My heels are so high I'm afraid I might tip backwards and tumble from my place in the window. I'm wearing borrowed fishnet stockings that have rubbed against the skin of countless girls, other weekend exhibitionists like myself. They seemed exotic from the other side of the glass, brave girls, strange girls, girls with bellybutton piercings and charming tattoos.
I used to walk past the windows of this sex shop on Queen Street, embarrassed to look too long at them, catching quick glimpses of naked legs, bare shoulders and corseted flesh. Now I'm one of them, the unclothed machinery of my body on display, my banged-up knees pushing against the glass.
On a dare from myself, I signed up to be a live lingerie model in a shop window, exposed in public, waving a red French tickler at the passersby. It seemed like a safe risk, a way to try out being completely different from who I usually am.
My mother has expressed an opinion, in ways both subtle and overt, that I'm a bit of a prude. It seems unfair considering she came of age in the late 60s while my sexual blooming unfortunately took place during the AIDS epidemic and a reversion to puritanical morality.
I'd been trying to think of ways of being bad that don't entail actual sex, and public semi-nudity seemed an excellent choice. There's no touching, no talking, no names, but there is a possibility that pictures might show up on the Internet and somehow find their way to my mother.
In the first moments I feel a thrill of fear, or at least of unease. I wonder who might see me or remember my face. I'm concerned that I won't know what to do with myself for my full four-hour shift other than gyrate to the canned music. I worry about appearing foolish.
Beside me, in red lace underwear, is my friend D, whom I've known since we were both 13. This was my idea, I can't help but worry that, in a sense, I'm pimping her out. But she seems to have taken to lingerie modelling like a G-string to a wedgie. She smiles devilishly and has the audacity to squish her ass against the glass.
D's doing wardrobe for a film I'm producing, and we plan to use our $50 gift certificates to buy lingerie for our lead actress. "I think we might have to do this a few more times if we hope to get a whole outfit," D tells me. "What are you doing next Saturday?"
These are the sacrifices she's willing to make in the name of our 11-year friendship. She looks statuesque in her corset and heels, like an old-fashioned pin-up girl.
We pretend to tantalize each other with our feathered French ticklers. We're allowed to talk to each other, we've been told, but we should make it appear that we're having a fantastic time, like we're at a party that everyone wishes they were invited to.
Outside on the street, it's drizzling and pedestrian traffic is sparse. I try to affect a coy flirtation though the glass with an adolescent boy on a bicycle, but he turns away, embarrassed. Two tween-aged girls run past without looking at the storefront and then stop, breathless, three stores down, to glance back. A silver-haired woman crosses herself as she passes.
A father with an infant in a Snugli makes hand gestures at me that suggest, as far as I can understand, that wearing lingerie in windows could lead to pregnancy. Faulty logic, I'm pretty sure, but it's been a long time since anyone has suggested that I'm slutty, and I find it thrilling.
The occasional driver stopped at a red light gives us a double take, forgetting to press the gas when the light turns green. We draw all eyes, except for those purposely trained away from us. Little kids in strollers return our smiles, women laugh and wave, young men smirk. One homeless man makes a theatrical gesture of his heart flapping out of his chest whenever he passes us. I wink at him.
Despite the parade of spectators, after two hours the thrill is wearing off. To keep myself interested, I whisper words to myself: stripped, nude, exposed, uncovered. I'm reminded of my first visit to a nude beach, the thrill of peeling off my bathing suit and my disappointment that no one seemed to notice.
At the beach, there had been water and sand to divert me, and I sunburned my ass building a sandcastle. Here there's only the pain in my feet to distract me and the prickles of sweat on my scalp under the hot lights.
D feels sexy. I can tell by watching her. She's holding her body in an unusual way, her movements stylized, eroticized. A trickle of sweat drips into the hollow of her cleavage. She's locked eyes with someone on the street. Her body is tensed and her hands leave traces of heat and moisture on the glass.
I, however, feel like the guy in the Pluto suit on a float at Disneyland waving to the kiddies of interest only because I'm wearing a costume. It strikes me how powerfully the costume determines me and changes how I'm treated, gawked at in my fishnets and ignored in my blue jeans, a spectacle in one outfit and a private citizen in another.
When our shift is almost over, D's boyfriend comes into the store. The store's contract had a caveat about lurking boyfriends. We don't turn toward him, but he snaps a few pictures of us and tells us that he's been standing on the corner of Queen and Palmerston for a quarter of an hour, watching people's faces as they pass us. They look cheerful, he says, tickled.
Ninety per cent of them, he tells us, are smiling because of us.
I fling my hair coquettishly over one shoulder. I stand straighter in my heels, buoyed by the idea that there is a reason for this orgy of looking. I'd been thinking that it was about sex and selling lingerie, but maybe it's about the unexpected, the unusual and the delight of looking at something one doesn't often see in real life a couple of full-sized, living, breathing lingerie models.
A friend of mine once said, "God bless the slutty girls. They bring joy to everyone."
And finally I am one, in a sense.
Giving it out to everyone for free. I think my mother would be proud. Or at least tickled.