My phone has never been so busy.
If I wanted, I could spend 12 hours a day typing. I have a groove in the pinky of my right hand from holding the edge. This started last Saturday.
They haven’t stopped trying to book. Someone in D.C. connected to the relief effort texted recently that the trains were still running. When I ignored that, he said he meant he could go to a crowded train station, ride to another crowded train station, check into a hotel, and we could fuck.
I said, “I’m so sorry I would really love to but: I’m isolating.” He said, “Whatever you need to do to feel safe.”
Almost everyone still asking is in their early sixties, the fuck-you-I’m-not-old age. Many have a pre-existing condition. I can’t tell if the requests generate in the same mortality denial lobe as hammy PDA, or if they think they’re too special to get sick. But just like when they say they’re clean, it doesn’t matter. I text a friend, “If they want me to kill them it costs more.”
They send money. They ask for my Venmo, Cashapp, PayPal—the memos read “just because.” A steady drip of those means I’m not down this week, but I don’t know how long it will last.
It’s not just because. After I get a chunk, I text for a half-hour, an hour. Some want sexting. That’s straightforward. Some send walls of words the moment they get my “thank you!!!” Some offer predictions, summaries of the news, political diatribes, rundowns of hand-washing procedures, stern protocols I should be following. I skim and then ask how they are? How is their family? How are they feeling?
Clients are didactic when they need to process. I wish I challenged this instead of coddling it, but capitalism. Some are panicked and I listen. Some are worried that they’re sick. Sometimes I’m worried they’re sick, even if they’re awful, finding within myself uncomfortable concern.
Some people are meeting, business as usual, bills to pay. I wonder if there are new safety protocols: No kissing, only doggie? Usually I know where I stand with respect to paranoia vs. absurdism, but this week I have no idea. I type a chatty, deft email about paid pen-pal relationships once, twice, then save it as a note for copy pasting. I will need it.
One is a doctor, sorry, a physician, and he wants a lot of attention. I’m upfront the next time he asks how I’m doing: “low on cash.” He responds with a platitude about all our lives, and the world, and the economy. I ask him to tide me over. Virtual regard used to be a loss leader against bookings. But if bookings are dead, attention costs. It’s a seller’s market. Everyone who is frightened wants some.
I’m already exhausted, a tragedy of my common. It can’t be free.
I’m in daily communication with my arrangement clients. I’m grateful to have them. I contribute to the usual inadequate GoFundMes. When I look at Twitter, the feed is dark with cleavage, motel room videos of asses in slow rotation, half-off specials. The industry was just climbing out of the Christmas slump. I FaceTime from my bedroom, cheerful, agog, in agreement: It’s crazy.
Someone tells me that his clients are panicking, because of the market. I don’t know what he does. “Wealth Management” can mean many things. His LinkedIn led me to a website that was registered 20 years ago and has his photo. I know where he went to college and what position he played on the team that won a championship his junior year. I know where he lives and his Facebook account and his kids’ names. I don’t know how he helps the rich stay rich.
The client I’m most worried about I’ve never met. He has properties in two faraway states and has sent pictures of the dark, empty rooms, telling me I will love it there. I’ve seen close-ups of the slab dining-room table, the wainscoting in the foyer, the view of the pond and the long curved driveway after a snowfall. He is seventysomething, started using “baby” and “hun” immediately. His intuition told him the first day we connected that we were destined for love. He’s sent one very blurry photo of himself. I could tell that he is a white man, and possesses clothes.
If I were new, I would be afraid of all the talk of getting me alone, for himself, away from New York, to stay with him. I’d think the feverish descriptions of smelling and tonguing me, wet verbs that I cringe from, were Norman Bates territory. But we will probably never meet. I text him cute nothings day in and out and in return he sends money and gift certificates. We have no contract, but it is a steady gig.
They are not careful or complex texts. I use the emoji where the circle is surrounded by hearts. Oldsters love it, that and the blowing a kiss one, or bashful. I dole them out carefully, one or two for good morning and hi, four if he sends me a CashApp or something I want—not lingerie. The credulity amazed me when I learned about old men and emojis. They have no defenses.
He took a bath in the first couple bad days, said he was going to start shorting the market. Then he said he had a cold. A cough. Nothing to worry about, he was fine. I realized I didn’t know if he had anyone else. I was in crisis mode already. I texted, double-texted, direct, no hearts, asking if he had a fever.
He evaded the question, asked if we could talk on the phone. We picked a time. He had to do a couple calls first—he pays these people and they have no idea what to do about the bloodbath. He didn’t call. “Sorry sweetie,” he said. He was headed to the gym. Maybe tomorrow, baby.
I hope he is rich enough to be talking about a room in his house.
I don’t know his name. I don’t like how he speaks to me, and we have nothing in common. I am subservient to him: I text things I wouldn’t say, perform a person I am not, and when he badgers me enough, I take a picture of my naked body and send it. I do this because he has a giant pile of money, and I will do that for any man who has a giant pile of money.
It’s an exchange I’m used to, maybe more than any other exchange. And now I’m worried about his health.
Casey Thompson is a pseudonym.