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It was Saturday night, just after midnight, and I was waiting for a bus. Joe and I had just closed the Iron Horse Bar and Restaurant after a slow evening. The hookups were completed by eleven, so not much action was going on after that. There were no customers after 11:30. Still, we hung around, habit, I guess. Joe was headed home to his amply pregnant wife. Three kids in four years—don’t they get it?
I was done for the week. Six evenings in a row was enough for me. The thrill of living in San Francisco had worn off. Oh, it was plenty exciting in the early 2000's, dot com millionaires running up big tabs and handing out big tips. But now, ten years later, times aren’t what they used to be.
It was going to be a long and lonely weekend. It had been eight days since Rickki left, maybe nine or ten. I was losing track of the days.
When she left, her stuff fit in the trunk of the Mustang. Afterwards, I realized that was because her side of the closet had been dwindling for a month or so, but I didn’t catch on while it was happening. She was probably down in Palm Springs right now with Dixie or Trixie, or whoever. But I didn’t care anymore. She’d pulled that 'I'm Leaving' threat one too many times.
I wondered if the PLEASURE GARDEN SPA over on Turk Street was still open. They used to stay open till 2 a.m. during the week and later on weekends. If the 38 Geary Night Owl bus would ever get to my stop, I figured that I just might go over there. After all, I’d worked hard that week and I needed a mental and physical lift.
God knows it had been a dismal week–summer in San Francisco—foggy and cold every day, even downtown. It had been awful out in the Sunset District where I live. Sunset District! About ten times a year you can see the sun go down. The rest of the time it’s buried in fog and mist. Marine Layer, the TV weathergirl calls it. Layer, hell; it's gray soup, top to bottom. How’s a girl supposed to get a tan?
I saw the MUNI bus finally coming—about time! It stopped twenty feet past me. More aggravation! I wondered why I continued to put up with that kind of life. Maybe I should have gotten married back in Peoria and raised some kids like my sis. But I knew there was something bigger and grander in the world than Peoria. And who would I have married? Stevie?
The bus driver was a big buxomly gal. "How you doing, Honey?” she said, eyeing me up and down as I climbed on. I eyed her back, staying calm. She was big overall; maybe 200 pounds; pretty nice hairstyle for that late at night. She was driving around those streets at midnight like she owned ‘em!
"Ahhh, I'm tired after a long week's work," I replied, trying to not let her see my dark mood. “My feet are killin’ me.” That idea from Frank, the new restaurant manager, to wear high heels while serving tables was nuts. I’ll bet he never wore heels to work!
There were three other people on board. Two were punk teenagers cuddling in the back. He had a spiky Mohawk; she had leather on, and a streak of purple in her greasy hair, and three rings on her face. She probably didn't realize that that style went out ten years ago. I think my sis in Peoria did that style for a while. The other passenger looked like she was a cleaning lady from some office in the Financial District. She looked Central American: Guatemalan or Nicaraguan maybe. She kept her eyes down as I passed by. I’ve noticed that people who look like they might be illegal don't often get involved with other people, especially at night. Maybe it’s fear of the I.C.E. agents.
The bus lurched up the street and I had to grab the rail to stay upright. I took a seat halfway back, near the back door, just in case I wanted to get out fast. I could see the driver glancing in the rearview mirror, looking at me. She smiled at me and I smiled back, trying to be friendly-like.
I looked intently out the right side of the bus, trying to remember where the PLEASURE GARDEN was located. It had been about two years since I’d been there. In fact, I met Rickki there three years ago. I felt a wave of nausea with that memory. What was so good for a while, and how empty it felt tonight.
We hadn’t gone to the SPA on the bus, so I was a little unsure of my bearings on Geary Boulevard, looking out the bus window. We always took her Mustang. Blue and Silver. It matched her eyes and her hair. She was a little older, but I didn't mind . . . Silver hair—Rickki!
PLEASURE GARDEN advertises in the Bay Guardian, usually in the section with the ads for the strip joints and the clubs. A COMFORTABLE SPA. Exotic massage, they claim. Asian, Brazilian and European styles of massage offered—take your pick; Treat yourself; Cozy atmosphere; Friendly Staff; Clean and Proper.
Most of those claims are true, I guess, based upon my experience during the times I was there. I went there pretty regularly three or four years ago. Until Rickki. Then we stopped going so much because we didn't need that outside stimulation. Well, that was then, wasn't it?
The bus stopped at Geary and Mason. I saw the parking garage at the Hilton and remembered that was where Rickki would always park. Then we would walk three blocks down to Turk Street to the PLEASURE GARDEN, right off of Market. Instinctively, and without thinking, I reached up and yanked the stop cord on the bus three times. I jumped up and pushed on the exit door; it didn’t open until the driver hit the button; then, it opened slowly. As I stepped down, I heard Miss Buxom yell at me, "Have a nice evening!" I'm pretty sure she winked, too.
I was outside the bus and headed to the Garden at 1 a.m. Without Rickki, I felt a little vulnerable. As usual, there were a few winos hanging around the locked door fronts, a couple of drugged-up women too. I got a little shiver down my back, and I kept my eyes down. City Officials had been trying to clean up this neighborhood for 30 years—the Tenderloin District, they call it—but they were not making much progress.
The lights at the GARDEN were still on when I got there. 69 Turk Street. I remembered. The front entrance was well-lighted. It was so much better than some of the sleazy bars in the neighborhood. It had a big red neon sign in the window with the name and two green palm trees, one at each end.
The entrance had a marquee overhang, just like the old-time movie theaters with dozens of neon tubes hanging upside down, just welcoming travelers. An Oasis for the Lonely, I was thinking to myself. Or the Hurt. Or the Damaged. A Place for people on the way Down. Or maybe Up. I got a little lift, just walking in the door.
"Hello, Missy. Are you looking for some pleasure this evening? Come right in." A diminutive Asian woman in her forties smiled widely at me as I entered. "My name is Michiko. What is your name, please?"
She was dressed in a tight silk dress with a subtle Oriental design in the fabric and slits up both sides. She couldn't have been more than a size 4. Probably would have looked good in a Geisha outfit. She wasn't my type, but I could see how her style would appeal to some people. Mostly guys, I suspected.
"Uhhh, Jessi," I replied, probably a little too quickly. “Jessica,” I choked out, considering the situation, strangely, remembering Mom’s constant admonition to say that.
The front lounge was sparkling clean. It had chrome and dark blue velvet covered chairs and two burgundy colored sofas. There was a bar in dark ebony with chrome highlights—bright lights where the bartender stood. He was well-groomed, dressed in a white shirt and black vest. Athletic looking, too; he was probably the bouncer. I nodded to him and took a big breath. I tried to relax a little, inside that Oasis.
"You come in, Missy, and sit here in the front lounge while we discuss which kind of pleasure will be best for you tonight. Have you been here before?"
"Ummm. Yes. Two years ago. I don't remember you working here then."
"Yes, I am new manager. We change things since you come. I will help you find right pleasure. Do you want champagne, or maybe gin and tonic?"
"Ummm. Something light. Gin fizz?"
"We make your visit different than when you here last time, Miss Jessica. Here is iPad with some special Apps. You know how to work? If not, I show you."
"Please show me."
"Yes, I can do. We have three different venues now at PLEASURE GARDEN: Asian, Brazilian, and European. I will open the App and you can choose best venue for tonight for you. See, here I touch the screen, this SPECIAL PLEASURE SPOT.”
On the iPad, three pictures came up and filled the screen: something that looked like a Kyoto temple; a beach and topless girls with the title of Rio; and the Eiffel Tower in Europe.
“Which one interests you most tonight?"
"Well, I have never been to Europe."
"Yes! Europe good choice tonight. Our full staff is still here. Now, Miss Jessica, you like to have pleasure massage with Adolph, or Heidi?"
"Oh! I didn’t know I have to choose. I am feeling kind of sad tonight. What kind of person is Adolph? Or, maybe some TLC might be good. Is Heidi tender?"
"Heidi can be either tender or strong. She can give much TLC. You press button here which one you choose."
"OK, I will choose—I guess Heidi."
"Next, you get to choose which kind of scent for MASSAGE LOTION. Press button here to see what scent is available . . You press now!"
"Oh! Many choices: Edelweiss, Norway Spruce, French Lilac, and Moscow Musk. Gee, I'm not used to making choices . . Edelweiss will do."
"Now, Miss Jessica, you choose LIGHTING MOOD in massage room. Here, I show you choices. You can have Alpine Morn, Roman Noon, or Danube Dusk."
"OK, I have never been to the Alps, I'll choose that."
"Ahhh, good choice for a sad girl on a Saturday night. Now we are almost complete your menu for PLEASURE MASSAGE. You get choice of MUSIC for European Massage; here are choices; see, I click here. You can have ABBA, or Beatles, or Beethoven, or Chopin, or Wagner. You choose, Missy. Tap here on screen."
“So many choices to make! It is harder than I thought. I am inclined to take Wagner. That is how I feel tonight, kind of heavy. Does Heidi know Wagner?”
“Heidi knows all kind of music. What you like is most important. I click Wagner for you."
"Nearing end of Application menu now, Missy. Do you want our Special Pleasure Service in addition to the European Standard Massage? Only twenty-nine dollars more. Press the Yes or No button."
"Can I decide later while getting the massage?"
"Yes, but more expensive then—thirty-nine dollars."
"OK. I will choose."
"Now, one last thing; how do you want to pay for PLEASURE GARDEN experience? Cash, charge card or debit card?"
"Well, put it on my Charge card—Visa. Here, let me find it in my purse."
"See, Miss Jessica, how easy is to arrange special evening just for you? Follow me to your SPECIAL PLEASURE ROOM, down this hallway. Heidi is waiting for you. Have a good evening! You deserve special treatment tonight."
Heidi greeted me with a big smile. She had lovely blue eyes, blonde hair, with just a hint of silver, a wisp of hair floating over her left eye. She was wearing a simple blue dress—your LITTLE BLUE DRESS, as Cosmo used to call it—with a frilly short white apron. She called me by name softly, melodically. The European Massage Room looked very luxurious, perhaps as a European Castle on the Rhine might look. There was a slight smell of Lysol in the air or was it the Edelweiss? The Wagner music was going loud and heavy. Damn that Wagner, anyway. Gotterdammerung Wagner!
“Can you change the music to Chopin?”
“Yes, of course.”
Heidi helped me disrobe and put a white flannel shawl around my shoulders and beckoned me to lie down on the downy massage table. It was scrumptiously warm and cozy. She began at my feet—the aching ones from the high heeled pumps at work. How did she know to start there?
I felt a little guilty for the self-indulgence. The same as when I went out with Stevie one more time in Peoria instead of going to my sis's wedding shower. It was his usual sequence: early buffet dinner at the Kountry Kitchen, 7 p.m. movie at the number 1 screen at the Cineplex, and then beer or wine and conversation at his apartment. All he could ever talk about was his job and co-workers in the Accounting Department at the Caterpillar plant.
And then the bedroom. But he fumbled around so. Just like always. The whole evening reminded me of the line from the story in the college Lit course:
Nada y pues nada y pues nada y pues NADA.#
And then, sis was so mad at me for missing the shower.
I came back to San Francisco from the wedding with such a feeling of loneliness. Why was happiness eluding me? What else in my life did I want or need? Nothing was happening to me.
And then I met Rickki!
After an hour with Heidi, with the lighting, and the scented lotion, and the music of MY CHOICE, I felt much better. About me. About life in San Francisco. Even about Rickki.
"Go find your PLACE, Rickki!" I told her in my mind.
Michiko ordered a taxi to take me home. I hadn't ridden in one for a long time. The driver was a dark-complexioned guy named Omar. He accepted my credit card, and gave me his business card when I got out: Sharrone Limousine Service. He stayed parked and kept the motor idling until he saw that I was safely into my apartment building.
It was good to know that there were still people in San Francisco who knew how to treat a girl right.
# Nada y pues Nada: Spanish: nothing and then nothing
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