It’s raining again. The sight of dark clouds used to be a depressing sight, but God knows the air could stand to smell a little cleaner. The downside is that this is going to be a long walk. Might as well just get it over with.
Walking down the streets is more like swimming against a current. Twenty years ago there were maybe half as many people living here. This has become one of the last places in the country where you could have a legitimate chance of getting a good enough job to feed your family though. I don’t begrudge the others who weren’t so lucky that make it harder to walk the streets. We all have a right to keep trying.
Like I would have a right to start throwing judgement around. I have to walk to make sure no one I know finds out where I’m going. It really doesn’t matter if everyone else does it or not. It won’t ever become mainstream even if most people have been there a few times.
I still remember when these places first started cropping up. Everyone was so oddly disturbed by the whole idea. They would go on and on about the indignity of it and how we could be so much better than this. They were a bunch of hypocrites just like me. I’m pretty sure that all the regulars would say anything to anyone in public to look like they’re above such endeavors, all the while saying anything to themselves to convince themselves that there’s no shame in it. The “We’re All Humans and Have Needs” defense is my personal favorite.
Good, I’m already about halfway there. I’d love to say I don’t need something like this to take the edge off, but I do if only so I can be more put together for my wife and kids when I get home. My wife knows where I’m going and the kids just know that Daddy works a lot. She understands even if she’s not 100% a fan of the idea. She seems to think that it reflects on her in some way; like she’s not enough. In a way I suppose she’s right, but that wouldn’t explain why it doesn’t feel the same when she gives it to me.
Maybe she should come down here some time. She wouldn’t be the first woman to ever go to one of these places. At first, you would have been hard pressed to find a woman in one of these places. A lot of them realized they needed it too before long. Now, you’re just as likely to see women as men hanging around waiting to get their fix. We’re all humans, right?
Just a little bit farther and I’ll be there. I always sneak around the back to keep from being seen by anyone I might know. It wouldn’t do any good to have my carefully crafted image of self reliance and over-confidence amount to nothing simply because some coworker or neighbor knew that I was just as needy as them. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. I can’t imagine them being able to regularly afford coming here.
This particular establishment is definitely more of a high end one. Their employees are actually around the correct age, for example. That was a big problem when these places were first starting out. At first, some of the only people who were willing to sell themselves like this were just in the wrong age bracket. Being in that little room, just the two of you, if the other person is the wrong age, it can really take you out of the moment. That’s the trick though, and why it can be so expensive: a client like me can’t be taken out of the moment. We can’t just be going through the motions, we’ve got to believe it. Once local casting directors got wind of what was required of these places’ employees though, it became easy enough to please clients like myself. Never underestimate what a desperate actor won’t do.
Sometimes I wonder about the employees. Were they treated this way, and that’s why they’re able to do something like this now?
Finally, I’m here. Thinking about all that made my attention drift off a little. God, I didn’t realize how bad the craving was until now. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long. The waiting area is decorated to make it look like you’re in someone else’s home. It could just as easily look like your mom’s place back east or something. There’s a brick fireplace with a couple of couches and a horribly patterned rug in the middle. The only things that stick out are the somewhat dimmed lighting and a small desk where the receptionist sits. I’m the only client right now, but I’m sure business will pick up as the late afternoon becomes the evening. I pay in cash, which they thankfully still take as antiquated as it is.
I don’t even have to sit to wait my turn before the receptionist says she’ll take me back. It’s a short walk down the hall to my preferred room. It’s again decorated to look like anyone’s home and this room looks like the house’s family room. The only thing that sticks out in this room is the small section that’s blocked off with floor to ceiling clear plastic, like they use to shield convenience store workers, with its own door hidden in the wall behind so that we don’t cross paths before it’s time. I’ll admit that this can take you out of the moment, but I understand the “no touching” rule. There had been some reports of violence in the past, mostly people taking out some past grievance on the poor soul on the other side.
The receptionist leaves the room and closes the door for me. There’s a shabby looking wing-backed chair for me to sit in that faces another chair inside the part of the room that’s sectioned off. That chair also fits with the decor and looks like some worn in Lay-Z-Boy recliner. As I sit down, the hidden door begins to open with a sudden click. It startled me a bit after keeping so secretive on the way here. My heart was already racing in anticipation of what comes next. As my guest walks in I can already feel my palms get sweaty. I feel like I always look so nervous when I’m here, though I suppose that’s to be expected. I never say a word when I’m here. I wouldn’t know what to say.
“Hello,” he says.
Silence from me.
“I hope you had a good day at work.”
Please, get to the point, I think.
“I’m so glad you’re doing what you love.”
There we are. Keep going.
“I’m so proud of you. I hope you know that.”
Oh, that felt good. I needed this more today than I thought.
“I’ve always been proud of you. I don’t care if you were never good at sports or with girls, I was always proud of you,” he says. That greying hair and face full of weather-beaten wrinkles look just like they should. He’s wearing a sweater made with colors that were hardly in style 25 years ago.
“I’m sorry I never told you that more when you were younger,” he says. He’s good. I believe what he’s saying as much as I would believe anyone. “I’m so proud of how you’re raising your kids. I can tell they love you and that you would never leave them. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you at that age.”
I begin to break and can’t hold back anymore. My eyes start to water and then flow with tears. My hands grip the arms of the chair so hard that I think I might rip them off. All of that tension builds and then releases at once, and then I’m on the ground barely able to keep myself looking at the archetype in front of me.
“Your wife sure must love you,” he says thoughtfully. “I’m sure you’ll never leave her or your kids behind. I’m sorry I couldn’t do that for you.”
I need this. Oh God, I need this. Just a little bit more and I can face another week. I need this.
“You’re going to be so much a better father than I ever was. I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. I’m so proud of you….”