Part 15 in the series. The year was 1972.
|“I Second That Emotion”-Part 15
"I Am Woman"
At Mustang I was kept extremely busy for fourteen hours a day, three weeks at a time. Still, something unusual was happening; I actually had time to myself. Time to think. In fact it was the perfect distraction, considering the job I was doing.
My entire life someone had taken care of me; my parents, the Air Force, then my husband and the Navy. I also was taking care of other people and their needs as a wife and a mother. Suddenly, I had none of it and realized my life had always been about structure, rules.
Mustang happened to fit nicely into this category, it felt safe in an odd, structured way. When arranging my own life had not gone well, the comfort of a structured life was familiar. I understood it; being told what time to eat, sleep, what to do and for how long. I was on automatic pilot.
Of course I was feeling extremely conflicted about Serge, Candy, and even Joe, but this was very similar to a factory job, in the repetitive nature of it. It provided me with hour upon hour to think, to be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes you can be alone in a crowd. This was one of those times. I was busy every waking hour, a blessing in a very weird way. The time there may well have saved me from a fate much worse that this one.
I grew to despise giving my money to Candy each night after I got paid. I hated Serge letting our relationship be defined and dictated by Candy, and grew to enjoy the times Joe was courting me. He would take me out of the brothel, into the world where ordinary people were doing ordinary things. He had me to travel with him, or go to Reno (as an advertisement of the type of women you could find at Mustang, arm candy) and I was eager to escape into those “normal” surroundings, even with him. Because of Joe I began to understand how completely I was being used by both Serge and Candy. “Did he buy you a mink coat? Do you have jewelry? Does he take you on vacations? Do you have a house? Money in the bank? Exactly what does he do for you?”
Joe had some very valid points, although I was also acutely aware he was hoping I’d dump Serge and give him everything I made. I heard how generous he was to his women, giving them a house, and putting them through college. In some cases they bore him children. His own marriage was simply one of convenience. (Under Nevada law at the time, a man could not own a brothel. Mustang was in his wife's name.) His wife, Sally, welcomed me into their home on several occassions. It did not take long before I decided to use his courtship to my advantage.
One night I was called to the phone for our weekly phone call from Serge. “Hi.” I was exhausted. I had just finished my tenth, fourteen-hour shift in a row. It was also just past six in the morning. I wanted nothing more than to go to the bar for my forty-five minute drinking allotment before sleeping.
“Hey, what’s this I hear about you slacking off?” He sounded gruff, and not in a good mood. Well, who was?
“What are you talking about?” I could feel the anger boiling up within me.
“Candy said you are not working very hard, you aren’t bringing in much money.” I heard the disappointment in his voice.
“Oh did she. Well, if you call forty tricks a shift slacking, I suppose I have been.” I could tell that caught him offguard. “I will tell you who is trying to avoid working, and it sure isn’t me.” I was disgusted, fed up with being her scapegoat. Yeah sure she was tired of this gig, but don’t point the finger at me, the “new kid”, for her purposeful lack of popularity.
“Why would she tell me that?” He demanded.
“So she doesn’t own up to her bad attitude? What a surprise. I guarantee if you spoke to Bev you would find out which of us is making money, but hey... whatever. I’m going to bed Serge.” I handed Candy the phone and felt a surge of fresh disgust with the both of them. This is not how I was going to live. As I walked away I heard her start to cry. I kept going.
Trying to fall asleep that night, the incessant sound of the buzzer (indicating a new customer is entering the parlor and the girls on duty had to line up) I realized nothing good was going to happen to me if I continued on like I was. Heck, the last time I went home on vacation I discovered Serge had not even paid my rent when it was due. He was reneging on each thing they promised me, one by one. Neither of them could be trusted with my money or my life.
“Knock. Knock.” It would be Candy, coming to collect my nightly earnings. “Come in.”
In strode this woman I used to like, but now knew to be hard, downright mean, and tonight, defeated woman.
“How much you make tonight?” She asked.
“It was slow, just $40.00.” Yeah, right honey. I have seen you averting your eyes when in the line-up. It was the one surefire way of not getting chosen out of the lineup. Brothel 101. Even I knew this. She stuck her hand out, waiting.
I reached into my cigarette case and withdrew my money. I hesitated for once. Now was my perfect opportunity... “I’ve decided to give you and Serge two weeks notice. I’ll give you half of what I make for two weeks, then I want to go with Joe.” I peeled off $100 and slapped it into her hand, folded the other hundred and slipped it back into the cigarette case. I was scared, but excitement at the thought of controlling my life was buoying my bravado.
Her jaw dropped, but hearing of my intention to be with Joe shut her up. “Oh. Did you tell Serge?”
“Nope, I thought since you are his number one, you could do it.” I smiled for the first time since the phone call with Serge.
“Yeah...uh...I’ll tell him. You sure about this?” She looked at me through those squinty, angry green eyes. I just nodded yes. Oddly enough I sensed her demeanor shift ... a relief on her part too I think. Maybe she was happy to be back to being Serge’s only woman. They deserve each other. She did not try to persuade me to stay.
Once home on vacation, it was the beginning of a new life for me. No longer feeling controlled by Serge or Candy I began to enjoy my time off. I even dated a bit.
I went back to Mustang, knowing the difficult part was over. I now worked for me, for my future. I knew I could save up my money and maybe go back and finish beauty school... whatever, the future was mine.
Telling Joe I had parted Serge and Candy was a great day. He praised the move assuming I was going to be with him, then took me with him to Florida. For the first time I felt free.
Joe left me alone in Miami while he flew to the Bahamas for some kind of “meeting” for a few days. He told me to keep the brother of the District Attorney from Las Vegas occupied while they were away. I knew what that meant, but the moment Joe left I never answered the phone. I went out shopping instead. I spent every night out, all night. The dance clubs there were open until five in the morning. I danced my heart out each night, falling into bed at daybreak.
As I climbed into bed early one morning I heard a key in the door. Joe had returned. He said in a very harsh voice, “Get packed, we are leaving.” I knew he was upset with me. I did as he asked, and we did not speak a word on the entire flight.
Being at Mustang without a “pimp” or boyfriend, as they preferred to be called, was not going to be easy. I would have to face Joe and tell him I found a “boyfriend”, he and I wouldn’t work out.
He would understand this. So the plan for my new “boyfriend” emerged. I invented a pimp. Yes, I had a friend I called The Caped Crusader, who agreed to rescue me. I trusted him. He knew what I was doing and thought I was smart. He said he would do it if he were a woman. From now on I would call him, or pay for his calls to me. I made sure all the other gals at Mustang knew I was taken, or their own “boyfriends” would try to convince me to join their “stable”. No way. I was free, and the only one working there who was. I was an “outlaw”.
One day the parlor was abuzz. It seems Joe had given permission for a documentary film to be made there. A film crew with a half dozen young film students were gathered asking us to sign consent to be filmed. It was very exciting. I knew there was no real pay in it, but they would compensate us for time used during filming of our interviews. I signed up, eager to have the diversion.
I hit it off well with Rob, the producer and especially well with Kurt, his soundman. He had long hair and a sweet disposition. He flirted with me, non-stop, an incredible distraction from reality. I loved hanging out with them, and even when I was on vacation I spent it with the soundman. I was undeniably a star of the film.
After the film was complete I drove with Kurt across country, he was moving back east. It was an incredible road trip as far as Lexington, Kentucky where I boarded a plane and left him to finish the move.
It was a heady time, single, now with money, I moved into a larger, nicer apartment. I was happy, and taking care of me.
The next trip back to Mustang, there was more action taking place; Oui Magazine was doing a shoot. I was chosen for photographs. After my shoot the photographer pulled me close to him and kissed me, something against the rules with a customer. That kiss made me realize how much I missed having a relationship. It put the emphasis on how odd my life was.
It was time to get back to the straight life, one I could have a normal relationship, a normal life. I would be turning twenty-four in August. It was time.
Once I left Mustang I never looked back. I liked myself for the first time ever. I could afford to go see my son in Hawaii, and I did. Mike was having some surgery and I wanted to be there for him. It felt good to be there for him, and seeing him laying in the hospital so young, I knew I made the right decisions in my life.
I went back to Oakland got a job at a bar/restaurant in Piedmont. It was an executive businessman’s lounge, and the couple who owned it were Greek. I’d impressed them because I could speak some Greek. It was a perfect fit for this period of my life. I was no longer s shrinking violet, instead I had blossomed into a confident young woman.
There were normal people here, something I needed to have in my life, plus since it was a well-known businessman’s lunch place and sport hangout, I did very well in tips.
I was happy, and felt a part of the larger family. I felt wanted there, not exploited. I was thriving! I Am Woman!