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OPERATION ALL TALK, NO-ACTION ACTION

There are some aspects of the Underground economy I wanted to cover in this story, like barter and trade among artists, and places and people who send money to Mexico, which will appear in later stories. I did 17 interviews (over two and a half hours audio footage) over several weeks and a ton of research, and we thought it best to limit the story to those vignettes.

I’d still like to talk to a female sex worker, though. If you are one, e-mail me at sfisch@sacurrent.com

I’ll be posting outtakes from the cover feature over the next week.

Anyway, here’s the full story of my fruitless attempt to interview a female sex worker, which didn’t make it into the print version of the Underground story.
It co-stars Beto Gonzales (as mentioned in the article), who is also the co-author of the “Outsider Stylist” vignette title. The night we went out looking for prostitutes, I’d been explaining to him about Señora Blanca, and he remarked that “Outsider Artist” is a thing…why not “Outsider Graphic Artist”; i.e., a “like a secretary who does incredible Power Point presentations,” or “Outsider Plumber.”

*****************************************************************

OPERATION ALL TALK, NO-ACTION ACTION


{As regards placing ads on Craig's List asking sex workers to contact me}

... My Craig’s List ads got me no confessional sex-worker e-mails, but they did elicit, bizarrely, a couple of come-ons from potential customers (and I didn’t even include a pic!) Based on the e-mails received, it seems the people trolling Craig’s List for sex are, as a rule, spelling challenged and fond of writing obscenities in jaunty, forceful all-caps.

One hopeful query read:

“WERE U WORK AT? U COME OVER U GOT BIG TITTYS?”

Ah, the irony; the interviewer had become the interviewee.

And as it turns out, I am a crappy interview subject: I failed to respond at all. In this way, I am no better than the “life-size TS Barbie” who I did reach through Craig’s List, and with whom I made a date, but who stood me up. I sat in a downtown Starbucks for over half an hour last Thursday morning, heartbroken. Rejection sucks, no matter who you are.

I had tried to find lady sex workers on my own, too: I'd driven to the storied Cherry /Hackberry area one evening, and had espied a corner upon which several ladies and ladylike persons were gathered. They took some notice when I stopped the car, even. But when I popped my head out of the car to say hello, they turned and moseyed away quicklike, one and all, my cries of “hello? Ma’am!?” unheeded. Whoever I might be —some species of unusually bewildered, VW-driving cop, or possibly worse, a social worker— they wanted no part of me.

But back to my travels with Beto. Beto and I were both greatly desirous of and somewhat terrified by the prospect of finding a real, live, lady sex worker. We did see two different women, each walking alone on Roosevelt at about ten-thirty, and each of whom stopped to watch the car go by. We circled the area, girding our respective loins, hapless Wednesday night stalkers. Beto was driving, because I feared that with my VW’s right blinker out, we might get stopped by the po-po, and then the prospect of my even trying to explain that I was just a law-abiding writer trying to find sex workers to talk to would cause my brain to explode.

Beto met this reasoning with a hearty scoff, but finally agreed to drive because his car has air conditioning. So we watched American Idol, then set off, full of bravado.

The audio recording of our wanderings, when I listened to it the next day, struck me as sounding less like an episode of investigative reporting than it does a particularly lame coming-of-age movie about precocious fourteen-year-old boys. Here's a short screenplay based entirely on the transcript.

SCENE ONE
Exterior, dark and lonesome Roosevelt Avenue. Beto and Sarah in car, listening to classic country radio, nervously trolling street.

Me: if you took [the sex worker] to Whataburger as part of the deal, would you want it to be before...or after?

Beto: Uggh, not before! (imitating irate customer): 'What the hell! My dick smells like Whataburger!'

Me: There’s [a sex worker], maybe. At the bus stop.

Beto: Maybe, let’s slow down…

(We draw closer, slowing down as we drive up behind her. A lady in her forties with elaborate makeup turns and scowls at us.)

Beto (suddenly accelerating): I can’t do it!

(We pass her)

Me: Oooh! She looked mean!

(Gales of nervous laughter, some classic country coming from the radio, then silence).

Beto: Here’s where, in a bad movie, there’d be voice-over narration.

SCENE TWO
(After we’ve seen the same woman respond to our drive-by a couple of times, we decide to pull into an empty parking lot to wait and see if she approached us.)

Me (needlessly stage-whispering): Here she comes, here she comes!

Possible Sex Worker: Hey, what’s up? (Scans us through the rolled-down window, notices that there are two of us, and that I'm a girl. Looks slightly quizzical).

Beto (calmly): Hey. Nothin’…

Me (on the verge of hysteria): HI!!!

Possible Sex Worker: Do you have a lighter?

Me: Ummm, yeah, I think so!

(After fumbling, I produce one and hand it to her.)

Possible Sex Worker: Thanks. So, what are you up to?

(Author’s note: Beto and I had discussed what we were actually going to say, and had tentatively decided on “Hey, wanna party?” as an opener.)

Me: Uhhh, well. Let me just tell you…what I’m doing…is… I’m a journalist working on a story. I wrote for the San Antonio Current. ...Do you ever look at the Current?

Possible Sex Worker: Yeah, sometimes.

Me: Well, I’m writing about people who earn money in ways that aren’t measured by most, uh, by the government, who do work that isn’t monitored by most (inaudible) for example, sex workers, and I wondered whether you knew of anyone who—

Possible Sex Worker: (polite, but suspicious) Well, I don’t do that.

Me: Okay. What I was wanting to ask anybody who maybe did do sex work, and with no judgment, and without divulging their name or anything, is whether or not they feel safe, and if they’re having a harder time now with the economy in the shitter, and how much they get in trouble with the police, that kind of—

Possible Sex Worker: Uh huh. I mean, I don’t do that, but I’ve got a friend, this girl down here might be able to say—(she gestures down the street towards the bus stop, and the “mean-looking” lady who’d scared us.) You could ask her.

Me: Okay, um.

Possible Sex Worker (Handing me back the lighter): Y’all have a good night. Like I said, my friend might know. Thanks for the light! (Walks away from the car).

Me: You’re welcome! Have a nice night, you, too!

(Beto drives out of the parking lot. Silence for about twenty seconds)
Me: Well, I think she might’ve been—

Beto: Yeah, I think so. And she outed her friend!

Me: Man, I was so scared. Were you?

Beto: No!

Me: (Sort of not believeing him); She was nice, but she wasn’t gonna tell me anything. (Pause) Damn!

Beto: What?

Me: I should have given her my card!

Beto (in a serious, I'm-just-levelling-with-you voice): Dude. She wasn’t going to call you.


We drove past the aforementioned friend, who was still posted at the bus stop, now accompanied by a rather agitated and furtive-looking young man on a bicycle we imagined was her pimp. We did not stop.

Later, at a local ice house, we met a woman named Gloria who wanted to sell us Xanax, readily told us she has HIV/AIDS, that she’s had a gun to her head twice, and gave me eyebrow-shaping tips, but when gently prodded, also declined to describe herself as a sex worker.
     “What would you have done, if we’d actually managed to pick somebody up?” Beto asked later.
     “Well, after she’d got into the car,” I began, “I’d just interview her.”
     Beto was incredulous. “In my car?” he said. “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”

Posted by sarah fisch on 5/20/2009 11:50:10 AM
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