaiting his compliment. You should do that professionally, she gushed, and shot me a fast look. Now you, he commanded. I lied back on the pillows and prepared to endure my pleasure. It was almost painful, the terrible annoyance of his face probing my parts. I faked my orgasm quickly. A little louder then Dinah, a little showier. I did it to entertain her. She looked so bored, her eyes cast away to give me privacy. They seemed glazed. That Wildfire song from the seventies crooned out from the cheap radio. My big phony orgasm perked Dinah up, she looked at me, and our eyes locked. Oh Yeah! I moaned like a porn star and she spit out a laugh, slapped her hands to her giant mouth to hold in the rest. You again? dude turned to Dinah. Women can take so much pleasure!

Dinah's next orgasm was almost ridiculous. She sounded like some gigantic woman-bird, cawing. Caw, caw! Dinah shrieked from the bed. How to top her without exposing it for the competitive charade that it was? I remembered a call Steph had told me about, how she'd squeezed a palmful of K-Y jelly from the tube and slicked it to her crotch right there on the bed, in front of her guy. He'd brought his hand over to her artificial wetness and cooed, You're so wet. Yeah, I Just Put Some K-Y Down There. Remember? Steph snapped. You must be really turned on, the guy continued, as if she hadn't spoken. He thinks K-Y's a fucking aphrodisiac! she later fumed. Stupid people made Steph very angry. I thought that her expectations of humanity must have been very high. It was proof of her idealism, that she was so constantly let down. Her anger, I decided, was simply the measure of her hope.

I thought about the john believing that the thick goop between Steph's legs was liquid evidence of the incredible lust he'd inspired and decided I could totally beat Dinah's orgasm. I got into position, my legs framing his head. Oh how my knees would have loved to box his ears. A quick snap, oooh. The hard part was building my final and most absurd climax. For it to be really insane it would have to build, and the longer it builds the longer I suffer. My cries sounded pained because they were. About to let it rip, I looked at Dinah, her eyes wide and incredulous she was just laughing, openly, because my howls drowned her out and the man was safely attached to my snatch like some sort of terrible parasite, oblivious. I thrashed around on the pillows. Oh! I screamed. Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh, David! I screamed the name he had given us. Do the men feel ripped off, I wondered, when at the frenzied height of our phony pleasure we scream a name not theirs? Do they feel a rush of regret, do they bite back the urge to blurt, It's Walter, actually, will you do it again and scream Walter this time?


David came to see me again. Just me, Allison, without Dinah. It was only the luck of the draw that the initial call had ended on my extravagant imitation, making me the winner because there was no time left for Dinah to top me. When David came again he told me he didn't want to touch me. Not in a sexual way. He told me that he loved me for real and that he wanted to marry me and if he had to come and see me every week for a year, always paying me and never having sex, if that's what he had to do to prove his love, then that's what he would do. I felt a quick thrill at the idea of this, the perfect regular. Once a week! No sex! But johns like that seemed like time bombs to me. What happened when, at the end of the year, I didn't pay off? A chair through the bedroom window? A chair across my head?

David rubbed my shoulders through the crinkly fabric of the dress I wore, Steph's. Some black and white pattern, it fluttered on my scrawny frame. Steph had a real body -- tits, hips, the works. Everyone seemed to be working out okay with the vegan diet, even Dinah's skinniness looked fairly natural. Only I was wasting away. David rustled through the dress 'til he found my tense shoulders, he rubbed them for an hour. After a while I forgot it was David rubbing me and felt only rubbed. Rubbed by a pair of magical, disembodied hands, rubbed by god. I love you, Allison, David told me at the door that released him to the dim hallway. Did you listen to my radio show? It's So Early, I said. You should listen, he said. I dedicate songs to you. Okay, I nodded. Between the deep massage and my low blood sugar I was barely there at all. I'll see you soon, David said, but he never came back. You should've heard Michelle's orgasm! Dinah said to Steph, cracking up. It was hilarious! She totally won.

Michelle Tea

Michelle Tea is the author of several memoirs, a couple anthologies, and a book of poetry. Her most recent book is the illustrated novel Rent Girl, with art by Laurenn McCubbin.

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