Thursday, June 15, 2017

Until it looks like the real thing...



My drive to work every morning is landmarked by a series of consistencies, a predictable set of circumstances. My routine unfolds alongside the routine of thousands of others who are doing slightly different things in the exact same way at the exact same time every single day. A Groundhog Day of sorts, where the people, places and events remain static and the only thing with the potential to change is perception…awareness. 

At the end of Kenilworth, just before I turn onto the highway, there’s a massage parlour. I’m not talking about RMT’s with their cucumber water and Himalayan salt lamps. I’m talking about a dimly lit set of stairs where you don’t touch the handrails that descend into the most maligned version of human interaction that polite society will allow. It’s situated, fairly appropriately, amidst rows of deteriorating train tracks, skulking under the shadow of the Steel Mill and perpetually coated in the grit and dust suffusing from the coke ovens.  The sign advertises ‘Additional Parking in Rear’, the humour of which (unintended, I think- although perhaps not) is not lost on me.

The parking lot is always full.

In my twenties I would have looked at that and been overcome with disgust. That 22 year old girl who started this blog in 2005 would have derided the entire scene without clemency, would have railed on about the injustice. The building, the business, the women working there and the men wandering through- all burned at the stake with no capacity for preference or exception.

Age has a funny way of softening lines. Of widening gaze. Of evolving what’s right and what’s wrong into a spectrum and thereby gleaning some meaning in the place of an answer. 

There’s one client who doesn’t park in the rear. Not in the literal sense, anyway. My entrance to the highway seems to coincide with his night-shift ending at the mill and I often see him, either when I’m at the light or stuck at the tracks, as he’s exiting his car and heading inside. Sometimes he hangs around outside his car, smoking a cigarette with an expression on his face that I mull over whilst changing lanes. 

What is that expression? It isn’t defiance, although he could be described as such since he refuses the indignity-cloak of hiding his car with everyone else’s. It isn’t ambivalence, because he certainly knows what he’s doing. And it isn’t smugness, because however much of a habit this has become, I doubt it’s his first choice.

Acceptance.

I think it’s acceptance. While others I have seen hastily enter or exit the building, chins tucked into the collars of their waxed jackets, eyes downcast and identifying features carefully concealed- he stands casually smoking, blinking into the sun, in no hurry at all. Comfortably unencumbered by the stream of witnesses driving past, immune to their swift judgement. He looks free of concern to me, and I’m a little jealous of anyone who seems content to live instinctively, unfettered by outside opinions.  

See a need, fill a need.

I’m past questioning morality and unprovoked by its type of religion. That’s been the gift of my thirties. It looks a bit like not caring, but it’s more about just embracing relative thought and rationale while abandoning the incredulity that governed my younger days. And to some degree, it’s about acceptance. A willingness to consider the origin story, and not just the resulting series of acts. Every morning I watch different men walk through a door to pay for sex. I don’t wonder why. I know why. There are a set of physiological needs that need to be filled. It’s all been neatly tucked in an inverse triangle that I remember from high school. If you have a beating heart and breath in your lungs, a roof over your head and a job to go to, it is a matter of time before you seek out whatever means are required to experience physical love. Emotional love fits in there somewhere as well, but it’s a few tiers up and, in the immediate sense, less necessary. Human beings require touch. They require release. They require two eyes looking into their own two eyes without the threat of rejection. And it doesn’t have to be the real thing, but it helps if it looks like the real thing.

Everyone pays for it. 

In a past life, I worked in pubs. I started at 18 and spent more than a decade waffling in and out of the industry. It’s a lot of staying awake til 4 am, sleeping in til noon the next day, listening to men talk about missing their wives or about hating their wives and letting them get drunk enough to not remember the difference. Ah, it was all so glamorous. Most of them were lovely guys. Humorous ex-pats with their puns and their banter and their weird rhyming slang. But even the loveliest can slip into darkness after one too many. On one such occasion, a discussion about ‘what kind of man pays for it’ cropped up. And I, well-rooted in my bold youth, declared that it was the territory of predators, looking to garner some sadistic pleasure from taking advantage of drug-addicted or otherwise troubled women. THAT is who pays for it, said I. And the once-lovely, now-darkened gentleman sitting opposite me leaned in with his eyes half shut, speaking in that familiar, snarled, drunken lilt of the you’re-not-better-than’s said, Everyone pays for it- in fact, I’m paying for it right now, am I not? Oh, and the fires of hell that swirled up in my stomach at the impact of those words.

I’m a barmaid, not a whore, said I. 

Everyone is a whore, said he. I’m paying you to pour my pint and stand in front of me smiling while I look at you and call you beautiful. Don’t wonder if it’s true. Ask yourself why you don’t mind. Nevermind, I’ll tell you. It’s because you need someone calling you beautiful just like I need someone smiling at me just like Johnny Whoremonger needs his bird to tell him he’s her favourite client. 

Ah, reckoning. I couldn’t see it then, but I can see it now. 

Human beings need love. You can punish yourself for it, if you want to. You can pull around the block and park in the rear, collar high and cheeks flared red. Or you can stand in the open, unapologetic, inhaling a cocktail of cigarette smoke and factory fumes. But everyone needs love, some version of it, some context of it. And it’s a need that will find its own way of being met, if left to its own devices. In desperate times, even the most tenuous grasp on the worst incarnation of it brings some measure of appeal; causing you to squeeze your hands into fists around the rusted edges and tightly close your eyes, until it starts to look familiar. 

Until it starts to feel like the real thing.   

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