Memoirs of a Jewish Geisha

Working in Midtown to give businessmen the girlfriend experience

Memoirs of a Jewish Geisha
Photo-illustration by Christine Craig (photograph copyright Photo-Flow)

They say Mama-san came to San Francisco from Seoul at the age of 16, and migrated to the East Coast a few years later. The dark-featured, small-framed woman started off small, working the jazz and karaoke circuit and eventually landing steadier gigs with a Korean band.

And people began to take notice—for a short while, at least. In 1995, Mama-san—known then mainly as Michelle—won first place in a New York Korean association's singing contest. In 1997, her first album, Dream of Leaves, was released.

"When I met her—what, 20 years ago—she was the best singer from Southeast Asia," one of her regulars says.

Fast-forward a few years and add a few pounds, mainly around Michelle's middle. She has transformed from siren to business-woman, swapping her wavy black locks for a sensible bob. She had a kid. She took up golf. She also started running a "hostess club" in Midtown. I recently worked at that club, Kaoru, for a month. During that time, I didn't see Mama-san take the mic even once.

Applying for jobs at Kaoru was "Angie's" idea. The two of us had met at an East Village dive a few months earlier, and I knew little about her. She said she was a cash-strapped college instructor. One day, maybe the third time we'd hung out, Angie told me that she'd heard about an easy, fun way to make extra money. She said there were a handful of special piano bars in Manhattan—called hostess clubs—where we would get paid just to look pretty and make small talk with the male clients. She assured me the place was totally legitimate and definitely not a front for prostitution or anything like that. There would be no nudity involved, she said, and no touching.

"It's more like a modern-day take on the geisha," she said over an egg-white omelet. "The men just talk on for hours about their boring insurance work and their unhappy marriages, and you pretend like it's really interesting stuff. Sometimes, clients bring their favorite hostesses gifts, kind of like a patron-courtesan thing. And the men are only there for companionship, not sex. It's very strict and very proper. Safe, too. And we're both white, so we'd have the whole exotic thing going for us."

It was a rainy Monday night when we first arrived. The club, which is on 46th Street, between First and Second avenues, is unassuming. There's a shadowy, nondescript glass door with the word "Kaoru" glowing on the awning above it in white script.

The outside looked like a massage parlor missing its neon sign. To enter, you must first pass through a walled alcove—about the size of an ATM vestibule—and another door, before you finally get to the bar. You can't see anything from the street.

We walked in. There was a low, shellacked bar, a couple of dusty liquor bottles in front of a mirrored wall, and an unopened baby grand in the corner.

A couple of pretty Asian girls were chatting with each other at the edge of the bar. They had long, brown-black hair, and both were wearing dark micro-minis. When they saw us, they stopped talking. There weren't any men around, except for the bartender. He was wearing tight plaid pants, a white shirt, a silky black vest, and a matching bow tie. He walked over.

"You must be here for interviews."

"Interviews?" Angie said. We looked at each other and shrugged. "Yeah, interviews. Sure."

"Do you mind waiting a little bit? The owner is on her way in from Long Island."

"That's fine."

"OK, then. Come with me."

The bartender led us down a dark hallway to a square room, signaling for us to go in. There was a sectional sofa and a large TV screen, for karaoke. He asked if we wanted anything to drink, and brought back two caffeine-free Diet Cokes. He dropped to one knee to serve them.

"She should be here in 45 minutes or so," he said, closing the frosted-glass door behind him.  

Angie and I looked at each other.

"I mean, it doesn't seem like a brothel," she said, taking a sip.

"I feel like texting someone," I said. "Like I should let someone know where I am."

"Maybe you should wait. We're totally being watched," she said.

Then came two knocks at the door. A short woman walked in and sat down next to me, on our coats. She was wearing glittery bell-bottoms and a poofy blouse.  

"I'm Michelle," she said, extending her hand. "You girls must be the Russians."

Angie and I exchanged confused looks.

"I'm from New Jersey," Angie said. "And she's from Florida."

"Oh. Well, I was supposed to meet with some Russian girls. It's OK. I lost their phone numbers anyway, and you girls will do just fine!" Michelle laughed. "So you want to work here?"

"Yeah," Angie said. "Definitely."

"So you know what goes on, right?"

More back-and-forth glances between Angie and me. I decided to let Angie do the talking.

"We talk with the customers and serve them drinks and sing karaoke," Angie said.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
27 comments
Swtmst
Swtmst

It is like a strip club with none of the stripping. I thought about hostessing in Japan, but it becomes very taxing on your body and mind. You consistently have to text customers ect. I also find it very sad, because in big clubs, rich men (and women!) will spend 10,000 or more a night, and really think the host/ess is going to marry them one day...bizarre.

Cdaniels56
Cdaniels56

Page me when Lauren Ezersky writes hers..............hehe

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet
Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet

This is almost Victorian in tone. There's some thing sweet and a little sad about these men living out the weird fantasy of High School Musical, on the rocks and 80 proof. However as Bekiempis should have known, she was supposed to carry a fan. When her customer went for the hooter shot demanding a return favor, she is supposed to take the fan, and whack him on the shoulder blade for getting out of line

Angela Garcia as NeonMosfet.

Cassidy
Cassidy

By Jewish girls? I love Jewish girls the most.

Isaiah
Isaiah

This was THE most self-indulgent article published by the Voice in a long time. It was a waste of time to go out of my way, (as I usually do) to read the paper this week. I am personally insulted by this masturbatory piece...

Cassidy
Cassidy

It was a real tease of an article! I guess the only reason the title mentioned a Jewish geisha was due to the author's self-indulgence. I was half expecting Daphne Rosen or somebody! Instead, it was just another broke whitegirl making money off of some easy Asian marks.

Erika
Erika

The article basically read like "those Japanese people are so weird and exotic" (accentuated by the Orientalist photos). Which is pretty much every article written by non-Japanese folk, ever. Honestly as a Japanese-American, it depresses me. Did you know that we're actually pretty normal people? And yes, we're *individuals* with independent thoughts and feelings.

Cassidy
Cassidy

Kept waiting for the "Jewish stuff," given the title of the article, but aside from hairy legs (and no one every commented on her nose??) I don't see what was the point of calling herself a Jewish geisha.

Kept thinking there was going to be a Russian connection somehow, since "Jewesses" in czarist Russia staffed the brothels.

mg
mg

What an inane article. I especially like the line "Then came some mystery fish, which tasted so richly of the ocean, they were undoubtedly endangered." How would you know? Is there anything about life in general that you enjoy, or are you simply the "PC Police" for everyone else's existence. Sad. Sad. Woman.

elcalato
elcalato

Im not a professional writer or for that matter any type of writer. I think whoever wrote this article was using the reference to the endangered fish to give a sense of the forbidden....like something sort of dangerous. I mean to be going out with a stranger under her circumstances could have all sorts of outcomes....

Cassidy
Cassidy

Yeah, I thought it was rather fine writing on her part.

ET
ET

The Voice is no longer relevant.

Sad demise

Cassidy
Cassidy

Well, I did rather enjoy this article, even though I was hoping for more (like those lonely losers profiled?), but I agree with you in general: the Voice is no longer relevant.

zqxz
zqxz

Finally (48 hours) time limit to buy.

LV Muffler $ 5.99LV Bags $ 19.9 LV Wallet $ 6.55Armani Glasses $ 5.99LV Belt $ 6.9

Buy addresses---- tntn.usTips (48 hours after the special product is invalid)

zqxz
zqxz

Finally (48 hours) time limit to buy.

LV Muffler $ 5.99LV Bags $ 19.9 LV Wallet $ 6.55Armani Glasses $ 5.99LV Belt $ 6.9

Buy addresses---- tntn.usTips (48 hours after the special product is invalid)

Bbradley
Bbradley

BORING. This was very West-meets-East and offered nothing but a one-dimensional report of the job, which is a very common form of entertainment in Asia. And like any customer service job, it has your good and bad customers. Hooters waitresses are far more demeaned than hostesses.

Theplaceforjunk
Theplaceforjunk

I learned that there is a bar where women are paid to increase drink orders. And everyone there was dumb or weird (expect the writer and maybe some of the other workers). And that is it.

NightOwl
NightOwl

Sad and funny illustration of Human Condition, Arigato Victoria-san.

elcalato
elcalato

I read this story expecting to be titillated or at least get a cheap thrill from reading about the sexual escapades of a working girl in the escort business. Girlfriend experience? Please, this is more like...I dont even know how I would even describe this. Im sure there is more that goes on in here then the writer lets on. This is more like an advertisement for this establishment....I think Im actually going to check it out. The writer didnt even mention if the the girls working there are pretty or not.

Msue
Msue

There is no "sexual thing" whatsoever you idiot.Girls are prretier than your sister. And please don't come if you don't have enough money to buy a bottle + cover charge.We don't have coors light.-ex geisha

elcalato
elcalato

I think you didnt get what I was trying to say. The article itself was presented in a way to make it seem like it was about someone working in the escort business.

Qwitzach
Qwitzach

korea is not in southeast asia. it is in east asia.

Sakara
Sakara

soon to be a cable tv movie, no doubt.

Without Pie
Without Pie

Who Else Wants To Get A $829 iPad.2 3G For $121.37. Or a $1799.00 Macbook-Pro For Under $217.81? Forget Retail Stores With Their Jacked Up Prices. I Already Sold A Bunch Of Stuff For Half Of What People Would Have Paid At Retail Stores, But I Am Getting Stuff For Much Cheaper Than That. I Use Two Sites, Both Are Good, BidsGo.cömAnd BidsWave.cöm

Clint
Clint

I was in Naganno Japan and for fifty bucks extra they give you a blow job at the end. For real

Cassidy
Cassidy

By Jewish girls? I like Jewish girls the most.

 
Loading...