Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Finding Marriage Without Losing a Self (modern love)

by Jillian Lauren

WHEN I met Scott, I was somewhere between the before and after picture — in a no man’s land called cosmetology school. We went on our first date on a balmy night in the early fall of 2003. I had met him the week before at a bowling party and he’d asked me what I did.

“I go to beauty school.”

“Beauty school is hot.”

“Beauty school is not hot,” I said. “Anyone who thinks beauty school is hot is a pervert.”

Scott was not deterred. “I’ll show you,” he said. “I’ll pick you up at beauty school and take you to Norms.”

Norms is a kitschy diner frequented by the senior citizen population of West Hollywood along with the occasional rock musician looking for a nostalgic breakfast. Scott, who plays bass for the band Weezer, was the latter. The invitation to a date at Norms was a nod to Frankie Avalon’s version of beauty school.

Scott saw beauty school as some kind of holding pen for gum-cracking bad girls who wore a lot of eyeliner and had recently dropped out of high school, which was not exactly accurate in my case. I was just desperately trying to find a career that would pay my rent, lend some stability to my days and maybe afford me some time to write in the evenings. I had only recently managed to escape the black hole of heroin addiction. I was entirely surprised to be still alive and even more surprised to find that I was nearly 30 years old.

So beauty school, in my opinion, was not hot. Beauty school was humiliating. Beauty school was penance. I definitely didn’t want any cute guys popping by to see me doing hot roller sets in my regulation white smock.

On the other hand, I’d have been a fool to say no to the most interesting date offer I’d had in a long while.

Scott arrived promptly at 5 p.m. and waited while I punched the time clock before ushering me out the door and into his shiny green Crown Victoria. The start of the date was flawless. He opened every door. He was inquisitive and polite. And I felt in my gut that he was that rarest of things: a nice guy. Moreover, he was my kind of nice guy — a blue-collar musician with tattooed arms and a gold tooth that glinted when he smiled.

And me? What was I? I wasn’t even sure yet. So I wore a dress that I hoped would compensate for my lack of other redeeming qualities and I prayed that the past wouldn’t come up before he had a chance to get to know me a little bit.

We made small talk in the car. Then as soon as we were seated in our two-top booth and had ordered our sodas, Scott looked across the table and said: “So, I heard you were a slave in Asia. Is that true?”

So much for getting to know me first.

“Where did you hear that?”

“My friend Dan saw it on some E! ‘True Hollywood Story.’ He said they blurred out your eyes in the picture but it was definitely you.”

It was true. I hadn’t given the show the picture, but I couldn’t deny it was me.

“Well, I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘slave.’ ”

And so, at the start of our very first date, it all came spilling out — my teenage years as a stripper in New York, my failed attempts at being an actress, the escort work, the years spent as a quasi-prostitute in Southeast Asia, my inability to make a clean break from the industry, my addiction, my endless attempts to change, the car crashes, the rehabs.

I waited for his reaction. My experience was that men generally thought a past like mine granted them permission to objectify me. I had seen it happen a hundred times. The moment I listed the catalog of my indiscretions, I automatically dropped a few pegs in class, brains and general worth. Time and again I had watched the relief in men’s eyes as they realized they weren’t obligated to summon their liberal arts college sensitivity training in an attempt to respect me.

Scott was different.

“You know, when I said beauty school was hot, I was just playing with you,” he said. “I know that place is crappy and mind-numbing. And I think it’s great that you do it anyway. I think you’ve got guts for trying to change your life.”

Jillian Lauren, who lives in Los Angeles, is the author of the recently published memoir “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem” (Plume).

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