I wasn’t a prostitute for very long. I didn’t even hit the one year mark.
By late 2008, the recession had really hit, and it was becoming more and more difficult to remain independent, keep my rates what they were, and work as infrequently as I wanted to. I wasn’t sure that with my ghost-pale skin, Joan Jett hair, armful of bad tattoos, faceful of metal, and figure still padded with traces of baby fat I was a type that escort agencies would want to hire. Moreover, I’ve always had a very difficult time tolerating the idea of changing my appearance for any job. Even if I was wrong and I found an agency that wanted me, the prospect of surrendering so much as the smallest percentage of my earnings to anyone at all was unacceptable.
After all, I entered the sex industry in a quest for independence, both financial and otherwise. Why would I ever sacrifice my autonomy when there were plenty of other jobs out there, both within and without the sex industry?
Despite the new difficulties presenting themselves to me, I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up prostitution. After all, I had a few regulars, each of whom I still saw at least once or twice a month, and while it was becoming increasingly difficult to attract new clients, it hadn’t become hopeless. I never worked frequently enough to be rich, but I was still (significantly) more financially secure than most of my civilian peers and that alone was worth something.
The three things that changed my mind were a client, a postwar motel, and a mirrored ceiling.
(Photo of bedroom mirror from this real site, Hidden Bedroom Mirror)
‘Gopal’ was a new client, something that was becoming more and more of a rarity. He was also one of the few clients who chose to hold the appointment at a motel room. While I had seen clients in hotels before, I was always somewhat suspicious of the entire concept of these impermanent dwellings, and I had never done a call in the stereotypical seedy motel room. While I knew that all but the seediest motels were in some ways safer than strangers’ homes, I had also watched too many movies in which young women get hacked to pieces in sleazy rented rooms and the killer is only brought to justice by some lucky twist of fate or stroke of brilliance on the protagonist’s behalf.
In addition to my more ridiculous concerns (the serial murder ones), there was also the small matter of my profession’s unfortunate illegality. I found it very unlikely that the police would go so far as to set up an entire apartment or house in order to conduct a sting, but it seemed frighteningly plausible that they might rent a motel room for the purpose of luring enterprising young ladies like myself into their clutches.
I needed new business, however, and I decided the potential rewards far outweighed my concerns, both valid and somewhat paranoid. I agreed to the call in hopes that I might attract a new regular and with the understanding that he would pay for the room.
I asked Gopal to choose a motel.
The north end of Lincoln Avenue in Chicago is home to a number of independent ‘no-tell’ motels that were built during the 1940s and 50s. While they may have once hosted road-tripping families, they now exude a palpable air of sleaze, and many of them rent by the hour. I’ve always had a very large place in my heart for all things vintage and if some of those vintage things are somewhat disreputable, all the better. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited when Gopal chose not only a Lincoln Avenue motel, but also one of the more nostalgic ones. Finally I could see what it looked like inside! I set aside my hesitations, both practical and paranoid.
Unfortunately, the call got off to a bad start.
I was fifteen minutes early, but Gopal was fifteen minutes late. While I was now fairly sure he wasn’t a cop, it was pretty cold outside and I always made sure to carry no more cash than I would need for my cab ride when I went on calls. There were enough risks involved with my line of work that I didn’t need to add a potential robbery to the list. Because of this, I was unable to get a room and warm up and was stuck waiting outside with just a miniskirt, thin tights, a tank top, and my trusty leather jacket to keep me warm. I was not pleased.
When he finally arrived, Gopal lost no time in verifying that his fifteen minutes of lateness wouldn’t cut into the appointment. Once I assured him the hour wouldn’t start until we got into the room and warmed up a bit, he went into the rental office, got a key, and we were on our way.
The first thing I noticed about the room was that it looked as if it had been redecorated sometime in the 1980s. I would have been disappointed by the lack of mid-century kitsch but for the mirrors covering almost every available surface. There were mirrors on three of the four walls and mirrors on the ceiling. I looked down at the floor and half expected to see mirrors there too, but there was only a well-worn maroon carpet. I decided that the sleaziness of the mirrors was more than enough to make up for the unfortunate state of the rest of the room.
The call started out normally enough. Aside from the strangeness of the mirrored room, there was nothing remarkable. After about fifteen minutes of awkward small talk while we warmed up, Gopal kissed me for a while and then we stripped.
It occurred to me for the umpteenth time how bored I was becoming with this work. People say prostitution is degrading, that it will burn you out and damage you, and that may very well be true for some people, but it was never the case with me. The worst part of prostitution wasn’t renting access to my body to strange men; I didn’t mind that part at all. What I found most challenging was the monotony of it all. Even before I stopped getting nervous on my way to calls, I had started to realize they were almost all exactly the same: I’d show up, make out, maybe let the guy slobber at my crotch for a little while before he got bored or was sufficiently satisfied by my imaginary performance of ecstasy, then I’d put a condom on him, give him half a blowjob if he asked for one or wasn’t hard enough for intercourse, and almost always have five to ten minutes of intercourse before he decided if he wanted to cuddle, talk, or leave. The men who wanted to incorporate some kind of kink were, for the most part, just as boring, if only in different ways. Sure, I was making more money, but I was certainly no more fulfilled than I would have been doing data entry in a cubicle.
Gopal was one of the clients who wanted to go down on me. I’ve never been very enthusiastic about receiving oral sex in my private life, but in my professional life I had come to dread it. In my experience, the men who choose to perform oral sex on their prostitutes are a uniquely self-absorbed breed. Their motivation, whether conscious or otherwise, never seems to be a desire to provide pleasure to their harlots (a noble goal, if not always a realistic one), instead they want to prove to themselves that they are so manly they can even make a whore come. They are all incredibly unskilled; some of them can’t even seem to locate the clitoris. There is very little more unpleasant than faking an orgasm while someone laps blunderingly at your crotch and you reflect on the fact that your moans are simply re-enforcing bad habits and general ineptitude.
This time, though, it was different. As I lay back and let Gopal slurp at my nether-regions, I opened my eyes and saw the whole scene in the mirrors above me. Here I was, tall, young, and if I did say so myself, quite pretty, lolling on an ugly bedspread with the head of a short, fat man old enough to be my father, possibly my grandfather, between my legs. Gopal’s middle-aged pudge had not manifested itself well: face down as he was, he looked like an overgrown baby. The spectacle was so ludicrous that I forgot to moan for a moment, and then nearly burst out laughing.
That was the moment I decided I no longer wanted to be a prostitute. While I had no intention of working a straight job, I also knew there were dozens of other jobs I could pursue within the sex industry. Prostitution had become not only boring, but suddenly ridiculous.
I finished the call with Gopal, but my heart wasn’t in it. I had seen the absurdity of the situation, and I could never forget it. I spent more energy trying to hold back laughter than I did trying to get my client off. While I didn’t expect this to be my last call, I knew very well that the time had come for something new.
Cathryn Berarovich is a bit of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.