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You spoke to thousands of people from all over the world for your book.  Do you have any favorite conversations that didn’t make it in?

 

I have many, but here are two that stand out. These calls came after my book went to press.

 

1)   I met an attractive, intelligent Canadian prostitute. Sera saw my “Lonely Jeff” flyer online. She was working at her brothel and called the number on my flyer to see if it really worked. We had a great first conversation. We’ve talked regularly since. Our conversations are candid and go everywhere.

Sera’s not the stereotypical prostitute. She doesn’t drink. Rarely uses drugs (mushrooms every few months at a heavy metal concert). She’s well-read (loves Poe and Dostoyevsky), educated, comes from a close-knit family. As a child, each Saturday, Sera would go to garage sales with her mother and “auntie”. Sera would drive them crazy by buying irrational items such as dried-up soap, socks with holes, skateboards with three wheels.

Sera’s a snake aficionado. Her Burmese Python, King Tut, is brilliant yellow with intricate diamonds. King Tut could easily kill a human. I asked Sera what she’d do if King Tut attacked her. She said she’d walk into the shower with him wrapped around her. “Once a python begins suffocating you, you have about three minutes to live … with each breath you exhale, the python squeezes harder.” In the shower Sera’d turn the cold water on. Eventually King Tut would unlock his death grip.

I sense a profusion of anger in Sera. She’s intense. She told me she’s thought about killing people in anger. “Everyone has,” she assures me. She’d use a knife over a gun: “Be more satisfying that way.” I’ll be able to determine if she’s a sociopath when she visits New York City in a few days. I’m leaning in the direction that she isn’t. She’s involved in many social causes and has stated that she believes human are “good overall”.

I’m not looking to have sexual relations with her. We’re just going to hang out as friends. The Bronx Zoo, the Museum of Natural History, dinner, Central Park, movies. I told her I’m quite busy so I can’t be with her all the time. Her Canadian friend, Brie, is currently prostituting in New York, so that takes some pressure off me. Sera can hang with Brie when I’m busy.

Brie’s been prostituting in New York City for a month. She’s a dominatrix. She found an escort service in Manhattan that set her up with a lovely studio apartment on Madison Ave. Brie makes approximately a $1000 a day in Manhattan. Her most recent Facebook post reads: “Fuck, men are stupid here! No wonder domination is large in New York, the men deserve a fucking beating to keep them in line!”

Brie, Sera, and I are going to dinner this Saturday. I’ve spoken to Brie on multiple occasions. She’s edgy and attractive. She sent me a video from the Canadian brothel that she and Sera work at in Edmonton. In the video, which Sera filmed, Brie’s riding on the back of a petite Asian naked man down a narrow tile hallway. She’s shouting: “Meow like a cat!” The man meows, as Brie whips and thrashes him. When they get in the bedroom, Brie orders the man onto the bed. “Get onto the bed, facedown, and stay like that!” She beats the man with a black police baton. They seem to both relish in it. (Here’s video)

Brie told me that in her personal relationships she loves ordering her boyfriends into kitchen pantries and cabinets (“especially under the sink”). She likes humiliating her boyfriends by having sex with other men: “There’s nothing more stimulating than feeling my man suffer in the pantry while I’m with someone else loudly.”

Originally from South Africa, Brie, twenty-eight, arrived in Edmonton ten years ago with her parents. Her father, a once wealthy South African real estate developer, has since fallen on hard times. He filed for bankruptcy five years ago. His wife left him when the money was gone. Brie has helped support her father the last few years, sending him thousands of dollars each month. Apparently he’s clinically depressed. For years Brie hated her mother for abandoning her father. She has since forgiven her mother: “It’s all I could do.”

Sera can only take tiny doses of Brie: “She’s antisocial. Bipolar. Aggressive. If she was assertive, it’d be one thing. But she’s just aggressive. It gets old fast.”

The past few years have been tremendously difficult for Sera. She’s lost four family members and friends. Her uncle hanged himself from the rafters in a barn following a divorce. An aunt and an uncle both died of cancer within three months of each other. A friend died tragically in a hit-and-run accident in Toronto. A cataclysmic fire destroyed most of Sera’s hometown, Slave Lake. I perused online photos of the 2011 Slave Lake Wildfire. They boast an eerily resemblance to Hiroshima. Entire city blocks obliterated. Nothing but ash and skeletons The Ford dealership has a line of new trucks—all melted, charred. The inferno was fueled by seventy mile an hour winds. It came swiftly and trapped all seven thousand Slave Lake residents. All three major roads in and out of Slave Lake were consumed with towering flames, which barred exit. The residents survived by going out onto Slave Lake and by congregating in the middle of the Wal-Mart parking lot, where the flames couldn’t quite reach. Sera’s family home was eviscerated, their acreage scorched. Her parents are rebuilding.

Sera began working in the sex industry four years ago as a stripper. She was sick of waitressing (long shifts, impolite customers, meager pay). After stripping for two years, she went into prostitution. “More lucrative.” In Edmonton, prostitution’s legal. She’s required to have an escort license and get monthly checkups. Sera can earn up to $20,000 a month escorting. Her parents have no idea she works as a prostitute. Sera says she comes from a family of “rednecks”. Her parents think she works in a gay bar. Sera told them a gay bar knowing they’ll never step foot in one. “They’re homophobes.”

Sera has piercing insights into penises. Men congregate to her, especially in bar-like settings. She’s attractive with platinum blond hair and has a wonderful figure. She thought all penises were large until she became a prostitute. Then it struck her that the men picking her up in bars had above-average-sized penises. Men with large penises tend to be more aggressive, Sera now believes. They have more confidence, more lovers. It also means that attractive women think penises are larger than they really are. Aggressive men go for attractive women first.

I’m picking Sera up at LaGuardia Airport. She’s staying in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan. I told her not to expect much small talk from me. I hate small talk. She told me she small-talks for a living. When johns call, she asks them innumerable questions, feeling them out.

 

(Watch Jeff’s on-camera interview with Sera in Canada here.)

 

2)   Rob watched an interview I did on Inside Edition. My flyer was shown during the interview. Rob wrote down the phone number on my flyer and left the following voicemail: “Hi Jeff, Rob calling. I saw your interview. I know what it’s like to be alone in the world. My wife left me after thirty-six years of marriage. Please give me a call.”

I called Rob. He’s seventy-three. His wife left him six months ago. Their divorce was finalized in August, 2012. Rob has no children and lives alone on a large farm in Canton, New York. The farm’s been in Rob’s family for generations. Rob, now retired, worked as a banker for thirty-five years. He told me that his wife was generous in the divorce: “She didn’t even take half”.

Rob and I swapped life stories. I described my difficult breakup with Kira and what helped me get through it. He said he was having trouble meeting people and that he was “intensely lonely” since his wife left. I suggested joining local meet-up groups in his area. Then the conversation took a wild, unpredictable turn. Rob told me that he encountered a monumental problem last year: “The biggest crisis I’ve faced in my life”. Rob’s stepson has a child. Last summer, Rob was vacationing at his cottage at Lucerne Lake with his step-grandson. Rob stated that he slept on the porch one evening. In the middle of the night, the fifteen-year old boy came out and woke Rob. Rob said the boy began talking about his penis. “Then the boy wanted to see my ‘private area’”. Rob took his pants down and exposed his genitalia. Rob said the boy began touching Rob’s genitalia. Rob’s argument is: “I was just trying to show the boy my private parts when the boy began touching me”. I was shocked, thinking any adult has to know that this type of conduct is wrong. Rob kept telling me throughout the conversation that he wasn’t a pedophile.

Rob’s wife stayed with him the first few months following his arrest. She left him while he was serving his 120 day jail sentence. During one particular jail visit, Rob was looking for reassurance from his wife. He said, “You aren’t going to leave me?” He expected her to say no. She said: “Yes.” Rob said he couldn’t believe her reply. He suspects his stepson talked his wife into the divorce.

Rob was arrested a month after the incident with his step-grandson. Rob stated, “I told the police exactly what happened. That my step-grandson touched me. I gave a detailed account without a lawyer present.” Furthermore, Rob asserted to me on several occasions that his step-grandson lied to police. Rob ended up pleading guilty to a felony. He received a jail sentence and 10 years probation. Rob’s stepson, a New Hampshire police officer, thought the jail sentence was too short and that he should’ve received at least a year or more for molesting his son. I googled Rob’s name. Multiple articles appeared. One article reads that Rob “molested the teenager at a private camp in ….”

Another unnerving part of the conversation was when Rob told me that he was allowed to go to church without supervision the first few weeks following his arrest. Rob’s been a devoted church member for over thirty years. Before the service, in an adjacent room to the church, Rob stated that he was standing behind a young boy who was playing the piano. Rob walked up to the young boy and placed his hand over the young boy’s hand: “He was off key.” Rob moved the child’s hands to the “correct” keys. The boy’s father approached and Rob said, “I probably shouldn’t’ve done that.” The boy’s father replied: “I know you’re innocent. I know you would never do anything to my boy or any boy.” Rob said that some of his neighbors and church members support him; others won’t even give him “a look”.

Rob kept asking me throughout the conversation if I believed him. I don’t know what there is to believe? He told me the same story he told the police: That he pulled his pants down in front of his fifteen-year old step-grandson and let his step-grandson touch him. That’s clearly sexual assault on a minor. Whenever I hear a story like this, it makes me wonder how many times the person has committed a similar offense and gotten away with it. They say a drunk driver’s driven intoxicated hundreds of times before he gets his first DUI. Rob told me he didn’t marry until he was thirty-seven. What was he doing before that?

Tomorrow, August 12, 2012, Rob’s going to church. It’ll be the first time he’s been to church since he pled guilty. He said he’s going to call me and tell me how it went.

 

Second Phone Call with Rob: August 13, 2012

 

Rob said he “broke down” in church seeing all the familiar faces: “They know I made a mistake, I admit I did, but since I’ve been an upstanding citizen and good community person for years they’re willing to look beyond it.” That’s remarkable if you consider the crime Rob perpetrated. Rob left immediately following the service. He went to a restaurant, which was in the general vicinity of the church. While eating, a woman who was at the service approached Rob and offered support. Rob called her later that day and thanked her again.

I asked Rob if he thought his 120-day sentence was enough. I received quite a disconcerting answer: “Yes, it was sufficient. I never put my step-grandson’s penis in my mouth. I never entered him anally. He never entered me anally. The whole incident was under five minutes.” What’s frightening to me is that Rob doesn’t understand the impact of what he did. He doesn’t seem to take any responsibility. It’s the boomerang effect. Rob deflects blame and bounces it onto other people. This is the classic definition of sociopathology. A complete lack of a conscience, feeling no remorse, and caring solely for one’s own pleasures in life.

An intriguing part of this case is that Rob could have most likely beaten the charges at trial, even with the confession he gave. Rob’s first mistake was not going with the noteworthy criminal attorney in Canton he knows personally. Rob said that the Canton Police told him if he confessed, and told the “whole truth” about what occurred, no account of the incident would make it into the media. Rob confessed. “The police lied to me. It was in all the newspapers.” The reason Rob went with an “out of town attorney” was because he didn’t want his acquaintance, the noted criminal attorney, and his secretaries, gossiping about the incident. “It would’ve spread like a wildfire.”

Rob’s second mistake was not introducing a letter that his step-grandson sent him three months prior to Rob’s sexual assault on him. Rob read the letter to me over the phone. Rob prefaced the letter by stating that his step-grandson had recently been in trouble for stealing, lying, drinking, skipping school, and that he’d “failed most of his classes”.

In this letter, Rob’s step-grandson writes to Rob avowing that he won’t lie or steal anymore, and that he’s learned from his mistakes. He talks about finding new direction and that he now wants to be either a police officer or a physical therapist. He says he’ll focus on school and get good grades. He pleads with his “grandpa” to speak to his father in order to let him vacation at Lucerne Lake in a few months. His father had forbidden him from vacationing at Rob’s cottage in Lucerne Lake because of his recent troubles. Rob’s stepson finally agreed to let his son go to Lucerne Lake with Rob and Rob’s wife, Kathy. Rob made one rule for his step-grandson before allowing him to come to the cottage: “I told him he couldn’t steal anything from our property.”

As I consider this letter further, and Rob’s cottage at Lucerne Lake, it almost makes me wonder if Rob thought he had some kind of leverage over his step-grandson? Perhaps Rob felt that with his step-grandson’s recent checkered past, and the letter in hand, that if he molested the boy, the boy wouldn’t go to his father or the authorities. Rob would have him in a corner, so to speak. Rob hasn’t revealed to me yet the “lies” his step-grandson allegedly told police. I wonder if anywhere within these “lies” if Rob is threatening his step-grandson? For instance, a powerful threat from Rob could be the following: If you tell anyone about what occurred between us, you will never be allowed back to Lucerne Lake and I will also say you stole property from the cottage. Perhaps that is why it took Rob’s step-grandson several weeks to reveal the sexual assault perpetrated on him? Was Rob’s step-grandson contemplating the ramifications of revealing the assault?

It seems apparent to me that any capable attorney could have beaten Rob’s charges. With the letter his step-grandson wrote three months prior to the incident, there’s no way a reasonable jury could find a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You could argue that the step-grandson was making the entire incident up, echoing his earlier admission of lies. Rob’s attorney could’ve argued that Rob’s confession was coerced. Rob’s seventy-three years old. He got rattled. He was scared. He’s going senile.

Even at sentencing, the letter his step-grandson wrote wasn’t introduced. Rob’s stepson and step-grandson were both at the sentencing hearing. Neither spoke, but they had the court read a letter vilifying Rob for his “egregious actions”.

I asked Rob if jail was dangerous for him because of his sexual assault on a minor conviction. Rob said he didn’t tell anyone why he was in jail.

Rob said everyday in jail was the same. Breakfast at 7:30; lunch 11:30; dinner 4:30. “The food was good sometimes; other times crappy.” The early dinner time “made for extremely long nights”. Rob said he heard the word “fuck” so many times in jail he hopes his never hears it again. Minutes later, however, Rob swore for the first time in conversation, saying “shit”. I thought this most curious. Rob asserted that of some his fellow inmates were “head to toe with tattoos … they were mostly younger guys so they controlled the TV … I didn’t like anything they watched. Can you believe they didn’t even want to watch sports?”

What is Rob up to these days, three months after his release? “I’m just taking it day by day.” He sees a probation officer weekly. He’s also in counseling (court-ordered). “I’m doing normal things. I cut my grass today. I’m having a new patio poured behind my house next week, so I’m gathering necessary supplies for the contractor.”

At the end of this phone conversation, Rob got a little emotional. He wanted to make sure I’d call again. He said, “If you’re ever in the upstate area, you can stay at my place. It’s large. Don’t worry, I won’t attack you.” He laughed. I keep thinking, What else has Rob been up to?

 

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JEFF RAGSDALE has worked as an actor, comedian, and home builder.  He has been featured in an Old Spice commercial, a Mercedes Benz commercial, and a Catholic Diocese of New York commercial.  He lives in New York City and wants a Portuguese Water Dog.

 

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TNB Nonfiction TNB Nonfiction features some of the web's best essays, excerpts of up-and-coming books, self-interviews, profiles, and humor from a wide range of authors. Past and future writers include Emily Rapp, Mira Bartók, Nick Flynn and Melissa Febos, among many others. 

Our editorial team includes: 

JULIA GOLDBERG is the Nonfiction Editor. She is a full-time faculty member in the Creative Writing Department at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, teaching a variety of nonfiction and journalism courses. She spent ten years as the editor of The Santa Fe Reporter newspaper, during which time the paper won numerous regional and national awards for writing, design and web innovation. Goldberg’s writing has appeared in numerous state and national publications, including The Rumpus, Salon, Alternet and In These Times. She is a contributing author and editor for Best Altweekly Writing 2009-2010 from Northwestern University Press.

J.M. BLAINE is a founding member of The Nervous Breakdown and the Associate Nonfiction Editor. His book, Midnight, Jesus and Me was released April 1, 2013 by ECW Press. 

One Response to “Jeff Ragsdale: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. M.J. Fievre says:

    Wow. That was a great read! You meet fascinating individuals, I see. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thanks for the links to the videos; made it even more vivid. Ah! Now I know who to call if I need to talk about anything :)

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