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A $10 FAVOR
Day 111 NW St. Louis to South St.Louis
miles today:12 cumulative: 2240

I am supposed to leave today. In 5 minutes. Rush to get my things in order. Hesitate. I feel like I have not seen St. Louis. I will walk around the city today even if it puts me "behind." Lucy will drop me off in North St. Louis. Walk random streets looking for random people.

Outside a Burger King on Delmar Avenue Jackie asks me for a quarter. I invite her to my table, we begin a conversation.

Jackie owed 400 for rent. Jackie got thrown off of a porch and "got her head stomped on by some dude." Jackie has staples in her head now, she shows me. Disability pays for her rent, quarters pays for her cigarettes. Shows me scars on her hands from when two guys tried to rape her. And I think she just told me she "dates" for $10. It was 2 am, and a convertible Camaro picks her up. Another man jumps in the car at the corner with a knife. Says you're gonna do it for free for both of us. Jackie says you’re gonna have to cut off her fingers cause she ain’t doing shit with that knife in her face. She grabs the knife. It cuts deep into her hand. They hit her in the mouth knocking her teeth out. So she does not want her photo taken. She has no front teeth.

Sometimes she can get $10 in 2 hours asking for quarters.

Interview. (transcribed from a recorded conversation)

Turbo: Did you ever work as a prostitute?

Jackie: Nu Uh….. Cause I don’t call it that. Its not prostitution.

T: What do you call it?

J: A person helping you out.

T: A person helping you out?

J: Well see, if he horny and need some sex… you know what I’m sayin? and give me some money for allowing him to release, see, I'm gettin the sex also and the money and some cigarettes and some food after he get through… cause there ain’t no price that you can put on it, ain’t no price…see what I’m sayin, he’s getting a favor done, cause if you really want to put a price on a woman’s vagina that’s when you get married cause its gonna be life long and that man’s gonna take care of you everyday for the rest of your life, but for an hour, for $10, he ain’t take care of shit except for his motherf**kin self. It aint about sex for me all the time. But, sometimes I see a guy I seen before, sometimes sexually, and he see me walkin and says how you doin’ baby where you walkin’? And I says: I’m trying to hustle me up a few dollars. And he say, You datin’? And I say, How much you talking about? And he says, I can help you out with a few dollars. And I says where you goin now? And he says, Im goin home, wanna come. And I go with him. And if I know who he is, and if he give me $10, when Im ready to go then I consider it like a favor or a loan, cause everybody enjoy themselves.

T: And what about people you don’t know?

J: They better be fast, cause $10 don’t buy shit. If they gonna be out on the corner asking for sex for $10 like some freak, they better act like a freak and get it over fast, cause Im not gonna be kissin all over some dude and oh baby and all that talk for no $10.

-He better be fast. I yells at them freaks. (person walks by) You got a quarter?

We also discuss the best places to sleep in the street. And agree it is a well lit place even if the cops are going to come, because it’s safer. We have very little in common, but we can talk for 30 minutes and laugh at each other’s stories and in the end when we part ways we hug each other. Have a good day Jackie. You too sweetie.

Two blocks down Teresa wants to pet Cosmo. Teresa wants me to see her landlady’s dog It is called Beauty. Sure, I’ve got time, so we walk to the large brick building with many tenants. She does not have a key. All the people inside are sleeping. She is screaming up at the windows. Frankie! Jeannie! No one answers. She sits on the curb for 5 minutes and says I have to wait. She will pose in her swimsuit with Jeannie for a picture. I do not want a picture of this woman in her swim suit. But I want more photos of something, so I wait. Hey Frankie! She is screaming. Frankie peeks out the window. Am I really going in this house? Frankie is tweaking. She wants money in exchange for a photo. Next. Jeannie is sleeping, Teresa wakes her up. Hands her a Stag tall boy beer. Photos of a woman waking up with a gold beer can in hand. Wiping sleep from her work all night at a motel eyes. JFK velvet painting on the wall. TV on the Price is Right. I think its time to leave, I don’t know why, there are surely more photos, but it is a feeling I should go with. Now Teresa wants money for "the bus and cigarettes." This house is not where I want to be. I’m "going to check on Cosmo." Outside I untie Cosmo and see that Teresa has not yet come down the stairs. We sprint to the corner take a left, sprint again, turn right. We’ve lost her. At least I got photos. But I didn’t. I notice as I start to rewind the film that it didn’t catch. Shit. Well, there will be more.

The rest of the day is a series of wrong turns. I walk through a wasteland. 2 hours of abandoned buildings. Empty streets. Where are all the people. Pockets of very rich. Pockets of very poor. Large blocks of deserted buildings. Strange city. Where are the people? Walk under the famous arch. It had to be done, it is the gateway to the East. So an official beginning for the final push. A looooong final push. Walk along the river. It is flooding from a week of rain. Down by the rail yards I walk 2 miles of world class grafitti, 20 feet high and 2 miles long. The most impressive thing I have seen in St.Louis. Worth staying the extra day for this alone. It is a better gallery than any museum here.

A portrait of the Dalai Llama. Graffiti dragons. Train tracks. Anheiser Busch Brewing company. Sidey Street. And where can I get something to fill the hole in my stomach, the hole in my soul. Can Snickers bars fill a hole in the soul? To a gas station, near Hemlock’s home. Cosmo still by my side. A group of children is playing basketball and riding bikes in the street. Twin boys dribble basketballs, Freddie and Frederick. Tiana has big hair. Ebony rides circles around her brothers on a bicycle. Kennon wears a jersey with the #13. And Little E. has all of his hair braided. I watch. They show off for me, they dribble behind their backs. Soda pop and candy bars. A boy with a red shirt and a red sweatband, his name is Kareem Green. I take his photograph. I talk to children at a gas station. Everyone loves Cosmo. I needed this extra day.

At Lucy’s I relax. The house is empty. Life is easy when you are not walking. But I appreciate more now. I will not write tonight, I will read, and pretend that I am not behind, that I do not have work to do, or bills, or miles. Tonight I will take a hot bath and read and pretend to be a normal person.