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I can hear the voice talk, but can't make out what he says. "One-eighty." More talking from the cell phone. "What do you want?" Pause.
"Ohhh-kay," he says. His voice has changed and now it's clear he's talking to me again. I have witnessed the conversation between Tyler and trick because it interrupted our phone interview. "He hung up."
"Do you get that a lot?" I ask.
"Well, he's probably from my ad in the Observer. They're usually straight-identified Upper East Side guys. They have a lot of hang-upsyou know, they're nervous, they don't know what they want."
Tyler's real name is Matt Bernstein Sycamore. He's a 26-year-old who has been a sex worker for seven years. He actually describes himself as a whorea term that he and some of the more educated, politically conscious prostitutes have reclaimed (much as gays and lesbians embrace fag and dyke). Matt earns about $200 per client per session, and he can make up to $2000 a week. Also an accomplished writer and activist, he is editor of the titillating new book Tricks and Treats: Sex Workers Write About Their Clients (Haworth Press). Written entirely from the point of view of a class of workers who seldom get to speak for themselves, the collection illuminates the unique perspective they have on our culture.
In reading Tricks and Treats, I was struck by just how intimate some hookers and hustlers get with their clients. They hear secrets, know intensely personal information, and see a side of their clients no one else does. Matt says this was one of the driving forces behind the anthology:
"Everyone I know who does sex work can tell you amazing stories. The trouble is that these aren't the stories you hear in the mainstream media." Think of the tabloid-style coverage of infamous Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, the Hugh Grant hooker bust, and LAPD civilian traffic officer turned call girl Norma Jean Almodovar. "Instead of letting sex workers speak for themselves, talk-show hosts, televangelists, law enforcement, social workers, and politicians prefer to present pathologized, glamorized, or sensationalized images of sex workers. We are either sex-crazed maniacs or trapped victims. I wanted to let sex workers take control of the spotlight and shine it on their clients. This is their turn to put everyone else under the microscope," emphasizes Sycamore.
Contributor Carol Queen, a former sex worker who has a doctorate in human sexuality, describes one of the roles working girls (and boys) play for johns: "We make them feel safe enough to drop their pants and talk about what they want. To hear a lot of them tell it, they can't do that anywhere else." Her piece is about "What Johns Want," and it led me to ponder what whores want. What makes a client a good one? Sex workers don't have the luxury of a union, industry standards, legal protection, or a reference guide for johns on proper procedure and behavior. So, before you move on to the back section of this publication or another, here are six tips for tricks:
Time is money. My shrink has a new cancellation policy. In addition to the requisite 24 hours' notice, if she can't fill my time slot, I still have to pay for it. Imagine if sex workers could demand the same. Matt's biggest complaint about johns is their unreliability. If you aren't planning to keep an appointment, call and cancel, just as you would do with your favorite restaurant. This is basic consideration for other people's time. If you can afford a whore, you can afford a one-minute phone call to cancel or reschedule.
Don't be cheap. If someone names a price, consider it printed on a Tiffany's price tag. Eva, a contributor to Tricks and Treats and a retired sex worker, says, "I hate clients who try to talk down the price. It's really rude. It makes me not like them and not do as good a job. This is not a swap meet."
Tipping is customary. And speaking of money, here's a general rule to live by: Real men tip. As with an excellent waiter or a superb hairdresser, it's appropriate to tip for a job well done. You can apply the 20 percent rule here, but Matt reminds me, "Any tip is a good tip."
Communicate. You have plenty of time to be the strong, silent type or shy and reserved with your wife, girlfriend, or boyfriend. When you are with a sex worker, step up to the plate. Be verbal and vocal about your desires, wants, needs. You are paying, so you might as well get what you want. Not everyone just wants a blow job. They're whores, not mind readers, so you need to tell them your secret wishes before they can make them come true.