Anything Goes

I might have mentioned before that there was a short phase of my life when I enjoyed parading around my parents’ house in my sister’s Girl Scout uniform. Or maybe it was the Brownies. I never knew the difference between the two when I was five, and I still don’t know thirty years later. But I do know it happened. And why did it happen? Probably because I was a nervous child without many friends, trying desperately to gain the attention of my older, cooler sister. A mild case of crossing dressing? Sure. Over the top? Probably. But it set a precedent in my life at an early age: when I want something bad enough, anything goes.

Life at the chop shop wasn’t much different. If we wanted something, there was always a way to get it. We just had to give up a piece of ourselves in the process. How much we had to give up depended on two things: (1) the richness of the reward and (2) the amount of shame or pride or whatever it was that a person could withstand losing.

There was Wayne, who we’ve already established was a liar, thief, and class act pervert. He’d convinced fellow church-goers that a percentage of his fees went back to his ministry, which of course was a complete lie. And in that process, there was a singular moment, when he’d urge them to give a little more, that his heart must have felt a twinge. Maybe it was excitement. Hopefully it was shame.

Then there was Bradley. What he wanted most wasn’t money. It was booze. It just so happened that he needed money to do it, so he lied, cheated and stole to get it. He’d drink himself to near death for three weeks, then come back to work and search for a desperate borrower (someone losing their home, almost no credit, sick or elderly) and spend the next month doing anything it took (read: committing fraud) to get the loan closed. He’d charge such tremendous fees on that one single deal that it’d be enough to feed his next multi-week binge. He always reminded me of a piece of advice my mother gave me before I headed off to college. “Binging,” she said, “is for losers. Binging and casino boats. Just avoid them both.”

In all of this mess, there was one truly innocent person at the chop shop. Her name was Melissa. She was twenty years old when she started working with us. It was clear from the start that she wasn’t very smart, but as fortune had it, whatever the gods cheated her in brains, they compensated for tenfold in looks. Tall, blonde, and shaped like Jessica Rabbit, she was beautiful in a you-make-me-feel-like-I’m-fourteen kind of way. It was embarrassing for everyone, including her. Making fifty-year-old men drool is only entertaining for so long. But what endeared her to me was that she didn’t have a presumptuous or egotistical or superior bone in her body, even though most men expect women who look like her to be exactly that way.

As the months went by, she struggled greatly getting business. She complained of late bill payments, being behind in rent and so on. I felt terrible for her. The rest of us were closing anywhere from five to twenty-five deals in a month, and she couldn’t even muster one. This, despite the endless stream of help she received from a long line of my co-workers who lent her a hand hoping and praying that she might return their kindness with any kind of sexual favor. It was a completely unreasonable thing to expect, but when it comes to women like this, men allow themselves to forget reason. The reciprocation, however, never came. And why?

“I’m saving myself,” she told me one day. “I’m a Christian.”

As a Jew, I just assumed people who called themselves Christians were everyone else. But it turns out, as you may know, that this isn’t the case at all. I still don’t really know anything about Christians, other than this: they don’t have premarital sex. Or, from what Britney Spears taught me, they at least pretend that this is the case.

When I asked her why, she said: “I know it sounds stupid, but I was raised by my parents to believe that my virginity was the most precious thing I have. I can’t just give it up for nothing.”

That was good enough for me. I was raised by my parents to believe that the only way to tie my shoelaces was the old two-bunny-ears way and that wiping from front to back was an acceptable way to clean after going to the bathroom. So who was I to judge?

Over the next few months, I truly grew to like this girl. We were office friends. So when I walked by her office one afternoon and saw her crying, I stopped to see what was wrong. It should have been a celebratory day. It was the day she finally closed her first deal. It had taken her six months, and this one wasn’t a big fee, but it was something with which to pay her rent.

“He was going to cancel,” she said.

“But he didn’t,” I said. “So who cares?”

She started crying harder again. It became a bit uncomfortable. I mean, the loyalty of an office friend only goes so far. For me, crying was never part of the deal. And I was newly married, so sexual favors seemed to be inappropriate to wish for. I let her go on for a minute, and then walked up to her and put my hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me with those Bambi eyes and said: “I slept with him.”

The guy was going to cancel the deal, so desperation brought her to his house. She hadn’t planned on doing anything untoward, but the guy—a married man with two teenage daughters—made the first move, and she didn’t stop him. He took her right there on his living room couch in a small town soon to be completely demolished by a growing O’Hare airport.

I didn’t know what to say. So, of course, I said the worst possible thing I could. “Well, it was a good time, right?”

“I barely remember it,” she said. “I just remember crying all the way home.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“No,” she said. “Not at all. It was just that all these years, I stopped myself from having sex with guys that I really cared about. And today I realized that it was a total waste of time. I’m not crying because I feel sad or alone or any of that crap. I’m crying because I feel absolutely nothing.”

Part of me pitied her. But part of me envied her. After all, she found a way to give it up, without actually giving up anything at all.

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