Peep Show
The Sun Magazine
February 2005

 

“I understand that sex should be peaceful and good and loving, but what about the things that turn me on and are repellent at the same time?”

  - Lisa Palac, The Edge of the Bed

“The men [who frequent peep shows] don’t know it, but they are secretly coming to church. They are seeking absolution, acceptance, compassion, kindness, and caring from a willing, friendly woman — if she is pretty, so much the better. They believe themselves to be fundamentally unlovable because of their sexuality. . . . Granting these men acceptance and understanding instead of disgust and ridicule is the single most profound aspect of sex work.”

- Nina Hartley, “Bodhisattvas Among Us,” Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write about Their Clients




In the fall of 1997, my friend G. asked me to read my work at a benefit for a San Francisco alternative performance space. G. is a radical queer woman. I am a heterosexual white man. I hemmed and hawed and tried to duck her invitation. I said I was busy, that I hadn’t written anything in ages. I even told her I just plain didn’t want to do it, but she wasn’t buying my excuses. The truth is I was not eager to be the token straight white male in the show. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the radical queer world. (OK, maybe I’m a little uncomfortable.) I just have absolutely no interest in stepping up in front of that community and proudly representing the patriarchy.

With about a month to go before the event, though, I acquiesced. All too quickly it was the week of the show. My name was on the flier, and I had no idea what I would read. Instead of writing something, I spent much of my time trying to think of a plausible excuse to bail out: Broken limb? Dead relative? Laryngitis? As the date drew near I anxiously sifted through old grad-school poems, pulling out some “nice” ones: about my mother and a snowstorm, about a fondly remembered ex-girlfriend, about a long nighttime drive filled with hopeful thoughts of the future. Hey, leather-clad lesbians like mothers and ex-girlfriends and hopeful thoughts of the future, right?

In the back of my mind, though, nudging at me, was a new piece of writing that I had been working on. It was a short story called “Close,” and it was the first fiction I’d written that I actually liked; it was also the worst possible piece for this particular show.

“Close” is the journal of a museum guard named Henry, a mulletted, unkempt, oily-faced junior-college dropout in his early forties. Socially inept and utterly isolated, Henry divides his time between home, work, and a Times Square peep-show joint, where he’s fallen in love with a curvy Slav whose stage name is Nadja. The story includes several scenes of Henry participating in the only form of intimacy he knows: masturbating while awkwardly touching Nadja’s breasts through the eye-level porthole of the peep-show booth. I imagined I’d have a hard time reading “Close” out loud anywhere — much less to an audience of hardcore dykes — for fear of offending people and revealing way too much personal knowledge about strippers and peep shows, the sort of knowledge that can only be learned firsthand.

I grew up the only child of two academics, a feminist English professor and a moral philosopher. Together we formed a left-of-liberal family unit whose values included strong stances against racism, sexism, homophobia, and social injustice. Though the Berger family values were ethical guidelines, not moralistic strictures, they engendered as much guilt and shame as Catholic doctrine.

My parents made no explicit rules prohibiting drinking, drugs, and swearing. (Well, words that were offensive to various oppressed groups were forbidden. And the word sucks was also a no-no, I think because it debased the sucker, as in “cocksucker,” who is by inference a woman or a gay man. But fuck was acceptable in moderation — in fact, I’m pretty sure I first heard the word from Mom.) Civil liberties concerns aside, though, both my parents, were certainly against pornography. So, naturally, I found it incredibly enticing. After a brief preadolescent obsession with forbidden toy guns — I traded some prized Matchbox cars for a couple of heavy, metallic toy pistols — I quickly moved on to the glossy pages of Playboy and Penthouse. Soon I made the jump to the grittier, nastier Hustler and Club.

I stole my first Hustler from Tom Denton’s house one night in eighth grade. Denton was a gentle giant, a star football lineman who effortlessly tossed opponents about without malice — it was just what you did. Then the game would end, and he’d become his big harmless stoner self again. The Dentons’ liquor cabinet was always fully stocked and free for the raiding. A bong sat out on the rec-room ping-pong table. And, most exciting to me, Tom left porn just lying around in the open. One night I snuck a Hustler into the secret zipper pocket of my parka.

I still have the cover of that magazine somewhere, with its picture of a devilish blonde in shiny red leather, head thrown back and to the side, mouth forming an o. The look in her eyes is not soft-focus come-hither but straight-up lust. The image, a thrilling combination of the combative and the submissive, contradicted everything I’d been taught. This woman was objectified and loving it. She was horny. She didn’t want to be tenderly made love to. She wanted — no, she needed to be taken, to be fucked, and fucked hard. This was so wrong, so confusing — and so damn hot.

The images inside the magazine evoked similar contradictory feelings, exciting and disturbing at once. In my first, furtive jerk-off sessions to the photographs I focused on the soft smoothness of breasts and bellies, legs and asses, averting my gaze from the pink, fleshy, wetness. Learning to like pictures of women’s genitalia was like learning to like the taste of booze. The pictures in Hustler burned like bourbon. I started with little sips.

I discovered Times Square in its LIVE! NUDE! GIRLS! heyday late one night in my freshman year of college after a punk-rock show at Roseland Ballroom. I was walking through midtown with my jaded New Yorker friends (I was a recent arrival from upstate, still wide-eyed, just beginning to discover big-city splendors) when we passed by the peep shows on 42nd Street. I was riveted. Of course, there was no way I was going to admit, let alone indulge, my fascination in my friends’ company; it would’ve been uncool on so many levels. But after that night, at least once a week, I took a subway trip downtown and spent several guilty, anxious hours lurking outside peep show after peep show in the late autumn cold, furtively glancing at the windows and wanting badly to go inside, but always chickening out and heading back uptown to my safe college haven. What was I so afraid of? I can’t say exactly. That I’d be “sinning”? That I’d get caught? That I’d suddenly be sucked into a vortex of scantily clad women who’d scorn me and lure me into giving them all my work-study money only to disappoint me in the end? Something along those lines.

Finally one night I had a couple of beers, got up my nerve, and walked into Show World on the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, the least seedy, most legit-looking of the porn-and-peeps emporiums. I remember fluorescent lights and magazines that showed actual penetration on their covers. It had the grotesque allure of a street fight or a car wreck. A flashing, multicolored arrow that read Live Show pointed upstairs.

I didn’t go upstairs that first day, but I did soon after, to the little peep-show windows like the ones in my story “Close.” That first incursion was both unsatisfying and achingly thrilling. I practically sprinted away afterward, repeating to myself, I’m a pig. I’m a bad, bad person. I will never, ever do that again. I’m a pig. I’m a bad, bad person — my secular-humanist Hail Mary.
I’ve been going back to peep shows more or less regularly ever since, for ten years in New York and another twelve in San Francisco. As the panic and shame faded (but of course never entirely disappeared, especially the shame), I slowly learned how to get what I wanted and needed from that world. The kind of peep-show performer I craved was hard to find. She had to be someone I found physically attractive, of course, but more important, she had to look me in the eye and appear to see me, to willingly accept my gaze, my confession.

The peep-show scenes in “Close” are meant to show how unhappy Henry is in his isolation, how badly he needs human contact, which he finally finds with a young museum patron. Though he evokes sympathy, Henry remains an objectifying, straight white male who jerks off daily to peep-show strippers. “Close” is the memoir of a man who could easily (if rashly) be labeled a misogynist, but who is meant to be seen as a pariah, a freak, the kind of person for whom porn and strippers serve a clearly ameliorative purpose. Henry’s interactions with Nadja lack any of the mortifying ambiguity of his other interactions with women, or people in general. He pays her; she gives him what he needs.

To this day, I have never caught my father checking out a woman. I’ve always known, somehow, that this isn’t from a lack of desire on his part, but rather an abundance of principle: it’s something you just don’t do. One time an attractive young woman working behind a shop counter was extremely friendly, even flirtatious with my dad (who bears a strong resemblance to Paul Newman), and, after we left the store, he said, “What a bright young woman.” The message, as I interpreted it, was that a woman had to be intelligent or interesting in some other nonphysical way for a man to like her, and only after she’d been well appreciated as a fellow human being could she be — maybe, someday — physically desired. Never objectified, of course, but desired. Though I don’t think my father overtly tried to teach me this lesson, I learned it nonetheless.

I never imagined that my dad would ever let himself think, let alone say, Wow, those are some sexy eyes, or, heaven forbid, What a rack on that broad. Part of me is proud of him and wants to follow his example. Another part likes to believe that he can leer and fantasize with the best of us, or perhaps the worst of us. Most importantly, with me.

Back in my peep-show youth, at New York’s seedier venues, the small booth windows were glassless, and patrons were strongly encouraged to reach through and touch the dancers for a small fee. These women didn’t actually dance. They sat naked in chairs on the stage, looking preternaturally bored, barely able to muster the energy to mumble, “Tipping, honey?” in accents that ranged from the Bronx to Prague. If you said yes, she’d come over to your window. (The windows of several different booths would all open to the same raised stage.) “Up or down?” she’d ask. It cost more for down. At first I didn’t want to touch at all — hell, I didn’t even want to touch the booth’s doorknob — but the only way to get a stripper (they didn’t actually strip either; they were naked from the start) to come over to your window was to tip, and if you wanted to tip but not touch, well, that was considered weird.

At first I found the experience repulsive and dirty — some of the dancers would even wipe themselves with wetnaps after each customer — but I kept going back. It was another acquired taste, and I acquired it. I always went for “up,” so the woman would kneel down to my level, where I could hold a breast and, more important, look at her face. If I was lucky, she might look back.
I’ve never liked fancy strip clubs. I go to peep shows not to relax or talk to women. I can do that elsewhere. I go first and foremost to get off, and that just doesn’t happen at expensive “gentlemen’s” clubs, at least not without a whole lot more money than I’ve got to spend. The fancy clubs are all about tips, and I’ve never had the cash for that, either. Plus, if a man tips at a fancy club, a dancer will dance for him and talk to him even if she’s repulsed by him — he’s a paying customer, after all — and the inherent artificiality of that transaction is more than my suspension of disbelief can handle.

At contemporary peeps, unlike the Times Square shows of my youth, there’s no tipping, and no touching the dancers. And while it’s still an undoubtedly commercial interaction, the balance of power is a little more to my liking. I’m a sort of captive in my little cage-like booth: the dancer can choose to come over to my window or not, and once there she’s not bound or influenced by money; she can stay and dance for me until I’m done, or she can just walk away. It allows me to feel that, as improbable as this may sound, once in the bluest of blue moons a dancer may actually, conceivably enjoy our wordless interaction. Part of me wants to believe that if I can make even the tiniest connection with a woman in this most wretchedly sexist and commodified environment, I can somehow be forgiven for my eternal objectifying and wanton lust. Eye contact from a stripper can be sexually satisfying, and even spiritually fulfilling, in a way that cannot be duplicated outside that unique controlled space.

On the floor of the peep-show booth:
Other men’s semen, with its eerily clean, bleachy smell. Tissues. Quarters that men have dropped and weren’t about to pick up. Condoms, some from couples who have sex in the booths, but also, I think, from men who jerk off into them. (Which just seems depressing; why would anyone jerk off into a condom?)
Once, there was a semen-stained twenty-dollar bill down in the muck, and I concocted a story for how it got there: I imagined a khakied yuppie, laughing nervously at the way-too-real-looking women on the other side of the glass. (This is a quarter peep show, after all, not Larry Flynt’s posh Hustler Club next door.) He laughs because it’s too much to handle otherwise. I pictured him jerking off even though the dancers don’t even vaguely resemble Pamela Anderson. (Dude, I’m here, why the hell not?) Then after he’s done, he realizes he has nothing to clean himself up with, and, again chuckling, he pulls out a bill, which chafes a bit, but does the job well enough that he can stick his dick back in his Dockers. He laughs a third time as he imagines some poor little immigrant who won’t be able to resist picking up the gooey twenty: his cum on another man’s hands.

This story gives me solace: I’m not nearly so bad as my imagined yuppie, I think, tugging at my own member, looking back up through the thick glass at a fine, round ass, a pair of swaying hips. I’m a very different kind of man, indeed. I’m more like the women I’m jerking off to than I am like him. And then, just as I’m about to let go, I think, Hey, did I drop that bill?

In the months leading up to the benefit at which I was to read my work, I had been frequenting San Francisco’s famed Lusty Lady club two or three times a week. I had my own “Nadja,” a stripper whose stage name was Sassafras. I knew her schedule and planned my visits accordingly. She was small, maybe five-three, with auburn hair down to her shoulders, full breasts, a freckled, catlike face, and smoldering cat eyes that were somehow simultaneously sultry and kind. But it wasn’t so much the way she looked that did it for me — peep shows are filled with women I find physically attractive. It was the way she looked at me that made her perfect.

As soon as I shut the door and slipped my first quarter into the slot, she would come right over, say a soft, smiling hello, and begin to dance for me. Eventually she would kneel down, to be at my eye level, and just look at me and hold her breasts in her hands and faintly hum. Through the glass, I could never make out what she was humming, just that it wasn’t the Jane’s Addiction or Prince song playing through the PA. I was never sure if she knew I could hear her, but the humming was just the sweetest, sexiest thing to me. And best of all, she looked at me as if she were actually seeing me, as if she inherently knew and was happy to give me what I needed: acceptance, forgiveness, release. I had found my ideal confessor.

One day I went to the Lusty Lady, and Sass (as I liked to think of her; “Sassafras” didn’t remotely do her justice) was dancing at another window. I found myself enjoying watching her dance for another man, without her knowing I was there. It’s kind of ridiculous to feel voyeuristic at a peep show, but that’s the way it felt, as if I were actually peeping. From time to time I could see the man’s face through the window. He was a small, elderly Asian man, and he craned his neck to look up at her, his eyes wide. Then she turned her back to him and faced me, and when I saw her face, I could tell she wasn’t humming.
Soon the other man left, and Sass came over with her usual warm, mischievous smile. This time she didn’t dance for me at all, just immediately got down on her knees, brought her face right up to the window and started to sway and hum and hum and hum.

The names of radical feminists like Catharine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin were familiar to me even as a preteen from eavesdropping on my mom’s women’s group. Sitting at the top of the stairs in my pajamas, I learned that thousands of years of patriarchy, with its literal and metaphorical sexual slavery, had done women an incalculable injustice. I also learned that men started wars and were the source of violence, greed, hate, murder, rape, and just about everything else that’s awful in the world.

The seventies was a hyperbolic time for the women’s movement, and while I now know that my mother didn’t intend to teach me that men were evil, per se, that was the lesson I absorbed. I came to think of penetration as an inherently violent act. As I grew older, I began to see myself as oppressor-by-default and — though it may seem melodramatic and hyperpolitically correct today — my penis as a weapon of that oppression. Let me tell you, it put a real crimp in my enjoyment of sex (not to mention my performance), but it added immensely to the rush (and, afterward, the shame) of indulging in pornography and strippers.

The day before the dreaded Saturday benefit reading, I had my little passel of sensitive-male poems ready to go, but an unwelcome thought was edging its way into my brain: that I should read “Close,” my museum-guard story, instead.

I fought the impulse with all my might, couldn’t believe I was even considering it. But I also wanted to read the best work I had, and despite my fears, the story was, in a sense, absolutely appropriate for the sexually radical and politically engaged audience I envisioned. That night I asked my wife whether I should read it.

Digression: Yes, I was married during my Lusty Lady period. My wife not only knew about and accepted my visits, but encouraged them and got off on my descriptions of that world and the porn in my collection. Now my ex, she has always identified with men and masculinity. Her father is a strong, silent heart surgeon. Her four brothers are all great athletes, quietly brilliant types who build beautiful, solid things with their hands. In many ways my ex tried to be — and in many ways succeeded in becoming — the fifth boy in her family.
So I, who never really learned the manly arts of plumbing and carpentry, was married to a woman who was a professional carpenter, painter, and contractor to supplement a markedly less lucrative career as a dancer and choreographer. When we redid our floors, she wouldn’t let me handle the big, unwieldy belt sander, nor would she let me touch a paintbrush when she painted our apartment, although she was kind enough (or patronizing enough, you make the call) to let me sand a couple of walls — after which she touched up my work.
She desired, in an ideal lover, someone bigger, stronger, and tougher than she, to make her feel more feminine. I met the physical requirements, barely. My pervy predilections were my most masculine feature, and offset my more wifely qualities, such as making sure she paid her parking tickets and brushed her teeth and made it to doctor appointments and returned phone calls. She painted the walls, but I arranged the furniture and hung the art just so.

When I asked my wife whether I should read “Close” at the benefit, she replied that she didn’t see why not. I tried to explain exactly why not: i.e., that they’ll fucking hate me, that’s why not. She still didn’t see it. “It’s a great story, she said. “Read it. What’s the worst that can happen?”
I reiterated: the worst that can happen is that they will hate me.
“And then what?”
“And then what? They’ll hate me, that’s what, and I don’t want to be hated.”
“They won’t hate you,” she replied. But then, she loved me. What did she know?
I asked another friend and got pretty much the same response. Just letting the friend read the story had been petrifying. Why was I even thinking about reading it in public? I kept saying to myself, No way, but I was starting to think, Yes way. I’m going to read that story, and it will be great. The audience is going to love it, and radical lesbians will begin to understand men in a new way, and their understanding and eventual forgiveness will allow men to grow to better appreciate and respect women, and a movement will rise, misogyny will die, and peace and love will reign supreme on earth.
Maybe I was getting a little ahead of myself. But clearly I had decided to read “Close” at the show.
That night, I slept horribly, and I awoke agitated and filled with second thoughts.

Once, I was jerking off while watching a dancer who had always pointedly ignored me. She just plain didn’t like me. Usually this ruins it for me, but her body was incredible — long and lean and strong, with smooth olive skin, small breasts, and tiny, button nipples. And sure, her aloofness was sexy too. For some reason she deigned to dance for me that day, with just the perfect hint of disdain in her eyes.

I must have stopped stroking myself for a moment and put my hand up by the window (I’m left-handed), because she noticed my wedding ring and dryly said, “Why don’t you go home and fuck your wife?”
“I will,” I replied, more angry than embarrassed. What’s your point? I wanted to say. They’re two completely different things. I’m not coming here instead of fucking my wife. But there was no way to have a discussion through the thick plexiglass about the difference between sex with one’s spouse and masturbating while looking at a sex worker. And of course the disgusted dancer would have had no interest in any such conversation.

Rather than leave chastened, I fed the machine more quarters and kept jerking away, almost frantically. As frustrated and angry as I was, I got off, looking at her ass swaying haughtily, almost mockingly, to the beat. It was the only time in my life I can remember coming in anger.

It’s the Saturday of the show, and I feel awful, my stomach tied in a knot. In the afternoon I stop by the Lusty Lady, hoping to relieve my anxiety over reading a story about jerking off to strippers by jerking off to strippers. Sass isn’t here, and I’m not turned on by any of the other women, so I go into a video booth and watch porn, jumping from channel to channel: women’s bodies, a mouth on a cock, cum spurting onto artificially enhanced breasts. I have to pull hard and fast to get there, but eventually I have a weak, twitchy orgasm. My anxiety is lessened somewhat, but also compounded by guilt and shame.
I go home and shower, put on a pair of old cords and my favorite vintage button-down shirt — a simple, nonconfrontational outfit — and head over to the theater with both “Close” and the “nice” poems under my arm, just in case.
A big crowd is already filling all the chairs and spilling out almost into the hallway. The audience is more mixed than I’d expected: maybe 65 percent women, maybe 30 percent of them with some degree of leather, chains, piercings, or elaborate tattooing. And then there are my friends and neighbors, my little support group. Most of them have no idea what I’ll be reading either, and I worry about their reaction, too. I say hi to G., who tells me I’m scheduled to read at the end of the first half. I’ll be great, she says. (Oh, how I hate when people say that.) She tells me to relax and gives me a big hug, and I just want to melt into her embrace and disappear. I haven’t told her what I’m reading, and I begin to imagine her fury and embarrassment when she hears it, perhaps even my ritual hanging-in-effigy to close out the evening.

The readers who go on before me include a very young, beautiful, gay Asian man and a lesbian poet who is not only leather-clad and angry, but palsied and in a wheelchair to boot. The boisterous crowd is loudly supportive of both of them. And then G. introduces me.

As I step onstage, the audience gives me what I hear as a decidedly lukewarm welcome. I feel big and male and straight and ungainly. The blood begins its mad rush to my face, as if I need to be red to be seen. I arrange my papers on the music stand, adjust the mike, look around the room, mumble a hello, give a spastic laugh, and take a deep breath.

“This is a short story called ‘Close,’ ” I say. My amplified voice sounds very loud. “It’s . . .” I stifle the urge to explain or apologize up front. “It’s the journal of a museum guard named Henry.”

I take a deep breath and look around the room, searching for friendly faces. Then, just as I’m about to look down again, I see her. Unfathomably, in the back left corner of the room, leaning against the wall, is none other than . . . Sass. I look down, blink twice in what feels like slow motion, and think, Hey, I just imagined I saw Sassafras in the audience. How wacky is that? I look up again. She’s still there. I did not imagine it. She can’t possibly be here, and yet there she is, looking right at me — I mean, of course she’s looking right at me. Where else would she be looking?

Her presence is actually not all that improbable. San Francisco is like a small town within its artistic communities. In fact, I know several women — one a writer, one a dancer, one a budding academic — who have done stints at the Lusty Lady. The Lusty Lady has always been an offbeat, radicalized strip club (it’s the first of its kind to be worker-owned) and, accordingly, it attracts intellectual, artsy employees, including women who just want to try stripping to see what it’s like.

So to run into a stripper in my life outside the Lusty Lady is not so unlikely. But to see Sass in the audience when I’m about to read “Close” for the first time is no less than breathtaking. She is my perfect erotic dancer, my dream — and nightmare — audience member. As much as I’ve always wanted to be seen by strippers, I never imagined this. Here she is a real person, wearing clothes, perhaps even a writer like me. But also not so much like me at all, more like the women in front of whom I’m so petrified to read my story.

For a moment I hold my breath and ride that fine masochistic edge between exquisite pleasure and almost unbearable discomfort. I begin to wonder if there’s enough blood in my legs to hold me up. I am petrified, thrilled, nauseated. I think to myself, Don’t lock your knees. I remember marching in a Columbus Day parade as a kid, standing and waiting for hours in a hot woolen uniform, and being told: Don’t lock your knees. That’s when you pass out. So I bend my knees a little, look down at my pages, and begin to read:

April. The weather is getting warmer. The other day I was walking home after my stop off, and I looked through the window of the old office building on West 52nd they’ve gutted and are turning into a Sure-Guard Storage. They finally installed the shiny corrugated lockers. I looked through the window and just happened to be right in front of number 1354, which is also the last four digits of my Social Security number. This may mean something. Or not. Sometimes these coincidences mean things.

I look up from time to time at the listening faces. I don’t look toward the back left corner. A page or so in, I pause, take a sip of water, slip out of Henry’s edgy persona, and smile as if to say, Hey, everybody, don’t forget: that’s Henry; I’m Jamie. I think of the clichéd advice offered to nervous public speakers — imagine the audience naked — and I almost laugh out loud. I’m feeling more naked than I imagine Sass has ever felt in front of me.

About two pages in I get to the tough stuff: “After work, I stop at Babeland.” I feel as if I’m about to freeze up — or throw up — but I manage to keep reading:
Today Nadja is there. I feed the machine an extra bill and give her five bucks through the window even though it only costs three to touch. I tell her “high” and she kneels down so I can reach her. I hold one breast gently with my left hand and jerk off with my right. I like how heavy it is. The breast. I like that she kneels so we’re at eye level. I like to feel the weight, the warmth. . . . Sometimes she holds my face in her hands and calls me “baby.” I know it’s an act but still it feels good. “Baby,” she says, “my sweet baby.” I always forget to bring tissues.

The audience laughs at the “tissues” line, and I’m starting to feel a rush. I’m becoming Henry, slipping deeper inside his clipped, anxious voice. The final pages go by with a kind of rich, elastic slowness that I’ve never experienced before, onstage or off.

At the end of “Close,” Henry accomplishes something monumental for him: he spends an afternoon with a woman without a plexiglass wall between them. I feel as if I’ve broken down some barriers of my own as I read his story: I’ve done something difficult and monumental for me, and done it as clearly and honestly as I can. I notice my pulse slowing, my sweat cooling me. The story ends, and I say thank you.

There’s a pause, then a roar as the audience begins to whoop and whistle and clap. My applause probably isn’t any longer or louder than any other reader’s, but to me it feels like absolute thunder. I say thank you again and step offstage.
G. announces the intermission, and several people, among them a couple of the women I was so afraid of offending, come up to tell me how much they liked the story. A tough and talented writer tells me she’s “heard a lot of crap on that subject” but that my piece was “really pretty OK,” which I’m later told is high praise coming from her. And G. gives me another hug and, with a proud grin, tells me I did a great job.

Suddenly I remember that back left corner. I wheel around and look for Sass, but she’s not there. I scan the room like Rocky, punch-drunk and reeling, searching for Adrian after the big fight. And then, over by the door, I spot a familiar face, and the woman I know only as Sassafras gives me that sweet, sly smile, turns, and is gone.

 

© 2006 Jamie Berger