The Oldest Profession: A Worker’s Memoir
Before my nightmare began at 16, I remember a happy childhood. Mama Lisa and me lived with her parents, grandma Lila and grandpa John, in a small country Alabama town in the late 1960s.
Our best mode of transportation for our town of 600 people is walking. At one time or another we covet the main red dusty dirt road leading through main-street with a drug store grocer, garment shop, church, barber and cafe. The dusty road starts at the main highway and ends at the corner after coming through town. Take a left and see brown skin families like me. Go right and see white folks where they have more brick homes than wooden ones less equipped for the cold, cold, cold winters we have most years.
Families with teens, tweens, babies and tots make it a point to get a long. White, white, white old folks have unspoken rules still believing black folks are beneath them yet grateful for old black nannies keeping their homes clean. When passing them white folks on a walkway downtown, they look at us with scrunched faces, noses pointed to the sky, giving their purses and wallets extra attention. Still it’s a safe place. We mind our own and men on both sides of the block keep a rifle by their bedsides, come together as one when time to ensure law and order.
Mama Lisa grew up here in the same 2-story brick house with her older brother Jessie by one-year who enlisted in the army straight out of high school eight years ago. I was two when he left. Mama Lisa had me early. She was 16, an unwed mother with a bastard child she named Jillian and she was a school dropout.
My father, whom I never met, ran off with a white girl from the rundown trailer camp on the outside of town along the main highway. Grandma Lila told me my daddy was good-for-nothing. That’s all she’d say. But the white girl she said plenty about.
“Girl was nothing but trouble like your daddy,” grandma said. “She was white trash, short and skinny with pale, pale, pale skin, scars and scratches down her arms and legs, stringy dirty brown hair. Walk barefoot through downtown looking for handouts is how she and your good-for-nothing daddy met.”
Grandma told me this after that girl’s parents still living in the trailer camp, come to town a couple of Sundays ago to fetch free food baskets from the little church we attend. I was helping out at one of the food basket tables inside the church’s rec room. They wobbled up to our table, and I couldn’t help but stare at these two obese white folks wearing soiled clothing—the white lady a tattered brown dress drawn above her wide knees, him a stained wife-beater and what looked like plaid pajama pants. Their swollen feet strangled by the thongs they wore.
Mama Lisa works a lot, mostly at night. When I was young, I didn’t know what she did exactly. All’s I remember was pretending to fall asleep after she put me to bed. Hearing her voice downstairs preparing to leave, I’d sneak out my room, crawl on all fours over to the top of our white staircase. Grab the banister bars smash my face between them. Being a “skinny-bean,” like mama and my grandparents call me, I could make myself almost invisible in the darkness above the stairs.
Mama Lisa, she always looked so pretty. No matter the weather she always had on the best makeup, clothes and the highest heels, making her taller than she already was at 5’9. Then on with a coat to match the weather. Tonight, it’s a below the knee red wool A-line and matching felt hat atop her beautiful silk black hair. Standing in front of the floor length mirror near the front door, she take one last look and smile. Then out she’d go into the cool night air, not to return until the day comes up.
Mama Lisa begins dating this man named Vaughn my grandparents did not like. I suspect it’s because he liked pit bulls. The one I remembered out of all of them was Red dog because he was mean just like him. With Vaughn in our lives, I remember my childhood changing. One day we upped and moved…
We now live in a whole new city called Las Vegas. I go to a new school during the day while mama continues to get dressed and leave at night. The man Vaughn starts acting differently as I grow older. Then I turn 16. I didn’t have a sweet 16 party or nothing. Instead, that was the day I finally found out my mother’s profession. A profession she’d teach me. Her next generation, baby. Is he gone, mama?” I asked blowing scared but mad tears through my eyes and snot through my nose. “I didn’t want h – h – him,” I stuttered. “I just wanted him to stop.”
Mama Lisa stood there. Her beautiful brown eyes bugged out blinking back the tears. But then she says, “That’s alright baby girl. Mama will fix it like I always do. You won’t suffer no more.”
Like mama said, she fixed things. He upped and disappeared.
Starting at 16 and as the years passed, I got really good at it, like my mama. The hustle and bustle, different customers, most big tippers and returnees. Lots and lots of men, when they find out just how nice I was to look at.
What my mama does and now me, I wouldn’t wish on any young lady, especially a teenager like I was. My advice would be to leave here. Vegas ain’t the place for anyone smart, wanting to do something bigger than the casinos.
Among all the jobs here, I work in the oldest profession I think is one of the worst. You stand on your feet all day and use your hands and mouth quite a bit. Until one day you are old and they want to hire someone else.
That is what my new boss, Saul did. The boss I ended up with right after leaving mama’s house and into my own.
Saul says, “This is Vegas honey, gotta keep ‘em happy even if it means giving ‘em one of our best meals on the house with a smile. One you don’t got no more.”
So, at age 55, I said goodbye to the oldest profession that kept me clothed and fed. Kept me off the streets and out of trouble. Only had the energy for fleeting romances – too tired to care or to love really. I gave it all to my job.
If I had to do it again, I would tell Mama doing what she does, just isn’t for me. No disrespect to her or the ladies who still choose this profession. There are some fine women who do it well and love it.
The life of a waitress is not for me.
To Go or Not. That WAS the Question.
Damn Sunday! Already Monday tomorrow and back to the grind. I should call in sick! Huh! Rather than rush to get things done, I didn’t get done yesterday. Then there’s more homework and more writing on the manuscript. Ah sh** Can’t forget it’s my turn to do the cookin’. Oh, and sh** forgot the damn laundry! No clean clothes for the week!
“So, are you going or not?” My daughter asks.
“Don’t know yet. Got homework to do. Dinner to cook,” I answer.
“Well mom, you don’t have to go ya know. We’re use to you sayin’ no anyway.”
“Umpf. Guilting me into it won’t –,” I start to say until…
“Ring-a-ling!” says Android.
“Ah what? My cell rarely rings. Probably some damn scam call.”
Android continues a-ringing. My daughter rolls her eyes, turns-up the right side of her lip. Turns and leaves me to, not-be-so-nice to the fool who dared to call. On mute it goes after this call.
“Hello,” I say annoyingly.
“Well hello yourself,” says the sexy male voice on the other end. “I hear you’re having trouble deciding on whether to go have a little fun?”
“Yeah maybe. Who’s calling?”
“Your favorite man. Irresistible Miguel.”
“Oh, hey Miguel. Yeah. I’m stugglin’. Don’t wanna be up till midnight getting stuff done. Then up at 4 in the morning, starting the week all over again.”
“Ah come on now my beautiful lady. A couple of hours won’t hurt,” says Mr. Irresistible. “It’ll put you in a better frame of mind. Get your writing juices pumped!”
Oooooo. I love it when this man calls me beautiful.
“Hmm. You may be right. A little break won’t hurt.”
“I’m always right beautiful. They don’t call me Ir-RESIST-ible for nothing.”
So off I go, to the skating rink with the family. Yep. Skating. Something I hadn’t done in years.
After paying $9 bucks – ouch – I check out a pair of worn-out 80s looking skates, hand over one-shoe to hold in case I don’t bring ‘em back. Lol!
Out onto the floor I go boldly. Bam! I fall. Bam! I fall again. And Bam. Again! Miguel was oh so wrong. It did hurt to have fun – my butt and hands prove it.
Returning home, a couple of hours later, I frantically finish cooking the dinner, everyone is demanding. The nerve. They forgot already we were all in the same resistance team.
Dinner is over, laundry is finished and its back to homework and manuscript writing.
11:49 p.m. Just in time I’m thinking as I upload my final assignment.
I’m hella tired and wondering hmm. Should I have resisted irresistible Miguel? The upside. The distraction was good and having fun with the family was a treat. Even though I will lose out on four hours of sleep.
But, hey. I also got a flash story out of it. What a deal.
Those damn apps! Can we do without?
“Instructions! What the hell is this! Download a free APP to continue! All I want to know is how to spell a word. It’s bad enough when you call a company, you get a computer recording telling you to press 1, only after it speaks to you in Spanish for 2 minutes – Hola espaniol, como estes? Now, I have to download this APP before I can get an answer to a simple question?
DOWNLOADING COMPLETE. Up comes a photo of a young brown-haired gentleman, a big-smile crossing his face, hair cropped a shake above his ears, with tanned skin enough to have spent the week at some tanning booth.
Hi Jina, I’m Alex. I’d like to introduce myself. I am your new friend. Don’t be fooled by the photo. I am a real person. It’s just that I am very busy and I don’t want to leave you waiting. I have my voice programmed to answer all of your questions and assist you anytime you call me. Because I will follow you wherever you go, I am your new helper to get you to any service you need. What us APPS live for, is to follow our special friend around. And you are my special friend. So, I’m stuck with you and you with me. The best part of this experience, is this new voice recognition experience. It also comes with my friendly face rather than you having to press 1, only after it speaks in Spanish – Hola espaniol, como estes?
“Oh come on, you gotta be kiddin’.
I’m afraid not Jina. I’m your new APP nightmare! Say play me again ALEX if you’d like me to repeat this message – Hola espaniol, como estes?
“Don’t even!” I say, grabbing my boo’s wrist before he changes the channel remote to Turner Movie Classics repeat of the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle.
We just finished dinner Justin made especially for our six-month anniversary. Dropped ourselves in the snug armchair in the living room, shoulder-to-shoulder, legs stretched across the coffee table in front of us.
Justin and me have been dating hot and heavy since meeting at a mutual friend’s Superbowl party in February. Can’t say it was love at first sight. It was more like sexual tension on high-alert. Come to find out we’d both been holding out, sexually, for some time and after splitting from our long-time partners. Justin had been with his ex for about two years; me I was coming up on three with a guy named Derrick. We even discussed marriage and having a boat love of kids—well at least that is what Derrick wanted.
At age 35, I probably should’ve jumped at the chance, so says my best friend Chrissy. I stood up for her last year when she married her military man. The wedding was nice and all, but not a reason to get married. I think Chrissy was in love with the idea of it all and wanted the big wedding they ended up putting on a 48-month payment plan.
“Now hold on ma-lady,” Justin says, smilingly. “I wasn’t plannin’ on watchin’ too much of it anyway. Only enough to let this food settle,” he winks.
“Hmm,” I say, turning my head enough to look at him out of the corner of my right eye. “It’s so played out. I don’t get why you like it.”
“Tom Hanks is my boy,” says Justin. “This was one of his better movies.”
“Hmm,” I say again, turning up the side of my lip.
“I love it when you do that. Curl your lip,” Justin snickers. Leaning over he kisses me right on the tip of the curl. Lettin’ me know tonight will be another one of our sleepless nights.