Part 44: Hollywood, Whoring, Holland, and Haze.
Oil painting, "Jenny" by Jan Svetlik.
It’s Sunday, September 20, 2020. On Tuesday, the air was at “unhealthy to breathe” levels. I donned a double mask, one for smoke and one for COVID-19, and headed outside to wait for my client, Courtney. (Yes, people still care about things like eyebrows, luckily for me.) Anyway, as I waited in the toxic haze, I heard a loud clanging sound. I looked across the street, and a tricked out, expensive bicycle had fallen off the kickstand onto the sidewalk. I watched this man, all in his sporty bicycle gear, picking up his bike, and then... he stopped to light a cigarette. Just as Courtney arrived, we locked eyes, and I gestured to the smoking bike man. “Did you see that guy?”
“Yeah, riding a bike in this smoke, with no mask, and then lighting up a cigarette. Insane.” Courtney opened my gate, then turned to glance at him again.
We watched as he put on his fancy bicycle helmet, strap it under his chin, and with his cigarette in his mouth, peddle away down the sidewalk.
“Why bother with the helmet?” I said, shaking my head.
Courtney and I talked about this 2020 dumpster fire, and if we'd survive it all still embracing humankind. Dealing with my judgements about other people has been a full time job.
Speaking of smoke and smokers, I’ve featured a painting for this blog my mother did back in the 70s of her then best friend, Jenny, above. Thank you to Thomas Schworer for fixing the damaged slide. It's still a little "blown out" but you can still appreciate the portrait of Jenny.
Jenny was super thin and flat chested, and looked like Mick Jagger’s little sister. She used to hang out at our house, smoking and complaining about whatever psycho dude she was married to— literally one sociopathic guy after another. I felt sorry for her kids, even when I was a kid. She lived with us on and off, as did other friends who were struggling. One guy moved to Hollywood with us from San Francisco his name was Jim Forshay. My mother said all Jim did while he lived with us was sit in his room smoking. Between Dad’s cigars and these smokers, I grew up in a cloud of bad air. But nothing prepares you for what is happening in our area. It's like a science fiction film outside. A dystopian nightmare.
This blog is almost a twenty-minute read, and includes excerpts from my father’s journal during the 1960s, another “Through the Ages” sex book sneak peek, and my own experience with a sex worker.
Also, Wix decided to change formats, so the print seems a little small, and I find it hard to read, so I made the whole text in bold. I might change it later. I’m calling the newly formatted blog “Riley Shepard’s Promise” because he could’ve done so much with his talent, and also... all the bullshit promises he made. Ok, back to the mid-1960s when Riley was writing books under the pen name Zachary Quill.
To recap, I was reunited with my father's (Riley Shepard) secret journal last year. The man who'd been storing my father's Encyclopedia of Folk Music perhaps didn't realize such a personal journal was in the boxes of stuff he had. I am working my way through my father's life, and we're still in the mid-1960s. Here's pages 28--33 of Riley's journal. During this time, Riley was writing sex books and pornography under the pen name Zachary Quill. We lived in Hollywood, moving several times around town. "Jan and Children" that is me, my sister, and my mother.
From previous blogs: Foy Willing was a Cowboy kind of an actor, he sang and made films. Marty Melcher was married to Doris Day. Riley and Marty met when they both worked for Lou Levy, and Marty was married to one of the Andrew Sisters. Marty Melcher died suddenly, and it turned out he was totally ripping off poor Doris Day. "Micheal and his wife" that wife was Jenny, in the painting, Michael, an abusive fuck face. He's dead now.
My father joined Chamber of Commerce? I cannot imagine him doing that, and yet, he did. I would breath in bad air for a full straight week rather than join the Chamber of Commerce.
I don't know who "Jimmy from Philadelphia" is. Perhaps I don't want to...
"Living at Criswell's" meant our landlord, "The Amazing Criswell" discussed in previous blogs. Notice here on page 29 Riley states he'd been writing "sex novels."
Riley often combined the news of the day with his journal.
Reminder: 6620 Selma is on the corner of Selma and Cassil and that is one of the buildings that Halo Meadows owned with her wacky husband, "The Amazing Criswell." The green pencil is me trying to figure something out.
This was when my parents separated for a short time. My mother couldn't take it anymore, the running out of money and food. She applied for food stamps and welfare. I was five, my sister was ten-years-old.
The green writing below is mine. I was trying to figure something out about the big earthquake,
When we lived in Criswell’s apartment building on Selma Street in a run down patch of Hollywood, our family could walk everywhere, and we had to, because we didn’t own a car. The Hollywood Walk of Fame was blocks away, so I saw all kinds of wacky people. My earliest childhood memories are at that apartment, and some of the eccentrics were our landlords and neighbors. We had a celebrity astrologist in the building named Maria Graciette, a British film maker and actress named Ann Noble, (she wrote the B movie “The Sins of Rachel”, and another movie about people being made into cat food). There was a guy in the next building over that our landlords owned, my mother referred to the guy as “Gypsy John”—- I was told he slept with his eyes wide open. Next door to us was a family my mother referred to as “Crazy Roy and his mother.” I was pointedly told to stay away from “Crazy Roy.” I don’t know anything else about them.
For fun, we’d (mostly me, Mom, and my sister) walk a few blocks away to a drug store which had a stage for talent shows, and ice cream cones in the back. The performers who took over the talent shows were drag queens. My mother called them transvestites, and we loved watching them. I didn’t know they weren’t women, and I began to dream that I would grow up to look like them, with big hair, fishnet hosiery, boa feathers, and super high heel shoes.
One night, when I was five-years-old, my mother took us to see the show, and as she stood in line to get our ice cream, I wandered away to the cosmetics aisle. There were three girls (real girls) there, with their skinny legs poking out of short skirts. I stood there, staring at them. I was captivated. They had lots of make-up on, and I thought that was so cool. Right as my mother came upon the scene, me, gazing at the girls with wide eyes, them looking at me looking at them, I told my mother, “they’re so pretty.”
"Here's your ice cream," Mom said, taking a firm grip on my free hand, whisking me away. She proceeded to try to explain in hushed tones what a hooker was, but of course I was too young to understand what she was saying. We went back to watching the drag show.
During this period of our lives, Riley was writing these funny books under the pen name Zachary Quill. In 2014, five years after my Dad died, I began finding some of them. Here's my original receipt from Abe Books. I think I paid $42.00. This book in the "Through the Ages" series was on prostitution.
Let's take a look inside...
I looked up Leonard Bishop. In a previous blog where I wrote about this book. Before he died in 2002, Bishop wrote ““I was no longer a low bum, a hobo, a loser, I had faced the challenge of opportunity and dared to claim it for my life.”
Below, Riley points out that the descendants of slaves are still fighting for their legal human rights.
Back to those creepy illustrations, below...no artist credit is given.
Here are the "Wiz" books written by other authors (below) that Riley was competing with.... "Entered in All The Wrong Places".
When I was a teenager, my father gave me a book of George Bernard Shaw plays. Mostly, he wanted me to read “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” which I did, and then we had a talk about it. The play is about a woman who uses the name Mrs. Kitty Warren to give the impression that she was married, but really, she runs a string of brothels. Her daughter, Vivie Warren, recently graduated from a university with top honors, and has no idea how her mother paid for her college, or how they acquired wealth. When Vivie finds out the truth, the shit hits the fan. Dad and I talked about the relationship between Mrs. Warren and Vivie, and why some people turn to prostitution, and others that judge them. I knew that my father thought prostitution should be legal, but as a teenager, I was already a “prude” as I mentioned, and extremely judgmental of others.
Now that I’ve read my Dad’s journal, I understand that he had girlfriends who were sex workers, and that he, too, lived on and off with wealthy women. (See the “oil heiress” in previous blogs). During the talk he gave me about the play “Mrs. Warren’s Profession”, Dad pointed out that he didn’t see the difference between women who married for money and prostitutes, and how hypocritical our culture is. In my teenage mind, I thought both ideas were “gross”-- I was repelled by the idea of prostitution and against the idea of marriage. I ended up getting married at age 28, and it worked out beautifully, but I still struggle with how to think about sex workers. During this pandemic, who is looking out for them? It’s such an unsafe situation in general, and especially now.
When I was thirty years-old and my husband, David, got a job choreographing a children’s show at Speel Theater in Holland, I went with him. We stayed there for three weeks in a house in the small town of Edam, and saw the Red Light District in the city briefly. Holland makes sex work legal to avoid the spread of STDs, and control the crime that sometimes surrounds prostitution, and probably to protect the workers from violence. Plus, it's taxable income. It’s simply pragmatic. The government also most likely provided the sex workers with PPE, or helped them financially if they had to shut down the Red Light District during COVID-19.
I had little understanding of how that would work here in the United States, or how it works now. Most people tend not to think about that part of our society, and if they do, it's about sex trafficking or abuse.
For some, it's a profession. I had one experience with a sex worker. I've only told a handful of people parts of this story. Here is the entire story, with all the twists and turns.
Early in my career as an esthetician, I had a string of bizarre coincidences that started with the sound of gunfire, and ended with a confession from an actor who performed in drag. After more than twenty-five years, I still can’t get the young man at the center of it all out of my head, even though I can’t remember his name. I shall call him “John”. I’ll call the actor/drag queen “Jake.”
John was extremely handsome, right out of a Calvin Klein ad, although there was something… a little rough around the edges, perhaps.
Right before I met John, something extreme happened in my so-called “good” neighborhood. It was around 1994. My husband, David and I (we were married about a year) had gone to bed around 11:00 PM. Our 1917 craftsman house, like the others along the block, was built before all the bars and coffee shops arrived. I had often wished we lived away from the delivery trucks, car alarms going off, and drunks yelling goodbyes to their buddies in the middle of the night.
I was used to hearing shouting and car doors slamming, especially when the bars let out, so sometimes I’d wake up, and then drift back off. It was a little after 2:00 AM when things got quiet, and I was sound asleep. Suddenly, I was roused from my slumber when I heard the sound of screeching brakes, a car honking loudly several times, then a man’s voice yelling, then another man shouting something, all in quick succession. My eyes flew wide open. WTF? Seconds later, the sounds of gunfire. POP! POP! POP! Six times in all. I flipped the blankets off my legs, my heart pumping wildly. I shook David’s shoulder. He was in a deep sleep.
“David, wake up. I heard a gun.” I said.
“What are you doing?” David said, still groggy, but awake enough to be annoyed.
“Didn’t you hear that? How could you not hear that?”
“It was a car backfiring. Go back to sleep.” This came out as an order. He punched his pillow and put his head back down.
“No. It was gunshots. I’m calling 911.”
“Don’t. Do not. It wasn’t bullets. Stop it. It was a car backfiring,” David yelled out. I was already by the phone in the living room.
We argued back and forth, time wasting, me in a panic, David still half asleep. I paced our small, dark living room with the cordless phone in my hand. I knew what I had heard. David's family lived in Marin County, they didn't have shootings nearby. He had no idea what a gunshot sounded like. I did. If it was gunfire, surely someone would call the police. Maybe someone would? Finally, I gave in and put the phone down.
Why did I cave in so easily? I knew I was right. It was early in our marriage, and I’d moved into his place. I still felt as if I was in his house, and I was a guest. The constant moving all my life made me feel like everything was temporary, including the home we lived in as a couple. At age 28, I was confused and felt unsure of myself, something I regret. My rational mind should’ve kicked in, since I knew what gunshots sound like. I should not have gone back to bed that morning. But that’s what I did.
By the time the gunshots— or the car backfiring— woke me that night, I had driven David nuts with what seemed to him to be hyper-vigilance since the day I’d moved in. “Why didn’t you lock the door?” I’d say with anger in my voice. Growing up, I wasn't sheltered from the crime in the areas where we lived. Now, I felt gaslighted. I tossed and turned for hours, the adrenaline coursing through every cell of my body.
The next day I was watching TV in the living room. The local news came on, and there, right in living color, a man was being interviewed from a hospital bed. He was young, with thick, curly blonde hair and large blue eyes, and he was explaining to someone off camera that a car had tailgated him, and in some unexplained fit of road rage, ended up shooting him multiple times, the bullets entering his back. This was right on the corner of Boston Street and Queen Anne Avenue. Our corner. My heart sank. I was right, and it was horrible to see this wounded person talking on the news about how someone tried to kill him. Did anyone call 911? Why didn’t I listen to my instincts?
I was so mad at myself. I couldn’t wait to tell David how it wasn’t a car backfiring at all— which I did with too much gloating. The over-zealous “I told you so” didn’t get the satisfaction I was after. The incident dogged my thoughts for weeks, and then slowly faded out of my mind, replaced by my new life; friends, work and building a clientele for my budding waxing and facial business.
Nine months later, I was busier at work than ever, working in a salon a block from my house. I had put that evening out of my mind for the most part, although I still had pangs of regret. I was at work when I got news that I had a new client coming in, a man.
“Someone referred a back wax to you today from a salon on Capitol Hill,” said the salon receptionist, Salma. When I was first hired, Salma told me she had been a ballerina in Iran, and she and her family fled the Shah. Now she was working at this place booking salon appointments. Salma often had a look of boredom on her face and I wondered if she hated the job. “He’ll be here any minute,” she added without looking at me.
I ran to my small, windowless room to turn on my wax so it would warm up in time, putting down a fresh sheet on the treatment bed. I went back out just in time to see a man coming in the door, walking up to the front desk. He looked healthy and unhealthy all at the same time; feral, tan, like Steve McQueen’s stand-in for the movies. He had a bewildered look on his face.
“Hi,” I said. “Are you my eleven o’clock?”
The man nodded, and started to say something, but stopped and shook his head.
“I’m Stacya,” I paused, unsure of why he had such an odd look on his face, adding, “You’re getting a back wax today, right?”
“Yeah. I’m John. Man... " he paused, shaking his head. "I never thought I’d be on this block again.”
“What?” I said. I was confused. Salma was on the phone trying to book a customer and I wanted to get going so I wouldn’t have the domino effect, running late all day because of too much chit chat.
As we walked to my little room John said, “I just didn’t know exactly where I was going, I haven’t been in this area in while. I got confused. I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a shooting about nine months ago. That was me. I got shot out here.” He gestured to Queen Anne Avenue. “I was on the news, not sure if you heard.”
I was dumbstruck. I wonder how my face looked, because a flash of guilt combined with a part of my brain melting down as I suddenly saw that his blonde curls, boyish face, and movie star blue eyes were the same as the man I saw on the TV the day after the gunshots. My mouth fell open and I could feel an awkward pause.
Foolishly, decided to pretend, saying “Oh, I heard about that.” But as soon as I said it, I realized I was too ashamed to tell the truth. I was a fake-ass, gutless liar.
“Yeah, so. Here I am, whoa!” He ran his fingers through his hair.
“Are you ok now?”
“Yeah, I’m alright.”
“Wow. Weird. So terrible,” I said, trying my best to sound sympathetic instead of horrified and guilty.
“Ok, well, for the back wax, I’ll have you undress from the waist up and then get face down on the table. Here’s a hanger for your shirt. I’m going to step out.” He was already unbuttoning his shirt, so I quickly darted out of the room and shut the door.
“You don’t have to go out,” he said, just as I closed the door.
I rested my body against the other side of the treatment room door, trying to collect myself. I was so glad I was the only one working at the salon today, the shampoo bowls and cutting stations abandoned. I wanted to slide down the door and get a hold of myself, put my head down, and take some deep breaths, but instead I said, “Are you ready?” I tried to sound chipper and upbeat, to combat my looming anxiety attack. I looked at my face in the big salon mirrors and made myself smile. My eyes looked too round, and didn’t go with the bottom half of my face. Relax, I told myself.
“Sure, come on in.”
John was face down on the massage table. I looked down at the back I was to wax, and tried to control my shaking hands. His tan back was marked by bullet holes, the scars a bit larger than pennies with jagged edges that were still pink. I could barely keep control of my hands to put on my latex gloves when he began to speak about the very scars I was focusing on.
“See the bullet holes? I had to call my own ambulance,” he said.
“What?” The blood was draining from my head and I was so glad he had his face in the cradle of the massage bed and couldn’t see me. My mouth felt dry, and I swallowed hard, trying to get some moisture back in flow— not to betray my state of mind.
“Yeah, no one called the police, even though they shot at me like six times. I had to go to that Safeway over there and call 911 from the pay phone with the quarters I had, quarters covered with my own blood —I was so weak, but I remembered that.”
I was quiet, but consumed with guilt. I knew exactly where he was in the Safeway parking lot. I could just see him out there, afraid, alone and in pain, plugging the phone booth in the dark, slowly bleeding out, no one around, calling his own ambulance.
I pulled out my wax strips, tested the temperature of the sticky, warm, wax on my inner wrist and tried to keep on task, my brain trying to make things normal somehow. My stomach felt queasy, and I froze up. How much longer could I keep up this bullshit?
Unable to pretend, after a slight pause I said, “I have to tell you something,” I said, staring at the scars from the bullet holes— such a horrible reminder of how violence can change our lives in a second. “I heard the gunfire. I live less than a block from this salon, very close to the corner where you were shot. I heard it.” It was easier to admit it when his face was in the face cradle, and I didn’t have to meet his eyes.
“You did?” He lifted up, turning his head to the side to look at me. Our eyes met.
“I’m so, so sorry. I heard it, but my husband insisted it was a car backfiring, he said it was my imagination. I don’t know why I let him convince me, because I was in a panic when I heard the gunfire, I knew what it was. But I let him talk me out of calling 911. I’m so sorry.”
I threw David under the bus with my confession, but it all came tumbling out. I couldn’t keep up the charade. I felt even worse when John was so quick to forgive me.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I can tell you feel bad. You know, they tried to kill me, and they only got an assault charge.”
John went on to tell me about the night, that it was some random car full of road raging guys who flipped out because he had honked at them at the stop sign. That was the honking I heard. He told me how when the ambulance finally came, he had passed out, but when he woke up in the hospital his brand new watch was missing. John was convinced one of the ambulance drivers stole his watch, to top everything off, something I was astonished by at the time. When he got to surgery, they had to remove a part of his lung.
I was surprised when John became a regular client. After all, who would blame him for not wanting to come to the exact spot where someone tried to kill him, and be a return customer to the dumbass waxer who didn’t call the police?
Once, he showed up with his brother, who looked a lot like him. They both had red rimmed eyes (late night?) and they were both taking pills in my room. They offered me one.
“Uh…no. What is it?” I was confused.
“Pain killers.” John held his hand out with the little round pills sitting in his palm.
“For the back wax?”
Um. Okay, I thought to myself. Men are such babies. "No thanks," I said.
I was astounded at the small world nature of it all, that the person who was shot that night, who later I would see on the news, ended up coming to see me for a back wax. It was all so random. I saw his back up close, I heard what the bullets sounded like that entered his body, and continued to see his back over and over because he was a regular. It felt at times like the universe was telling me something, but what? It was surreal. It turns out, the world really is small... or maybe it was just Seattle in the 1990s?
This is not the end of the story, not by a long shot. You may be wondering what this has to do with anything...
One weekend, about a year later, I decided to go to a theater party. I’d done wigs and make-up for this downtown fringe theater in the past. My first gig was transforming an actor named Patrick into a woman, and I worked another show making an actress look like the famous pin-up girl, Bettie Page. The shows were put on in a decrepit building downtown which seemed on the verge of being torn down. They had fun parties there, though.
I headed to the opening night party all dressed in my paisley frock, tights, and purple Doc Martins. I climbed the rickety stairs into the theater. I stood on the landing, and looked around for someone I knew.
I saw an actor that I adored, I’ll call him Jake. He was hilarious, smart, flamboyant, and talented. Large and a bit chubby, he had a talent for playing women. We greeted with air kisses and he said, “Well, I didn’t know you knew John Doe.”
Surprised, I said, “How did you know that I knew him? And how do you know him?” I had a sudden thought that I should have pretended not to know John— now I’ve outed a customer. I’m not a therapist or a doctor, but still. I should’ve played dumb. Some men don’t want anyone to know they get waxed.
“ I saw your brochure on his table.”
“Ok. He’s my client. So how do you know him?” I asked again.
“You know what he does for a living, don’t you?” Jake was smiling, and had a devilish look in his eyes.
“Yes! He’s a fisherman!” I said, because he and his brother told me that they were working on fishing boats.
Jake threw his head back and laughed and said, “I guess you could call it that….”
Was he laughing at me? What’s funny?
“What?” Confused, I cocked my head to the side and frowned at him.
“Stacya, you silly girl, he’s not a fisherman. He’s a prostitute.”
“Oh…” I looked down at my purple boots. I was gobsmacked. Also, I’d never had anyone admit so freely that they paid for sex, which Jake was clearly telling me. Or, were they just friends?
“Yes. Oh,” Jake said mocking me a bit.
I couldn't believe that there was another coincidence with John. I learned that my client, John, was a prostitute, not a fisherman, and that Jake was a customer of my customer John. My mind was blown.
After that, I never saw John or his brother again. I wondered if our mutual connection made him uneasy. Especially if Jake had teased John as he did me.
Something still bothers me, though, after all these years. What really happened the night John was shot? Was the shooter just some random person angry about a traffic incident? Or was it some arrangement gone wrong? Did the police treat the shooting differently because they knew John was a sex worker? Is that why the shooter only got assault when clearly it was attempted murder? I often wonder what could've been different for John and his brother. What led them down the path they were on?
I haven’t seen John in over 25 years, not even in passing. I thought of him in 2012, when I was at a Gallery in New York. A photographer named Lise Sarfati had a show called “On Hollywood” and the large color portraits hanging in the gallery appeared to be, at first glance, photos of beautiful Los Angeles hipsters. As I got closer to the work and examined the models, I realized something wasn’t quite right. There was a certain sadness about the girls, a lost look in the eyes. Reading a bit about Sarfati’s work from the press release, I understood that she’d spent time with girls she'd met on the streets, girls and young women who lived in Hollywood, but on fringes of society. Many of her subjects had come to Hollywood with dreams to break into show business. The portraits brought back memories of the "hookers" (as my mother called them) that I’d seen in the drug store in Hollywood, the ones I had thought were so beautiful when I was a little girl.
Why was it so important to my father that I read the play "Mrs. Warren's Profession"? Spoiler alert: Vivie disowns her mother when she finds out that she not only was a madam for brothels-- but continues to keep them going after she no longer needs the money. Vivie could not forgive her mother for continuing to run the brothels when there was already a heap of money saved. Mrs. Warren is heartbroken when Vivie cuts her out of her life.
Did my father relate to Mrs. Warren's plight, (without the cash flow and college money, however) and did he feel that I was the disapproving daughter, Vivie? I wonder if my father feared that if I found out the truth about him, that I'd kick him to the curb. We also knew one another, and he knew that I cared too much about what other people thought, and that, as a younger woman, I could be harsh and not see the gray areas. Anyway, I did know a lot about my father, I just got good at pretending not to know.
In the first few pages of "Whoring Through the Ages", my father argues for, as he did in "Homosexuality for the Ages", separation of church and state. On Friday, September 18th, my sister, Lisa, texted me to say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. It was exactly 4:47 PM when I got the text. My father's arguments for getting religion out of our laws might be a long way off.
Next, "Lesbianism Through the Ages" by Zachary Quill. Stay tuned.