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I picked the ads that sounded the classiest from the sex pages at the back of The Village Voice, wrote them down on a pad of paper, threw out the incriminating newspaper page, and started making calls. 

I instantly picked up on a pattern:

 

  1. They always call you back.  You speak with a receptionist type person, give your basic information, and then wait for a call back.  No one will ever talk to you firsthand.    
  2. When they call you back, you describe your appearance, experience, etc., and only then can you set up an appointment for an actual in-person interview. 
  3. Once you’ve set up on an appointment, they tell you the location of a nearby street corner that features a payphone. 
  4. When you arrive at that street corner, at the predetermined time, you call from that payphone to get their exact address. (Remember, this was before everyone had cell phones.)

 

I set up three interviews on my first day.  I wasn’t wasting any time.  The first one was at one in the afternoon, on the Upper East Side.  The second was at six p.m., in midtown.  The third was at 7:30 p.m., near the United Nations building in Manhattan.  I was determined to get this taken care of and to find out exactly what I was getting myself into. I also figured that, the faster I moved, the less time I would have time to think about what I was doing.

My first appointment was with Kelly.  The agency was called something like Manhattan Escort Service, but the buzzer only had a string of letters (BLBNR) on the label.  A woman told me, via intercom, to go up to the fourth floor and to knock on the only door.  The hallway was dark and narrow, with one office per floor.  When I got to the fourth floor, I knocked on the door and met Kelly. 

She wore no makeup, had long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a lip ring.  She seemed to be in her late thirties.  Relaxed and low key, she wore jeans and a tee shirt.  Kelly took me around the corner to the room where she worked.  It was long and narrow with a window at the end that was covered by a thick curtain.  The floor was covered with typical industrial office carpeting.  A table ran along the main wall.  There were three computers and at least six phones on it.  Kelly sat at one end; I sat at the other.  A woman who was training to be a phone girl sat between us.  We all sat on cheap folding chairs, awkwardly turned to face each other.

The room was dark.  Strangely enough, there was both a monitor showing the front door to the building and a camera pointing into the room itself.  I couldn’t tell where the monitor was for that or who might be watching, but someone, somewhere, might be observing my imminent interview.  Despite all this, the experience felt too surreal for me to be nervous.

The wall was covered with papers that were pinned and taped up.  I could see names of girls, their cell phone/beeper numbers, and names of certain streets where the escort service wouldn’t go.  There were also several local street maps, full of little scribbles too small for me to read.

Kelly handed me a pen and a job application.  Similar to most basic job applications, it asked for my name, address, and prior work experience. The lines for my “desired working name” and my measurements were the only things that seemed different.

I filled out the form and passed it back to Kelly.  She asked if I had any questions.  I fired away.  I’d already told her I’d never done this kind of work before, so I didn’t feel too bad appearing naïve. Better naïve now than stupid later.

“How many girls work here?”

“We’ve only got about fifteen now.  We just had a mass defection.  You know how it works—one girl leaves, and then a whole group follows.  It always works that way.  So we’re really low now.  That’s why I’m desperate for girls.” 

I nodded as if I of course I knew exactly how it worked.  “When would I start?”

“I could put you on for this Friday.”

I blinked. 

“As you can see, I really need girls!”  She laughed.  “Since you are already working days, I’d space you out so you’d have some time to rest.”  Kelly thought for a second.  “I would definitely need you for Friday and Sunday.  Then I’d put you during the week, maybe Tuesday or Wednesday.  I’d want you for at least three days a week.” 

She seemed both bored by the whole conversation and desperate enough to accommodate my questions.

“What hours would I work?”

“Most girls work from seven p.m. to five or six in the morning.  I’d let you get off at four if you needed to.  If you want, I’ll let you start at eight, so you’d have some extra time to get settled after work.”  Her voice got a little conspiratorial.  “But you can’t tell any of the girls that I’m letting you work shorter hours, because then they’ll all come to me asking why they can’t get shorter hours.  So you’ve got to keep it just between you and me.” 

She smiled a bit at that, but still seemed either hopelessly bored or hopelessly tired. 

I wondered why she was willing to give me a break.  I wondered how different I was than most of the girls who came through her door.  I wondered if I’d be in high demand.  The men who wanted 36DD blondes wouldn’t go for me, but the ones who wanted a cute face and intelligent conversation might be quite impressed.  Or not.

Who knows, I might even be facing my future career?  I briefly let my mind drift away, fantasizing about long limos, evening gowns, and glittering jewels.  The fat, sleazy men were appropriately hazy, blending into the background.  I didn’t want to think about them.  I thought some more about the glittering jewels and velvet-roped nightclubs.

I smiled agreeably at Kelly.  This might work out.  “How much do the girls make?”

“The rate depends on the girls.  You split the fee half and half with the service.  You’d start at around $200, $250 an hour, which means you’d get to walk off with at least $100, $125.  Any tips you make are yours.  You’ll probably end up making more an hour, actually,” she said, studying my face and body.  “The phone girls get paid on commission, so it’s to their advantage to get you the highest rate they can.”

One hundred dollars an hour would be fabulous, and if I made more, that would be even better.  I tried to sound as if that was exactly what I expected to make.  “What’s the normal amount of sessions I’d work a night?”

“It’s always hard to say.”  Kelly paused.  “It’s like waitressing.  You get good nights and bad ones.  I’d say you’d probably average around four to five a night.”  She leaned towards me, as if about to give me valuable information.  “The trick, though, is to take one session and make it last.  That’s the main goal of every session.  You want to draw them out.  Convince them to keep you for hours.  That’s where you make the good money.  And then you don’t have to waste time traveling all over the city.  Think of yourself as a psychologist.  Figure out what they want and give it to them.  Make them want to keep you.”  She nodded, to emphasize her point even more, and then leaned back into her chair, as if worn out by all her point-making.

“Do you serve the whole city?”

“Yes.  We don’t go out to New Jersey, though.”  She smiled.  “Or Long Island.” 

Thank god.  I didn’t want to go to there, either.

“What are the men like?”

“That’s a question I can definitely answer!”  Kelly laughed.  “We’ve got doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, people from the entertainment industry, the occasional celebrity.”

I wondered about Charlie Sheen and Rob Lowe.  Did they ever use the Manhattan Escort Agency?  What sort of celebrity would? 

“Our clients usually start at twenty-four and don’t go over the mid-forties,” she continued.  “Lots of people from the Upper East Side.  Lots of Jewish men.  They’ve definitely got money.  The girls get back, and they can’t get over how nice some of the apartments are.”

For my last questions, I gave up any vestiges of trying to sound professional.  I knew that, more than anything else I’d done in the adult industry, escort work would really force me to push my luck.  Naïve or not, I knew this job could be dangerous, and there would be no guarantees.  It might be great money, but there was a reason why you made so much.

“How safe is it?” I asked.

“As safe as you can get.”  She was both matter of fact and reassuring.  “We only send our girls to apartments and hotels.  You never meet a client in an office or anywhere else.  Our phone girls are really good.  They check everything out, especially when it’s someone new. “

She paused.  I wanted her to elaborate on what “check everything out” meant, but I felt wary of asking too many questions. I didn’t want her to think I was too clueless.

“Most of the clients are regulars, though,” she added, probably trying to soothe the stress that had appeared on my face.  “You’ll feel really safe after you talk to our phone girls.  They’re here to look out for you.”

Kelly sounded genuinely warm and sympathetic.  It seemed like she really meant what she said.  I just wondered how good that would be when I was alone in the apartment of a perfect stranger.

“When you meet the client, always check their driver’s license.  If they don’t want to show it to you, or you feel weird for any reason, please leave.  I don’t care.  If you don’t feel comfortable, I want you out of there.  I always want you to leave if you feel uncomfortable.  Use your head.  If something doesn’t feel right, leave and call me.  I want you to do that.  If you do it several times a night, I’ll know the problem is with you.”  She laughed.  “But every once in a while, if you feel uneasy, please leave.”

“So there aren’t usually problems?”  This was the one aspect of the job that made me nervous.  I hoped I could get a straight answer from her, even though I figured straight answers would be unlikely from anyone.

“I’ve been here two years and we’ve only had one incident.  Afterwards, I found out that she’d gone to an office building, even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to, and then he wouldn’t show her his driver’s license.  You’ve got to use some common sense, but you look like a smart girl.”

I wondered what the “incident” had entailed.  If something happened, would I even be able to press charges successfully?  Could I admit why I was there, and what I was doing?  I still didn’t know exactly what this job would expect from me.  I could only imagine. I was trying to extract as much information from her without coming off like a total moron.

“We treat our girls well.  We look out for them.  Lots of girls leave and come back.  That says something about us.  We take care of them.  They’ll save up money and then go do other things.  We’ve got lots of painters, artists, girls that like to travel.  They always come back when they need to pay the rent.”

“So the men are cool?  They don’t get creepy or weird?”  I really wanted her to come clean with me.  I needed something to hold me together before I signed myself up with them as my pimp.

Awkward silence.  “What do you mean?”

“How are they about things like anal sex?” This was a big concern for me.

Kelly paused.  “I think I know what you’re asking and, no, you don’t have to worry about that.”

She thought she knew what I was asking? Was I being unclear?  Or was it that she was the one who had to be unclear for legal reasons?  I didn’t know, but I kept the questions coming in an attempt to find out.

“What does a typical session entail?” 

“We offer companionship,” Kelly replied definitively as if that was the final word on the matter.

There was an emphatic silence.  I tried to think of another question to fill up the space.  “So how does the evening run?  What’s the system?  Do the girls come here to get their assignments?”

“When you start, we like to have you operate out of this office.  You’d come back here after every appointment.  After a while, though, you’re on your own.  You can get a cell phone or a beeper, and we’ll call you when you’ve got a client.  You can do your shopping, power nap, whatever.  As long as you can get to your appointments on time.”  She stared me straight in the eyes with that one.  “If you don’t think you can, or you have a hard time waking up, you can definitely keep working out of here.”

That sounded fine.  Focusing on the technicalities made it easier for me to overlook the enormity of what I’d actually be doing.

“What kind of clothes should I wear?” I asked.

“You’ll want to dress classy.”  She thought for a second.  It didn’t seem like that was a question for which she had a stock answer. I found that strange.  Maybe most girls already knew?  “Now that it’s cold, a lot of girls will wear a nice suit.  You know, something sexy and sophisticated.”

With that, all my questions had been answered.  At least, all the ones I felt like I could get away with asking. I got up and put on my coat. 

“Thanks so much,” I said, leaning over and shaking her hand.  “I’m going to have to think about it.  I’ll give you a call.”

“No problem.  I’ll call you if I don’t hear from you first.”

On the way out, I noticed a dark living room off to the side with black leather couches and a large television.  I wondered if that was where the girls hung out while waiting for their next session. 

I liked Kelly, and I did feel like it would be safe working for her, or at least as safe as this job could possibly be, but I didn’t think there was any way I could handle working until four in the morning three nights a week.  As much as I needed the money, I didn’t want to lose my real job…Although, I could work for Kelly for just one month and then leave.  I thought about that as I headed back to the subway.  Could I handle the crazy hours for four weeks?  I’d certainly make enough money after that amount of time to be able to quit for a while.  Kelly did emphasize how much the girls would come and go. Maybe I could do the same.

However, I wasn’t going to make any decision until my other two interviews were over…

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