May 4, 2009

The objects abandoned in the suite in the strip mall

The picked flowers, purple in the vase on the table, said this was not just what they thought it was, but also a home.

The deputies didn't look at the flowers. They didn't look at the books or the papers on the table. They didn't look at the Grisham paperback or the Gideon's bible, the American history written in Korean or the letters with pictures of children. They looked for evidence. They looked for towels stained with semen and they scowled at the frowning woman in sandals, calling her mama-san.

The sheriff said he was shutting down the massage parlors. He had stars sewn onto each uniform shoulder and this makes great TV: the women walked out past the cameras while the sirens flashed for mood and the voice over said the sheriff said this is a crusade.

Inside the massage parlor, the kitchen smelled like hot rice. The table was set with plates. The plates were arranged in a circle around the flowers, even though no one would eat here again.

In the arrest reports, filed faithfully in the basement of the court, the undercover officers never quite said they said no to the blow jobs. It didn't matter though. In a week the women were free, forgotten and scattering up the interstate to other places of prostitution. Everything was forgotten, lost in the cycles of news and elections, economics and memory. Even after a few days, after a week or 10 days, there was nothing left but a few pages of procedural paperwork, b-rolls of women with their faces flashing red and flashing blue, a story in a paper in a stack of papers, and the objects abandoned in the suite in the strip mall, the detritus of life lived by aliens in America.

Some of these things were packed into boxes, stacked in dark warehouses, and given a number no one would ever look up again. And some of them were left there, when the deputies put plywood over the door and put up posters saying "vice squad," and they were left to rot in the heat in the dark. This is what happens to the artifacts of prostitutes in massage parlors in run-down suburbs. This is what's left when it's over: the plates there, and some books, some pictures, pairs of sandals and a vase of purple flowers. They were seen for a moment, and then they were unseen again.