In 2002 I was addicted to crack cocaine and turned to hooking on the streets of downtown Honolulu to support my habit. I was not one of the expensive streetwalkers who strolled Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki wearing platform shoes with the fake fish appearing to swim in glass heels. These women were usually young, attractive under lots of make up, often walked in pairs, and came out at night. They dressed like hookers on tv, which was my only frame of reference. The women did not appear to mind that their mission was easy to guess. Truth in advertising must have worked well because they were out every night. Their activities were closely monitored by black men, also young, who sat in luxury cars parked on the side streets like Lewers or Beachwalk. These young black men approached any woman they noticed who watched, not where she was going, but the slow moving traffic on Kuhio Avenue. If they spotted a woman trying to make eye contact with male drivers they were quick to approach. And I do mean quick. In under twenty minutes a black man would have come up to me to see what I was all about.
“I am not what you’re looking for,” I would say immediately for I already knew our purposes were incompatible. He wanted all my money and so did I. We would never come to terms.
“Fine as you are, you shouldn’t be out here on your own. You need to choose a family,” said one young man who was nattily dressed and pressed. I had never seen a pimp that wasn’t a clothes horse.
“You are offering me a family,” I wanted to be done with the conversation because absolutely no man would ever stop for a woman if she was seen talking to a black man for fear she had a pimp who would try to rob him.
“I’m not offering a family. You have to pay the choosing fee. The higher the fee the higher quality the girl. And if you come correct you might even come in as the bottom bitch.” The “bottom bitch” was like the head hooker, the number one earner and the number one in status among all the girls in the “stable.” She often thought of herself as the pimp’s real girlfriend though he was not expected to be monogamous and she was expected to keep earning. Black guys understood that “trickin’ ain’t about nothin'” in other words a woman had zero emotional involvement in the tricks, but loved her man. Working girls are so disconnected from caring about the tricks they are almost like men in the way men can de-personalize the sexual experience.
“I’m supposed to pay you to have the honor of giving you all of my money? That makes no sense to me. I am not the one.” I was obviously dismissive never considering that I might appear rude.
The young man, even younger than me, gave me another more critical once over. “You givin’ somebody all your money or you wouldn’t have dirt under your fingernails. You look like you need to come up and get away from your bad habits.” I wasn’t the only one who could be dismissive.
I was offended. I knew why I did what I did but I did not want to look like I did what I did. I wanted to believe I kept my secrets secret. Surely no one could guess that while I hoped for $100 I would grudgingly accept as little as $20 and I would racewalk from the trick’s car to the closest crack dealer, usually to be found among groups of Samoan men but sometimes their girlfriends sold, or in one case the elderly grandmother in a wheelchair who stashed the $20 baggies of crack in the wheelchair’s parking brake. “Who says I have a habit at all?” I demanded, trying to sound outraged but really I was curious to know what gave me away and if I could change the clue.
“You wouldn’t even be out here talkin’ to me. You totally out of pocket [completely inappropriate]. Now you better get from ’round here and go back downtown with the other crack ho’s where you belong. Y’all drive the Waikiki prices down.”
“What happened to your choosing fee?” I called as I walked away, as if I were leaving voluntarily.
“You already chose. You been had a pimp you give all your money to. You just to dumb to know it.”
He was right.