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Since Iâd made my purchases, my foot had been miraculously healed. I guess thatâs what they mean by faith healing â nothing a little belief and a few new pairs of shoes couldnât fix. I was in a cab on my way to meet Marni. As we approached the appointed location, I realized it was my favorite sex toy shop, Brown Paper Wrapper. Its windows, as always, were covered with discreet brown paper.
When the driver pulled up to the curb, my eyes were immediately drawn to an elegant and very sexy woman hovering next to the store by a graffiti-mottled wall. As I was taking mental notes on her outfit, she began walking toward the cab. And with each approaching step, my sister, Marni came into focus.
Or someone who looked like her anyway.
She was wearing a short red patent leather jacket open over a black mini-dress. Her stiletto knee-high boots waded through the mix of litter and brown leaves on the sidewalk. And her dark hair, ordinarily so ironed and arranged, had taken on a life of its own, curling and twisting all over her head. As per usual, she was put together with expense and care, but instead of âNantucket,â she now read âMilan.â
She bolted over to me as I paid the cabbie, opened the door and leaning in her head, planted a peck on my cheek. She smelt as always like Chanel, but her signature pearl necklace and matching earrings had been replaced by a garnet pendant that dangled mysteriously in her cleavage. Her fresh scrubbed look had been darkened by smoky eye shadow and thick smudgy mascara. Her lips were painted a glossy burgundy.
âDamn, Marn, you look great,â I said, fumbling my packages out of the backseat.
âYou think?â She peered out at me through her mass of curls. âI met with an image consultant and he picked out these clothes for me â very boudoir, very downtown. He said I had to get rid of the PTA-meets-country club-look. âIf youâve got it flaunt it, and Babe, youâve got it,â he said to me. I always thought I was too fat to wear clothes like this.â
âYouâre not fat, Marni.â
âRight,â she said. âBut I know you think Iâm just really mainstream.â
âI never saidââ
âBut I have an alternative side too.â
âOf course you do.â I wanted to sound encouraging.
âIâve been to a place like this before, you know.â
I didnât, but I nodded anyway. I could see she was nervous.
âWhen I was in collegeâŠ.inBrookline.â She glanced over her shoulder at the store, then looked back at me and knit her brows. âAnd IâŠI know I seemed defensive when you brought it up before, but I was just upset. I couldnât ask any of my friends to come here with me, only you andââ
âThatâs alright, Marn. Iâm happy to be here,â I said. And indeed I was. Not only was I sincerely flattered that sheâd sought out my support, I was pleased that sheâd followed my advice and spoken to Wade. Although my journey into the world of professional sex had begun to feel like a one way trip to nowhere, I knew I was still a sexual healer. And whom better to help than my own sister?
So although I could see my sister was uncharacteristically intimidated, I smiled at her amiably and suggested we go inside. I led the way as we entered a brightly lit room. And then I carefully maneuvered my bulky bags among display tables laden with vibrators and dildos in a jellybean-like assortment of colors as Lou Reed warbled Walk on the Wild Side.
My poor little sister was clearly uncomfortable. Though to a casual observer she might look like a sex pot, to my trained eye she was an obvious a fish out of water. As we wound our way past bins of condoms and rows of penis-shaped silicone, I could just sense her ill-ease. She held her body with rigidity as we paused in front of the Anal Play counter with its butt plugs and copious assortment of lubes. Though she did pick up a pair of black latex gloves and exclaim, âHow charming,â I knew she was anxious.
We paused in front of a table labeled: Double Trouble. And just as I was hoping to give her some time to acclimate, she picked up a double-sided dildo and handled it gingerly. âOh, look at this one, Jess, I âŠâ Her voice faded out.
âYou what, Marn?â
âYou know, Jess,â she said suddenly looking a little perturbed. âMaybe this isnât a very good idea. Maybe I could take you to Bergdofâs. Thereâre a few more pieces my image consultant suggested I get and Iâll buy you something too. I feel bad Iâve wasted your time. Itâsââ
Just then a salesgirl came up to us â a woman with spiky black hair fringed blonde in the front. She was very pretty and very young â with the innocent look of baby fat still in her face, even with the jewelry through her chin, lower lip, and eyebrow. Over her ripped jeans and motorcycle boots, she wore a flounced black top which fell off her shoulder, exposing a black lace bra strap and strong arms swirled with a rainbow of tattoos. âDo you need help with anything?â
âWellââ I began, but Marni cut me off.
âNo, thank you. Not right now.â
Marni was still holding the double-barreled dildo. I could see the salesgirlâs eyes dart to it. I was sure sheâd assumed Marni and I were a gay couple. I didnât know why, but I wanted to clear up any misconception. âMy sisterââ
âAnd I are just looking,â Marni interrupted me again.
The salesgirl smiled. âAlrighty. Let me know if you need anything. Weâre having a pre-Thanksgiving sale on all edibles.â
She turned and I noticed Marniâs eyes trail after her as she walked away. Marni must have caught me looking at her. She put down the dildo. âShe reminds me of someone,â she said.
I was about to ask her who, when she said, âJess, this is ridiculous. I think we should go. It was a good idea, butââ
âOh câmon, Marn.â Now I was beginning to feel annoyed that my sister had asked me to come here and she was acting like such a baby. Even if she didnât want to help herself, I wanted to help her. I was going to help her. And double-sided dildos or dildos of any kind were not the place to start. Sheâd been in the burbs too long. She needed to be started on the beginnerâs slope. âLetâs just look at the edibles that are on sale.â I led the way over to a table with a sign depicting two turkeys with their necks entwined around one another that read: Gobble. Gobble. 2-4-1.
Marni followed me hesitantly. I picked up a jar and handed it to her.
She read the label, âHmm, Pumpkin Cheesecake Body Rub.â Then she rolled her eyes and put it down. âOh, câmon, Jess, this isnât what I need. I mean, if I wanted this, Iâd just order the real thing from Le Petit Patissier, roll in it, and present myself to Wade on a doily.â
I could see edibles werenât her thing, so I led her to a table labeled: Sensual De-Lites and handed her box of Kama Sutra playing cards. âHow about this then?â
âWade only plays bridge,â she said. âLook, this is nonsense; letâs go. Let me take you out to lunch. I just want to talk.â
And then she started marching toward the exit, but suddenly stopped in front of a display window in which was hanging an array of floggers. I was trailing behind her, dragging my bags with me. And now I realized I must have been on my feet a little too long because the foot pain which had been so miraculously healed had precipitously returned. But it was only a dull ache. I could deal with it.
âWhat are these for, Jess?â
âFor, you know, consensualâŠimpact play.â
âYou know, MarnâŠflagellation.â
I thought that Marni would continue on her path toward the exit, but she took me by surprise by uttering in a soft voice, âIâm interested in that.â
âYou are?â I said, shifting my weight onto my left foot.
âWell, you know, just …â
âJust what?â My feeling of defeat at being able to help my sister gave way to a cautious optimism. Maybe there was more to her than met the eye. âSo, this is what youâre into?â
âMmm,â my sister said absently. There was a troubled look in her eyes as she looked through the glass at the floggers. Then she turned to me as though she were ready to confess something when the pretty salesgirl came over again.
âOh, I see youâve found our floggers,â she said with a bright smile. âIf you want to handle any of them, I need to open the window.â
âYes, please,â Marni said. Her initial diffidence now seemed replaced by an awkward yet definite interest. She took a sharp step back to make way for the girl to open the glass. And although I was a little astonished, I was gratified to discover that my sister and her husband were so open-minded. I was beginning to wonder who would be âthe bottomâ and who would be âthe topâ when Marni answered my question for me.
She had moved toward the case and was fingering the floggers. âMmm,â she said, looking directly into the eyes of the salesgirl, âIâd like to discipline my husband.â
âI see,â the girl said. Their eyes locked for a fleeting moment. And even though Iâd always secretly suspected my sister had a bit of an inner dominatrix, I couldnât believe my ears. Then I noticed the girl look down. I followed her gaze. Her eyes were trained on Marniâs right hand which was stroking a flogger absently like she were petting a cat. Her fingernails were painted crimson and the way she ran them with slow articulation through the black leather lashes was very erotic
âWould you like to try one out?â The girl now had a pleasing lilt in her voice.
âWell, um, yes.â My sister giggled nervously.
âLetâs see,â the girl said. âMy name is Joelle, by the way.â
âOh, nice to meet you.â Marni took her hand. âIâm Marni and this is my sister, Jessica.â She laughed jauntily â seeming to have reverted to her default mode of gracious cocktail party hostess. âSheâs active in the prostitutesâ rights movement. Fighting for the sexual liberation of women. And she sings in a band. Sheâs a star.â
âHi,â I said, and following my sisterâs lead, took Joelleâs hand. But I was actually looking around the shop for a chair â my foot had really begun to hurt.
âSo,â Joelle ran her hand along all the floggers. âWe carry two kinds of flogger: bull hide and rubber. The rubber tends to me more stingy than the bull hide.â
âYou mean more painful?â Marni asked.
âIâd like to try a rubber one then.â
âAlrighty.â Joelle reached into the case. âThis is one of my absolute favorites. Itâs got a great handle. You can use it for penetration too, but be sure to put a condom on it.â She flicked it expertly a few times in the air as Marni tittered with an almost school-girlish delight. Then she handed it to Marni. âWould you like to try it out?â
âUm, I guess.â Marni took the flogger and whipped it daintily making figure eights with her wrist. She could have looked like a mistress of pain, but the effect it had was more like a cheerleader. For SMU, perhaps.
âThatâs good, but youâve got put your whole body into it â use your legs and relax those shoulders.â Joelle now stood at Marniâs back, clasped her arm forcefully and guided it through the air. âYeah, thatâs right.â She let go of Marniâs arm and Marni was now swinging it by herself with a force that was a testament to her thrice weekly weight training regime. A nearly beatific smile had come to her face and I couldnât help but feel how Dr. Frankenstein must have felt with his monster.
When they finished the BDSM demo duet, Marni smiled nervously and let out a big exhale. âUmâŠâ she said, straightening her dress and laughing. âI guess Iâll take this.â She handed the flogger to Joelle and then corrected herself. âWell, actually, since Iâm not sure which one my husband will like, Iâll take them all.â
Joelle seemed bewildered. âAre you sure? Usually people have a preference. We actually have eight different modelsââ
âI want them all,â Marni said firmly, then swooshed over to another display case. âAnd what are these?â
âThese are our canes, paddles, and whipsâŠbut we donât recommend them for beginners.â
âIâll take them anyway.â
âWhich ones?â Joelle raised her brows.
âAll of them,â Marni said.
âAlrighty, whatever you wantâŠhoney.â There was now a twinkle in Joelleâs heavily lashed almost violet eyes, and she seemed not only amused but also determined to join in Marniâs game. I was actually starting to want to leave; my foot pain was increasing in proportion to Marniâs exuberant embrace of kink. And I was beginning to wonder if she had actually spoken to Wade.
After Marni had gleefully added the entire table of cuffs and various restraining gear to her âcart,â Joelle excused herself briefly and went over to the front counter to grab a notepad and pen to record her sales. I took this intermission as an opportunity to address the issue. I put my hand on the spreader bar that Marni had just finished discussing with Joelle. ââAre you sure this is what Wade wants?â I asked.
Marni narrowed her eyes. âWho cares what he wants.â
âBut you talked to him, right?â
Just then Joelle returned and Marni laughed impishly turning her attention from me to her. She put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes with dramatic flair. âOh, my husband Wadeâs not much of a talker. Heâs become more of a grunter, reallyâŠHe drops hints.â
âOh. Hints,â I said. After eight years of marriage, after a twelve year relationship, they now communicate through hints.
But Marni ignored me and continued speaking to Joelle, their eyes dancing a cheerful duet. âLike, you wouldnât believe it, the other day, he was reading the New York Times travel section, an article about horseback riding through the Andes and do you know what he said to me?â
âNo, what?â Joelle asked with exaggerated inquisitiveness.
ââWouldnât you like to get a horse, honey?ââ Marni said with a wry smile.
Joelle made her eyes big.
âAnd what is this?â Marni sashayed over to a table marked: Animal Play and motioned to a black braided horsetail. It was attached to a silicone butt plug.
âThis is one of our line of animal play products.â Joelle picked it up by the plug and swished it through the air. âItâs a horsetail, a butt plug, and a flogger all in one. Itâll work very well with the riding crop youâve already chosen. We also have saddles, but those Iâd have to order.â
âYou mean it goes up hisâŠ.and then I ride him?â Marni gulped.
âPrecisely. Or train him. Animal play is the ultimate in submission,â Joelle said matter-of-factly. Then she gave Marni a devilish grin. âDonât say neigh to pony play,â she said brightly and both she and Marni laughed with abandon. When they were done, Marni told Joelle sheâd take that one also.
Then Marni continued to shop with a vengeance. I followed her and Joelle around the store listening and observing with awe and some consternation as Joelle explained the function, purpose, and use of various and sundry sex paraphernalia. Marni got blindfolds, hot wax, nipple clamps, snake-bite kits, and even a rack which could go in the door frame. She bought books and demo DVDs including one called Rear Entry for Real Men. Then Joelle sold her a few different types of harnesses and strap-on dildos â or cocks, as she called them.
As Joelle dutifully marked each of Marniâs whims in the notepad like a contractor taking notes on renovations, I began to grow weary. Now I was the one who thought it was ridiculous. Though I could see my sister hadnât had so much fun since sheâd changed her kitchen counters from granite to soapstone, I was beginning to feel irritated. I wanted to tell her that being sexy isnât about stuff â itâs about attitude or as Keith would say integration. Sex isnât about things â itâs about doing things and having things done to you, giving and receiving, back and forth, communication. But what did I know? â the more men I had sex with the less I knew what it was for, why it mattered, or even what it was. Besides I wanted to go home; my foot was really starting to hurt.
When Marni had bought almost one of everything they had in the store, we followed Joelle to the front, so she could ring Marni up. âNow some of the things you wanted, we need to order; we donât have them in stock. Do you want to take what we have with you or would you like them shipped all at once?â
âAll at once,â Marni said leaning into the counter, fiddling with her Platinum AmEx. Her eyes were fastened on Joelle as she tabulated her purchases in the computer.
âI just need your credit card and your shipping address.â
âOh.â Marni smiled and handed Joelle her card.
âAnd where to?â Joelle was poised to type in Marniâs address.
âConnecticut.âÂ She lowered her eyes. âYup, I live in Connecticut, but I used to live in the city. It wasnât my idea. It was my husbandâs, after I got pregnant; you know how men areâŠâ
Joelle smiled warmly, but I was certain she hadnât the vaguest idea how men were. Her idea of a cock was something that never went soft.
Then Marni reached into her bag, pulled out a gold antique card holder and gave Joelle a business card.Â âThatâs my address and it also has my phone number. Itâs for my antique business. Well, itâs not really a business, more like a hobbyâŠ for the time being anywayâŠ.â Joelle began typing the info into the computer and Marni kept babbling on. âYes, I have quite a collection â mostly nineteenth century Americana â and well, you know, I used to be a designerâŠfor the theater andââ
âReally? I do theater too.â Joelle stopped typing, looked at Marni, and smiled excitedly.
âOh, well, then we have some things to talk about, you know, I âŠ I know itâs the burbs, but it can be lovely, very peaceful. So if youâd like a breather, to get out of the city, you or any of your friends, give me a call.â
Marni was blushing. And so was Joelle. I was astonished. Was my sister now actually trying to pick up the sex toy shop girl?
When Joelle had finished taking Marniâs info, she placed the antique âdealershipâ card by the computer and returned Marniâs AmEx with a smile. Then Marni signed the receipt with a trembling hand, thanked Joelle, bade her goodbye, and we hurriedly left.
When we got outside, I was dying to hear what this was all about, but Marni just said, âNow, Jess, let me take you out to lunch.â Then she started striding wordlessly away from the store. I followed at her heels, my bags banging my legs, limping along â my foot was really in pain.
When we stopped to wait for a light, I tried to catch her eye, but she wouldnât meet my gaze. Her eyes were darting swiftly back and forth.
âMarn,â I said. She looked angry. At me? I thought. For what?
Then she spoke, âWadeâŠâÂ Her face was pinched tight with irritation. âI shouldnât have to come to a place like this by myself. I shouldnât have to have done that. I tried, Jessie. I know you donât think so, but I tried and heâŠI deserve to haveâŠâ
Just then a bus pulled into the bus stop in front of us. The loud diesel engine drowned out the rest of her sentence. Its exhaust blew fumes in our faces. And suddenly the foot pain which Iâd been trying to cope with for the past couple hours was aggravated to the point of torture. It was like a knife stabbing the ball of my foot. I winced.
Marni must have noticed the contortion of my face. She looked concerned. âJess, whatâs wrong? Did something just bite you?â
âNo, no.â Tears were forming in my eyes. I wanted to scream.
âJess, tell me whatâs wrong.â
I raced to the bus shelter, flipped down one of the benches, yanked off my cowboy boot and started massaging my foot. Marni came to my side âMy foot is killing me, but donât worry. Iâll be OK.â
âIs this something new?â
âYeah, it just started about a week ago. Itâs really murder.â
âOh, Jessie, why didnât you tell me? Momâs always said you needed to take care of your feet. Did you go to the doctor?â
âNo. I bought some new shoes though.â
âOh, comfy shoes, sensible shoes. They make more attractive styles now.â
âI tried but…â
âSo what did you get? Why donât you put them on now? Itâll make you feel better till I get you home.â Marni picked up the Glowmanâs bags which Iâd left on the ground, opened a shoebox and pulled out the pair of red high heeled pumps â my favorite. âJess, these are not the kind of shoes you get if your bunions acting up. These are the kind of shoes you wear if you want to get bunions.â
âI know, but I just thoughtââ
âYou need to go to a doctor, get a diagnosis, stay off of it, and rest, for Godâs sake. You canât just put new dressing on it. I sometimes canât believe how impractical you are. How many pairs did you buy?â
âSeven.â I felt cowed and embarrassed.
âDo you think these red pumps are going to fix your pain?â She dangled them by their heels as the bus pulled away spewing black soot in our faces. âI think, Jessie, youâre just a little bit out of control.â
Ă Â mĂ©moire
It was called to my attention that a famous actress died last week at the relatively young age of 58. Maria Schneider, forever branded in our cultural memories as the baby-faced lover to an aging Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris. I had to pause to reflect on Maria, as there had been a way in which she had touched my life. Or that I had felt a sisterhood with her, some common bond.
"A master of the erotic, edgy truth. Anais Nin and Henry Miller are applauding." Richard Jarrette, author of Beso the Donkey
Sometime in the early years of the millennium, prior to collapse of Wall Street, yet after the Invasion of Iraq and 9-11,Â in those carefree years of innocence and longing, the waning era of my wayward youth, in a dingy apartment in a neighborhood on the verge of “trendification”, amidst countless dates with countless groping men,Â I got a crazy idea in my head. I decided to become a “courtesan.”
I hadn’t much of an idea of what a courtesan did except for prance around in lingerie and fuck. Lingerie is probably my favorite thing to wear and fucking my favorite activity, so it seemed like a good career move for me. Besides I never really felt like I fit in.
And I must admit, I needed the money. Let’s face it, my dates were not paying my rent. They were sort of grinding me down and putting me in a foul mood. None of them were marriage material or anyone I’d like to marry anyway. My dreamboat hadn’t arrived on the scene yet. I figured that I may as well get paid.
And well, then there was the internet: Craigslist, a very new experience… (My Experience as a Craigslist Hooker)
So I started to write a memoir about what I was doing and before I knew it, the memoir had morphed into a novel. Because as Virginia Woolf wrote, “Fiction is likely to contain more truth than fact.” And I became less concerned with telling my story and more concerned with telling the story of the world I saw around me. A world that I saw as excessive and greedy, sometimes cruel, a world that doesn’t always support the human heart.Â I guess that’s mostly what American Courtesan is about, finding one’s heart in the muck.
Oh, did I tell you it’s a comedy? Because, well, if we didn’t laugh, we would cry. And it’s got lots of sex in it. I think it’s pretty fun. A fun book that makes you think.
American Courtesan will be available in October 2013.