Monday, June 25, 2012

My Adventures In The Oldest Profession

“High School Honor Student By Day. Hollywood Hooker By Night.” 

My parents’ worst nightmare. My greatest fantasy.

I have always loved movies about prostitutes, and have always related to them in ways that made little sense to others. Maybe it’s because I wanted to please everyone and didn’t feel that I’d done a good job unless I left a room smiling. Perhaps it’s because I felt I had to play so many different roles with so many different people in order to achieve such a goal. Whatever the reason, I definitely loved that tagline from Robert Vincent O'Neill's Angel every time I passed it in the video store. It would not be until the 2003 DVD release that I finally saw the movie and loved it. But by then I’d already formed a fantasy, based on the concept, and on the cover, and on Roger Ebert’s oft-reprinted original review. The movie lived up to that fantasy. I myself could not.

In 2000, I was working at a store that sold rare laserdiscs and DVDs. Before throwing out a batch of semi-defective laserdiscs, the owner asked me if I had ever seen the film pressed onto all of the slightly marred copies: Ken Russel’s Crimes of Passion. Then and now, I am ashamed to say I had not. It was yet another film that I had formed a video store fantasy around, and even my own version of the movie in my head that starred Andie MacDowell and Madonna and had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the actual movie. I didn’t even know that it was about a career woman who shields herself from heartbreak by masquerading as a streetwalker named “China Blue” and engaging in outrageous encounters.  Seeing the movie was a turning point, not least of all because I better understood where my desire to be a streetwalker came from: I wanted to be wanted, but didn't want to need that.

I don’t remember when I first wanted to be a prostitute, but I do remember when I first put up an ad for myself online. I had been reading about the escort industry and looking into reviews of some of New York’s more popular male sex workers. I even befriended one through a chat room, a nurse from Maine who I could have seen myself falling in love with at the time. I was flagrantly open with friends and even family about my sex industry ambitions because I found nothing about them dishonorable. In my school of thought, being a whore is nowhere near as sinful as being a freeloader. I also felt that it would be an invaluable insight for my writing, a means of understanding some of the “fallen women” in film who had most inspired me and to get a view of life from the other side of privilege. Of course, such an endeavor has since become a stereotype for naïve young college students and overambitious journalists. I could have lost my life. I could also have gotten arrested. Between the two, I would have taken the former: death scares me way less than cops. 

The closest I came to being a male escort was the closest I came to being arrested, and so that’s why I ultimately closed up shop right before the grand opening. I put up an ad online—ahem, on an “AOL Personal Homepage” no less—and included pictures I’d taken of myself looking pouty and sweet. I don’t remember much about my description, but I do remember that my rate was $100/hr. At that time, in 2002, the going rate for male escorts was around $300/hr, so I thought that I might have a shot at establishing a good customer base thanks to being twenty years old and relatively low-priced. I was insecure about being overweight, but even so, I thought I was a bargain. After all, I ALWAYS aim to be fair. 

Rob '02: Trying to sell myself on AOL as a precocious boy next door. 

I was so proud of myself for thinking of my customers that I failed to remember prostitution is illegal in this particular country. I remembered that reality vividly when an “interested customer” called me up and seemed a little too interested in the details of my one-man business operation. So I told him I’d decided to give up being a male escort and, at that moment, I did.

Bette Davis played my favorite screen prostitute of all.

I often regretted not being brave enough to do what I wanted to do in spite of the warnings of everyone in my life and, indeed, the state and federal government of the United States of America. I can admit now that they were right and I was wrong—not because it’s bad to be a prostitute, but rather because I would have been bad at it. I had never even met a sex worker until a visit to Amsterdam in 2006 lead me to one of the most popular male brothels in the city: Singel 21. There I met one of the most interesting fellows I have ever encountered, and the one who made me realize that prostitution was not nearly as appropriate a line of work for me as I hoped it would be.

His name was Zortak, or that’s what it sounded like. Something Hungarian. He was thirty seven and a twenty seven year old Dutchman, the youngest of the employees, was shocked that I wasn’t going off with him. But I didn’t know that I had a choice. Zortak spotted me first, and I thought that it was only right that I should go with him, despite the fact that the twenty-seven year old was beautiful enough to remain in my dreams forever. 

As we enjoyed mixed drinks in the lounge together, I told Zortak that I had such tremendous respect for his profession, and that it had in fact been my dream to be a sex worker. He looked at me in stunned disbelief. I could see that he was at once confused and insulted, so I just smiled and looked at the twinkling city of Amsterdam outside. I had dreamed of being a sex doctor to beautiful male patients. But Zortak's reality was entirely scripted and rooted in money, not sexual adventure. He and his co-workers were all laughing and joking with one another in Dutch while we waited for the room to be free, and I was convinced they were making fun of me. It bothered me because I wanted to be viewed as an ally, not a john, and also because I really wished I’d learned to speak the language before I left America. For a wannabe sex worker like me, nothing could be worse than rejection by Dutch prostitutes. However, a year later, one of my friends said they were probably laughing over the only twenty-four year old in the establishment being a client.

From the moment I walked into the room and until the time I walked out of the place, I put on a show. I got to be Marilyn Chambers, and I got to give back to an experienced sex worker all of the attention and affection that he had given to countless men before me. But that was the problem, too. I was throwing off the whole transaction by playing the part of “desirable one”, and upon realizing this I had to switch gears. That’s where the guilt came in.

Spending time with a sex worker is like getting a massage or a pedicure: you can feel guilty about it, or you can enjoy it. My experience with a prostitute was a combination of the two. After our intimate encounter, we somehow got into a discussion of AIDS minutes before I left. I forget the full context, but I believe that the man who owned the brothel had inherited it from his partner, who had died of AIDS. It was an awkward intrusion of reality, one which instantly burst the fantasy bubble moments before the fantasy was complete. 

As I walked down the steps, I somehow managed to accidentally make a call on my cell phone. I looked and realized someone was on the other line, and it was my best friend’s father. My best friend, I might add, was also my first love. We had broken up six months earlier, but remained as close as ever. With that having been said, I had no intention of calling he or his parents after my evening with a sex worker. All this came about only hours after I had arrived in Amsterdam, so between jet lag, White Widow, and afterglow, my mind wasn’t absorbent enough of the details for me to recall whether my phone got an answering machine or if I actually spoke to his father that night. I’m still convinced that that gorgeous young Dutchman, who took my politeness to Zortak as a rejection, cast a spell to cause the snafu. He could only be a witch, for as I walked back to the hotel that night, his was the spell I was under. 


  1. Fascinating blog entry, Rob! Love the clip from "Crimes of Passion"!


    1. Thank you so much Reilly!! I'm so happy you read it and I LOOVE "Crimes of Passion" too!! That's definitely one of my favorite scenes...of MANY! ;)
      Rob :)