Everyday jobs, everyday people

Coming home from work this evening, I passed a woman dressed up most unusually for 5:30 in the afternoon.

Her hair was done up in the form of a lampshade. Her makeup was brilliant and seductive, like a sexy waitress who just turned into a zombie last week.

She was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and  shorts and sneakers. But in one arm she toted a pair of shiny, thigh-high leather boots, and in the other, she carried a black piano chair.

It did seem strange to me at first. What an odd way to present oneself to the world on one’s evening stroll through Parnell. There is no accounting for taste in New Zealand, after all.

She almost seemed part of a prank. I expected to spot obscured cameras in van windows. Most women in New Zealand would have at least left the chair home.

But what if this wasn’t strange? What if this woman were some kind of sex-industry worker, and she was commuting to or from a job? Just like the characters in my all-time favorite book.

People do shit in this book. They stand around, watch other people work. The front cover alone makes you feel like doing something like that. Something adult, like spitting or drinking vodka from a thermos while lighting an oxyacetylene torch.

One day, when I was three (or 11 or 12, I can’t remember) I stopped putting the book in my mouth and started to take interest in the pages. Each was a call to adulthood. It was an urging to action that I felt and answered. But having no prior construction work experience, I instead drew on my bedroom wall a picture of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, with my own feces. That was all I knew at the time. And I enjoyed doing that kind of work, following the example of the people in my book.

Then one day, you’re walking home from work and you see this woman bouncing past you, with her shoes and her chair. This epiphany that happens. You realize there is no place for this woman in the worlds of Tibor Gergely, Richard Scarry, or Dr. Seuss’ world. You wish there had been, to prepare you for the real world.

I don’t know what this woman did for a living. Maybe she was a stripper heading to her club. Maybe she was a dominatrix coming back from a visit to a needy shut-in. Maybe the chair meant she was a house mover. I don’t know. But I do know that while you might find a house mover in the Berenstain Bears’ house, you sure as shit won’t find a prostitute.

Breaking the ice

The other day I was reminded of a story I haven’t told to very many people.

I was 18 or 19 years old, living with my sisters and parents in the Bronx. It was an age of innocence, the late 1980s, and I was just discovering the world on those few occasions I was allowed out of the house.

Most of my days were spoken for. When I wasn’t in school, I was gladly flailing my arms at church functions, 20 to 25 hours each week. Sometimes I would be asked to stop flailing my arms, but the rest of the time, the pastor and elders seemed to be just fine with the phenomenon.

So, as I say, my time was heavily prescribed: when I wasn’t in church, going to school, or doing chores or part-time jobs, you can bet I was somewhere in my house masturbating.

One summer afternoon, I was supposed to drive down from Castle Hill Avenue to midtown to pick up my father after work. Driving made me feel independent, though I had a difficult time managing my flailing arms.

I made my way to Bruckner Boulevard via Zerega Avenue, an industrial side road. 

I noticed a woman standing on the corner. I thought I recognized her as a member of my church. And it seemed like she recognized me, in return, because when our eyes met, she kind of nodded hello. So I pulled over and asked if she needed a ride somewhere.

We got to talking. And it quickly dawned on me that my passenger wasn’t a woman from my church, but a prostitute looking for a john. I told her the mistake, and we laughed and laughed, and I pulled over to let her out again.

“So what was it about me that made you think I was this woman from your church,” the prostitute said.

“Oh, I thought that was her usual corner,” I said.