All the small round tables in the front of the cafe were taken, so Andrea and I migrated to the back garden. Andrea sipped her latte and we eyed the two women sitting at separate tables in the small space. "Maybe we should go back to the front, where it's noisier," Andrea whispered.
Andrea is a phone sex worker, or, as her W2 more accurately states, a "phone actress." We'd met a few years ago through a mutual friend, and I saw her as a sexual Odysseus -- navigating her way through the changing waters of the sex industry over the past two decades. I was always happy to see Andrea at parties or picnics since she was so down-to-earth and intelligent, and so perfectly willing to tell tales about her unique life.
I'd wanted to grill her in depth for a while now about what it was really like to be a phone sex worker, but somehow the context was never appropriate. Standing over a bowl of limp coleslaw, struggling to open a bottle of cheap red wine -- even I couldn't imagine myself striking up a conversation with "So Andrea, what's the funniest phone sex request you've had?" She recently moved to Los Angeles, so on my last trip down there, I called to see if I could spirit her away for a morning coffee.
As always, she looked healthy and fresh-faced. Her cosmetic-free skin was glowing and her black hair was pulled back in a thick ponytail. We retired to the front of the buzzing cafe off Sunset Boulevard and sat behind a couple who were poring over the L.A. Times. I wondered if they would overhear, but Andrea now seemed unconcerned and began elaborating the distinction between pictures of sex on the Internet and phone sex. "I don't think the callers really want to see me," she said, stirring her coffee thoughtfully. "That way I can be whatever they want."
Andrea didn't have much time that morning, so I cut to the chase. "Can I ask some nuts and bolts questions?" I said, hoping I wasn't being too abrupt. "Can you give me some history? How much do you make? Do you like doing phone sex? What is the funniest phone sex request you've had?"
She nodded cheerfully, as if I'd just asked about her favorite color, food and TV show. "OK. I started doing this a few years ago, because all you needed was a phone and you made your own schedule. I'm a musician, so that's great. You get signed up with a service or two, and you can be on call an hour a day or 24 hours a day, but you have to answer the phone if you're on. The calls cost $12 for 15 minutes, and I get $4 of that."
"Is that all?" I squeaked. Somehow I'd thought they made a mint.
"Well, yes," Andrea said. "But the average call is eight minutes. That's how long it usually takes to get a guy off. And I get about 25 to 30 calls a day. Did you see 'Short Cuts'?"
"Yes," I said. "The few times I've had phone sex, I always think of it."
"That was pretty damn accurate. Remember Jennifer Jason Leigh's expression when they'd hang up on her? She'd just replace the phone and say, 'Oh, good, another one gone.' Obviously the shorter the call, the better. I have one guy who's great -- he'll tell me to wear stiletto heels and put the phone on the floor. I'll walk around a few times, then pick up the phone and bzzzzzz ... dial tone. He'll have hung up within minutes."
"God," I said, and we both began to laugh. "Is that your funniest?"
"No, that's not my funniest. I'll tell you about that in a minute." She sipped her latte and laughed again. "Most of my calls are S/M. I do dominant really well, I think because I read up on it and you have to be pretty well educated to know what to do. There is a huge demand for dominants. And I can vent a lot of anger that way, you know, just through subtle insults." Andrea gazed into her coffee, as if she were thinking about what she needed to buy at the grocery store. "There are a ton of calls for Dom 1 through Dom 10 --"
"What's that?" I interrupted.
"Well, Dom 1 would be like Scarlett O'Hara. You know -- bitchy, sassy, independent-minded, the kind of woman who would blow smoke in their face. Dom 5 would be subtle insults and cross-dressing, telling them to do things. Dom 10 is just out and out screaming at them, with a lot of profanity and extreme insults. I get a lot of Dom 5. It's gotten to the point where I'll be standing in a store and I'll look at a guy and think, 'I just know he's a Dom 5.'"
"What did you read to know all this?" I asked.
"'The Leatherman's Handbook,'" Andrea said immediately. "The gay guys really know the S/M fantasies -- I get a lot of ideas from that. And 'The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices' -- that's an essential."
"And you know the other most popular thing?" she continued. "The mommy calls. That's when I'm the mommy, and I come in the room and see that he's masturbating. 'What are you doing?' I say in a mean tone. 'That's a bad boy!' And then on to: 'Can Mommy touch your penis?' And then it goes into 'Can Mommy give you a blow job?' and on to putting the penis inside of Mommy."
"And they say Freud is dead."
"It's a really popular fantasy," she said, shrugging.
"How do they ask for that?" I said. "Do they say, I want the Mommy Fantasy No. 207?"
"Well, if I know them -- if they're regulars, then yes. This one guy, he calls up in character, as a baby, and says, 'Goo goo goo, Mommy, m-m-my ditty is durrrr-ty.' And I respond to that in a mommy voice. That call's a little difficult because I always start to laugh."
I must have looked shocked because Andrea patted my hand, and we both started to giggle. "I know, I know. It's so funny. See -- that's how it works: They'll tell you their fantasy, and you have to narrate it back to them."
"What other regulars do you have?" I asked, wondering if anything could top that one.
"There's the Panty Guy, and I know him so well that he doesn't even say anything anymore. That involves me going into a shoe store wearing no stockings and a linen business suit, and he tries about six different pairs of shoes on me, and each time I flash him a little more panty, and a little more, so then he can see my pubic hair, and then he can start to smell me, and then I go in the back and get up on the ladder to get some more shoes, and he starts to slowly, slowly pull down my panties, while I'm saying, 'No, no!'" -- Andrea, in character, paused to look mock-outraged -- "until he tears them off and suddenly plunges his face into them!" She laughed and dropped her voice down to a normal tone again. "There's a few variations on that, like how many pairs of shoes I try on, but it's essentially the same." She looked at her sports watch.
"Oh, no," I said. "Can I meet you tomorrow? I still have so many more things to ask."
"OK," she said cheerfully. "God, this is nothing, just the tip of the iceberg. But what other stuff do you want to know, so I can think about it?"
"Well, what trends you're spotting," I said. "What you do around the house when you're on a call. Calls you won't do, fantasies you won't narrate. Bad things."
"Oh, there's a lot of bad things," she said airily, picking up her gym bag. "It's like that with any job. But hey -- I do like it. And it is very creative."
(To be continued.)