Like many former sex workers, I never learned how to drive. I chalk it up to a learned lack of control. My father would get so angry whenever I asked him about driving lessons. He’d say, “If you get a car you’ll always be broke!” What kind of man doesn’t want his daughter to be independent?
I can relate to that scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is waiting for a bus after scoring some easy money. No point wasting trick money on a cab.
Potential customers wanting a GFE (Girlfriend Experience) would take one look at my blemish-free, wholesome façade and try to turn me into a GF, one man proclaiming on the spot his mother would love me.
“Why, you’re really attractive!” an accountant with a substance-abusing girlfriend proclaimed. “You should be dating.”
Only in America would you ask: Was the accountant cheating on his girlfriend by paying pros or was this guy’s GF a parasite for living in his condo rent-free while mooching money for drugs?
The times I was naïve enough to bare my soul to men I thought were well-meaning, their eyes glazed over with disinterest. Apparently childhood sexual abuse coupled with a “motel trash” upbringing aren’t big enough hurdles for fuckable girls who prefer pay dates to intimacy.
The men who did take a sincere interest inevitably found me too confusing or complicated.
“You’re just too real,” a regular named Steve said over lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant. “You need a therapist, not a woman like Tequila or a sugar daddy. You deserve happiness.”
Tequila was the proprietor of an upscale massage parlor who tried her best to keep me in the sexploitation biz. More on her later.
Before escaping the sex industry the first time, I went through a Monica Manqué phase wherein I’d set up appointments only to back out at the last minute. It started when an agency sent me to entertain an out-of-towner at a fancy hotel. He was unremarkable outside of having a comb-over.
Carl with the comb-over had deposited a neat stack of bills on a counter near the mini bar. The greenbacks sat there ticking like a bomb while we conversed on the pleasantries of travel and the hassles of finding parking in the city. (Never let a man know you don’t own a car.)
I was just spinning a tale about my new MINI Cooper when the expression on Carl’s face told me the gig was shot and killed.
“You know what?” My pay date asked, pacing the room like a madman. “I think you’re a cop. Oh, yeah. You’re undercover and I’m outta here!”
I settled into an armchair to relax a bit and process what had just happened. I pulled a book from the belly of my purse and figured I might as well read for a spell waiting for Carl to come back. But he never returned so I took the dough and left thinking, Well, this is nice work if you can get it.
After Carl, I had arranged to meet an Englishman named Phil at a bar near Pike Place Market. Wanting to avoid the typical payout to an agency, I met my jolly Brit by simply trolling a Casual Encounters column. Phil appeared to be a lovely man and we instantly hit it off, talking for an hour or more over our pints.
When we finished our drinks, Phil paid the bill and there was an awkward pause. It seemed we had both forgotten that we had met for reasons beyond libations and a confab.
“Well,” he said, rhythmically tapping a rubbery coaster. “I definitely want to shag you. What do you say we go find ourselves a room somewhere?”
My heart sank. It was that word: shag. From the moment I heard it I kept picturing the actor from Austin Powers and whatever Casual Encounter magic Phil and I had so successfully cultivated for a moment instantly disappeared.
So much for making rent.
“I’m sorry, Phil. This is really embarrassing but I can’t. I’ll pay for my own drinks, no problem, but I’ve gotta go.”
He walked me to a busy street corner and he must have intuited that I didn’t have a car even though I told him otherwise.
“There you are, love,” he said, handing me two twenties. “Let me spot you a cab. And never mind about the drinks. I had a perfectly wonderful time.”
I don’t care if it’s a cliché: the Brits really are more civilized. I hoped when dear Phil did meet someone compatible with his needs he got the shag of his life.
The reason for all this hesitation was a book called Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill. I was feeling depressed about life in general–big surprise–and wanted something to take my mind off my troubles. Instead, I picked up a book of stories about misfits like me and felt fortunate to have finally found a role model who kept her clothes on while making a living.
No sooner had I finished reading Bad Behavior when I had to read it again. I thought, Wow, if you can write stuff like this and not get arrested, why wouldn’t you? Seemed a lot safer than hooking up with strange men in real life.
I finally did take Steve’s advice and made an appointment with a counselor. My therapist was pro-sex worker and totally non-judgmental so we made some progress. . . before she pissed me off.
I remember gripping my therapeutic cup of tea and staring agog as a woman I was paying by the hour said, “Most of the sex workers who see me put themselves through law school or start their own businesses with seed money from the industry. You don’t appear to have any goals.”
Yes, she used the phrase seed money.
My primary goal was to escape Florida, which I had achieved by moving thousands of miles away. Outside of that, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, true. I never touched drugs and, since I didn’t date, there were no creepy boyfriends around to take my hard-earned cash.
It just took one more perusal of Bad Behavior before I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I still had colossal self-esteem issues and didn’t feel at all worthy of happiness. But after reading a book of stories by a former call girl that were so good and so real they leapt off the page and into my heart. . . I figured I at least deserved a shot at a byline.