Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax
{twelve tens off seventieth}
  julene huffman

Any female over the age of 25 that claims she's never thought about selling her time, good looks or wit to a stranger is lying. This isn’t to say that she would take it beyond that first consideration, that she’d ever actually be handed a stack of twenties earned by filling the hole in some man’s life for an hour or two. Most women stop short of action, be it out of good old-fashioned morality or fear of getting caught.

But what if a girl could take the money without spreading her legs? Ah – now there is a gray area that one could call a ‘line’. And then a girl could proceed to toe ever so delicately over said line. When I’m talking about “a girl” like this it’s clear I mean this girl. Me.

I signed up for an account on a website that might as well have been called fuckyoupayme.com -- or, more aptly, iwon’tfuckyoupayme.com -- uploaded a selection of G-rated photos and wrote a textbook About Me paragraph; dropping more hints about the types of expensive things I’m interested in than about the deeper facets of my personality. That seemed the best course of action; these guys weren’t going to be as interested in “the real me” so much as who they needed me to be. To keep it brief, let’s just say I’m young, pretty, and tattooed. Safely edgy, I guess? Regardless, it’s fair to assume me to be utterly, completely different from any girl they'd been out with before.

It’s like wanting to date a boy with a motorcycle when you're in high school; he's got a leather jacket and perfectly slicked back hair that tends to fall in his face a la Johnny Depp in Crybaby. That's what I told myself as I set up the account, anyway; the truth is, I covet the idea of finding happiness through the possession of expensive things—things I don’t need, but assume will make me a happier person. Since I make a meager wage when you consider the sheer cost of living in Manhattan, finding affluent 30-something guys willing to pay for my time seemed a more realistic approach.

By the time I logged back out, visions of dollar signs and brand name shopping sprees danced in my head. After a few days, I received a wink and an offer of $120 to go on a date with Will, a self-described average guy, in all aspects. His default photo shows him in a white kitchen apron and chef's hat, arms crossed, shooting the lens an overarching "mean-mug" expression. His profile doesn't reveal much more than mine, but I accept his offer and send him a message.

hi will,

so while this guess is based solely on appearances (i mean, you do have a photo of yourself all “chef'd out”...) i feel like you may have to pick the restaurant for our first date.

when's good for you?


Yeah, that's right - Jenny. You didn't think I’d go to all the trouble of signing up for this account without first protecting my identity, did you? As suggested by the numerous exposé-cum-essays written by other women that have gone down this road before, I selected a fake but believable alias and setup a Google Voice number through which I could field calls and text messages. Preservation of my anonymity handled, I consciously decided I would disregard online suitors with profiles that smacked of aggressiveness or douchiness; instead relying on my ability to sniff out the hallmarks of men that one could describe only as “feeble.”

But when Will responded, he spelled Jenny with an extra ‘e’ -- and he didn't get my playful, obvious reference to his profile photo. At best, I thought, he was just a little stupid, or maybe he had a mild case of Asperberger's at the worst. I agreed to meet him on a Tuesday night, because pay or nay, fuck if I was going to give up the prime social real estate that makes up my weekend.

Of course, the place he suggested on the west end of 29th Street was well outside my stomping grounds. Confusingly, he suggested meeting at the 38th Street entrance of Penn Station. Just because I don’t hang out in Midtown, doesn’t mean I can’t spot a serious directional error when I see one. There’s no entrance for Penn Station on 38th Street - nowhere close. Instead of opening the door to making him feel bad by pointing this out, I say I’ll see him there; figuring that by the time we’re both in the neighborhood he’ll realize his error.

Since he was forking out the cash to be seen with a pretty girl, I dolled up a bit - red dress, full face of makeup, a blazer, sensible black flats in case I had to run for it... and I took the train uptown; the point of this excursion was to make money, not spend it.

Up at street level, I receive several paranoid-sounding texts asking where I am. Based on the timestamps, he arrived early with a bad case of The Nerves. When I call him to work out where he is - and if it happens to be anywhere near Penn Station - it’s clear he is directionally challenged. And this, in the era of the Smart Phone, is extremely frustrating.

By the time I spot him, he’s still clueless about what corner he’s on; still walking aimlessly (despite our agreement that he “stay put”) and furiously typing into his phone instead of watching for me. Converse to my outfit's mixed messages (a flashy red dress will always look out of place when paired with “sensible” black flats) his signal is clear: as promised, he is average. And by average, I mean he clearly does not know his own height or weight, which sits clearly outside the bounds of his profile claim of “average”—seventy pounds outside, if I had to put a number on it. I have to hand it to him, though; he hid it well in the full-body photos he posted.

It's not that I didn't know it would be "like that" - I did. But any girl that gets on one of these websites is quietly hoping she'll stumble across the equivalent of Richard Gere’s character in 'Pretty Woman'. Seeing how I am nothing like Julia Roberts (frizzy brown hair aside), it made perfect sense that I wound up on a date with a guy that thrust a single, embarrassing rose wrapped in cellophane into my hands within seconds of saying hello and looked little, if anything, like his photos.

We got in a cab to go to the restaurant he’d picked out, which I’d noted upon Googling was just off the water somewhere in Chelsea. Assuming Will knew where we were headed as he gave the cab driver the address, I turned my full attention to semi-awkward small talk. This is how we wound up off 70th instead of 29th.

After walking down to the tiny bar we spotted off the pier, Will looked more than a little crest-fallen upon realizing we were more than forty blocks from his intended destination. “We could just make the best of it – I mean, there’s still somewhere for us to sit down, right?” I suggested. Will nodded in agreement, but for a moment I wondered if he was going to cry.

Our verbal exchange became easier, thanks to the small plastic cups of wine in front of us - we talked about jobs (I made one up... something vaguely tech-related) and books and TV shows. It was like going out with a lonely D&D addict; he idolized Andrew Jackson, went to boarding school, and lived somewhere in New Jersey working part time in a liquor store, occasionally cooking for small catering gigs.

“So – what do you expect to come out of being on the site?” he asked. After I finished giving him the runaround—managing to incorporate that I was “looking for friends” while simultaneously “not sure”, he started telling me about the other women he’d met. I didn’t want to believe that a crying semi-prostitute had regaled Will with the details of her recent abortion, or that another girl admitted she’d only joined the site after things with her sugar daddy had gone awry. His emphatic use of words like “stupid” and “slutty” to describe these women didn’t make much sense, given that he’d still asked them out. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to make me feel better about myself by comparison or paint himself as some kind of Captain Save-A-Ho, but when he rolled up the sleeve of his fleece pullover to show me his tattoo – a fleur de lis he claimed signified his dedication to some kind of Knight’s Code – it was so hard not to laugh. I sat there, giving the appropriate head-nods and exclamations of surprise at his stories while visualizing the cash that would be in my hand before midnight. It was 10:30 and the wind was picking up when I suggested we grab a cab back towards the train station – I did, after all, have work in the morning.

Once he mentioned he was going to Atlantic City to celebrate his birthday by himself I tuned him out entirely, ignoring the hint that if we were seeing each other by then that he’d consider taking me along. While en route back to Penn Station, he passed me in an Altoids tin with the $120 inside.

Our street side farewell was as uncomfortably clumsy as you'd imagine. The outward curve of his gut against my torso as we hugged put me at a distance, and I panicked when I felt the soft roundness of his cheek against mine. Was I supposed to kiss him? I let my lips graze the side of his face, and my stomach turned. I took a step backwards, praying he wouldn’t assume my forced display of affection could evolve into something more. Half a block out of his sight, I let the rose he’d given me fall out of my hand and into the hunter-green abyss of a city trashcan.

I don't know if the pang of remorse I felt stemmed from the fact that I’d accepted the six crisp twenties from a chubby 23 year-old I’d met through the internet, or that I'd thrown the rose away the moment I was out of the lonely boy’s sight.

The gnawing continued to build as I walked to the train, discovered the F wasn’t running, and used $10 on a cab back home instead of trudging home; firmly swathed in guilt held fast by the wind.