Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Working Girls

The last time I can remember being as embarrassed as I was this afternoon was in the spring of 1974. I had just turned 17, and was on a trip to Amsterdam with my family. I had been living in the Netherlands for six months at that stage (vlodrop) and it had been my job to choose and book hotels, and generally make all the arrangements for the trip, so I was a little on edge to begin with. Plus there was that whole 17-year old's embarrassment at being seen in public with one's family thing. Fortunately, everyone else seemed to be having the time of their life, so things were pretty OK, until my mother announced at dinner that, after dinner, she wanted to see the red-light district. En famille.

Horrified silence. Followed by the expected moans of despair from my sister and me. Slightly bemused acquiescence from my father. We all knew that resistance was futile - once Mom had made up her mind, things just went her way.

I'm sure her behavior that evening was entirely gracious, because my mother was one of the most gracious people that walked the earth. But just the concept of wandering through the red-light district, while one's parents pointed at, and commented on, the prostitutes in the windows was almost too much for my adolescent psyche to deal with.

It got worse. We passed by a particularly lurid "sex boutique", with prominent display of toys and much latex in the window, when my mother announced her intention of going in. Jesus! All three of us tried to dissuade her, but she would have none of it. "I'm a doctor, for God's sake - what do you think - that they will kidnap me for the white slave trade. I´m going in, and anyone who stays outside here shivering is a sissy."

Much against our better judgement, we followed her in. Best to keep her in sight at all times. I kept waiting for the bouncer-guy to come over and give me grief, for the obvious crime of bringing my parents to this den of iniquity, and was somewhat aggrieved, when after giving us the once-over, he just gave a big wink. Relative quiet for a minute or so - I'm busy trying to remain as distant as possible from the gay magazine section, and mother is busy leafing through some display copies of assorted skin mags. Dad is looking distinctly uncomfortable, and sister is muttering possible death threats under her breath.

Then came the three minutes that I wanted to erase from memory for the next five years at least. Mother suddenly hunches up uncontrollably in a corner of the store, for all the world as if undergoing some kind of medical emergency. My third year med school sister starts to look nervous. The bouncer comes over to make sure everything's OK. Dad looks totally panicked.
My mom was subject to occasional severe bouts of asthma. We are hundreds of miles from home, in a foreign country. In the red-light district of a foreign country. Hell - in a sleazy sex boutique deep in Europe's most notorious red-light district. Meanwhile, mother is making these choking noises, gasping for breath. Suddenly, I'm a little scared.

The medical emergency? Mother had discovered a magazine for those with specific mammary interests (for some reason, I don't think it was called the obvious "Juggs", but was called something like "Suckulent"). The cover involved a buxom (very buxom) black model doing things with her breasts that one might otherwise have considered an anatomical impossibility, were it not for the lurid photographic documentation of same. This cause my mother to giggle uncontrollably, and the more she tried to stop giggling, the worse it got. We all know how that works.

It took her several minutes to be able to come back to normal. Furthermore (and worst of all, in my book), it was clear she was enjoying herself thoroughly. Because, just when she seemed to be gaining control, she would pick up the magazine, open to another page, point weakly, say "look at this one, Jack", and dissolve all over again. Eventually, the bouncer had to bring her a glass of water to help her regain control. By now, I was actively hoping that we would be thrown out, but no such luck.

In defence of my whiny, self-absorbed 17-year old self - I was 17, for crying out loud. And, I don't think that my embarrassment had all that much to do with the sex angle (let's face it, the fluorescent lit grubbiness of an Amsterdam sex shop is about as erotic as a cauliflower soufflé).

Today's incident really had very little to do with the sex angle either.
(to be continued)


Meera Hyphenated said...

Okay, I'm dying to hear the next installment. This is almost as good as the Wilbur Chronicles!

O'Donovan said...

MORE! This is torment, David!