Here is a bit more about my visits with Lavinia Russ, the older woman I visited weekly in her Greenwich Village apartment, who taught me so much.
“I’ve always wondered,” she began talking even before she reached her chair, “what men do with prostitutes.”
I was taken aback. I think I might have even stammered.
“I mean,” she went on, “after they do their business, do they talk, or what?” She was seated now. She waved her cigarette around in a flourish.
“Well…,” I began, not at all certain how much detail I should provide. I wasn’t sure Lavinia really wanted firsthand knowledge.
“I don’t think you do much chatting,” I said.
“I was always terribly naïve about those kinds of things,” she said. “I remember going up to Harlem one time. That was years ago.” She tried to moisten her lips, which were almost always dry, with a quick flick of her tongue. The feeble light from her window highlighted her russet hair.
“I think I was nineteen,” she continued. “I don’t know how I got away from Mother, but I must have. A shoe salesman asked me out for a date.” When she spoke the word shoe, her voice seemed to drop two or three octaves. “After dinner we went up to his room. For a drink, I suppose. I certainly didn’t think anything was going to happen.
“All I remember about his room was that he had rows and rows and rows of shoes lined up against the wall. All sorts and sizes. Hundreds of shoes.” She paused and plucked a tiny piece of tobacco from her lips. “Well, I didn’t know anything about sex. Completely ignorant. And at one point — I guess he had given me my drink by then — he started to take off his clothes.”
“What did you do?”
“I just started to cry.” She laughed at her own youthful clumsiness. The story wasn’t finished, though. She took a quick puff of her cigarette and went on. “Well, the man started to get upset. ‘Don’t cry!’ he said. ‘For God’s sake, don’t cry!’ He gave me ten dollars to take a cab home. So I left. I rang for the elevator, and when it came, the bellboy was inside. I must have still had the ten dollars sticking out of my hand, because the bellboy looked at me and at the money, and said, ‘You probably could’ve gotten more than that, honey.’”