I was on my way to a nice contemplative Buddhist meeting when I got a text from a guy I know across town which … changed the dynamic. There are some fairly extreme personalities in my life. I suppose it goes with the territory. “Need help,” the text read. I’m a sucker for that.
Before long I’m slogging across town. I’ve got time in the days now we’re open. Eventually I ring his doorbell. There’s a pause. The curtain twitches. Then the door opens and he’s looking behind me as he hustles me in. His cats are going mental. They’ve picked up on his energy. He ushers me into a darkened room. He’s barefoot in a tracksuit at 2pm. Cigarette butts are in mugs and there’s a mostly finished bottle of Jack on the table. No mixers. Is that a credit card and white powder? All the lights are off and sun is low already. This is not a happy man’s flat.
He’s fretting, restless, moving from place to place. His phone is constantly buzzing. He jumps every time it does. “Are you okay?” I ask him. It’s clear that he’s not. He shows me a huge pile of grammatically fucked text messages coming in one after the other. I spend a while trying to make sense of them.
I’ve never slept with a hooker. I can’t really handle the theory of it. A big part of my kick is my partner’s enjoyment. I suspect that I’d not be able to trick myself into believing that it was anything other than a transaction. Today is the first time I’ve really thought about how the oldest profession works.
My friend had got himself messed up on booze and whatever else he could find, and then paid for something he couldn’t afford. That much I understand. I get drunk and wake up to an empty bank account and a receipt for a £350 accordion, or I impulse buy 96 cans of Kronenburg when I can’t get my heating system flushed. My friend has overbought and underpaid a professional for services. I think it’s likely he was upsold, but that’s standard business practice. He is now bound to pay a balance of £700, which is a bit worse than “any cakes, any muffins?” It’s been three days. And she is getting very anxious.
If you do some work, you send an invoice with a term on it. There’s probably a union, and there are things in place to make sure you get your filthy lucre. Reputation stands on payment. People get blacklisted for not paying.
If you let someone have sex with you for money and they don’t pay, then that’s a broken social contract, but there’s no union, there are no checks and balances, reputation is already negligible. What can you do?
Phone your friend and get him to make repeated threats, it seems. While I’m making a nice cup of tea, his phone rings and he jumps. He answers. The panic is heavy in his voice. The caller basically threatens to come round and break his hands with a hammer. This is three days after the bill has been incurred, and already we are in hammertime. I guess that with no recourse, she feels it is necessary to escalate quickly.
So what to do? What to do? I’m unpicking the situation. He’s spoken to the local police. They’re anxious to escalate this. My years as a jobbing actor are in my mind too. I think he’s incurred a debt in good faith and should pay it and chalk it up to experience. The amount is not impossible to him. She shouldn’t be threatening violence though – categorically not. Particularly so quickly.
He’s really jumpy – actively scared. He doesn’t want to go outside. I suggest we go for a walk, hoping that the last rays of the sun will help shift him to positive thinking. I even offer to carry a hammer in case of unexpected violence, but the idea of that makes him even more jumpy. For the first time I notice how skinny my friend is. I focus on making him okay, knowing that I’ll have to go to work in a few hours.
A few hours later things feel a little more manageable. We made a small payment, a balance is still outstanding. Hammers are not in the equation at least until Sunday. I point out to him that she texted “I know where you work” which is a nonsense. We’re self employed. He’s not in work right now. She’s making herself as threatening as possible because she wants the money she’s worked for – she needs to make the rent and she doesn’t want to feel used. She provided a service. If I was on the game, sex would be a conditional transaction. If I let you buy me and then you didn’t pay me, that would be tantamount to rape. She feels used and he feels manipulated – even extorted. Problem is, if he pays, he’s worried it’ll start actual extortion.
Over the course of today I’ve learnt a little more about my standpoint on such things. Legality didn’t factor in my thinking. I pragmatically wanted my friend to be okay and for the right thing to be done. It seems that was more about completing the transaction and organising a payment plan, than involving the police and further isolating someone already having to sell their body to make rent. But also today was about making bloody certain that my friend didn’t have his hands broken for a ridiculously stupid sordid drunken idiocy.
I located a hammer in his kitchen. I’d have got stuck in if someone had come to the door. It’s probably for the best all round that nobody did. I have to be Scrooge for the rest of the month. And I’m not a fighter. Lately I’ve not been a lover either. I’m glad I can sublimate my urges while I wait, so I don’t have to worry about hammers. What a mess. What a stupid stupid avoidable mess.