Steffie Can’t Come Out To Play By Fran Arrick

To meet a man like Favor on her very first day in New York City…

Runaway teen stories if this era can be numbingly repetitive- when 14 year old Stephanie Rudd explains that’s she ditching her terrible family and terrible mill town of Clairton, Pennsylvania, to grab her chance at being discovered as a fashion model in New York City, you know exactly where this one is going, right down to what block she’ll be working as a prostitute in no time flat.

The Plot: The catalyst for Steffie’s leaving is the return home of her 19 year old married sister, Anita, put out of the house by her husband when she becomes pregnant. Already the primary caretaker for her much younger brother, Danny, Anita’s difficult pregnancy is just one more burden for Steffie to shoulder.

Taking a city bus to Pittsburgh, where she boards a Greyhound, she arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal with $9 in her pocket and no idea what to do next.

She is immediately spotted by a man offering to help:

A tall man, handsome, he was wearing a dark fur coat- all fur– and it was open, so I could see this gorgeous gray suit he had on… and a silk tie. He smiled.

He was sure no street bum, like I’ve seen hanging around the corners in Clairton. He could have stepped out of a fashion magazine, too. His coat was so beautiful, and that gray suit. And his shoes… sharp. No scuffs. They just looked expensive. You had to be rich to afford things like that.

Apparently Covenant House wasn’t shipping out literature en masse to Clairton because girl! Only pimps wear fur coats!

The man soon whisks her into his bronze-colored Cadillac (RED FLAGS!):

“Ohh! What is that?” I asked pointing to something very-complicated looking on the dashboard.

“Ahhh. My very specially-constructed, built-in, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world tape deck. Here, come on…” He leaned over and pulled out a tape. “You like this?”

The music had a heavy beat. It seemed to fill up my head, it was all around me. Hearing music like that, in something small and closed like a car, I don’t know, it does something to you.

He finally introduces himself as Favor and takes Steffie out for a steak dinner, a new wardrobe and finally back to his luxuriant apartment:

The bedroom had mirrors with black steaks like marble running through them. There was also a tiny marble fountain built into the floor that had real water running through it. It made such a pretty sound.

It takes a cringe-inducingly long time for Steffie to figure out that Favor doesn’t want to be her boyfriend, but a week later she’s picking up her first John on 8th Avenue.

Interspersed with Steffie’s journey into Times Square’s underbelly are passages featuring two NYPD officers, 20 year veteran Carl Yarbro and rookie Ed Feltcher. Feltcher is worried because his wife is pregnant for a second time and what if it’s a GIRL? Yarbro and his wife have some hinted-at tragedy involving fertility issues, leaving them childless. The cops are pure plot mechanization, as they pop up every few chapters, in between Steffie’s monologues, to comment on SOCIETY, but they don’t really do anything until they are conveniently on hand at the end.

Most of Steffie’s encounters with her clients are glossed over: the real drama comes in her interactions with the other girls in Favor’s stable, including his Main Lady, Glory, and her wives-in-law, Patsy and Brenda, who (not wrongly) regard Steffie as an extremely annoying co-worker, who is constantly complaining, getting them arrested and hogging the boss’s attention. Steffie’s jockeying for favor, including keeping tabs on for whom Favor is buying the NICE nightgowns with lace on the hem (not Brenda!) is pretty cringe-worthy.

As are pretty much every vignette with Yarbro and Feltcher, AKA The Pussy Posse (no, not the one with Leonardo di Caprio); Feltcher ogles, while Yarbro’s approach to law-enforcement is basically “Whaddaya?”

Favor finally has enough when Steffie and Patsy get into a fight in the street over a teddy bear, which is witnessed by Yarbro and Feltcher, and gentlemen, do you have some PHILOSOPHIES to share with us?

“There’s all forms of prostitution,” Yarbro said softly. “All forms. Lots of people prostitute themselves every day in some way or another. But the legit people, they do it with their minds mostly. ‘Yes, Boss,” ‘Yes I do,’ ‘Yes I will.’ Compromise, it’s called.”

Yarbro also relates this unintentionally (I mean, I’m assuming?) hilarious anecdote about pimpin’ not being easy:

“Orin Blue was a pimp, had a hunk of Fifty-Fifth Street and Eleventh Avenue. He had three girls and all of them were junkies. They needed and he provided. All three of them died the same year.”

“Man, in the same year?”

“Yeah, Orin Blue was put right out of business!”

But Yarbro finds he can’t get Steffie out of his mind, so he finds her living on the streets and take her to The Greenhouse, a runaway shelter, before going and beating the crap out of Favor.

After three days, the staff at The Greenhouse convince Steffie to call home, and try to convince her parents to come and get her. When they refuse they buy her a specifically non-refundable bus ticket back to Pittsburgh, and when her father picks her up at the bus station he informs her that her older sister and her baby died that morning. Because maybe things weren’t quite depressing enough.

Sign It Was Written in 1978 Department:

“Favor’s steak was eighteen dollars!”

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5 Responses to Steffie Can’t Come Out To Play By Fran Arrick

  1. Anonymous says:

    you really are doing a public service re-reading these ‘classics’. Fun-fact: There is no Fran Arrick, its a pseudonym for anyone writing sad books about one issue available on Scholastic.

  2. “But Yarbro finds he can’t get Steffie out of his mind, so he finds her living on the streets and take her to The Greenhouse, a runaway shelter, before going and beating the crap out of Favor.”

    It was worse than that, though. *First* he beat up Favor and told him, “The young girl — LET HER OUT!” So Steffie came back one evening and found the locks changed, her suitcase in the hallway, containing only what she’d brought with her, just the clothes on her back and the few dollars in her pocket. *Then* Yarbro found her living on the streets, and also living in fear of Glory, who is now free to beat the shit out of her. Yarbro tells her “It’s really dangerous for you to be in this neighborhood,” as if he’s not the reason she’s been cast out. He gives her the address for the shelter, and waits a few days before calling there to find out she’s gone home. Better than nothing, I suppose, but how did he know she wasn’t going to die, or get picked up by a different pimp, before he happened to cross paths with her?

  3. Susan says:

    I recently ran across a “Facts of Life” rerun, which would have been from a few years after this, in which Tootie gets separated from the others in NYC and very nearly gets lured in by a prostitution ring.

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