Asking only workman's wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Lie la lie …
“The Boxer,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1968
Just about every seasoned male veterinarian I know has at least one hooker or stripper anecdote. I have yet to hear such a tale from a female veterinarian–maybe because it has never happened to them, or they just don’t want to talk about it, I have no idea.
My first go-round in private practice evolved from the inner city, in this case Long Beach, Calif., complete with street parking, graffiti, smog, traffic, gang bangers and, of course, hookers.
In general, I did my best avoid all of the above whenever possible, but, the probabilities are such that you will encounter one or all at some point, often in repetition.
One day at work, one of my male employees came back from lunch bragging that a woman had just offered him personal favors. He happened to be rather impressed with himself, and his take was that the woman was hitting on him because he, in his own mind, was quite the lothario. One of the female employees pointed out to his chagrin that the special woman was actually a hooker, not an admirer. With the exception of the technician, we all got a good laugh out of the incident.
Not long afterward one of the receptionists came to me with a concern that a hooker had been harassing our clients. We had no off-street parking, so our clients had to walk up and down the block to get to their cars. The complaints started to increase, and each time, the description of the hooker was the same.
I decided to confront the person. It was almost closing time and the sun had started to set, leaving the streets somewhere between daylight and streetlight.
I found the lady in question only 20 feet out my front door. Leaning against the corner street sign was a cinnamon-skinned woman, silver-black hair (slicked back in a tight bun), skin-tight gold spandex pants, gossamer, dirty gray braless top cut mid belly, and excessive jewelry that looked like it came from The 99-cent Only Store.
She wore no lipstick, but her eyes were painted like a circus clown. She drew a long, pensive drag on her cigarette as I approached, then dropped and crushed it into the sidewalk with a sideways twist of her scuffed black pumps.
“You looking for a date, doctor?”
“What’s your name?” I ignored her question.
“Whatever you want it to be, honey.” She smiled–a Cheshire grin that lacked the two upper middle incisors.
“We need to talk.”
“I don’t care what you want to do, it’s your money.”
Again, I ignored her comment, pausing briefly for effect. “I respect your right to business. I ask that you respect mine.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Her eyes got large, the color blanched from her pursed lips, her head slightly cocked to the side. She leaned forward and I could smell her musty body odor.
“Some of my clients object to your confronting them,” I said. “I am concerned that they may choose another veterinarian where they won’t have to feel uncomfortable when they walk to their cars after dark. That takes money out of my pocket.”
I maintained a flat, businesslike expression and tone. “You leave my clients alone, and I won’t call the police and chase you away.”
She stared at me, then took a baby step backward. “I can respect that.” She smiled, lighting another cigarette.
I watched her light the smoke without saying anything further, or even blinking, then turned and headed back toward my office. Two steps away I heard a soft voice coming from behind.
I stopped, turning only from the shoulders to face her.
“You can call me Harriett.”
She looked me in the eyes, took a long drag, then focused her gaze far down the street. Garbled music poured out the door from the China Girl, the strip bar a block away. I could see a bouncer at the entrance, leaning backwards with a foot up against the jam, also smoking a cigarette. His tattoos were obvious even in the dim light.
“Are you/were you a Harry, or did your father just want a boy?” I scanned her neck for an Adam’s apple, or at least a scar where one had been shaved down. I figured that if she were fervid enough to have her upper incisors yanked he/she may have actually gone for a sex change.
“I never met my daddy.”
She turned to look at me as she answered the question. “But I was told he wanted a boy.” She looked down at her feet after speaking, but I could tell her thin lips had formed a slight smile. A small clump of hair was missing from the top of her head – it looked like it had been yanked out.
For ever so brief a moment I felt like I was talking to a friend, not a hooker I had just met.
“Well, Harriett,” I said the name with conviction, turning to fully face her, “I guess it’s nice to meet you.” I extended my hand. “You can call me Doug.”
“Dr. Doug,” emphasis on the word “doctor.” She took my hand but did not shake it–just held it gently. “The pleasure is all mine.” She smiled again and gave my hand a little squeeze.
“From this night on, I promise to respect your right to do business.” She let go and started to walk off. “We BOTH have business to do,” she proclaimed over her shoulder as she sashayed down the street.
Was she being genuine, or working me?
I watched her for a brief moment and couldn’t help but wonder who would be attracted to a character like Harriett. To each his or her own, I suppose. I shook my head and went back into the brightly lit office, owners and pets standing at the counter to pay or waiting in the reception room to be reunited with Fluffy or Spike after a day at the animal hospital.
After that crepuscular meeting, the whole Harriett issue seemed to fade away. I did not get any more complaints from clients, even though I had my receptionists query some of the more frequent ones. (You had to be careful asking Mr. Smith if he had been approached by a hooker while Mrs. Smith was standing next to him.)
Business was brisk, always a good thing. Fall was upon us and the days got shorter and the nights came earlier and the Southern California smoggy air got chilled. I passed Harriett regularly as I walked to my car in the evenings–her clothes rarely changed with the exception that now with the cooler nights she started to wear a tawdry faux fur shawl.
She rarely acknowledged my presence. In fact, most of the time it was as if she looked right through me. Selective amnesia, high on crack or she just didn’t care since I had no value to her, I’ll never know. I wasn’t sad.
With the fall came the rains. It really sucked to operate a business in the city without off-street parking–clients hated to have to park a block away and walk to their cars in a downpour. We offered a valet service when the weather turned mean, but there was never enough help to get to all the clients.
One night I had left the office a little early to run some errands. I headed back to work just before closing. It was dark, and a cold rain needled my eyes as I approached the hospital. Harriett was huddled up under one of our awnings in front of the building. As I approached, a client emerged carrying a large bag of dog food, her purse, a spastic Pomeranian strapped to her wrist and she was struggling with an umbrella.
From across the street I watched as Harriett approached the woman, took the umbrella, opened it, then grabbed the large bag of dog food and helped the woman down the street to her car. When the woman got into the driver’s seat Harriett made sure the door was shut, then waved goodbye as the client drove off. She then snugged her fur wrap around her shoulders and resumed her pose under my awning.
Several weeks later I was asked to give an evening lecture to a regional veterinary society in Los Angeles. I always prefer to wear a business suit when I speak, so I changed in my office before heading out the door. It was early evening, but the sky was dark, and as expected, Harriett was at her post. She spotted me immediately as I stepped out.
“Well, well, Dr. Doug! Don’t you look hot tonight?” She smiled her toothless greeting and promenaded my way. “Got a date with the lucky Missus?”
“No.” I couldn’t help but smile back. “I’m on my way to give a lecture, downtown L.A.”
“You look so fine!” She was in full working mode. She stepped into my personal space and, facing me just inches away, fingered the lapels on my suit jacket. Her eyes worked my chest up to my face. “How ‘bout one for the road? It’s on me.”
To be continued…
Click here to read Part 2.