Hannah was the name that I chose for myself. It was feminine but solid, not slutty. It wasn’t like Candy or Nikki or Kiki, the glassy names the other girls chose for themselves. I wasn’t blonde with big boobs. I wasn’t Asian and exotic. I just couldn’t wear those porn names.
Juliette, the lady who hired me, was six feet tall with long straight blonde hair, a bottle-tan, and little business suits with skirts that only came down to her thighs. She said she was from Switzerland, but I suspected Russia or the Ukraine was more likely. There were plenty of Russian girls who worked for the agency, and Juliette wasn’t her real name.
Juliette frowned when she looked me up and down. “Not beautiful,” she said, “Depend on personality. We give it a try.”
I had to get a beeper. And a wax job. New fingernails and lingerie. But the sticky part was reliable transportation. Besides public, I only had my unicycle. A sentimental remnant from my undergraduate years when I had taught juggling and circus arts at the special kids’ camp.
I had only started at City Escorts because I was getting my doctorate and there was a full twelve months before my teaching fellowship kicked in. I was getting my Ph.D. in philosophy, and my field of research was the Upanishads. In the past six months, rents in the city had gone sky-high. According to Juliette I could work weekend nights and I’d have my expenses covered.
My first call was a guy at the Hyatt. I took the BART train there at 11:30pm on a Friday night, dressed in a black velvet miniskirt and a black beaded top with leather jacket. Juliette had told me his room number, and told me just to walk by the front desk and tell them the number, that front desks were used to this thing. When I got outside his room I could hear the TV blaring. I knocked. A businessman in his late forties with curly brown hair in his boxer shorts answered the door. Inside he was doing lines of coke on the table and pacing around with the TV on. I spent two hours there watching him do coke and watch TV. At the end, he gave me $450.
“How did it go?” Juliette asked when she called his room at the end of our date. The escort management always called after the first hour and if the client wanted you for another hour, they called after the second, “Just fine,” I said. “Two hours not bad,” she said, “Congratulations.”
On my way out of the Hyatt I was beeped again. I called Juliette from a payphone. “I got a guy in the Mission,” she said, and told me the address, “He’s regular. And he really likes it clean.”
“Clean?” I asked, scribbling down the address, “What does that mean?”
“No dirt in the nails, no holes in the stockings, no shoes in his house, clean.”
I took a night bus to the Mission. I walked two seedy blocks in the dark into a nicer part of the street. I rang the doorbell of a second-floor apartment. The man who answered the door was in his thirties, wholesome looking and fit with Clark Kent glasses. He looked me up and down, had me undress and then told me to get in bed with him. He jacked off and asked me questions. I told him about college and the special kids’ camp. At the end of hour Juliette called, the guy gave me the cash, and I left.
Outside I got beeped by Juliette. It was too seedy to be walking around so I waved down a cabbie who took me to a well-lit gas station with a payphone.
“He said you need to take better care of yourself,” Juliette scolded me, “Nails look bad, eyebrows bush, hair.”
“OK,” I said, feeling somewhat shamed, “Do you have another job right now?”
“Not right now,” Juliette said coldly, “ I will call you.”
It was the last job of the night. I fell asleep at home waiting for the beep that never came. Saturday night I got two more calls, and Monday I dropped off $1200 in cash to the City Escort service. My take home, with tips, was $500, not bad for what had amounted to a few hours’ work.
What struck me most about the jobs as the weekends went by was how few of the men wanted sex. At least half of them were doing drugs when I came over, upper-type drugs that left them horny but unable to perform. Sometimes they would fondle me, but often I’d just sit there and watch them. Some of the men seemed perverted in that they wanted to jack off and have me there to do something unusual. One guy had me pull down my panties and bend over while he looked at my butt. Another wanted to hold my bra. A month went by and I had fifteen calls, and not one of them for sex.
Meanwhile, I went to my classes. I didn’t tell anyone about my new job. Certain feminist or lesbian circles, I realized, might think working for an escort service was cool, liberating in some way, post-feminism or something like that. But I didn’t think it was particularly cool. I liked the money and that was all. And Juliette treated me like shit. She always told me how ugly I was, how the guys had complained, two times she made me cry. But she kept sending me out on jobs, and I kept bringing back the cash.
One night I got a call from Juliette at the remarkably early hour of 9pm. She had a guy at a business class hotel at the wharf. I took a cab there, and went up to the guy’s room. A short, somewhat chubby middle-aged man in a towel answered the door. He had a balding head where some sort of hair implant had been used to fill in around the edges, and a wide and prominent nose. He had the sweetest face I had ever seen.
“Hi there,” he said in a voice that had a soft high pitch, and an East Coast accent, “Please come in.”
He opened the door and motioned to the chair, nervously. “I’m Al,” he said.
“Hannah,” I said, entering the neat and sterile hotel room.
He shook my hand. “Hi, Hannah. That’s a beaut-I-ful name. Nice to meet you. Would you like a drink or something?” he asked motioning to the refrigerator.
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
Al sat down, somewhat nervously, on the bed. I took off my jacket, and looked at him in my mini skirt and beaded top.
“You’re a very pretty girl, Hannah,” he said.
He said it in a way that was so sincere and so appreciative that it took me by surprise. I had never made a first move on any of my calls, but I found myself actually wanting to make this man happy. “Thank you, Al,” I said walking over to him, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Oh boy,” he said, hanging his head and laughing nervously, “I’ve never done this before. I’m a married man, maybe that’s obvious. I’m from Boston.” He shook his head again, “Oh, boy.”
“That’s OK, Al,” I said, sitting next to him and putting my hand on his leg, “We can take it really slow. It’s totally up to you.”
Al let the towel slip from him as he lay back on the bed on his side. He pulled me towards him and held me tight.
“You’re a nice girl,” he said, holding me, both of us on our sides, “Are you from San Francisco?”
I felt like I was talking to one of my uncles. “Actually I spent some time in Boston too. When I was in college,” I told him where I had gone to school.
“Gosh,” he said, shaking his head and holding me, “That’s a great school.”
He was quiet for a few minutes, holding me.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked again.
He sighed and seemed to release his grip on me. For a few moments he was quiet and I thought maybe I was going to experience my first sexual encounter on a call, but then I realized he was crying. “My wife has cancer. Oh, boy,” he said, sobbing, “I’ve never done anything like this before.”
He held me tight while he cried. I shifted so that I could stroke him slightly.
“You seem like such a nice girl, Hannah. I’m sorry,” he said, crying again.
“It’s OK,” I said stroking him, “It’s OK, Al.”
We went on like this, him holding me and crying, me trying to comfort him. He had been married for thirty-two years. His wife was his high school sweetheart, and they’d spent their honeymoon in Jamaica. She was the love of his life and a piano teacher, he was a salesman now working in management.
A little while later the phone rang. It startled both of us. Al took the call, wiping back tears. I could hear Juliette’s harsh voice asking if he wanted another hour.
“No that’s OK,” he said, clearing his throat, “She’s a great girl.”
I got up and put on my jacket. Al went to his coat and handed me $400.
“Take it. Keep it. You’re a nice girl,” he said, reaching out and holding my hands, “You remind me of my daughter. I have a daughter your age. Thank you, sweetie.”
“Thank you, Al. I’m so sorry about your wife. I hope things get better for you.”
“Is there…anything I can do for you? I just hate to see a nice girl like you…” Al said sadly.
I thought for a moment. “Please call Juliette at the agency. Tell her I was good. Tell her I’m the best girl you ever had.”
“I will. I will, sweetie,” he said, as I left.
Later that night at 2am, my beeper went off. I had been back at my place since my meeting with Al. I was just drifting off into sleep when my beeper sounded. I sighed, reached over for my phone, and dialed the agency.
“Hannah,” Juliette said, her sharp voice pronouncing her words with guttural tones, “I have special assignment for you.”
“OK,” I said, pulling myself up in the cold dark. I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed.
“This is regular client named Adam. He only likes Swedish and German girls. Only! He takes them for hours, they do nothing, they bring home tons of money.”
“OK,” I said, not sure where Juliette was going with this.
“He lives out past Daly City. You have to take train or cab. You have to be there on time. But don’t let cab see his house. Very important. He’s watching with telescope, if he sees cab, there’s no date.”
“OK,” I said again, “So you want me to be German?”
“German or Swedish. Up to you.”
I had learned rudimentary German as an undergraduate. I had written various papers on Hegel and Hesse. “German, I guess. I speak a little.”
“So smart,” she said, “OK, tonight you’re now Lulu. You’re from Germany, only Germany, understand?”
“Heil Hitler,” I said.
“Hannah, don’t be this way. You get some attitude, I fire you. You understand?”
“I got it,” I said, and listened while the bitch gave me directions.
“Adam” lived outside of the city, in an upscale suburban neighborhood along the Pacific Coast Highway. I took my unicycle with me in the cab because if I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere I didn’t want to be alone on foot. It took more than forty-five minutes to get to the suggested drop-off point, and cost me seventy-five bucks. After the cab drove off I got on my unicycle and rode a couple of blocks past large, quiet houses in chill coastal winds and swirling fog until I got to number 3663. I stashed the unicycle in a nearby bush.
Five minutes went by without the door being answered and I felt my first wave of panic. Crank calls to the escort agencies happened sometimes, and I had been warned this was a risk we escorts had to assume. I didn’t hold it past Juliette to pull something like this just to mess with me. Right when I was about to grab my unicycle and buck out of there like a bronco, crying, the door opened.
“Hello,” a bearded man in his thirties answered the door. He had black hair and tan skin, was wearing an Izod shirt and khaki pants, and was considerably less ostentatious than I had imagined, “Are you from Juliette?”
“Yes,” I said, in what I hoped was severely accented English. The man had an accent too. I guessed him to be either Arab or Israeli by his looks and speech pattern, “I am Lulu from Freiburg.”
The man sighed and opened the door. “Come in,” he said, “Wait here.”
What happened over the course of the next hour was almost too bizarre to describe. The man played a disconcerting game of hide and seek with me in the large, dark house, imbibing large quantities of alcohol, finally materializing to confront me as the phone was ringing with loud accusations that I wasn’t really German and that Juliette was fucking with him again.
“Ask Juliette,” I said, “Ich bin Deutsch!”
After screaming obscenities at Juliette and taking more swigs from his Jim Beam bottle, he seemed to calm down. By the end of the call he was laughing, making suggestive comments to Juliette, and apologizing.
“OK, you are from Germany,” he said, hanging up the phone, “You want a drink?”
Adam kept me for four more hours. In between I learned his name was really Reza, and I saw pictures of a boy and a girl who I assumed were his children. He drank more than any person I had ever seen, and laughed most of the night. We played drinking games, listened to music, and started a game of monopoly. At 6am he announced he was going to call a cab to take us both back to the city.
“We’re going to Golden Gate Park,” he said. On my way out to catch the cab I ran away from him for a moment to recover my unicycle.
“What’s that?” he asked, when we piled in together in the back of the cab.
When I told him he nearly doubled over laughing. “I love you!” he said, over and over, kissing my cheek and hand, “I love you, Lulu.”
Midway to Golden Gate Park, Reza had the cab driver take us to Union Square instead so we could eat breakfast at his favorite diner. At the end of breakfast Adam, or Reza, announced that he was through with our date, and pulled out numerous hundred-dollar bills from his pocket. He handed me more than a thousand, which resulted in a couple hundred dollars in tips for me.
“Tell me one thing,” he said, after he gave me the money, “Are you really German, or is Juliette fucking with me?”
I didn’t say anything, but shook my head, “I can’t give you any personal information,” I said, still speaking in my attempt at an accent.
Reza reached into his pocket and pulled out two hundred-dollar bills. “Tell me,” he said, “Just tell me and I give you this,” he said, pressing the bills into my hand.
I looked around the street. It wasn’t exactly bustling, but there were enough pedestrians and enough traffic around that I didn’t feel endangered.
“I’m not German,” I finally said.
Reza slapped his hand against his knee and bent over, shaking his head. “That whore!” he said, “That damn whore!”
“Juliette’s a whore,” he repeated, standing up, “Did you know that? I did her. Six times. She was a whore.”
I was surprised by this news. Juliette struck me as too much of an ice queen to have been an escort. I was delighted to receive this scandalous information.
“Well,” Reza said, taking my hand and kissing it, “Au Revoir my friend.”
Weekends turned into months at the City Escort agency. Just like I had done at McDonald’s as a teenager, and at my work-study job at the campus bookstore in college, I began to feel strangely comfortable in my job, in spite of the bullshit. I had become tolerant of Juliette’s insults, her paranoid inquiries, her threats not to send me on any more calls. I did my first “twosome” with a speed freak called Sheila, and two software programmers at the airport Hilton. I went on a “pick up,” which was when a guy pays for three different girls to come over and then takes his pick. I made friends with a Russian escort, a young girl whose real name was Irina, and helped her several times with her ESL homework.
It was summer that I got sent on a call just a few blocks from my house.
“There’s one thing,” Juliette said, her tone taking on a quality I had never heard before, vaguely sympathetic, “She is woman.”
In my three months of work I had not once been asked on call with a woman. There was one incident when I was walking home from a call and I passed a disheveled-looking hooker, who had asked me if I wanted a trick. “I am a trick,” I said back. The woman slapped her head and said “Oh!” as if she was a waitress and had just fumbled my egg order.
I fixed my make-up, and rode my unicycle four blocks up Mission Street. The woman’s place was a nice-looking two-story stucco house in a mostly Mexican neighborhood. I opened the little gate at the bottom of the stairs and knocked on the door, taking a deep breath to clear my mind. I had learned not to try to imagine a call in advance.
A few seconds later a young woman, no older than college-aged answered the door. I thought for a moment I might have the wrong house, but she smiled and said, “You must be looking for me.”
The young girl ushered me into the living room of the house. It was a typical middle-class student’s house with lamps with scarves draped over them, numerous photographs, plants, and books. Some instrumental pop music was playing, and there was a half-opened bottle of red wine.
“I’m Janey,” she said, “Would you like some wine?”
“Thank you,” I said, sitting down on the only couch, “I’m Hannah.”
Janey got me a glass of wine. Her hair was in two braids, and she was wearing the kind of shorts one would wear to go hiking with a tank top.
“I’ve never really done this before,” she said, sitting down cross-legged on the end of the couch, “And I totally want you to know that if anything makes you uncomfortable, please let me know.”
I took a sip of the wine. “OK,” I said with a shrug.
“I really only want to talk to you,” she said, looking at me with big, clear, young, blue eyes, “I’m just really trying to understand what it’s…like to be an escort.”
I was taken aback. More than on any other one of my calls, I felt a sudden jolt of apprehension. This young woman wanted me to be her sociology study; a role that I did not feel at all equipped to play.
“My father,” she continued, “saw a lot of escorts. Call girls, I guess, or sex workers, that type of thing. I hope it’s OK if I just, like, ask you questions, and you can just answer them, as much as you want to, or if you feel uncomfortable you can totally just stop.”
For the next two hours I relied on the ultimate coping mechanism that I had used on a date only once. I lied. I told total, boldfaced lies. I told Janey I was addicted to crack, and then later I said I was strung out on heroin. I told her I was the product of abusive parents, foster care, and rape. I told her I couldn’t read or write and had been pimped on the streets by my brother. I made up a husband named Jose, a drug dealer from Colombia who got shot in a drive-by. My children had been taken from me, my car was repossessed.
Janey fought back tears for most of our conversation. She slowly began opening up to me too. She was on Prozac and Nembutal. She had to leave college to go into a live-in care facility for depression. She thought her father might have molested her when she was little.
At the end of our “date,” Janey gave me a long, sincere hug and a modest tip. “Take care of yourself,” she said, “You know there’s lots of services in the city for women like you.”
“Thank you,” I said, walking out. The money felt coarse inside my hand.
I did one more call that night with a guy who wanted sex, was done in ten minutes, and paid me in fives. I rode the unicycle back to my apartment, took a long hot bath, and went to sleep. I ignored all of the calls on my beeper. I slept all the next morning and woke up in the afternoon. That evening when I called Juliette back, she was raging.
“I fire you,” she yelled, over and over, “you are finished.”
“That’s just fine,” I said.
After going off for a few minutes, telling me how ugly I was, how all the guys called and complained and asked for a discount, her hot, raspy tone suddenly changed. “I know what happen to you,” she said coyly, “happen to all the girls. You start to feel that you are the whore, you start to know this. Can’t stand it, so it shamed you. Then later, two, three months, you call back, you say, Juliette, please let me work for City Escorts. But I tell you now, if you don’t work tonight, you never come back. But you always be the whore.”
I hung up on Juliette. It was a full two weeks before I began looking for a new job near my campus. I spent all the escorting money I had saved on overpriced housewares.
After my call with Janey I started therapy again, contemplated joining a support group. I started eating more, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sundaes. I wrote cryptic poems in my journal that even I didn’t understand.
At night, when I was alone, it wasn’t the faces of all the paying men that I thought of, their tongues, or their penises. It wasn’t the nights in unknown apartments with men with their unknown desires.
It was the big, blue, young eyes of Janey, looking at me as if through the lens of a camera. It was a piece of detritus that she saw, that she cried for, and the life I represented. It was as if she was looking at me through a prism, and seeing only one thing. The whore, Juliette had said, and in fact she was right. I had finally become the whore.