Late into autumn, while sitting atop a cold radiator at a second-hand shop in Alphabet City, I had a rare opportunity to interview the rascally and elusive Maya.
Lauri Bortz: When I first saw the title of this book, I assumed you were referring either to Queen Maya, mother of Buddha, or the Hindu belief that all is illusion.
Maya: An Indian peddler of antique saris told me I reminded him of the star of a Bollywood movie. I asked him to write the film’s title down in Hindi and in English, but then I lost the scrap of paper. I swear he said it was Looking for Maya, and if he didn’t that’s what I heard. As for illusion, maya interpreted as thus is an illusion in and of itself. Maya is the power that allows the material world to manifest as observable existence. And maya in Mayan means time; the search for self.
Lauri: There’s also a novel called Looking for Maya. Perhaps that’s what the film is based on. It’s about an ambitious young Indian woman who takes up with an older man. You’re certainly ambitious, but do you take up with older men or just pick up the slacks?
Maya: Only socks. Just as a teacher appears when a student is ready, I am here for the looking.
Lauri: And are you ever tempted to follow your heart without skipping a beat?
Maya: Well, I’m like a fractured fairytale in slow-motion; Baywatch without the irony or the sea.
Lauri: Do you think the blind lead the blind in the waywardness of flesh?
Maya: Yes, of course. And that’s a big part part of this tragicomedy. We’re all spirits housed in skin, and it’s our greatest challenge to allow that spirit a voice. Layers of Maya in the stratosphere speak for me and my adventures.
Lauri: Do you consider your adventures in the skin trade to be an anthropological experience rather than a religious one?
Maya: Cro-Magnons lived in caves or under cliffs in cold weather; in huts made of skins, when the weather was warm. They ate their meat lustily, sucked the marrow from the bones. In Adventures in the Skin Trade, Dylan Thomas examines the way London’s eccentrics baptized him into manhood. My courageous associates participate in such primitive rituals; tattered remnants from days before.
Lauri: There is a difference between fearlessness and courage. Are your associates really disregarding their fears, or are they living in oblivion?
Maya: Well, most people don’t seek out whores for their intellectual stamina. Whores are called on to be available, both physically and emotionally. Who among us is willing to love the maimed and mutilated, to stand stark-naked before them? It is bravado, perhaps, more than bravery, the savage courage found in wild women.
Lauri: And if I were to find you, wild Maya, would I be guaranteed bliss?
Maya: On the eve of Armageddon l’ll still be here, putting healing hands on cold, stiff bodies, heating the spirit, allowing it to flow.
Lauri: You’ve said that you don’t consider yourself a prostitute because you don’t have sex. But your clients are all having sex and they’re doing it with your hand.
Maya: Does a woman at a sperm bank fuck her dixie cup?
Lauri: Not sure what that has to do with the price of eggs or the plans you’ve hatched, but you seem to be something of a mother hen. A little bird told me you’re feathering other chicks’ nests. Does that fly in the face of truth?
Maya: Where do you go from here, after being a closet slut, after playing the village whore? Where does a downtown girl go if she dreams of up? From assistant to mack momma muthafucka, I want to go up and up. Yes, I want to feather a nest or two; allow beautiful women to build their own homes out of dirty green pieces of paper. And (free ad space) watch for Kalimaz in cyberspace. It’s a nest you’ll feel empowered in.
Lauri: Well, you’ve done a fine job of defending your honor. But what about keeping your secrets?
Maya: As my sister, Cleopatra says: "everyone knows everything all of the time." That’s how I try to proceed, but most minds cannot accept the truth; it is too bold and bright, too frightening. Everyone may know everything, but it’s not necessary to tell all. I want to believe that I’m protected, and, hey, maybe I am.
Bortz is a playwright and co-creator of Sordid Lives, a weekly episodic drama.