Serious Girls

The escort service business, up close and unpleasant

Ray is handing out flyers on Washington Avenue at four o'clock in the morning, looking for girls the way his boss told him to: young, but not too young. Pretty. Sexy. Girls with other girls. Girls without guys. Girls who are alone. Girls who look like they might be up for an adventure or hard up for cash.

"Serious girls" is what the boss, Neil, calls them on the flyer. Printed on purple paper decorated with a drawing of a girl sipping champagne, the handout lays out in meticulous detail the characteristics Neil finds desirable. Girls must be over 18 but under 25. They must not be working models, nightclub dancers, or professional entertainers.

"The type of person we want is someone who is private and discreet, not an exhibitionist or a showoff," reads the flyer. "That person must be honest, loyal, and reliable. The person's time must be their own and should be free from the control of another person. If you choose to be different or open-minded, no one should know about it or be in a position to interfere with your choice. You should not be living with someone who is curious, overbearing, or suspicious of your private behavior with others, nor should you currently be living with a sexual or romantic partner.

"If you decide to indulge your fantasies, release your inhibitions, or engage in private consensual recreation, you should do so with complete privacy and discretion. . . . You should not feel guilt or shame when privately indulging a strong, creative, erotic, sensual side; however, you should be the type of person who can easily conceal that side in the interest of discretion."

The flyer rules out "moody, domineering, temperamental people. No gang girls or girls bizarre in appearance with tattoos or other inappropriate self-mutilations." No drug addicts. No alcoholics. No one who is depressed.

Ray distributes the flyers with a friendly smile, trying to encourage the girls to take them, to be open to possibility. That's a challenge because Ray has just turned 50, and his careworn features don't inspire much confidence. "Some ladies know what it is and don't want it. Others take it. They have the option to read it, throw it away, whatever," he says.

Down on his luck, Ray is happy to get the six dollars an hour Neil pays him. Years ago he managed a massage parlor out in California. Half his customers were vice cops, he says. "It's not what you think," he says.

Focusing on the foot traffic, Ray is surprised when he's summoned to a patrol car parked at the corner. A license check turned up a four-year-old charge for drunk driving; Ray never showed up for court.

He is placed under arrest.
A call to the phone number listed on the flyer yields a recording of a female voice: "You should be sure that this is something you want to do. That it is something that you would find interesting and enjoyable, and if it isn't then please don't go any further. Hang up now. This isn't for you."

I leave my home number and an alias and wait, but not long. The phone rings.
"Hello?"
"Lisa. You called on the flyer, I guess." A man's voice with clipped New England tones. Late thirties, maybe.

"Yes," I say.
"What type of work do you do?"
"I'm not doing anything right now." I try to sound tentative. Young. Insecure.

"Basically unemployed?"
"Yes."
He asks what I look like. Height. Weight. Hair color. His voice is low and he coughs often, a low choke, as if he's nervously gulping down a laugh. He asks my age. I tell him 24.

He explains that the work is mostly at night and that girls usually don't make less than $300 a week, though they can make as much as $2000. "The biggest problem that you run into around here is people seem to want to tell their friends what they're doing. Hnh-hnh." His laugh is truncated and bitter. "That's where they run into a lot of problems.

"The clients are very nice, hospitable people," he adds. "They don't threaten or injure anybody or do anything like that."

"I guess what you do depends on what the situation is?"
"Well, I do tell people this, that most of the situations involve nudity. And if somebody can't handle that or it starts to make somebody uncomfortable, they shouldn't be doing this."

"I don't mind nudity. I'm just wondering about --"
"Well, in private, I would say, you know. Let me put it on a practical level. If I just wanted to see nude women and I had money to spend, I would probably go to a nightclub or buy a magazine or something like that. I wouldn't be spending $200 a hour." There is a thickening in his voice. "Now, if I wanted perhaps someone who was nude who was into acting out fantasies or something else, that's when I would probably go and spend the money. You know what I'm saying? I'm not there to monitor the situation: two people in private, with nudity. I would say that there's a good possibility that they would have other things on their minds." He manages a real laugh this time.

He talks compulsively for several hours as I listen, supplying understanding background murmurs in response to tales about girls who rip off unsuspecting clients, of unscrupulous competitors, of hypocritical police officers. For about half an hour the conversation becomes explicit: how I feel about sex with other women, group sex, animal sex. What about Great Danes? Sex toys?

I imagine some lonely guy jacking off at the other end of the phone. Neil says he's a lawyer, that his clients in this business are other lawyers and doctors. But I wonder if this conversation is all there is, if his so-called service is just a fantasy.

Finally he gets around to proposing an interview. A "tryout" is how he puts it. To make sure I'm really suitable for this work. To find out what my strong points are so he will know how to pitch them to clients. We agree to meet the next afternoon at a hotel. He gives few personal details. He is more than six feet tall, he says, and weighs twice as much as I do. He tells me to come alone.

I take along a cell phone and a can of pepper spray. Neil is waiting for me, sunk into one of the plush chairs in the lobby, wearing a plaid short-sleeve shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. He is freckled and pale and looks out of shape.

He stands up to greet me. I nervously suggest we have a Coke at the bar before we head up to his apartment. There's a better place to have a Coke, he says vaguely, gesturing toward the elevators. We descend to an underground garage, weave a path among the cars to a locked steel door. Neil has a key. Behind the door are more elevators.

A few floors up, he buys me a Coke at a newsstand and we head for his apartment. Unpacked cartons teeter in the entrance. The dining-room table is buried beneath stacks of paper, books, boxes, trash. The air is redolent of unclean-carpet odors, stale potato chips, and motionless bodies.

Neil sits on his couch amid unopened mail. I perch on a chair, pepper spray within reach. I tell him the truth: I don't want to work, I just want information. About him, specifically. About his girls. About the service he provides.

There is a split second of silence in which Neil quietly deflates, sinking deeper into the couch. But he takes the news well. Young girls, innocent girls with few inhibitions and unsated sexual appetites, are not easy to come by these days, he admits. Only four or five "serious girls" actually answer his ads annually, though he has distributed 40,000 flyers over the past two years. His clientele is small. He might arrange twenty dates a month.

Most of the calls he gets are abusive. Men who leave messages threatening to beat him up. Women who accuse him of being a pervert. He now prints a warning on his flyers that telephone harassers will be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law. The irony escapes him. "Maybe I'm naive, but can't they just courteously say that they're not interested?" he grumbles.

He bridles at the suggestion that he is pimping. "My definition of a pimp is somebody who is exploiting people with coercion or other means and profiting from it financially. From a business perspective, what I'm doing doesn't make any sense at all."

Although the girls do get paid for going on dates, Neil claims he doesn't get a cut. For him it's more of a hobby, a recreational activity he subsidizes with the proceeds of his real job, financial planning. It's a perk he offers his clients. Believe it or not, he says, his girls actually like him, turning to him for comfort, for sex, for help out of a jam. "Girls come here to explore for a few weeks and then go on to other things and take the knowledge with them. A lot of the better girls are in college. They're looking for a career.

"Obviously I do it looking for something that is interesting and enjoyable for me, or I wouldn't do it," he says.

Before I leave I ask if I can speak to one of his girls.
I get a call from Sheila, who says she's eighteen. She is soft-spoken and precise about the few details she will divulge. She grew up in Broward and is studying psychology in college, though she won't say where.

She started working for Neil after being handed a flyer. She needed the money. "It wasn't like I expected," she says about her first date, a few months ago. "It went very smoothly." They met in a hotel. Sheila wore a suit. "Like a secretary," she says. "He was very nice to me. He knew it was my first time. I was in and out of there in 45 minutes."

Since then she has gone out on other dates, and though she is not crazy about the job, she prefers it to working for minimum wage. Sometimes she meets clients at their homes, sometimes they rendezvous at a hotel. "I hope in the long run it won't damage me," she confides. "But right now it's making me really look down on men. I just tell myself that I'm doing it for myself. I'm doing this to put me through school."

Ray sits in jail for twelve days, unable to make bail. He pleads no-contest to the charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license and is sentenced to a year's probation.

Ray showed the flyer to his probation officer. "I said, 'Could I do this part-time while I'm looking for work? I still have to make a living,'" he remembers. Ray says the probation officer gave him the go-ahead. "It's not illegal to hand out flyers," he observes. "I'm not pushing it on anyone. If someone wants to take it, fine. If you don't want it, that's fine too."

ay is handing out flyers on Washington Avenue at four o'clock in the morning, looking for girls the way his boss told him to: young, but not too young. Pretty. Sexy. Girls with other girls. Girls without guys. Girls who are alone. Girls who look like they might be up for an adventure or hard up for cash.

"Serious girls" is what the boss, Neil, calls them on the flyer. Printed on purple paper decorated with a drawing of a girl sipping champagne, the handout lays out in meticulous detail the characteristics Neil finds desirable. Girls must be over 18 but under 25. They must not be working models, nightclub dancers, or professional entertainers.

"The type of person we want is someone who is private and discreet, not an exhibitionist or a showoff," reads the flyer. "That person must be honest, loyal, and reliable. The person's time must be their own and should be free from the control of another person. If you choose to be different or open-minded, no one should know about it or be in a position to interfere with your choice. You should not be living with someone who is curious, overbearing, or suspicious of your private behavior with others, nor should you currently be living with a sexual or romantic partner.

"If you decide to indulge your fantasies, release your inhibitions, or engage in private consensual recreation, you should do so with complete privacy and discretion. . . . You should not feel guilt or shame when privately indulging a strong, creative, erotic, sensual side; however, you should be the type of person who can easily conceal that side in the interest of discretion."

The flyer rules out "moody, domineering, temperamental people. No gang girls or girls bizarre in appearance with tattoos or other inappropriate self-mutilations." No drug addicts. No alcoholics. No one who is depressed.

Ray distributes the flyers with a friendly smile, trying to encourage the girls to take them, to be open to possibility. That's a challenge because Ray has just turned 50, and his careworn features don't inspire much confidence. "Some ladies know what it is and don't want it. Others take it. They have the option to read it, throw it away, whatever," he says.

Down on his luck, Ray is happy to get the six dollars an hour Neil pays him. Years ago he managed a massage parlor out in California. Half his customers were vice cops, he says. "It's not what you think," he says.

Focusing on the foot traffic, Ray is surprised when he's summoned to a patrol car parked at the corner. A license check turned up a four-year-old charge for drunk driving; Ray never showed up for court.

He is placed under arrest.
A call to the phone number listed on the flyer yields a recording of a female voice: "You should be sure that this is something you want to do. That it is something that you would find interesting and enjoyable, and if it isn't then please don't go any further. Hang up now. This isn't for you."

I leave my home number and an alias and wait, but not long. The phone rings.
"Hello?"
"Lisa. You called on the flyer, I guess." A man's voice with clipped New England tones. Late thirties, maybe.

"Yes," I say.
"What type of work do you do?"
"I'm not doing anything right now." I try to sound tentative. Young. Insecure.

"Basically unemployed?"
"Yes."
He asks what I look like. Height. Weight. Hair color. His voice is low and he coughs often, a low choke, as if he's nervously gulping down a laugh. He asks my age. I tell him 24.

He explains that the work is mostly at night and that girls usually don't make less than $300 a week, though they can make as much as $2000. "The biggest problem that you run into around here is people seem to want to tell their friends what they're doing. Hnh-hnh." His laugh is truncated and bitter. "That's where they run into a lot of problems.

"The clients are very nice, hospitable people," he adds. "They don't threaten or injure anybody or do anything like that."

"I guess what you do depends on what the situation is?"
"Well, I do tell people this, that most of the situations involve nudity. And if somebody can't handle that or it starts to make somebody uncomfortable, they shouldn't be doing this."

"I don't mind nudity. I'm just wondering about --"
"Well, in private, I would say, you know. Let me put it on a practical level. If I just wanted to see nude women and I had money to spend, I would probably go to a nightclub or buy a magazine or something like that. I wouldn't be spending $200 a hour." There is a thickening in his voice. "Now, if I wanted perhaps someone who was nude who was into acting out fantasies or something else, that's when I would probably go and spend the money. You know what I'm saying? I'm not there to monitor the situation: two people in private, with nudity. I would say that there's a good possibility that they would have other things on their minds." He manages a real laugh this time.

He talks compulsively for several hours as I listen, supplying understanding background murmurs in response to tales about girls who rip off unsuspecting clients, of unscrupulous competitors, of hypocritical police officers. For about half an hour the conversation becomes explicit: how I feel about sex with other women, group sex, animal sex. What about Great Danes? Sex toys?

I imagine some lonely guy jacking off at the other end of the phone. Neil says he's a lawyer, that his clients in this business are other lawyers and doctors. But I wonder if this conversation is all there is, if his so-called service is just a fantasy.

Finally he gets around to proposing an interview. A "tryout" is how he puts it. To make sure I'm really suitable for this work. To find out what my strong points are so he will know how to pitch them to clients. We agree to meet the next afternoon at a hotel. He gives few personal details. He is more than six feet tall, he says, and weighs twice as much as I do. He tells me to come alone.

I take along a cell phone and a can of pepper spray. Neil is waiting for me, sunk into one of the plush chairs in the lobby, wearing a plaid short-sleeve shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots. He is freckled and pale and looks out of shape.

He stands up to greet me. I nervously suggest we have a Coke at the bar before we head up to his apartment. There's a better place to have a Coke, he says vaguely, gesturing toward the elevators. We descend to an underground garage, weave a path among the cars to a locked steel door. Neil has a key. Behind the door are more elevators.

A few floors up, he buys me a Coke at a newsstand and we head for his apartment. Unpacked cartons teeter in the entrance. The dining-room table is buried beneath stacks of paper, books, boxes, trash. The air is redolent of unclean-carpet odors, stale potato chips, and motionless bodies.

Neil sits on his couch amid unopened mail. I perch on a chair, pepper spray within reach. I tell him the truth: I don't want to work, I just want information. About him, specifically. About his girls. About the service he provides.

There is a split second of silence in which Neil quietly deflates, sinking deeper into the couch. But he takes the news well. Young girls, innocent girls with few inhibitions and unsated sexual appetites, are not easy to come by these days, he admits. Only four or five "serious girls" actually answer his ads annually, though he has distributed 40,000 flyers over the past two years. His clientele is small. He might arrange twenty dates a month.

Most of the calls he gets are abusive. Men who leave messages threatening to beat him up. Women who accuse him of being a pervert. He now prints a warning on his flyers that telephone harassers will be prosecuted to the full extent allowed by law. The irony escapes him. "Maybe I'm naive, but can't they just courteously say that they're not interested?" he grumbles.

He bridles at the suggestion that he is pimping. "My definition of a pimp is somebody who is exploiting people with coercion or other means and profiting from it financially. From a business perspective, what I'm doing doesn't make any sense at all."

Although the girls do get paid for going on dates, Neil claims he doesn't get a cut. For him it's more of a hobby, a recreational activity he subsidizes with the proceeds of his real job, financial planning. It's a perk he offers his clients. Believe it or not, he says, his girls actually like him, turning to him for comfort, for sex, for help out of a jam. "Girls come here to explore for a few weeks and then go on to other things and take the knowledge with them. A lot of the better girls are in college. They're looking for a career.

"Obviously I do it looking for something that is interesting and enjoyable for me, or I wouldn't do it," he says.

Before I leave I ask if I can speak to one of his girls.
I get a call from Sheila, who says she's eighteen. She is soft-spoken and precise about the few details she will divulge. She grew up in Broward and is studying psychology in college, though she won't say where.

She started working for Neil after being handed a flyer. She needed the money. "It wasn't like I expected," she says about her first date, a few months ago. "It went very smoothly." They met in a hotel. Sheila wore a suit. "Like a secretary," she says. "He was very nice to me. He knew it was my first time. I was in and out of there in 45 minutes."

Since then she has gone out on other dates, and though she is not crazy about the job, she prefers it to working for minimum wage. Sometimes she meets clients at their homes, sometimes they rendezvous at a hotel. "I hope in the long run it won't damage me," she confides. "But right now it's making me really look down on men. I just tell myself that I'm doing it for myself. I'm doing this to put me through school."

Ray sits in jail for twelve days, unable to make bail. He pleads no-contest to the charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license and is sentenced to a year's probation.

Ray shows the flyer to his probation officer. "I said, 'Could I do this part-time while I'm looking for work? I still have to make a living,'" he remembers. Ray says the probation officer gave him the go-ahead. "It's not illegal to hand out flyers," he observes. "I'm not pushing it on anyone. If someone wants to take it, fine. If you don't want it, that's fine too.

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