When I was nineteen I took my first–and so far only–trip to New York City.

Through school I had a romantic idea of New York.  When my fifth grade class did reports on cities throughout the world, I chose New York.  When I was in junior high I had a poster of the Manhattan skyline on my bedroom wall.  When I was in high school and thought going to college immediately was an option I sent away for brochures from colleges in New York City.  I must have watched too many movies that made New York look like the greatest city on earth.

Now I know the truth, San Francisco is the best city, ever.

When I was nineteen I lived in South Pasadena and worked in Arcadia, at the Santa Anita Fashion Park, a suburban mall that, at the time, had JC Penny’s and Robinson’s as the anchor stores.  I worked in a B. Dalton Books (the precursor to Barnes & Noble).  It was my first “real” job, meaning I got paid more than minimum wage and I had benefits.  The benefits came in handy when I got my wisdom teeth out.

As a mall B. Dalton we catered to a pretty straight-laced crowd.  We sold a lot of romance novels.  It was during this time that John Grisham burst on the scene.  I read an advance copy of The Firm and wasn’t all that impressed, so later when we received the hardcovers, I was surprised when we repeatedly sold out.

We did have some “edgy” books as well.  It was working there that I read about S&M for the first time.  (Looking at the pictures in my mother’s S&M books didn’t count.)  We got the Madonna Sex book, two copies of which I still own.  We carried The Satanic Verses and American Psycho, but kept them behind the counter so as to avoid “controversy.”

The customers were primarily suburban family folk.  Every once in a while someone interesting would come in.  My friend and coworker, Beth, was lucky enough to find her first boyfriend amongst the customers.  He was a married heroin addict, so he didn’t fit the usual boring mold of the Arcadia shopper.  I don’t think it was possible for Beth to have found someone worse for her, but she found him at B. Dalton Books, not wherever the hell married heroin addicts usually troll for virginal girlfriends.

I’m still in contact with two of my B. Dalton coworkers.  Laura still lives in Southern California and works as a kindergarten teacher.  We’ve been good friends for years, and worked at a total of three different jobs together.  LeUyen lives in the Castro and works as a children’s book illustrator.  She recently found me through Facebook.  It is a complete coincidence that we both now live in San Francisco.

It was during this time I was got the bulk of my tattoos, and because of B. Dalton’s permissive dress code for women (but not men–they had to wear shirts and ties) I got away with wearing clothes that showed my tattoos.  Back in the early 1990s in suburban malls seeing young ladies with tattoos was a novelty (NOT that I was cutting-edge in any way, only that I placed my non-conservative self in conservative situations).  I also had my nose pierced and a bash haircut (head shaved with clippers, leaving only bangs and “sideburns”) [I don’t know if “bash” is the proper term for this ‘do, but my research into “skinhead” hairstyles turned up some bigoted shit I’d rather not read; my high-school girlfriend, Erica, about whom I’ve written in my 1989 diary entries, and who originally cut my hair in the style, called it a “bash” so I do, too.], so I did not look like the typical mall employee of the day.

My appearance invited inquiry, mostly of the stupid variety.  “Did getting that tattoo hurt?” or, “What do your parents think about your nose being pierced?” or, “What are you going to do later when you want to get a real job?”

Being in the customer service game I tried to be polite, but sometimes I gave them the whole truth, which they usually did not appreciate: “Yes, tattoos hurt, a lot” or, “My parents have nothing to do with my life so I don’t really care what they think of my pierced nose, or anything else” or, “I’ll probably figure out how to wear shirts with sleeves if I think my tattoos will affect my employment detrimentally.”

Sometimes I met people who were fascinated by me.  Not because I was all that fascinating, but because I wasn’t ashamed of how I looked, I guess.  One such gentleman gave me his business card.  He told me he was a lawyer, which is why he had “Esq.” following his name on the card.

We talked and it came out that he wanted me to play a dominatrix in a movie he was producing.  I had NO acting aspirations, but I was intensely interested in exploring my desire for power play.  He told me he lived in Manhattan and I would need to go there to audition for him.

He said he’d fly me to him for the audition, but in the mean time I needed to lose weight.  He offered to pay me $10 per pound I lost.  I began jogging nightly.  Being nineteen and living in South Pasadena meant being able to jog late at night, because I was dumb, and because the city was very safe (luckily).

South Pasadena is quite pretty with a lot of jacaranda trees, the fallen lavender blooms of which look amazing in contrast to green grass.  I lived in a studio apartment ($395 per month) across the street from a middle school.  It was quite idyllic.  Jogging at night had a certain scent that I loved.

The guy, let’s call him Mr. Schwartz, sent me a plane ticket.  This was back in the day when an actual plane ticket was required in order to board a plane.  And when people used this thing called the US Postal Service.  It was also back in the day when one could board a plane without fear of being strip-searched by a team of morons.  But I digress ….

At the time I didn’t realize how cheap Mr. Schwartz was by flying me to New York:  coach via an indirect flight through the Dallas Ft. Worth airport.  I know now that he was a cheap ass.  At the time I was just excited to fly so far.  Up to that point it was the farthest I’d gone from my lifetime home, California.  And of course going to New York had been a fantasy for years, so I looked past (or was too inexperienced to notice) a lot.

I flew into LaGuardia.  Mr. Schwartz had given me explicit instructions on what to say to a cab driver to get me to his apartment.  I think he was on either the Upper East Side or Upper West Side–he was on 60-something Street, I think; he was definitely close to Central Park.  He lived in a high-rise building with a door man, which I thought was so New York.

I arrived at his apartment and he gave me a tour.  It was a two-bedroom apartment with great views.  Even at my tender age and ignorance of real estate I realized that the view of the Empire State Building was fucking amazing.

He showed me to my room, which he told me was his daughters’ room when they stayed with him.  That’s when I learned that both of his daughters were older than I, though by a very few number of years.  At the time I thought nothing of it; now I know it’s fucking horrifying.

Even creepier:  I was a full thirty years younger than Mr. Schwartz; he was 49 years old.

Mr. Schwartz also showed me his insulin supply:  he was diabetic and wanted me to know what I needed to do should he need some medical aid.  I remember pretty much ignoring what he told me and thinking that I had no interest in giving this old guy any sort of medicinal attention.

After I put my stuff away Mr. Schwartz and I went out to a Chinese restaurant to eat.  During the meal I told him that I had given it some thought but that I wasn’t so interested in playing the dominatrix role.  I told him I was more comfortable playing the submissive role in a movie.

Mr. Schwartz was very amenable to my seemingly-sudden switch (pun intended, though not completely understood at the time).  After dinner we went back to his place.

I next recall (this was fifteen years ago) that we were on the bed of “my” bedroom.  He lay on the bed.  I remember him asking me to pay with his “friends.”  I was confused.  What friends?  Was someone else showing up?

The friends?  His balls!  Yes, he called his balls his friends.  To this day I have not encountered a man who calls his balls his friends, with or without irony.

As part of the “audition” process he had to see if I could take pain.  He spanked me.  I don’t recall if he used anything other than his hand, but I think he may have.  Following the spanking he soothed my burning bum with witch hazel-soaked cotton.  I think that was a nice touch.

We then slept in our respective bedrooms.  I didn’t close the blinds so I could see the view of Manhattan as I drifted off to sleep.

To be continued ….

I swear.  True story.