He had gone on a road trip, my friend did, driving from New York down to Florida to meet up with some old buddies. He had put on his driving cap, had the car checked out, changed the oil. He’s a fastidious fellow. Some would call him rigid and even moralizing. Yes, he does tend to point out other people’s flaws. He means well, though. To his credit, he sees a psychiatrist twice a week. But the road trip changed all that. The road trip dragged him into the gutter with the rest of us.
The moment he got back he wanted to see me. It was urgent, he said. He had a crazy story. It couldn’t wait. He had to tell someone.
“I don’t know what was going through my head,” he said at the cocktail lounge where we sat on high-backed stools. A dour barman attended us with the gravity that has been recently associated with the martini culture. My distressed friend ordered a single malt. 12 year. Neat. He was that freaked out.
“You can’t tell anyone. Not a soul.”
“I’m serious.” With a staring focus, he took a sip of his drink. “You ever been to a prostitute?”
“No. Too scared. Afraid I’ll have problems. You know.”
“God, you’re like Woody Allen.”
“He got a lot of women, you know. But there was this one time. Ah, never mind.”
He grasped the tumbler and shook his head roughly, as though trying to clear water out of his ears.
“I drove for hours trying to get down to Miami. It was getting late. I had to stop somewhere or I’d get into an accident. So at about 2am I got off the highway and drove for a bit until I found a motel. I stop and go in.”
“You go in.”
“I go in. What else am I going to do? I go in. Ring the bell at the desk. A light in the back comes on and a man walks out. This guy was so fat. But you could tell he didn’t care. And his shirt’s stained with pizza grease. But I’m tired and so I ask for a room. And literally, it’s like $25.”
“Yeah. So he hands me the room key. Then he’s quiet for a moment like he’s trying to decide something. He asks me if I like girls. And I tell him, sure, of course.”
“You love girls.”
“I love girls. What am I supposed to say? That I hate girls? He says if I’m interested, he’s got a girl who would spend some time with me.”
“He said that? Spend some time with you?”
“Exactly that. It sounded so innocent and I’m delirious with exhaustion. And I have in my head — I’m seeing a blond girl in cutoff jeans.”
Embarrassed, my friend cupped his forehead and squinted at the lacquer of the finely grained counter.
“So I kind of say ok. I’m not thinking straight. And actually, I’m feeling a little lonely and self-pitying. Then he says I need to give him fifty bucks and then another 75 to the lady.”
“Also a bargain.”
“But I was still a little shocked. I thought he was trying to be nice to me.”
“And you think I’m the Woody Allen?”
My friend slumped back in his seat. Telling this story was taking a lot out of him.
“Well, I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen now. Do I go to my room or what? But we go outside and walk by all the rooms and then around the back through a patch of tall, wet grass to a small building, like a little house.”
I put my drink down. None of what he told me was making any sense. All of it went completely against his character of caution and intense rumination over the smallest of decisions.
“The guy pulls a chain loaded with keys out of his pocket, opens the door and we go inside.”
“You went in? Are you nuts?”
“I didn’t want to be rude. So then he turns on the lights — bright fluorescent lights and very loud. The room is completely empty, except for a table in the middle with some blankets on it. And the walls! The walls are covered with pages ripped from porn magazines and taped up. Then he tells me to wait and he leaves me there.”
“So you’re alone now? What do you do?”
“I walk around. I look at some of the pictures. Then I go to the table and lie down.”
“Because you’re waiting for the lady.”
“I thought I’d take a little nap. Anyway, a few minutes later, she comes in.”
“Not at all hot. She’s fat, too. Extremely fat. She’s got on tacky lingerie. Cellulite everywhere. And she’s wearing lots of makeup. She looks bored. She doesn’t even smile.”
“And so? You get out of there?”
“No. What am I supposed to do? So she comes over to the table. And then, you know.”
“You’re kidding me. You had sex with her?”
“No, not exactly. Just a handjob.”
“Just a handjob.”
“A handjob. And then the whole thing’s over. I thank her and give her the money. Then I go to my room and sleep.”
He finished his story and sighed. He looked relieved.
“Honestly,” I said, “I don’t know whether to be thoroughly disgusted with you or a little envious.”
“Of your pluck.”
My friend sighed again. He had lost his father to cancer only last year. Leukemia. He had spent the winter cleaning out his father’s house. Lots of relics from the 70s. His father had been somewhat of a wild man. Giant parties; public infidelities. My friend had tried his best to live his life in defiant opposition to hedonism. Had tried.
“Did you see her the next morning?” I asked.
“No, I left early. Got down to Miami and saw my friends.”
His shoulders had relaxed. He was smiling now.
I clapped my friend’s shoulder. “Actually, now that you told me your story, you seem very relaxed.”
“I am,” he said, smiling. “I feel pretty good. You should try it.”
I looked for the bartender.