"A North Dakota radio station received a letter from
a Minnesota listener which said: ĎI know that you
will be interested to know that after listening to
your program for over a year I now have a baby.í
ĖEditor & Publisher"
My mother became well-acquainted with John Q. Public. Her mother, Granny Elaine, introduced them around 1935, eleven years before I was born. It was that night of sexual initiation that helped move the family profession forward into a new generation and Granny Elaine was determined to be the one who decided the when, where, how and who of this first step into the big time for her daughter. Not that she was totally inexperienced by then. She was nineteen, after all, and sheíd been out with boys, even with older men, by then, and she had learned a thing or two about keeping her pride and her passions in reasonable balance. Quite a few of her swains had made their moves and been politely rebuffed, although one or two of them had made it to what was already quaintly being referred to as Ďsecond base.í Or at least thatís what she told me one drunken night in a rental apartment in Far Rockaway, New York where we spent the summer I was eight years old.
So, at nineteen, Granny Elaine introduced her daughter to the delights of doing it "right" and "not for all night," as she liked to say. She also taught her child-turned-woman about doing it for cash.
"If you have to do it at all," she said to her daughter, Lana, "then make it worthwhile. Let me tell you how its done," and she proceeded to do exactly that. She explained everything from coitus to cunnilingus and all the various techniques a provocative woman could use with a man. She went into lengthy detailed descriptions of various hygiene practices and she was very deliberate in explaining about the money. "What they get to do depends on what they pay, and pay up front," she said. "You, the woman, are always in control. Never the man. You take the cash, count it, stash it safely and then, and only then, do you do anything."
My mother listened carefully to every word of the lecture on business, principals and habits. She was a good student, I guess, because she became very popular right away, at least according to her and to Granny Elaine. She had a career upswing at twenty-one when she met a man named Byron. Byron was wealthy, handsome and a confirmed bachelor. He was in the business of importing European antiques and he was in need of a classy looking woman to escort him to upper class affairs where he could do business. Lana, he decided, could be that one.
It was an odd move in her career. She basically had to give up all of the other men who came to see her, took her places and did her. It worked out, though, because Byron paid her very well for her time and she wasnít always having to wash places that were being used by clients. Instead she could dress well, go to parties, go to the theater and the opera and be admired by lots of people, women and men, who had no idea who she was or what she did for a living. Byron made up the difference in her life and for a while she even played with the concept of marrying him. But that wasnít in the cards.
First of all, he wasnít going to marry her or anyone. Secondly, sex with him only happened once in a while and she wasnít enjoying that part very much; he wasnít a good lover. Thirdly, she met my father.
They met at one of those parties Byron took her to as his lady-beard. It was held in a suite at the Excelsior Grande Hotel on West 38th Street, the hotel my father managed. When Byron and Lana arrived for the party, he had a small suitcase filled with beautiful platinum boxes from some estate in Austria. He had just acquired them and he had a client who was probably going to like them very much. They weighed a lot, so he had asked for someone to carry the suitcase for him and my father, as the manager, took that responsibility on himself. He knew that whatever Byron was selling was valuable, so he wouldnít trust this job to a bellhop. He and Lana met in the elevator going up to the nineteenth floor.
In those days the elevators were manually run by men in uniforms who opened and closed the grillwork inner doors. These men were trained not to see who was with whom and what was going on behind them. They were committed to their work and to the privacy of the people who came to their hotels. So, in this case, Lana and my father were standing in the rear of the car and Byron was in front of them, next to the elevator operator. My father barked out the floor number and the operator slid the gate closed, paused a second, then threw the throttle bar to the right and the elevator began its long, slow ascent.
"No stops for this car," my father said sternly. The operator nodded once without turning around. "Thatís fine, Barry," my dad added.
Byron never turned around to check on his suitcase or his girl. My father never looked at her either and, according to my mother, she kept her eyes trained front as well, her eyes on the back of Byronís head. But her hand slipped across the rear wall of the machined-room and over my fatherís hand, the one holding the handle of the suitcase. They stood there like that for fifteen floors, her hand over his, caressing the skin on the back of his fingers. He said it was the happiest vertical trip of his life because she was so beautiful that he had not been able to look at her for long in the lobby because Byron intimidated him. But for that trip he was in heaven.
After escorting them to the party, my father went back to his office and tried to work, but he found it difficult. His mind wasnít on papers, or bank accounts, or unpaid bills. He could only think about her.
He was doubly surprised when, just about one hour later, the knock on his door revealed the beautiful Lana and not his personal assistant.
"Come in, please," he said trying to contain his excitement. "Is there something wrong? Something you need?"
"No. Yes." Her answers were short and specific.
"Tell me," he said.
"Iím not supposed to tell you about myself," she said, "as my mother wouldnít approve of it."
"All right," he said, totally confused.
"But I havenít been able to think about anything but you since I came into the lobby and you came to greet us."
"I..." he hesitated. "I felt the same way."
"I work for a living," she said. "Iím a working girl."
"I didnít know that," he said not sure of what she was telling him.
"I come from a family of working girls," she said. "Weíre taught what to do and we do it."
A picture was emerging in his mind and although he was certain he was catching up with her tale, he wasnít the slightest bit offended by what he was hearing. That confused him. He had always considered himself a very moral man and if she was telling him what he assumed she was saying than he should have been deeply concerned.
"Heís a client," she said. "But heís the best kind of client. I wanted you to know that. I only go places with him and look nice and intelligent. I help him impress his own customers and I donít do anything."
"All right, then," my father said.
"I like you, though," she continued. "Thereís something different about you, sort of like the boys I knew in high school. I can see the lust in your eyes, but I know you wouldnít try anything. You saw me with someone else and you respected that. I just wanted you to know I appreciated it."
"Thatís nice. Thanks."
"Iíd like to get to know you though," she told him. "I really think I like you."
"Itís awkward, isnít it, saying those things? Iím blushing from it, Miss."
"My name is Lana Silverman. My phone number is Trafalgar 9-401. I will be there all day tomorrow. I hope I havenít bothered you in vain."
She picked up his business card from the silver tray on his desk, turned around and headed out of his office. The story she told me is that he called her the next day and they met and then they met again a few times and he got to third base right away and then home run came just a few days before they married and my sister Briana was born almost immediately. With that short scenario, Lana Silverman went out of the family business. It was the shortest career anyone had enjoyed in the history of our clan.
Eleven years later I was born. In between I donít know much about, but certainly something had to have happened. My father changed jobs; my sister opted to take up the family business; my Granny Elaine died and she and my mother revealed a lot of secrets to me that they had never told anyone else. Those long nights with the two of them, together or on their own, were fascinating for me, enthralling even. What I learned from them, Iím willing to share, but thereís a fee, of course. That much Iíve learned well. Everything comes for a price, and you get it up front.