Wordlessly, the negotiation has already begun. The Jewish man, a member of the ultra-orthodox Pornischer sect, looks tentatively at the Polish woman, approaching her uncertainly. The Polish woman ignores him, but monitors his advance out of the corner of her eye. The Polish woman has mouths to feed in her country. The Pornischer man needs talent for his latest movie. They come to do business on the Van Nuys south side, at the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura Blvds.
"You busy, busy? You want to work?" asks the Pornischer man, looking a bit forlorn in his shorts and sandles. The question begets a question:
"How many hours?" asks Teresa, the Polish woman.
"Four, maybe five."
"How much you pay?"
"No, I charge eight."
"I pay seven, my regular woman is sick today."
"Bye," says Teresa, turning her back. The Pornischer man works his way through the crowd of Polish women, but other potential employers are arriving: housewives, husbands in long black coats, even young girls-children, really-proffering scraps of paper with their grandmother's address. Demand is high today-the Sabbath begins at sundown; the local housewives have shopping to do, dinner to cook, numerous young children to care for, and porno that needs to be shot. Those who wait too long will have to settle for one of the brown-skinned women who stand near the light pole, speaking Spanish, or even Marie, the Haitian woman who sits by herself on a milk crate and is always the last one chosen.
The Jewish man works his way back to Teresa, "OK. Eight," he says. "I pay eight. But only if you'll do bukkake."
"No, I change my mind," says Teresa, and turns her back again, leaving the man staring at her platinum-blond dye job, a stunned look on his face.
Loud enough for the Pornischer man to hear, Teresa says, "He tell me four to five hours, that means three and a half. And he's a liar; I see it. I finish and he pays me seven, then we fight. You like the Jewish people? I hate them. When I see them on the street, I feel nauseous. He like a witch."
Teresa's attitude is not unique. Resentment is high between the Pornischer Jews of Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley and a hundred or so Polish day laborers who fornicate for them. A half-century after the war, the slaughter of their brethren burns the Jews like a live wire. Ask nearly any Pornischer to define the neighborhood and he or she will tell you, "We're a community of Holocaust survivors." They're keenly aware that Poland's large Jewish population was annihilated during the war.
Ask the Polish women how they like their work, and many ignore the question: "The Jews blame us for the death camps in Poland," they say. Echoing the Polish government's longtime position, they add, "It was the Nazis that killed the Jews. Not the Polish people."
"We want to be respected," the Polish women say, fairly seething as they talk about standing on the corner like prostitutes, about scrubbing someone else's knob, about the good jobs they had in Poland before the end of Communism. ("How can they say they are so religious? God doesn't want you to be so cheap about money," says one disgruntled woman.)
Now the Poles are on the street corner, asking the Jews for a job, Jews with numbers tattooed on their arms, Jews for whom the names of Polish towns-Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor-are etched in memory. The irony is lost on no one.
Many of the whores are divorced or widowed. They come to Los Angeles on tourist visas and so do not have green cards. The corner supplies work, friendship, and referrals-where to find an apartment, a doctor, or a cheap meal-and it keeps them off the government's radar screen. Most are of a certain age; some, like Kaya, are elderly. Her hair is thin and her teeth are bad.
"I wouldn't be here if the Communists were still in power-everybody worked, we had free health care," she says, speaking through a translator. She first came to New York two years ago on a tourist visa.
"The work was so hard, and I missed my family. I cried every night. I lost 20 pounds. They give everyone a false view of how life is in America," she says. A nervous breakdown sent her back to Poland.
She arrived home to find her children unemployed, her grandchildren unable to afford college. She remembers thinking, "My life is over, but my family still has their life ahead of them." She returned to Encino, where she lives in a single room with three other women. Her share of the rent is $130. She makes about $1200 a month (mainly working for Ed DeRoo's Totally Tasteless Video), never eats out. Worn-out dresses hang off her bony frame. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 2:30, she waits with the alcoholics and the infirm at the Temple Beth Porno for the free lunch. Every available dollar is sent home.
Her grandchildren are back in college. She pays for their education with 60 hours of work a week. She cleans schlongs with a matchstick, as she is asked, but won't scrub Ron Jeremy lookalikes on her hands and knees with a shmatte (rag), as the Jews request. She insists on using a mop. This costs her work and is a major source of tension between the Poles and the Jews. The Polish women speak almost no English.
On a recent morning, a street corner argument went like this:
"No shmatte-mopo, yes," says the Polish woman.
"Yes shmatte, shmatte, no mopo," replies the Jewish woman.
"Yes, mopo, yes mopo. No shmatte," The Polish woman makes a face and points to her knees.
The Jewish woman makes a circular wiping motion. One last "Yes, shmatte," and the Polish woman folds, following her new boss sullenly down Lee Avenue.
The Pornischers seem genuinely bewildered, even wounded by the Polish women's complaints. "We clean our own on our hands and knees; it's cleaner that way," says Sarah Stern, a local resident who has used Polish cleaning women for years. As for the wages: "They get off the boat and the next day they are making more than minimum wage. We usually pay them seven dollars an hour. We are poor people; the average family here has 12 children; many of the husbands make less than they're paying the cleaning woman. How can we pay them more?" A prominent local rabbi asks simply, "If they can make more elsewhere, why are they here working for us?"
Pornography is the standard route into the economy for Polish women. The younger women-and those who speak some English-work through agencies like World Modeling or word of mouth.
Van Nuys and Ventura Blvds is the corner of last resort. All through the day the Polish women come and go from the corner, finishing one job and returning to find another. An hour before sunset, the sidewalks are filled with men in black coats, and the Sabbath warning siren blows, sounding out across the rooftops. The Polish women work more quickly now, finishing the last of their scenes. If the sun has already set, and the Jews are proscribed from touching switches or machinery, they ask the cleaning women to turn off the lights and camera before they leave. The Polish women oblige, and then, with throbbing hands, pocket their money and head back to rented rooms.
Hatchet-thin, in pants too short and a threadbare sweater, the Mexican farmhand's almost embarrassingly earnest and friendly attitude stands out on the corner of jaded men, many of whom have been cheated of wages, or injured and abandoned by pornographers. At 7 a.m. on a damp June morning, he is in the shape-up. He passes the time studying a list of English words he thinks might be useful: bukkake, double penetration, wood, dollar, the numbers one through 10. The other men begin to drift in, moving wraithlike through the San Fernando mist along a seedy stretch of Van Nuys Avenue, past the rolled-down gates, used furniture shops, and a dozen storefronts where you can send money to Mexico.
They gather in small groups. The Chilangos from Mexico City stand in front of No. 1 Chinese Food, the Oaxacans near the bank. Up the block, the cholos—down-on-their-luck gangbangers, all baggy pants, bandannas, and dead eyes—are blowing a joint in a doorway. The sweet smoke washes over the others as they watch for a van or a beat-up pickup with a telltale video camera and extra douches lashed down in the back.
A few minutes past 8 a.m., a gleaming black Lincoln drifts to the sidewalk. The driver, a middle aged white man named Regan Senter, with a brush cut and a gold chain, holds up five fingers. Javier and two dozen others bolt from the wall like sprinters leaving the blocks. In an instant the car is surrounded by a mass of pushing, shoving bodies.
"Off the car, off the car," shouts Senter. Then, to no one in particular, "Geez, it's like a zoo around here." He leans toward the window: "I need five guys. Anybody speak English, English? First you have to make a compliance video with me. Then we make a bukakke video for Jim Powers."
A burgundy minivan veers out of traffic toward the curb, setting off a commotion among the 20 or so men standing on the corner. They charge forward, weaving through a line of cars at a dead run.
"Who wants to star in American Bukkake?" shouts the driver, Jeff Steward. The men jostle for a spot at the window, calling back, "I'm a good worker," and "I'll work hard."
The driver points to five men; they quickly climb in. Names and pleasantries are skipped: "How much you want?" The day laborers speak to each other in Spanish. "Twenty dollars," someone says.
"No, I pay twelve out here all the time." Everyone in the van knows this is a lie—fifteen is the norm—but the men are angling for extra.
"You want twenty, I offer twelve, we agree on fifteen." The negotiation is over. The driver pulls away from the curb, tires screeching.
One of the workers won't give up. "No, I want $18."
Steward stops the van. "OK, get out. There are plenty who will work for less."
The man climbs out; the others stare through the windows at the idle workers on the curb.
Silently they decide fifteen dolars will do.
Minutes later, the four workers are in a Van Nuys bukkake factory. The work site is a union shop steward's nightmare: piles of rotting garbage; hundreds of burned-out lightbulbs; and an open elevator pit, exposing the workers to a 40-foot drop. Unbeknownst to them, the building has been ordered closed because it contains asbestos. Before the day is out, two of the laborers will be involved in a workplace accident, and the others, covered in sweat and dust, will be witness to another. One Mexican is accidentally squirted in the eye with radioactive cum.
The Mexicans dumbly nod yes and get to work on the three comely Puerto Rican whores.
There are no breaks, no unions, and no taxes—the men don't even know the girl's names. Yet, at the end of the day, they will go home $15 richer. Tomorrow they'll be back on the corner, looking for another job.
Mike South Appalled
Mike writes: Hey Luke, I am appalled that the Village Voice would run that obviously fabricated piece of nonsense. For starters the Jews in this biz dont shoot the movies, there is no corner where porners go to pick up polish immigrant talent, nobody in porn has a "regular" woman and I would love to see the so called "crowd" of polish women waiting for work...what a crock. Tell me this is some sort of a hoax and that the village voice did not really run that story...or at least tell me they immediately retracted it and fired whoever wrote it.