My doorbell rings at noon. I open the door and see a striking woman about five years older than me.  She has perfectly coiffed, shoulder-length brown hair, big round Channel eyes glasses, a shapely designer black dress, silk stockings, black pumps, a few thousand dollar-worth Gucci bag, gold jewelry, and an amazing perfume that I can’t quite recognize but almost knocks me off my feet. 

In the Village, she looks totally out of place. Very Boca Raton, Florida. And she’s looking at me equally aghast.  I’m dressed right for this neighborhood but not for where she’s coming from: ripped white jean shorts, a green sleeveless blouse tied with a belt around my waist, a cheap Indian necklace, and white flip-flops.

“Come in,” I say, giving her my most gracious smile.  All I can think is thank God she’s from out from town, because otherwise she’d know that she belongs on the Upper East Side, not here. “Would you like to take a look around?”

Beata goes straight to the window and looks at the view: walk-ups, street merchants, and lots of people walking, a mix of funky locals and swarms of tourists and B&Ts.

“It’s nice and quiet here,” I say, and of course, as soon as I finish my sentence, a screeching car alarm goes off and then the clunking shrill of an ambulance. “They do this everywhere in New York when they want to skip a red light. Everyone finds it not only annoying but totally unnecessary.”

Beata smiles and takes a peek in the bedroom then comes back to the living room and sits on my couch, all business.

“Nine hundred you said?”

“Yes, plus half of the utilities.”

She pauses and purses her lips, and I expect a polite refusal. I simply cannot imagine this woman living in my apartment.  Just by looking at her I can tell she’s a neat freak. It’s good I cleaned the apartment right before she arrived. It’s a drag, but I do it every two weeks.

Beata stares alarmed at my left arm. “May I ask why you have a prison tattoo? Are you an ex-convict?”

“Oh, no.  I lost a bet against my ex-boyfriend.  I did it here, down the street, one night after I drank like a stupid head.”

Beata purses her lips again. I know she hates my tattoo, but she’s polite. “It’s very nice. They did a wonderful job.”

“So do you want to take the room?” I just want to get it over with. I know she’s probably counting the seconds before she’s out of here. “It’s okay if you don’t… I’ve just lost my job, this is why I placed this ad, I am trying to cut down on my expenses, but I’m not desperate, I have some money saved.…” I’m lying nonchalantly. 

“I’ll take it,” Beata cuts me off.


“I’m a Polish Jew and this is right in the Polish neighborhood. It would be lovely to spend some time here."

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m an interior designer, I travel a lot. Short trips, long trips. I’ll rarely be home.”

It sounds busy and high-paying enough: “Great.”

Beata leaves and shows up at 6 p.m. with two Louis Vuitton suitcases, and a handyman who installs a lock on the bedroom door. Then she disappears, like she had said she would, for a week: a trip to Boston.

Before she vanishes she tells me that her name means blessing. All I can think is that she’s indeed a blessing for me. The money I got from her covers the entire expense of my rent-controlled apartment, and it comes at a desperate time when I have no job, no unemployment and no idea how to pay my bills.

Beata returns one night looking as fabulous as always. As soon as she greets me, she looks around and frowns.

“This stray sock is still here? It was here, in this crease of the futon, five days ago.”

Embarrassed, I grab the sock and throw it in my laundry basket, although it has a hole in it, and I will probably just throw it away tomorrow. I hear her say behind me, “Sorry, but I am a neat freak.”

Oh, I know that. And I half like it, half hate it.  When I turn back around, she’s opening her purse and taking out a jewelry box and a bottle of Flower by Kenzo.

“Let’s see what Larry got me….” she says.

I restrain from asking who Larry is, and watch her pull out a beautiful silver necklace from the box.

“How awful! What an idiot!” she sighs. “Larry knows I only like gold. And this is so small. Like a piece he had in his house for his upcoming granddaughter’s bar mitzvah. Here, you can have it,” she says and offers me the box as if it’s just a piece of junk.

I take it, because these days I count pennies on groceries and can’t afford any new jewelry. Then she opens the perfume bottle and makes an appalled face.

“How expensive do you think this is?”

“I don’t know, about forty to sixty bucks?”

“Boaz is such a cheap schmuck! He went to Europe and this is all he brought me back.” She sprays a bit of perfume on her wrist and sniffs it. “I don’t like this fragrance. Smells like cockroach spray. You can have it.”

I smell it. Granted, it’s not the best perfume I’ve ever sniffed, but it’s not that bad. I take it.

Beata comes and goes every week and when she’s here she is either scrubbing, or killing me with kindness. I never knew that having a roommate can be so much fun. She’s almost never home, and when she is, she’s better than Santa Claus, showering me with gifts from fancy places where I’ve never shopped before: Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, and Barneys. I don’t know whether these gifts come from happy interior design clients or from admirers or from people who qualify as both.

Upon each of her rare arrivals, she first cleans and scrubs everything. The apartment gleams for the first time in the last hundred years or so since it was built.  The only downside is that she spends hours in the tiny bathroom taking long scented baths, scrubbing her skin, grooming her face and body with masks and perfumed lotions, and coiffing her hair to glossy perfection. She used to be an award-winning hair-dresser, before she became a designer, and she’s amazing at it.

“So, tell me about the last house you decorated,” I venture to ask one night. I put down the art book borrowed from the public library and look at her expectantly.

“Ah. I’m not really a designer. I’m studying to become one,” she says, but it’s hard to swallow because I’ve never seen her open a book.

“Then what’s your real job?”

“I work as an independent escort. I have a few regulars and some one-timers who rent my services for their business trips. I love doing business trips.” 

This is at once appalling and unbelievably exciting.

“What are they like?” I ask, breathless.

“Either short, fat, old, ugly, semi-impotent and married—or all of those things,” she replies with a flat voice. “The one I’ve been with this week lives in Brooklyn.  Big and hairy.  All white.  When his wife goes away, I stay with him for a few days. He’s totally harmless; he hasn’t gotten it up in years, Viagra and all.  He only wants to go down on me for hours which I find pretty annoying—because for me shorter is better, as you can imagine.  I hate it when they waste time trying to make me come. And they all seem obsessed with this.”

My stomach churns.  I look at this clean, beautiful woman and I imagine a big-bellied, hairy bozo licking her and I don’t understand how she can do it.

“You don’t need to love someone to be, uh, intimate with them?”

Beata looks at me surprised with her big, round, dark eyes. A faint smile flies over her perfectly rouged lips.

“I don’t believe in love anymore.  I married for love.  I was young, innocent; a starry-eyed immigrant. My husband threw me out when he got bored and brought in his next wife from Mexico. He kicked me out in the streets with no job, before I even received my permanent green card.  My parents in Poland were both dead and I had nobody to go back to. Now, I’ve heard he’s brought in another immigrant from Russia. Forever Love is just a glorified name for Temporary Lust and Mutual Interest. I only believe in money. I want to have lots and lots of money.”

I feel bad for Beata, but suddenly I know I don’t want her in my apartment any longer. I attempt to say something to this effect, but my lips don’t move. I don’t want to seem judgmental.

“I’m sorry that you’re so bitter.”

“Don’t be sorry for me. I make five grand in a good week. Be sorry for you. How much do you make?”

What I love about strangers and out-of-towners is that you don’t have to pretend. Asian Cowboy is surprisingly handsome.  He is a Korean and Irish mix, mom Korean, dad Irish, with dark blue eyes and a little goatee.  Unlike people in New York, he has a healthy tan and looks like someone who spends time outdoors. He is in town for a conference on fiber optics for two days. He arrived last night and leaves tomorrow morning. His name is Dennis Lee and he’s thirty-nine. But he looks barely thirty.

We sit on two tall stools in a cozy Italian wine bar on Avenue B.

“How’s your life in the Big Apple?” he asks me. 

“I lost my job Tuesday,” I blurt out right of the bat. “Nobody is hiring and I haven’t yet figured out what I am going to do next. Are you a scientist?”

“No, I work in marketing.” 

After a quick warm-up drink at 7:25 p.m. we cross the street and enter the mysterious address. It turns out that the Curious Frog Theater is actually a company that rented a large first floor studio for the show. The play takes place in the kitchen and the audience sits on twenty stools around the kitchen walls and in the main room.  We have first row, orchestra seats, against one of the kitchen walls.

I never dreamed I would see True West by Sam Shepard in a full-Asian cast in a New York living room.  The play starts slowly but gradually the intensity picks up and towards the end the two brothers are smashing everything in the kitchen, to my awe, delight and finally stress that I may get hit. In the last scene, Austin, one of the two feuding brothers in the play, is so close he steps by accident on my pinky toe.


We applaud enthusiastically at the end of the show, and return to the wine bar where the owner had kindly promised to set aside the half bottle of wine we couldn’t finish before the show.

“You know, I haven’t even told my parents about my job,” I say sipping my leftover wine. “Funny, I’ve told you.”

“Why didn’t you tell them?”

“Because I left a job as a bank teller with full benefits in Buffalo to work for cash-only in an art gallery on the Lower East Side. I don’t even qualify for unemployment and if I tell them I lost my job, I’m only going to hear ‘I told you so.’”

 “In hindsight, do you think it was a mistake?”

“Not, at all. I discovered a world that I truly like.  I’ve learned a lot about art.”

This must have sounded a little bit pompous, but he didn’t seem to mind. I take a sip of my red wine and look at him over the brim flirtatiously. “Now it’s your turn to tell me something you haven’t told anyone.”

Dennis looks sideways and smiles like someone who hides more than a juicy tale. 

“I know I am leaving tomorrow, but I’d love to see you again. I can come here for another weekend. This time just for fun. Would you…”

“Dennis, this is a lovely proposition, but I don’t think this could lead anywhere. I don’t dream of the house with the picket fence. I can’t picture myself in the suburbs anytime soon or ever again. I just escaped from there last year.”

I pause and don’t let him off the hook yet. “So, you have nothing to lose. We’ll never see each other again.  Tell me your darkest secret.” 

“Okay. But it’s going to be a little bit shocking.”

“Go ahead.”

“My divorce was devastating for me. My wife, who I once loved very much, became my worst enemy. She took my house, the house that I paid for and built, she took my kids, and I give 60% of what I make every year to her and the kids. I worked hard for many years to get this marketing top job, and now, compared to my un-divorced peers, I live like a student.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Hold on. It gets worse. Since my divorce, I withdrew emotionally from having a normal relationship with any woman. I have a paralyzing fear of investing in anyone and anything again and run the risk to subject myself to this kind of pain again. Love, warmth, giving came to horrify me. Because the last time I felt them, it turned into a nightmare.”

Dennis finishes his drink and pours himself more wine.  I still don’t quite understand where he’s going.

“So, I’ve become sort of a predator. At the beginning I would go on Craigslist, meet a sweet woman like you, and pretended that I wanted to have a relationship with her, talk about marriage and babies, and, as soon as she fell in love with me, I dumped her and withdrew. Then I’d search for someone new and start all over. There are a few women in the Bay Area that I’ve made miserable.  One even threw a bottle of vodka at my head. I ducked in time. Then, I streamlined my operations, just to skip on the drama, and in the last year or so, I’ve only gone on Craigslist for straightforward hookups. I make it very clear that all I want is sex with no strings attached. In and out.  Or an open relationship at best. If you look on Craigslist, there are many guys like me. Most, I would say, some more forthright than others. I don’t say it to defend myself, just as a fact. I am telling you this as I would tell my little sister.”

“Oh, thanks,” I say a bit dumbfounded, and I don’t know if it’s due to  the second glass of wine or his sad story. “So, avoiding any deep emotional connection gives you a feeling of protection.”

“And control. Call it emotional anesthesia.”

“Whoa.” It’s the only wise, brilliant remark I come up with, but he doesn’t seem to mind my lack of conversational genius, and he goes on: 

“Escape from hurt and anxiety. This is what all men want." 

I’m sitting at a table in the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant, a glorified diner, and I’m sipping a Bloody Mary while André, my Craigslist date, is doing his “pitch.” He is a 30-year-old video editor recently arrived from France; he lives with a couple of other guys in Brooklyn; he is smart, sassy, and can have “any girl he wants;” but he liked my post, not because he is a Bon Jovi fan but because he also happened to be lonesome and horny tonight. In the looks department he’s anything but Bon Jovi.  He’s got dark hair and eyes, yet he’s quite masculine in a way that I quite like.

“You only received four answers?” André asks me.

“Weird, right? I was expecting much more…”

“I guess it’s because the post was not in-your-face-enough. Had you simply said ‘I love giving blow jobs’ you’d have had 200 responses in one hour,” André says expertly, and starts describing his various experiences on Craigslist. Although he’s new in New York he has learned the ropes pretty fast. “There are several types of posts. First, women who want to date a nice guy for a boyfriend situation.  Second, women who are searching for something extremely specific, because on Craigslist you can be brutally honest, right? Like ‘I want a guy who makes over 150 grand a year, has blue eyes, is a Leo, works in finance, loves bridge and squash and loves to go down on a woman.  Or, only guys driving a Pontiac may apply.’ Third, women who want sex with no strings attached. Fourth: pros or semi-pros looking for sugar daddies or for fast money to cover certain expenses. And lastly, spammers who post fake ads to get email addresses. Of the non-pros and non-spammers, a guy has to watch out for red flags, such as the word curvy. It always means fat. By the time he weeds out the curvy, pros, non-pros, and spammers there’s almost nobody left.  It’s tough!”

André leans back in his chair and looks me in the eyes:

“So, it’s really hard to be a guy on Craigslist because there are way more men than women looking for N.S.A...  I’m really happy we hooked up tonight.”

“Swan, I need your help tomorrow, Sunday at 8 p.m.  The gentleman’s name is Bill. He’s a film producer and needs a young date for a red carpet premiere for the new Oliver Stone movie at the Paris Theater. His wife, who was a famous model, left him last year and moved to France indefinitely taking the kids with her.  He’s a regular. He doesn’t want to have sex with any of the girls. He’s just looking for companionship, occasional massages, and mostly some girlfriend experience. You get $250 for your time at the movie. And may get another $250 if you go with him afterwards for a chat and a drink for a couple of hours or so. Call me when you’re done. I emailed him your picture but just in case, please take a red rose to the premiere so he can spot you right away.”

Five hundred bucks and a red carpet movie premiere? This job has turned out to be fantastic! I start jumping up and down with joy yelling as if I’ve won the lottery; just like all the silly girls in the Village that I’ve always ridiculed. Shocked, Amal, comes out of his room, his cell to his ear as usual, to inquire why I am screaming. My burst of joy has taken him so much by surprise that instead of putting his girlfriend on hold, he tells her “he’s going to call her right back.” This means he is extremely intrigued.

“I’m going to a red carpet event tomorrow night,” I tell him in one breath.

“For what movie?”

“The new Oliver Stone movie.”

“This is super cool. How do you get there?”

“With a big film producer as a date,” I blurt out recklessly. As soon as I say it I know it is a mistake. I wish I can take it back, but the cat’s out of the bag.

“Where did you meet him?”

“Uhm.  Online,” I say vaguely.

 Amal looks at me and doesn’t seem to comprehend.

“Craigslist,” I add.

“Really? Good for you!” That’s all he says. Of course, what he must think is why would a big film producer pick up dates on a website for normal people, creeps, and losers? But he is way too polite to hint at this.

Speaking of films, Amal is the black and white negative of Beata. He is a 22-year old virgin, studies philosophy, and is madly in love with a blonde English girl named Sarah, who is also a virgin and a practicing Catholic from the School of Social Science. They met last Christmas at a party on the Cambridge campus.  Her parents are against her marrying a Hindu Indian man of dark skin color, but he hopes that her family opposition will fade away if their love stands the test of time, and whatever other tests fate will bring. They spend hours every day on the phone. They tell each other everything and never get tired of it. Amal calls Sarah as soon as he wakes up and keeps the phone to his ear as long as possible. They do everything together from peeing and brushing their teeth to walking on the street and strolling in the park. In short, they are each other’s iPod, which I find sweet, but excessive. The wild passion Sarah stirs in the wonderful soul of Amal intrigues me, so I ask him to show me her photo, but he refuses. He only said she is extremely smart, educated, and beautiful.

“But what about your boyfriend Toby?” Amal asks me candidly. “Are you going to tell him that you’re going to see a film with another guy?”