Penury makes you do weird things.
As an unemployed twenty-something, I troll the comically nightmarish Craigslist ETC posts regularly, applying for countless paid research studies and pondering donating expendable body bits, like eggs. A few times listings calling out for young women with “pretty feet” caught my eye. Recently single and perpetually poor, I selected two posts and shot off emails with photos of my face and toes attached. "Ms. Heaven" responded.
I am reluctant to use my last name to identify myself on the phone. She says, “Oh? The girl with the short hair?” “Yes.” “Oh, sweetie. I’m on a long-distance call. Can I call you in 20 minutes?” “Sure.” We hang up and I wonder why I never hear anyone identify a call as long-distance any more. I sit in front of my box fan, listening to Beach Boys when “Mama Says” comes on. I feel guilty. But this is in the name of journalism! I am being valiant! And I’m poor, so I’m also being realistic.
She didn’t call me back in 20 minutes. I had to leave for my part-time job, but dropped Ms. Heaven a quick email first, asking about a raincheck for the next morning. She replied promptly with, “yes,” – no punctuation.
The next morning came and with little time to spare before I needed to split for work again, I tried her number. It rang about four times before a voicemail recording of Ms. Heaven answered breathlessly, “Hi. If you're calling about the party...” it started, going on to give all the necessary times and dates, but no location. She repeated the details before the beep and I left a chipper message in my “phone voice”. What the hell was I doing?
Days later I finally secured an interview with her. Dressed in vanilla jeans, a tank and closed-toe shoes (to add mystery), I stood in front of a bullet-hole-peppered door on an especially grimey block of Midtown. The friend I convinced to come with for safety offered a final out. “If you don’t feel good about it, you can back out now,” he said, not breaking eye contact. “Yeah, but,” I started. “The story will be worth it.”
Ms. Heaven buzzed me in and I ascended the steps, immediately spotting her tiny blonde head peering down into the lobby. “Hi sweetie!” she warmly greets me. “Who’s that?” She meant my friend and was frowning. “My boyfriend,” I lied, following her into a purple room with a desk and receptionist. “Oh? He knows what you do?” she closed the door behind me. “Yes,” I lied again. I was on a roll!
She led me into another purple room. Ms. Heaven stood a good bit beneath my own 5-foot-3 frame. A slightly plump woman in flip-flops, she identified herself as a Dominican New Yorker, explaining that’s from where her adoration for reggaeton stems.
I should have been less shocked to see S&M equipment scattered throughout the space as I made way to the black leather sofa. When Ms. Heaven excused herself for a minute to take a call about the party, I texted my friend, “There’s a receptionist. I think it’s OK. Def weird but not unsafe.”
Upon returning, she handed me an index card to lay out some basic contact info for her rolodex or something. I put my first name, phone number, email address and a brief physical description (I included “small feet” for good measure).
When asked about experience, I told her I was brand new to the foot whatever thing. She said, “But you have experience in the adult industry?” I thought about the one time I voted. “Yes...” I looked into my pimpstress’s face. “Where are you from?” “Florida.” That wasn’t what she was asking. People have mistaken me for interesting ethnicities, even though I am of the most boring, white American variety. “Where are you FROM?” So I lied. “I'm Persian.” She gushed with the excitement for which I’d hoped. “My first Persian!”
After she deflated some, she started to go over the rules, which, verbatim are "no sucking, no fucking". I wanted to cry, but kept smiling like an idiot. She continued, "Take your top off, if you want. And don't be freaked out if some guys pull themselves out to... finish. You don't have to touch it if you don't want to, but it's legal." Apparently back in Ms. Heaven's heyday, she yanked out all stops and always “performed” topless.
She told me to expect to be asked to step on dudes (OK) and their weenies (not OK) which sometimes come out of the pants (double not OK). She also said if I wanted, I could participate in "private sessions", which make you the big buxx (triple not OK). Talking dirty is encouraged. “You can’t act freaked out, like, uhhh, when some guy’s, like, sucking your toes,” Ms. Heaven said, waving her hands. I became acutely aware of the banana I’d eaten before that had started to jig in my stomach.
The girls involved are also expected to "clean up" after each session, a premise that really scared me and included "spraying down" "your area" with alcohol and freshening up your feet with baby wipes. I’d been told there were cubicle-type areas for privacy, but I felt like “your area” could mean other things, too.
She said dress code should be a bikini (no) or a cocktail dress (I had a sundress from American Eagle I bought for a friend's wedding last summer??) and open-toed heels ("they MUST be heels"). A bonus tip she offered was to bring along pantyhose because "some men like how it feels... the material".
Also, all the girls were supposed to just toss their purses, normal clothes and belongings in some closet in one of the private rooms which kind of freaked me out. I felt I'd be a lot more OK with this if I knew I could make a quick exit and not be forced to wail on a locked door sure to harbour both sucking and fucking behind it.
She again stressed that everything had to stay legal and this was, in fact, legal. “I’m a professional,” she said, lifting a bottle of orange juice to her lips, wrapping her whole mouth around the opening before she took a swig.
I thought of a friend of mine who danced exotically to get through college. “Do we... use fake names?” I asked. She fingered where I’d printed my name on the index card. “Oh honey,” her face lit up with the prospect of such virginal toes. “This is your real name?” We sat for a minute as she thought of a foot name for me. “You look like a flower,” she said, leaving her mouth a little open after the compliment floated into the lube-scented air. I smiled graciously. “Has anyone ever had a nickname for you?” I thought of Grimm Reaper, which enjoyed some popularity in high school but decided this was probably not sexy to most people. But then again, I didn’t know how many people really pitched tents over feet, yet here we were. We finally decided on “Magnolia”, after my ode to the South tattoo on my arm. “Perfect,” she muttered, adding “[MAGNOLIA]” to the top of my (shudder) calling card.
Before we parted, she said with a wink, “Oh, and Magnolia. About your boyfriend,” I looked into her tiny tan face. “Less is more. You know what I’m saying? I have a husband and... yeah. The less you tell him, the better.”
I left the (perhaps) brothel having only flashed Ms. Heaven my right foot, complete with fierce Toms tanline and chipped red polish. She didn’t seem to mind.
The following day, I turned to YouTube to research foot fetish. All I knew about it was some dude I’d seen for a spell mentioned liking feet. He once texted me a semi-threat that he’d “do terrible things” to mine. I never allowed him to explain what that meant and limited his touching of them as a result. Obviously I had some learning to do before some anonymous CEO was to suck on my foot. I hit search with the simple phrase “foot fetish”.
The first video came from Discovery Health. I think it is Canadian. Not that that matters.
I had been worrying about what my feet might smell like by the time of the party after working eight hours beforehand. Now I felt reassured that maybe the stink would even earn me a bit more dough. Despite that knowledge, I could not shake the visual of my cat sniffing an ex’s particularly rancid Vans. The cat used to close her eyes partially, as if stoned, with her mouth open and sometimes drooling. I thought of the same rando suit beneath the imagined low lighting. My stomach somersaulted. Next video, this time with the term modified to “foot fetish science”.
Oh, this one is so very good for so many reasons, not only because of the authority’s own saucy leg-crossing and jumpy editing, but also for the visual aids that come in around 3:40. Next I had to see some weird shit.
I am a girl. I’ve worn uncomfortable shoes before. This just looks like me wearing my interview heels on a sweaty train car. It also kind of reminded me of a nature documentary about sea anemones. Does not compute.
Yeah. I did not get this. (Ms. Heaven told me before that each “session” during the party was to last ten minutes, or about three songs. I could not help but feel like this was the kind of music I could anticipate as pseudo-distraction from the toe-lapping.) The Foot Dude I mentioned before happened to be on G-chat, so I asked him for a little more clarification.
Me: OK so can I ask you about feet I know you say you like them but are you like, INTO them? I'm just trying to understand this.
Him: Feet are cute... and I've kissed feet... but nothing gross beyond that.
Me: So they are just cute? You're not like... aroused by them, are you?
Him: Feet can be arousing. Feet aren't shown all the time either. Plus there Isn't much flexibility to the foot, so a guy can just take it and do what he wants with it.
I was starting to get worried. My feet did nothing to deserve violation.
Me: Like, have you ever gotten a boner just by looking at a foot? And what makes for a sexy foot?
Him: Toenail polish helps.
Me: Any colour in particular?
I had gotten a pedicure that morning in purple and needed validation.
Him: Pff anything but black? I dunno feet are simple. The vulnerability of a foot, like it has no bearing on the rest of the body. It's just cute.
And I probably have gotten a boner from feet, I just can't think of a time.
This wasn’t a good sign. He’d seen my feet before and they didn’t bring on as much penal awakening as I’d need to rake in mad money at the party, making for a much less exciting story.
Me: Did you want to touch feet with your peepee? Is that how it works?
Him: Ha! No. Not for me at least. Foot jobs are a thing though.
Me: Tell me about that.
Him: Uhhh you can just use the internet for that one.
I did not use the Internet for that one. Although I consider myself far from a prude, I am still a 24-year-old who has never watched more than 30 seconds of porn (just long enough to realise it isn’t, in fact, a Yuck video). That’s a fact I pondered, feeling smaller and more from North Florida than when I first pitched the story and arranged my interview with Ms. Heaven.
I know Ms. Heaven said I’d get at least a few hundred for selling my pure, magnolia-bred soul, but the fear of strange dogs lapping at my dogs was making me lose sleep. Although that wad of cash would be graciously absorbed into my gaping bank account, it became clear I couldn’t go through with it. It would have been a great story, but what exactly would have been the price?
The day of the party, I meant to text some bullshitty lie about a family emergency or sore throat, but I plum forgot. And that’s OK because I think Ms. Heaven did the same about the little girl Magnolia who’d swung by her bungalow of debauchery and putrid smells days before. After all, there had to have been dozens more flower-named girls and women willing to put personal comfort on pause to pad out their pocketbooks. Smart girls and women, you know.
Maybe one day I’ll have the balls and brains to allow some faceless accountant to chew my toenails to pay my rent, but not now. And likely not ever.