Previously on Friday Night Videos... Roy Orbison.
Chicken Ranch Central
Suspicious of the Chicken Ranch, Miss Edna instead headed to Austin, where legendary Texas madam Hattie Valdes operated several houses catering to horny University of Texas students and Texas legislators in equal measure.There's more where that came from--a lot more, but it's getting late, so I'll wait until tomorrow to write up that part of the story. Now, it's off to bed for me!
“She didn’t have any openings at that moment, but she asked me if I knew about La Grange,” Miss Edna said. “The lady in Austin was telling me about it, then she called down there and they said somebody’s going to be gone a week. I said, ‘Well, at least I’ll go down there and see what it’s about. I may not even want to stay.’ But you can tolerate almost anything for a week.
“It was pleasant driving up to that old thing, seeing the trees and everything, you know?” she said. “After having looked at the city for a few years, that white house in the distance, among those green trees, it looked real pleasant. I didn’t know how it’d be like inside, you know, but I went from there.”
"There’s more hockypoo about that place than anything else."Seriously, how many other writers get to use "hockeypoo" in their book with a straight face? Okay, I'll admit I cracked a grin while writing it, but still. That quote aside, here's a sample of last night's output, quite possibly the single most well-known aspect of the Chicken Ranch:
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Miss Jessie hit upon a solution almost as old as the oldest profession, itself: Barter. Area farmers didn’t have money, but they did have livestock, and the brothel began accepting stock in trade. Before long, the going exchange rate became jokingly known as the “poultry standard,” that is, one chicken, one screw. Needless to say, Miss Jessie’s girls were up to their eyeballs in chickens in no time.Printing out the draft of the chapter for my files, it suddenly strikes me that I've already written quite a bit. Curiosity got the better of me, and I compared my page count to that of Jan Hutson's Chicken Ranch book from 1980. Now, there's not a 1:1 correlation between manuscript pages and a published book, but I'll wager my wordcount at this early stage isn't that far off her's in its entirety. And I know for certain I have more facts in mine--at least, facts that can be attributed and verified.
One of the first opportunities to ingratiate herself with the community came with America’s entry into World War I. As plenty of young Fayette County men headed overseas with the legendary doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force, Miss Jessie had her handful of girls write encouraging letters to the lads, sometimes even sending along care packages filled with home-baked cookies.I'll have my work cut out for me when it comes to revisions, of course. I find all matter of historical minutiae fascinating, much of which cause other people's eyes to glaze over. Ensuring the book is a lively, engaging read is an ongoing concern for me (yet you are thinking "It's a book about a brothel? How could it not be fascinating?" Trust me, anything can be boring if the writing is bad enough. This is my personal nightmare).
That show of compassion went over well in La Grange. Unfortunately, the War Department wasn’t nearly as impressed. Concerned with the debilitating impact venereal disease could have on the troops, the U.S. government launched a full-on war against prostitution. Following the advice of Teddy Roosevelt, Secretary of War Newton Baker spoke softly and carried a very big stick: any Texas city that wanted an army post (or wanted to keep one they already had) must shutter their vice districts, period.
Cooperation, mostly, seemed to be the key in forming a lasting alliance between the brothel and the sheriff’s office. Law enforcement everywhere maintained useful networks of informants who’d pass along information overheard from the underworld. In La Grange, this boiled down to the fact that petty criminals tended to brag about their exploits to whatever pretty whore they happened to be bedding. Miss Jessie made sure to pass any such confessions along.And yes, I am still on track to finish this chapter by the 15th, which will give me an even-money shot at wrapping up the next chapter by New Year's Eve. Momentum, as they say, is a wonderful thing.
Neither version is accurate, but the first tale is unique in its almost complete disconnect from reality.Yes, I do demolish the wrongheaded, misguided and just downright bad writings of a writer who hath trod this ground before me. I confess to enjoying it a bit too much.
Although the system offered a degree of protection, a woman’s value only amounted to her ability to bring in money. One Austin police officer took note of a well-known prostitute, Georgetown Ella, who’d fallen deathly ill. With their mother unable to work, Ella’s four children faced the likelihood of starvation, and the brothel’s owner, Charley Cooney, was not the type of man to show compassion to any of them. Society in general was not apt to show much compassion, either.On a brighter note, I picked up two pieces of Chicken Ranch memorabilia off Ebay this week. Neither item was ever actually produced by or sold at the real Chicken Ranch. One was a money clip, which are pretty common, but this showed up at a cheap price and I couldn't resist. The other, a wine glass, features a Chicken Ranch logo. I've never seen such a glass before, so it's an intriguing find. I figure this was either sold as a souvenir at the failed Dallas restaurant or marketed in La Grange in the mid-80s, during the very brief time when they attempted to commercialize the defunct brothel. Either way, they're nice additions to my collection.
The ideas that sanctioned prostitution prevented rape and the spread of venereal disease were perhaps the most persistent arguments used by those in favor of a regulated sex trade, and ones that were commonly invoked to defend the Chicken Ranch as late as 1973. These "regulationists" were often police and medical practitioners, those who interacted and dealt with prostitution on an ongoing basis. From their perspective, the world's oldest profession had persisted and even thrived despite centuries of eradication efforts by countless cultures. The prohibition approach had undeniably failed. If prostitution could not be eliminated, then perhaps it could be contained and segregated so as to not corrupt polite society.It also doesn't help my daily progress when I come across items in my notes and research materials that absolutely needs to go in a previous chapter. That means going back before I forget, inserting the stray material, rewriting the surrounding copy to fit, revising citations...