Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Love, Peace, and Hair Grease

That was what Liz had to say a while back at the end of another long session of crying and comforting. Once she was all cleaned up, with her jeans tucked into her knee-high leather boots and her hair looking good, she got tired of all the mushy talk. When somebody tried to float another homily about God and doors opening her way as she left, Liz struck a little pose, two fingers up in a peace symbol and all, and announced "You know what they say, Love, Peace, and Hair Grease!" I was pretty much with her on the whole shutting up the well wishers thing. Their platitudes are almost as threadbare as hers, and we hear a lot more of them. Still, "love, peace, and hair grease?" That was weak even when it first came out in her childhood. She didn't have anything catchier, more updated than that to say?

No, she did not. Liz, like almost all of our clients, uses decades-old slang for everyday talk and the most painfully overworked of Christian one-liners for encouragement. Any aging suburbanite who's ever watched cable is likely to use an edgier, more modern vocabulary than our urban prostitutes do. For our women, an ass might be an ass, or it might be a heiney or hind parts. A person who uses a lot of drugs is an addict, or maybe a dope fiend. A vegetarian eats "nare any meat." Dirty dogs do their dirty deeds.

And there's little or none of the language that glorifies street violence. You are not going to hear that a gangbanger rolled up on someone with a nine or a glock or whatever the expression for a powerful gun is now. You rarely even hear the term "driveby." You just hear that someone got shot or almost got shot. And more often than you'd like, you hear that the victim was the woman's cousin or nephew, or, sometimes, her son. Which, I suppose, is a pretty good reason for not using any of the more exciting and accepting words for killing people.

And women in recovery never seem to tire of telling one another that they are blessed, that God never closes a door without opening a window, that God will never give you a burden you can't carry, and that they wish us a blessed day. And though the sentiments are very old, they are delivered, time and time again, as if they are urgent, and astonishing, news. Which, I suppose, they generally are.

We do have "abandominium," though. It's what we all call the abandoned buildings that the homeless move into. I don't know if it's local to Baltimore, or if it's a nationwide term. Either way, it's a delightfully jaunty word, making the joking best of the place that most of our women have at some time in their lives called home.

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