Where the Girls Are

Crack addicts. Homeless ex-cons. Transvestite prostitutes with HIV. If life has landed you in TV Park, you probably didn't have far to fall.

For Tracy, the lifestyle represents a big change from a few years ago, when she was Darrell and Darrell sang with a gospel choir at a church not far away. The Rev. Avery Jones of nearby Holy Spirit Ministries directed a different choir at the time, but he used to see Darrell regularly at church. Jones still visits the park every now and then to ask Darrell when he's coming back.

"I just tell him I don't know," Tracy says softly, as if she long ago passed the point where she could. Like many transvestites who live here, she is infected with the AIDS virus; unlike most of the others, she looks emaciated.

Jones says he isn't deterred. "I think a lot of people have given up on him. I'm still praying for him. The fact of the matter is the people here already know they're in sin, so it doesn't do any good for me to tell them, 'You're drowning.' When that kid was in church, he was a really nice kid, dedicated to the church. Sure, he was a little strange. But I believe it's a lack of love that causes 'em to go like that. They think nobody loves them."

Tracy says she always liked to dress in women's clothes. She was living a fairly normal life and working as a (male) clerk until a few years ago, when the house where she lived in Overtown burned down. On the streets she became the feminine creature she felt she always wanted to be and the crackhead she never dreamed of; her mother, who lives in Allapattah, either wouldn't take her in or she didn't want to live there. For Tracy the past is hazy, either by design or memory loss, or both.

The present, though, is rendered more clearly, if only because of its immediacy. The police, who make regular sweeps, also visit Commerce Park every now and then just to keep an eye on the crackheads. Tracy has a couple of outstanding warrants for prostitution, so when a few patrolmen come by one afternoon, they haul her away with them. Her boyfriend Al has been looking for the pink plastic mirror ever since. He came across the dainty, Deco-ish base, but the glass part is still missing.

In the late afternoon, heat sticks like sweat to the resting bodies beneath the shelter, reluctant to give way to evening breezes. On a concrete bench in one corner, a white man with orange hair lies on his back, sleeping soundly. He spent the night here. Pinned incongruously to the man's filthy brown T-shirt, a tiny troll doll stares with a vacuous, pixieish expression, its flaming orange hair a perfect match for his own.

Tokyo, Sam, and Chris, in various stages of dress, have been awake for a couple hours, and Sam is talking about going home on Saturday, back to live with her family. Twice recently, relatives have stopped by and asked her to leave with them. She hasn't been able to do it. The youngest of five siblings, she says her family knows she's gay and a prostitute. They don't know about the crack, her master for the past four years. She has the feeling, she says, that she can't keep going like this for much longer. "I'm seeing all the negative signs," she reflects, crossing her legs and smoothing her black shorts. "I feel like God is showing me something." There was a bad scare a few nights ago, when a trick pulled a nine-millimeter on her and took his money back. "I must stop," she concludes. Her hands are large, the fingers long and muscular, with badly chipped red polish on the nails. High cheekbones accent her almond eyes and the light stubble on her angular jaw. Later, before walking to work on 79th Street, she'll wrap a turban over her short hair.

Sam figures she'll tell her mother about her crack addiction and ask for her help in entering an inpatient treatment program. Once she's off the drug, she thinks she'll find a job as a cook (before crack, she reveals, she was a chef) in a hospital or a nursing home. "The crack feel like it have control of me, like a monster," she says.

"They call it the Devil's dick," Chris offers.
"Crack is the hardest to kick," puts in Tokyo, who should know, having been "in treatment" a half-dozen times. Her real name is Fred, but her pagodalike bun of hair and exotic winged eye make-up seem to call for an Asian street name. At 25, she's HIV-positive, but she doesn't look sick. She prances and poses in a purple body suit that reveals a perfect round ass, resisting with all her might the intense gravity behind her eyes, which weighs down her countenance despite an upturned nose and perky pout.

Tokyo has been a crack-induced prostitute for some five years now. Not too long ago she began packing a .22. She still gets robbed, threatened, and hit by clients and street thugs, but a lot less than before, and a lot less than many of the other queens. Still, she wakes up most afternoons on a dirty quilt, her wrinkled skirt halfway down her hips, her face sticky with make-up and sweat, bruises on her thighs and arms from an occasional fight with a date or another queen, and very tired. Several hours later, bolstered by the soothing energy of the rock, she'll go out again. Maybe this night her clients will be like that sweet Haitian man who thought for the longest time that she was a real woman and who wanted to take her to meet his family. He cried when she finally had to let him in on the game.

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