Right Under Their Noses
Way up on Colfax after a night at the baths, the bus won’t come. I watch a very large black woman in sweatpants, her hair in a scarf, cross the street at the light and meet a young black man on a bicycle. Off they go on a side street and eight minutes later they’re back. If I could, just once in my life, leave the baths at a decent hour, there are regular buses and I wouldn’t have to wait around forever, staring down an empty Colfax, hoping the lights in the distance are the lights that I need.
The young man on the bicycle pedals off past me now, muttering under his breath, high in one way or another. The woman walks very slowly up to the bench where I’m sitting. She’s got a bit of a saunter, a bit of a limp. When she gets to the bench she lets herself down slowly and says to me, “Can I ask you a question and you are going to be brutally honest with me?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I say.
“Do you think, if I go back home and change clothes and put down my long pretty hair that I can still go and sell it downtown?”
“With a spirit like yours? I reckon you’re unstoppable.” This isn’t sarcasm. I’m earnest. I’m so earnest people think I’m sarcastic, but I’m actually not. Then I explain that maybe my opinion isn’t worth much, since I am not within the target audience.
She vetoes that idea immediately. “Oh, no. You are exactly who I want to talk to. Someone with style.” Then she decides that, even though she is still hot enough, she’s still going to stay where she’s at, this stretch between Monaco and the liquor store, because she likes it here.
“I love Colfax,” she says. “I had my heyday on Colfax. But that was maybe twenty years ago now.”
“Exactly the same as me!” I say. Now we acknowledge each other as close personal friends. Our heyday may have been twenty years ago, but we still got it, you bet your socks we do.
Her name is Jessica and she works this stretch of road most nights, little quiet but she likes it, doesn’t want all the circus and competition of being out on Havana. She’s been on a bender real bad, gained a hundred pounds, she’s a mean bitch on gin and she doesn’t claim otherwise.
Tonight hasn’t been a good night but usually she does well. “And the kids like me! Twenny, twenny five. They like thick girls. They high on somethin’, they want mamma to comfort them and then some.”
One problem she has is that, while she has plenty of customers, her customers don’t have near enough money. “They can pay with drugs, but I need some bread besides. Always a little bread. Gin’s still the best thing for me and gin costs bread.”
I say, “Excuse me, can I ask a personal question?” She says I can.
“What do you do with the guys who don’t have cars? Like that guy just now on the bicycle. Where do you go?”
Jessica says, “The thing is to do it right under their noses. Don’t creep off and hide. Cops come looking for you. You do it right under their noses. Right under their noses they don’t look!”
She points to the cars on the used car lot. “See all them cars? Not all of them is locked. Easy to use. A little danger makes the prick hard. If they be quick about it, so much the better.”
Jessica explains a bit of her philosophy. “I make ‘em pay for everything. These kids got money. Why should I pay for the condom? I had one man the other day, he had drugs in every pocket and so many hunnerd dollar bills I couldn’t count ‘em all. And I know why he likes thick girls. Man got a dick like a telephone pole. ‘Course he want me to be impressed or something but surprise, surprise, what I like is normal.” She points to a place at the top of her neck. “This far is far enough. It aint got to go no farther than that.”
By now we can finally see the bus in the distance, the lights that are finally the lights of the bus. We swear eternal friendship, we promise each other that we still got it, how could anyone not love us, since we are so overwhelmingly lovable and hot besides?
The bus arrives. I’m getting on. She’s not. “My name is Sarah,” she says. And shakes my hand.