Monday, June 01, 2009

the hobbyist

There is something preposterous about Jim and at the same time something mysterious.

Jim was a customer of mine. Sort of. Not a great one. He never bought many dances, and he talks a lot -- softly, quickly, continuously. There never is a good moment to get up and walk away. You just have to get up and go. Then again, the things he says are fascinating, whether they are true or not. Some of them seem like they could not possibly be. Others I know for myself are fact.

I used to ask him to tip me for my time. "Oh my God," I would say. "I could just sit here and listen to you talk all night." (True.) "I've totally lost track of time." (Not true. I am a cyborg with a digital time-keeping device implanted in my lower left eyescreen. I know exactly what time it is all the time and every ten minutes an alarm goes off that says you owe me money.) "I could have made a hundred dollars by now if I was working!"

Gee whiz mister, and he would reach deep into his pocket and pull out a money clip stuffed with cash -- now who on earth carries a money clip stuffed with high-denomination bills? I have to think that the bottom 3/4 of it is all ones with just some Bens and Grants and Andies dressing up the outside -- but he peels off $100 and gives it to me. And I open up my eyes like tin cups, Gee thanks mister.

A friend who works at another club he frequents told him I was dancing privately now. He e-mailed me. We agreed to go to lunch. I did not think Jim would probably be very interested in getting private dances from me. Jim's extracurriculars are at another level. He is what you call a hobbyist, one of those men for whom paying for sex is not only an expediency but a lifetsyle and an all-consuming passion. They hang out in the Locker Room forum on ASPD and coin the acronyms -- DFK, GFE, DATY -- that make some of my favorite sex acts sound like something being traded on the NYSE. They have elaborate personal scoring systems for the women they pay for sex, based on their age, their looks, whether they are pro or non-pro. They have ATF's. They have types.

Jim's type is young. Not dancers -- waitresses. New waitresses, green but not innocent, knocked around a little bit already but still fool-hardy. He takes them out to lunch and opens the door for them. He treats them to the hair salon and the nail salon and Nordstrom's for a pretty dress and a pair of shoes and then to a comedy club downtown and then back to a hotel room where they fuck, for about the price she would have made in tips that day if it had been an average-good day.

Jim tells me all this over lunch, explicitly. Some of it I knew or guessed before. He describes his last girl for me, tells me her name and I remember her: a pugnacious little cocktail waitress with glossy, dark corkscrew curls and pale, slender arms and legs. She was 20. Jim says she used to meet him at the club and leave with him, ditching her car in the parking lot so her boyfriend would think she was at work.

He says she's a dancer now, but not doing well. She called him up a few nights ago, panicked, begging for money. He met up with her and gave her a few hundred bucks. "I told her she shouldn't have started dancing," he said. "She's the kind of girl you want when you can't have her."

As always, I am appalled and transfixed. I feel like I'm talking to an invented character. He can't be real. Maybe he is a woman. Maybe he is a pathological liar. Maybe he is a kingpin of the underground. I just don't know. And always so open with me, I don't know if he is confessing, or oblivious, or truly, gloriously unashamed.

"I like girls who've never been anywhere or done anything," he told me once. "They're easier to impress." And another time: "I want someone I can't picture myself with in real life." And again, "I don't want someone who might make me feel insecure. You know us men, our fragile egos."

I can't say I've known a lot of men with egos quite this fragile, or haven't known them well. I try to be a little careful with the kind of men I know.

He says things like that, us men. He speaks for all men everywhere. He speaks for men everywhere now when he tells me that I'll never make a living doing what I'm doing, just dancing. "You know guys are going to be disappointed when they find out there's no desert menu," he says.

"Everybody knows that up front," I tell him. "I make it really clear. The only guys who do business with me are the ones who want what I offer."

He shakes his head. He tells me it will never work, and when that doesn't get me, he leans across the table, whispering, covering my hand with his: "Listen, honey, it's not safe. Sooner or later you're going to get raped. It happens to all the girls. Can't you just work for an agency? At least you'd have somebody looking out for you."

I am pretty confident there is no agency out there that would screen as obsessively as I do, that would look out for me as well as I look out for me. With all that, I know there is a non-zero chance that something bad will happen to me, but that's true every time you leave the house. Or even if you don't leave.

Besides, I can't really work for an agency because I don't do sex.

"I can't work for an agency. I don't have sex."

"I know, honey, I know. Say anything you want, but sooner or later some guy is going to make up his mind he's getting laid and he's going to get laid, understand? It always happens. Listen to me. I used to be part owner of an agency in Houston, and it happened to one of our girls, and it was a guy we all knew, a guy who was part of the community. It happens, you know. Guys are guys."

Which is not a particularly great argument for agencies and the screenings that they do, or for references, or for the so-called community, or for Jim. I don't know what to say. I'm still deep in the empathy-space I go into when I'm working, even though it is perfectly obvious to both of us by now that we are not doing business together.

I'll think about this story later and I'll want to say, Fuck you. Fuck your part-time pimping and fuck you for getting your girl raped. You are a lousy pimp, maybe lousier than most pimps, because you're really a mortgage broker or something and it's only a hobby to you so you don't even give the fuck you would give if it was your livelihood.

I shrug, fork up a cluster of salad. I tell him I feel about as safe as I've ever felt.

"But, sweetie, can't you at least go to a modeling studio or something? Somewhere you'd be safe. Somewhere somebody would look after you. I'm just worried about you, OK? You're a fantastic woman and I would really hate to hear that you got hurt."

I think of the modeling studios you drive past as you leave town: Mardi Gras, Ramses, Foxxies, The Doll House. Weird little storefronts tucked into shady little strip malls, next to porn stores and sex shops and the cheaper kind of nail salons. I've never been inside of one, but I imagine it's a lot like the lower-end clubs I've worked in -- the Crazy Lady or the Glass Slipper in Boston. It's small. The carpet is damp and smells damp, so at the end of the day you need a thirty-minute shower just to get the smell off you. People come and go in dark hallways lit with black-lights to make your white G-string glow like some kind of underwater fish. It feels like 1 a.m. at every time of day and it's always hovering over you, the silent pressure of everyone else is doing it and if you want to make money you will too.

"Nah," I say. "I think I'm pretty happy with the way things are going."

He throws his hands up in a heavens-what-will-we-ever-do-with-you gesture. "I guess you know best," he says.

I sneak a look at him over my next tine of salad, sopping with thin vinagrette. This is not really a very nice restaurant. I don't care if the menu is in French.

I would not have sex with Jim for any amount of money the two of us could ever agree on. Not just because he's ugly. I stopped looking at people's outsides a long time ago. It doesn't make sense when you're a dancer. What people looks like doesn't matter. What matters is if they will look in your eyes and listen when you say no and touch you like they would like to be touched instead of fondling you and rolling you around like a melon at fruit stall.

It's not just because Jim's skin looks like the top of my kombucha jar. I'm not that shallow. Or maybe I am. And if I am, well, then I wouldn't make a very good escort, even if I wanted to. God knows I haven't got any moral or ethical dilemma with it. The two main components of escorting -- money and sex -- are both things I like a lot. But goddamn if I'm not just picky.

After lunch Jim walks me to my car. "You know," he says on the way, "I've always thought you were one of the bravest women I ever knew."


He makes a fluttery gesture with his hand over his belly. "You know. The scar."

Oh. That. I don't even think about it anymore.

"You never covered it up. You were just out with it. And all the other girls worrying about how to pay for their boob jobs."

Smile. Laugh. Shrug. Hug. I don't have anything left to say.

One time he told me he'd never ask a woman to sleep with him if he didn't know she'd say yes. "I don't want to be shot down," he said. "Men hate to be shot down."

Everybody hates to be shot down, not just men. He comes close though, as he's hugging me goodbye. "If you ever want to do the professional girlfriend thing, you know who to call first," he says. "When you're ready for somebody to take care of you."

End hug. Disengage. Smile again. Still deep in empathy space, although we no-sale'd so long ago I couldn't even find you the receipt. So maybe the empathy thing is not something I do for the customers. Maybe it's something I do for myself.

I roll the window down to wave as I pull out of the parking lot and then he's gone except for the smell of his cologne which will make it with me all the way home.


Dave said...

Serious question, Grace. Do your clients know how bright you are? Do they care?

I get the feeling that Jim was attracted to your intelligence. If he's a hobbyist, I assume he's more and less attractive women, and certainly many more less compliant.

Krafty Like A Fox said...

Very much agreed. No one will take care of you but yourself, and no one has to live with your decisions but you.

Frank said...

You know, it's like that whole, if someone tells you not to look down, you'll look down.

The second someone tells me I need to be saved or safer, I'm like, fuck that, I got this.

You know something else about "us men"? We want to get in your pants and we'll make up and say all kinds of shit, and put on all kinds of show. That's the way it goes in the animal kingdom.

cosmiccowgirl said...

Love it, brilliant as usual. I am really intrigued by the scar, and about what you are saying about men and women.

Moose said...

If we were all less afraid of being shot down, we'd all be getting more action. Far easier said than done though. Damn it.

Unknown said...

that guy is a narcissist, so filled with shame, he's shameless, which is why you get that strong nosefull of "fragile ego" off of him. and of course narcissists are lousy pimps, because they lack empathy, so they are careless with others. i'm glad you took a big giant pass on the guy.

Anonymous said...

Dear God!

I AM an escort. And I make sure to screen creeps and assholes like him out. There is this category of men who pray on less confident and newer women, and I tell them exactly what I think of them whenever I run into them on boards - although that happens rarely, since they know to avoid me.

But overall, if you are successful as escort, you screen your clients not just for your physical safety but for sanity as well. This kind of bullshit is enough to put the guy on the blacklist for half the other escorts I know. Unfortunately, there is also another half... and I don't know how to realistically change this awful balance.

Ingrid Nevin

Vincent said...

Apparently your empathy space is contagious. I'm in a daze after reading this...

Mister Blue said...

Yeah, the guy who sees you as more than just a piece of ass. He's really interested in you as a person. Classic, and comical, considering the context, but sad as well, given what it does to some girls. I'm not surprised that you've become so businesslike and at arms length with people. Hopefully,it doesn't extend beyond your profession.

Grace said...

Oh, please. I'd venture that virtually all of the men who have become my regular clients have seen me for something more than a piece of ass. I can't imagine they would spend the time and money they have spent on an interchangeable piece of anatomy when there are equally attractive pieces of anatomy out there that are far cheaper and far less irritating.

Thing is, I see them as people, too. Sometimes what I see is flattering, and sometimes it isn't. That's all.

Mister Blue said...

I'm not saying they don't. I just resent the fact that genuine feelings and opinions are shrugged off due to the guys who use them as pick up lines. It's kind of like having an older sibling who screwed up so much that it made your parents extra cautious and strict with you.

Maybe he really is concerned for your safety, but it doesn't seem consistent with a guy you describe as preferring naive, table-tending hookers over the one thousand and one other flavors to choose from.

And why do I get the feeling that your "irritating" qualities are actually kind of endearing?

Grace said...

I think I'm actually not bad at distinguishing pick-up lines from the real thing. Not that they are mutually exclusive, either. The desire to get in someone's pants is as real as anything, and doesn't always indicate a lack of respect; the "real thing" can be complete garbage.

I'm not going to fall into bed with everyone who has "real feelings" anymore than I'm going to fall for everybody with a good pick-up line. I fall for guys who smell right and make me laugh, and there isn't much they can do about either of those things.

Mister Blue said...

Fair enough. There's no sense arguing against contentment, but I think the "real thing" is only garbage when it's not the real thing. It may not be welcome or returned, just as the simple desire to have sex might not, but a similar standard of discretion doesn't invalidate exclusivity. If it did, your stated ability to distinguish the two would be unnecessary. The literal, dictionary definition of "real" isn't good enough for me, but my interpretation is exclusive to me, I suppose.

But this argument is purely academic. I'm pretty sure I'm afraid of you now.

Grace said...

As you should be. Don't you know I can kick you in the nuts with my mind?



Vincent said...

Telekinetic rochambeau? Cool...

Anonymous said...

You get naked in tubs with men paying you, crawl under sheets to hold and be held but only if money is involved and have a clock ticking in your head regarding the time spent with them?

And you seem perturbed by the concept of a man like Jim that pays women for sex?

I'm with Jim in the view that any woman that compromises her morality by exchanging time, intimacy, her body, etc for money is not worth the effort for a regular relationship of any kind.

Face it. You are a prostitute.

You might accept my love and caring today in exchange for a relationship but I'll always remember how cheap those things were for others in your past.

$500 may be chump change for the guy paying you and you are selling your flesh at that time for what might be a lot of money to you but the equivalent of loose change to us. Who is laughing then?

I think this guy is getting exactly what her wants in a manner that works for him.

I think you are maybe being a little bitter and looking back on the time you spent listening to him and not getting paid now when you can't make the kind of money you dreamed of.

Unknown said...

"...any woman that compromises her morality by exchanging time, intimacy, her body, etc for money is not worth the effort for a regular relationship of any kind."

in other words, every woman that ever married before women could own property or hold jobs or inherit money of their own? and even now, women who'd like to marry a man with money, so they can afford to not work and raise their children, instead?

they're all prostitutes by your narrow, misogynistic (and not just a little envious) description.

i'm thrilled you won't be wanting a relationship with any of those women, because who would want a relationship with a woman-hater like you? ugh. you disgust me. go crawl back underneath the Neanderthal rock you emerged from.

Anonymous said...

@12:23 "Any woman who exchanges her time...for money is not worth the effort of a regular relationship." You are kidding, right? Or is every woman who works for a living now a whore?

Also, I think it's interesting that you chastise the writer for judging men who pay for sex, while you yourself judge the women who sell it.

Mister Blue said...

I was just going to ask why he reads this blog if it pisses him off so much, but I like your answers too. I also liked -

"You might accept my love and caring today in exchange for a relationship."

I think it's just the rates that he objects to because based on the post, I wouldn't give him more than 5 - 10 bucks for any of those things.

Vincent said...

I find it telling that he assumes it's a moral compromise for any particular woman. A moral compromise can only be defined as such by the person doing the compromising...

Grace said...

Thanks to everyone for making all the good points already.

I'll say this one more time: I have no problem with "guys who pay for sex" nor with "prostitutes" -- a term which, while not technically correct, I will happily assume for the purposes of this conversation.

I have always tried see people as people and not in categories, regardless of the place or the circumstance under which I meet them. That said, I like some better than others.

Some men who are frequent patrons of adult providers seems to develop the delusion that they're providers do not have a right to an opinion about them. Sorry. You can't pay somebody not to have an opinion; you can only pay them not to tell you about it.

Mitch said...

I was thinking about safety when I first read about private dancing, too. In a situation where a man who might feel entitled is alone in private with a woman who has a pretty good chance of not being believed, because it is so easy to
manipulate a jury into doubting a woman's credibility, it seems like there would be potential for something to go wrong.

But hopefully your screening is good and you'll always be safe.

Is it annoying when people worry about you like that?

Anonymous said...

"And you seem perturbed by the concept of a man like Jim that pays women for sex?"

If you would actually READ the other parts of the blog, she makes her opinions about prostitution perfectly clear. Besides, this entry isn't a judgment on all johns and pimps everywhere - it's a character study on a guy that sounds like he might be at least a little like you.

"I'm with Jim in the view that any woman that compromises her morality by exchanging time, intimacy, her body, etc for money is not worth the effort for a regular relationship of any kind."

My only response to this is get over yourself, tool.

Frank said...

Does that cost extra? Or are you allowed to discount it?

Sorry. This was getting way too serious. But interesting.

Grace said...

Yes. Sometimes paying me to keep my opinion to myself can be very, very expensive.

Grace said...

@Mitch: It's not annoying. But I'm like Frank -- if someone says they're concerned for me my knee-jerk response is to say I'm OK. :)

Unknown said...

im glad i dont have to pay for sex. jim's life sounds depressing. but i guess its guys like that that keeps the [stripper] business going.

convince me to subscribe to your services :) i would just do it for fun ... oops convinced myself

Anonymous said...

I am new to this blog, but I must say that I like it quite a lot. It's a funny thing about the kind of topics that get raised in such a forum. Once you put aside the folks who are just plain angry about a real or imagined slight form the opposite sex, or are deeply disgruntled at the general balance of power among the sexes, you tend to find people who are at least attempting to find out what makes themselves and others tick.

Full disclosure: I have paid for sex. I have gone to strip bars. I have had some interesting, and from my perspective, quite real (even emotionally raw, in a good sense) relationships with people I have met in clubs. I have also been married (ultimately unsuccessfully) and am a great father to a teenage son. In short, no angel, but not a devil either.

That said, I found myself put off by Jim and his transparent need for control coupled with his own neediness. I know the Glass Slipper in Boston, and I am sure I have seen operators like Jim there. But, I imagine that I too (no, I am certain that I too) have played the same game; trying to persuade a girl I don't know at all that we have more in common that she suspects!

I certainly recognize the desire to "save" a girl– what person who has walked into this world doesn't. It isn't flattering to read that script back, even if the voice, tone, and circumstances are different.

Anyway, perhaps more later. But the author of this blog is a great writer (as many have already noted) and it is a sudden and unexpected pleasure to read. Quel surprise! Merci

Anonymous said...

Every "relationship" in one way or another has a cost. We all make choices, working in jobs where we like or dislike the employer. The providers serve a service that is needed. As long as the choice to work is of free will then live and let live.