Nineteen ninety-something. I was still living in what I called the CrappiFlats™, a bit beyond the eastern edge of town, a location I had selected because it was relatively cheap and hadn't started to show telltale signs of that cheapness. I had gotten a spot downstairs in the corner, which was probably as good I was going to get for that kind of money.

One day, there came a knock at the door. Very tall, very skinny, very black. She introduced herself with the name tattooed on her arm. New in the neighborhood, she said — in my very building, in fact — and she would be glad to make her services available to me.

I must have looked dafter than usual, because she then began enumerating those services. Oh. I had no frame of reference by which to judge her prices, though I concluded that were she able to charge more, she wouldn't have to be living here in the Flats. "Not today," I said, and tried to close the door quickly without appearing to close the door quickly.

Afterwards, I pondered what I had just seen. At one level, I was appalled, because that's pretty much what I had been taught: it was an appalling activity, engaged in by awful people, and you don't want any part of it. Then again, the young lady at my door didn't seem to be awful; she could have been any working woman of that age — I guessed twenty-seven — anywhere, and who can blame her for wanting to drum up some business?

Still, her business, in the eyes of the law, was strictly illegal. Weird, I thought; nobody would say a word had she been giving it away, but the men in blue would pounce on her for selling it. This industry, as it were, connected two cultural components: free enterprise and sex. To which of these should I object? I decided not to take s stand against either, and resolved to put the matter out of my mind.

About a week later, she returned and repeated her pitch. "A girl's got to eat," she said utterly ironically.

I pulled a Federal Reserve Note from my wallet. Her eyes brightened. "What do you want me to do?"

"Nothing," I heard myself saying. "Just drop your clothes and stand there for a few minutes."

I could see the wheels turning. No one, I suspect, had ever requested this before. On the upside, she didn't actually have to do anything; she wouldn't even have to deplete her condom supply. Her decision reached, she was suddenly naked.

Of course, I'd already rationalized things. I'd crushed on a couple over the years, but I'd never before seen a black woman nude. (Perfunctory photos by men's magazines didn't count.) I have no idea what I must have been imagining: female anatomy is pretty well standardized, and while this particular example had rather more body art than I might have expected, she seemed perfectly normal for that age.

And she was astute enough to read her customer. "You never seen a sister in all her glory before, have you?"

I allowed that I hadn't.

The conversation was decidely sparse after that. She'd done a complete 360 degrees in about five minutes, after which she said, "If that's all, I gotta go." And then she smiled. "Did you get what you wanted?"

I smiled back at her. "I think so," I said.

Whatever the convenience value might have been, nothing much would have come of it; she moved out a month or so before her lease was presumably up. I don't know where she went. But if I hadn't been at least somewhat curious, I wouldn't have written this.

The Vent

  1 December 2018

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