I went out to drink whiskey with my punk friend Sally in order to hear about her date with the Dinner Pro.
We sat at the bar next to these older Irish ladies with huge hair who looked like they were waiting for someone. Anyway, I kept smiling at them and they kept ignoring me.
“So what was the Dinner Pro like?” I asked Sally. Sally had adders tattooed down both of her forearms. The snake heads were on the backs of her hands, licking her first two knuckles. Whenever she flicked anybody off, they “got the snake.” Also, whenever she fingered a girl, she called it “snaking.”
“The Dinner Pro was a huge disappointment,” said Sally. “Nothing happened except a pleasant meal.”
“Where did you even find her?”
“You want her card?” said Sally.
“Of course I want her card!”
Sally reached into her pocket and pulled out a stack of business cards. She sorted through them until she found the one she was looking for and then she snapped it down on the bar triumphantly. I picked it up and squinted at it.
“Melissa Spencer,” I said. “Dining Companion. Available for lunch or dinner. So did you pick her up or meet her there?”
“I met her there,” said Sally. “I took her to some Chinatown dumpling place.”
“She was cool with you being a lesbian?”
“I think she was happy about it. She said she usually only eats with older married men or businessmen from out of town. I bought her dumplings and we talked about politics. I don’t know what I was expecting.”
“What did she charge?’
“Forty an hour, plus the food.”
“What did she look like?”
“She looked good. She was every sick sinner’s dream, I guess. A typical, healthy-looking college girl who came from a good family and who was going to have a good life. Someday she will marry a mild man without problems who will support her career and they will have babies together. They will get divorced when she turns 45 and she will never have sex again, unless she wants to.”
“Was she especially good at eating dinner?”
“She had good manners. She made good conversation. She never stopped being cheerful or inquisitive. Mostly she asked questions and then seemed interested in the answers, which was annoying, because that’s usually my trick.”
“What was she studying?”
“What was her major in school?”
Sally’s eyes blanked out and she wiped her nose with her palm.
“English,” she said.
“Fuck you,” I said.
I “got the snake.”
Then we drank so much whiskey.
Later, while I was curled up on the floor of the bar bathroom puking my guts out like a kid full of carnival corn-dogs, one of the Irish women came in and stumbled to the other stall. After a few moments, she began to sob.
For awhile, it was like we were doing a comedy routine. The harder that I puked, the harder that she cried. We went back and forth until I finally realized that I wasn’t going to die and I managed to stand up.
I crawled on top of the toilet and kneeled on the lid, rubbing my face all over the band stickers that were plastered to the top, trying to keep myself from spinning into the walls.
“You stopped puking,” the woman said. “Are you dead?”
“I’m fine,” I said, searching for the hem of my pants so that I could pull them up. “How about you?”
“I’m fine, too,” she crooned miserably.
“Then we are both fine,” I said, stepping out of the stall and lurching toward the sink. “We are role models for a new generation.” I ran water to flush vomit out of my nose. The woman also stepped out of the stall and joined me at the sink, staring into the mirror with a vacant expression and trembling lips. Her make-up was smeared and her big blonde hair was now flat and shabby.
“My gran used to say that a good hurl is better than a bad lay,” she said.
“Are you hitting on me?” I asked, squinting at her.
She broke down sobbing again, leaning her head into the sink and letting her make-up run down her chin.
I smacked my lips, grimacing at the acid taste in my mouth. I reached over and patted her shoulder.
“I’m sure whatever is wrong will get better,” I said.
“No, it won’t,” she sobbed. “It will only get worse. It’s my birthday today and I am OLD. Every day, I am a little more shriveled up and wretched. My teeth are rotting out of my head and the only thing keeping my tits up is my pot belly. I’m so fucked. I’m so completely fucked.”
“Happy birthday,” I said.
“You aren’t old,” I said. “And you don’t have a pot belly. You are hot! Look at you!”
This only made her cry harder.
I tried to change the subject.
“So what do you do in the city?” I asked.
She stared at me with real malice and then I figured it out. I can be pretty naïve sometimes, which often makes me look like an asshole even when I am trying to be nice.
I tried to backpedal.
“Listen, it’s not like that,” I said. “I work the night shift at a Russian bathhouse. I’ve seen everything.”
“So what?” she said.
“If I tell you a fucked-up story, will you stop crying?”
She shrugged at me, not meeting my eyes, but her sobs turned into whimpers. I took this as a good sign.
“Okay,” I said. “So a big part of my job is wiping down the seats in the steam room. The seats are layered, like stadium bleachers. It gets really hot in there, and if people don’t know their own limits, it can get pretty gross. I’ve cleaned up every substance that can come out of the human body. It’s a psychological thing: if you get people naked, they start thinking they are in a private place and so they can just do whatever.”
“I know all about that,” she said.
“Anyway, so this one day, a whole bunch of wild, skinny dudes from Kentucky came in and they were making all kinds of trouble. They were noisy and rude and asked for all kinds of favors. All of them had sunken chests, bloodshot eyes, and nasty beards. They scared off all the women and tried to start fights with all the men. No one could figure out why a bunch of whip-thin, rawhide assholes from Kentucky wanted to hang out at the Russian baths. When they finally left, I put my headphones on and I went to go clean up after them. Do you know what I found in there waiting for me?”
“No,” she said.
“Tapeworms,” I said. “A whole bunch of big curly tapeworms wriggling around on the sauna seats.”
The woman laughed. She had a beautiful laugh. In fact, I realized that I was totally into her.
“Like I said, it can get really hot in a steam room. As hot as intestines! The tapeworms must have been confused about where they were going and so they crawled right out of our boys from Kentucky. We should have charged them extra.”
“What did you do with the tapeworms?” she asked, sniffling.
“I put them in a beer bottle,” I said. “We kept them around as mascots until they died. They loved the hot steam, but I think they starved to death.”
“Jesus Christ,” said the woman.
Her eyes were no longer leaking and now she was holding her head up straight.
“Anyway,” I said. “My opinion may not count for much, but I think you are hot as hell. Your accent is hot and you aren’t old and I completely want to have so much sex with you.”
“There’s no way I can compete with these college girls anymore,” she said. “I’m finished.”
“It’s not like that at all,” I said. “You don’t know anything about men.”
She smirked at me.
“You’re sweet,” she said. She reached into her purse and pulled out a pink card that said “SWEETHEARTS” on it with a phone number.
“Ask for Arla,” she said. “Half-price.”
She began to fix her make-up and so I left the bathroom and met Sally on the street.
I put the “SWEETHEARTS” card in my pocket next to the card for “Melissa Spencer, Dining Companion.”
That’s when I had my brilliant idea.
“I’m going to break the system!” I said to Sally, raising my fist in the air and standing in the way of a nice-looking couple who were just trying to walk down the sidewalk in peace.
“By clogging the system with whiskey vomit?” asked Sally.
I pointed at my cock. Sally “gave me the snake” again.
On my next day off, I called “Melissa Spencer, Dining Companion.”
“This is Melissa,” she said.
“Hello,” I said. “I got your card from my friend Sally. I was wondering if you were free for dinner tonight?”
“I am free, thank you for asking,” she said. “Where shall we meet?”
“Oh hell, how about the Ukrainian National Home at 6?” I said. “It’s a restaurant.”
I knew this place would be empty until at least 9. I thought an empty restaurant would be more fun for the three of us. More intense.
“That sounds divine,” said Melissa. “You are familiar with my rates and expectations?”
“Yep,” I said. “Sally told me everything. You won’t fuck me no matter what. You are just good company for a good meal.”
“Fantastic,” said Melissa. “Then I shall see you there. I am already looking forward to an enchanting evening with you.”
“Oh, hey, me too,” I said.
Next, I called the number on the “SWEETHEARTS” card.
“This is Sweethearts,” said a hostile man with a New Jersey accent. “What do you want?”
“I am looking for Arla.”
He immediately hung up on me.
“Fuck you,” I said. A few moments later, my phone began to ring. It was a local number so I picked it up.
“This is Arla,” said the woman on the phone. It was the same buxom Irish lady with the big hair and the big voice.
“Hey,” I said. “I met you a few nights ago. You probably don’t remember me. We talked about tapeworms.”
“I remember you,” she said, laughing.
“In that case, I was wondering if you wanted to get together tonight,” I said. “Since you gave me your card and all.”
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I’m free until eleven, and then I’ve got some regulars to take care of.”
I told her to meet me at the Ukranian National Home at 6. I told her that it was close to my apartment, which was true.
Shockingly, all three of us arrived on time. In fact, both Melissa Spencer and Arla were early. They were both waiting for me in front of the sparkling glass doors to the restaurant, ignoring each other. Arla gave me a hug and squeezed my arm affectionately. While entwining my arm with Arla’s, I turned to the girl that could only be Melissa Spencer and smiled at her.
She was nineteen years old. She had long auburn hair that was pinned up in a tasteful bun. She wore an expensive-looking green-and-grey dress and demure leather boots. There was not a single blemish on her face, and she had sparkling green eyes that made her look like a baby rabbit.
“Hello,” I said. “Are you my dining companion?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s very nice to meet you. Um?”
“Let’s go inside,” I said, leading them both into the restaurant before either one of them could ask any questions. As I had expected, the restaurant was empty and so we sat down at a big table right in the center.
We sat there for a few moments in silence. Arla started to say something but she was interrupted by a grim, crew-cut woman in her forties who marched out of the kitchen, slapped menus down on our table, and then marched away again.
“Arla,” I said. “This is Melissa Spencer. She is an escort. But she only does meals.”
“I am a dining companion,” said Melissa, blinking and holding her hand out to Arla as if she were trying to slip her an important spy document.
“For real?” asked Arla.
“For real,” I said.
Arla shook Melissa’s hand, utterly confused.
“Eighty dollars?” I asked Melissa. She nodded. I handed her four twenty dollar bills.
“Melissa,” I said. “This is my friend Arla. After we are done with dinner, I am going to take her back to my place and we are going to do some fancy, old-people boning because I told her a great story about tapeworms.”
Melissa didn’t know what to say to this.
Arla looked at me for a long time, judging me. She finally licked her lips and gave me a look that said “I know what you are trying to do, but it’s not going to work.”
“I’m a real whore, Melissa,” said Arla, crossing her arms and smiling at the college girl.
“Oh how very nice,” said Melissa.
It was so quiet in the restaurant that it felt like we were about to participate in some kind of important ceremony, like a wedding or a demon summoning. The crew-cut waitress brought us bread and water and then she disappeared again.
“So where are you from?” Melissa asked Arla. “Do I detect an accent?”
“I grew up in Dublin,” said Arla. “But I moved to New York when I was your age.”
“Did you go to school here in the city?” Melissa asked.
“Jesus no,” said Arla. “When I first moved to the states, I was fucking this drug dealer from back home who told me that he was going to help me get my brother out of prison. My brother is locked-up for touching kids. But before he could do anything for me, the drug dealer – this arsehole we called Peter Whistle because he didn’t have any front teeth -- got himself stabbed to death at a Greyhound bus station in Pennsylvania. After that, I started stripping, and then one thing led to another.”
“Oh, how awful,” said Melissa. Her mouth was a glistening oval of support and understanding.
“Not really,” said Arla. “I mean, Peter Whistle deserved to get stabbed to death. It’s awful that my brother is still locked up, but then again, maybe he deserves it, too. I mean, I know for a fact that he deserves it. But still: he is family, and you should always try to help family. God is always watching us.”
“Do you believe in God, Melissa?” I asked.
“Pardon me?” she said, turning slightly in her chair to face me, smiling and dabbing her mouth with a napkin.
“I’m curious,” I asked. “Is God a part of your life?”
“I suppose not,” said Melissa. “My mother was a therapist, and my father was a lawyer. We never went to church growing up. Are you religious yourself?”
“Naw,” I said. “What are you studying in school?”
“English,” said Melissa. “I want to be a writer.”
“Writers are nasty people,” said Arla, grabbing a roll and slathering it with butter. “The worst customers of all time.”
“What makes them so bad?” I asked, slightly offended.
“Writers are just ever-so-slightly more cruel than your regular man,” said Arla. “They are also ever-so-slightly more sensitive. They don’t want to just fuck you like a normal person and get their junk out. They want to burn themselves into your mind forever.”
“Oh my,” said Melissa.
“Is that why you want to be a writer?” I asked Melissa.
“No,” she said. “I mean, maybe I will do something else. Perhaps I will go into advertising or maybe I will work for a non-profit. There are lots of directions I could take in my life. I am still very young.”
She looked at me and then she looked at Arla and then she looked at her plate.
“So are you dating anybody?” I asked.
“I do not have a boyfriend right now,” said Melissa. “I am focusing on my studies.”
“Are you fucking anyone?” Arla asked.
“No, I am not currently seeing anyone right now,” said Melissa.
“That’s really smart,” said Arla. “If you get knocked up, you’ll be doomed. I knew this girl back home who wanted to fly airplanes. She was real smart, too. Could’ve done it. But then she got knocked up by her Cousin Bert, and that was it. She couldn’t even scrape the little bastard out, on account of the fact that Bert had already told everyone in her family that she was preggers and how they were gonna get married and move to London. She broke Bert’s jaw, but she had to keep the baby. Sometimes family isn’t so great, I guess.”
Melissa opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. She stared at the table. She picked up her fork and then set it down again. Arla and I grinned at each other.
“So do lots of people pay you for your company?” I asked Melissa.
“Oh yes,” said Melissa. “I used to have an ad in the paper, but then I had to take it down. I was eating three dinners a night.”
“Why do you need money so badly?” I asked.
“I would rather not say,” she said.
“Drugs?” I asked.
“No,” said Melissa.
“Clothes?” asked Arla.
“No,” said Melissa.
“Surely your parents make enough money to pay for your school,” I said.
“They do,” said Melissa.
“Do your parents know you are doing this? Going out with strange men for money?” asked Arla.
“It was my mother’s idea,” said Melissa. “She…she’s a therapist.”
“Your mother is making you do this?”
“No, but it was her idea.”
“I can’t tell you.”
Melissa stared at the table while the waitress returned and took our orders. I ordered a vegetable schnitzel covered in cream sauce, Arla got kasha with varnishkes, and Melissa politely proclaimed that she wasn’t hungry.
“Listen,” said Melissa as soon as the waitress was gone. “I do it for free. I give the money that I make to a men’s shelter in Harlem.”
“For real?” I asked.
“For real,” said Melissa.
“That’s fucked up,” said Arla.
“My mom thinks doing this will help me break out of my shell,” said Melissa. “My dad doesn’t know. The money goes to a good cause. I am learning a lot about business, industry, entertainment, and finance from all of my customers. Once, I even had dinner with a professional jockey. I learned all about how to breed horses.”
“So you do all this for free?” I asked.
“I used to be incredibly shy,” said Melissa. “It was a problem. I’m not like the two of you.”
“Melissa,” I whispered. “Are you a virgin?”
Arla cracked up. Melissa’s face turned red and her hands curled into fists.
“No,” said Melissa. “I am not.”
“Are you sure? You aren’t just trying to seem cool by pretending you’ve had sex before, are you? You can tell us. We are wise and sensitive.”
“You know what?” said Melissa. “You are being horrible on purpose. You are in it together. You are intentionally trying to be horrible.”
“Don’t be like that, Melissa Spencer!” I said. “You are every man’s dream!”
“You are intentionally trying to humiliate me,” she said. “Well, it won’t work.”
She tried to give me my money back, but I wouldn’t take it. I squinted at her, trying to imagine what fucking her would be like. I decided that it would be exactly like the time I tried to fuck a paper-towel tube when I was twelve and nearly circumcised myself.
“You people deserve each other,” said Melissa. “I hope you have a good time with your fancy, old-people boning.”
“Listen, love,” said Arla, leaning forward and grabbing Melissa’s hand. “The only way I can get off these days is if I am getting fucked by some kind of dangerous killer who can’t be reasoned with or satisfied. The more tattoos the better. Your tastes will change. Try to loosen up a little.”
“I am leaving,” said Melissa, starting to cry. “Please do not ever call me again. Goodbye.”
Melissa wanted me to say something to her. To respond.
“Is that true?” I said, turning instead to Arla.
Melissa walked out of the restaurant, but I wasn’t paying attention.
“Is that really the only way you can get off?”
I was not a dangerous killer. I was all about listening to reason. I did not have any tattoos.
Arla kissed me on the cheek, slipping her hand into my lap and giving my balls a squeeze.
“You don’t know anything about women,” said Arla, smiling.