Here are parts One and Two:
This post, “I Do Windows” is an excerpt from my book, Down and Out in California.
I interview to do other things. Line up job interviews.
I attend an interview to be an internet chat sex worker. I find the ad in the paper. My parents paid for the mansion of their American Dreams through defense contracting and early computer work and therefore I had young access to the internet. I’m no stranger to cybersex. I figure I’ve done that very thing, on and off, for free, since I was a teenager in the early nineties – the days when I was in the early versions of online role-playing games, called MUD’s or Multi-User Dungeons, sexing it up with strange men so they’d let me party with them and I could level up quickly in the game.
It can’t be that hard, and it makes better money than the fifteen dollars an hour I’m making now.
I of course am not calculating taxes, as the job is an eighteen dollar an hour independent contractor job. Things to think about at job interviews.
I leave early after a half-day of doing windows and take the bus up into Hollywood. The address is a nondescript, tall building made of tinted glass. I pull open the large door to the entranceway and there’s an unmanned desk. I pause momentarily, waiting for someone to direct me, and then decide I’d actually rather not ask for the thing I’m looking for by name. There’s a keyhole near the elevator and no light goes on when I push the button. I am relieved when the elevator actually arrives.
There’s only a few doors on the eleventh floor, and opening the one with four marked on it I see a giant room full of cubicles. The room must take up a quarter of the floor, it is warehouse sized, but glassed in on two sides. The sound of chatter is distracting. It’s a room full of people on the phone, talking dirty. Most of them are women, and most of them are big, black women. Many of them are talking with various accents that they drop when hanging up the phone and talking to one another.
The receptionist at the front has me wait five minutes before she can direct me to the job interviews, as her job is also dispatching a percentage of the calls. Her voice when she speaks to the customers is smooth, sultry, and patient. When she speaks to me it’s brief, and curt. She tells me to walk all the way down a row of cubicles, and make a left at the windows and keep walking until I see the computers.
On my way I hear one woman telling a man to put Crest toothpaste on his dick and masturbate with it. She is describing it in great detail.
“Pump your fist around that tube. That’s right baby. Now squeeze that toothpaste out onto your rod. Let it oooooze out slowly. Feel that bit of grit, feel how it rubs. You know I got you, I know what you like. Rub that freshness in”
Stifling laughter and simultaneously feeling something in my stomach that resembles disgust by the time I get back to the glass window. I no longer want to overhear any of what I’m hearing. I hear a flaming gay phone sex worker slam his headset down onto the little desk in front of him and swear at the customer he just lost. His swearing starts in a deep, masculine voice and ends in the high pitched voice he’d been using on the phone.
“Fucker was watching the clock, I had him, I swear, I had him – that’s twenty dollars lost because of one. Damn. Second. That’s like leaving the game before the last inning starts, I swear.” He booms. “Fucking piece of shit.” He lisps, while pressing the button for his next call “Hey baby, ravish me.”
And now I walk along the back of a row of desks with computers. There are only five of them in a sea of hundreds of phone banks. My interviewer introduces himself as Jacob. He’s a young man, very bland compared to most of the people in the room. He has no chin, and sandy blonde hair. I take a typing test and I make seventy-five words per minute. He explains that the shifts are five days a week, six hours per shift, and that they need to start at six pm and end at midnight.
“Do you have a problem being sexual for work?”
“No.” I shrug.
“Do you have a problem with the hours?” he asks.
“Oh, if you want the job, it’s yours.” He says, without another thought. He is looking at a stack of papers as though it’s a done deal, picking out the ones he needs me to sign.
“Can I work from home?” I ask.
“Then I don’t want this job.” I say, and turn and walk out as quickly as possible.
The thought of being in that room for even another minute, let alone six hours a day for five days a week, makes me uneasy. There’s something about sex for money on a massive industrial scale that physically disquiets me. In the end: I’d rather clean for a living than be dirty for a living.
My relationship with Tommy Boom-Boom finally comes to a halt. I no longer have a car to drive long distances, and have resorted to taking the bus. I live in Venice and he in East Hollywood. It’s over an hour by car and over two hours by bus. I only take the bus to see him once, and he gets tired of being the only one able to commute. Our relationship has been slowly deconstructing and it’s clear to us now that it has no future.
He’s changed, and I’ve affected that shift. He’s a vision of what he thinks he needs to be to be with me. Gone from driving a classic beat up ‘66 Toyota to trading it in for the short-lived Echo and a car loan he wears a suit to pay off. All this and a behavior that matches, blander, more prioritized, less spontaneous.
But all he really needs to be to to be with me is sober, and that’s the one thing that never changes.
Now there is the catalyst of a serious crush on the Mad Scientist. The breakup with Tommy Boom-Boom is amicable and slow, even after we split, we can’t stop sleeping together. The chemistry is the last thing to fade.
I’m still doing windows. I’m at another unit in U-shaped apartment building with a courtyard, this time with a pool within. The Landlady has a pool guy come by on the first day to clean it. I watch him sit for half the time he’s supposed to be working as I hose off the twelve screens in this two bedroom apartment on the cement just down the slope from him. I even watch him doze off as I spray down the work area and push all the grime down the drain.
I’m working with Jose and Juan again, but this time is it Fernando instead of Tomas.
Fernando also doesn’t speak any English. He’s getting drunk on the job, and I know it’s technically my job to say something about this, but instead immerse myself in the windows. They are spotless.
When the Landlady arrives at the end of the day Juan or Jose asks to speak to her in private. She agrees and takes me with them into the hallway. Juan or Jose clears his throat, looking at me.
“She counts as private, she’s my tenant.” The Landlady explains.
Juan or Jose tells her about Fernando, and the pool guy.
The next day I am working with Juan, Jose, and Rafael. At the end of the day she tells me she won’t need me for the rest of the week. She doesn’t call me the next week for work. I slowly realize that if The Landlady can rely on Juan or Jose to say something if they see something; I’m useless to her.
I leave town for a week after this brief period of working as an industrial cleaner, or a maid, or just a cleaning person – it is my ten year high school reunion in Ithaca, New York, sort of. My unique alternative high school just gets it together enough to have a reunion every now and then, and this just happens to be about ten years from when I graduated.
Almost everyone at the reunion, except for myself, never left our hometown. I’m seen as successful just for having made it out. I don’t tell anyone there what I’ve been doing for a living.
When I return it’s to a week of job interviews for other positions.
I avoid The Landlady. I know this isn’t the best tactic, but I also know I’ve already made rent for this month, and that’s all that matters to either of us.
Please read my book “Down and Out in California”: