In a novel, “Butterfield 8”, written by John O’Hara, a fabulously successful prostitute named Gloria Wandrous nevertheless hated her job and the nature of it, and once in a kind of angry desperation cried out, “Command performances leave me quite cold. I’ve had more fun in the back seat of a ’39 Ford than I could ever have in the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank.”
We thought of that line one evening earlier this week down at the Fish Fry on Arawak Cay where a group of five ladies sat in a kind of wake, except that they were more in an attitude of merriment than of mournful melancholy.
In fact they were all dressed up to the nines and knocking back Daiquiris as if Bacardi were going not simply out of The Bahamas but out of style. They were actually ladies of the evening apparently taking at least that part of the evening off.
The youngest of the lot, a tamarind hued graduate of Prince William High School who said her original plan had been to become a teacher, kept jumping about the place, reminding one of Eloise Lewis’ female zombie “dancing top de grave” in the old calypso, “Back to back, belly to belly”.
Laughing and shouting shrilly in gay abandon, they were not at all shy or embarrassed to invite the ceaselessly curious The White Boy and his own lissome lady to take a seat at their table so that they could explain what the whole celebration was all about.
For most of this year, it seems, business has not been as brisk as usual, and it wasn’t because there was any dramatic drop in the number of regular clients. It just seemed the regulars were getting a better deal elsewhere, but now the bottom had fallen out of that elsewhere.
Because of that, the ladies felt there would once again be joy in heaven and the upcoming long hot summer would once again bring expanded cool cash to which the ladies had become accustomed.
The elsewhere had for some time been the Mayfair Hotel down West Bay Street, opposite Long Wharf, where a number of foreign competitors had been operating, apparently quite lucratively and, it seems, deliberately undercutting the going fees they knew the local ladies charge.
More than that, the seemingly industrious immigrants offered special “package” deals – either by the week or by the month – to some regular customers, who would pay a flat fee for an agreed number of sessions, usually on a fixed evening.
The imported harlots introduced another angle to the trade, short daytime specials at half the going rate, which had become quite popular among clients who liked to vary their lunch menus, and especially among horny but housebound husbands who dared not venture from home after dark.
Now the ladies celebrating at the Fish Fry admitted each had faithful customers on whose patronage they could always rely, who would not stray, and from whom they could at any point exact a non-repayable “loan” even for services not delivered.
Yet, as one anorexic femme fatale from Fort Fincastle explained in voice not at all unlike that of a 12th grade nymphet, smart enterprising ladies of the evening augment earnings from their regular customers by catering to “special”, “walk-in” clients.
For most of the past year a majority of those special clients, it seems, had been patronising the imported competition at the Mayfair Hotel where the prices were lower and where, if things got right down to it, you could actually haggle over the price.
Well, it took a long time for it to happen, but last Monday authorities effectively closed down the Mayfair operation which had become a huge embarrassment, largely because it was an open and blatant demonstration of illegality front and centre of the city, and just two doors down the road from the police station.
Further, all the illegality was being undertaken by persons who were either illegal immigrants or by documented visitors who were “working” illegally in jobs for which it is hardly likely they could, through proper or any other channels, receive immigration Work Permits.
Authorities closed down the jobsite and sent the workers packing and, and, yes, there was joy in heaven for at least five beautifully unrepentant sinners – ladies of the evening who were taking at least part of the evening off from their pleasurable pursuit of the world’s oldest profession.
Putting all the rightness or wrongness, the morality of depravity, the decadence and decorum of the whole thing aside, there was something curiously poetic about that little celebration, and our own little princess, now gloriously into Shakespeare, later coyly commented simply on how “sweet are the uses of adversity.”
Sweet indeed, because the skinny lady from Bain Town, who at one point was a sonorous soprano in the choir at Bethel Baptist Church, admitted that not once over the past three years has her total annual income fallen below six figures.
Formerly married to a successful Carmichael Road businessman who ran afoul of the law and spent some time up the river in Fox Hill, she drives a Lexus, has a seven year old son enrolled in an ivy league school out east, has fully paid for her apartment on Cable Beach.
She said, with a kind of prideful boast, that in July will along with her son and nephew, spend two weeks in Palm Beach, Florida, living in a lavish vacation home belonging to one of her overseas clients who will be travelling Europe with his own family.
The five ladies gaily celebrating amongst the glitter and gaggle of other common mortals gathered at what has become the nation’s most popular watering hole are but a small part of an expansive sorority of glamorous prostitutes practising on the island.
These are not your jungalist garden variety, street-corner streetwalkers, but ladies who shop for clothes and shoes in New York and Fort Lauderdale, whose cell phones are Razr and Blackberry, who eat with the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left, and easily choose Merlot over Lamothe Parot red wine.
They are constant customers of Victoria’s Secrets, usually drive only the latest model vehicles, work out regularly at the gym, and keeps regular appointments with their physician.
Once upon a time, not terribly, terribly long ago, you could on a single hand count the number of proper whorehouses in New Providence, and perhaps on two hands count the number of known prostitutes.
WHITE . . . 4
In fact they were not even proper whorehouses in the strict sense of the word, because they happened simply to be rental houses with three or four bedrooms leased out to ladies whose main means of income was the provision of creature comforts to clients.
A majority of those clients were repeat customers, and tended to be respectable married gentlemen who either found a dearth of love and romance at home, or else who were simply greedy and sexually gluttonous by nature.
Back in the 1950s it was at one of those houses located in Adderley Street off West Street – perhaps the most popular Over-the-Hill and certainly the most populated by customers from all over the island – where a happily married and well respected Grant’s Town merchant had to be rescued by a good friend.
The friend was police sergeant Spurgeon Bethel, who was on patrol in Hospital Lane with a young constable, when they came upon a couple arguing loudly as they walked along Cambridge Lane, with the woman constantly beating a man on the head with the stump of a croton bush.
The man was a frequent customer at the Adderley Street house, riding his bicycle there a few nights each week, and somebody had alerted his wife to what was going on, so one night the wife found her way to the house, removed her husband’s bicycle from leading against the side of the building, and took the bicycle home.
Then she returned to await the man’s emergence from his bed of forbidden bliss, whereupon she proceeded to begin beating the man who had promised in Metropolitan Baptist Church to remain only to her until death interrupted what was meant to be a wonderful wedlock.
As Spurgeon used to put it, his job as a policeman was essentially that night to stop the wife from beating the hell out of the philandering husband. He and his colleagues knew well what went down at the house on Adderley Street, but the police had other things to worry about, and in any case a few officers were on the list of lusty Adderley Street clientele.
That was over half a century ago, when everything, including some things the law said you ought not to be doing, were being done anyway, and whilst the upkeep of the law is important in orderly society, common sense says you use best judgement and discretion in dealing with offences.
Ignoring red traffic lights, spitting on the sidewalk, playing numbers, blocking the A & E entrance to the Princess Margaret Hospital, walking with open bottles of beer, hiring illegal immigrants, urinating in public, stopping jitneys all over the place, and taking bribes as public servants are all illegal.
Nearer the heart of the matter, as the Austrian journalist noted, long, long ago, “Corruption is worse than prostitution. The latter might endanger the morals of an individual, the former invariably endangers the morals of the entire country.”
So who dares cast the first stone? Drink, sing, dance, celebrate, and make glad the childish hearts of your clients, ladies of the evening; there is only one with whom you must eventually reckon, and to hell with the rest . . . for what it’s worth.