I want to tell you about one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard spouted from one person to another. You may not find it that funny, but I thought – and still think to this day – that it’s bloody hilarious.
When I heard it I was living in a bad part of town. I was new to the city but I had a friend who lived in a house with some guys and they had a room I could rent for next to nothing until I was able to find a job and afford something better. I was happy to have walls, a roof, a bed and all the rest, but the house was one inspection away from being torn down, and the neighbourhood was sketchy at best. Once I found a job I would frequently return home after dark, and sometimes I would find our street blocked off with police tape, cop cars parked here and there with lights whirling round, and I would have to cut through the back alley to get home. Other times I would just hear things in the night, things which might have been gunshots. I couldn’t wait to get out of that neighbourhood.
There were also prostitutes. I would pass them whenever I made a late night walk to the convenience store to pick up cigarettes or a snack. The store was only seven blocks from my front door, but in that time I could expect to pass by at least three of them, all wearing their heavy coats and short shorts, stilettos and big earrings. There were quite often different girls every night, but when you walked the route enough you became familiar with a few re-appearing faces.
The most memorable of the lot was Loretta. There wasn’t anything in her appearance that would set her apart from the rest; she wasn’t remarkably prettier and didn’t dress with some unique flare the others did not. She wore the same ill-fitting, flea market apparel as everyone with whom she shared a beat. The reason she stuck out, to me at least, was her voice. She wasn’t discreet or timid like many of the girls, who would mumble “Wanna ride?” at you as you passed in the tone that drug pushers would use at a playground. No, Loretta wouldn’t be bashful about selling her wares to passing gentlemen – Loretta advertised.
She would see a possible John walking up the block and would plant herself square in the middle of your path, arms out in a welcoming posture, saying loudly and clearly, “Hey baby, you want Loretta tonight? Fifty dollars, baby. Fifty gets you Loretta tonight.”
I would pass by her so frequently it almost became a joke when she saw me. “You just can’t stay away, huh baby? You gonna go for it tonight? Huh? Is tonight the night you finally spend fifty dollars on Loretta? Best night of your life, baby.” I would smile, and politely shake my head, and she would laugh loudly at my bashful expression. I wondered how many men had spent fifty dollars for a night with Loretta, how many just couldn’t walk by so easily.
One night I passed Loretta and her usual beckoning calls, went to the convenience store and left with a fresh pack of cigarettes. I was on my way back up the seven blocks which would take me home, when my attention was caught by a man’s angry voice yelling, “Loretta!” I looked up the street and saw her standing at her usual post, hip cocked to the side and arms crossed, head tilted in a “what you want?” kind of gesture. The man who had called her name was storming up the pavement toward her. His gate was strong and intimidating, but there was also something awkward and pained about it. I stopped my progress and watched the interaction from a safe distance.
“Loretta, dammit girl!”
“What choo want, Nick? I’m workin’ out here, get out my face.”
“You nasty bitch! You know what you did, you nasty bitch!”
“I gave you a night with Loretta! For fifty dollars, you lucky you get it so cheap! What choo all up about? Comin’ at me while I’m workin’?”
“Dammit girl! You know what you did! You gave me th’ crabs!”
That explained the slightly awkward way the man stormed up the street, I guess. Without missing a beat, Loretta responded to the irate man’s accusation:
“For fifty dollars, what choo want? Lobster?”
Like I said, maybe it isn’t the funniest thing ever said, but it still puts me in stitches when I think of Loretta, the quickest wit walking the beat in stiletto shoes.