Melhos Place – Amber Dawn

Melhos is a pink stucco building next to a highway on-ramp. All day, diesel trucks and work vans roll past to the neighbouring auto shops and factories. In summer, the air around Melhos smells of fish rotting in cannery dumpsters. The winter rains sound like a ceaseless drum roll against the corrugated steel warehouses. And year round, girls dot the corners, their pleathers and satins looking misplaced against the industrial backdrop.

Melhos was originally named Oceanview Manor because the Pacific lay beyond the ship yards and rusted barges moored along Commissioner Street. By the time I moved in, the original name had been weathered completely off the pink awning and the tenants had renamed the building after the Aaron Spelling favorite. There’s no swimming pool, no blue-jean-wearing repairmen to have gusty affairs with. What Melhos has is hos. On the front stoop, girls in lingerie smoke cigarettes. Red lanterns hang in apartment windows. Some girls are shacked up with their men. Some—like me—are straight-for-pay and live with their wifeys. My best friend, Maria, has suite two-oh-four all to herself.

Maria’s got monster stereo speakers that can stand up to the traffic outside. Her bedding is from the IKEA catalogue, and her toilet flushes properly every single time. Her regulars bring her perfume and Chinese take out. She has a sophisticated hustle, a blend of ho innuendo and corresponding business rates: “When a trick picks you up, read them the menu like this: $50 for a soda pop, $80 for a burger, and $120 for the full meal deal. See, technically you’re not soliciting. No laws broken.” I’m a bit envious of Maria.

Before Maria, I only had my mistakes to learn from. The first time my face was spray-painted black, I learned not to lean inside an open car window. I only had my head wedged under a steering wheel once to learn not to give blowjobs to a man in the driver’s seat. I used to live in the skids—the poorest eight-block radius in all of Canada. There was no official stroll there, but if you were a woman in the neighbourhood you were for sale. I’d simply step out my door (and over the people sleeping in my doorway) and there’d be a trick shouldered up to me, whispering, “twenty bucks, twenty bucks.” These tricks made the trip to the skids for the cheapest dates possible. They preferred to be turned in their cars, as if the assumed filth of my place would give them some disease that the bareback blowjobs they requested would not.

Moving to Melhos was Maria’s idea. There’s a vacant bachelor apartment on the third floor, already painted pink from the last girl. I barely fill it with what little furniture I have. But Maria helps me set myself up like a pro. I buy the things pros should have: boxes of tissue that match my wall colour, scented candles, lots of anti-bacterial spray. I put Madonna’s Erotic in my ghetto blaster, lay a leopard print drop-sheet over my bed. “You’ll make money,” Maria assures me. “You can set yourself up real nice in no time.”

I warm up with nooners—lunch-hour tricks who gingerly curb their cars and say “please” when ordering blowjobs. These men are quick dates. They have forklifts and assembly lines to get back to.

Nighttime brings traffic from other neighbourhoods: the West End, the suburbs. And the stroll turns into a stereo-pumping, drinkin’-n-drivin’, cat-calling trick parade. Cars circle and circle, as if maybe the hos might get a little prettier after one more loop around the block. I won’t go night-shifting without Maria. “I got my eye on you,” she tells the men who pick me up, pointing a commanding press-on-nail at them. Unlike me, Maria is tall and meaty and loud. Really more of a daddy dressed in pretty-girl clothing. Tricks somehow sense her queer femme macho. They only insult her as they are driving away or else Maria buries them in comebacks—mostly about eating for some reason: “Eat a shit sandwich” or “Go eat your own scrotum cheese.”

I am with Maria when Paul’s Dodge Ram, with tinted windows and custom headlights, stops at our corner. She has to give me a boost up the chrome running board into his passenger seat. Canuck bobble-heads line Paul’s dashboard. Photo-booth pictures of him kissing a pretty teenage girl are stuck to his rear-view mirror.

He’s three years younger than me, but he lives with his parents. A hundred for the hour is “no problem” says Paul as he paces my bachelor apartment like a trapped fly looking for a window. He eyes my rabbit fur coat and my CDs, he opens my fridge. I wonder if he’s casing my place. “No beer in here?” he asks. “No boyfriend?” Then his inspection makes sense. No men’s jackets on the coat rack. A collection of “chick” music. A beer-less fridge. To his hetero gaze these are all signs that I live alone.

“No boyfriend,” I confirm. These two words are all he needs to stop pacing and drop his drawers. He comes at me with his arms and his erection, reaching for a hug. I twist sideways to prevent his penis from ramming my stomach. Pre-cum smears against my left side. I am prepared to butt heads about condom use. I’m prepared to tell him I won’t lick his balls or let him ejaculate on my face—these are the things I am used to arguing over. I am not prepared when Paul kisses me.

No trick has ever kissed me. Many don’t even look at my face. After my initial reluctance subsides, kissing becomes surprisingly easy. Paul doesn’t hack back phlegm like the factory men do. He has chewing-gum breath and glossy lips. He latches on to me with non-calloused fingers. We make out as if I am that pretty teenage girl in the photo-booth pictures.

Afterwards, he asks for my phone number. I scribble it on scrap paper. He calls me from his cell before leaving. The two of us stand awkwardly at my door listening to the tinny ring of my home phone. “Just making sure you aren’t shakin’ me off,” he says, giving my arm a punch as if we are buddies.

When Paul calls again it’s from a bar. “Whatcha up to?” he asks. I barely hear him through the muffled music and shouting in the background. I tell him I’m already in bed. “Ah, all alone?” His puppy-dog voice is syrupy and beer-buzzed.

He arrives so drunk his young face has gone limp and liquidy. The corners of his mouth seem to be treading water just to smile at me. When he hands me two hundred dollars I figure it’s a blunder on his part. “There’s extra,” he tells me, “so you could shop for some new clothes or something.” Suddenly the thrift-store slip I’m wearing feels even more threadbare. It lays on the floor in a sad huddle of frayed lace as we climb onto my bed.

“He says he wants to be my regular,” I tell Maria while we’re at the mall; my cash spent hastily on a single pair of good-butt jeans. “A sugar daddy.”

“No, sweetie. Sugar daddies are old dejected men with marriage or erection problems, or both,” says Maria. “Young tricks just wanna dip their dicks in the underworld. Then they return to the ‘burbs.”

Maria’s statement makes me all too grateful when Paul calls again, same late hour, same loud background. I imagine him at some pseudo-Irish pub, surrounded by ball-cap-wearing boys like himself. “I got something for you,” he says.

He stumbles through my door with a TV too big for him to carry. He grunts me away as I try to help, pushes the row of paperback novels off my dresser to make space for it. “It was sitting in our garage,” Paul huffs. “There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s only like two years old.” He grabs the remote control from his coat pocket and turns the TV on. Blue light washes over my entire apartment. This is how Paul becomes my regular. He simply plants himself in front of the TV.

My apartment becomes a receptacle for his family’s unwanteds. Wine glasses or terrycloth bath towels. Nice things—rejected only because they clash with their decorating schemes. Paul brings so much that I start re-gifting: a chenille throw goes to Maria, unopened bath salts and body lotions are disseminated throughout Melhos. Every girl in the building smells of perfumy lavender and vanilla. The more gifts he brings, the longer his visits stretch out. We watch late-night talk shows, fix ourselves drinks in my new stemmed glasses.

Paul starts putting my pay in Hallmark cards with doves flying across pastel brush strokes, the kind couples give each other. “Don’t open it until I’m gone,” he says, suddenly faux-shy, as if he has written me a love poem. But the cards aren’t even signed. Paul writes “Your friend,” his name absent altogether. Sometimes there’s three hundred in the card and I race over to Maria’s to brag. “Get it while you can, girl,” she says, jealously screwing up her frosted-pink lips.

Other times, Paul slips a meager eighty bucks in the card and I find myself grudgingly on the stroll to earn the money I was expecting. I drift around the factory parking lots as the workers eat their bagged-lunches, my eyes vigilant and desperate to catch theirs. When one does pick me up, I hate him for his labor-nicked hands. I find myself holding my breath and staring at the wall until he’s finished. I take his hard-earned money without a thank-you and usher him out my door.

I use up all my “thank yous” on Paul. My “yeah babies,” my “fuck mes,” my “you like thats” all exhausted on Paul. When he asks to stay the night I am too exhausted to say no. We’ve downed most of a fifth of rye whisky that didn’t make the cut in his father’s liquor cabinet. Paul can’t hold himself steady enough to put his pants back on. He collapses into my bed, reaching an absentminded arm out for me. “Don’t go there, girl,” Maria would say. “No kissing, no real names, no sleep overs, no playing house.” I hear her warning voice buzz in my ear until everything blurs and darkens.

When I wake, Paul’s body is splayed out, snoring. I am at the very edge of my bed. My mouth is parched from too much drinking and kissing. My stomach flips in a way that tells me “no sudden movements.” All the sheets are twisted around me like a cocoon. The only part of me I can really move is my eyes. There is no place I can look without seeing something Paul has given me. His gifts overwhelm my bachelor Melhos apartment, turning it into a middle-class façade, a comfortable getaway. Is it easier for him, I wonder, to fuck a whore with a big-screen TV and 400-thread-count sheets than to fuck a whore in an apartment sparsely furnished with alley-found chairs? I imagine the TV set tipping off my old wobbly dresser. I hear my expensive new clothes twitch on their hangers.

Beside me, Paul has kicked off the blankets. His too-perfect body clashes with my stripped, yellow-stained mattress. I wriggle an arm free of the tangled sheets to nudge him. “Wake up,” I say. “You have to go home now.”

_______________________

Amber Dawn is a writer, filmmaker ,and performance artist based in Vancouver. She is the co-editor of With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2005). Her award-winning, genderfuck docu-porn, Girl on Girl, was screened in eight countries and has been added to the gender studies curriculum at Concordia University. She has toured three times with the infamous U.S. tour, “The Sex Workers’ Art Show.” She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia.

Photo credit: “The No. 5 Orange” © Steph Lim, 2009. Used courtesy of Creative Commons License.

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