In this excerpt, I find myself tempted by streetwalkers from Camden, NJ. Fuck it.
Catching the train one morning, I encountered a trio of young women who appeared out of place. Before sunrise, they were dressed to get attention. I figured they’d been up all night. Were they college students? This was a weekday, but didn’t rule out an all-nighter. What was strange was how strung out and fucked up they looked. I didn’t notice this until I got close to them.
They were gathered in a triangle at the bottom of a set of stairs. Their loud, chatty triangle blocked my path. I approached with slight hesitation. As I descended towards them, I made eye contact with one. She was pretty, but looked sickly. Her eyes opened wide and she greeted me warmly. I wasn’t expecting this. Seemingly excited to see me, she asked if I had any change. She and her friends were trying to get back across the river. Ah, now I understood. These women weren’t on their way back to a campus. They were on their way back to their stroll in Camden. They were prostitutes.
All three were white. All three were attractive, in a way. All three looked weathered. They were sweet to me, speaking in syrupy but somehow gruff voices. I could hear and smell the cigarettes on them. It charmed me. I gave fare to all three. One of them clapped for me. She looked like she was going to cry. They gushed about how appreciative they were, overdoing it to a point that was drawing attention from other commuters. I wished them well and got on my way. They shuffled towards the turnstile.
I left the exchange not feeling like a sucker, but feeling I’d done something right. I’d helped. I didn’t stop with that, though. On my ride to work, I realized I could’ve managed some kind of action with all three of them with what I had in my wallet. A stop at an ATM could’ve turned into one of the best experiences of my life. I delved into a fantasy about bringing them back to my apartment and partying with them all morning instead of going to work. I’d buy them alcohol and drugs. They’d take turns blowing me. I’d keep throwing money at them. They’d indulge my vanilla desires. We’d all have a great time. They’d leave with much more then they’d likely make that morning without me. I kept the fantasy brewing all day at work.
I couldn’t get over them being hot and white. Other than college students and hospital employees, I didn’t know anyone in Camden was white. If someone had told me Camden had white hookers, I would’ve picture much more degenerate looking specimens. These girls were far less haggard than I would’ve expected. In the following days, I caught myself drifting back to fantasies about the trio. I wondered what had happened to them that night and what they did when they got back across the river. I thought about the ghastly experiences they probably knew. I thought about what had happened in their lives that lowered them to the point of streetwalking in such a dangerous place. More than concern for their wellbeing, I wondered how I could hire one of them and what it would cost. Weeks later, a story about several prostitutes in Camden getting busted had the counterintuitive effect of making me want to cross the bridge and look for them.
Early in the summer, I drove across the Delaware on a Sunday morning to see what was really happening in this hole of a town. Beyond the waterfront, the college, and the hospital, it was uncharted for me. I drove south on Broadway. Immediately upon turning left, the street deteriorated. The buildings were vacated. The windows were boarded up. Everything was closed—and not just because this was a Sunday morning. The city didn’t seem real. Rather than an actual city, it seemed like a film set, or the first level in a side-scrolling, crime fighting video game. Someone crafted an idea of how a poverty and crime-ravaged city must look and built this place as a prop. This had to be the explanation. No place could be this horrible in reality.
Continued later this week (or over the weekend)…