Well, I opted for an impromptu sleepover -- at Matt's place -- after hinting that I "just want to cuddle." In preparation for a night of sexless bonding, I showered and changed into a pair of white cotton panties. My Not Tonight Gear is actually more expensive than some of my workwear. Sexy understuff is as rare as bottled water these days. And there's always a special at Bloomingdale's or the local lingerie boutique. But you hardly ever see good seamless Swiss panties on sale. Good-girl undies, like the girls they were designed for, get harder to find every day. One of my millennium resolutions was to pamper my lower body in all its moods and phases, so I've invested in high-quality off-duty cotton panties. In white, of course. It's a mistake to stint. You don't spend a whole lot of time in your work panties -- they're off before you know it -- but your off-duty unders have to stay on, sometimes overnight. The $60 panties I wore last night are comfy and loose but properly fitted. With a demure embroidered flower on the right hip.
I arrived at my boyfriend's bachelor pad wearing my pristine waist-high armor. You know how they always say "Wear something risqué under your business suit -- even if you are the only one who knows about it, you will feel like a sex kitten." Well, same thing here.
Having doped myself up with melatonin, I took to Matt's bed feeling very much like a neutered being. As I was drifting off in one of his T-shirts, I heard him showering, then setting the clock. Then I felt his hands making experimental advances. He slid the T-shirt up to my waist and ran his fingertip beneath one leg of my panties.
"So ... where were you when I called?" he asked in a friendly voice. "What did you do tonight?"
How could I begin to explain my night? Roxana's incense-filled den of activism, a bitchy encounter with a former street kid, that aging dominatrix with her ad in Screw, and his girlfriend being asked to join the Council of Trollops steering committee because she's ... a Call Girl of Color?
"I was hanging out with Allison," I said in a sleepy voice.
His hands delved deeper, and I pulled my lower body out of reach. As I drifted off into chaste slumber, or tried to, he whispered a dirty endearment into my ear. My response was lukewarm. Then I heard him saying, in that hushed reverent tone that boyfriends reserve for pastel-colored underwear: "You should wear these panties more often. They're ... so soft."
Should I bite the bullet and invest in some actively unattractive panties? Stop discarding the old pairs? Life is so unfair! I can't bring myself to wear anything that makes me look bad. Even on nights like this.
This morning, I crawled out of an empty bed. Disoriented, I realized that my boyfriend had forgotten to reset the alarm. Could I have OD'd on melatonin? I dashed home in my hugest face-saving 8 a.m. sunglasses so I could linger over freshly brewed aged Sumatra in my oxygen mask. Then I lost track of the time and was almost late for my 10:30 at the Carlyle.
While Jasmine's client, Roberto, took a business call -- naked -- in the living room of his suite, we sprawled out on his bed, gossiping in our garter belts. It was a bit early for both of us, but more so for me, what with the melatonin hangover. Jasmine snickered with undisguised satisfaction when I told her about the NYCOT meeting.
"It was awful," I complained. "Between Roxana's pubic hair and the cheap incense, I was completely disoriented."
"No kidding!" she said in a low voice. "That feminazi doesn't bother to wax her muff, yet she has the nerve to pass herself off as a spokeswoman for hookers? What's up with that? You should have come to that benefit with me," Jasmine added. "The room was crawling with money. I picked up five business cards! And I met this dot-com grillionaire ... and got a good night's sleep."
A night of drumming up new business would have put me in the mood for Matt, I suddenly realized. I looked up at Roberto. He was standing in the doorway, and the sight of him, fully erect, massaging his cock absentmindedly, made me touch the front of my panties. A conscientious-working-girl reflex; I was doing it because it was my job, the way some secretaries absentmindedly tidy up their desks. But a pleasant sensation ran through my body. Jasmine rose to her knees. She began fondling a nipple through my bra, telling Roberto how hot this made me. Of course, she was exaggerating wildly and, as far as she was concerned, we were pretending. But I quietly enjoyed the attention she gave my breasts and let her assume I was faking it. (Jasmine's one of those stalwart pros who never comes when she's working -- "That's the customer's job!" -- and gets irate if she suspects that a co-hooker is really getting into her.)
Warmed up by my colleague, I turned to face Roberto and wriggled closer, so he could rub his cock against my breasts. He stood at the edge of the sheets, entranced by Jasmine's hungry- sounding moans. I couldn't see her, but I knew she was fingering herself for his amusement, as he watched her watching us. Jasmine's climactic sound effects grew louder, and Roberto joined in. A white liquid arc collapsed into a small pool between my breasts. I smiled the satisfied smile of a girl who has made $400 before noon without even showing her pussy.
The scent of his fresh come disappeared under a pile of tissues. Roberto was summoned back to the living room by a ringing phone. When he returned to pay us, we were half-dressed, debating a late breakfast at the Mark (across the street) or at E.J.'s, closer to home. The Gallery, downstairs, would be lovely but, given all the business we do at the Carlyle, the public areas there are mostly off-limits. Can't afford to be conspicuous. And Roberto would be very turned off if he ran into us downstairs. It wouldn't look right.
This afternoon, a call from Eileen complaining about Jack's continuing harassment: "He's saying these weird things -- about you, about Allison, about his blood pressure. When I told him to leave me alone, he called back and left a really insulting message on my voice mail."
"What did he say?"
"He called me -- " She paused, caught her breath, then said, "You know what? I am not going to stoop to his level, repeating such a stupid disgusting thing." She was outraged. "That fucking creep! I might have to change my number if this keeps up! But you know what? I can't change my number, I've worked too hard to build this!"
"Of course you can't change your number. Nobody can -- you'd lose half your guys. Don't do anything impulsive," I told her.
I called Allison's cell phone. "Where are you? Can you talk?"
"I'm at Duane Reade," she said cheerfully.
"We have to talk about Jack. He's becoming a problem, and I think you've made it worse by taking that money. You really shouldn't have done that."
"Oh, really!" Allie sighed impatiently. "I wish you'd stop! You are soooo paranoid, Nancy! He wanted to give it to me. He practically begged me to take it!"
"With what kind of understanding? What does he expect in return?"
"How would I know?" she squeaked. "Maybe nothing. Hold on. I have to pick up a prescription ... Diflucan," her voice rang out. (Why not just tell the whole store you have a yeast infection?)
"Allison Rogers. R-O-G ..."
"Listen, if you want to play dumb with Jack, that's one thing. But don't play dumb with me," I said. "When you take money from a guy, you should know what his expectations are. It's business. Even if you don't come through for him, you should know what you're depriving him of -- what he expects and what you plan to do about it. You can't just wing it. And if a guy knows you're a working girl, you can't suddenly act like a dumb little party girl."
"These patriarchal categories -- " Allie began.
"Shut up and listen!" I implored her. "Your phone's starting to break up! Guys don't like it when they feel they've been taken for a ride by a hooker." I thought of the cantankerous cokehead, many years ago, who was so affronted when his hour ended that he grabbed his gun. "And he's pestering Eileen, making ugly annoying phone calls, and she knows it's him. Do you know if he has a drinking problem?"
"I don't think so. I'm getting another call -- I'll call you when I get home!"
I hung up and started to punch in Eileen's number. I was furious, ready to spill the beans on Allie, ready to talk -- about the money, the stupid flowers, Allie's lunch with Jack. Then I stopped, slammed the phone down, and thought: Bad idea. Telling Eileen about Allison's behavior won't solve a thing. Eileen would tell the other girls about that brainless, destructive floozy -- Allison -- and it would certainly teach Allie a lesson. But it wouldn't make Jack go away. Then I started dialing Jasmine's number. Maybe she could come up with a game plan to -- Oh, hell. I hung up after the first ring.
I ran myself a hot bath, into which I poured a liberal helping of lavender oil. It's the real thing, purchased in a teensy Provençal village the last time I was in France, and inhaling the intense yet soothing aroma, I could feel my frayed boundaries recovering. Immersed in the scented water with my hair tucked high on the rubber pillow, I heard the phone ringing at the other end of my apartment. Probably Allison. I let it ring.
Around 11 last night, I got a totally strange call from Jack -- he never calls girls at that hour! That's when he's supposed to be contained -- in the 20-room cond-op with his rich wife and their perpetually dependent adult son. But last night, he sounded dangerously free. Perhaps his wife's out of town? Sirens in the background made me think he could be roaming the city streets. Or standing on the balcony in his slippers with a cell phone. It was a cold night for either.
There was little hope of detecting Jack's whereabouts because I don't have Caller ID on my landline. Caller ID is lethal. It leaves a numeric trail for boyfriends and other visitors to decipher. Private clients dislike it. Caller ID is for girls who advertise, for people who consort with the public. No one in our safe little circle has Caller ID at home. We all have our numbers blocked, as do a number of clients. If a private girl tried to prevent blocked numbers from coming through, her phone might simply stop ringing. But Caller ID was starting to have some appeal last night. Jack's phone calls are downright creepy.
"Listen," Jack said, in a pushy urgent voice. "I really have to talk to you. It's about Allison. I'll make it worth your while! I want to surprise her. Can you set it up?"
"Set what up?"
"The three of us, at your place. You can get her over there, can't you? She says you're her best friend. And besides, she's -- " His voice lowered to a desperate lust-filled whisper. "She's really hot for you. I know it. She likes it when you take control."
Good god, is he jerking off? I felt like blowing the whistle on our feigned lesbianism, right then and there. Listening cautiously, I tried to detect some telltale heavy breathing. "Look," he said, rather testily. "If you're not interested, there are plenty of other girls. But I'd rather do this with you. So would she!"
"Um, how do you know this?"
"She was telling me how much she likes partying with you."
"The other day. Come on. Help me out here. You're not being fair to me!"
Did Allie spin this two-girl tale while they were having lunch? That's really annoying, if true. She has no business using me as bait.
"Jack," I said firmly. "I wish I could help, but my aunt is visiting. She's staying with me for the next two weeks, and I'm completely tied up with family obligations."
"Your aunt? Is she ...? What does she look like?"
"My aunt?" I repeated crossly. For a moment, I forgot this was a made-up aunt. "I have to go!" Disgusted, I hung up on him. What is he thinking? Christ.
After stewing over the call from Jack, I decided not to bother discussing it with Allie. But when I saw her today in the cardio room at the gym, I forgot all about my resolve. She was on the recumbent bike, wearing a headset, which she removed when I appeared in front of her.
"Hey!" she said, quite innocently. "I've been calling you for two days! What's going on?"
"What's going on? You'd better straighten your life out," I warned her. "That jerk has been calling me and making strange requests. He says you've been talking to him about doing a threesome with me! And he's bothering Eileen as well."
She looked around to make sure nobody could hear us. Still pedaling, she whispered, "That's ridiculous! I never said that to him. And why is he bothering Eileen?"
"Because he can! You took money from this phone freak and now he's obsessed. You weren't supposed to see him or talk to him! Much less take money from him!"
Allison stared at the clock behind me and checked her pulse. There wasn't a trace of remorse in her eyes. She was in another world.
"Roxana's meeting me later at Zen Palate," she announced breathlessly. "She's coaching me for the radio show. We're brainstorming. She wants to talk about changing the name of our group. What do you think of Sex Workers Organization of New York? SWOONY. You know, like SUNY? She thinks NYCOT is kind of retro, kind of 80s. Or maybe even 70s. You know, when everybody wanted to sound sexy. But now we're demanding our place on the world stage and we have to be recognized as workers, like everybody else."
"Want to come? I know she'd love to hear your take on this."
"No, thanks," I said coldly. "I have a regular at 3 o'clock and a bikini wax at noon. Some of us have business to conduct." In other words, Fuck you -- but I'm too ladylike to put it that way.
Allie has no idea what kind of trouble she could be courting. She thinks I'm exaggerating the dangers because she doesn't know how unsafe this business can be when you're careless. I've learned, the scary way, not to be cavalier with men's appetites. Aside from that coke addict with the gun, there were a few others. And all they did was scare me. But that was enough for me. There was a guy who tied me up -- because I let him. Because I was 15, curious about bondage, and completely clueless about the dangers. He was my fourth customer ever. But once I was tied up, he gagged me with my pantyhose, despite my objections. Not something I had expected. I was terrified because I thought he was going to kill me. After he came, he apologized for scaring me -- and untied me right away. His apology spooks me to this day. I never let anyone do that again. What was I thinking? I was lucky he didn't do any of the things he talked about doing while I was lying there, immobile and frozen with fear. I was lucky, in a way, to meet up with a man who got his kicks from scaring hookers; though I wonder if he graduated to worse stuff.
Allison has always had it easy. Despite all this "sex worker" babble, she hasn't a clue what most hookers have to deal with when they start working. The wild-goose chases and time wasters. The risks you take. The stupid and dangerous mistakes you can make. If she knew what really goes on out there, she would think twice about playing hide-and-seek with Jack. Right now, she's flattered by his air of desperation, by his money, and by his horticultural choices. Okay, so Jack isn't a kinky john she picked up in a bar. He has never displayed the slightest bit of weirdness in bed. But the other day, what was that about hoping to surprise Allison with another girl? Customers are not supposed to plan "surprises."
Straight people wouldn't understand why it's so dangerous for a client to show up at your building without warning. (Unless, of course, he happened to be a sexual freak.) But a customer who disrespects the whole concept of calling first -- that guy is already flirting with the dark side of being a john. Especially if the john in question is a middle-aged guy with money. I mean, we're not talking about a construction worker who wanders into a cheap massage parlor. Professionals demand that their clients behave like gentlemen, and while this might seem quaint or silly to the new girls, it's quite a serious matter. It's too easy for customers to get away with mistreating hookers; you can't afford to have guys around who are just barely acceptable. They have to be held to a standard.
How can a girl hook for this many years in a place like New York and still be as naive as Allison? She walked right into being a private call girl, that's how. Without ever working for an escort agency. Without paying her dues. Unlike me, Allison started out as one of Liane's new girls.
I met Allie on a call at the Pierre, about eight years ago. I was alone with a client in my panties and heels, waiting for the new girl to arrive and doing my best to keep a very impatient gentleman amused. Roland had a plane to catch, but I didn't want him to come before Allie got there -- Liane would be furious, and justifiably so. I tried to distract him by pretending to be impressed with his Central Park view. It worked for about a minute. When Allie showed up, 15 minutes late, I was immensely relieved. And we actually hit it off. We worked well together, like concert pianists who have practiced their duet many times. We faked it but it was fun, and Roland loved our act. He gave us each a hundred-dollar tip on top of our basic fee. Not bad for a first meeting with a new girl!
As we waited for the elevator to reach the lobby, Allie's cheeks were glowing. She had been working for only a few months, and she was still excited by all the new places and girls, the new situations she was getting herself into. Like being late for a double at the Pierre and trying to find her house keys and her K-Y at the last minute and ... all those things that can make a new girl so flustered. On the way downstairs, I could tell she was still a bit dazzled by the Pierre Hotel's old-fashioned lushness. There's nothing trendy or Schrageresque going on there; it's a well-oiled, well-preserved Fifth Avenue institution, a very hospitable fortress.
Despite the panic on her way to the call, she had enjoyed performing well and getting paid cash for it. She couldn't wait to spend it. Though she made me feel like some sort of Jurassic tart -- I was a veteran by then -- I recognized a kindred spirit. Or thought I did. We went to Cipriani's for a snack and a drink, and as we got to know each other, I began to find out how little we really had in common.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
From the forthcoming book "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.