An Excerpt from the novel:  i, Jessica - Finding My Way

 Chapter  1 - Oasis

IT WAS SATURDAY NIGHT, just after midnight, and I was waiting for a bus. Joe and I had just closed the Iron Horse Bar and Restaurant after a slow evening. The hook ups were completed by 11, so not much action was going on after that. There were no customers after 11:30. Still, we hung around - habit, I guess. Joe was headed home to his amply pregnant wife. Three kids in four years - don’t they get it? 

I was done for the week – six evenings in a row was enough for me. The thrill of living in San Francisco had worn off. Oh, it was plenty exciting in the early 2000's – dot com millionaires running up big tabs and handing out big tips. But, times aren’t what they used to be.

It was going to be a long and lonely weekend for me. It had been eight days since Rickki left – maybe nine or ten - I didn’t know – I was losing track of the days then. She took the remainder of her stuff in the trunk of the Mustang. Come to think about it, her side of the closet had been dwindling for a month or so. But I didn’t catch on until the day she left. She was probably down in Palm Springs with Dixie or Trixie, or whoever. But, I didn’t care anymore – she pulled that 'I'm Leaving' threat one too many times. 

I wondered if the PLEASURE GARDEN SPA was still open, over on Turk Street. They used to stay open till 2 AM during the week and later on weekends. If the 38 Geary Night Owl bus would get to my stop, I figured that I just might go over there that night. After all, I worked hard that week - and I needed a mental and physical lift.

God knows it had been a dismal week - summer in San Francisco - foggy and cold every day – even downtown.  It had been awful out in the Sunset District where I live. Sunset District! About 10 times a year you can see the sun go down. The rest of the time the sun is buried in fog and mist. Marine Layer, the TV weather girl calls it. Layer, hell; it's gray soup, top to bottom. How’s a girl supposed to get a tan?  

I saw the MUNI bus finally coming - about time! It stopped 20 feet past me. More aggravation!  I wondered why I continued to put up with that kind of life. Maybe I SHOULD HAVE gotten married back in Peoria and raised some kids - like my sis. But, I knew there was something bigger and grander in the world than Peoria. And, who would I have married? Stevie? 

The bus driver was a big buxomly gal. "How you doing, Honey?” she said, eyeing me up and down as I climbed in. I eyed her back, staying calm. She was big overall; maybe 200 pounds; pretty nice hair style for that late at night. She was driving around those streets at midnight like she owned ‘em!

"Ahhh, I'm tired after a week's work," I replied, trying to not show my dark mood to her.  “My feet are killin’ me.” That idea from Frank, the new restaurant manager, to wear high heels while serving tables was nuts. I’ll bet he never wore heels to work!

There were three other people on board:  two punk teenagers cuddling in the back; he had a spiky Mohawk. She had leather on, and a streak of purple in her greasy hair, and three rings on her face. She probably didn't realize that style went out ten years ago. Impressionable youth! I think my sis in Peoria did that style for awhile. The other passenger looked like a cleaning lady from one of the offices in the Financial District. She looked Central American: Guatemala, Nicaragua, maybe. She kept her eyes down as I passed by. They don't often get involved with other people, especially at night. It might be the fear of the I.C.E. Agents.

The bus lurched up the street and I had to grab the rail to stay upright. I took a seat halfway back in the bus, near the back door, just in case I wanted to get out fast. I could see the driver looking in the rear view mirror, looking at me. She smiled at me and I smiled back - trying to be friendly like.

I looked intently out the right side of the bus, trying to remember where the PLEASURE GARDEN was located. It had been about two years since I was there.  In fact, I met Rickki there three years ago. I felt a wave of nausea with that memory. What was so good for awhile, and how empty it felt that night.

We didn't go to the SPA on the bus, so I was little unsure of my bearings on Geary Street, looking out the bus window. We always took her Mustang.  Blue and Silver. It matched her eyes and her hair. She was a little older, but I didn't mind  .  .  . Silver hair - Rickki!  

PLEASURE GARDEN advertises in the Bay Guardian, usually in the section with the ads for the strip joints and the clubs. A COMFORTABLE SPAExotic massage, they claim. Asian, Brazilian and European styles of massage offered - take your pick; Treat yourself; Cozy atmosphere; Friendly Staff; Clean and Proper.

Most of those claims are true, I guess, based upon the times I had been there. I went there pretty regularly, three or four years ago. Until Rickki. Then we stopped going so much because we didn't need that outside stimulation.  Well, that was then, wasn't it?

The bus stopped at Geary and Mason. I saw the parking garage at the Hilton and remembered that was where Rickki would always park the Mustang. Then we would walk three blocks down to Turk Street to the Pleasure Garden, right off of Market.  Instinctively, and without thinking, I reached up and yanked the stop cord on the bus three times. I jumped up and pushed on the exit door; it didn’t open until the driver hit the button; then, it opened slowly. As I stepped down, I heard Miss Buxom yell at me, "Have a nice evening!"   I'm pretty sure she winked, too.  

I was outside the bus and headed to the Garden at 1 AM. Without Rickki, I felt a little vulnerable. As usual, there were a few winos hanging around the locked door fronts - a couple of drugged up women too.  I got a little shiver down my back, and I kept my eyes down. The City Officials had been trying to clean up this neighborhood for 30 years - the Tenderloin District, they call it - but they were not making much progress. 

The lights at the GARDEN were still on when I got there.  69 Turk Street. I remembered. The front entrance was well lighted. It was so much better than some of the sleazy bars in the neighborhood.  It had a big red neon sign in the window with the name and two green palm trees  - one at each end. 

The entrance had a marquee overhang, just like the old-time movie theaters with dozens of neon tubes hanging upside down, just welcoming travelers. An Oasis for the Lonely, I was thinking to myself. Or the Hurt. Or the Damaged. A Place for people on the way Down. Or maybe Up. I got a little lift, just walking in the door.  

"Hello, Missy. Are you looking for some pleasure this evening? Come right in." A diminutive Asian woman, maybe in her 40's, smiled widely at me as I entered. "My name is Michiko. What is your name, please?"

She was dressed in a tight silk dress with a subtle oriental design in the fabric and slits up both sides. She couldn't have been more than a size 4. Probably would have looked good in a Geisha outfit. She wasn't my type, but I could see how her style would appeal to some people. Mostly guys, I suspected.

"Uhhh, Jessi," I replied, probably a little too quickly. “Jessica,” I choked out, remembering Mom’s constant admonition.

The front lounge was sparkling clean. It had chrome and dark blue velvet covered chairs – two burgundy colored sofas. There was a bar in dark ebony with chrome highlights - bright lights where the bartender stood. He looked well groomed to me - dressed with a white shirt and black vest. Athletic looking, too; he was probably the bouncer, when needed. I nodded to him and took a big breath. I tried to relax a little, inside that Oasis.

"You come in, Missy, and sit here in the front lounge while we discuss which kind of pleasure will be best for you tonight. Have you been here before?"

"Ummm. Yes. Maybe two years ago. I don't remember you working here then."

"Yes, I am new MANAGER. We change things since you come. I will help you find right pleasure. Do you want Champagne, or maybe Gin and Tonic?"

"Ummm. Something light. Gin Fizz?"

"We make your visit different than when you here last time, Miss Jessica. Here is iPad with some special Apps. You know how to work? If not, I show you."

"Yes, please show me."

"Yes, I can do. We have three different venues now at PLEASURE GARDEN: Asian, Brazilian, and European. I will open the App and you can choose best venue for tonight for you. See, here I touch the screen, this SPECIAL PLEASURE SPOT.”

On the iPad, three pictures came up and filled the screen: something that looked like a Kyoto temple; a beach and topless girls with the title of Rio; and the Eiffel Tower in Europe. 

“Which one interests you most tonight?"

"Well, I have never been to Europe."

"Yes! Europe good choice, tonight. Our full staff is still here. Now, Miss Jessica, you like to have PLEASURE MASSAGE with Adolph, or Heidi?"

"Oh! I didn’t know I have to choose. I am feeling kind of sad tonight. What kind of person is Adolf?   - - -    Or, maybe some TLC might be good for me tonight. Is Heidi tender?"

"Heidi can be either tender or strong. She can give much TLC. You press button here which one you choose."

"OK, I will choose  - - -  I guess, Heidi."

"Next, you get to choose which kind of scent for MASSAGE LOTION. Press button here to see what scent is available  .  .  .  You press now!"

"Oh! Many choices - Edelweiss, Norway Spruce, French Lilac, and Moscow Musk. Gee, I'm not used to making choices  .  .  .  Edelweiss will do."

"Now, Miss Jessica, you choose LIGHTING MOOD in massage room. Here, I show you choices. You can have Alpine Morn, Roman Noon, or Danube Dusk."

"OK, I have never been to the Alps, I'll choose that."

"Ahhh, good choice for a sad girl on a Saturday night. Now we are almost complete your menu for PLEASURE MASSAGE. You get choice of MUSIC for European Massage; here are choices; see, I click here. You can have ABBA, or Beatles, or Beethoven, or Chopin, or Wagner.  You choose, Missy.  Tap here on screen."         

“So many choices to make! It is harder than I thought. I am inclined to take Wagner – that is how I feel tonight – kind of heavy. Does Heidi know Wagner?”

“Heidi knows all kind of music. What YOU like is most important. I click Wagner for you."

"Nearing end of Application menu now, Missy. Do you want our SPECIAL PLEASURE SERVICES in addition to the European Standard Massage? Only twenty nine dollars more. Press the Yes or No button."

"Can I decide later while getting the massage?"

"Yes, but more expensive then – thirty nine dollars."

"OK. I will choose."

"Now, one last thing; how do you want to pay for PLEASURE GARDEN EXPERIENCE? Cash - Charge card - or Debit card?"

"Oh, - - -  well, put it on my Charge card - Visa.  Here, let me find it in my purse."

"See, Miss Jessica, how easy is to arrange special evening just for you? Follow me to your SPECIAL PLEASURE ROOM, down this hallway. Heidi is waiting for you. Have a good evening! You deserve SPECIAL TREATMENT tonight."

Heidi was waiting for me and greeted me with a big smile. She had lovely blue eyes - blonde hair, with just a hint of SILVER – a wisp of hair floating over her left eye. She was wearing a simple blue dress – your LITTLE BLUE DRESS, as Cosmo used to call it - with a frilly short white apron on. She called me by name, softly - melodically. The European Massage Room looked very luxurious - perhaps as a European Castle on the Rhine might look. There was a slight smell of Lysol in the air - or, was it the Edelweiss? The Wagner music was going loud and heavy. Damn that Wagner, anyway. Gotterdammerung Wagner!

“Can you change the music to Chopin?”

“Yes, of course.”

Heidi helped me disrobe and put a white flannel shawl around my shoulders and beckoned me to lie down on the downy massage table. It was scrumptiously warm and cozy. She began at my feet - the aching ones from the high heeled pumps at work. How did she know to start THERE?

I felt a little guilty for the self indulgence. The same as when I went out with STEVIE one more time in Peoria instead of going to my sis's wedding shower. It was his usual sequence: early buffet dinner at the Kountry Kitchen, 7 PM movie at the number 1 screen at the Cineplex, and then beer or wine and conversation at his apartment. All he could ever talk about was his job and co-workers in the Accounting Department at the Caterpillar plant. And then the bedroom. But, he fumbled around so. Just like always. The whole evening reminded me of the line from the story in the college Lit course:  Nada y pues nada y pues nada y pues NADA.#

And then, Sis was so mad at me for missing the shower.

#   Nada y pues Nada:   Spanish: nothing and then nothing

I came back to San Francisco from the wedding with such a feeling of loneliness. Why was happiness eluding me? What else in my life did I WANT? Or NEED? Nothing was happening to me. And then, I met Rickki!

 After an hour with Heidi, with the lighting, and the scented lotion, and the music of MY CHOICE, I felt much better. ABOUT ME. ABOUT LIFE in San Francisco. Even about Rickki.

"Go find your PLACE, Rickki!" I said to her in my mind.

Michiko ordered a taxi to take me home. I hadn't ridden in one for a long time. The driver was a dark complexioned guy named Omar. He accepted my credit card to pay for the fare, and he gave me his business card when I got out – Sharrone Limousine Service. He stayed parked and kept the motor idling until he saw that I was safely into my apartment building in the Sunset.

It was good to know that there were still people in San Francisco who knew how to treat a girl right.


End of Chapter 1 of the book i, Jessica - Finding My Way

                          Copyright 2013 by M. L. Lambert