I was walking around and around Russell Square in an outfit inappropriate for just about any occasion. At twenty-three, I still suffered from post-teenage skankiness, or the inability to dress with any sort of discretion. I was listless and lost, and my bright green mini-skirt hardly matched my mood. My gold leather purse was weighing down my right shoulder and I was barely able to keep my rolling red suitcase straight with my left arm.
Unable to find my hotel, I circled the square aimlessly. Very white people were everywhere, drinking outside of pubs, but they did so with dignity and solemn grace. They were serious daytime drinkers, and unlike my neighborhood bum, who had a forty with him every morning, these people looked perfectly respectable as they downed beers at nine a.m.
My skirt was indeed tucked into my underpants, and must have been since I had gotten on the tube from Heathrow. My underpants were, at least, boy-cut, meaning they covered a good portion of my thick Italian ass.
I smoothed the tucked fabric down with my left hand. My rolling red suitcase slid to the ground gracelessly. Gesturing to the bag, the gentleman who had alerted me about the exposure of my left butt-cheek smiled warmly and asked, "Are you looking for your hotel?" He had a soft and girlish voice, a very proper accent, and I knew that if I leaned closer he would smell like peppermint and aftershave.
"The Montague? On the Gardens?"
"Let me dial that for you."
"Do you work around here?" I asked lamely.
"Yes, yes! Real estate!"
I blinked. We discovered that my hotel was about a block away, and I thanked him profusely.
"Let me give you my card. I’m Frederick. Do call me when you’re settled in, we’ll grab a drink." When I finally got a working phone, I sent Frederick a thank-you text — as a courtesy, and in the interest of a few free cocktails.
Later that day I decided to have a £12 cocktail composed of Campari, fresh muddled raspberries and a dash of champagne. The barman was taking an exquisite amount of time muddling the raspberries. "It doesn’t have to be perfect," I said. "It just has to be strong."
Suddenly my new British phone, which I had obtained from my hotel’s concierge, began doing a little jig that I hadn’t seen it do yet. It said PRIVATE CALL. I picked up.
"Hello!" A peppermint-scented voice gushed at the other end.
I sipped my cocktail slowly and listened to Frederick sputter a rather confusing invitation to dinner.
"Look, we’re taking dinner at Nobu tomorrow night — I don’t know if you’ve heard of it — and I wanted to see if you would like to join. It will just be me and some of my mates and some of my clients, but I must be honest with you, some of my clients are very well-known, very celebrated, and I can’t mention their names."
"Okay," I said, trying to sound unimpressed. I put down my glass, already empty. I wondered what a raucous dinner with a character like Frederick, British Real Estate Mogul, would be like. I hoped his famous friends were Elton, Ringo and Mick.
The next day, I wandered along the Thames thinking about how I could move to England and be people’s American friend. Have you met her? My dark-haired American friend who is rude yet charming? You know, the marvelous actress-writer-artist-director girl? I would live in a flat and go to the pub to drink half-pints with dandy boys in ascots before meeting my well-accented boyfriend(s) for bangers and mash, and I’d weigh roughly a hundred pounds ("seventy stone"?) because I’d be unable to hold down any of the deep-fried nastiness that the Brits seemed to live for.
It was a Saturday, and I walked over to the Tate Britain to see the Frances Bacon exhibit, where I cried silently over the triptych of Bacon’s lover who’d committed suicide. The sallow Brits around me seemed disarmed by my open expression of emotion. And then I thought, "Fuck it," cried openly, and decided to go to Top Shop to deepen my credit-card debt.
I nearly fainted as I got off of the Underground at Covent Gardens, and I realized I had to try to eat. The cafes were all crowded with tourists munching fried wads of starch and drinking their pints. I marched into an Italian-looking cafe and asked to be seated toward the back, then pulled out my Time Out London and did my tourist thing until my UK cellular-piece began to fart, indicating an incoming text. The text was from Frederick:
I WOULD LOVE FOR U TO COME TO DINNER BUT I MUST WARN YOU THESE ARE HI-PROFILE CLIENTS OF MINE.
I rolled my eyes, sipped my espresso, and thumbed back:
WILL REFRAIN FROM FAINTING AND OR ASKING FOR AUTOGRAPHS — FROM NY AND UNIMPRESSED
My phone then began dancing the Private Call jig.
"I must be honest with you about something. I’m not in real estate. Rather, I’m in another kind of real estate. The real estate of the flesh, if you will."
"Pardon?" I asked.
"I run one of the biggest and most successful companion agencies in London."
"What?" I asked, fairly certain that I knew what that meant but not fully believing that I was on the phone with a pimp.
"Escorts. Women." Frederick said.
A moment or two went by.
"No! Maia! Not sex, companionship. They’re very well-paid."
The specifics of Frederick ‘s long-winded monologue are hazy in my memory, as at first I was only half-listening, not realizing I was in negotiations. He mentioned a young woman whom he had met last week on holiday from Sweden. She was broke, dragging her unwieldy suitcase, all alone. He set her up with his "companion" agency, and now she had a flat in Kensington and was pulling in £5,000/week. And they weren’t all whores, he said. There was discretion involved. A certain celebrity, whom he couldn’t name, had paid £1000 to have a girl walk on him in stilettos and piss on him.
Frederick kept talking about money, and I was annoyed that I had to multiply everything by two. It seemed that his whores got paid a whole lot. I stopped messing with mental math when he finally dropped a phrase that clued me into just what was going on: "one-in-a-million opportunity."
I was being offered a job.
I tapped my demitasse spoon against the saucer.
"Tonight at Nobu we’ll be with four footballers and two of their managers. They want six girls and there are five coming. You’ll get paid £2,500 for the night. We’re going to a suite at the Dorchestor afterword."
"Are you out of your fucking mind?" I said, suddenly. "I’m very well taken care of by my parents, thank you."
Actually, I had quite a bit of credit-card debt and I was barely making ends meet by working multiple short-lived and often fairly demeaning waitressing jobs. But my financial well-being should have been second to the fact that I had a teaspoon’s worth of integrity and pride, right?
"Darling, darling, please. Sweetheart. I do hope I haven’t insulted you, but I’m sure that you aren’t so well taken care of that you’d mind returning to New York with £5000 in your purse."
"What are you talking about?" I said, before I could stop myself. "You just said £2,500." I had just officially argued about money with a pimp.
"Let’s get off the phone now. I’m afraid someone is tapping this call," Frederick said. He rang off and I thought about ordering a glass of wine. The waiter came over and told me not to think so hard.
I tipped him £2 — four dollars — and left.
I think it’s very lucky that I’ve gone through some periods of self-loathing in my life. When I used to party, I would wake up after a weekend that had extended into the week and pick apart all the badness in everything. While still an undergrad, I crashed particularly hard for the first time and couldn’t stop myself from hysterically crying. I had just moved into a dirty little space on East 9th St. and I had yet to decorate or take anything out of boxes. I lay on my dirty linoleum floor in the dark, unfurnished bedroom, and finally picked up the phone and dialed one of my friends.
"What’s wrong?" she asked me, hearing the snot and tears in my voice.
"I don’t know," I said. "I just-just-feel like Li’l Brudder."
"Who’s Li’l Brudder?"
"The cartoon puppy with only one leg," I said. "I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it on my own."
After I left the café, I went to Top Shop and tried on some understated tops and slacks. No short skirts — lady-like items. They looked stupid, and I looked stupid too, like a four-year-old brat in her mother’s discarded high-heels. I came to the conclusion that I’d sleep when I was dead and I’d dress like an old maid when I hit fifty, and if that meant that I had to keep my wits about me to keep from peddling my pussy for even a million dollars, so be it.
I ended up buying some underpants — "knickers" — and a leather belt. I did some wandering. Ultimately I ended up back at my hotel, suddenly feeling very tired and apprehensive. I looked down from my third-story window at Montague Street, scanning the block for a black Mercedes.
Then I ordered some fish and chips from room service and made a list of all the things I wanted to do the next day. I was beginning to understand why people felt compelled to drink so early in the morning on Russell Square. I drew the curtains and took a bath. By the time I settled into bed with a book, I felt as though I was performing in the PG-rated version of my life. All the while my little British phone did its Private Call jig, and I didn’t pick up.
©2009 Maia McCann and Nerve.com
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Maia McCann is an actress and a writer living in New York City. Her website is www.maiamccann.com, and sometimes she posts to her blog at www.trainwreckny.blogspot.com.