As a teen I wore padded bras to balance my figure--chest of a flapper, waist and hips of a Gibson girl. Today I shun such deceptions, opting for the blatant postmodern solution, shoulder pads.
It's after midnight and I'm wearing my shoulder pads as Sandy and I sip our fourth round of decaf and tea at the Golden Nugget Pancake House near Clark and Diversey. That's when I first encounter Bianca--not her name, but she looks like one. Tall and tan, of indeterminate race, with a lion's mane of ginger hair. She spikes past us in stiletto heels, her hips swaying, shrink-wrapped in a black leather halter dress that ends at the curve of her buttocks.
"That's a hooker!" I say, proud of my perceptive powers.
By the time Sandy turns around, the woman has disappeared into the ladies' room.
Several minutes later, Bianca swings past us again.
"She really is a striking woman," says Sandy. She tells me that she had an opportunity, many years ago, to enter the same profession. "Too gross," she says. "Could you imagine? Just anybody?" For the next ten minutes we have giggle fits--imagining, just anybody. We size up the men at the counter and make barfing gestures.
While Sandy and I wait outside the Golden Nugget for her to catch the Clark Street bus, light flecks of rain fall on our cotton and polyester blends. A bean-pole of a black woman--six foot two, 130 pounds--stomps up the two concrete steps into the restaurant. Above her fishnet hose six inches of garter are visible. She is followed by a buxom, honey-skinned woman who wears ripped shorts, a low-cut blouse, and the telltale heels.
Sandy and I share knowing glances.
A balding middle-aged man, carrying a knapsack, is waiting on the front stoop with us.
"Yep!" he says, laughing.
Standing in the rain are two young white women, pretty, big-haired blonds with stiff rooster combs of bangs. They wear tight black dresses--mermaid dresses, the kind low-class girls wear to junior prom. They're screaming and laughing at passing cars.
"Those too?" asks Sandy.
I'm not sure. Because they're younger, with skirts a couple inches longer, I say, "Nah, just sluts."
The two blonds climb the stairs into the restaurant. One trips on her loose come-and-fuck-me shoe strap. I laugh. Too loud. She hears me.
"Laughs just like a white girl," she says. The glass door slams shut on her substantial behind.
"Definitely hookers!" I say.
"I don't know," says Sandy. "Maybe just drunken party girls."
The bus comes. Sandy leaves. I have drunk too many cups of decaf. Before I catch a cab, I must follow the parade of hookers into the Golden Nugget's ladies' room. Sitting on the toilet, I hear snippets of conversation.
"Does he still love you, honey?"
"I don't know, not since I trashed his stereo."
"No toilet paper?"
"I don't care what they are as long as they pee fast."
When I emerge from the stall, Bianca is adding another coat of lipstick. I share my pocket pack of Kleenex with the crowd of women still waiting; when I offer a tissue to Bianca, I hear a deep, resonant thank-you. Surprise. This striking woman is a man.
The light shower has turned into a downpour. In the lobby of the Golden Nugget, in between a double set of glass doors, I wait for the rain to subside before attempting to catch a cab. I am joined by Bianca and her two coworkers, Visible Garters and the buxom one in shorts. They laugh, hoot, howl, and swear.
"Fuckin' rain!" says Visible Garters.
"Shit, man, look at those two cunts!" says the buxom one. Outside, the two white girls are running across the street in the rain.
The buxom one looks me in the eye and says with a forced, singsong sarcasm, "Those bitches are hookers."
"Yeah, honey, we're hookers too," says Bianca.
"Gay hookers," adds the buxom one.
"Speak for yourselves," says Visible Garters. "I am a woman now. I have a pussy!"
She repeats "pussy, pussy, pussy" like a collegiate cheer, expecting to shock me.
Bianca sneers at her and flicks an ash. "Do you have to talk like that?
"Like what?" Garters laughs.
"Like a hooker? Those two are men, dearie, isn't that a fact."
"But you have breasts!" I say to the buxom one. "Silicone?"
"No, hormones, black market, straight from Germany. The Nazi doctors were the first to experiment with this shit. I bet you didn't know that."
"Gee!" I say, or something similarly inane.
"Here, look!" She peels open her blouse and displays her breasts--a perfect concave upper scoop, full and swelling below. Bigger than mine.
"I have a hard cock, too!" she says. "Wanna feel?"
I automatically glance where I shouldn't, and blush.
"Oh, really," sighs Bianca.
"I haven't tried my pussy out yet," Garters interrupts. "I'm still a virgin." She rolls out the last word slowly and languidly.
"Oh, look," says Hormone Tits. "There's Elvis!" She elbows me in the ribs and points to a greasy-haired man standing in the rain.
"Doesn't he look like Elvis?" she asks me.
"Sort of, yeah."
"They won't let him in here, cause he was arrested for touching that little boy's penis." Clearly Hormone Tits wants to give me the scoop.
"Watch your mouth!" says Bianca. "She's a lady."
"What did I say? It's the truth, isn't it?"
Garters interrupts again. "But I'm not gonna lose my virginity to just anybody, no way. Doctor says I should start small--maybe just a six-inch cock--and work my way up."
Hormone Tits interrupts her: "Blow jobs, honey, that's what they come for. Bet you didn't know that either. Married men, don't know the difference, wives won't suck them off. Isn't that so?"
"Masochists, too," says Garters. "One dude leaves his American Express card on the car seat 'cause he wants me to pick it up."
"Yeah," adds Hormone Tits. "When that Visa bill comes in, they just jack off into the envelope."
Of the three, Garters' behavior is the most obscene. She swoons and gesticulates endlessly, spasmodically. She scratches her butt, snaps her garters, says either "What you lookin' at?" or "Wanna date?" to anyone passing through the double glass doors--regardless of age or sex. She bends over in her mere band of a skirt again and again, pretending to adjust her stockings. She rubs her hands over her buttocks, pubic area, and highriding falsies. She poses, shifts her weight, moans, sighs, and talks nonstop to no one in particular. About her pussy.
"Wanna see it?" she asks me.
"I believe you."
"Next thing, I'm gonna get my teeth fixed." She flashes me a crooked smile and I imagine her in braces. She starts to sing: Donna Summer.
Bianca asks, "What kind of work do you do, honey?"
I hesitate before answering, since I am on the cusp of a new career. Shall I just say graphic designer? Will they understand? I better not say writer. But in a few months I'll be an English grad student, teaching composition classes. I opt for the greater contrast.
"I teach English."
"Yeah," says Hormone Tits, "you dress like an English teacher."
I interpret this as an insult. Doesn't she see the shoulder pads? What about my big mother-of-pearl belt buckle? But my skirt rises only a few inches above my ankles. My shoes are as flat as a pancake. Some might think I dress like a graphic designer, but your everyday streetwalker thinks I'm dowdy.
I offer all three a piece of gum. Garters and Hormone Tits grab the Juicy Fruit greedily.
"Got a piece left for yourself?" asks Bianca.
For a brief moment, all I hear is the sound of chewing.
Garters asks if I'm waiting for my boyfriend.
"No, a taxi--I don't want to get wet."
"Why?" asks Hormone Tits. "It's not like you're wearing any makeup to get smeared."
As ludicrous as it sounds, this hits a sore spot. Bitch, I think, I am too wearing makeup. But you win. You have bigger boobs, bigger hair, and can walk in seven-inch heels. You never needed shoulder pads and never will. You're more woman than I am, even with that hard cock beneath your cutoff jeans.
Garters and Hormone Tits go back into the restaurant. I am alone with Bianca.
"Some people like to play the fool," she says. "Not me . . . no, never. Good luck, honey, sure wish I could go to college."
Garters and Hormones return with a munchkin monobosomed waitress at their heels.
"I told you girls not to hang out here!"
"It's raining!" Garters says.
"Look at you, I can see your . . ." The waitress hesitates, points at the string hanging from Garters' skirt. I wonder what would fall if someone pulled it.
"My pussy?" she asks. "Can you see my pussy?"
The waitress scowls and shakes her head. "I'll call the police!"
"What about Elvis? He just went inside! I saw him!" says Hormone Tits.
But the waitress is gone.
Tomorrow I'll call Sandy, I think. Guess what? I'll say. The girls were whores and the whores were men. Not only that, one of them was a virgin.
But now the rain has subsided and it's time for me to go. Of the three people left standing in the lobby of the Golden Nugget, the only person with anything more to say is Bianca, and she's not talking.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Nicole Ferentz.