Now, I’ve worked several absurd jobs in my lifetime, but whenever – and if I ever – mention my uncensored work history to another, they always stub and obsess over just that one section which would read something like:
Occupation: Stripper/Go-Go Dancer
Duration: One semester in college and a summer after graduation.
• Danced diligently on a pole for a diverse clientele from Wall Street businessmen, media celebrities and NYU frat boys as Rosa The Latina Firecracker.
• Mastered the “flirt” and the “upside down pole-split”....
The only section of my resume which then incites a prying check on my references: Rocky the bouncer, DJ Stan-O or even from my coworkers like Ebony the Nubian princess, Snowflake the vanilla goddess and Double Debby for those who like their dancers like their Big-Macs; a little on the pluz-size. The weird thing is that my resume – both the one I actually use as well as the one hidden in an imaginary box of shame – have many such sections of equally peculiar jobs. I mean seriously, wouldn’t you much rather hear about my experiences as an office gopher cum administrative assistant to an ad exec? Or when I was promoted to Special Assistant; just another glorified gopher with a higher salary and more travel? Face it, those jobs are just as odd and demoralizing as all my other hustling gigs. Yet, who wants to read about those, right?
But truth is, that before I ever paid my bills as a management prostitute to the advertising world or as a risqué bartender for private parties or even as Rosa the exotic pole dancer, I did 3 very odd jobs in just one summer of self discovery in Philadelphia which led me to shed all inhibitions once possessed. They will all be detailed in due time but lets start from where we left off.
I had a 20-dollar bed in an adequate hostel and only the first week was paid for. For the rest of the month, I needed to find at least 150 bucks a week to keep this roof over my head. That estimate would only pay for the “Makaan” in this equation as I still needed additional funds to pay for the “Roti”. I mean sure, I look damn good skinny but a sister still gots to eat a meal every now and then! So with just fifty bucks (part of it was going to pay for my weekly bus pass, the other thirty was going to be used for the week’s food) I knew I had to find a job and I had to find one fast.
In the beginning, I looked at all the obvious places. Desi restaurants, coffee shops and even thrift stores. But all those ‘get paid in cash’ jobs were already snatched up by younger kids with dyed hair and lip-rings. Since high schools were officially out for the summer, so were any chances of me finding a cash job. In the end, it was off to a job market a little less conventional than the rest where I finally found my calling. Jobs which finally paid for my roti, kapra and makaan…well actually only if I took the kapras off.
Nude Art Model:
On my first day at the hostel; I woke up early and walked around the busy streets knocking on doors. By 10am, I returned to my room disheartened with a cup of coffee from Xando’s (remember them before they became COSI?) and a Philadelphia City Paper. I decided to spend the next couple of minutes on the top bunk searching the jobs section of the free paper. An hour later, the only listing I could circle was an ad by two artists looking for a nude art model. No other specifics were shared except their contact info and a blunt disclosure in bold Sans Serif, that ‘THE JOB SHOULD IDEALLY NOT BE THE PERSON’S ONLY SOURCE OF INCOME.’ Great, so I guess I shouldn’t expect any health benefits either! Still, I scheduled an interview for the next morning. Desperation: not a very cute color on me.
In class that day, I vented my frustration out on the clay we were coincidentally instructed to channel our emotions into. After class, I sat in the computer lab relaying my tragic dilemma to Nickolas. My only friend in class, an extremely effeminate raver with bleached hair spiked always under the same orange visor, a glow-in-the-dark barbell on his tongue, oversized smiley-face jeans below an emaciated torso and a pacifier hung loosely around his neck. If you have read me for a while, you must already recognize by now that I am an eternal fag-hag, a gay-boy magnet. But then again, so is Madonna, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Fifi Haroon and Madam Noor Jehan. Add me to the list of divas too! Anyway, as we checked our emails and I complained about how my life had turned into an upside down mess, he surfed various gay chat rooms and hookup sites. A promiscuous little boy, that Nickolas – and yes, the word sounds funny coming from me doesn’t it? But Nick’s entire sex life revolved around dates arranged with anonymous strangers from the internet. A full-time student at Moore; he bragged about the time his roommate woke up and found a forty-year-old man walking around in tighty-whities in their room and immediately requested a room change. Left with a room all to himself, he now proudly boasted of an invisible revolving door, which allowed various cyber strangers into his room like clockwork. Some of those wham-bam love-affairs as frequent as three a day. Gotta, love my gay boys! Anything I’ve ever done, they have done…already…five times last week. Mama always said, if you want to feel less like a sinner, stand next to a gay club-kid. Your sins will seem like kindergarten play dates.
As Nick described his internet sexcapades to me; I poured my heart out to him too. For the first time in my life, I needed a job or a place to stay more than a man. Although my girls would agree that dealing with a man is a full-time job in itself, which requires plenty of unpaid over-time. Ever wondered why the words blow, hand or even head are followed by the word job? Exactly, expect my bill soon, Visa or Mastercard? Somewhere in that conversation, Nick suggested a website as a solution to my woes. A website he usually frequented where I could also find – apart from a quick lay - places to sublet, couches to surf or even menial jobs. It was an internet bulletin board of a sort, very similar to Craigslist but for local Philadelphian college students. Nick mostly surfed it for Mr. Rights or Mr. Right Nows and the website has since closed down. But back then, it served as my savior. Immediately I posted an ad for an angel in Philly who was willing to offer me their couch for free. The website should have just shot me back an automated response with the words ‘Fat Chance in Hell’ because it yielded zero replies. On my way back, I did stop by the job board at the local library and grabbed several numbers from ‘House Cleaner Wanted’ ads.
Oh by the way, in my times of distress, I did learn a few tricks though. I think its my duty to share some of those with anyone who may find themselves in a similar situation. For the rest of the week, I bought a 12-inch sub from Subway for lunch, which came roughly around to six bucks back then. I would eat half and then save the other half for dinner. That way, I managed to spend only three bucks a meal. Genius, right? My best friend, Jenny taught me that trick. Also, who needs soft drinks when you can drink tap water. Great for weight management too. I was quickly becoming my own version of the optimistic Pollyanna Barbie. That night, as I ate my remaining 6-inch sub in the hostel courtyard, I called all the numbers I had brought from the library. I spent about four bucks on unsuccessful calls on a payphone. I thought the fact that I was young, bilingual and enrolled in a decent college set me apart from the rest of the applicants, I soon realized those were merely prerequisites for this job. What was then needed were references from past employers, my work history and some probably expected FBI clearances. Geez, you’re hiring a jamadarnee not a top secret Fed.
The next day, I woke up early for my scheduled nude art model interview. I’m not going to lie, I spent over an hour deciding what to wear. I was always told by snooty businesswomen at college internship fairs that one should always dress to impress. But how does one dress for a job which requires you to not be dressed? Surely, I could walk over to the interview in my birthday-suit but that may lead to an added accessory of handcuffs which I don’t really want, unless I ask for them of course. Wink! Now come on girls. All of us have secretly aspired to be a supermodel. Don’t try to tell me that you haven’t cat walked in your room or practiced the seductive lip pout with your reflection picturing yourself on a runway in Paris, Milan, Dubai or Karachi with the Vinnies, the Zoellas, the Bibis and the dum-dums.
I decided on an outfit that emphasized my sexiest traits. A black tank top to draw attention to a tiny waist, low neckline to not only pop good cleavage but also accentuate my come-hither shoulders. Then, to just be very Avant Garde, I threw in a tight pair of leather trousers, which left very little for the imagination. My hair, I left in the wet, sexy, just showered look and my make up more vamp-ish than sedate. With the address forced into my tight leather pocket, I decided to save money by walking. Bad idea, especially when you’re dressed in all black and leather in the dead of summer. When I finally arrived at the address on Spring Garden Street, sweat and makeup raced each other down my face. Luckily after being buzzed in to the door, I realized that beauty nor sex appeal was required of models here. As serene music played in the background, a young Caucasian couple sat and painted together on a piece of canvas. Ladies and Gentleman, in front of them was their previous nude art model: a man in his late sixties (and I’m being generous) with his entire skin folded meticulously into wrinkles, an unshaven crotch which could now only be salvaged by a weed-whacker instead of a razor and a beard which was probably grayer than good ole Santa Claus. I was clearly, over-dressed and over-sexy for this job! The artist couple told me to wait in the hall. I guess that meant that I was still in the running to be America’s Next Top Model. It was at that point when skinny Santa came over to me – still naked mind you – with a freshly popped open can of root beer.
‘So you’re going to be the new model huh?’ He asked animatedly.
If you can even call yourself that? ‘Yeah!’
“Great, it’s pretty easy.” He grinned a toothless grin ‘They’re a laidback couple and I enjoyed myself.’
I bet you did old man. Yet, still helpless from habit I sustained the small talk with the man I was going to be replacing. Interesting fellow though. A modern dance instructor at UPenn, he was also an avid exhibitionist who liked to spend his summers in nudist resorts. (Note to self: Cancel any future plans to nude resort for the next sixty or so years to blend in with the others.)
When I was finally summoned in for the interview, I realized that the couple was as dysfunctional as John & Kate plus Who Cares! The girl, a bossy little blonde with a bad bob and a stuck up nose. The so-called ‘man’ in the relationship; more of a stoned, vegan, feminist hippy. One who had probably checked both his masculinity and dignity outside the chapel door before he entered into a ‘till death do us part’ contract with this witch. Immediately they began to shoot a few generic questions my way.
Your name? Goli Mar Kee Ranee!
Past experience as a nude art model? I wasn’t alive to witness the first World War if that’s what you’re looking for.
Why are you interested? I need the effing cash cuz im sleeping in a hostel and eating a 6-inch sandwich for dinner when I don’t ever put anything less than seven inches in my mouth! Does that warrant good enough interest?
Once the questions were answered, they immediately asked me to take off all my clothes. ‘Now?’ I asked? ‘Of course’ she answered slightly irked. I swear, it took every muscle in me not to plunge at her and scratch her face out in front of her man but I let professional judgment prevail. So one by one, I began to shed each item of clothing and then stood before the couple in a work of art far more beautiful than any mixed-media Picasso-esque concoction they would ever jointly produce with their sorry palettes. The look on her man’s face was priceless and for that moment, I didn’t even care if I got the job or not. Still, they pointed at a couple of abstracts on the wall and asked me to recreate them in my own interpretation. How in the world, does one pose as random colors splashed clumsily on white pieces of paper? But since I had already left the last scrap of logic and dignity at the door, I began to instantly strike poses! Shantay, sashay, pirouette. Whirl my hair around, squeeze my eyes, pout my lips and now…bang, pose for the camera. Only problem; there was no camera. Just two smelly artists trapped in a loveless marriage probably embarrassed for me.
‘Thank you!’ the girl nodded and then resumed stroking her brush on the canvas in front ‘You’re gorgeous, absolutely stunning but that’s exactly what we don’t need, the whole universal beauty. We are not really painting magazine covers here. We’re looking for beauty a little less conventional.’
Yeah, something more along the lines of an old geriatric on his deathbed with a private so shriveled it looks like a zit between his legs. You’re just intimidated by me because you’re afraid your man would run away with me, you dumb waif. But instead of saying all that, I grabbed my clothes and headed for the door. I was already prepared for many such, degrading and unsuccessful job interviews ahead so it behooved me to tough it out and move forward.
‘I disagree.’ the man finally spoke up. About time buddy. Let her know that you got balls. Sorry, old, nudist, model man…I’m sure you had some too at one point but since we really cant see them right now, we’ll just leave you out of the whole ‘be a man’ conversation for now. You just drink your root beer and work on your will. Its all hunky dory in Viagra land, so send us a postcard every now and then.
The look on blond-bob was priceless as she allowed her husband to continue. ‘I think it will be different. We’ve been working on a very redundant perspective for a while, the inner beauty concept, it would actually be a welcome change to try and capture what the world considers the norm for beauty.’
Pretty much, everything you aint, blond bob but I’ll keep quiet, I may just get a job out of this philosophical mumbo jumbo!
A couple of minutes later, I was back in the hallway talking to the old-man; now dressed in a pair of cargo shorts and a Woodstock tee, as he pulled out his bicycle (I guess expecting a ride home is also pointless.) The husband who had miraculously received miracle growth for his balls by moi, shared his gratitude by letting me know that I would start the next morning bright and early, right after their meditation and soy breakfast.
I had found my first job but in truth it wasn’t much of a job once we discussed the particulars. I was going to be paid 25 bucks an hour. That clause in the imaginary contract brought a Cheshire grin to my face. But I was only going to work four hours a week. The Cheshire grin reduced to a half-smile. Oh and by the way, the job was only for a week. Even the faintest smile now replaced by a scowl. Still, it was a start!
The week at the job went well. I would wake up at 8 am and with a breakfast of free coffee at the hostel and then head straight to their apartment. There, I would lie down on the floor naked, reading a book or talking to the couple while they painted me. Once the hour was up, I would get dressed and head to class. The couple always painted together. They claimed to only work together and signed a combined version of their name at the end. Painting without the other would be the equivalent of infidelity in their eyes. So, she threw in some colors on the canvas and he threw in some more strokes from his brush, and together they savored their own twisted substitute for monogamy. Blond bob and I even made peace in the end. She wasn’t really that bad of a person, just a little rough around the edges and probably just needed to get laid. The completed masterpiece in the end looked nothing like me either. In fact, it looked nothing like a person. More like the puke of a pallid monster on paper. No eyes, no arms, no breasts, nothing. Just a whole bunch of black and brown blotches on a canvas that could easily be among cards held up for a homicidal criminal during a Rorschach inkblot test.
In the end though, I enjoyed the experience. I don’t really know if they ever got to sell my portrait at some chic art gallery in Manayunk and how much it went for. Hopefully more than the measly 100 they paid me. But back to reality, clearly my income from the modeling job was not going to suffice. I needed other jobs and more money. Enter Padash the Naked House Cleaner…
Although, I had enjoyed the whole nude modeling stint and unleashed the exhibitionist in me, I still needed to find other jobs that week. I placed a few ads for a housecleaner on the Philly bulletin board website. Most of the responses were flaky replies of disinterest but finally came one woman’s promising request. Her housecleaner had gone home to Salvador and after bidding farewell to messy weekend guests; she wanted someone to clean up. I agreed and scheduled the house cleaning for that Saturday. I arrived at 10am sharp and she immediately began to instruct me on what needed cleaning. A large and busty black woman with untamed salt and pepper dreads. She resembled Toni Morrison a great deal and was probably also aware of the fact, evident from the proudly autographed copy of Sula resting on her bookshelf. First, we engaged in brief small talk as customary assessment of each other’s credibility. I informed her of my degree and how I was in the City of Brotherly Love to take a summer pottery class at Moore while paying for my lodging at a hostel. I never mentioned the part of growing up as Daddy’s princess in marble mansions and exclusive country clubs. She, on the other hand was an eloquent African American studies professor at Temple and an avid slam-poet in her spare time.
Once the small-talk was over, I was asked to get down to business. If you truly want to know someone, you need to clean their house. What would have left me with an image of a very articulate, educated and impressive woman had I merely met her for coffee or a drink, was replaced by the reality that she was one of the messiest pigs in North America. Not a corner in that house, comparable to the pleasantry she exuded. The bathrooms mucky, the furniture layered with many coats of gathered dust and a laundry basket erupting with a season’s worth of unwashed clothes.
Once I was done, the woman handed me some lemonade and a check for 80 bucks. Yes, a measly 80 bucks. It was my own fault really, she had mentioned that she paid her Salvadoran housecleaner just under a 100, but still I was thinking more like 99 bucks (true that aint much either) but only once I received my payment did I realize that it barely matched the amount of work I had just provided. I walked out with a fake smile and a renewed sense of respect for every Spanish woman I have carved the words Basura for on a discarded box. You literally take what you get in this land of opportunity.
After this dismal job, I had at least made enough to pay for next week’s lodging. Even some twenty bucks to take care of my weekly Septa pass to ride the buses and trains around the city. Now I needed some more dollars for next week’s meals. As I described my predicament to Nick, he made a very good point. I am almost mad I didn’t think of it before.
“Of course honey,” He clicked his tongue “What ya need to do is become a naked housecleaner. Shoot, that’s what I would do!”
Pure genius! I was already getting naked for one job and housecleaning for the other. Why not combine the two skill-sets and pioneer my very own business.
The idea of naked housecleaning is actually not as novel as I had thought. Still, I placed an ad peppered with just the right details that would catch a cluttered pervert’s eye. My age, my ethnicity, the fact that I was a student (for the whole college girl fantasy element), and my body type. Heck, I wasn’t voted the top 5 hottest girls on campus by my school’s fraternities for nothing! Immediately, the next day, I had 5 emails in my inbox from interested parties. I called each and every one of them and scheduled appointments.
Whoever had the eureka moment to realize that sex sells, knows true brilliance. Because trust me honey, it does. I bet you anything that even at the sabzi mandi, a mango shaped like a voluptuous woman will sell before and at a higher price than your regular, aam sa “Aam”. Its just the way the world works. Why not milk the concept for your own benefit. Marketers have been doing it for years, trust me I work in the field and was aware of the fact long before I sold my soul to advertising. The first day, I already had three back to back appointments. The first one was with an old, retired, widower whose house was in immaculate shape but he only needed eye-candy to tickle his pricey furniture with a duster. An hour later, I walked out with 200 in cash. I spent the rest of the few weeks, juggling a tight schedule before or after class between naked housecleaning or Indian massaging (discussed next) and was making anywhere from 200 to 300 a pop. One generous man even offered to pay 500 if I agreed to wear French-maid lingerie that he had picked out himself. Show me the money and bonjour it is!
I made a lot and the business savvy woman I was, I even offered a discount for a second cleaning, if they found me a referral. Yes, my dear friends, Padash the naked housecleaner could have quit school and started her own business because by the end of the week, the subway diet I was on was left for Jared to fend. I was eating expensive meals and back to my spendthrift, super indulgent ways. I no longer spent my evenings on my bunk bed or smoking away the stress in the hostel courtyard with new roommates each night. I was bar hopping on South Street and dancing at my favorite club in Philly, Egypt.
Sometimes, the clients would make odd requests too. Instead of being naked, they wanted me to dress a certain way and for the most part, I would try to oblige most requests. Some of the wishes I was able to fulfill besides naughty French Maid was uptight school teacher and one even wanted me to wear nothing but roller skates as I cleaned his house. I definitely got a hefty tip for that one.
Now, you wonder, what exactly is an Indian masseuse and how does one master the art of Indian massage therapy. Well, there is no such thing. However, though the whole, naked housecleaning idea didn’t really score much points in the innovation department, I can proudly attest to the fact that my Indian Massage idea is as novel as the first halal personal shopper. I came up with it, partly out of greed and partly due to my thirst for adventure. It was almost intoxicating to be able to fool these men by merely pretending to clean their house and being paid double the amount of what a real housecleaner would charge. Let it be known, most of my clients also had actual, proper, clothed housecleaners to come in. I was just an excuse for eye-candy.
The idea came to me as I sorted through the many emails I got requesting a naked housecleaner. It was time to post another ad so I figured, why not try something different. Something a little less exhausting than cleaning houses in Victoria Secret’s lingerie. Instead, I posted an ad on a whim with ‘Namaste’ as a salutation and the sentences which followed, peppered with broken English and deliberately inserted words like ‘Chakras’, ‘Karma’, ‘Shivasna’ and ‘Sutra’. Lo and behold, I had over ten emails the next day from men, women and couples interested in an appointment with Shanti the Indian Massuese. By the time I got back to the hostel, I already had two appointments lined up for the next day. Now I needed the costume and the accessories to appear legit. After digging through my suitcase, I pulled out the token sleeveless shalwar kurta for those agonizing variety shows organized by the international students in college, a packet of bindis, my Afghani jewelry and my Phoolan Devi CD, I like to fall asleep to when I’m stressed. Then, I ran down to the local Border’s (or was it Barnes & Noble) on Rittenhouse square and grabbed a book aptly titled Massage for Dummies. Spent the next three hours curled up on their couch learning a few techniques. By the time, the bookstore closed, I had even taken a few notes for myself. When I returned to my room, I described my plan to my roommate, a gorgeous Sudanese girl en route to Amsterdam. She too was intrigued by the idea and wondered if she ever could pull it off herself if she were ever broke and stranded in Europe.
“Do you have a Sudanese outfit? Sudanese music? Fake a strong Sudanese accent?” I asked.
“Yes, yes, yes.” She nodded each time.
“Well voila my dear” I chuckled as we both sat by our window smoking “You have mastered the art of Sudanese Massage Therapy.”
I even practiced on her that night and she agreed that I had created such an amazing ambiance, she hardly knew nor cared what I did with my hands.
The rest of my clients felt the same way. Most of them were just curious or interested locals who wanted to try something different. Something to insert into pretentious dinner and cocktail conversations to impress a date.
‘And on Saturdays, I have my Indian Massage Therapist come over for a Devdas massage. You really must try it. Its quite divine. Remind me to give you her number before you leave the party, she trained at the Devdas ashram with a guru her whole life.’
I was amazed at how many of them were just Americans who had once traveled to India – or wanted to. Just so excited to talk to someone about their nomadic experiences. I would nod along and fake a very quiet and content, almost meditative persona. Sometimes I would add a trancelike reply with philosophical pensiveness: ‘Your place of complete surrender does not have to be good nor bad, it is both because nature is both.’ To which they would contemplatively nod and ‘ah’ while returning their over-worked and exhausted minds to the stress of their current lives.
So I would show up in my kurta, glass bangles, Afghani jewelry and a bindi. My hair tied into a tight braid, I would draw the curtains and throw in my Phoolan Devi soundtrack and light a few incenses (a trip was made to a desi store in Upper Darby just to buy those nag champa agarbettes). Then I would bestow a relaxing and soothing massage experience for my goras. I did have a strict rule that I offered no happy endings for various reasons mainly to uphold the legitimacy and revere my guru from the Devdas Ashram. (Don’t worry I didn’t really name it that but something not too different.) I am lucky that I was never spotted later that evening dancing away on a speaker at club Egypt in a tube top and booty pants, smoking my cigarette and chewing my gum loudly.
So that memorable summer in Philly was spent either cleaning houses naked or giving Indian massages as my alter-ego, Shantee the Devadas Massuese. In the end, I was not only able to pay for all my weeks at the hostel but my meals, my transportation and some personal indulgences as well. I managed to save over a thousand. Save me the lecture of how much of that money was made shamelessly, I already know and don’t care. I find my current job as a prostitute to the corporate world just as demoralizing and shameless.
Everything worked out in the end, I even enjoyed myself in Paris on the way home and once I got home, it was back to the cushioned life once again. Breakfast in bed, wishes made on intercoms to armies of servants, shopping sprees, high teas at country clubs, fancy dinners or just hanging out in grandiose dance floors of high school parties. Millions of others spoilt brats lighting up their cigarettes and talking about how much they enjoyed college and were now enjoying a summer of doing nothing but lazing around.
But I was a whole a different person this time around. I knew I wanted more from my life and wanted to care very little of how it would look on honorable mantelpieces in esteemed houses. We spend our entire lives viewed through society’s eyes and for their acceptance. What school we go to? What family we marry into? When we plan on finishing our third Phd? How much salary we make? But after spending that summer working those three odd jobs in Philly. I realized that life is far too short to be lived for others. So what if you ever scrubbed a toilet in a rough time or worked at a gas station or shed every sheath of your pride at a job interview? Remember, days from now, it will merely be an interesting memory for you and only you to cherish.
So what will it be? Visa or Mastercard? ;)