Immediately to the north of Ft. Benning sat the town of Columbus, Georgia. Located 100 miles south of Atlanta, Columbus sits on the eastern shoreline of the Chattahoochee River. Pre Civil War Columbus used the Chattahoochee River to connect its plantations with the international cotton markets accross the globe. During the Civil War, Columbus was the amongst the largest manufacturers of supplies to the Confederate Army second only to Richmond Virginia.
The last recorded land battle during the Civil War took place when a Union detachment attacked one of the most prominent industrial cities in the Confederate south. Unaware that General Lee had already surrendered to General Grant and that President Lincoln had been assassinated, Union and Confederate soldiers clashed on April 16, 1865, Easter Sunday. This battle is officially known as “The Battle of Columbus, Georgia”. The Civil War officially ended ten days later.
As a visitor to Columbus, Georgia from the Chicago area, Illinois, i noticed a few realities immediately. First, the closer I got to the military base the less fortunate the residents were. South Columbus was obviously the poorest section of Columbus. Strip bars and prostitutes littered the landscape like weeds choking the life out of blades of grass. Secondly, the further north we drove off post the more white people we saw. There seemed to be an invisible line that divided the town. South Columbus was poor and black while north Columbus was wealthy and white. I had no personal vehicle of my own and I was limited to a soldiers budget. As a result, I traveled mostly by taxi cab when I traveled off post alone. Cab rides were cheaper, obviously, if I ended the ride as soon as possible after leaving Ft. Benning. The closest main thoroughfare off post was Victory Drive in South Columbus.
Victory Drive, known better to soldiers as VD Drive, housed only three types of establishments: strip clubs, cheap run down hotels and payday loan businesses. Immediately to the North of VD Drive was Columbus’ ghetto. If you decided to take the road west, “The Drive” would lead you to the Chattahoochee River and across it into Alabama. I never did bother to find out where the road East would take me. Once the taxi driver gave me the green light to drink my Colt 45 in the back seat, I figured I would let him decide where to take me. Armed with the only knowledge I gave him, “somewhere with women” and how much i was willing to pay for the ride, he decided on taking me to a “lingerie show” on VD Drive.
I exited the taxi cab with my back to the establishment. To prevent any argument, I paid upfront before we left Ft. Benning. He was now giving me his direct phone number for a return ride home when my night was over. I nodded to acknowledge the gesture but waved his offer away. I didn’t want to think about the end of the night. I had money stored in a compartmentalized way across the geography of my body. I entered the cab with cash in hand. I had beer money in one pocket, girl money in another pocket and ride home money in my shoe. Right now I wanted more beer and a woman to drink with.
I entered “Jonny’s Lingerie Modeling Agency” through the only visible entrance I could find. The building itself resembled a mixture of both a trailer home and a one floor ranch style house. The blinds were closed preventing me from seeing inside the only window. There was a faint yellow light that escaped from beneath the door frame like a tortured animal running for its life. The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee lingered in the air like a thick fog and the rhythmic, musical thumping of bass rattled the walls. I knocked on the door three times before I heard the faint response, “C’mon in, it’s open!”
As I crossed the threshold of the doorway I saw her facing me. In a reflex type reaction, I sliced the pie. The inner walls of the building had all been removed. Three light weight, plastic, pre-fabricated chairs sat against the south side wall. The opposite wall was one large mirror. Cheap posters of women in bikinis cluttered the two remaining walls with a closed door in the corner of the east side of the room. Assuming the closed door was a restroom, I asked her if I could use the latrine. There was no hiding the fact I was a soldier from her so using military jargon seemed appropriate. After receiving her permission I crossed the room towards the closed door. She spoke to me loud enough to hear her over a small radio playing rap music in the middle of the room.
I didn’t want to be in an open room, by myself, with a woman in lingerie and a closed door. Expecting to find some one in the room waiting for me, I approached the closed door with caution. I would have a better chance to defend myself on my terms while facing the latrine. As I approached the room I turned to see where the lingerie woman was. She hadn’t moved. That was a good sign. I opened the door by pushing the door to the right while scanning the space from the left. Wall, toilet, sink, window and wall. I turned to face lingerie again: not moved. The room was clear.
She was explaining to me the services she provided with a price list attached to each service. I left the door open as she spoke so I could see her. I washed my hands in the sink as I stared at her reflection in the mirror in front of me. She was dressed in a white corset with dangling straps intended to hook to the stockings she wasn’t wearing. She wore plain white panties with matching heels that looked worn and cracked in the distance. Her face, although far away in the dim light, looked as tired and worn as her shoes. Her orange/red hair hung loosely and unkept to her shoulders. Physically, she wasn’t a threat. Spiritually, she looked dead.
Unnoticed, I removed a ten dollar bill from my girl pocket and left it on the cracked wooden sink top. I turned to face her and began to walk slowly towards the door. The creeks from my weight moving across the floor echoed through the room. Without a word from me, she began lowering prices and negotiating the time frame. The final offer she made me was allowing me to masturbate while watching her dance as I sat on a plastic chair. She would charge me forty dollars to finish in twenty minutes.
I thanked her for the use of her restroom and told her of the ten dollars i had left there. She immediately moved to retrieve the money the way a dog moves toward a bone it suddenly finds. The whole scene compared to a tomb with a living corpse residing in it.
I didn’t want to think about death. I didn’t want to negotiate terms for sex. I didn’t want to feel anything or explain myself. I wanted to feel numb so i could pretend that I didn’t exist. As I head out into the darkness of the night I didn’t want to think at all. I was out of beer and wanted more.