So, I'm back tracking quite a bit. Couldn't get the last part of the Bruce Willis story good enough to post, so this is a story about the time I accidentally hired a hooker. It may seem hard to believe, but it's true. This story will fit in right after the Benny Story.
I'm actually making quite a bit of progress toward finishing the first draft. I haven't been posting because I'm just writing to get it on paper...no editing yet.
I’d told Kristin McBride about the Benny incident over tapas and she was beside herself with laughter.
“Only you, Jennifer,” she said, sipping the one glass of Sangria she allowed herself at lunchtime. I was already finished with my second glass and had resorted to eating the fruit in lieu of ordering another.
Kristin did everything by the book. Everything. She followed recipes and balanced their checkbook. Her kids had all the latest and greatest toys, gadgets and clothes. They even had matching shoes for different outfits.
My poor kids had a mother who thought Lincoln Logs were cool and I loved the thought of a school uniform because it meant less extraneous crap I’d have to buy. And Crocs were the only way go. For dinner, I would add a little of this and a little of that and hold my breath, hoping for a successful meal. I’d also hold my breath with fingers crossed that the debit card wouldn’t be too low on funds to buy groceries.
Though Rob and I were a complete mismatch with the McBrides, we still continued to hang out with them. We liked John and their kids. I just wished Kristin wasn’t such a know it all pain in the ass.
One fateful night we went out with the McBrides, a couple of Rob’s colleagues who were in town from the States and Driver Jerry. Jerry had talked about taking us out on the town ever since we’d met him – including dinner, dancing and copious amounts of alcohol.
The alcohol consumption those first few months in Shanghai rivaled the first few months of my freshman year in college.
First, we went to South Beauty in the French Concession. South Beauty is an expensive Sichuan (Szechwan) restaurant chain. It’s good food, but after a few months in China I was beginning to wonder what the point was in spending $50/person on Chinese food when you could get the same taste, maybe not as good quality, for $5/person. We dined in a private room, ate like kings and drank like Jesters. Driver Jerry took over the menu and was careful to order all the “Western” friendly dishes. No Jellyfish or stir-fried frogs for us.
After dinner Jerry took us to a typical Chinese club called CD. I’d never actually been to a club in NYC, but I’d seen movies where people waited in line outside, between those burgundy velvet ropes with their fingers crossed they can get in. Well, this was the scene at CD except there was no one waiting in line.
We walked straight in to a pitch black room that was periodically lit by strobe lights. Jerry barked something at the doormen and we were immediately escorted into a roped off private area with crushed velvet sofas and fluffy pillows. There was a fruit and cheese platter waiting for us along with two bottles of chilled Veuve Clicqot.
It was still early in the night. Some seats at the bar were taken, but the dance floor was empty. Aside from the strobe lights, the only other lighting in this club emitted from people’s mobile phones. Every single person (aside from our group) had their phone out, face in it with fingers frantically punching keys. Ghoulish faces glowed blue from the light cast from their phones.
Are they “talking” to each other?
We chilled on our couches, sipped champagne and watched a steady stream of twenty something kids stroll into the club – everyone had their noses in their phones.
Kristin leaned in and shouted in my ear. “We’re the only Western people in this place.” The smell of her perfume was stronger than the blanket of cigarette smoke that hovered above us.
“What did you expect? Jerry said he was going to take us out to a typical Chinese club.”
“I don’t know, but I didn’t expect to be the only white people.”
“Now you know what it feels like to be a minority,” I said, smiling.
“I don’t think I like it.”
“Yeah, well, neither do minorities…try to think of it like it’s an adventure.”
She took a sip of her champagne, nodded, gave me a meek smile and continued to scan the scene.
I’d known since the minute I’d met Kristin that we were different. She was this confident woman who took control of every situation – whether you wanted her to or not. But now, she was out of her element. She acted like an insecure child getting dropped off at the first day of kindergarten - unsure of herself, shy, embarrassed. She almost looked scared.
And me? I’m her polar opposite. I’m borderline anti-social, I hide from meeting new people, I’m anxious in social settings with people like Kristin milling around. But here, I felt free. Free from the societal pressures of being what I’m supposed to be. Whatever that is? I was more comfortable here - where I didn’t belong - than where I’m supposed to belong.
I was anonymous and I liked it.
By 11 the club was full, the dance floor was jumpin’. Though the lights made me feel like I was going to have a seizure, I was definitely having a good time people watching. I’d noticed that both guys and girls didn’t appear to be dressed any differently than if they were going to work. There was no “day time” look vs. “night time” look. It was just their style. The girls outfits consisted of tight jeans or tight micro-mini skirts and some kind of frilly, sheer, lacey, top. The guys consisted of tight jeans and either short sleeved or long sleeved shirt with some random Chinglish saying like, “Have a Coke and Smile Big”.
I leaned in to Robby, he popped a strawberry in my mouth, and I said, “Hey, let’s go dance. Everybody looks bored.”
“Sounds good.” Robby stood up, grabbed me by the hands and pulled me out of my seat when about twenty girls marched up to our roped off private party. Jerry greeted them at the entrance and looked at Rob. “Hey Rob, you want?”
“Nah, that’s ok.”
“What? Why not? Come on, it’ll be fun to party with some local girls, right?”
“Alright,” Rob said, looking at me a little funny. “Bring ‘em on.”
“Which one?” Jerry asked.
Why only one?
Jerry looked the girls over, grabbed one by the hand and escorted her to me. I took my seat and motioned for her to sit down. She followed my lead and sat down on her hands. I poured her a glass of champagne, she blinked a thank you at me and I popped a grape in my mouth.
She was a waif of a girl. Maybe 5 feet tall (plus or minus an inch) and 80 lbs soaking wet. Her legs were no thicker than my arms, and barely longer. She was cute, but nothing out of the ordinary. Her hair was cut in a chin length bob and her angled bangs swept right across her slightly bushy eyebrows. She was wearing an amped up-typical Chinese girl uniform: super short, hip bone-tight black skirt, black tights, a sleeveless sheer black lace top, and sky high platform stilettos. Her skin was a flawless ivory and her full lips were painted red.
I tried my best to strike up a conversation with her in English. “Do you speak English?” Without looking at me she said, “No.” Next I tried my best Mandarin. “What’s your name?” Without looking at me she said, “Ping.” “How old are you?” “Twenty.”
So much for making friends…that’s the extent of my Chinese.
“Robby, Honey, you still wanna dance?”
“Anybody else?” I took a survey of our group. “No thanks,” Kristin said, speaking for the group. “I think we’re a little out of our league here.”
One thing I could count on from Kristin is that she knew her limitations. She was out of her league.
I grabbed Ping by the hand and guided her to the dance floor. She shuffled behind me like her feet were bound, her expression was staid.
I imagine it’s hard to walk in shoes like that.
The dance floor was packed. Sweat was flying. Bodies thumped to the bass and an occasional drunk person would fall to the floor. No different than any other club I’d ever been to. I’m not exactly known for my dancing skills, but this girl couldn’t dance – at all. She had the rhythm of marionette and that same blank expression on her face was just killing me. I couldn’t figure out why the hell she came to play with us in the first place. She didn’t look like she was having any fun at all, and it was starting to ruin my fun.
So much for mingling with the locals.
I started to ignore her and just soaked in my surroundings. My mind went wild trying to absorb everything. The lights, the music, the people. What do these kids do? Are they students? Are they rich are they poor? Are they from Shanghai? Do they have siblings? Is there rum in that Coke? Do they ever put their phones down? Is that a real phone or is it from the fake market? If it’s fake do they know? Do they care?
At one point I turned around and noticed a couple of cylindrical raised platforms. I elbowed Rob and shouted in his ear, “Hey, why don’t you two hop up there and dance?”
“Because this girl can’t dance.”
“So show her how.”
“You’re fuckin’ nuts!”
Up they went. The crowd went ape shit. People whooped and hollered, clapped and whistled. Even in the spotlight of 200 people this girl still looked like a prisoner of war: only stating her name, rank and social security number.
The instant Robby and Ping left my side, two young guys swooped in and took their place. Sandwiched between them, I went with it and tried my best to keep up with them. Within a few more seconds Robby was scowling at me, so I slunk down and scooted out from between them and grabbed him by the hand. He jumped down from the platform, grabbed Ping by the waist and pulled her down to the floor. Her expression never changed. Then he grabbed me by the hand and pulled me back to our private area. Ping took her seat, on her hands, I grabbed my glass of champagne and Robby shouted in my ear.
“What the fuck was that?”
“Those two dudes you were dirty dancing with.”
I laughed a little and said, “Umm, you were dirty dancing with this girl on a raised platform. What’s the difference?”
“You’re the one who hired her?”
“What are you talking about?” I don’t know what was more dizzying: the lights, the champagne or the confusion.
“Umm, this girl…she’s a hooker.” He was pointing at her like she was a mannequin - void of expression and unable to hear.
“A WHAT?” I shot him a dagger look.
“A hooker…she cost me 300 kuai.”
“What did you think? She just wanted to come and hang out with a bunch of white people?”
“Well, I don’t know what I thought. A group of girls just came up to us in the only private area in the club. Yeah, I thought they just wanted to hang out with us. This is foreign to me; I‘m not used to hoards of hookers approaching me in a bar. ”
“This is China, Jennifer, not the zoo.”
I sat in stewing in silence, sipping my champagne. Ping sat there with that dumb expression on her face. Robby was deep in conversation with Driver Jerry and John. I’m sure they were making fun of me for being so utterly, painfully naïve. Kristin and the rest of the group just looked bored.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” I said to Kristin. I was disgusted. Not just with my naïveté, but with the whole situation. A hooker. I loathe prostitution. Rob knows this. How could he let me hire a hooker? How could I possibly be so stupid? No wonder she looked like a prisoner of war. She probably is…the class war that silently lurks in this rapidly growing, fucked up city we live in.
“No argument from me.”
That’s a first.
The following morning was rough. “Honey?” I said, rolling closer to Rob.
“Don’t talk so loud,” he said, shooing me away without opening his eyes.
“You too?” I rolled away from him and buried my head in my pillow.
“Feel like you have an axe in your head?”
“Yes. The size of Excalibur…it’s the fake booze,” Robby said.
I lifted my head from my pillow, opened my eyes wide and said, “What do you mean? Fake booze.”
“The Veuve…it was fake.”
“How do you know this?” I tried to sit up, but the pain was too much to bear. I lay back down and buried my head again.
Rob remained still with his eyes closed. “I just know it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about the hookers and the industrial waste disguised as Veuve Clicqot?”
“I thought thatcha knew.”
The bags are fake. The clothes are fake. The marble is fake. The wood floors are fake. The smiles are fake. Even the booze is fake. Is anything actually real in China?