Desperate for a better life for his family, a NY cab driver transforms himself into an online XXX entrepreneur.
The church is empty, and the darkness provides a cool escape from the Caribbean sun. Dust plays high above the empty pews, within the fat beams of sunlight shining through the stained glass. Two huge wooden doors engraved with saints are closing behind me. I can still see the palm trees I befriended outside motioning me in with encouraging sways, reminding me to be strong and trust in God’s infinite ability to forgive. I am alone.
I sit down to wait, but only minutes pass before I hear a voice say, “Excuse me Sir, excuse me. Senor? Habla ingles?” Startled, I turn to my right and see a tall man, built more like a fireman or a boxer than a priest.
“Yes Father, I speak English.”
“Great. Good morning, you can come in now,” he says.
I rise slowly and begin to exit my pew, suddenly feeling that the Book of Life has opened to my name. I am ashamed and frightened.
The confessional is a damp box. A small square window, covered with a metal mesh, separates my booth from another. Soon the priest’s dimly lit face appears behind the screen. It’s been a long time since I’ve said confession. I cannot remember if I talk first, or wait silently, but I summon up some courage and say the only part of the ritual I remember.
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been fifteen years since my last confession. The reason I am here is to seek absolution for what I have done in the last few years. I was no saint before then, but I know I will be going to hell for what I did in the last four.”
“What have you done?” he asks.
“I sold sex. I produced strip shows and packaged pictures of naked people engaging in every fetish imaginable. I wrote, filmed and sold pornographic movies, some of which starred a member of my own family. I profited from helping people to indulge in their most graphic desires and perversions, and then posted them on the Internet for the entire world to see. I created a business built on men, having sex with men, and lesbian lovemaking—a lot of lesbian lovemaking. Without regard to person or purpose, I’ve paid people to engage in the wildest fantasies of my clients, everything except child pornography, bestiality, and acts depicting violence against women. I wish I could say it was for some great cause, but it wouldn’t be true . I did it all for the money.”
Through the screen I see the priest’s chin fall slowly onto his chest, and fear rushes into my heart.
“Simply put Padre, you are about to hear the confessions of an Internet pornographer who longs for God’s forgiveness.”
“Well. Let’s start at the beginning. Who are you?” he asked.
“My name is Jose Torres. I am in my early forties. I was once a cab driver in the borough of the Bronx in New York City. My wife’s name is Rachel. She is a Jewish-American, also in her forties. We have two daughters, Isabel and Rose.
“So, Mr. Torres, what happened?”
“It started…well, before the greed there was desperation.”
No Money, 2 Kids
I am originally from the island of Puerto Rico. We lived with my mother’s parents in a very poor neighborhood with nothing to offer us. My dad was a laborer, and my mom made a little money at home sewing for the neighbors. They lived a life of cotton clothes, flat shoes and hard work. One day, her father fell into a river in a drunken stupor and died, taking her last reason for staying on the island with him. She announced that she was packing up her family and going to America. Many neighbors were leaving for the U.S. at the time, people looking for more out of life than a warm little island could offer. Others like us were escaping dim futures. My father fought loudly to stay. The way I heard it, dad hated leaving Puerto Rico but his sense of parental responsibility won. I was five and my older brother Frankie was seven.
My parents adapted quickly to America. Mom loved the freedom of the city buses and subways. She had often dreamed out loud about seeing the world. She was going to take us to see India, Egypt and South America, someday. In New York, with just four tokens, we could travel to places with exotic names like Coney Island, Shea Stadium, and Madison Square Garden. My dad loved the take-out food. He often boasted to family back home that even the poor people had chefs in America because there was a pizzeria on every corner.
Alphabet City, on the lower east side of Manhattan, was already full of friendly brown faces. Young men like him, dazed and confused in the new world, playing dominoes and hearing horror stories about Castro in Cuba, the Dominican dictator Trujillo, or the Puerto Rican Chupacapbra. Luckily, the music and laughter of the lower east side was oddly familiar, and our streets became crude replicas of the sights and sounds of home.
My father did not speak a word of English at first, and although one of the wisest men I’ve ever known, he lacked any real education. Too proud to go on public assistance, which back then was known as welfare, he took any job he could find. He cleaned dishes, washed cars, until his fortieth birthday, when he landed a job in a bodega - a grocery store, butcher shop, poker parlor, and social club all wrapped up in one - on Castle Hill Avenue in the Bronx. It was a day I’ll never forget. We celebrated with balloons and two ice cream cakes from the Carvel on the corner. I think it was the happiest I had ever seen him. That’s how we came to live in the Bronx.
We were all pretty happy after that. His drinking almost completely stopped. He was too tired to play dominoes and talk trash about the Mets with the men at the corner store late into the night anymore. Money brought him a sense of success, and as time passed his voice grew stronger, and his walk more confident and proud. He also took on more household responsibilities, leaving my mom with less work and fewer complaints. Laundry, mopping and cooking would always be woman’s work to him, but he was not above washing dishes or taking out the garbage. I remember Mom was very proud of having a man who worked hard at being the head of the family - and his job.
He worked three days a week, and every weekend, at the bodega, from seven at night until four in the morning. My brother and I spent Saturdays at the store, stocking shelves with bags of Café Bustello and Goya brand beans. Bus drivers, firemen, and everyone’s mom came and went. In the evening, we ate candy and drank Yoohoo chocolate drinks as we watched the men play cards.
By ten p.m., my head would bob up and down and I’d say goodnight. I’d kiss his salty cheeks and always remind myself to pay attention to his hug - just in case - it was the last time I’d feel it. I was not naive to the dangers of working the night shift in the Bronx. I prayed for him to come home safely all night long. I suppose it is the same kind of despair my own kids felt when I worked nights in my cab.
In the early morning, I’d often crawl out of bed, move silently past my parent’s bedroom, and watch him drag himself to his lounge chair to stare blankly at the TV. Finally, I knew he was all right. He loved TV. On his days off we’d watch it together. Mom would let me stay up late so we could catch re-runs of The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy. Sitting on his lap I’d tell him about school, listen to him reminisce about his childhood, or ponder his advice. He gave me a lot of advice. One night we were watching The Odd Couple, possibly his favorite show, and without provocation he turned to me and said in Spanish, “Joselito, only idiots work for someone else to make a living. One day every one of us em-ploy-ees gets thrown in the trash like an old pair of shoes - bodega clerks, car salesmen, businessmen, even lawyers and professors, everybody. Unless you own your own business you’re a shoe being worn by the owner. Only idiots like your father work for someone else.” Then after a few seconds of angry silence, he added, “Don’t be an em-ploy-ee, son. I’ve had jobs I hated so much I would have gone to jail not to do them. Don’t stop fighting until you can be your own man. Education is important, yes, but use that education to get your own business. Get that American dream.”
On the night of January 20, 1978 two teenage animals robbed his store at two in the morning and killed him. His absence left me wandering the earth directionless for years. Night after night I would stare into his empty chair and cry. The sadness has never left me; I’ve only learned to control it. After his death we went on welfare.
To supplement the government checks and food stamps, we earned extra money selling beer out of coolers and garbage bags. Mom had to start a cash only business because we weren’t supposed to have extra income. Every summer morning Mom would drag us onto a bus headed for the Bronx Riviera, Orchard Beach - a thin strip of sand lined by concrete parks, concession stands, and paddleball courts on the Long Island Sound. A place the city has long since cleaned up, but I remember going there as a kid and swimming in and out of sludge that floated on top of the hard amber water, and tiptoeing through the bottles and cans that rested on the ocean floor. We sold twelve-ounce-cans for a dollar and fifty-cents apiece. A case of twenty-four cans only cost us five dollars at my mother’s boyfriend’s beer and soda distributor business. Mom let me keep fifty percent of my sales.
I hated that job. Every day, my brother Frank and I dragged thick green garbage bags full of beer cans and ice for eight hours, up and down the beach. It was humiliating. Sometimes a teacher would see us, and they’d give us the same sad friendly smile. The stupid ones would ask if I was doing anything, “fun for the summer.” It was as if they were completely unaware of the huge green sack slumped over my shoulder, and the rivers of sweat coming off of my face. The most embarrassing thing however was when a friend, even one who was also on welfare, saw us. Their ridicule was merciless and loud.
I did love one thing about that job: the girl watching. The women were gorgeous, plentiful and came in a variety of ethnic shapes and colors. There were beautiful Italian girls from Morris Park roaming the cement walkways in high heels, with freshly blow-dried hair and red lipstick. There were long-legged Irish girls with golden yellow hair and pretty blue eyes that almost disappeared behind gobs of white sunscreen. The Jewish girls from Pelham Parkway huddled by the fences all day and laughed away the hazy afternoons, teasing the boys with glimpses of their innocent hazel eyes, while freshening the bubble gum gloss on their puffy lips. At the time there were not many Mexicans or Central Americans around, but Puerto Rican women abounded. Gorgeous females from that island gracefully prowled the boardwalk with full-figured bodies glistening in tanning lotion and baby oil. I spent many days basking in the beauty of the Platano Princesses from all over the Bronx. I also watched the older guys play a lot of full-contact paddleball. I had the beer so they allowed me to hang out with them. It was on those courts that I learned what it meant to be a macho Latino from the Bronx.
After high school I enlisted in the Army. That’s what we did back in those days. No money for college, no kids, no wife, no job? You had four choices: Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. No one ever joined the Coast Guard, and I did not even know we had a National Guard until I was already in the military. In the service I felt out of place. Everyone was obsessed with issues I cared very little about. Everyone wanted to kick the Soviet Union’s ass, but the cold war just wasn’t very important to me.
I arrived at boot camp on a muggy morning, and found myself surrounded by a thick black forest and angry faces. It was maybe the fifth time in my whole life that I had even been outside of New York City.
What I failed to realize at the time, was that when I left my bus I walked into a biracial America I knew little about. For thirteen comfortable years I had lived in lower-middle class ethnic neighborhoods; everyone was a minority so we were all equal. All of a sudden I was caught in the racial divide between blacks and whites. It was strictly a black vs. white thing, Latinos were almost inconsequential.
My years in the service were confusing and unremarkable. I was a satisfactory soldier, but the experience was more like a job than an adventure. After my discharge I worked a lot of odd jobs, mostly in Manhattan. That’s where I met my wife Rachel. We both worked for a Japanese watch company. She was an accounts receivable clerk in the finance department and I worked in the mailroom. There were many pretty girls around but Rachel was different. She had a soft and quiet sexiness. Although definitely out of my league, she was so friendly and warm that my attraction grew too strong for me to ignore. It got to the point where I hated to leave her desk. Something inside of me wanted to be near her, make her laugh, and take away a loneliness that sat in the back of her moss green eyes.
I almost fainted when I asked her to lunch and she accepted. By then we were talking every day and laughing so loudly at her desk that everyone could tell we liked each other. She was the first Jewish girl I had ever really known, let alone dated. On our first date she wore a white blouse under a black jacket, and a long denim prairie skirt that draped over ankle-high, blue leather, high heeled boots. The thing I remember most about that night is how I constantly looked at us in any nearby mirror, or window, and thought how great a couple we made. Something I still do to this day. From the first date I knew Rachel was wonderfully special. She had a unique gentleness and a heart that really cared about what I was saying. I felt like I could sit and talk to her about anything, forever.
When her parents first learned about me, they hated the idea of us. They wanted her to marry a Jewish man, or someone at least white skinned. Rachel tried to persuade them to no avail. To them I was unacceptable. My Mom was not happy either. She wanted me to marry a Latina so she would have beautiful brown grandchildren. The only one who was understanding about the whole thing was my step-dad. He said he just wanted me to be happy, and that who I married really did not matter because almost everyone ends up divorced anyway.
Luckily for me, Rachel was strong enough to follow her heart and not her family. We were kids. We never stopped to think about preserving Jewish traditions and culture, or strengthening the Latin race. We were simply in love, which is why we married secretly in City Hall one beautiful Monday afternoon. I wore a gray t-shirt with faded gray jeans and my dress-sneakers. She wore a laced black sweater with gray wool pants and black, calf high boots.
It took two months for everyone to find out, and there were screams and tantrums, but as the years passed her parents had to admit that we were a perfect fit. When our first child was born, whatever problems were left disappeared. In the end, I had simply refused to go away. In her parent’s defense, I know they had bigger wishes than me for their only daughter.
Her father had worked in a welfare office after the Navy, where anyone can develop a hatred of minorities - even their own kind. Although he did not hate everything Latin, he liked our women and our food. He just did not want to go home and have dinner with one of us. Unfortunately for him, I’m stubborn and I knew I could make Rachel happy.
After getting married I felt an unease about my future. I was going nowhere in the mailroom, so I quit the watch company for a better paying job as a gypsy cab driver. A gypsy cab is an unlicensed taxi, as opposed to the licensed medallion yellow cabs most people are familiar with. Driving a cab allowed me to earn a living in the Bronx and avoid the hour ride into Manhattan. The subways were an awful way to travel. I had already suffered years of rush hours wedged against strangers, suffering uncomfortable stares, and having elbows jammed into my kidneys. As a cabby I took home real money—five hundred dollars a week. On slow days I’d eat lunch in my apartment, sleep for an hour, and then leisurely get back on the road.
It was a great job for a guy like me. Not perfect, just great. After all, it was still work. But I was free of angry supervisors looking over my shoulders or being trapped in a cubicle.
Rachel worked in Manhattan until Isabel was born Rachel named her after her grandmother Irene. It is a Jewish tradition to use the first letter of the name of a beloved deceased relative to name a new born. She had been a lady so nice that her grandchildren had nicknamed her “Sweet-and-Low.” Isabel was born tiny, with a full head of slick black hair, and when bathed and powdered she smelled like happiness. Rachel’s biggest wish in life was to raise her own children and I was not going to deny her that. Luckily, my salary paid the bills. There was never any money left for fancy extras, but I was rewarded every night with stories of Rachel’s adventures in motherhood.
When my second daughter Rose arrived we were living in a small two-bedroom apartment, on a very quiet tree-lined street, in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx. We were just blocks away from the Bronx Zoo and the Botanical Gardens, natural barriers which protected us from the chaos of Fordham Road. Big tenements lined both sides of the parkway. The road was split by a thick patch of grass and a long winding bicycle path. We were only planning to live there temporarily but as the years passed and the bills grew, we realized that we would never find another apartment as affordable.
Things got even tighter when my mom, who had been left a widow for the second time, had a small stroke. My step-dad had died from an asthma attack in the middle of the night, just a few inches from his inhaler. She suffered through a long depression that left her frail and old looking. She was no longer the vibrant young woman I saw in my memories. I was scared to leave her alone. I asked my older brother Frank to take her. By that time he had a four-bedroom house in the nearby suburb of Woodbury, N.Y. He said she could live with him forever, but the day she was supposed to move, Frank said his furniture stores were keeping him too busy and he refused to take her. Sometime during our adolescence the center of Frank’s universe became Frank. I had no choice but to beg Rachel to let her move in with us. We were already feeling overcrowded, and it took a lot of pleading, but she agreed to let my mom move in. Luckily, my mother kept to herself in her room and seldom came out except to cook or play with the kids.
During her first week with us, a small group of colored candles along with two small bowls of rice appeared next to the kitchen door. When Rachel questioned her, Mom said she was leaving food out for any hungry departed relatives that might visit. I suggested she leave out plates of fried pork chops and rum but she got mad at me for disrespecting the dead. Mom was full of old traditions, which were placed in her head by her mother. My grandmother was a practitioner of the religion of Santeria. Mom and I are Catholics, but black and white magic goes back for generations in my family’s history.
Mom also placed bowls of dry rice and beans, yams and cupcakes on top of the refrigerator in case any foreign spirits or demons might drop in. After a while, little altars sprung up all over the place. A friend of Rachel’s once complimented Mom on her stylish ethnic taste, naively unaware she was standing in a busy roadside café for the dead.
My mom slept in one bedroom, my children in the other. Rachel and I slept in the living room on an air mattress. Every night, I dragged my boudoir into the center of the living room and watched it unfurl in sixty seconds. In the morning, I’d just roll it up again and tuck it away neatly behind the couch. It was actually a very cozy bed, but my wish on the candles of my thirty-third birthday cake was to have a bedroom that did not have to be unrolled or inflated.
We were living paycheck to paycheck, and the kids were getting older, which meant even bigger bills were on the way. As I sailed deeper into my 30’s my anxiety about money grew great, and I looked for ways to make more. Amway salesman was not an option since I didn’t like to talk to people, not even casually. I also wasn’t really interested in starting a mail order business, investing in gold, selling repossessed real estate, or anything else I’d found.
In 1997 I bought an IBM computer, primarily because the salesman told me I could learn more about home businesses using something called the World Wide Web and because it was cool to own one at the time. It was something of a status symbol - a $2,500 status symbol.
It sat unassembled on my kitchen table for weeks. I had every intention of using it but procrastination and skepticism got in my way. Eventually, I put it together, just so Rachel would stop hounding me. We had some fun writing letters and making Rachel a doggie themed calendar, but it was again abandoned in a corner to collect dust alongside the treadmill.
To be honest, I talked a lot about making money those days but I did very little to earn any. In my defense, I did not want to waste time on lost causes, and I actually did not handle the family finances. Rachel paid all of the bills. I just handed my check over to her, and when I wanted something I’d her ask if we could afford it. She did an excellent job of making me feel financially comfortable, maybe a little too good a job. Then one beautiful Saturday morning Rachel let me know just how poor we really were.
The sun’s rays were shining through the living room window in big fat tubes, and a salty breeze flowed in from Orchard beach far away. I was lying on the couch with Rose on my stomach laughing to a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Rachel walked into the room holding an armful of dirty laundry. She gazed my way and smiled, waved at Rose and then disappeared into a bedroom. A few minutes later, strolling slowly and still grinning, she reached the end of couch and said to me, “When are you gonna get off there and do those things I asked you to do, Mister?”
I looked at her innocently, my mind racing to find an excuse. She stood strategically between me and the TV. The best I could do was to say confidently, “Soon,” a risky move on my part, since I was aware of what was coming next.
“Soon! Soon was half an hour ago. The cartoons can wait. That’s probably the fifth time you’ve seen it,” she said.
“But it’s the one when Bugs meets Witch Hazel. It’s one of the best ones. I’ll do it soon. I promise. I need fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes? Come on Jose. You promised.”
“You’ve got five. And you’re lucky you’re cute. Stop smiling!”
Fifteen minutes later, I reluctantly lifted myself from the couch and pulled a gritty black bag full of tools out from under my sink. The first thing on my to-do list was the kitchen cabinet handle, which had been broken for months. I’d been meaning to fix it but life always got in the way. Teetering on one knee I began to unscrew the handle, while Rachel sat at the table beside me opening mail and smiling victoriously.
“Thank you,” she said.
“Sure. Thanks for giving me the extra fifteen minutes.”
“It’s okay. I just need some things done. We’re the grownups you know.”
“Really? I keep forgetting,” I said grinning.
“After that you can check the fridge.”
Laughing, I looked at her softly and said, “Alright. Whatever you say.”
“Thank you honey. It’s nice to have my big strong man fixing up our house.”
The new handle fit perfectly, so I then moved confidently to the refrigerator. The freezer had gone out a week before, and although I knew nothing about refrigerators, I wanted to try and fix it to save money. Five minutes of tinkering impotently was enough for me to admit I didn’t know what I was doing.
“Oh, oh,” I said.
Rachel’s head spun to face me. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I don’t know. This thing’s really broken.”
“I knew it.”
“I thought I could fix it,” I answered meekly.
Her face grimaced. “Great. Another expense. The freezer and the dishwasher."
“The dishwasher? But the dishes are getting cleaned.”
“That’s right. I’m washing them by hand.”
“So can’t we just get everything fixed,” I answered.
“Just get it fixed? How much do you think it’ll cost? We can’t spare any money right now. Look at all these bills,” she said holding up a fistful of envelopes.
“I’ll work more.” I answered confidently.
“We can’t count on that. What if they don’t need drivers?”
“I’ll take some more shifts.”
She put the bills down, looked at the ground and said, “Honey you always say that.”
“What do you mean I always say that?” I answered surprised.
“I’m sorry, but you say you’ll work another day, but you won’t. I’ll ask you about it and you’ll side step the whole thing, or say you’re tired or don’t feel well. But the bills keep piling up. Do you know what we pay in phone alone?”
“Phone? Twenty five dollars.”
“Ha! Seventy five dollars!”
“How much do we pay in rent? Do you even know what we pay in rent?” she asked me.
“Six hundred dollars,” I answered with a grimace.
“No. Eight hundred and fifty!”
“What! For this dump!” I laughed.
“How about transportation?”
“Nope! Between fifty and sixty! Then there’s food, clothes for four people, and entertainment - somehow I find money to go eat out or the movies now and then. Imagine if we had a car. That would mean more bills. Don’t get me wrong Jose. You’re a great provider, we’re comfortable, but we can use more.”
“I guess I don’t know what everything costs because you do such a good job at making it look like we’ve got money. Are we in trouble?”
“It wouldn’t hurt to have a little more, maybe work an extra day or two. It would give me a little breathing room.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I hate driving that cab so fucking much! But I’ll try to do more. I promise.”
“I know you will,” she sighed, still smiling. Her eyes lit up with forgiveness; although we both silently knew I would probably not keep my promise.
“We got a CD in the mail with one hundred free hours from something called an Internet service provider,” she said. “The World Wide Web is on TV talk shows and the radio. People are becoming instant millionaires by starting their own “dot com” businesses. You know where I found our computer? Sitting under a pile of laundry. It’s such a shame we never use it.”
The morning sun had cooked the wind outside, and now a warm breeze caressed my face gently. I desperately wanted to stay where I was, watching cartoons, despite what she had said. I’d get rich quick on Monday, and I though hard for an escape, but nothing came to mind.
“You need to go on “the web” and find some way to make money, or look for a better job,” she said. “You hate driving that car. If we can’t own our own business, maybe you can see if there are other jobs out there.”
“How am I going to do that with the computer? How can sitting for hours typing and staring at a screen change my life? That’s impossible. I’m not wasting my time.”
“I think you’re missing an opportunity. I love watching TV every night with you too. But how about making more money for the kid’s sake, and our retirement, or owning your own business. You’re always talking about starting your own business. Learn how to do it at home with the Internet. You can start your own website. Remember the display in Sears?”
“On Fordham Road?” I recalled.
“Yeah. The software was called Prodigy. You were really impressed. You said the World Wide Web was the future.”
By that time I was too tense to enjoy Bugs Bunny. I stood up and told her I needed to go sit on the stoop for a while. She didn’t like the way I was just running away, but I didn’t care.
The street was quiet, and the only person around was a lady with a shopping cart coming out of a building nearby.
“You okay?” I heard Rachel say behind me, and for a second I wished she’d go away.
“I’ll open an Internet account Monday,” I said.
“I think you won’t regret it. Monday? Why not today?”
My head turned to her, and she saw the frustration in my face because she instantly said, “No. Not today. It’s too much. I want you to enjoy your day off.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow,” I growled.
“Tomorrow? Okay,” then a crooked smile appeared, “It’ll be a good thing. You need to give the Internet a try.”
“Okay. I’ll work on it.”
She smiled a sweet smile, then clenched her hands and said, “Tomorrow for sure?”
“Tomorrow” I answered withered and exhausted.
I returned to the TV but my daughter was gone and my cartoons had been replaced by some show about politics. I then spent the rest of my Saturday afternoon reassembling the computer and learning to “surf the web.”
What I found did not impress me. Most websites were not very exciting. And I lost my connection every time the phone rang. Given how many times Rachel and her mother talk every day, I was being kicked off every fifteen minutes. The only thing I liked was sending mail. However, since I only knew four people with computers it was both useless and annoying, because I received a hundred pieces of junk mail for every one I sent.
To me the Internet was a waste of time, and if it did have important uses they were for bigger minds than mine. Unfortunately, the Internet did not have a stronger appeal to me than my couch until the next morning, when a conversation with my buddy Julio changed everything.
We were sitting on the hard wooden benches of the elementary school yard down the block, watching some guys play basketball, when the conversation turned to the Internet. At one point, with a big smile and a straightforward tone, he turned to me and said, “Last night, I was surfing the web for good wrestling sites and I stumbled on a website with free pictures of naked movie and TV stars.”
“Totally naked?” I asked in disbelief.
“N-A-K-E-D” he answered.
Unlike Julio, I did not really appreciate pornography. I hadn’t bought a sex magazine or visited a strip bar since the Army, but even I’d press a few buttons on my computer to see free pictures of naked TV stars. Later that night I logged on and I went to the first site Julio had mentioned. I found a few naked celebrity pictures but most were just semi-nudes or drunken up-skirt photos. I quickly realized that the picture galleries were just bait. Inside the website, for a membership fee of $19.99, men could see all fifteen thousand fully nude pictures, XXX videos, live sex shows and something called “voyeur cams.” I also noticed a little black rectangle at the bottom of the first page that read “339,850 visitors - 989 new members today.” 989 new members meant they had earned $19,770.11 that day! The number took my breath away, and I all but ignored the multitude of dirty pictures on the screen. I could not believe that an online business could make that much money in one day. I visited a dozen more sex sites and found the same little box. The numbers got higher and higher and the payment plans more sophisticated.
There were sites dedicated to humungous penises, monstrous scrotums, big breasts, and any body part you could think of. Up until that time, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about sex and alternative lifestyles, but I had no idea what was out there. There were sites dedicated to naked girls popping balloons on each other, and to girls with glasses. The girls with glasses were basically the same kinds of girls on the regular XXX sites, only they wore specs - which I thought was genius.
The most outrageous website I ever came across promised “the most amazing thing on the web.” Its first page had a ruggedly handsome blonde man dressed in old safari clothes sitting in a jungle setting, surrounded by monkeys. I said to myself, “This must be a site for people who like watching monkeys have sex. I guess he’s Mr. Zookeeper or something.” It sickened me to think that anyone would get excited watching animals having sex. The man pictured had a big grin, with one arm around an orangutan while another hugged him from behind. Then my eyes scanned the page closer, and his grin made me suspicious. As I examined the picture I realized the hug was more of a loving embrace, and that Mr. Zookeeper was not watching the monkeys’ having sex, he was having sex in front of the monkeys. The most shocking part was that they had been in business since 1996 and offered a membership for $29.99 a month. How could it be that I spent nights driving strangers down dark lonely streets, risking my life for pennies, while the owners of that site were making fortunes paying people to hump in front of monkeys? It would be the last monkey site I ever saw, but to this day I cannot look at any great ape without picturing Mr. Zookeeper hugging it sensually.
There were sites for mixed races, wife swapping, bondage and domination, dirty cartoons, college co-eds, everything! What I uncovered about human sexuality that first night, and every night that week, changed me.
I realized that millions of people drag themselves to work every morning, to make money for someone who will never give them their fair share. If I wanted to be rich I was going to have to own something. My dad was right. Anyone who is an employee spends his life picking the master’s cotton only to grow more in debt to the company store. As I researched, it became clear that selling sex was the answer to my problems, and my only chance. I had no college degree, particular skills nor talents. I am not well connected or from a powerful family. I was a nobody, growing old and desperate, and wanted nothing more from life than to stop sleeping on a balloon on the floor.
My only hope for getting my family out of the city was to open an online sex business. It seemed easy. We would put a few hundred dirty pictures on a computer screen and make millions.
As I changed the rice and water in the bowls on my hallway floor, I wondered how to tell Rachel about my idea.
It wasn’t until the eleven o’clock news, at the start of the weather report, that a sudden gust of courage turned my head in her direction and made me speak.
“Honey,” I said lovingly. “Can I take our last two thousand dollars in the world and build a porno site on the Internet?”
Her eyes suddenly grew very large, her lips puckered into a thick tiny circle and she began to stroke her chin. I knew I had really shocked her because I had never seen Rachel stroke her chin. “Internet porn site, huh? Well uh, do you have a plan? And I hope you realize I am not posting any pictures of myself.”
I couldn’t believe she was actually thinking about it. “How hard can it be?” I said. “We’ll find out how much it will cost, get someone to make the site, and just run it like a business from home.”
“Could it be that easy?”
“I’ll let you know. But say yes, and I’ll do whatever it takes to build us a website.”
“Okay,” she responded casually. “But you won’t do it alone. I’ll help you. You know I actually thought about the same thing after seeing a show on TV, but I thought it was too crazy to mention. First, before we do anything else, we need a good name.”
With Rachael on my side I went to sleep ready to face whatever the next day would bring.
The following evening, after returning from an uneventful day in my cab, Rachel and I searched online for a domain name and a host for the website. The only company I knew of at the time selling web names was Network Solutions, a quiet unassuming little site, where for one hundred and twenty dollars anyone could own a cutting edge high tech business.
We may not have known much about the Internet, but Rachel and I were certain that the most deadly mistake you could make was to own a “bad” website name. A “good” name meant the difference between working hard or instant riches. All the great names seemed to be making billions: pets.com, e-toys.com, drugstore.com. And we also knew we had to buy a name that ended in .com. No one knew about .org yet and no one cared about .nets. The website didn’t even have to actually exist. I heard stories every day about domain names selling for millions of dollars. It seemed as if any word starting in “www” and ending in .com could make you millions during the cyber gold rush of the late 1990’s. A smart miner could get rich without ever doing a day of digging.
Despite the constant mention of the World Wide Web, hardly anyone I knew was actually using the Internet, so I was optimistic about there being plenty of good website names left. Even if the English words were taken I could still get something in Spanish. We had a first choice name, a runner-up name, a second runner up and an in-case-of-emergency-brake-glass name. After some fumbling, and being kicked off twice by phone calls from Rachel’s mother, I typed f-u-c-k-m-e into a little white text box on the page, and added .com confidently at the end. “Sorry, name already taken” appeared on my computer screen. Sex-on-sale.com was next. “Sorry, name already taken” popped up again. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I checked and it wasn’t available in .net or .org either. “What kind of person names an organization sex-on-sale.org?” I asked out loud.
My next name was less inventive “hotsex.com,” which was also taken. Growing desperate, I typed my last website name: beautifulpussy.com. It was also taken! In .net and .org!
I decided to be sneaky. I remembered seeing a woman with “All4mony” on her license plate once, and for some reason, years later I still remembered it. So I decided to buy a website name spelled like a car’s plates with the hope that people would be smart enough to get it. I returned to the box and typed in wantyrass, but it was taken. Next came analgrl, hot4u, fukmegrl - all taken! Scared, we began writing down any name we could think of sexsetera, sexcapades, sexventure, and asspaddlers but everything was sold. Every curse word, sexual position, erotic word and cliché had been bought. “Sorry, name taken. Please try again and join the Internet revolution!” appeared on my screen mercilessly.
I thanked God I knew Spanish and typed chochalinda (beautiful pussy), chicalinda (beautiful girl), sexosensasional (sensational sex), putasdeamor (love whores). All of them were taken, in .com, .net, and .org. Even la-puta-loca was taken, and I knew that if the-crazy-whore.org was taken, it was over!
“Try fantasiesonline.com,” said Rachel. “It’s a little long but it sounds nice. It’s cute.”
As she bent down to type it in, her perfume lifted my head and the soft white angora of her sweater tickled my forearm. Having her so close made me wonder when the kids and my mom would be asleep so we could fool around. She pressed the ENTER button, and suddenly “Congratulations that name is available,” appeared on my monitor. In .com, net, and .org. I was floating three feet above my chair with joy.
“Well, we won’t have to think much about our theme,” I said naively.
The kids went to bed at nine. My mother joined them an hour later, after a prayer to Santa Barbara and sharing a little gossip about the married man downstairs and the bodega girl with my dead aunt. Rachel and I settled in to watch TV until eleven o’clock when we returned to the Internet to look at the words we had created, which were sleeping snugly inside our computer monitor. They were my tickets to fancy summer homes, Caribbean vacations and luxury cars. Most importantly, they were going to buy my freedom from the slavery of employment. I learned my first lesson in business that night: things don’t go the way you think they will. Nevertheless, I, Jose Torres, had a dot-com business. At eleven-thirty, to the soft serenade of my mother’s snoring down the hall, Rachel and I made love in the bathroom to celebrate our good luck.