Eight and a half of my twelve years working experience were in the sex-for-money market. The last three and a half I have worked in the so-called "straight" sector. I've never really been able to separate the two working experiences. Though they are vastly different, they are both firmly rooted in the same money market.
My first job was after school in a drugstore in Walsenburg, a small town in Colorado. My mother was a known prostitute. I lived openly with my boyfriend, which earned me a "bad reputation." Girls from school asked me to get birth control pills for them, but I refused because I hate their hypocrisy. The job was not too bad—I took advantage of whatever fringe benefits I could create. The handyman took advantage of every opportunity he could create to trap me against the wall and cop a feel. He intimidated me, but I always managed to get away, and I quit soon after graduation anyway.
I "developed" early, and had a regulation "nudie" magazine type body. Since I had a "bad rep," men were always after me. Even my brother couldn't resist. When he came back home from his stint in the army and found me all grown-up and openhearted, he raped me at my other brother's house. I had gone there because he wanted to talk about my future and the possibility of going to college.
Some friends of mine lived in the mountains near Redwing, Colorado. I visited them and decided to accompany them to NYC. After arriving there, my friends and I managed to acquire funds, so I didn't think about working. One day while out walking on the lower east side, I saw a place called the Pink Orchid. I love orchids, so I went inside and met the owner, Danny. He was the cutest red-headed boy I've ever seen. With him were several young, pretty women. They explained to me that it was a nude modeling studio, and that I could be paid for being photographed in the nude. The women further explained to me that I could make tips by having sex with the customers. Excluding the relationship I'd had with my boyfriend, my sexual experiences thus far indicated that my sexuality was going to be taken advantage of anyway, so getting paid for sex was a form of vindication. I immediately doubled the house prices at the Pink Orchid. The other women followed suit, and we were all happy about that. I still remember one of the men who frequented the place. He had a twisted penis and ejaculated from the side. Most of my friends were involved in various forms of the underground economy. I didn't ask them what they did for money, and they didn't ask me. When I returned to Colorado, however, friends in Denver were horrified when I told them what I was doing. They persuaded me to get a straight job and I was hired by a chiropractor. I didn't have the skills for office work, but he gave me lots of time to do the paperwork. He had big plans for me to become a chiropractor and gave me free treatments for a back injury. The rest of his time he spent chasing me around the table. Soon it seemed ridiculous to receive minimum wage for what he had in mind, so I gave up my future as a chiropractor and went back to "The Life" as it's called by those who live it.
The Adult Literary Guild All-Girl-ShoeShine-Parlour, Pornographic Book Store and Nude Modeling Studio was my next employer. We shined shoes for 50 cents plus tips. We wore short skirts, and a mirror behind us allowed the customers to see what we had to offer. Often, the shoe shine would entice them into a "modeling" session with one of us. Between the modeling and the shoe shines, I made big bucks. I had a few tricks of my own as well, like Maurice, who refused to take out his false teeth when he gave me head. I nearly died laughing at those teeth clicking between my legs. Once someone arranged a "date" for me who turned out to be one of my sister's high school boyfriends. As far as the transaction was concerned, it didn't matter that we had practically grown up together—he paid his money, and he got his goods. Back in New York, I tried selling hot dogs on Wall St. People would come to stare at the novelty of a woman selling hot dogs but took their business to the man up the street who resented the "competition. " (He actually chased me down the street once. It's hard to run fast while pushing a hot dog cart.)
Undaunted, I got another job in the Wall St. district, at a place called Maiden Lane Massage. While working there, I acquired my first and only pimp. At first, I didn't think of it that way. Certainly, he never assumed the role of procurer, but did encourage me to make more money. So I went to work for Caesar's Retreat, a posh midtown massage parlour where I made up to $700.00 per day. I shared the money freely with Lee because I am a generous person. In my line of work, I felt a "real relationship" was impossible since it couldn't fit the "you and only you" category, which to me defined a "real relationship." Besides, I didn't have the time. Lee understood that. He held me at night sometimes, when I needed that. When I became ill and was hospitalized, he took all the money I had and disappeared. I heal quickly though, and in two weeks I was back at Caesar's Retreat and began my own private practice.
Private practice is risky; you have only yourself to rely on. There is a network of tricks who use call girls, and soon my name and number got around. One of my regulars was a rabbi who liked to be whipped. I started getting calls from a man who threatened he "knew all about me," and gave me the option of spending the weekend with him or in jail. Around the same time, my landlord alerted me that a couple of detectives had been looking for me.
I conferred with my friend Kathy and we decided to head for Las Vegas and the big time. Neither of us had experience at picking up people because we were used to having them come to us. The massage parlour scene was dismal, and there were places nearby where it was legal and cheap. We packed everything in Kathy's old Cadillac and drove to L.A. where we hired on with an "outcall Escort Service." We decided to work in pairs for safety, so when I got a call to join Kathy at the Hyatt Hotel, I figured the guy wanted two girls or something. When I arrived there, I was immediately arrested. My friend Kathy was on probation, and had talked the cops into letting me take the bust instead. I got bailed out and went to stay with friends. Kathy disappeared.
By this time, I was exhausted and my body felt like it was falling apart. I decided that I had to get out of the business. To make it easy on myself, I got a job as a receptionist in a massage parlour. I knew that no one would give me a hard time. no typing was involved, and I could share my life with like-minded people. A man who often came in recommended that I be a masseuse. I told him the truth, that I was happily involved with someone, and four months pregnant. He didn't care— he wanted me, and one night on the late shift, he came in with a long knife and got what he wanted. He was very brutal, and complications set in with my pregnancy. I lost the baby shortly afterward. (See “Your Knife in My Life” from issue #18)
My next attempt to make a living was as a stripper. I worked at the Coronet on La Cienega Boulevard. I transferred to San Francisco for two weeks, and worked at what used to be the Follies Theatre on 16th St. It was winter, and there was no heat. The basement dressing room walls were cold and damp. I contracted a mild case of pleurisy and told the manager that I wanted to go back to L.A. He warned me that if I broke my contract, I would never work for them again. I left anyway and got a job at the Ivar Theater which I eventually ended up managing. Actually, we all managed the place, interchanging jobs and otherwise supporting one another.
The manager didn't object because our self-management freed him from responsibility. When he argued with our decisions (like hiring a black woman as comedienne-MC, or hiring a 50-yr. old stripper) we voted him down. When someone in the audience started jerking off, the dancer would signal the projection booth and whoever was running the spotlight would focus it on him.
I became acquainted with a tour guide who brought groups in. Plying me with the familiar argument: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?", he introduced me to a gift shop owner who gave me a job in his office. It was a Japanese-run shop, and as such, the working environment was characterized by teamwork and co-operation. None of the men ever hit on me, and we all worked hard together. I began to feel that perhaps I could make it in the straight world after all. I learned to be a bookkeeper by trial and error. Then my boss got married and his wife took my place.
Armed with my new skills, I went to work for an insurance brokerage. My grasp of the work to be done was very rudimentary. I struggled along, trying to cope with this new environment: typewriters clicking, computers beeping and humming. I cried nearly every day for the first month. I finally got the hang of it though, and I did my work and tried to look happy about it. (A man who had graciously undertaken to train me as whore extraordinaire had informed me that it was most important to appear to enjoy what I was doing. ) I tried to be an exemplary worker, but could not reconcile this to the rage that was growing inside me. I constantly suffered from migraines and I felt very self-destructive, feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't good enough. I gave notice and began feeling better.
After a vacation from the work world, I joined the temporary workforce. During this time, I went to Ascot Personnel Services and met Leslie, who was eager to find the "right position" for me. When asked what I really wanted to do, I answered "Write poetry." She reacted by giving me a typing test. Looking me up and down, she asked me if I would be willing to spend $300.00 on an "interviewing costume." I envisioned a sequined G-string and fringed bra and went home and cried.
Without Leslie's help, I got hired at another insurance brokerage. While working there, I noticed that one of the men who used to sit in the front row of the Palace hung out on the corner. He clearly recognized me, and though we never spoke, the encounter was an intense one. His presence reminded me that I had never fit in anywhere—neither in the crowd rushing down Kearny St., nor on stage.
The working world is an alien one, whether exchanging sex for money or time for money. Life itself becomes a commodity. I've tried to acquire the work ethic. I've devoted myself to my work, done overtime without pay, furiously entered data, cooperated until I was drained.
Despite my efforts, I grew alienated and withdrawn, in the same way that I "withdrew" sensation from my body when I was in The Life. The toll extracted from my body, my heart and my mind has been the same alienation, rage, shame. When I hawk Processed World on the streets, people often angrily ask what alternative I have to Wage Slavery. I always tell the truth (honest politics) that I don't know of any. This is America, where we can all grow up to be what we want to be. We've all heard the story about so-and-so, who started out shining shoes and is now a millionaire ... well-meaning, charitable types suggest doing "something you really like" for money.
Step right up folks, she's spinning gossamer webs of poetry right out of her very being, be the first on the block, get 'em while they're hot ........
—by Linda Thomas, with thanks to the Processed World staff, for their Truly Human Contact (With me).