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Sex: The Multiplicity of Desire


“We’re a couple,” she says. “We’re happy. We’re still in that glowy part. At my age, I know there’s no logic to it. At the end of the day, I guess we’re all just DNA and hormones. We want to feel. Love feels good.”

The song ends. The man she’s been watching, her boyfriend, breaks apart from the woman he’s been dancing with, a stranger, and exchanges his first words with her: “Thank you.” He returns to her at the table, sits down beside her. He takes her hand in his.

Three O’Clock in the Morning, Still Working
Ladies of the night in Hunts Point.

During the day, the Hunts Point section of the Bronx thrums, home to one of the busiest food-distribution facilities in the world. Very late at night, however, it is desolate, with dozens of the diesel trucks that rumble through its one square mile lining the industrial roads leading to the water. Inside some of the dark cabs are women performing sex acts on the drivers.

And yet, if tonight is any indication, Hunts Point’s reputation as the city’s most notorious red-light district might be rooted in some nostalgia. There is, of course, the downturned economy. More so, there is the Internet, which has all but decimated street prostitution as an industry. The result is two particular types of johns outstanding: those without online access and those whose fetish is the clandestine public hunt. After the thunderstorm, it has turned chilly, and Vanilla and Tiffany are among the few women still out, a few blocks up Hunts Point Avenue from the water. The traffic is light. Barely dressed, smacking gum, they teeter in giant heels between parked cars, differentiating between the occasional NYPD cruiser—mostly, it seems, they and the police adopt tactics of avoidance—and the cars whose passenger windows lower, drivers in shadow asking, “How much?”

The answer appears to be variable, but in this instance, driving a hard bargain, they agree to talk to me for ten minutes in exchange for $60. (Vanilla, who does the negotiating, will later claim the price was for each.) We are standing just off the road in a courtyard of a tall brick housing project inside of which, in the stairwell, Vanilla has just finished sucking one man’s penis and Tiffany riding another’s. They leave little doubt that, given the choice, they’d prefer to engage in paid sex than paid introspection.

They are, and they seem to know this, archetypes. Roommates, they met through work. Vanilla is 21, originally from the Dominican Republic, round. Tiffany is 22, from outside Poughkeepsie, thinner, more inclined to smile. Both have various words and symbols tattooed on them. Both come from families they describe as fairly stable—Tiffany’s mother is a nurse, her father a truck driver; she was introduced to the business by a high-school friend. Vanilla was brought here by a pimp at 13. In the beginning, they could make $2,000 a night, which fueled manic material consumption: “Fendi, Gucci, Prada.” Now it is far less. Each has seen two men so far tonight. The stated price for a blowjob is $50, sex double; they prefer the stairwell, but cars and truck cabs are most common; all men can be brought to climax within the allotted fifteen minutes, most far sooner. The men are all the same, always married, always complaining about their wives, from cops to construction workers to unemployed: “Dogs.” There is no end to their cravenness. Each woman has been raped repeatedly. What they have learned is to trust their instincts. They are, they admit, scared. Vanilla has three kids; Tiffany has two. None of them live with their mother. Vanilla is thinking of going to school to become a nurse. Tiffany plans to be a dental assistant. Each wishes she never started, but will give herself another year or two more. Tonight has been slow so far. Both light another cigarette.

“Can we speed this up?” asks Vanilla.

Closing Time, I Know Who I Want to Take Me Home
Last call at Union Pool, Williamsburg.

At the back of Union Pool, a bar in Williamsburg, packs of the very drunken—hipsters and fraternity/sorority types and where the two converge—guzzle their drinks, screaming over the noise. Up against a far wall, a guy wearing a vintage Phillies baseball cap and Converse sneakers leans into a girl wearing an unflattering but apparently ironic pair of mom jeans, a tattoo of an eye on her arm. Their tongues dart in and out of each other’s mouths.

She has to pee. As she begins walking away, he grabs her hand, pulls her back, kisses her again, and she kisses him back, then walks off again, laughing. He smiles, takes a gurgle of his beer, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and abruptly turns to look at me. I’ve been standing next to them for a few minutes, trying to be inconspicuous while writing in a tiny notebook.


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