My first trick

I was so new to the game, I had no idea that 14-year-olds could charge more than 19-year-olds. Seventh in a series.

Published July 30, 2001 7:03PM (EDT)

My first trick was a baby-sitter's childish lark. I was 13 and Professor Andrews was a local celebrity, a neighbor, who caught my eye.

In the quiet Canadian city where I grew up, anyone who had ever lived abroad or who hung out in Toronto was considered cosmopolitan. Professor Andrews qualified on both counts. He took lots of trips to Toronto, which struck me then as glamorous.

It tickled me to know that grown women were actually falling in love with this charismatic radical chic author-professor, while I knew the real G. Frasier Andrews. And I knew they'd be horrified if they found out what he had done with me. I was having a giggle at the expense of all those grown-ups who said, "You're too young to have sex. You aren't ready for it." I sensed that there were things they would never be ready for.

While my parents knew I was on the Pill, I made sure they didn't hear about my adventure with our neighbor. My mother created -- and enforced -- a 10:30 p.m. curfew but had no idea what I got away with in the middle of the day.

It's horrible, really, when you think about it -- how cold a pubescent girl can be in the face of a pedophile's lechery. I wasn't a virgin, but I was ridiculously innocent. I had never felt full-fledged physical desire. I didn't know that mature women lusted after men's cocks, didn't know what that felt like or looked like -- which is why I didn't understand the adult admirers of G. Frasier Andrews.

So when I looked at his cock, I must have appeared more curious than appreciative. Professor Andrews was part of a summer project I had assigned myself just before the break: I was determined to start taking the Pill, to start having a Sex Life.

Sex was instinctual for Professor Andrews; I doubt that he'd ever had a Sexual Plan when he was my age. And where I was too clinical to know what passion was, he was unable to control the urges that were most dangerous to his reputation.

Sometimes I think of Professor Andrews as my first adventure in the business. But I was still living at home; I didn't need the money, and it was summertime. I understand that summer has changed, that 13-year-olds now spend those months imprisoned in summer school and self-improvement day camps. Not then! I had lots of time on my hands.

The next summer, I ran away -- to another country. Later, when I started hooking in earnest, I came to see Professor Andrews as an amateur trick. Having sex for money was, at first, a perverse little game that made me feel cocky and cool -- different from my peers. But later, money became a necessity: it was food, freedom, the ability to control my life, to stay afloat and hold my head up without admitting defeat to my parents.

The boyfriend who took me in when I ran away to London was 22, agoraphobic, and given to migraines that could last for days at a time. There were long silences when he would lock himself in the bedroom with a cloth over his eyes. His parents had purchased a garden flat for him in a row of mock-Tudor buildings right next to Hampstead Heath. They believed I was 19, an age Ned and I had settled upon as plausible when we set up house together.

"You look as old as 20," he'd said, rather skeptically, "but you act about 17." I'd taken his word for it, though at 22 he looked about 16 and sometimes acted even younger. "Maybe, when they come over to see me, you can just read a book. Look very absorbed. That way you won't have to chat." Neither of us wanted them to catch on that he was harboring a 14-year-old runaway.

Had they known that this person who roasted the occasional chicken, watered the hedges, cashed checks for their son, picked up his antidepressants, and ordered supplies from the milkman -- and had time to explore the hotel bars at night -- was actually 14, perhaps they wouldn't have been so quick to label his girlfriend "understandably immature." In other words, he couldn't expect to attract a mature 19-year-old. I accepted the slight as a compliment to my camouflage.

When I told him, over a midnight snack of hot cocoa and oatmeal, that I loved him, he smiled patiently as if his mind were very far away -- in another universe. Our lovemaking was one of the best things we had; he was the first guy I ever had time to relax with, now that I had no curfew. So he became the first lover I really needed to fuck. I felt new sensations and wavelike emotions when he was inside. And maybe I shouldn't assign all the credit to our circumstances. He was a good lover, and I knew he was very fond of me.

Though he sometimes did strange and terrible things -- once, during a 24-hour headache, he tore up a glittery nylon jacket that was my favorite possession -- he never locked me out of his home. In fact, he made me feel that this was my home, too, though I now realize that it never really was. He made sure I went to the doctor and the dentist, encouraged me to do all the household shopping (which meant I had a constant stream of cash), and sometimes -- very rarely -- got into a sufficiently normal mood so that we could go out together. In his own way, he took care of me.

His idea of a really good time was tinkering with the stereo, putting together Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders using spare parts, and then playing Mahler or the Moody Blues -- loud. Sometimes I went to a shop on Mornington Crescent with a strange-looking list and picked up the bits and pieces that were required to add the finishing touches to a tape recorder. When I think about Ned, which I still do occasionally, I wonder if he blew out his eardrums listening to "Days of Future Passed" on that big cushiony headset that looked like Darth Vader's helmet. I also wonder if he's alive. I have a feeling he is. Crazy people have this strange ability to hang in there.

Between the help from his parents and the dole money he collected (Mummy and Daddy officially rented the flat to him and then doctored his rent book so he could collect extra money), we had an easy existence. Ned was "on the fiddle" -- the middle-class fiddle -- and it suited us both.

But his black moods reminded me that I couldn't stay there forever.

The first time Ned locked himself in the bedroom, he locked me in there with him, too. When he refused to let me out, I became completely hysterical. At which point he unlocked the door, stormed out, yelling and swearing at me, and locked himself in the music room with a chair up against the door. It was terrifying, but -- too young to know any better -- I tearfully pursued him, banging on the door, demanding an explanation. Some part of me thought this was romantic. Soon that part of me had been deeply wounded. We didn't speak for days. He called me terrible ugly names that I had never heard before. And when his mood had lifted, he was incredibly sweet again.

"Why did you do that?" I asked him. "Why did you lock me in the room?"

"I don't want to talk about it," he said, sulking. "I'll never do it again."

"But -- but -- you have to talk about it!"

"I won't talk about it," he replied. And on went the headphones.

Only a runaway would tolerate such a housemate, let alone boyfriend. Only a boyfriend on a steady diet of MAO inhibitors would be so easy to snow. When I started turning tricks, he chose to believe any story I told him. And since he was sleeping off a headachy fit half the time, it was easy to sneak in and out of the flat. Ned had some deep flaws, but he wasn't nosy. He was much too involved with his headaches to be a snoop. And geeks were not yet regarded as hot property. In 1980, very few attractive girls -- even runaways -- were interested in snagging (or shagging) a geek. And how many geek groupies, even today, would enjoy picking up spare tape recorder parts for a melancholy agoraphobic? We both had a pretty good "deal," if you want to look at it that way; but I never called it that. I really did love him. He gave me a chance to make my way in the world.

When Ned made it clear that he was unable to discuss his craziness with me, I came to a private decision.

My first professional trick was a guy I picked up at the bar of the Cumberland Hotel in Marble Arch. I was almost 15. It never occurred to me that being underage was something I could charge more for, so I told him I was 19. Too naive to realize that a pro shouldn't drink, I had my first snowball, a frothy yellow concoction of 7UP and Advocat. A cocktail that could well have been invented by a child prostitute, actually! But it was the bartender's recommendation, and it became my signature drink at that particular hotel bar. While under the influence of my first snowball, I negotiated this date myself -- money, condom, sex -- and was very soon upstairs.

In bed, I had no idea what a real professional does. I lay back and allowed my new customer, a gentle sweet-faced American salesman, to fondle me. I knew I was supposed to like it, so I made excited sounds. But I didn't know I was supposed to use my mouth for other things as well. I had no intention of including blow jobs in my repertoire; I didn't really like oral sex back then. Fortunately, he was dying to get laid, and very little could have turned him off. He was about 30 -- "older" by my childish standards but young in real terms, if you think of him as a john. He slipped the condom on, entered, and came.

Then he started talking about Vietnam. He started crying. I held his hand but was more amazed than moved by his emotions. He had killed a very young woman in Vietnam, a young soldier. He had been treated like a hero when he went home to Houston, Texas, and someone had given him a job, right away ...

Then he said something about wanting to marry me.

"I can't marry you!" I told him.

"Why? Have you been promised to someone?"

At first, I didn't understand. Then I realized that the girl he had discovered in a London hotel bar was an exotic Asian flower, a mystery. (I had told him I was Malaysian because I thought it sounded sexy.) My appearance overshadowed my voice, which -- to any thoughtful listener -- was a North American teenager's bratty twang gone slightly transatlantic. I had never been viewed as an exotic flower before, and I didn't know how to be gracious about it.

For me, of course, he wasn't foreign -- not in that way. I had grown up in a small Canadian town surrounded by freckled WASPy faces. By faces like his. In fact, I found real Asians quite exotic, just as he did. But we didn't get into that.

"We can't get married," I said, "because we hardly know each other! And I don't believe in marriage."

I didn't, at 14.

I sometimes wish I could travel back in time and give this guy the benefit of a grown-up hooker's attention. I'd be nicer. More aware of the subtleties. If I had been aggressive and slutty in bed, would he perhaps have been in a completely different mood? I'm convinced that my amateurish style -- i.e., my tendency to lie there -- came off as innocence (which, in a way, it was) and evoked his more vulnerable emotions. If I could turn back the clock (an ominous concept for a hooker) and be grown-up, cheerful, professional, my first bar trick would have been lying there with a smile on his face, forgetting his Vietnam stories instead of repeating them to a teenager.

But I wouldn't even be seeing a guy like that because I don't pick up guys in hotel bars. And I wouldn't go near a dive like the Cumberland today. His room was clean but hardly atmospheric, a junior salesman's hotel room. It wasn't so bad, but it was still a dive.

It was very different for Allison. At 22, she turned her first trick in one of Liane's cozy bedrooms, surrounded by Indian-print wallpaper, Jim Thompson cushions from Bangkok, and bookshelves full of travel guides, spanning three decades. Allison -- under strict instructions to "be 18" -- wasn't permitted to imbibe anything fizzier than a Perrier water. Her payment was guaranteed, and there was little for her to negotiate. Her client, a mature businessman in his 50s, had been in and out of Liane's place many times -- without ever having to bare his soul. From the very start, Allison was protected by the private girl's private code: When you arrange a date, you guarantee the other girl her share. That's how reputable madams and call girls do things, so Allie always assumed this was how everyone did things.

I knew better. When I met Liane, in '84, I had been working for a few years. I kept the details of that first year in London a secret and leveraged my transatlantic aura by casually dropping names -- Molton Brown, Harrods, Biba -- while avoiding any mention of my other haunts: the Cumberland Hotel bar, the Praed Street clinic (where the bar girls got their free V.D. tests). Liane never heard about the Kontinental -- a small downstairs nightclub off Oxford Street, where I worked as a "hostess," hustling bottles of champagne. I allowed her to think I was the kind of girl who gets her V.D. checkups on Harley Street. And I certainly didn't let on that I had started the New York leg of my career working for a tacky outfit like Jeannie's Dream Dates!

I knew, from the girl who'd introduced us, that Liane had "excellent dates," and that she was eager to meet me because she was on the lookout for a pretty Oriental. That's all I knew when I walked in the door of her many-roomed duplex on East 65th Street, still -- finally -- well, almost 19. I vaguely assumed she was a madam who simply ran a better class of escort agency. The girl who knew her warned me, "Don't tell her how we met. If she asks, you just say a john introduced us. We met in bed. Okay? Let's forget that we ever knew Jeannie."

Jeannie's operation had been abruptly closed down, and I had never been aggressive about giving my number out to Jeannie's clients. So now, without a regular source of new business, without a way to reach the clients I had been seeing, I was scared. Where would I go next? To avoid the police, I had moved out of a new apartment -- leaving no forwarding address -- into a room at the Allerton Hotel for Women on East 57th Street. My brand-new furniture was sitting in a storage unit and sometimes I had disturbing dreams about the other hotel residents -- like the formerly chic, asthmatic spinster on my floor who had once been a milliner. On her good days, she was friendly; on other days, she refused to share the elevator and gave me a beady stare.

Most of Jeannie's girls had scattered. Our shared fear -- Where was Jeannie? What had caused her to close down and leave town? -- spooked us so badly that we could hardly stand the sight of one another. Without Jeannie's couch (where we used to gather on a nightly basis) and Jeannie's ringing phone, our camaraderie was beginning to evaporate. Too late, it occurred to me that this was my reward for not giving out my number, for being a loyal agency girl. I had no clients of my own!

But three of my regulars from Jeannie had given me their business cards. I decided to call.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

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.

By Tracy Quan

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