Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Four ethnic "Survivors": An interview with four Oakland teen prostitutes

I'm currently reading William Manchester's history of European medieval times entitled, "A World Lit Only by Fire". Trust me. Our ancestors were a barbaric lot. Even compared to our current wars and corruption and decadence, the human race has evolved A LOT since the Dark Ages.

According to Manchester, there was A LOT of killing going on back then -- and A LOT of sex.

According to Manchester, murder was an everyday affair but only perhaps one in a hundred killers were caught. And between the hardship of life back then, the highwaymen and bandits, the free-handed use of torture, the endless wars and the non-existent healthcare, you were considered an old man if you managed to survive to age 30!

According to Manchester, the traditional fairy-tale hero called the Pied Piper was actually a pervert who chopped up his young followers into neat little piles of torsos, arms and legs. Eeuuwww!

But what amazed me most about Manchester's description of medieval Europe was his chapter on sex. Back then, everyone in a family all shared the same bed. And when anyone in the family had sex, everyone else watched. People who remained loyal to their spouses were considered to be oddballs and prudes -- if not downright anti-social. The "oldest profession" was considered an honorable -- and necessary -- trade. Women "hiked up their skirts" at every opportunity and men "wore codpieces" as an advertisement that they were ready for action at all times. If one's daughter somehow miraculously survived to age 14 as a virgin, she was among a very small minority. And marriage was what you did after you got pregnant -- and if you didn't know who the father was, the most likely candidates all drew straws.

Forget about the Puritans! According to Manchester, our good Christian ancestors were basically libertines, rakes, nymphomaniacs and whores! And butchers, sadists, liars and thieves as well.

I didn't know that.

William Manchester liked to research medieval Europe but not me. I like to research Modern Man -- like what's going on in the latest episode of "Survivor". This season they divided the tribes into four ethnic groups: African-American, White, Asian and Hispanic.

This division by ethnicity reminded me of four teenage girls I met recently at the Hilltop Mall. I usually never go to malls but a friend talked me into it. And while she was shopping, I sat by the fountain and started talking with the four giggling teenage girls sitting next to me. They were sweet girls, friendly and bright-eyed and hopeful and full of life. One was African-American. One was White. One was Hispanic. And one was Asian. Hey, that's just like "Survivor"!

"Would you like me to read your lifelines," I asked them after my friend hadn't yet shown up and I was bored. They thought that idea was so cool!

"There are three kinds of lifelines in people's palms," I told the girls. "There is the 'American Plan' line which most Americans have -- it's a straight-forward line depicting an easy life." No hardship. No toil. Just a life-long series of trips to the mall. These girls looked like they would have that kind of line.

"The second basic type is the 'Stay out of the Army' line. That one has chains in it and means that there will be danger in your life but if you are careful, you can avoid it." The girls were fascinated.

"The third one is the 'I've lived through Hell and survived' line." I usually find this kind of lifeline on people with really sad stories -- refugees from Haiti, people who had survived childhood leukemia and the like.

"Okay, girls, let me see your dominant hand -- the one you write with." Eagerly, they all held out their hands. And all FOUR of these sweet, innocent NORMAL American teens had the dread "I've lived through Hell and survived" lifelines. Oh my God.

I took a much closer look at these girls. What could I tell them? That their lives had been extremely hard so far? And that their lives were about to get MUCH harder?

"Er, girls. Uh, er, you wanna tell me some more about yourselves? Er, ah, er..." I was stalling for time while I tried to think up something reassuring to say. "Er, for instance -- how did you meet?" Went to the same schools? Played on a sports team together? Went to the same church?

"We all have the same pimp!"

"You met on the street corners of Oakland? You're kidding me? Right?" Nope. Then they started telling me their life stories and showing me their various scars and tattoos just in case I might have any doubts. By the time they got done, I had absolutely no doubts -- and no illusions -- left. Trust me on that one.

One girl pulled up her sleeve and showed me a knife-wound scar. Two of the girls told me how they had moved from foster home to group home to foster home all of their lives. Another one told me about her life as a gang-banger. Another one's mother had been on crack. They explained all about the street-corner life -- what prices they charged, how they used the back seats of cars, renting cheap hotel rooms by the hour, the Johns, the pimps, getting arrested.

Hearing these girls' stories, I just wanted to hug them and cry -- but they just laughed. They liked being whores. They thought it was glamorous and edgy. And they liked shocking me too. And I WAS shocked. If I hadn't heard the stories and seen the scars -- one even had a bullet wound on the side of her abdomen -- I would never have believed that these all-American girls....

These girls ARE Survivors. But unlike on TV, they are playing a very dangerous game. And the winner is NOT going to take home a million dollars and a new car.

Unlike William Manchester, I'm finding it really difficult to be objective here. An African-American girl. A White girl. An Asian girl. A Hispanic girl. Which one will survive?

And what can we do to protect them from modern-day Pied Pipers?