Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Life is a Whorehouse

Location: New Orleans, French quarter

Mileage: 2,329

Meal: Étouffée and a whole lotta whiskey

Music: “Not an addict” by K’s choice
I entered the stone streets of New Orleans’s French Quarter at dusk, right when the flames were starting to flicker in the street lanterns.  Jazz permeated the muggy air and street performers danced jive.  There were music cafes on every corner, sometimes even four on a corner, creating a perfect cocktail of brass and bourbon. The blues slowly entered my blood, and I wondered if the four days here would morph my body into a saxophone. Little did I know that things more haunting than music awaited me.

I saddled myself up at a friendly looking bar, and skeptically eyed the pink tall drinks the other patrons sipped out of large yellow straws.  “What are those?!”

“Why,” said Shonda, the bartender, “those are New Orleans’s Hurricanes. A passion fruit mix and a whole lotta rum.  You want one, sugar?”

“No, no—just a whiskey for me.  Neat please.”

Shonda and I started talking about New Orleans, the bizarre things she had seen, as well the bizarre things I wanted to see, or rather interview.  “You wanna talk to a prostitute?!  Well, all you gotta do is walk down Bourbon street at about 3am to watch them strut their stuff.”

“I don’t want to watch them—I want to get their story.  Safely.”  I added.

Shonda thought for a moment. “I know a place you can go-a bar where they all hang out.  You won’t get roughed up there. I know the bartender and he’ll ensure you are safe.”

Shonda wrote down an address on a piece of paper. “But be careful. And if the girl looks too pretty and wears too much make-up then it probably isn’t a girl.”

A muscled man that had been conversing with us looked at me. “I don’t think you should go alone.  I know where the place.  Let me get you there and ensure you are safe.”

And so I stepped out into the hot night with a bodyguard.  However when we arrived at Shonda’s referred bar it was desolate.  “Can I help you?” A small cat eyed woman smoking a cigarette appeared from outside.

“We are looking for hookers!” said my bodyguard.

I felt an odd urge to protect the women of the night. “Can you please not use that word!” I quietly asked him. “It’s derogatory.“

I then looked at the woman, “I am trying to interview them….for a book of sorts.”

The woman languidly took a draw on her cigarette.

“So you want a hooker that you can talk to?” She pulled out a cellphone and made a quick call, speaking in a hushed voice.  She then scrawled down an address. “Start here….it may lead you to what you want.”

My bodyguard and I soon opened two double oak doors of a strip club into a large room with small bar tables, a center stage with a pole, and a dark windy staircase leading upstairs.  We sat down, ordered drinks and spoke with the lady of the house who promised to send over some ‘girl friendly girls’ right away.

Kitty, a slender girl with thick auburn locks, came up to me and stroked my hair. I asked her why she liked working at this place.

“I can do whatever I want. Come and go as I please, make my schedule on my time.”

I then asked her why she liked stripping. She pointed to lonely men seated around the stage, drooling as a dancer performed a particularly advanced move on the pole.

“Attention.  It’s non-stop attention.  And attention is what most women want even if they deny it—it makes you feel good.”

I started to ask her more questions but her coy voice turned business like and insisted I get a lap dance first.  I dolled out the 20s, told my guard to stay put, and followed her upstairs to a room with antique sofas, red velvet carpet, and another couple that was surely violating the ‘do not touch’ rule of strip clubs.

“It’s New Orleans, you can do whatever you want here….for a price.” Kitty turned coy again and batter her hazel eyes. “And what you would like me to do?”

“I really just want to talk. Hopefully that isn’t too disappointing.”

She looked at me nervously. “Do you have a recorder on you, and a hidden mike? Are you a narc?”

I decided against pulling out my ‘Harriet the spy notebook’ and ball-point pen. “No no, just a foggy memory.  Can we just chat for a bit?”

She relaxed, smiled, and curled her lithe body up on the arm of my oversized chair like a feline and let her left hand stroke my hair.  I asked her why she started stripping.

“For the same reason as all the other poor girls,” she said.  “Glamour.”

She looked at the stained wall where, in a different house, a window would have been.  “I grew up in trailer park Mississippi.  We had nothing.  Life was rough.”

For girls like Kitty, tales of stripping presented a life out of the ditches and into the glitzy fast lane of life. “I wanted to be a stripper since I was ten years old.  And now I have my own house, two cars, and lots of clothes.  I can do whatever I want.”

Kitty smiled with pride and added, “But it isn’t for everyone. The men, while sometimes nice, can sometimes get rough. Especially upstairs here.  But I can deal with the abuse ok.”

She looked down and the floor leaving me to fantasize the type of abuse she was referring to..

“Plus the girls here are like my sisters.” Kitty described their comradeship as if she was telling me about a college sorority.

‘How old are you?” I asked. Kitty looked like she was 16.

“I am 25,” she said.

All the girls seemed to be 25.

“Do you plan on doing this for that long?”  I asked.

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “Pole dancing keeps us in great shape but well…..I do a lot of drugs. It’s rough and I don’t even shoot up like some of the other girls.”

Kitty held out her porcelain track free arms as proof.  After we finished talking, Kitty gave me a tour of the upstairs with rooms full of couches and cushions and beds. “I get $300 an hour for those,” she said.  Or maybe it’s $300 a half hour….” her voice trailed off. She would need to ask again what she was currently worth.

She escorted me down back to my table and my now jealous body guard. A gorgeous, vampy dark haired woman was waiting for me.

“I heard you were a writer,” she said eagerly. “I write too…I write poetry.”  She then recited lyrical dark phrases in my left ear that called out to the the sleeping demons in my heart.

The poet’s name was Darla. She was also 25 and had pupils as large as planets.  Darla told me that she just wanted to talk to me honestly and didn’t want money.  Her long dark painted nails caressed my arm in circles and she whispered her story in my ear with a breathy voice.

“People think we strip because we do not have a choice.  Trust me, we have a choice.  I have a college degree!  But here I can make $150,000 a year…and that’s only for working about 4-5 months! At some point I’ll stop to do other things…..”

Darla was from Detroit and used to tour with Nine Inch Nails, which was how she got into stripping, drugs, and other society mandated vices. “It’s interesting work. Plus I like being nocturnal. I sleep during the day and get up right as the sun goes down.”

Like a vampire, I thought, getting nervous as Darla’s burgundy mouth came dangerously close to my neck as she spoke.  In the middle of another poem, her speech started to slowly slur and I had trouble following her throaty syllables.

“I’m feeling a bit drunk,” she said. “I need to go to the bathroom and do some blow. Would you like to come too?” She reached out her hand to lead me to the back.

I am sure it was an honor to be offered cocaine by such a lady of the night, but I politely declined, preferring my glass of whisky.  As I downed the last fragrant sip, my bodyguard looked at me and put his hands firmly around my waist.

“So you got your stories!  Now maybe we can….” and he whispered something unrepeatable in my ear.

I sighed, used my all my strength to remove his arms, threw down money on the table and flung open the heavy doors to the outside world.

Years ago, a German man told me, “The whole world is a whorehouse.  Your whole life you will be chased by men for your looks alone.  And women will chase men solely for their money.”  At age 20, I had protested vehemently, claiming love, intelligence, and companionship as the real forces that brought men and women together.  And now, at 33 and jaded, I still questioned his notion.  Yes, we are all flesh with monetary aspirations.  But we all have stories as to why….and how. Vampires can be generous and strippers carve out time for poetry.  I walked back through blues and brothels back to my hotel, more confused than ever before, my skeletons stirring inside of me.

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