Despite being unsure of her gender, I knew at first glance that Amy was my kind of girl. I was at an Iggy Pop show at the Fillmore, and as “I wanna be your dog” came to an end, she emerged from the pit in a sleeveless t-shirt. She had wide, gym-cut shoulders and a chiseled jaw working overtime to digest the drugs in her system. While making small talk, she tilted her head back to fix her pony tail, and I saw enough coke up her nose that I didn’t care which side of the penis divide she fell on. I invited her back to my apartment for a nightcap.
The Tenderloin, by definition, is a red-light district. Back in the day of the Policemen’s ball, the cops who worked it were given the best cuts of meat, the tenderloin. I lived on Turk street in a former YMCA building that had been converted into kennel-sized apartments for lonely men.
Walking through the byzantine white hallways, I often heard, but hardly saw, my neighbors. The sounds emotionally shattered men make when they think no one is listening. A ballpoint pen dragging across a wall as it’s being written on, a scratched 7” of “Lady in Red” played non-stop between the hours of 2 and 4 am, angry phone conversations followed by pornography played at top volume. The first winter I lived there, two men jumped off the roof and another slid out an 11th floor window.
It was here, in room 709, where Amy and I finished her drugs and confirmed each other’s sexual identity. In between bouts of wrestling, which I loved to lose, we traded stories. She had friends with ironic drug names like “Sleepy” and “Frosty.”
By contrast, my world seemed pedestrian. Like half the city, I was a barista going through a divorce. As I licked the inside of her drug baggy, Amy and I agreed that I was a catch and my soon to be ex-wife was clearly nuts. In the morning, we both called in sick to work.
She was an engineer for Enron, the fraudulent energy company that would soon fold, taking 11 billion dollars in shareholders’ money along with it. She told me that every time someone turned on a light switch, she made a dollar.
In addition to making more money than I’d ever seen, she had an encyclopedic knowledge of functioning addictdom. At any given time she could tell you where a needle exchange line was or what caliber of glass to smoke speed out of, but most importantly, Amy had biceps that would make Linda Hamilton jealous. I knew I would have to work extra hard to impress someone like her.
I decided I would make my famous hot-plate Belgian waffles. A quick trip to the corner store and I was back in my elevator with an awkward looking couple. A girl, who couldn’t have been older than 15, and a skinny, fidgety older gentleman. I nodded my hello and got off on the 7th floor.
Two left turns and a right and I was back in my room presiding over a hot plate. Amy was gently pointing out that I had rug burn on my forehead, when there was a knock at the door.
The girl from the elevator had found her way to my apartment. I looked up and down the hall expecting to see her friend, hearing only the international sounds of my neighbor’s erotic film collection.
“I’m going to get with that guy” she explained to me, “Do you have any condoms?”
“Yeah sure, hang on a second” As I dug into my condom jar, I gave Amy a look that said, “I don’t know this girl.” In the hall I gave her two condoms and sheepishly croaked, “be safe.”
Back in my room, the transaction had cast a shadow over the proceedings. I was explaining how that was a first for me, when there was another knock at the door. The teenager was back, and in her outstretched hand was an opened condom.
“Here, I don’t need them, he changed his mind. ” she said “you made him nervous.” He’s nervous, I thought. I’m the one who’s been booty bumping Columbian gold all night.
“I need to make some money” she tells me, “do you have any cash?” As my neighbor’s adult soundtrack mercifully came to a stop, I opened my wallet and looked at my last three dollars. As I held it up and handed it to her, my porn addicted neighbor opened his door, took one step, looked at us both and retreated back into his room. In his account of the story, which quickly made its way back to the building manager, not only was I a pedophile, but I was also cheap.
I double-locked my door, vowing to never open it again. Amy, looking up from her pager, narrowed her eyes at me. Certainly this would be the end of our budding romance, right?
“Hey” she asked “do you wanna go on a business trip with me next week?”
Apparently, Enron was building a new headquarters next to its current one. The new building, a deodorant stick along the Houston skyline, would famously never be occupied. Amy, being an engineer, was invited to tour the facility. For my companionship, I was promised an eight ball of coke, an unlimited bar tab and a room with a hot tub.
The devil, of course, was in the details; the bar was on the ground floor and our suite the ninth. So that every time I got a pina colada, I would finish it in the elevator and have to return to the bar, teeth chattering in my swimming trunks. A solution was found when I emptied a hotel vase and had the bar refill it, with what I now know to be a plumber union’s retirement plan. Like the company financing our adventures, Amy and I would soon implode under the weight of imagined assets.
But on that very first morning, standing in my tiny, dark, tenderloin studio, it all seemed so excessive.
“Are you sure you can afford that?” I asked.
Amy reached over and flicked my light switch on and off, on and off.