Big Jones, Chicago, USA
5347 N Clark St., Chicago
by T. N. Toost
I found myself, on 5 July, breakfasting with a former Tokyo dominatrix, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion/stand-up comedian, and a prostitute.
I could have predicted breakfast with Natsuki and John; she has been my best friend since college, and it was natural that I’d want to meet her amazing new boyfriend. Having breakfast with an honest-to-God prostitute was something I never would have predicted. But the previous day, the Fourth of July, we’d all gone over to pick Nora up at her apartment – or, rather, one of her apartments, because she did business out of one and lived in the other. She called it the “HOstel.” She asked if we wanted to come up to see it, and, in reality, I didn’t, but I did anyway to be polite, and, in reality, I kind of did want to see it.
Prostitution is something that I intellectually believe should be decriminalized. People should be able to sell their services and their bodies in any way they wish, provided they don’t harm others and are not being exploited. Plus, to a certain extent, we all sell sex in some way; as Brendan Behan once quipped, the difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs less.
At the same time, I had a visceral negative reaction to being in a functioning brothel that I never would have anticipated. Standing in the living room of her work space, next to a strap-on dildo and variously sized paddles and two massive deer heads hanging on the wall, listening to a detailed account of how long it took to paint the 20-foot walls, and how the massage table only cost $150, and how they had to have a pile of new sponges for washing toys, and how they had elaborate plans to soundproof the rooms from the family living below them – standing there, I realized that my arms were tightly crossed in front of my body, and my mouth was drawn grimly against my teeth, and that I was very, very uncomfortable. I forced myself to uncross my arms and relax my face, and I listened, without comment, to a story about the fight she was having with her landlord to get a separate buzzer for her room so that her clients could be independently buzzed in and wouldn’t be seen by the clients of her partner.
Writing this, one week later, it strikes me that she is actually running her business pretty professionally – the only thing that gives it any salaciousness is the fact that society is so hung up on sex. She has to think about how to report her income, and securing business, and competition, and advertising, and government overreach, and land use issues, and overhead. She has databases to check whether potential clients are deadbeats, and online forums to discuss new business developments. When she goes out of town on business, she calls it being “on tour,” and she has to find places to work, new clients, and negotiate fees ahead of time to cover her travel expenses. And she thinks of little details, like filling her fridge with coconut water and cans of San Pellegrino. She didn’t say this, but I think she had San Pellegrino because of the foil cap on the cans that you peel back in order to sip it. It makes people like me feel less worried about drinking it; the foil acts as a condom, keeping germs from getting on the can and thus to my lips. I sipped it, delicately, as she told us that one of the persistent hazards of her work was sharting.
Prostitutes also pay close attention to their health. As she sat across the table from me that beautiful, clear Chicago morning, she was sweaty, after having biked 15 miles along the shores of Lake Michigan. When the food arrived, she had a huge plate of buckwheat pancakes topped with raspberries; they were gluten free, and she paired it with a Sazerac. I had “Eugene’s Breakfast in Mobile, circa 1930,” a dish inspired by a jazz musician who decided to become a chef. The catfish was delicious, the breading was light brown and flaky, the plantains and beans and rice were all seasoned perfectly. I washed it down with strong, black coffee.
And then there was the question of etiquette that might only come up when dining with a prostitute. I had no problem passing along a piece of catfish and plantains to her, but then she reciprocated. When she cut off a piece of pancake, placed a raspberry on top, and passed it onto my plate with her fork, I paused. She saw five clients a day, at times, and I thought of the dildo on the wall, and remembered how she had licked powdered sugar off of her fork as if it were a lollipop. That was the same fork that had speared the raspberry and the pancake and then had dropped both pieces of food onto my plate, on the edge, so it wouldn’t mix with my food. I swallowed hard for a second, considering how I might decline.
But I didn’t. She was my friend before she was a prostitute.
And her pancakes were, admittedly, delicious.