Sex Work Pays for Art School and Student Loans, She Said

August 5, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Essay

photo: chris cobb

When I was living in San Francisco I didn’t realize just how many guys went to prostitutes — not once in a while, but all the time. It was like no big deal to them. One person I worked with told me he just wasn’t a relationship kind of guy and said that he couldn’t stand all the nagging, all the complaining, and all the BS girlfriends would give him. Hookers, he told me, knew what their job was, did it, then left. No endless talking about problems, no criticism, just simple.

Well one day he and I and my other coworkers all piled into a limousine and headed to North Beach for a night of debauchery and barhopping. The occasion was an impromptu bachelor’s party for our office manager. He was getting married soon, so obviously he needed to celebrate his freedom while it lasted. I had never been to one of these secret, all-male parties before, but I knew I had to go. I didn’t want to be branded as the GUY WHO IS NO FUN. With these jocks I expected hookers and mountains of cocaine and eventually the police, or something like that (I didn’t really know what to expect). Instead it was bad Domino’s pepperoni pizza with whiskey and then beer chasers at Specs. Then we went, of course, for a trip to the Lusty Lady, which I assumed was so we could all go pleasure ourselves in the private booths while watching naked ladies walk around with zombie looks in their eyes.

Anyway, my drunken coworkers quickly disappeared into the individual booths and I was left alone. I stood there in the dimly lit hallway scrutinizing the boxes of Kleenex mounted to the walls wondering what they were for. I sort of felt like an anthropologist whose job was to observe, but not to interfere.

So I stared at the Polaroid photographs of the women on duty. About ten of them were tacked up near the front entry way. Somehow despite the smeary rouge, the exaggerated mascara, and the red-hot lipstick I thought I recognized one of them. I was right. As if on cue, at that very moment out of the corner of my eye I saw someone waving to me. It was her — making a gesture that I should come over and say hi. As I walked up to the glass booth she was in, I was sure the woman in the see-through nightie was the same one I knew from a painting class at the San Francisco Art Institute. She pressed some kind of button and I could her voice crackle through a little speaker.

Her: “Hey, Chris, how’s it going?”

Me: “Oh pretty good.”

Her: “So I haven’t seen you in a while. What’s been going on?”

Me: “Oh, doing my photography and writing, and I got to visit New York for a week.”

Her: “Wow, I always wanted to go to New York,” she said somewhat sadly.

Me: “So why don’t you go?”

Her: “It’s too much money, and I have to pay my rent! And besides, I have a cat to feed.”

She shifted her weight on the satin pillows that she was reclining on. Suddenly my eyes were drawn to the variety of vibrators and dildos scattered around the booth just to the right of her feet.

Me: Naively I suggested, “Maybe you should get a cat sitter?”

She noticed that I saw all the sex toys but acted like they weren’t there.

Her: “I would, but it’s really competitive in here and if I want to get more shifts I can’t just take off.” She made an exasperated expression then added, “I have student loans.”

Me: “Oh.”

Just then I felt some guy standing behind me staring at her nervously, waiting for me to get the hell out of the way. He smelled like he just got off work at a construction site and had five beers in him. He was probably waiting all day for the Private Pleasures booth. (The booth allows someone, a “client,” to go in and request the woman put outfits on or things in her or move around and do stuff. The client in turn feeds a steady stream of dollar bills into a machine as “tips” to encourage the stripper to obey the client’s commands. Strippers make the most money from these booths.) As I moved aside she said something like, “Bye, gotta go do some work!” Then pulled her velvet curtain shut and the guy went into the booth.

True story.

6 Comments

  1. dan Says:

    weirdly heavy-but-not-heavy.

  2. anon Says:

    Gosh, how sad.

  3. nathan lewis Says:

    Good story Chris. In grad school, we had a roommate (former art student) that was prostituting herself in our apartment. Unfortunately, I had the room next to her. She was not paying off any student loans, though.

  4. Chris Cobb Says:

    I received this missive from the PR people at the Lusty Lady:

    “Hello, thank you for the mention and the link,
    however…..
    (The booth allows someone, a “client,” to go in and request the woman put outfits on or things in her or move around and do stuff. The client in turn feeds a steady stream of dollar bills into a machine as “tips” to encourage the stripper to obey the client’s commands. Strippers make the most money from these booths).

    Not exactly accurate, just fyi. :)
    We DO NOT “obey commands”. Customers are required to politely request any fantasy or special show. Failure to do so will have them ejected from the club. Most customers are in fact pleasant, generous, and many come in just to chat and admire. Secondly, they don’t “feed bills to encourage us”, we have set minimum rates which are given up front before the show starts. After that, tips are then given to show appreciation, just as one tips a good waitress, or cab driver, or the like.
    And it is not competitive, we are a co-op, we share all of the profits equally, so it’s the opposite of competitive in fact.

    Just thought you should know.”

    It’s been several years since the story I related occurred, and I will admit to not knowing the “rules” but I stand corrected…
    c.

  5. Megan Z Says:

    Hi Chris, thanks for posting the letter from the Lusty Lady. Your article has been on my mind this past weekend. Since the Lusty Lady is a co-op, the performers are part-owners. I think being part-owner of a business is a pretty great way to work ones way through college.

  6. Chris Cobb Says:

    Hi Megan, I agree 100%.

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