"Silently you'll go to the shadow of your soul; And you know that it was like this before we had to go; You will never see these lights; Glowing in your nights; Until you feel this way."
It was the concrete jungle on a stolen island, under a banner of self-obsessed stripes and even more hypocrites of stars: the vilest place of the nation with even more disgusting people. The worst were the slimy cockroaches of the trading floor, which they styled as a Roman temple. Every flavor of evil lived there, and I was amongst them: a shroom seller exploiting the curious and well disciplined by the fat man’s most important of principles: “never get high on your own supply.”
But I never saw the point of drugs, beyond monetary exchange. It was a hollow and shallow affair. Quality pizza, stocks, and cocaine were one of the same in my eyes, a simple game of supply and demand. My past-times of choice were more basic: great food, quality drink, Jazz, and sex—especially sex.
Sex is very personal, even when it’s very impersonal. It’s real—at least it seemed real enough—it felt like it had a soul. I did every legal permutation and kink of person under 40 in all three variable-width holes by now. My availability pool having significantly increased ever since I magically turned pansexual one night. Over time it was no longer looks that I was chasing, but getting that glimpse of someone’s inner personality and being.
It was therefore important to switch it up every time, and yet I always returned back to the one—like the unavoidable opposite charges of a magnet. Half the time I just wondered why I even bothered to choose anyone else, the other half of the time, I wish I chose just about anyone else. This person I was attracted to for one simple reason: her uncannily, if something terrifyingly close, resemblance to someone I knew.
God, I’m such a piece of shit.
I had met as Pijn-thong, but after a while, she insisted on me calling her by her so-called birth name, Hortulia.
Every time we did it, things would follow the same pattern, without missing a beat. She insisted on doing it this exact way and even walked out once when it didn’t; this bizarre sort of dom that she was. Anyway, I would take a shower and then drink one and a half shots of brandy on the rocks—the brand don’t matter—completely naked on the bed. She, in her black lingerie—the same ones every time—would come to my ear and whisper, “It doesn’t matter what you do here, because in the end it only exists as an empty memory,” while clipping this pink ribbon on my hair. She would kiss me on my forehead and on the cheeks three times, like how Europeans greet each other. And then we would fuck. It would be absolutely fantastic, and consistently so. But the next day she would vanish. I had every memory of it happening; it was as real as ever—my greenbacks were missing—and I always felt so extraordinarily lonely afterwards. The door locked from the inside as if it never happened.
I don’t know why I invited her this soon—it was still early and the sun hadn’t even began to set. But for once, Hortulia suggested something different beforehand.
“Fuck, I’m hungry. Let’s grab something to eat. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you or anything.”
I too had this sudden urge for food.
“You wanna smoke some weed with that or nah?”
“Just bring me anywhere delicious.”
“Italian? French? Japanese? Chinese? Thai? Vietnamese?”
“Something simple, no guts.”
“Alright, hamburgers and hot dogs or pizza?”
I brought her to this Pizzeria right in the neighborhood. It had these charming outward facing metal fire escape staircases, firetruck red bricks, a classic green neon hanging sign and… a for rent sign.
“Those fucking pigs!”
I ended up bringing her to an Italian place: a steel encased diner that also served amazing burgers. A cheeseburger with a kiwi-flavored Italian cream soda to drink for her, and—I couldn’t resist the pun—Pasta Puttanesca for me.
“Hortulia! How’re ya doing?”
It was Mr. Clean, Renaissance man at night, stripper at day to pay the bills, seated several tables across.
“All good here. How bout yourself?” said hortulia.
“I’ve been a busy bee. Too much cocaine and booze going round which destroys erections. Mr. Clean here has been getting a lot of work.”
“Sure sounds like it. Hey, you still doing that standup tomorrow night? I’ll be free then.”
“Nah, it got cancelled, sorry. I’ll let you know about next time though.”
“Aw man. That’s such a shame. I always wanted to see you live.”
“Yeah I know. Just management doing it’s usual shitty thing.”
Mr. Clean got called by his seat mate and awkwardly excused himself.
“You know him? Mr Clean, the legend?”
“He’s a sweatheart. Saved my ass many times from creeps and taught me how to screen clients. ‘Never wear high heels,’ he told me once. Never wear anything you can’t run with.”
“Sounds like a nice fella.”
“Oh, he’s like my older brother. He thinks this business can be changed into something better. He strips, acts, dances, does stand-up in bars, and volunteers in soup kitchens. The world would genuinely be a worse place without him in it.”
“Do you believe in that too?”
“That this place can be changed?”
“I used to be an optimist many years back. What a naïve child I was. Ugh, my mom was always sheltering me from everything and pretended that it was all rainbows and unicorns. I even went to this lame private girl school full of bitches and cunts. I didn’t get to truly explore the real world until I ran away from home. Well—there was a war, but still. But here, I don’t think the real world is any better. You have the same lies with different frames. Look at this shithole, filled with all its grime, dirt, and scum. And this is supposed to be a First World Country. Haha, as if. The whole world is as fucked up as it can go.”
Our drinks arrived and Hortulia sipped on her drink.
“A year ago, I’d agree with you. But now I think I’m with Mr. Clean. I’m getting the fuck out of the shroom biz. The world doesn’t collapse because evil people do evil things, but because good people do nothing to stop it. I did the shroom gig for a year bitching about the clientele I was serving when all I needed to do about it was just quit. Or look at — and their campaign and work at having small businesses band together. I don’t think things are that grim. They’re only as bad as we make them to be.”
“Who the fuck’s — ?”
“They’re this art collective that do cool stuff to revitalize communities and fight gentrification. They’re actually alumni from the same art academy I dropped out of.”
“You’re an art school drop out? Explains a lot.”
“You have that artist sort of vibe.”
“What is this ‘artist vibe.’”
“I haven’t quite figured the exact attributes but it’s just that over time I realized I could use my senses pick up what sort of person my client was.”
“Give me an example”
“Cooks are always have these huge baggy eyes and reek of whatever they cook with. Even after the shower I mandate. Sometimes it’s nice. Chocolate strawberry vanilla scented pastry chefs are great. Other times, not so. Like this one girl had this onion scented bra once. Just how? Or fry cooks, no no no no. I like hamburgers and steak, but not in pussy please. They’re permanently awake and tired at the same time. But when it comes to the action, they’re always rough monsters. These people can fuck.”
“What about dishies?”
“Dishies destined for greatness act just like cooks. The ones that don’t, like that guy in Ratatouille, are just hopeless. I guess if that rat was a human—I fucking forgot what his name was—he would have been the penultimate fuck machine James Brown raved about.”
“What about chemists?”
“It depends. The low-end ones act no different than hobos, but the really higher end are closer to surgeons in mannerisms.”
“Those are obvious. The worst ones are more trouble than they’re worth—and I’ll just walk away, but never with their money. Bad reputation spreads faster than wildfire.”
“Holy shit—arrogant as fuck. But their greenbacks make up for their wrinkles, greasy skin, and white powder.”
“Don’t know, never done any. They like to brag about their status anyhow over the phone; and I’ll just cut them off. But the very best undercover ones tend to act exactly like what they’re pretending to be, so I wouldn’t know”
“So how do you know that?”
“That’s what others tell me anyway. I imagine that like they need to pretend so much to the point that it consumes them—aren’t we all actors of the theater of life?”
“What about me?”
“You’re a mix. You’re part cook, part failed dishie, part college student, part artist, part fresh-off-the-boat, part complete local. You fit into several stereotypes, but so many of them that you kinda become your own thing. It’s really weird. You’re just you. But I guess that at the end of the day everyone’s unique once you get to know them. Everyone has different manners and have different degrees of awkwardness to sex.”
“You liking the business? Seeking out these different people?”
“Yeah, it’s alright. Has its ups and downs. But just like you, I’m quitting. That’s why I invited you here. As a way to say goodbye.”
Our food arrived, and Hortulia dug straight into the burger.
“What are ya gonna do then?”
“I’m going to visit Hamburg.”
“Because I’m eating a hamburger.”
“Yeah, I came up with it. Life is just a stream of water and I sense a split I have to take. You know, that’s also what they call people in Hamburg?”
“Yeah, exactly. ‘Hum-boor-gurs’.”
“But what if it turns out Hamburg sucks?”
“Big deal. I’ll go elsewhere. Besides, I have some family back there that I haven’t seen in like a decade or so.”
“Yeah, but then what?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what exactly I’ll be doing in two weeks, next month, or next year. Tomorrow I’ll book a one way ticket to Germany and see what happens from there.”
“How the hell do you do that? How do you—”
“The secret is to realize that all extensive plans are bullshit, they’re lies we tell ourselves. At best, they’re just best guesses to what you think might happen. That’s not to say that you should have no hopes or dreams, but rather that, in the river of life, you have to be able to sense the disturbances and react to it as they come.”
“And your senses are telling you to go to Hamburg based on this cheeseburger?”
“Correct. That’s how it works. I’m in a river now, but maybe I’ll end in a lake, or an ocean.”
“So what if we ended up eating pizza? Would you then have thought about going to Pisa or Naples instead? And does that mean I’m destined become an escort myself based on my dinner?”
“First of all, it has to come instinctually, and you don’t seem like the type. But I’d probably end up in Milan or Marseille. That pizzeria was meant to be closed.”
“But those cities aren’t even known for pizza.”
“Hey, Marseille has fucking killer pizza, I thought this so-called self-professed foodie would know this. But point is, they’re not corpses of cities. It’s like pornography instead of sex—it’s just a way to objectify something for the imagination. Milan and Marseille are real cities with real people that do things besides cater to tourists—but Pisa and Naples are as dead as dead, catering for trashy people in sunglasses and cargo shorts.”
“But what the hell is up with you? I can’t believe I still don’t know that much about you. Usually clients they talk their hearts out about themselves; we’re just like bartenders keeping everyone's secrets. Like how are you? What are you? What are your hopes and dreams? What are your favorite flowers?”
“My life’s lame. I’m an ex-shroom picker, turning back to kitchen bitch. That’s all.”
“Come on. There has to be more than that.”
“Went to an over-hyped art school, did some lame kitchen-stints, dropped out of school. Became a chanterelle picker and then a shroom picker.”
“Then you became a seller”
“I came here to try to find a missing friend. Ended up selling shrooms.”
“What happened to your friend?”
“She disappeared a year ago as my only real friend. To be honest, you two look damn almost identical.”
“Damn. Was it with ‘benefits’ or are you just a horny perverted bastard with a silly imagination?”
“I’m the bastard, that’s the pathetic truth, but I do really just miss her.”
“No, it’s ok, especially if she was your only friend. But it’s not healthy to delude yourself into thinking that her soul lives in me. I’m not that unique looking after all, there are dozens of me all around this dump alone. Somewhere there is a awkward soul to match your awkward soul, and you just have to find them. Let me indulge you into a little secret, they'll look nothing like myself or her.”
The rest of it was fairly uneventful. I told her all the crazy shit she did which did truly remind her of herself and she laughed, but that felt more like filler. We finished our meal, paid our bills, and then returned to my apartment. It was business as usual, although she whispered something different this time: those four words that brought me back to a long time ago and made me doubt something and immediately made me feel in need of comforting, and which haunted me ever since I first heard them.
“I’ll be your mirror”
Then, with the pink ribbon in my hair, we fucked. Hard. Like gladiators battling off the wolves in the arena. I slept it off, with dreams about drowning in a vast ocean. The bad citizen I was, I skipped the protest for rental prices as I woke up feeling an overwhelming sense of melancholy and loneliness—more so than ever before—but at least this last memory wasn’t empty.
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