The shocking, true story of Cam's big shaft

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | ,

The first time I met a real hooker I was eighteen and working in a haunted house wearing a long black robe and jumping out at people in the darkness. She was smoking a cigarette outside a small purple building along Main Street that had a sign advertising a 25-cent video arcade and LIVE GIRLS, represented on the sign by a voluptuous brunette wearing a silky negligee. The Velvet Touch sold pornographic movies and sex toys to men who would willingly venture into a building with no windows and a buzzer on the door to stall police raids. The parking lot abutted the backyard of the haunted house, where a few of us would hang out on lawn chairs when no one was coming through. One night the hooker looked up at us and smiled. She had dyed-black hair with that always-wet look still popular among certain elements of the population in 1995. My friend Matt said to her, "Excuse me, ma'am, we were just wondering what kind of services you offer in there."

She looked at us skeptically, perhaps wondering whether she should take us seriously. Matt was dressed up like an evil dentist in a bloody smock. She just laughed and came closer to us. At first I'd thought she might actually be cute, but when she laughed I saw she had strangely-elongated teeth.

"Well, first you give Bobby $40 at the counter," she said. "That lets you into the back room, where I work. Then I give you a massage. But let's say you have some more money for me, then you might get something more." She rattled off a list of happy endings, like a technician at an oil change shop might describe various package options. She told us her real name was Julie, but her name inside The Velvet Touch was Asia. There was nothing discernibly Asian about her, though, and she later said she'd grown up "really religious" in a small Indiana town. She was one year older than us, a sophomore at Indiana University in Bloomington, and every weekend she drove 300 miles to give hand jobs to anyone who handed her a $20 bill. She drove that far because she didn't want to run into anyone she knew, and besides, southern Indiana's pretty much the Bible Belt, she said, and they don't have much tolerance for that kind of thing down there. She was managing to pay her own way through school. She was just like any girl who might live in my dorm, eat lunch in the cafeteria, except she was 6'2" in five-inch heels. It didn't seem so crazy that she was a hand job hooker, not when there were girls in the dorm giving away full lube jobs for free.

I got the Haunted House job after a couple friends from high school and I answered an ad in the college paper: WANTED actors and artists to help create the most frightening Halloween experience in town. Haunt Industry experience a plus. $8/hour.

We weren't actors or artists, and we certainly didn't have any experience in the Haunt Industry, but we sure did like the sound of eight dollars an hour. I even quit my minimum-wage job at the student bookstore. The guy in charge of the operation was a scatterbrained 20-something named Cameron ("Call me 'Cam!'") who'd inherited an old house that he planned to gut and flip after Halloween. He hired us the second we showed up. "Can you papier-mache?" was all he asked. He pronounced it "pop-ee-ay ma-shay." Nearly every night during the month of October, we toiled at the haunted house, building rooms, painting everything black. Cam would show up every few hours with hundreds of dollars of materials, gallons of fake blood, pizza, and cases and cases of beer. Cam had bowl-cut blond hair and he literally tied sweaters around his neck. He had Excel spreadsheets to show how much money he was going to make on this haunted house. Cam was the first entrepreneur I ever knew.

The majority of our fellow spooks looked like they'd made the short list for "most likely to become a serial killer" at their respective high schools. The time spent decorating this haunted house was kind of like an extended group therapy for these people: Instead of sitting around alone, torturing small mammals and masturbating to old issues of Fangoria, they were doing something socially redeeming, you know, brainstorming better ways for the child mannequin torso to emerge from the bathtub full of blood or how to make the corpse hanging from the noose the closet look more realistic. "Let's put a puddle of real piss under him," one suggested. The others nodded. Who knows how many lives this haunted house actually saved.

Two of the nicer guys were in a local death metal band called Erotic Funeral. They had t-shirts and everything. I spent some time trying to convince them to write a song called "Orgy of Knowledge," consisting only of those three words chanted over and over in that death metal voice. They weren't very receptive. In addition to this stringy-haired, vaguely-Satanic crowd, apparently a number of individuals from the local community theater crowd had decided to use the haunted house as a resume builder for that winter's Our Town auditions. One middle-aged guy named Tony was recruited to play the role of "zombie tour guide." He wore a moldy old morning jacket with a waistcoat and a high, stiff collar. That's how he showed up for his interview. Like Robert Deniro, Tony the Zombie was a Method actor. He never went out of character. He came and left with his outfit and zombie makeup on. He refused to eat pizza with us, too. "Tony prefers brains," he grunted.

When we were done with construction and decoration, I have to say the house was pretty damn impressive. The upstairs was reserved for "shocking" scenes of flailing strait-jacket bound lunatics, silent murder-suicide victims and cannibals eating dead bodies. In the cannibal room, Tony the Zombie would remove the cover from a platter on the table and say, "Dinner is served!" as a human head surrounded by parsley and quartered lemons came to life. One of the cannibals took his role very seriously, and would stuff his mouth full of whatever it was they were eating to resemble flesh and then vomit it out whenever Tony the Zombie led guests out of his room. After a few tours, Cam had to warn him not to vomit on the guests. Downstairs was full of strobe lights, black-lit dry-ice vapors drifting through maze-like hallways with actors dressed in black jumping out to scare the guests. I did that for a while, until a group of sorority chicks came through and one of them punched me in the nuts. In the last room, Cam had set up an old dentist's chair, and this was where my friends Andy and Matt took turns playing the sadistic dentist and his patient, the dentist squeezing the trigger of a power drill or feigning treatment with a hacksaw or claw hammer, with the patient convulsing and howling in pain. Like the cannibal upstairs, they really got into their roles, and by the end of the night they were always sore and covered in bruises. The third night, they broke the chair.

The worst part about this job was that we had to listen to this horrible sound effects CD on repeat, the kind with creaking doors, demonic laughter, baying wolves, rattling chains, disembodied sobbing, more creaking doors, laboratory bubbling, thunderstorms, some creep's limping gait, spooky wind, more demonic laughter, and lots of barred owl calls. One night we grew so sick of listening to all this over and over, we switched it right in the middle of a tour. One second it was all cackling witches and chainsaws, and the next David Byrne howling out the first few lyrics of the Talking Heads' B-Side "Sugar on My Tongue." Man, Cam was pissed.

On many of those October nights, no one came to the haunted house at all. We all stood around in full costume, staring out the windows like stood-up prom dates, griping about whether Cam would ever be able to pay us. He promised business would pick up closer to Halloween. He showed us his spreadsheets again and said that everything was still on track. He kept buying pizza and beer. A suicide victim got drunk and made out with a cannibal. The lunatic juggled flaming torches for our amusement. Our favorite thing to do during down time was lurk in the trees over by The Velvet Touch's parking lot and whenever a new car pulled up and some lonely middle-aged guy headed towards the door, one of us would call from the bushes, "Daddy? Is that you, Daddy?"

Julie/Asia only worked weekends. On other nights during that long October, there were other women who would come out of the Velvet Touch wearing go-go boots, mini skirts and bustiers to smoke cigarettes. We were pretty sure these other women weren't in this gig just to put themselves through college. These were honest-to-goodness hos. One of them looked kind of like someone had chopped up a bunch of bodies and mixed them up before sewing them back together. She literally was Frankenhooker. The other one was slightly less monstrous, but Andy swore he saw a rash grow three or four inches down her left thigh as she sucked down a menthol. We looked down at our spook outfits and felt ridiculous, standing there in the presence of something so legitimately scary. Cam should have hired both of them for his haunted house. I looked over at the dismal little smut shop. I wondered what it smelled like in there. I figured I didn't really want to know.

The days leading up to Halloween were actually pretty busy. Cam kept some space in his budget for beer, but we noticed there was less of it and he was much more concerned about collecting the bottles for refunds than he had been at the beginning. Tony the Zombie demanded to be paid the night before Halloween, so Cam fired him and started doing the tours himself with his little powder-blue sweater tied around his neck. He was in such a frenzied state that he was way more frightening to the customers than Tony the Zombie. They thought he was supposed to be the Preppie Murderer. After midnight on Halloween Cam sat down in the backyard with his head in his hands while everyone circled around him, expecting hundreds of dollars each for their month of labor. Cam pulled out a giant wad of cash and started doling out an equal share to everyone. You could tell by the faces of those who got theirs first that it wasn't at all what they were expecting. He handed me three twenties. "Sorry dudes," he said. "I totally fucked up. I'm taking a huge hit on all the other costs. We didn't make a dime on this thing." I was pretty pissed, but I figured I still earned a better hourly wage there than I had busing tables at that Dutch restuarant. Besides, from the look of fury in the Satanists' eyes, I could tell Cam was already in pretty hot water. There was some shouting. I think one of the cannibals had already spent his paycheck on facial piercings and he tried to head butt Cam. The Velvet Touch hos came over to find out what all the ruckus was about, but then just walked away, laughing. "Always get paid up front," Frankenhooker shouted at us. "That's the first rule of business, unless you just wanna get fucked."

"Well, at least we got a lot of free beer," my friend Andy said. This fact meant more to him than me, because at that time I didn't drink. Matt was the real hothead, though, and I was a little afraid he was going to go get the shotgun he kept in the trunk of his car.

"What are you going to do?" I asked him.

Matt ripped off his dentist outfit, rubbed a sore spot on his arm and looked down at the sixty dollars in his hand. "I think I'm going to go get a hand job."