Bad Lines: Part Eighteen (Underage Edition)
My first Vancouver apartment wasn’t in the best part of town, nor was my second, third or fourth. Even during those pre-Olympic days, the city was wildly unaffordable, a fact of life amplified by my $7.35 hourly wage. My housemates and I contended with drug deals in the alley, a chop-shop next door where stolen cars were stripped, painted and disposed of at night, and johns with a predilection for the dope-fiend teens who hitch-hiked along our block.
I found everything dangerously romantic, a welcome change from the safety net suburbs where I grew up. East Fourth rubbed a bit of toughness into my skin like grime. I deeked around a heroin deal going down in my garage, licked my index finger and stroked a line through the air, chalking up points for experience.
One night, I stood beneath an umbrella in the rain, waiting to catch the bus to my boyfriend’s place across town. It was late and I was jumpy–the old man who paced his Rottweiler up and down the alley had been rolled the night before, and suddenly, the neighbourhood boasted less street cred and more straight-up trouble.
I shifted my knapsack, kicked a puddle with the toe of my boot. A man approached me from behind, and stated in a lewd whisper, “You will go with me.” I ignored him and continued gently splashing. “You will go with me,” he repeated, this time with a rising inflection. He was asking, or he was commanding? He was small, but I was, too. I could probably hurt him, but wasn’t confident our struggle (if one broke out) would be equally matched.
“No,” I said. I hoped my voice sounded bigger than it felt coming out of my mouth.
“I mean, you will go with me,” the man repeated, “like, I pay you.” Waggling his eyebrows to assure me there was something in it for me.
He thought I was one of the hitch-hikers, a working girl waiting for a man. Jesus! These were the grunge years, and I sported a snazzy pair of longjohns underneath my boyfriend’s shredded fatigues, wrecked black boots and an oversized coat. A holey sweater draped my flat chest and my hair was scraped nearly bare. I wore no make-up, carried nothing to expose me as a girl. I was mistaken for a boy pretty much every day. Once, while we sat snuggling in the yard, my boyfriend’s neighbour called over the fence, “Is this your little brother? Hi there! I’m Mary!”
I was shocked by the man’s offer, not so much offended that he’d mistaken me for a prostitute as surprised he’d want me to service him in the first place. This was before I understood the complexities of sexual identity, before I’d heard of men cruising for tricks that didn’t threaten their heterosexual facade. A blowjob from a girl who looked like a boy? That was hot, that was worth twenty bucks. A blowjob from a boy? That would be just plain queer.
I assured him that no, I wouldn’t be going with him, pointed to the sign overhead, explained I was waiting to catch the bus. “Ohhhhhhh!” His eyes got big, he blushed and grew sheepish. “I am so, so, sorry! I thought you were…you…well, you know. But you are not. I…uhhh…” He turned and stalked away.
Sure, he was looking to score with a kid. Sure, he was probably out there all the time. Or, maybe he was a newcomer, as unclear of the rules as I was about the shady sides of desire. Nonetheless, I suppose he also had manners, apologising for a genuine misunderstanding before scuttling away.