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Jordan J. Vezina

Nobody ever says, 'I want to be Harvey Keitel in Taxi Driver when I grow up.' Of course, when youıre in the broad vicinity of being eight or ten, you've probably never seen even one Scorsese flick, and the world hasn't rolled over and shown you its dark underbelly, not yet.

Harvey just looked so laid back in that movie, and you think to yourself, 'If it wasn't for the whole Œtrafficking in human misery' thing, this would be the job to have.

So instead you finish high school, not exactly making the honor roll, but not scraping by either. Afterwards you go to city college and begin training to become a network administrator, a computer guru. You wear one of those pocket protectors, because the fact is that they really do keep your pens from leaking and making a mess all over your shirt. It only takes once to learn those lessons. That's true with most things though.

You spend a lot of time trying to explain what the Ethernet is, when people try to buy a nickel bag of it off of you. You do things you shouldn't do, like switching the hard drives in people's computers, or mixing up their profiles on the LAN, just to screw with them, or to get back at that secretary who won't return your phone calls. I screw with the computers so there aren't enough drivers to run the programs. You need a minimal amount of drivers to run shit, and when I screw with that stuff the message pops up, and people come to me. I just repeat over and over, 'you need a minimal amount of drivers to run that program.' Theyıre usually too self-conscious to ask what a driver is.

On top of all of this you donıt get enough sleep, because you spend most of your nights and early mornings pimping your sister on the city streets. Perhaps this requires a bit more explanation.

Ruby was always the yin for my yang, the dark side of I. While I was volunteering at the old folks home, she was getting gangbanged in the garage. While I was at church she was huffing out of spray paint cans and doing whippets in the grocery store.

Don't get me wrong, Ruby's not a bad person, her life just took an intensely different turn than mine. She's only a year older than me, but that one year out of home had a slamming effect on her. Ruby stripped for a while, but the leap to becoming a pro wasn't really much of a leap, it was more of a skip or perhaps a fall.

'I'm not good at anything Frankie, not like you,' she said, last night's lipstick fading even as she spoke.

'You've never really tried Rube.'

'No. Some of us though, we know our place. I know mine. This is me, whether you accept it or not.'

My protective brother instinct kicked in late. It was after that early morning conversation in a dingy east side diner that I decided to help her, in the only way I knew she would accept.

Ruby had only been on the streets for a few months, and a kindly old pimp by the name of Mister Jingles had been watching out for her. Jingles had his own stable of girls, one of whom was a friend of Ruby's. I've met a lot of pimps, far more than my recommended daily allowance, and I must say Jingles was like no other. I recall a rainy Tuesday night when I was standing beneath an overhang outside of Bishop's diner, and Jingles came running up to me with a canvas bag. The tall black man had a big smile on his face as he shook the bag at me.

"What do you got there Jingles?"

Opening up the bag he let me look inside. It was a shirt.

"It's a shirt," I said.

"A shirt?" he asked, shocked. "Not just a shirt, my friend, oh no. This is the one that Harvey Keitel wore in Taxi Driver! The exact shirt!"

That's how Jingles was. He was just Jingles. That was just him.

So maybe I'm lame. Perhaps I could have found a better way to deal with my sister than to be her pimp, but trust me, I tried everything. Being her friend, being her enemy, being her therapist. You name it, I tried it. The only thing I learned was that you should expect to fail in this life.

The way I figured it, she was going to hit the streets, she was going to sell her body. Basically like being a human vending machine where instead of a soda you get a blowjob or whatever when you put in your money. I relate it to my theory on the whole abortion issue. Abortion sucks, and you can argue against it all you want, but desperate girls are still going to do it, no matter what you think. You can either keep pissing in the wind protesting your little hearts out, or provide a safe environment for the girls who are going to do it no matter what the Christian Right may think.

This was the line of logic that led me to pimp my sister.

I'm not the pimp type. I consider this as I stand here in the rain on fifty-second street watching Ruby with some of Jingle's girls hustling on the corner. There's a cop a ways further down, but I don't figure him to be much of a problem. He looks like more of the freebie type than the arresting type.

'Why do you do it Jingles?'

'Daddy was a pimp, momma was a whore. If the pimp shoe fits, you put your damn pimp foot into it.'

Seems logical enough.

'No, really.'

Jingles laughs, flashing a couple gold teeth.

'How does one get into anything Frankie? I just... I don't know. I just ended up here.'

'It doesn't seem like being a pimp is something you just end up doing.'

'Where I grew up, you ainıt got a lot of choice. You either rumble with the devil, or you help him make change.'

I think on it for a moment.

'What the hell does that mean?'

'Take it as you will.'

Jingles has been like that as long as I've known him. Very cryptic for a man with a sixth grade education, and oddly well spoken. If it hadn't been for Jingles though, I would have gotten smoked my first week on the streets. Network administrators shouldn't try to pimp without instruction, like some type of Pimping for dummies handbook.

I look back to the street and see Ruby half-in half-out the window of a car. I've told her I-don't-know-how-many-times not to do that. There is absolutely no need to even lean into the window at all. I start getting nervous watching her, getting that feeling that some shit is about to go down, and my C programming skills are in no way going to help me.

Sure enough I see Ruby's body jerk back a bit, and then a leg kicks out, indicating the driver has a hold of her. I bolt through the sheets of rain, past a few girls sharing a common umbrella, and slide across the hood of the car like Bo Duke, brass knuckles already out of my jacket and in hand. Before the driver even sees me I rap him across the side of the face and ring his bell good. I follow this up with a burst of authentic pimp banter that Jingles taught me to scare the John shitless and keep him from fucking around anymore. He's a sheep like all the rest and just sits there looking stunned until I let him go.

Ruby's back under the community umbrella with the other girls, a huddled mess of broken humanity, but I grab her by the arm and pull her in the diner door and into a booth.

"Let me go Frankie!" she snaps, pulling her arm out of my grip and sitting down angrily in the seat.

It's hard to flip-flop from pimp to brother mode. Sometimes I forget who I am when I'm with her. What the hell have I gotten into? The other day Sam Brady at work was giving me some shit because his Network printer connection went down, really laying into me, and I went Pimp on him. He knew I wasn't posing or pulling some suburban white-boy gangster act, and so he backed off. The fact is, you may think you know the people you work with, but you don't, not really. You have no idea what they do after work. Who they pimp, what they sell, who they become.

I look at Ruby now, streaked mascara from the sudden onslaught of tears, bad magenta dye job, cheap costume jewelry. I have a sudden thought that someone should do her a favor and put a bullet in her. If only had been born unattractive, maybe things would have been different.

"I can't get you off the streets. I know that. Maybe we could find a better gig though? Working in a house or something? Hotel lobbies?"

"I'm not working in a fucking whore house Frankie."

The devil is in the details, and to her, everything is details.

"It sure would beat the hell out of blowing guys in the backs of cars and in phone booths, wouldn't it?"

She gives me that look as if I've offended her somehow.

"Why don't you go home Frankie?" She looks sad, looking like a big sister for once, like she's watching out for me. "I'll be fine on my own."

When I finally stepped into her life it was because I had to pick her up from the hospital with a broken collar bone. Ruby had been picked up by one tough customer too many.

"Yeah, you were doing great before I came along."

"This isn't love Frankie, if that's what you're thinking. I know you love me, you don't have to do this to prove it."

"I do this because I can't sleep at night knowing you're out here alone."

"You should take sleeping pills, that's what I do. Vicodin for the pain. Whatever. Anything to kill the pain."

The waitress brings us both a cup of coffee, she knows the score. Ruby downs a couple pills and her cup of coffee in one swallow. She's destroying herself from the inside and out. Leaning back in the booth she draws a heart in the fog on the window, smiling a little to herself. Meanwhile, mine is breaking.

She's dying. Maybe not in any real medical way, but in every other way imaginable she's rotting from day to day, step by step, fuck by fuck. Just another corpse walking the city streets on layaway.

Ruby's scribbling on a napkin, and eventually it turns into a drawing of two stick figures standing in front of a house holding hands. She shows it to me and smiles. Somewhere in there she is still four years old.

'Maybe we should,' she says as the waitress with the name tag identifying her as Flo pours more coffee into our cups.

'What?' I ask, absent-mindedly.

'Try improving our station in life.'

Could it possibly be? Could she be talking about going straight? Getting a job? Living a normal life?

'You know,' she continues. 'I could fix myself up a little, re-dye my hair. We could work some hotels. Maybe go out to Vegas for a while, see how that works out?'

How foolish of me. Everyday I can see that the pimp is shaving more and more flesh off of the network administrator to create himself. Now she wants me to do this full time in Vegas.

The summation of it all is, I'm her brother. I can't save her with one swift gesture, with one profound movement, I know this. I do what I have to do to ensure her survival. I reach across the table and take Ruby's hand, sitting in Bishop's Diner on another rainy night. It doesn't get any better, or worse, than this.

In the end, I guess it's all just about running your life with a minimal amount of drivers.  


Jordan Vezina was born in 1975 in Northern California. He has spent the last four years in the Marine Corps, and prefers Germany to North Carolina. Previous Publications- The Dark Underneath- February 2001/ News of the Brave New World, Henry Slave- Spring 2001/ Starry Night Review and Fingertips and Toes- March-July 2001/ News of the Brave New World.  Upcoming Publications- Novocaine- 2001/ Blue Moon Review, Fingertips and Toes- August 2001/ Thought Magazine and Society- August 2001/ Thought Magazine:

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