spy on the wall part 1

by: Tara Ruttenberg

you ever do something that is so not you, just to see what it feels like? maybe to remind yourself of who you really are? i jumped into that one in a hurry, especially since it meant a few extra bucks on my five-months-and-counting unemployment stint. lucky for me, rich old white dudes don't mind dropping top dollar for a three-day escape from reality, and barely getting my hands dirty serving food and drinks for two hours a night isn't exactly slave labor. little did i know, the next three days would allow me the guilty pleasure of being a fly on the wall in some very inner circle dealings of the wealthy gringo kind, an unassuming spy into the vacation lifestyle rituals of the rich and famous.

i show up to the beast of a concrete jungle mansion on the top of the hill, taking the time to explore the house, rooftop jacuzzi tub and third floor disco room with reclining leather lazy-boys and state-of-the-art stripper pole to boot: bachelor party paradise. after jokes about testing out my moves on the pole and minimal kitchen prep, the clients arrive following a few drinks at The Hook Up to take a load off after a strenuous day of travel by private plane and direct heli-pad connection. nameless dark-skinned servants take their bags to their rooms as the three men check out their rented digs, cheesy grins and full of energy, ready to get the party started. the monopoly-man-mustached one instructs me to put some ice together for his rusty knees - apparently he'd be needing them in top shape as the evening progressed. their go-to party jam blares on the stereo - Rihanna's 'Only Girl in the World'. I smile to myself, laughing at the sheer coincidence of my own now quite embarrassing inside joke. the stage is set; let the games begin.

enter: the ladies of the night - or in this case, the 'girls' of the weekend, as they were dotingly called (for example, "hey, where'd the girls go?" or "okay girls, now we're going to teach you how to play strip poker"). Lucy and Candy led the pack of four gorgeous women, with their jovial male chaperone (read: glorified pimp) in tow. Dressed to the nines, they dropped their bags at the door, introduced themselves with flirty smiles and went straight for the quality welcome spread we'd laid out prior to their arrival. Prosciutto and top-shelf liquor as they chatted amongst themselves in Spanish, the men giddy and childish in their presence, daring to fondle and compliment the lustful gifts they'd purchased themselves as a reward for their stressful lifestyle back home - bouncing between Chicago and Naples, a pair of successful property developers and a pro-sports team owner.

"santa came twice this year" laughs the tall one, his looming physical presence and loud demeanor overwhelming the room. the seemingly sincere friendly one acts the most nervous as he chats me up instead of going straight for the goodies from santa's sleigh. "you graduated from Georgetown? hey guys, did you hear that? she's a Georgetown grad. so what on earth are you doing working here and living in Costa Rica?" here we go again... on the other side of the bar, monopoly mustache gets straight to business, taking a few sips of cabernet, clapping his hands together: "okay let's do this" and leading Candy outside. Alas, inspired by his comrade's example, Mr. Friendly gets his nerve up and quickly follows suit, forgetting about Georgetown and disappearing upstairs with the young lady from Cuba. i notice the women's light and airy laughter turn subtly to a practiced resignation as they follow their clients to the bedroom. it's all fun and games, living the high life until it's actually time to do the deed. it's that same indescribably helpless look on four young faces that stays with me now, a look that brings tears to my eyes as i remember it, a look i imagine i'll never forget.

Much to my surprise, boisterous giant sticks around, more interested in kissing and snuggling up to his chosen prize, staking his claim with a declaratory "you're with me this weekend" before pouring on the compliments: "you're beautiful, did i mention that already? Tell me your name again...". he's been here forty times and he's not exaggerating, he says; almost got married twice: "it's so easy to fall in love here" (yeah, i think to myself, it's probably easy to fall in love with someone you're paying to pretend to adore you and respond to your every need - sexual, emotional, even psychological). he tells me his friend owns a mountain near the old Steve n' Lisa's on the road out of town before the crocodile bridge. I smile and nod as he tells me about it, wondering what it means to own a mountain and why that's even a possible thing to do, own a mountain. meanwhile, the show goes on as the other men return, faces flushed and seemingly more at ease, sharing high-fives and "i'm the man" head nods as i hide in the corner beside the refrigerator, trying not to throw up in my mouth. Candy comes over to the freezer and helps me freshen up the ice in a bowl for the bar. I feel awkward that she's helping me do my job when she's the client and I'm the server. "Don't be silly," she says sweetly, "we're all here doing the same thing, tending to these guys, taking care of their needs". Speechless, I grab the tongs from her hand and finish filling the bowl myself, as if I need to make sure she knows I disagree, in the process reassuring myself that there is a recognizable distance between her work and mine in this scenario. She shamelessly sacrifices her dignity and sells her body to creepy old men; I provide an innocent service of refilling drinks and serving food to wealthy clientele. Those are two very different things, Candy. I'm not so convinced.

Feeling looser now, Friendly takes it upon himself to get grabby as I reach for a plate on a high shelf in the cupboard. A playful pinch on my left butt cheek receives my immediate yet useless cry of "NO", the only word I can muster with my mouth open in shock as I spin around just in time to watch him sleeze away smirking, bouncing in a little bee-bop strut brimming with self-satisfaction. you'd think he'd have more than enough to grab on over there that i would be safe in my kitchen refuge. but then again, i remind myself, when you're at the top of the world, even too much is never enough. and when women are objects, everybody's fair game. tomorrow night i'm wearing baggy pants and long sleeves and no mascara.

Dinner is served with compliments to the chef, the women drinking minimally, the men hitting it a little harder to prepare for what's to come. Lucy comments on her excitement to try out the pole upstairs as she sips Old Parr on the rocks, glancing up seductively, her long blonde hair extensions twisted into perfect ringlets at the tips. Classy prosty, indeed. Before the chef and I take off, one of the women brings over a baby bottle full of breast milk, placing it in the fridge: "i have a little girl at home and i'm pumping this weekend, so please don't throw it out, ok?". taking a deep breath in, i assure her that her baby's milk is safe on the second shelf while pondering to myself how on earth fake breasts that large can possibly lactate let alone work with a hand pump - the sheer bio-mechanics of it all boggling my mind. plus, what must these guys think knowing that the perfectly round objects of their fantasy-life desire serve a most functional, real-life human purpose - that of mother nourishing child. won't it remind them that these hired sexual playthings are actual human beings - women, mothers - thus diminishing their worth as dehumanized temporary possessions of rich men and their unfulfilled sexual fantasies? i start worrying that she'll be fired if the men find out she's a breastfeeding mother, and i know she needs the money. good god, now i'm aiding and abetting the Costa Rican high-end prostitution circuit? or maybe i'm the self-appointed Catcher-in-the-Rye of young women willing to sell their bodies as the ultimate sacrifice to support their families? that sounds better in my mind, anyway. am i really doing all of this for a couple hundred bucks? this whole situation is against everything i stand for - what had i become? moral conundrum to say the least, i stash her baby bottle behind the leftover ceviche and get the hell outta there.

smelling like grilled mahi-mahi and packaged brownie batter, mixed feelings about it all and my head in a tizzy, i survived day one.