My main motivation was money. Don't get me wrong -- I've got a good career and a decent income. I also have a knack for living beyond my means, and often find my paychecks spent before I get them. I needed a second job, something with flexible hours requiring little concentration. Something I could fit in between my other duties and perhaps even enjoy. Something like being a phone-sex operator.
I admit it, I've called those lines before. In the wee hours of the morning when my girlfriend's out of town (or when I'm between girlfriends), I'm not above picking up the phone and dialing one of those 900 numbers to have my ear sweetened by a strange feminine voice.
Ah, but to be at the other end of the line? That, I must say, had never occurred to me -- until the day I saw an ad in a local alternative newspaper: "Phone Actors and Actresses Needed," it said. "Get Paychecks Weekly."
Actors? As in men? Was this something I could actually get paid for? To be honest, of course, I had other motives as well. I like talking to people. I love reaching into someone's psyche and opening it up like a can. I enjoy the interaction of two human beings passing in the night, the strange scintillating challenge of holding another's attention as I would an exotic vase. At heart an adventurer, I am frequently drawn to new and untried things -- and what terrain could be more treacherous and enticing than sex? The truth was and remains that I can think of few more pleasurable ways of spending my spare time.
So I filled out the paperwork and sent it in. I returned a contract stating the rules (basically, Don't talk to minors), as well as a copy of my driver's license and Social Security card.
And so came the night, a few days later, when I found myself logging on to a phone network based in Anaheim Hills, Calif., but open to the voices of the world. You can log on anytime, day or night, I'd been instructed. I simply called an 800 number, giving my special code and stating that I was open for business. Then the calls started rolling in. It's not how many you get, the service told me, but how long you keep each caller on the line -- at 15 cents a minute, time in this business is literally money.
"Hello," my first caller, a sweet-voiced 26-year-old woman from South Carolina, said tentatively, and I was instantly in love. "Is this the Stanley I was talking to before?"
My ardor drooped significantly. "Well, no, I don't think so," I said, "but I'd love to be the Stanley you talk to now."
"No," she said, "I was talking to another Stanley and I was hoping you'd be him. We talked for 45 minutes. We talked about everything."
"Ka-ching!" the cash register in my head chimed in. Let's see -- 45 times 15 -- ka-ching! Before I could finalize my call-keeping strategy, however, the woman was gone. "Well, I've really got to go and find the right Stanley," she said sweetly. "You have a nice night, ya hear?"
The truth is that many of my callers are men. Being heterosexual I had wondered, of course, what that would be like. For a straight boy, I am pretty open-minded. What the ad had sought, after all, was actors, so I would simply have to hone my craft.
And so I have. Suffice it to say that I mastered the male counterpart of an art that comes naturally to most women -- faking orgasm. I've found that it's not difficult at all: Simply close your eyes, think sexual thoughts and uuuup you go.
I now have telephonic boyfriends all over the country. One 19-year-old in a small Ohio town where he owns the only restaurant says that he wants to spend his next vacation staying at my place in Southern California (fat chance). A guy in San Francisco can't stop calling me "Darling." And a good ol' boy from Texas likes to call me while taking a bath with his dog.
In each case I listen to their concerns, attempt to glean what they want and finally try to give it to them on a platter. Sometimes it's a sexual experience; in other cases, just a friendly voice.
The calls I most look forward to, however -- the ones in which I can most be myself -- are those from females. Lately there seem to be lots. Like the woman who called because she had just caught her boyfriend in bed with her best friend. "He hurt me bad," she said, "and I want to hurt him back." At first we tried having phone sex, but it quickly became apparent that what she really needed was a friend. So we spent half an hour talking about her relationship, mine, love between the genders, sex, courtship, romance -- and the bastards that men can be. When it was over she said the venting had helped and she thought that she finally could sleep. I felt like a therapist who'd done a good deed.
Another woman had me stay on the line while we "watched" a movie together, and a third wanted to chat while changing her baby's diaper.
And there was the young woman who called because she did want phone sex, though not the "wham, bam, thank you m'am" variety of erotic entertainment to which she'd become accustomed. No, what this woman needed was to be emotionally cuddled, sweet-talked and verbally romanced. What she craved was a whisper on her pillow, an anonymous and safe masculine voice lulling her into sexual surrender by being the creation of her fantasy, the seducer of her reticence. Like a wise psychic companion, I probed for the keys to her floodgate.
I won't say that the experience didn't turn me on. As her excitement swelled, so did mine, fueled by the challenge of flying by instruments alone, of gradually bringing her to the brink of completion without the benefit of sight or touch but solely through the power of imaginative suggestion. After two orgasms -- possibly, I guessed, among the first of her life -- we talked for a while like lovers sharing a smoke. Her satisfaction was immense, as was mine, though for me it was more emotional than physical. It was a tremendous rush to have risen, as it were, to the challenge of making her come with my words. Then she was gone, invisible once again in the vast ether of the time and distance that are our lives.
Later I thought about the moment we'd shared, that brief synapsis of connection we'd sparked in an otherwise uncaring world. And I began to realize the truth of what I did: not just the gross and lusty exchange of forbidden fantasies minus bodily fluids -- the safest sex there is -- but something more, something deeper, something significant.
For what I was doing was providing windows in the fog, tiny portholes through which to expand one's view. Some of us need the touch of another human being to get through the night. Sometimes even the voice of a stranger can make darkness tolerable -- especially, in some cases, the voice of a stranger. In a world in which intimacy can involve major risk, who could argue that the need for intimacy disappears? But reduce the danger by offering anonymity, and suddenly intimacy, even if fleeting, becomes possible.
So call me a master of anonymous intimacy. There are many of us in the naked city -- we serve the insomniacs, the sexually frustrated, the lonely, the distressed. We have prevented illicit affairs, I'm sure, and perhaps even inspired a few. Mostly, we have kept people focused during long, otherwise fuzzy nights.
In the final analysis, I think, we are public servants doing our bit -- to coin a Jesse Jackson-like phrase -- for the sanity of humanity. Thank us if you will. Just don't forget that 15 cents.