An introductory note from the author
Who is Nancy Chan? Ever since Nancy Chan's diary began running in Salon, I've been asked by readers and relatives, by prospective and former boyfriends: "Are you Nancy Chan? How much of Nancy is really you? How much of Tracy Quan's life are you revealing?"
I'm unable to give a completely straight answer because, well, I am like Nancy in some ways. Fact and fiction are often blurred in Nancy's life, and in mine. Like Nancy, I ran away from home during my teens, and I know what it's like to take pride in a job while keeping it a secret.
When the original series ended -- with Matt slyly inserting himself into Nancy's apartment to deliver a surprise marriage proposal -- I received hundreds of e-mails from readers wanting to know how Nancy would handle being a full-fledged fiancée: Could a girl like Nancy really give it all up for a guy when she's at the top of her career as a call girl? How big was that engagement ring, anyway?
My working-girl readers were especially intrigued. Contrary to the latest stereotype (that prostitution is just "sex work"), selling sex is much more than a job. Having sex for money can become a way of relating to men -- and enjoying men -- that competes with your romantic life. Successful hookers are sharp-witted, hardheaded and hardworking but many are also diehard romantics. We want our emotional fantasies to come true, perhaps because we spend so much time fulfilling other people's fantasies.
When you run your own business, you are married to your job. When this job is also a secret from your boyfriend, a proposal of marriage may represent the fulfillment of a fantasy but it brings real-life complications -- as Nancy is about to discover in this episode and in chapters to come.
As to whether I am currently guilty of leading a double life, planning to marry a guy like Matt, secretly in love with a wealthy client, or coming out with a sequel to the current novel, I have decided to follow the advice of Nancy's lawyer, and take the Fifth.
-- Tracy Quan
Today I had the most embarrassing experience -- with one of my regulars. Howard was flat on his back enjoying our threesome with Allison when I decided to straddle him backward -- something I've done hundreds of times. So I carefully lowered my body, confident that my acrobatics looked like zero effort.
Howard stood firm inside of me, but I threw in a just-in-case moan for good measure. With my shoulder blades resting against his chest, all he could see was the back of my neck. Lying still in that position is more work than bouncing up and down, but it's usually the perfect strategy when you're doing a session with another girl. Howard can't check to see whether her tongue is really where it's supposed to be. And besides, it's his favorite position.
I felt serene. Supple. At the top of my game. Allie slithered down to the edge of my bed, placing her head somewhere between my legs -- and his. I felt her long blond hair tickling my thighs. My cue to start moaning louder: "She's soooo good at that ... she's licking my clit! Tell her not to stop! Oh, please don't stop ..."
Unfortunately, when I thought Allison was pretending to do me, she was really doing Howard.
"Hey!" she whispered, when he had disappeared into the shower. "When you were telling him all that stuff, I was tickling his balls with my tongue!"
"You were?" I was indignant. "We're supposed to pretend you're eating my pussy! If you're going to change the routine, you have to tell me," I hissed. "You know I can't see what you're doing from that angle!"
"He seemed to like what I was doing!"
"Well," I was forced to concede, "I suppose that's what really matters." But still. How annoying.
Turning my attention to the bedroom phone, I quickly checked my voice mail. Jasmine's crisp clarity -- "Thursday. Don't be late. Harry at 5 p.m.!" -- was a welcome distraction. Then voice mail from Eileen: "I gave your number to Steven G. He's dying to meet another Oriental. But he's kind of kinky, so call me first. It's for today!" Eileen Wong's clients tend to be impulse buyers with a hundred strange quirks. And a message from Steven himself, sounding bashful but eager: "Hi, uh, well, I'll have to call you back. Hello? Are you there? I'm on my way to an ATM. I'll call back in 10 minutes." There was street noise in the background. Car phone? Pay phone? Hard to tell. He sounds like the type of guy who's cautious enough to use a pay phone when he calls a working girl. Probably married. Or maybe just self-conscious and paranoid about whatever it is that turns him on.
Allison mumbled apologetically into her cashmere sweater as she pulled it over her face: "Honestly, I thought you could see me, Nancy! I didn't know ..." As her pale shoulders disappeared into the sweater, her silly ingratiating grimace almost made me back down.
"How can I possibly see you if I'm staring at the ceiling?" I retorted crossly.
Howard returned, a towel wrapped around his soft damp middle, smirking with satisfaction. I was furious with myself for revealing a trade secret. To a john I've been seeing for more than five years! But I brazened it out with professional blitheness. As I bade him farewell, he winked and said, "See you next Monday -- I'll bring two Oscars. You both earned them!" I flashed him a cool smile.
Allison followed me into the bathroom, pondering her latest dilemma out loud. "Guess who called? Jack! He's trying to make an appointment with me!"
This is so typical. Whenever I'm annoyed with Allison, she tries to distract me with her problems.
Jack can still find new girls through the back pages of New York magazine, but he's barred from the beds of girls like us who trade customers privately. Shouldn't Allie know better than to contemplate seeing Jack?
From behind the shower door, I reminded her, "We blacklisted him! Nobody wants to see Jack after what he did. And neither do you."
"Well, maybe I do," she said petulantly. "He misses me and he's offering me a lot of money. Maybe I should reconsider this -- this blacklist thing."
We blacklisted him because of what he did last year -- and Allie was the first girl to experience the terrible fallout of Jack's behavior. How can she forget? Much less forgive?
I pointed the handheld showerhead between my thighs, then aimed it cautiously at my breasts, to avoid splattering my hair. It's an occupational hazard, showering four times a day: My hair has to look great for work, yet I'm constantly in danger of wrecking it ... Catch-22!
"He offered me a thousand!" Allie was saying. "Just to see me for -- you know, the usual."
His normal rate is $300. A grand for half an hour! That's hard to turn down. But Allison doesn't need to hear that. She needs to learn how to say no and mean it.
"After what he did to us, I think it would be a major betrayal for any girl to make an exception," I told her.
"But I have -- I mean, Jack and I had -- a different kind of ... " Her voice grew squeaky and faint. "Well, anyway, I'd like to hear his side of the story."
Yeah, I'll bet she would! For $1,000, who wouldn't? But the point is, your word's not worth much if you say yes to everything that looks financially appealing. Or easy.
"His side? He has no side. I don't care how much he pays, dealing with him is just too risky."
"He's so easy," Allie pointed out. "And he wears a condom for everything."
"We're not talking about that kind of risk! And you have to stop thinking in the short term! He gives you a grand today and that's great. What happens later? What if you lose all your contacts with the other girls? Jack's generosity won't make up for that. Ever."
As I slid the shower door open, Allison handed me a towel. That childish pleading look again! Even though we're the same size -- we can trade bras -- I suddenly felt like the huge clumsy playmate of a delicate, fine-boned little girl. I stared into the bathroom mirror and saw, reflected back, a surprisingly graceful neck. Not the awkward galumphing outcast -- a ghost from early puberty -- that I sometimes imagine myself to be. And my hair had kept its shape.
Like me, Allie looks easily 10 years younger than she really is. If we were aging at different rates, would we have stayed friends for so long? In fact, I wonder sometimes if looks are the basis for most female friendships: the looker who takes up with a lesser looker because it bolsters her ego; the attractive girl who (having learned that lesson) seeks out pretty friends so she won't have to deal with another woman's jealousy raging out of control -- it's easier to manage your own insecurities, after all. Those of another girl can be hard to read, impossible to quell, and therefore highly dangerous. Allie and I have our problems -- I know in my heart that it's not the healthiest friendship -- but where looks are concerned, ours is a bond between equals. And that's important.
"I didn't agree to do anything with him," Allison was insisting. "We're just talking about it."
"You shouldn't even be talking to him," I warned her.
If I wasn't as pretty, she'd suspect me of sabotaging her out of jealousy. And if she wasn't as pretty, she'd hate me for being so dismissive of male admiration. Allie appeared to be listening respectfully, but she became distracted and started glancing at her watch. I gave up.
Before she left, Allison begged me not to mention Jack's phone calls to Jasmine. "You know how she jumps to conclusions!" she simpered. "Jasmine's so judgmental. And she might tell everyone." She tucked four hundreds into a shiny pink Louis Vuitton backpack and zipped it shut.
Maybe I should take the cut from Allie, instead of relying on her to send me back a date, but her parting words killed that possibility: "Oh, good! I can pay my rent now. Thanks! I'll send you someone soon. OK?" Catching the look on my face, she added, "February's rent! It's due tomorrow. I have to get to the bank."
"You're seeing guys to pay the rent the day before it's due-- ?" Before I could finish, the phone interrupted me. Allie headed for the elevator as I grabbed the ringing phone.
"I think I missed Steven's call," I told Eileen. "I have to go out now. I can see him around 7."
"Oh. Bummer." Eileen sighed. "You have to get this guy while he's hot. He'll call next week. Do you have sheer stockings? They have to be sheer, not stretch. And please don't wear platforms -- he likes real heels."
"Platforms? Why would I wear platforms with a john?"
"You wouldn't believe what the last girl wore. These new girls! Listen, I know he'll call. He wants to see an Oriental -- badly. Don't let him make an appointment for the next day, though. He'll screw it up. If he calls when you're not busy, that's the best way to see him. He's very fast. Three-fifty. Be cold and bitchy but don't order him around. He's not a slave. But he wants to worship you ..."
What kind of guy knows the difference between sheer and stretch stockings? For $350, I'm quite intrigued. Eileen and I trade a lot of business -- we both have clients who go for the petite Asian look, though I think my guys are less fixated on it. (A lot of my clients enjoy Allison, too -- maybe it's the blond contrast.) Funny how every call girl I know ends up with a certain type of regular. Eileen's customers are fetishistic, Jasmine's are among the quickest. I'm not sure how to define a typical Allison client ... not sure I want to.
"Hey, by the way. I've been getting these calls," Eileen said. "Hang-ups! And voice mail with lots of stupid breathing. Ever since I heard from you-know-who."
"Oh, God. Jack?"
"Yeah. The nerve! He acts like nothing happened, you know? Like we don't know."
"Well, don't let on!" I said, alarmed. "Just tell him you're busy and get off the phone -- politely."
When you blacklist a client, he's not supposed to know about it.
"Look, I don't have to humor him -- not after what he did to me! Blabbing to that --"
"If he finds out he's being blacklisted, he might take it out on you in some way! What's more important? Being right? Or being happy? And safe?"
"Well, I hung up on him, OK? I told him to leave me alone. And now I'm getting these calls. I bet it's Jack! He has no right to do this."
Between Allison wanting to make up with him, and Eileen self-righteously provoking him, I really don't know what to do.
The whole idea was to turn the volume down on this guy in the hopes that he would just go away and stay out of our circle. Ever since he --
Yikes -- almost 3:30. All the cabs are changing shifts! It will be a nightmare getting across town. Must log off NOW, SOON, five minutes ago, if I really plan to be on time for therapy.
Despite the traffic, I actually snagged a taxi quickly, by offering an off-duty cabby $20. Stuck in Central Park traffic during the crosstown pilgrimage to Dr. Kessel's funky West Side office, I couldn't stop thinking about Allison and Jack. She still has a soft spot for the guy. Her taste in men has always been appalling. And yet she has a natural talent for this business. Strange ... And Eileen will be pissed if she hears that Allison has been talking to him. As will Jasmine. And everyone else. Oh, God. And they'll be furious with me if they find out that I knew and didn't tell them. Why does Allie put me in these impossible binds? Why do I tolerate it?
As I emerged from the park, I spotted a big picture of Tony Soprano's shrink on the side of a bus shelter. This week, the Sopranos are everywhere -- magazines, bus shelters, you name it -- and everyone seems to identify with Tony for some reason. But my shrink's much hipper than Dr. Melfi; for one thing, she's on a first-name basis with her patients. And, unlike Tony, I'm a savvy veteran of self-absorption, as unembarrassed about seeing a shrink as I am about getting a monthly haircut. And yet. Just like Tony, I must take this radical leap of faith! In my case, it's about leaving my cozy East Side cocoon for the shopless tree-lined wasteland that is Riverside Drive.
I may be one of Manhattan's therapized elite, but I'm still coming to terms with some aspects of the process -- like having my recently blown-out hair savagely re-blown by the punishing wind off the Hudson. Examining my hair -- again -- in the lobby mirror of Dr. Kessel's solid prewar building, I was struck by the hugeness of her lobby. It's like being in a cathedral. The West Side, whether indoors or out, is so disorienting. Leaving the East 70s is like getting squeezed out of a grid-shaped womb into wide-avenued anarchy.
I sat patiently in Dr. Wendy's waiting room, taking in the unchanged ethnic pottery, the arts and crafts furniture, while another patient went overtime. I've never told Wendy how simple it is to eavesdrop in that second chair to the left of the bookshelves.
"I can't stand it!" a female voice was saying. "I don't want to be confined or constrained in any way ... I don't like it when he asks for a date on Wednesday ..." The voice became muffled and my listening spree ended. Minutes later, a mousy girl -- unaware that the acoustics had been working against her -- strolled past, carrying a Coach briefcase. I was impressed. Some guy is trying to constrain her? Maybe she's more interesting than she looks ... My turn.
After ranting -- not too audibly -- about Allison for a few minutes, I noticed a bemused expression on Dr. Wendy's face.
"I feel betrayed," I grumbled, but I didn't go into the Howard mix-up. It would take half my session just to explain the physical mechanics, let alone the irritating dynamics, of my three-way with Allison. Instead, I sputtered on as best I could about Allison and Jack, trying to get the feelings accurate without discussing the money or the other girls or any of the classified details. I wanted to tell her about Eileen, but I stopped myself.
Finally, I said, "I guess I'm stuck with Allison. With her lousy judgment and her silly narcissism. And the fallout."
"Is this why you came back?" Wendy interrupted. "Because of your relationship with Allison?"
"No." I fell silent. It's been over a year and there's quite a lot Wendy doesn't know. And not just because I have to withhold so much business info in our sessions. "It's a relationship with a guy. I'm -- we're -- in love. We got involved last spring."
"Well, perhaps we should get caught up on that. Is he a client?"
"No, a straight guy."
"When you say he's a straight guy, you mean ...?"
I held up my left hand as if it were a shield and spun my ring around. I told her: "He works on Wall Street. His boss is Pamela Knight. She was on 'Moneyline' last week. He's one of her bright young rising stars." Wendy's dark lashes flickered, but I couldn't tell whether she recognized Pam's name. "He wouldn't understand my business. He's always had a straight job. His entire life he's been so -- so normal that he doesn't even know how normal he is. The other night, we were watching 'The Sopranos' and he started telling me how corporate life is just like a Mafia hierarchy. Where does he get these ideas? The most unusual job he ever had was a stint as a golf caddie in college! He would never understand how his girlfriend could have a job that's -- well, not exactly legal." To say the least. "And all the guys I've been with."
"But most of your clients are, essentially, straight guys and they understand. Don't they?"
"Y-yes. Pretty much."
"Obviously, it's not his work that sets your boyfriend apart from your clients."
"OK," I said. "It's not him. It's me! He doesn't know I'm a hooker. I'm pretending to be a straight chick. And it's working! And that makes him a straight guy. It's ... I feel like Dr. Frankenhooker."
Wendy smiled. "Well, it's how he perceives you rather than who he might actually be. If you feel like you're shaping his reality, it's a heady but onerous responsibility --"
"And his sister's an assistant D.A.!" I interrupted. "And my cousin Miranda introduced us. So if Matt finds out what I really do, he could freak out and say something to her. To my family! To his family."
"Hang on," she said. "Just refresh me on Miranda. She's older than you? A sort of big sister?"
If I can keep track of my clients' stories, why can't my shrink keep track of mine?
"No. Miranda's almost 10 years younger than me," I seethed. "After college she moved to New York and bought a co-op loft. Uncle Gregory pays all her bills. That's her dad. He's older. I mean, he's my mother's eldest brother."
"Yes." Dr. Wendy looked alert. "I remember now." She did not apologize for the oversight, and I wasn't sure she understood how irked I was. Wendy adjusted her glasses. The red frames, unfashionably large, make her look a bit like an office manager. Her frizzy hair always looks like it needs a good cut. But she's got these sexy almond-shaped eyes -- and a worked-out body -- that save her from looking frumpy.
I suppressed my irritation and added, "Miranda has no idea what I do for a living. She doesn't think about how other people make ends meet. You know the type."
"Yes. I remember. And I know the type."
Miranda's downtown existence is entirely subsidized by Uncle Gregory, and she's blissfully unaware of our parents' income disparities -- which is quite handy. She never asks how I get by because she's never had to get by. Miranda fancies herself a class traitor and sees me as the chic fogy. When she discovered Matt at a gallery opening, she deemed him "too East Side" for her downtown sensibilities but perfect for me. She takes real pride in our resulting courtship, but I wonder what she would say if she knew about my very East Side profession.
"It's not that my family is so refined," I added. "It's just that we don't talk openly about money. Miranda probably thinks I get money from my parents, too. If she thinks of it at all."
I glanced at my engagement ring again, then looked up at Wendy.
"It's a lovely ring," Wendy said. "So ..." The inevitable question: "How do you feel about it?"
"Like a fraud." There was more silence, as our time ran out. "Not entirely like a fraud," I added, quietly. "More like ... a successful fraud. My girlfriends in the business see this as a victory. And my regulars are delighted for me. It's like being an athlete who's just won a trophy and everyone expects you to make an effective speech and maybe win more trophies and endorse a breakfast cereal -- except that I could lose the endorsement if my corporate sponsor finds out who I really am. I'm terrified!"
"So. If your corporate sponsor finds out who you really are?" She echoed my words back. "What then?"
I stared at her, defeated by the enormity of her mental exercise.
"Maybe," she proposed, "your 'corporate sponsor' appreciates a side of you that is real, but it's not the complete you. That's not the same thing as being a fraud."
"Maybe," I said, unable to look away from my substantial-yet-tasteful diamond.
"Are you still keeping a journal? It might be helpful at a time like this."
"Sort of. But I lost a whole month! Trying to encrypt it in Word! Don't ask."
Wendy nodded sympathetically. "You should consider getting an iBook." My shrink, the Mac hugger. I guess it goes with all that ethnic pottery.
On my way home, I popped into what looked like a reputable lingerie shop on Broadway. I requested sheer stockings -- supplies for Steven, Eileen's client. A tattooed salesgirl with eyebrow rings and a vacant smile -- was she also on Ecstasy, perhaps? -- tried to sell me fishnet thigh-highs. Then, sensing my dismay, she steered me toward a rack of sheer black pantyhose with virtual lace "garters" built into the sides. Interesting, and rather pretty, but not what this new client is looking for. I was about to demand the manager -- was there a responsible adult in the shop who understands "garter belt"? -- when my cellphone rang. Steven, the cause of this maddening culture clash.
"I was just thinking about you," I chirped. Suddenly I remembered Steven's specs: bitchy, not chirpy. "No, tomorrow looks uncertain ... Confirm with me in the morning. I can't talk," I added in a firmer voice. "I'm shopping." For him, actually. But I didn't say that because, well, it's like telling a john you're at the drugstore picking up some more K-Y.
Sheer stockings, like a girl's lubrication, should simply materialize, out of the erotic ether. Do not let daylight in upon magic.
The salesgirl drifted away, in search of easier customers. Unable to resist a bargain, I snatched up three pairs of half-price thong panties -- cute little animal prints. Perfect for Ted P., who likes to watch me changing my underwear in his office, and the more panties per minute the better. Some fetishists are so easy to shop for. Others must wait.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
From the forthcoming book "The Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl" by Tracy Quan. Copyright (©) 2001 by Tracy Quan. To be published in August by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.