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I'm not a hooker, OK?
Since Lake Street reconstruction began some time ago, residents have noted that prostitution activity has moved south. Coincidentally, I need to walk south for those two extra blocks each workday morning, and it has upset any illusions I had about being protected from or being above any unsavory elements in my community.
A few examples:
9 a.m., Chicago Avenue between 31st and 32nd Streets–I was walking those two extra blocks, singing a carefree lah-la-la-la song in my head, trying to suck up the last few remaining minutes of air and sky before I have to check my e-mail and do my part to bring down American fascists. And, I stress, it is early. I see a fellow gesturing madly from the alley. I scowl, scrunch my eyebrows and continue walking, stopping in at the corner store across the street from the office. While I am paying for a can of root beer, I see this same fellow peering in at me through the store’s door window, smirking knowingly at me, like we share some kind of secret. I grimace once more, and exit the store, where I see this guy waving his arms wildly at me from his red convertible, yelling, “Money. Money.” I told him to @!#$ off, and he called me a bitch. Not a great way to start the day. The very same day, after work, I stood at the No. 5 bus stop, which I planned to catch and then transfer to the No. 21 back to St. Paul. Again, I was singing the carefree lah-la-la-la song in my head, this time a slower, work-weary rendition.
I was tired of waiting for the bus to come, as usual, and probably silently lamenting all the time I waste in my life simply being bored. I see an intense-looking woman cross the street and head toward “my corner.” She had her longish hair tied back, and wore sneakers and a brown pleated skirt that hit about three inches above her knees.
She looked me over, raised her eyebrows my way, turned her back, put her hands on her hips, and stood with her feet wide apart. It was a territorial stance, and maybe just to make sure I noticed that, she turned her head and glared at me. It struck me as an alpha female street stance, and I thought to myself, “She’s definitely not getting on the bus.” She was “owning” her hooker status, and, at the same time, daring me to try and even think about stopping her.
I had no intention of stopping her—I just wanted to go home. I wondered, though, seeing her like this, how could that loser earlier in the day possibly have confused me for a hooker?
Not since I lived in Los Angeles have I been confused with a hooker. I used to take walks down Love Street (Laurel Canyon Boulevard) to the store where the creatures meet (the Laurel Canyon Country Store). It was a good two-mile walk from my guest house on Lookout Mountain to the store, where I would reward myself with a glass of lemonade and yummy tuna fish sub. Often I would continue on down the mountain to Sunset Boulevard, where there were “official” sidewalks. One day I had one “hey baby” too many, this one from an idiot in a convertible. Traffic up and down the mountain was usually bumper to bumper, at around 10 miles an hour. There was no place for the cars to turn around in either direction; no matter what happened, they had to continue up or down the steep incline.
I knew all this, so I had time to assess my choices as a pedestrian who had had enough of cat calls. So when the creep in the convertible called out to me in ways that didn’t please me—while also driving past just slow enough for me to jump in with him if I had the inclination—I tossed my lit cigarette into his lap. Seeing him freak out trying to find the cigarette to put it out felt like enough revenge to last me a month.
To most women I know, it doesn’t matter whether a guy thinks you just might be loose or that you just might be a hooker. As my friend Shell asked a few guy acquaintances—when you’re wanting to pick up a girl, if you lay on the horn or just yell out the window—“Does that ever work?” The guys just laughed, like they didn’t know or weren’t telling.
So, after all this, I moved back to the Twin Cities, settling in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St. Paul, where walking down the sidewalk is still considered not only a democratic right, but a sanctifed one that must be respected without interruption.
Not so in the Southside’s Phillips neighborhood, where, if you aren’t encased in a big, metal , fuel-charged box, you are open game for just about anything. Also, biking provides you with more security than walking; it’s a good prop and you can get away fast if you need to. And get used to being asked for money and cigarettes. I have—dealing with that is now second nature. But being asked to share your body with a stranger for money is something I will never even try to get used to.
The anti-john foot patrols seem to be a reasonable community response to loser, suburban johns—though a smash-the-offending-john’s-windshield campaign would provide me with more immediate gratification. But I’d have to check the rap first.
© 2006 Pulse of the Twin Cities