Survival sex

Three of my regulars from Jeannie's Dream Dates had given me their cards. I decided to call them. Last in a series.

Published August 2, 2001 7:11PM (EDT)

Wayne lived in Michigan and offered to fly me out to the suburbs of Detroit to spend the night with him at an airport hotel. I hedged. The idea of flying to Detroit was daunting. And I wasn't sure about this overnight thing! Would he try to have sex all night? In New York, I could get up and take a cab home if he became too demanding. In Detroit ... well, god only knows. I made an excuse and he promised -- in a rejected-guy voice -- to call on his next trip to the city. And never did.

Jeff was a mild-mannered middle manager at Citibank, wore bangs and a beige suit, always smoked a joint beforehand, and liked to go twice. He wasn't a big spender, but he was reliable.

Marvin, in his 60s, lived alone in a high-rise on Whitestone Boulevard and paid extra for the cab. He also gave me a nominal "tip" for letting him take close-up Polaroids of my pussy. I wasn't ashamed of my profession by any means, but when people say that "every woman has fantasized about being a hooker" -- well, I knew this wasn't what they meant. A middle manager who goes twice and a retired bachelor in Queens who collects homemade beaver shots.

Desperate to find a reliable escort service, I began combing the ads and discovered that the other agencies were even tackier than Jeannie's.

At one agency, I went on a call with two escorts who invited me to live with them. They both shared a large apartment with someone whom they described as their "old man." They had two Siamese kittens, a weekend place in the Hamptons, and dressed like fashion-conscious secretaries. Pretty but not hyperchic.

"Thanks," I said, "but I don't think I could live with cats."

Back at the agency, the owner -- marveling at my naiveté -- spelled out the scenario when I told her about their generosity.

"He's their pimp, Nancy! Get it?"

"Really? I thought ... I thought that sort of thing only happened in the movies."

The owner was a tired-looking, gray-haired woman in her 50s who did not suffer the naive gladly. "If that's what you girls are looking for in life, be my guest, but don't come crying to me when you want to get out! If you can't stand on your own two feet, you have no business working. Where did you say you were from?"

And from that moment on, she seemed to dislike me. In fact, she stopped giving me calls. In her mind, a working girl either lived with a pimp or despised anyone connected to the pimp scene. My neutral puzzlement struck her as snooty, and she didn't like snooty hookers.

I couldn't understand why the two girls who had tried to recruit me seemed so content and normal. It was obvious that they were free to come and go -- for good, if they wished. I was intrigued by their general aura of stability, though I couldn't imagine living with them. The owner was one of those people who hates anyone she can't understand. She understood pimps. She understood those two girls. But she didn't understand my curiosity, and this made her hate me. My two-week stint with that agency had yielded very little, and the two girls who'd tried to recruit me -- well, I wasn't about to ask them for business now that I knew the score.

So I was feeling rather jaded when I entered Liane's apartment for the first time. And I was worried about the rent. My jaw almost dropped when Liane said, "You mustn't talk to my clients about money -- I will pay you if there's ever a problem."

This was not an escort service: Liane was a proper madam with clients she could count on. I had read about such operations in books, a long time ago, as a child. But I had grown accustomed in my teen years to working escort and, for someone who starts out in a bar, working escort is a glamorous self-improvement. Meeting a reputable madam like Liane isn't necessarily in the cards.

In that split second, as Liane prepped me for my first date in her apartment, everything changed. I had never before met a madam or working girl who took so much pride in her clients. None of the nightclub managers or escort-service owners could afford to; they didn't even aspire to. Their prevailing attitude was that johns pay -- "they" pay -- and "we" collect or get paid. Winners receive, losers give. Liane's ideas about "us" and "them" were different. Johns were not just transient wallets, they were permanent connections -- to be treasured. Suddenly, I sensed that Jeannie had been quite barbaric. When I realized how primitive the escort agencies were, I knew how lucky I was to have stumbled into Liane's apartment -- and how important it was not to act as surprised as I felt.

I did everything in my power to stay on Liane's good side. Her normal clients were as nice as the best clients I had ever encountered working escort. Her better clients -- well, you don't even meet guys like that through an ad. They're much too careful. I didn't kiss the bedsheets in gratitude, but I paid all my cuts on time. When Eddie, that first client of Liane's, asked for my phone number, I pretended I didn't have one -- told him I was staying in the home of a prudish relative. This way he wouldn't feel rejected; he could see me again, through Liane. And did.

Liane had one thing in common with Jeannie's escort service: a possessive vigilance regarding girls who give their numbers out. Of course, I'd wanted to give Eddie my number. He was a quick $300, and I was tempted when he said, "I'll be in town next month for two days -- at the Waldorf this time. Liane's an old pal, but she doesn't have to know everything, does she? I'll have a nice room."

But if Liane found out, she might stop giving me business, and I could end up working hotel bars and escort services again. And if I did, I was bound to get busted -- or something much worse. Seeing Eddie repeatedly, for $180 instead of $300, getting about half as much as some girls were making for the same work, I was deeply tempted. Of course, I wasn't staying with a prudish relative -- but I didn't know if I could trust him to stay mum. I played it safe, very safe. I wasn't going to let go of the opportunity Liane had given me: to work at the highest levels with the best clients.

Other girls, well established in their apartments, with private clients of their own, felt confident about taking Liane's clients -- especially her hotel dates. When it comes to "stealing" dates, hotel calls fall into the gray zone. You're not in another woman's apartment, where pushing your number on a man is an out-and-out no-no. What the madam doesn't know won't hurt you, and Liane understood that some of the older girls gave their numbers out. But she expected loyalty from new girls. And while other girls could afford to lose her business, I simply couldn't. The reality was that the new girls, the loyal girls, were the ones who got the most business from Liane. She used the other girls only when she had to. (And that's why, today, I hear from Liane only once in a while.)

After my initiation into the rough-and-tumble of clubs, bars, and $200-an-hour coke dates, I was willing to keep seeing Liane's clients on Liane's terms. I was meeting diplomats and famous publishers. Her clients were often mentioned in the Times, and their faces sometimes appeared in those engraved portraits on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. But most of all, I could relax with a new client; I didn't have to think about whether he was a cop. Or whether he was going to pay. Though I still paid a cut to a madam, I had arrived. My technique was improving. My bedside manner was smoother, more confident. I began to see my previous adventures (and misadventures) through different eyes. I could concentrate on cultivating my clients, not just surviving, and was surprised to discover that I actually liked being good at oral sex. But I wondered if I would get stuck on this lesser track -- the unambitious track occupied by girls who don't give their numbers out.

Allison didn't give out her number, either. Of course, she had her own reasons -- insane reasons. She had this rather dotty idea that giving johns her phone number would make her more of a hooker. She did actually have a roommate, a girl from her hometown in Fairfield County who knew her family. So she had to be cautious about hiding her new job. But even after her roommate moved out, Allie continued to work for Liane and to see clients through other call girls, as if direct contact with these men would somehow contaminate her. As if she could hide her job from herself, now that she was her own roommate.

"Allison's a natural!" Liane would sigh. "They all want to see her again. If only she had more common sense outside of bed!"

But Allie's guilt was a source of revenue for Liane.

"Working for Liane is easier," Allie once told me in a weak moment. "It's harder to stop when you see guys on your own."

I never could relate to Allie's sex guilt. Hooking always felt like a logical next step for me. Ever since the age of 10, I'd wanted to be a hooker -- and before that, a Playboy centerfold. Before that I wanted to be a librarian. Allison had never had any occupational fantasies as a child. Not a one. I didn't understand those kids when I was a kid -- how could they be so unexcited about the future? Allie and I would not have been friends if we had known each other as kids. When she started having sex, she was almost 17, and she didn't use anything until she had a pregnancy scare. That's so typically Allison.

Jasmine, who started hooking in her late 20s, always had her eye on the bottom line. She used her babysitting money to begin a career as a ticket scalper -- at 14 -- and squirreled away exactly 10 percent of her profit, religiously. Most of the balance was reinvested in tickets.

When she was arrested in front of Madison Square Garden for peddling Rangers tickets, she lied to the cops about her age. She wanted to be tried as an adult. That, in fact, is how she met the notorious Barry Horowitz (who last year became my attorney, too). Back then, Horowitz was an idealistic Legal Aid lawyer paying his social dues. She was incensed when he guessed her real age. He said she could use it to beat the charge. This "went against the grain," she insisted. He told her she had no concept of the future, and he was, she once told me, "so obnoxious that I had to stop talking and listen to him." Horowitz pointed out that many adults in her position would happily pretend to be 16 if they could: "So, if you wanna be an adult, you'd better start thinking like one. Beat the system."

Horowitz got Jasmine out of jail, helped her finesse the incident with her dad, and made sure that her arrest record was expunged when she turned 18. With the money she had stashed under her bed, she started a small franchise as a marijuana dealer, then moved on to bigger and better drugs when she graduated from high school.

At 25, Jasmine was a very discreet Upper East Side drug dealer, living in a nondescript elevator building with no doorman and taking an awfully long time to get her business degree: "Perpetual student's a great cover for a drug dealer. I kept switching my major." But she was getting itchy.

"I wanted to keep expanding my business," she once told me. "I didn't do any of my product, but I was addicted. To growth. If you really want to deal, it's still a man's world. A chick can only go so far. There's always gonna be some guy with a gun or worse who thinks that because you're a chick, he can hold you up or move in on you. You can't deal drugs as a single woman unless you're content with moderate growth. It's like being on the mommy track!"

So turning to a new criminal enterprise -- using her body for the first time -- was an admission, as she likes to say, that "anatomy is destiny." And a chance to be good at something where "it's all about being a chick."

One of her pot customers, a good-looking pimp called Rico, started boasting to her about his business. A number of his girls worked for small private houses in Manhattan. The second-tier private madams weren't as stylish as Liane, but they were equally security conscious. Jasmine wanted in, and she wanted to work safely. But Rico dismissed her offer when she suggested that he take her on for six months.

"I could learn that business in less than six months," she assured him.

"Well, that's the problem," he said. "You'd make trouble with my other ladies. No, thanks. I don't need it."

Then she offered him $500 to introduce her to a madam, and he accepted.

Jasmine worked in a very private, high-turnover house for about three months -- an apprenticeship she insists was worth every cut she paid. She learned how to get some guys in and out the door in less than 10 minutes. She managed to make some good connections and, at the first opportunity, bought a book from a girl who was moving to Florida. And that's how we ended up meeting in a luxurious 35th-floor apartment overlooking the U.N.

We both knew Jean-Paul, a French bachelor who saw girls and entertained his colleagues on a regular basis. So there we were, at a small party with two good-looking Dutch guys (whom every girl avoided because they seemed so young and energetic) and three mysterious diplomats, somewhat more senior, from the Gulf States. The girls had all been hand-picked by the host because Jean-Paul didn't like leaving his party arrangements to a madam. He was one of those self-sufficient bachelors who could decorate his own apartment and arrange a successful evening with a few call girls. Probably knew how to cook as well.

The girls kept pairing off in the powder room to compare notes -- banknotes. We all wanted to make sure we were getting the same rate. Jasmine was relieved when I assured her that she wasn't undercharging.

But there was instant tension between Jasmine and a pretty redheaded girl, an adventurous Mormon who had escaped from Utah to New York by way of Nevada. When a client asked Jasmine and the redhead to join him, Jasmine balked. I ended up doing the scene and listening to the redhead's giggling assessment as we undressed together: "That girl, Jasmine? She's sooo uptight! I worked with her before, and she thinks every girl she meets is a lesbian!" She was playing with my bra strap, stroking my hair. "It's like, everybody's supposed to be 'after her'! Can you believe it?" I smiled politely. Our client was getting an eyeful and an earful. After we were done, the redhead whispered, "I don't usually get into it with girls, but you turned me on. Here's my number." I called her the next day, and we exchanged a few dates. If she hadn't been such a cocaine addict, we would have done more business together. She was pleasant to work with, had soft hands and an interested tongue. I'm happy to fake it with another working girl, but if she insists on the real thing, why not?

Jasmine, on the other hand, is highly paranoid around other working girls. She won't cop to being lesbophobic, but she refuses to see married couples because she won't "do a girl for real." You don't learn how to be smooth and "European" about these things by working in a high-turnover house. Even if it's in a nice building with a doorman, as it had been in Jasmine's case. You can make good money seeing the cheaper, faster dates, but it's not the kind of work that broadens your mind.

Eventually, I introduced Jasmine to Liane, who decided to work with her occasionally but did not take a deep liking to my ambitious new friend. Jasmine was too well established by then to curry favor with Liane. And it was never in her nature, anyway, to look up to another woman, even if that woman was old enough to be her grandmother.

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

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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