Gina Santaria wiggled the mouse to her Dell laptop which connected to her 32-inch massive paper-thin HD monitor and logged out for the day. Her back ached from hunching over the side of her bed toward the digital video camera atop her monitor. Her hands throbbed from pounding away at her keyboard for ten hours with barely a 15-minute break. After a quick bite of her tuna sandwich, sip of her diet Coke and a drag of a smoke she had whisked back to her live web cam and her lonely, perverted clients with their stupid come-ons and their hands in their pants. The back half of her evening had dragged, and she couldn’t wait to shut down physically and emotionally. The day’s visitors blurred across her mind like an acid trip. And the bright lights of her pink and purple fake college dorm room burned into her retina even when she closed her eyes to shake them away.
For a moment, she lay back on the plush bedding behind her and stared at the water stains on the ceiling tiles above. She longed to put on her oversized sweatshirt and fluffy slippers, light up a joint and catch a cheesy late night or early morning movie on the Comedy channel. But first, she would have to bus her way back to the tunnel to Hoboken and the apartment she shared with a hooker and a porn actress, neither of whom were ever there.
She checked her iPhone on the way out the door of the studio for any auditions she might have for photo shoots or bit acting parts but sighed to realize she had already checked earlier in the evening with the same blank results.
Part of her appreciated the empty calendar as most of her “modeling” auditions entailed stripping at least her top and prancing about for some fat guy and his greasy photographer in a dinghy, smelly, windowless office somewhere out in a forgotten slum of the Bronx or Harlem. The auditions for calendars, magazines and racy web sites rarely paid anywhere close to the promised amount and more than a few times, resulted in her having to aggressively refuse to offer sexual favors or masturbate on camera.
She could handle herself just fine. After dancing in gentleman’s clubs for three years following High School, she had seen all kinds of abhorrent and disgusting behavior. She had learned how to play coy and keep her bosses and patrons feeling like good behavior would get them further than rudeness. She had also learned to say “No” in a sexy enough way to keep most aggressors from using violence on her. But she had also suffered her share of beatings and doled out the occasional last resort free hand job to keep the peace on more occasions than she cared to admit. She prided herself on never having been raped, which was less than many of her peers could say.
“Some nice goals you’ve got there Regina,” she often thought to herself. “Get through the day … make a buck … and don’t get fucked by some asshole …”
Gina had learned to size up the outside of the office upon arrival for an audition. She stayed away from private sessions where it looked like she might be the only participant. Auditions where lines of girls waited outside the hallway - or in a waiting room - usually produced safer environments for her, although they also meant greater competition.
In addition to dancing at clubs, she had also worked during the day as an on-line stripper under the name “Very Amorous Gina”, or “V.A. Gina” for short. The job paid excessively well for basically hanging out in chat rooms exchanging witty dialog with pathetic old men, bored husbands and pre-pubescent boys. She barely had to strip as clients came and went, posted profane commentary and often left within minutes of joining her room. A simple peek here and flash there would whip up the group of chatters enough to pass the time. The job was so easy that she didn’t even always have to put in any effort if she didn’t want to. Her home page profile pictures and clever screen name were enough to drive traffic to her site. So she could sit there and file her nails if she wanted and her room would always remain full of traffic.
She enjoyed matching flirtatious wits with some of the patrons, who could occasionally be intelligent, clever and even respectful.
The pay, while slightly less than she could make at her old dancing gig in Hoboken, came in steadily like a paycheck as opposed to an inconsistent stream of small tips. And the environment was quieter, warmer and much more comfortable. Alonzo King had spotted her six months earlier dancing at a seedy club called Inferno in Hoboken, not far from the football stadium. He offered her the job while receiving a fierce bump and grind routine from her in the private dance room. She jumped at the chance to come in from the dangerous underworld she had served since she turned legal.
The concept of Face Time, a portable video conference function, first worked its way into the mainstream with the advent of the iPhone and other handheld PDAs that exploded in the early 2000’s. Web cams had been around even longer, dating back to 1997 when college students started broadcasting themselves 24 by 7 to anyone interested in watching them read history books, fold laundry and have drunken sex in the dark. By 2000, they had become institutionalized by the omnipresent porn companies that rule the underbelly of the information superhighway.
A series of minor technical innovations spearheaded by Michael Holliday’s Holy Trinity Technology firm, enabled the Web-based stripping industry to open a new channel to deliver web-cam stripping directly to the iPhone via an app that interacts with Apple’s Face Time function. Like ripping down a veil, this added a new dimension to the already booming web cam industry as clients immediately gravitated to the concept of seeing the stripper on the cam and enabling the stripper to see them as well.
Prior to Michael’s app, the technology existed for the computer, but was never simple for the clients to log in and start up. And concerns about security and exposing the client’s computer to malware and viruses always inhibited high adoption of the practice. But Michael’s “Pinhole” integration technology locked down the transmission of any code or data other than the two isolated video feeds, which raised consumer confidence in the safety of the technology. The ease of accessing the app and immediately connecting via Face Time to any of the predefined favorite models caught on like wildfire and opened yet another revenue stream for the internet’s most profitable enterprise. Michael made considerable money on the technology, selling out just before the million-plus imitators jumped into the industry and commoditized it.
The technology also helped spawn a range of new on-line service businesses focused on two-way human interaction, some more overt than others. The most practical application resembled a phone chat where the model strips and the client masturbates. The idea that the model would watch the client while she strips and pretend to be aroused gave the millions of web Johns a new sexual high and grew into a multi-billion-dollar industry, only three years after the advent of the technology.
Despite the exposure to a 10-hour stream of old, demanding, naked perverts, Gina enjoyed the work and felt much safer behind the walls of the internet with the anonymity it provided her. She saw a lot more penises than she would like, but she had quickly learned to desensitize herself like a doctor. “I’m like a gynecologist for men,” she thought to herself.
She found herself looking forward to that moment where they tighten up, jolt forward, roll their eyes and ease back into their computer chairs – spent – and no longer interested in continuing their association with her.
Gina sat alone on the grey PATH subway. The windows, dark as death, moved under the Hudson River from New York City to Hoboken. New York always seemed so midnight blue to Gina. But as she emerged from the tunnel, New Jersey seemed to emit a sickly green hue that depressed her and sapped her energy.
As the train arose from the underground darkness, her cell phone buzzed, and she noticed three messages from Carlos Santiago, her occasionally steady lay.
Back as a novice 18-year-old dancer, his desire to screw her seemed like a decadent pleasure. Even some of the dirtier and more creative sexual needs he exhibited were fun at first. But by her early 20s, she had grown tired of his booty calls and his contrived porn-style moves and positions. She just never had a compelling event to justify calling it off. And with her constant work schedule and odd hours; she didn’t have a wide range of other prospects. He was a spirited and skilled lover. And like reluctantly diving into a pool, once she submitted to his fiery intensity, her drunken orgasms burned through her entire body as if her blood had been replaced with poisonous molten lava.
She thought back to her last client of the evening, Greyson Holliday. A premium member, he always visited her at the same time every Sunday night for an hour-long private session right around the end of her shift.
He never appeared to be in any hurry, nor did he seem to worry about getting the most bang for his fifty bucks. Aside from always seeming either slightly or considerably inebriated, he treated her with respect, politely asking her about herself, her day and commenting innocently on her looks. He seemed content to watch her cycle through her teasing poses, probing her mind in engaging conversation more than her physical appearance.
She also liked the way he would lay facing the video camera, looking at her with his elbows under his chin as she casually teased her clothes away throughout the hour. Most of her clients sat at their computer desks, faces jammed into their video eyeball, with their hands below the view of their cameras. Many of them peered into her eyes menacingly as if broadcasting to her that they were fantasizing about her. Some days it took the entire train ride to Jersey to dispel the image of bringing dozens of lonely losers to masturbatory climax each day.
But Greyson lay facing the camera, looking casually into her eyes and chatting breezily with her as if they were old friends from the neighborhood. And he didn’t make any move on himself, instead soaking in her company as if enjoying a massage or getting a haircut.
“So, what do you think you want to do after you finish with this job?” he had asked earlier that evening. “I figure this is just to make some money and move on to something different.”
“By then, they’ll have such life-like 3D animation that people won’t even realize it’s not a real person they are watching.” Greyson smiled.
“Sometimes I feel like a 3D animation,” Gina smiled back repeating in her head the phrase “not a real person”. She slipped a weary smile that Greyson did not miss.
Gina hesitated to talk about her disabled brother and her deceased parents, but something about Greyson’s unaffected demeanor and his innocent inquisitiveness reassured her and she felt herself opening up to him.
“I got a kid brother who is kind of mentally handicapped... or … well, special,” she told him.
“My parents both kicked like three years ago. My mom went in a car accident. My dad died soon after of natural causes I guess. The doctors said it had to do with his smoking, but I think his broken heart took away his will to keep on living.
“My brother’s got Down’s Syndrome. He stays with my Great Aunt in Bayonne. But I take care of him and keep him company in between shifts. We play board games and read together. He likes to watch TV and movies, so I bring videos over and make pop corn. We have a good time.”
Gina neglected to mention her other line of work dancing at the clubs. Since she started working the web cam gig, she had cut back her nights at Inferno and intended to quit. But she was not sure how to extricate herself from Carlos or what ramifications the move would cause. And the money helped her make sure that her little dependent received quality food, clothes and anything else he needed.
“I’m sorry to hear about your parents,” Greyson looked at her with sympathetic eyes. “I can’t really relate because my parents are still alive, but I never see them. They are too busy with their work.”
“I am so sorry to hear it,” she said, looking right back into Greyson’s eyes. “You seem lonely”
Greyson looked off. His melancholy eyes responding wordlessly.
Feeling comfortable with Greyson as he ceased expecting her to strip and just appeared to need companionship, she intimated her desire to save enough money for Community College, or maybe even real college.
“Even just to work as a bank teller or some job in an office,” she remembered telling him. “It would be nice to dress up for once and have normal conversations with people.”
Greyson had feigned hurt and Gina instantly clarified that she considered him “normal” in comparison to many of the people she served. They shared a smile and a look of understanding. Gina had never connected with a client in quite the same way before.
As she sat, contemplating her destination and the sex acts that she would perform on her partner for the evening, she looked back over the river at the Manhattan skyline and wondered where Greyson lived and what he was doing at that moment.