At first no one talked to each other. We all stared nervously at our phones. Jerick, the guy who ran the show, descended a shadowy staircase in the basement of this Financial District club, sporting his muscle shirt , and began explaining how the night would proceed.
Jerick, without a doubt a Jersey Shore native, would later strut around shirtless, exposing a topography of tribal tattoos. His eyes panned left to right, obviously hopped on uppers, clocking every girl. It was obvious this was the initial "weeding out" part. “Look, there is going to be a process before the clientele enters," he barked. My face winced involuntarily at the word “clientele." He pointed both thumbs towards his chest. “I’m gonna be sitting over there,” he pointed to an isolated piece of velvet couch, “and one by one you will come and have a little session with me.” A collective breath was held. “Now, what does that mean? That means I’ll have a flashlight, some rubbing alcohol, and paper towel, and I will be inspecting and sanitizing your feet. Okay? Not every girl is going to make it, but I appreciate you coming down anyways. This is still a business though."
Great. Ladies who put themselves in this position had obviously exhausted a multitude of options and now they stood to be disqualified from even this. Jerick continued with one last note. “The other girls, the uh, veterans, we may say, will trickle in, in a bit and you can follow their lead. They will be sitting on the bar stools and I want you to observe them, okay? Follow their lead. These are girls who’ve made decent money doing this. Now the only downside to that is...they have their regulars, okay, which means, what does that mean? It means that they already have guaranteed clients and you don’t. The point is to meet someone who you know will keep coming back week after week.” I laughed at the thought of me developing any sort of kindred-ship with these men that would compel them to return for my company. I would provide perhaps neat feet, but not much else. I was drawing lines in my head.
Jerick started turning to leave to his “booth” when a petite girl with a Russian accent and freckles popped her hand softly up in the air and asked, “But what happens with the men, and how do we collect the money?” She asked for everyone. It was understood that we were confused and now, scared. “Oh, right,” he said, feigning coyness. “So the girls that get selected will sit around casually and men will come to you. Don’t worry, they will. Now, some of them are shy so if you see a man looking at you, or standing alone, you should go up to him, okay? You don’t wanna be wasting money because some guy is shy, right? And speaking of money, you get twenty bucks for every twenty minutes you’re with a client. Usually the minimum amount of time for a session is twenty minutes. Now...” he looked directly at the petite Russian girl, “It is up to you what you do. Obviously this isn’t a prostitution gig, we would all get in a lot of trouble if it was,” he laughed out loud. “But they might want to touch, or kiss, or lick your feet."
He paused and looked around. "I might want to—I’ll walk around and sample some of you to see how we gel, ok?” His hands rubbed together as he said "gel." “I mean, I started these parties because I know what it’s like to dig feet.” That evoked an image of Jerick literally digging separate severed pairs of feet into the sand somewhere in South Jersey. “Okay,” he clapped, than left to his booth, sweeping up girls hands as he went.
"Obviously this isn’t a prostitution gig, we would all get in a lot of trouble if it was. But they might want to touch, or kiss, or lick your feet."
The girls in waiting began to slowly form a camaraderie, trepidatious as it was. To my left, a Puerto Rican lady who looked like a real version of JLo initiated conversation by telling me about how she lost her law firm job and was now grabbing at any string in order to make ends meet. Everyone was wearing something black, but she decided upon a white sateen summer dress that suited her so well I wanted to grab her hand and leave. Next to the small Russian girl, who was to my right, was another Russian girl. This one was goth and voluptuous. Next to her was an aging and raging actress from L.A who had made the great move east for her boyfriend, who had left her upon arrival. The other girls kept their heads down and pretended to interact with their phones, which most certainly had no signal.
The actress asked, “Did any of you get a pedicure? 'Cause god fucking knows I didn’t get a motherfucking pedicure for these fucks. What guarantee do I have that I’d make enough money to pay for it? They said we’d make an average of $400 tonight but, come the fuck on, $20 for twenty minutes and a million of us girls here, I don’t think we’re gonna make anything.” Distracted by the impending humiliation, I had forgotten to do the math and suddenly realized we were being swindled. It did not add up, 20 minutes equaled $20 and the whole "party" was only supposed to be three hours long. After all, if we were going to submit ourselves to this, we’d better have something to fall back on. Though I hadn’t splurged on a pedicure, I had purchased heels for the occasion; $40 I was now deeply regretting.
After a few minutes, the Russian goth girl emerged from the back. "He said I was too fat! That doesn’t even have anything to do with my feet!” she said. I couldn’t imagine the embarrassment of being judged unfit for such a nefarious gig. The Puerto Rican lady and I assured her that he was sham and that she would be better off. “Oh, that’s it!” said the actress as she stood up. “I’m not gonna sit there and have some good for nothing, greasy-ass-dick tell me how I look and shit. I’m outta here. I’m leaving with you, girl," she said while grabbing her purse aggressively and pulling out a pair of flip-flops she expertly exchanged for her heels. “See y’all."
We could have all stampeded out of there right then, but for some reason, most of us stayed and waited for Jerick’s verdict.
I passed his flashlight test with flying colors. The relief could have gone both ways.
Following the “veteran” girls, we took our seat sat the bar and perched in wait as balding, middle-aged men trickled in—some in fedoras. None of them seemed like high rollers, and everything got dimmer. I felt in my gut that I would not be leaving with the quoted $400.
Distracted by the impending humiliation, I had forgotten to do the math and suddenly realized we were being swindled.
A short man in his fifties wearing a gray suit suddenly approached me at the bar. As he sat down, he ordered a rum and coke for himself and a gin and tonic for me. I strained to keep my eyes from rolling. He went on to ask me all the cliché questions: What was a girl like me doing in a place like this? Was it my first time? I confessed that the whole ordeal was way out of left field for me. He feigned to feel sorry for me. I indulged him, asking him questions about his life, trying to bide my time with conversation rather than foot play. Delighted at hearing himself talk, he explained, “I used to be a lawyer for medical industries. Things like health insurance companies. Do you have health insurance?” I shook my head no and let him continue because I was genuinely interested in the possibility of affordable healthcare. “You know that you qualify for Medicare? You have your new president to thank for that,” he said as he downed his rum and coke and ordered another.
After a an awkward pause, he said, “Look, you think I like feet? Do I look like a guy who likes feet? No. I like companionship. What does that mean?” Why did these men keep rhetorically asking us what things meant? “It means, I’m retired, I’m not married, and I go out and party, and I want a girl who can accompany me. No sex though. That’s illegal. You see....girls who come to these events are broke and curious enough, and that’s where I swoop in." Though I was revolted by his vulture demeanor, I was relieved I got to keep my feet in their pumps.
After chatting for forty minutes, he leaned in close—so close I could smell the strawberry gum, now drenched with rum, that he chewed so nervously—and slipped me two $100 bills, and whispered, “Consider it." $200 was more than I would make if I stuck around all night, so I grabbed it and my coat and waltzed out there door and straight into a bar.
Growing older is less about getting your life in order and more about the lines you draw—what am I above or beneath? If it feels comfortable and sexy, by all means go ahead, but me and the other girls felt smaller than before. I still get threatening texts from the company, maybe Jerick himself. These are not men who want to admire women, they want to own them. And I am above that.
Jen Pitt, originally from Brazil, is a Brooklyn based writer and performer. She covers feminism, arts, and Brazilian culture.
More from BUST