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The Only Time I Ever Visited a Brothel

I am okay talking about this cos it happened about twenty years ago.

I was training with the Australian Army at the time and embroiled in a male cultural soup of sex, violence, alcohol and general filth.

I’ve always been a bit of a chameleon. If I need to feel refined, I comb my beard, use a shrimp fork and substitute the word ears for the word yes.

Then, if I need to rough it down, I keep a wide stare like a madman, make synthetic curry stains down my shirt and purposely lose bits of cheese in my beard.

I fit in where I need to.

People ask me how the army thing came about. The truth was, I was young and just having fun. Shaving one’s head and learning to shoot and blow things up is quite fun. Probably more so to those like me who didn’t end up in a war zone.

You can tell it’s fun because people love those shithouse TV shows like SAS: Who Dares Wins, where they worship ex-military dickheads and watch celebrities fuck themselves up for money.

Anyhow, we would go out on the weekend and drink to excess.

I would try to pick up women.

Sometimes it would work because I was funny, but it’s challenging when your head is shaved to an inch of its life, and you have a crooked nose, a massive gap in your teeth and a weird dress sense.

Or so I thought at the time. Only later in life did I realise the attractive nature of confidence.

Still, I was never attracted by the idea of a brothel.

It’s generally for the same reason that I never really enjoyed watching professional porn.

I get turned on when women are turned on, and the professionals often look like they are having a horrendous time.

I suppose some people might enjoy being prostitutes. I mean, Julia Roberts seemed to be having a good time in Pretty Woman. But that was no documentary, I’m fairly sure.

Also — Richard Gere

The main thing was that it always seemed quite organised to me— the equivalent of getting horny while opening a bank account.

I was in Newcastle on the Central Coast of Australia.

It had been a particularly big night, and one friend was particularly persuasive about why I should accompany him to the brothel.

Personally, I wanted to go to the casino and play poker while drinking bottles of cider until I could barely walk home. But that night, more out of curiosity than anything, I agreed.

We walked into a reasonably nice lounge room and sat on a leather couch surrounded by a variety of seedy-looking men.

One by one, the girls came out and did a kind of twirly thing that was very cringeworthy and each time, a guy, generally in order of arrival, stood up and took them away.

After a few minutes, one older lady came out.

She was probably in her late thirties (old for me at that time), a bit plump, and her face was a little strange. She looked a little masculine in hindsight.

No one stood up for her. She did another twirly thing, but still, no one stood up.

I saw a twitch of sadness in her eyes, and my heart melted.

I stood up and said something like, ‘Yes. I’ll take you.’

You don’t have to say that, my friend said, covering his face in shame.

The woman came over, took my arm and led me off down a long corridor and into a bedroom that looked like it was from the fifties.

She stripped down to her underwear and started rooting around in her bag.

It turned out her name was Grace.

For a moment, I considered doing the whole, let’s just talk thing. Then I realised it was probably an offensive Hollywood cliche. Besides, it wasn’t like I didn’t want to sleep with her.

I was just relatively drunk and, to be honest, felt more turned on by the idea of eating a kebab with extra garlic sauce than having to expend energy pumping a naked woman.

Where are you from in England? She asked, sitting on the bed next to me and undoing my pants.

I always hated the question. But now it gave me a reason to transmute my nerves into words.

Blackpool, I said. Then I continued into a highly long-winded history of my childhood.

Sorry, I’m talking too much, I said.

It’s fine, she said back.

She had her hands wrapped around my goolies, jacking me off like she was giving CPR to a dead worm.

I continued with my unofficial biography while she took off her clothes and got naked on the bed.

After ten minutes or so of horrendous flapping around, I gave up.

I’m just too drunk, I explained.

There was really no need to explain. It was obvious.

I asked her about her life, and she gave me the short version.

She was a single Mum who had been in an abusive relationship.

We smoked out of the window and talked about movies and music. She said she always wanted to be a singer. She gave me a thirty-second demo of Janis Joplin’s Ball and Chain. She was amazing

You can still do that, I told her.

She shook her head and blew smoke into the steamy night air.

This is not the land of broken dreams, Darling.


You don’t need to try and rescue me, Frank. I don’t need to sing anymore. I have my girl, and I’m here because I want to be.

I felt like a real dickhead. She probably had guys trying to rescue her at least once a night.

But life is short, she continued. You’re not a soldier, Frank. You’re an artist.

The conversation had started with me trying to rescue her. By the end, it was clear that we were discussing whether or not I would be okay.

You’ll be okay, Frank, She said. You have a good mind.

I know, I said. Thanks.

Finally, it was time up, and I laughed. We hugged and said goodnight.

I met my friend back outside, who was sitting on the pavement smoking.

I realised I had gone over time by twenty minutes.

Must have been good, eh? he said in a sleazy way.

Something felt different.

I’ll see ya later, Mate. I said and walked off.

Where ya going, ya bastard? He shouted after me.

I’m moving to Melbourne, I shouted back. I’m gonna make music.

He laughed and took a long drag on his cigarette.

The next day I applied to leave the Australian Army.

Two weeks after that, I went to Melbourne and joined a blues band.

I was there for a reason that night. I understand that now.

I was never meant to go to war. I was meant to be sitting here, sharing words with you lot.

I’m grateful for that night — for Grace.

But I’ve never been to a brothel since.

Image: Adam Borkowski

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