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.

Chris pulls on black leggings with big horizontal gashes in the fabric that reveal more or less her whole leg, hip, and ass. She is tall, with muscular legs and a slightly paunchy torso. She tops the outfit with a white T-shirt that looks like a too-small tunic. Her hair, which she often keeps under a scrap of pantyhose by day, is brushed out; a pair of long, glittery earrings dangles down to her shoulders. Her face, highlighted by remarkable, black-lined hazel eyes, has become a bit jowly, but make-up gives her a sultry sheen.

Lala appears as Chris dresses, prattling on in a rapid-fire patois about how late the bus was and how worrisome her black net skirt is because it's too long. Lala works on 79th Street and stays at the park when she's not at her sister's house on 51st Street. Three months after a date shot her in the left calf, she still gets around with the aid of aluminum crutches.

"That was a cute night for me," she recalls. "He wanted to date me; he thought I was real. I think that's what really made him mad. He jumps out of the car in the middle of the street and says, 'Give me your money or your purse.' He'd just gave me $20. He pulls out this little gun. I said, 'Boy, you better not shoot me!' But he was shooting low. I told them to take me to the veterans' hospital -- I'm a veteran, honey -- but they took me to Jackson. It was very painful."

Lala and Chris both went through basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, though not at the same time. Lala remained in the army four years, until 1979, and spent her last year in Germany. "I was the only known queen in my unit," she says proudly. "They used to tell me, 'Stop all that twisting,' and I'd say, 'I can't help it.' I enjoyed it. I get along with straight people." After her hitch was up, Lala -- Larry to the army and her family -- came back to Miami and settled happily into an office job and took up working at night on Biscayne Boulevard. She never dressed up while she was with her mother, seven sisters, and four brothers. "Out of respect," she explains. "Then I looked at myself. I said, 'I want to make myself happy. I will be a full-time prostitute.'"

So here she is, bony and elegant in a black lace top, bead necklace, new white sandals, and the net skirt, which she rolls up several times over to make a miniskirt. Her hair, orange at the ends, flares out from her head like a corona. She lights a cigarette and continues talking. She might be a guest at a cocktail party, except for the entry and exit bullet holes in her slightly shrunken right leg, deep purple under the streetlights. Lala says she won't be living this life forever; she's just waiting to find a man who can afford to pay for a sex-change operation. "As soon as I get titties, I'm gonna start doing clubs." At this she smiles a movie-star smile, lips crimson, teeth almost perfectly straight and white. "One day I am gonna get myself really situated."

Luscious, her high fading as she waits impatiently for the older queens to get ready for the street, catches sight of her insurance adjuster. He's been coming every Friday. He must have parked elsewhere, because he approaches on foot, venturing just close enough to be seen. Then he reconnoiters the area, pacing up this alley and down that street and across that vacant lot, making sure there's no one near the place where he'll take Luscious, a well-hidden spot alongside a bank building. She walks to the sidewalk to meet him, and they disappear.

"When I was her age," Chris says, nodding sagely in Luscious's direction, "I had no boundaries." Chris has decided that when Terry gets out of prison on December 29, she will stop hooking. "He told me it's time," she explains. "All I really want is to be a housewife."

At one time Chris was a husband herself, a man named Saul who was married to a woman. She was, however, "always a sissy," as she puts it, and one day about ten years ago she left her wife. She's been on the streets ever since.

Chris and Terry have been "together" six years, though they've spent much of that time apart, thanks to Terry's various incarcerations. He's doing time now, in fact, because Chris turned him in. She felt it was the only way to save him from crack. "I had him calmed down, but he went out one night and he get on that dope, and you can't do nothing to stop him," she says, explaining that they used to have violent fights that left them both seriously injured. "I've almost killed him. One time he hit me with a chair, so I stabbed him." But they're both older now, Chris muses, and she is convinced their tumultuous days are behind them. "I put him out of my life before, but I don't want to get older and always be alone."

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