“Sometimes the guys do get really angry when they figure out that they’ve just dropped a thousand bucks and they’re not getting any. And to be fair, I would be angry too.”
We were meeting over stories and Vietnamese food, this woman and I.
For the past few Mondays, I’ve been printing her tales of her former job as a fake prostitute, where she would lure men online to a warehouse with a futon and an ATM, where she would dance and tease and strip and twist and cajole men into giving her more and more money and where, at the critical moment in her swirling grind, she would toss them a Kleenex.
It would flutter to the stained futon where the men sat naked in bath towels. It was a white flag that signaled their surrender.
She wasn’t a hooker. She never had been a hooker. And any release the men would experience that night in that warehouse would have to come from their own hand, into that tissue, as she and the bouncer hiding in the next room with a billy club would watch. The men would.
“Honestly, first they usually feel really gypped and sometimes you would have really good conversations afterwards,” she said as she took a bite of mi xao.
“One of the guys was like ‘How do you live with yourself taking money from guys?’ And I was like, ‘Well, here’s the thing: If I thought I was taking money from orphans or, I don’t know, some other altruistic person…’”
She trailed off.
“I didn’t feel guilty about it mostly because of the clientele that would come in. The way I always thought about it was these are guys that could be spending money on their families, their kids’ college funds, going to Disney World, whatever. And where do they choose to spend their money? Trying to get their rocks off with me.
“It especially didn’t bother me whenever I saw a guy with a wedding ring come in. I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to take your money. I should find out who you are and call your wife, but I won’t that. But I am going to take your money.’”
She had told me earlier that she once got a guy to give her $1,000 before she tossed the Kleenex. I asked about him.
“He was pretty peeved. And then he calmed down actually really quickly. I don’t remember what I said calmed him down but afterwards, we were talking a bit about why I do this. He was the one who asked how I could live with myself.
“I’m like, ‘Here’s my situation. Here’s why I need your $1,000. I’ll only get half of that because the other half goes to the house, but you clearly have money to spend and a fool and his money are soon parted.’”
She laughed. I did too.
She had already told me about her $50,000 in student loan debt, about the severe anxiety disorder that debt kept triggering, about her previous work dancing for a now-closed West Chicago strip joint. This was better, she said. The men would come to her instead of her in glitter and thong having to work up the nerve to walk up and say, “Hey, baby. Want a dance?”
Her now-fiance knew about her job in the warehouse, but didn’t want to hear details. Her dad found out later – she doesn’t remember how. She might have mentioned it offhand, she said.
“I wasn’t doing anything illegal and I was making bank,” she said, shrugging. “Sometimes I was making bank. Sometimes I would go home with zero dollars just because no one would call in that night, or I wouldn’t be able to keep them. You don’t get paid hourly. You’re completely independently contracted so you only get your half of whatever you get out of these guys. And then you pay out, I think it was like strip clubs, where you tip the security guard at the end of the night. Yeah, it was. It was a mandatory 10 percent.
“So at the end of the shift whatever I brought in, 50 percent automatically went to the house, 50 percent was mine and then I would tip out 10 percent of what I had to the security guard.”
There was a revolving crew of about 10 other women, she said. High-turnover work.
“There were a couple of girls there who had been there for a really long time actually, for a couple years. It was always sad because they had like families, they were married with kids and stuff like that. I was like, ‘How do you go to a PTA meeting after this, y’know?’”
“Probably recognizing some faces,” I said.
“Yeah, that was the thing I think I was most terrified about, because at some point in the future I kind of foresee myself going into some public service role, like elected to something. That will be really awesome on the campaign trail. The opponents dig up whatever. I don’t think my real name is on anything, but…”
It’s not a joke. I would vote for her.
“Is it legal?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said promptly. “I don’t know how it’s not fraud, but the actual acts of things going on in the rooms is all legal. You have to be incredibly careful about where you touch a person especially based on where they are touching their own person, like all the rules change at that point, but, yes, it was legal.
“Now I do think that the owner must have been evading taxes or something like that or had otherwise pissed off DuPage authorities, because we would get the cops there all the time. So I think they were after him, but not necessarily the operation.”
“And then you said occasionally a girl would get busted?”
The lowest-performing girl, she told me earlier, would be thrown to the authorities on trumped-up prostitution charges to keep the cops off the operation’s back.
“Yeah, there was a woman who got busted,” she said. “She had had two kids, and her husband did not know and thought that she was cleaning hotel rooms at night. So that really sucked for her.”
“Yeah. It was really bad. I don’t know whatever happened to her; I left pretty soon after. But it ended up in the papers.”
We talked for a bit about prostitution, about how the bosses and johns never get in the paper, just women in poverty, pasted up on the page in runny make-up to show that the cops are working.
“As lousy of as a gig as it is, and you would think every guy who would leave there would be really mad, sometimes guys would leave there pretty happy, like ‘You know, that’s all I really needed. A pretty girl and… that.’ I had one guy who left there just feeling in actually like the best mood he said he’s been in in a super-long time. I was like, ‘Good for you, buddy. All right.’”
“Probably not a lot of repeat customers, though,” I said.
“No. Actually, we did have one,” she said. “It was this Polish guy, because DuPage County is very Polish. Actually, we would attract a lot of immigrants from various backgrounds, because a lot of times guys migrate here to find jobs and stuff like that. They don’t bring their families over until much later, but in the meantime they’re very, very lonely, especially if there’s not a big community, an established community.”
I poked listlessly at a fickle-looking bit of tripe that had just swirled to the top of my Vietnamese soup.
“Or even if there is an established community,” she said. “If you’re Mexican and you come over the border, come here on your own to work, there might be a huge Mexican migrant community and they are all dudes. So they just get very lonely.
“So we get a lot of those guys. There was this one guy who — and those I actually did sometimes feel bad because you understand the situation a little bit. Sometimes you just really need human contact. You just do.”
We talked of lonely times.
“People need intimate emotional contact,” she said. “So I would feel bad for them, but at the same time I would be like, ‘Shouldn’t you be sending that money home? Wasn’t that the whole point?’ It’s tough. I try not to judge in general, unless the guy tried to make me feel like, dirty or like I had somehow done something wrong. Then I was like, ‘Pssh. A-hole.”
My digital audio recorder now tells me she and I had been talking for a half hour. It tells me it would still be another 10 minutes of tape before I finally said, “I think I have everything I need. Want to just hang out?”
I didn’t record this friend and I catching up on old times. I didn’t record our conversation, as her mi xao got devoured and my pho got colder. I didn’t record a lot of our talk about how prostitution laws punish the woman who needs money, not the man who would drive back to a safe suburban refuge with wife and kids after wiping his penis clean of whoever he had been with.
She spoke honestly, without forethought. She spoke from the heart, not the half-fed lies I have come to detest in my life. She spoke with whimsy and truth, and I like that.
I did record this:
“Did you not like your noodles?”
“Not really,” I said. “It’s the tripe.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Tripe’s a hard one for some people to get over.”