Archives For 1990’s

 

It was 102 degrees the day the air conditioning crapped out on our tour bus. Mid August, somewhere between West Virginia and North Carolina.

20 writers trapped on a scorching hot bus. We drank to block out the oppressive heat. We were off the next day, so we showed no restraint. Not that we ever showed the slenderest thread of restraint.

It was the 90’s. We were in our 20’s. Do the math.

 

In the mid-90’s, spoken word poetry was HOT. The in-your-face nature of it, attacking gender, racial and economic social inequity, was perfect for that time. Which is why Perry Farrell decided to add a Third Stage to Lollapalooza for spoken word.

 

Slam Poetry

Slam Poetry is spoken word on steroids. A brutal poetry competition where judges quantify your talent with numbers on cardboard signs.

The New York City slam venue was a ruthless arena. You were heckled mercilessly the minute you stepped on stage, and if you wanted to stay on, you’d better be good.

I was.

Skinny little girl with a big fat mouth. I was featured in a documentary about the NYC slam scene and won a highly coveted spot on that ‘94 tour.

 

Lolla’s 1994 lineup was stellar. Nirvana. Green Day. Beastie Boys. George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars. Cypress Hill. A Tribe Called Quest.

In April, Kurt Cobain put a shotgun to his head, and Nirvana was replaced by The Smashing Pumpkins.

A massive let down.

 

Tequila at Twelve

We opened the Third Stage at noon, blasting War’s “Low Rider.” I got things going, dancing onstage in my Lolla uniform, daisy dukes and combat boots. By 12:30, I was pouring bottom shelf tequila into the mouths of teenage babes from the jug I kept behind the sound booth.

We performed several sets of poetry a day. Our teen audience, enraptured by the spoken word scene, stalked us between sets, asking for autographs. It was heady stuff.

 

The downside was, the Third Stage was sponsored by MTV. We were expected to run moronic crowd participation skits, like “The Dating Game” and “Oprahpalooza.”  As our youthful rebellious response to the commercialism of MTV we decided to jack up the skits.

 

Girl-on-Girl Porn

I ran the Dating Game.

I’d pick an extremely hot, intoxicated Lolita to be the “Bachelorette” on stage, along with three guys. Right before she chose one, I’d yell, “Forget these losers! Pick ME!”

Then I’d start making out with her. I had a built-in radar that always found a girl who dug it. We’d end up rolling around on the stage, grinding and groping each other while the audience went completely bat shit crazy.

Word got around that there was live girl-on-girl porn on the Third Stage at 4:00. By mid-summer, it was one of the hottest tickets on the tour.

Thank God there were no responsible adults around.

 

 

 

Rock Stars and Poets and Bears, Oh My

The cool thing about Lollapalooza is that everyone, musicians, roadies and poets, milled about backstage together, ate together, partied together. Gradually, most of the musicans came to the Third Stage to check us out. As the tour wore on, some of us collaborated. A horn player from Parliament Funkadelic dug me and my poetry. He would come to the Third Stage to accompany my performances.

The dark, rich sounds of his trumpet wove around my words, letting the audience feel both the story in my poetry, and the story of how he and I felt about each other. Those seductive, late afternoon renditions of my spoken word were the pinnacle of my performing career.

For many, for most, it was the summer of love.

 

Okay. It was a total fuck fest.

On tour, everyone’s single. You never knew which musician would wake up on our bus, crawling out of the coffin-like sleep bunks. I won’t name names. I’m a star-fucker, not a name-dropper.

 

 

Some of my favorite tour moments took place after we closed the third stage at 6:00.

Every evening, I raced across the venue to Main stage to catch Parliment Funkadelic and worship at the altar of George Clinton. Clinton was an icon who dominated my R&B project girl childhood. I don’t get stupid about musicians, but I’d watch the P. Funk All Stars from backstage and fangirl the fuck out.

 

After, we’d, head to the Beastie Boys’ trailer where they set up a basketball court outside and played as their pre-show warm up. My horn player played against them every night. The Beastie’s were dope white boys from Queens, and I was fond of them, but I took perverse pleasure in watching my horn player stomp their asses across the court.

We drove through the night to the next city. No showers, no sleep, no exercise, no healthy food. Touring was grueling, so we bolstered ourselves with alcohol and drugs. We only checked into a hotel if we played the same city for more than a day. Then we had the luxury of a shower, but still, no one slept. With all of us set loose at a hotel for the night, neither did any of the other guests.

I chronicled the tour by talking into a hand-held tape recorder which I carried with me everywhere. I have the entire experience on tape. I recently moved, and unearthed the whole collection of cassettes.

I can’t bear to listen to them.

 

Returning Hero

I came back to New York victorious.

Clips from interviews and performances had been splattered across MTV. We had crossed over, melded performance poetry with rock and roll.

One MTV news clip was 10 seconds of me, my flaming red, 90’s hair bigger than my body, standing on the Beastie’s basketball court. All full of myself, and lots of tequila, I proclaimed “Spoken word is ROCK AND ROLL POETRY!” At the moment, my horn player stole the ball from Ad-Roc and made a running layup, and I screamed, “That’s what I’m TALKING about!”

It was played repeatedly.

I had offers to do articles. Books. I had performances scheduled. My phone rang incessantly. Managers wanted me. Agents wanted me.

Unfortunately-

I had acquired a bad habit. Without the tour, without the whole carnival of lights, sound and music…

My 10 seconds of fame so overwhelming, I could not handle it…

Or knew I couldn’t sustain it?

Something.

I lost myself.

 

I missed deadlines. Blew off performances, or showed up so high on smack, I’d stumble through a shit show and think I was spectacular.

I pulled the phone out of the wall, for days at a time. Heroin makes you antisocial.

A popular female journalist (I’m not going to say her name; she’s still around) interviewed me for a downtown New York City weekly newspaper (yes, that one). I showed up high, junkie girlfriend in tow. To the bemusement of the journalist, we spent the interview nodding off, waking up to bicker about my writing, the meaning of art, and who used up the last of our drugs.

The photographer snapped a picture of me asleep at the café table, coffee cup raised to my lips. Instead of writing about the spoken word movement, the journalist focused on downtown druggie nihilism masquerading as art. She made me the poster child for 1990’s drug-addled self-sabotage in a hatchet piece called “How to Destroy Your Writing Career.”

They never ran that story. I faded, mercifully, into obscurity.

 

Most of the poets I knew from that tour are successful writers.

I never discuss it. People who know me today don’t even know it ever happened.

Maybe it didn’t.

 

 

When I first wrote this story in 2013, I ended it with an homage to the genius of Kurt Cobain. I quoted “All Apologies” and loftily asserted that I needed to forgive myself for squandering my opportunity.

Five years later, I see the truth. The story that journalist wrote IS my story. I am a master of self sabotage. I fear success more than failure.

There is nothing else in the world that I want to do more than write, yet it brings up every fear I have about not being good enough.

I wrote an essay about mental illness, and when I was honored for that essay at a writing conference, I was ironically so anxiety-ridden I never left my hotel room.

Paradoxically, I see myself as both magnificent and inadequate. If I achieve any level of success as a writer, it creates such cognitive dissonance that I need to massage my psyche back into alignment with drugs, with sex, with bad decisions.

I am the Queen of Bad Decisions – I may go down, but it will be in beautiful fiery flames of my own making. I get to control my own failure, rather than let it blindside me.

The book that lives inside me goes unwritten. Surely I would be exposed to the writing community as a fake. The belief that I am a fraud is called Imposter Syndrome. It (along with massive Daddy Issues) has bought my therapist her beach house, but I’m certain it will be rooted in me until the day I die.

 

Here I feel safe. Here, I have a small, fiercely devoted group of followers, and your love for me and my words does not scare me. It’s a sweet miracle that every time I hit “Publish,” there you are.

Thank you.

Talk to me.
All this self-awareness has given me a giant migraine, but I’m listening.

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cults

 

Underneath all this jaded New York cynicism beats the heart of a girl who wants to believe in magic.

I’m an easy target for a “get enlightened quick” fix. The years I lived in New York I was easily swept up into anything I thought would raise my consciousness.

I tried Reiki, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, chakra balancing, craniosacral therapy, kinesiology. I got Rolfed. I tried Neurofeedback and Ayurvedic medicine and grape therapy. I sage-smudged my house and worked with crystals. I got colonics. I joined a Lesbian Wiccan coven.

And I was an active member of a well known cult back in the 90’s. I didn’t KNOW it was a cult. You think it’s this really cool group of super-enlightened beings who are helping you achieve your highest goals. Until you end up brainwashed, broke, and dancing naked in the Poconos with several hundred similarly lost souls.

Yeah, I’ll get to the naked part. Calm your tits.

 

Not all cults are led by notorious quasi-religious fanatics who order hundreds of followers to commit suicide via cyaninde-lace Koolaid. Some cult leaders are dynamic, charismatic individuals who are brilliant enough to tap into your most profound needs.

 

An extremely talented actress friend of mine enrolled me in the Course.  She was the star of a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway one-woman show, and I yearned for her confidence and success.

These LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) groups insist that they can’t explain the program; you can only understand it if you come to a group meeting. At the meeting you are hit with intense, unrelenting pressure to enroll.  All the participants rave about their breakthroughs and personal transformations.

All for just $500 and a weekend of your life. They didn’t mention stealing your soul.

I signed up.

The Course is designed to deconstruct your personality and rebuild it – based around continued participation in the organization.

You spend the weekend in a giant room, with a hundred other participants, plus staff member and graduates of the course who are assisting. The Leader conducts lectures and group exercises and “breaks.”

The “breaks” are anything but. You mill around and interact with the staff. They challenge your beliefs and force you to examine your childhood and close relationships. They frequently grow confrontational and belittle you. They press you to release pent-up emotions.

And they torment you to agree to enroll in more programs.

The room is locked. Bathroom breaks are sporadic. You are given only one meager meal a day. There are strict rules about talking. There is a LOT of screaming and yelling. The course starts very early, and continues into late at night, for three days.

You are experiencing sleep deprivation, hunger, and fear. It’s a potent mixture that leaves you ripe for brainwashing.

The Leader was a charismatic man who attracted followers for decades. He was a New Age charlatan with a knack for convincing people to spend endless hours volunteering to spread his teachings, getting people to pay to take the ever-mutating courses and services, and persuading countless women who had fallen under his spell to have sex with him.

Ew. No, this I did not do.

People attended the Course in droves. The majority of course participants really experienced the exultation of a strong emotional release, or even had a spiritual/mystical experience. And in a room packed full of people in search of the Promised Land, the energy of hope is contagious.

After I graduated The Course I embraced the organization with the fanaticism of a religious zealot. I enrolled everyone I was close to. I spent most of my free time at the local Center. I spoke in their jargon. At their urging, I minimized contact with people outside the group. I preferred the company of those who believed in the unlimitedness of the human experience.

And I turned a blind eye to the horrors within. The people “on staff” were made to work 70 hours a week with no pay – just room and board. They had to pay slavish detail to the minutiae of the Leader’s demands, including organizing his belongings using a ruler for precision.

They lived with very little food and sleep – so their defenses were always weakened and they were easily manipulated. It was a New Age work camp, with chores and activities to keep them occupied virtually every hour of the day. If anyone wanted to deviate outside the Course, or thought about leaving the program, they were attacked en masse, and bullied until they realized how foolish it was to think they could accomplish anything outside the group.

 

 

Over a two-year period, I participated in, and assisted at, many advanced courses and workshops.

Eventually, I did the behemoth of the organization – “The Intensive.”

Several hundred people travel to a deserted sleep away camp in the Poconos for a week of pure torture. It’s Outward Bound, liberally laced with psychological abuse.

They tell you it might be the most grueling experience you may ever endure. They claim it’s so they can prepare you for all life’s horrific events.

We had to wake up at 5 am. We were forced to take ice cold showers – and there were shower monitors standing just outside each shower stall making sure you were fully under that glacial spray.

We had to do cardiovascular exercise for one hour each day. We were served very healthy, but tiny portions, of almost exclusively raw foods. We had to complete workshops and group exercises and physical challenges. We were broken into groups and encouraged to challenge one another on our weaknesses and obstacles and negative thinking.

Along with the lectures and confrontations and lots of screaming were mandatory death-defying outdoor stunts. We had to climb treacherous mountains. Rappel down steep hills.

My personal nightmare was completing the Tyrolean Traverse across a rocky ravine. We were harnessed to a rope that was fastened between two mountainsides, and with our bodies horizontal, had to pull ourselves from one side to the other, hand over hand, over that yawning abyss.

I am afraid of heights. I won’t even go on a Ferris wheel. 

Despite the complex system of knots and pulleys that (supposedly) kept you from plunging to your death, I was convinced I would die. I froze right in the middle, and I as dangled in the air and listened to the roaring water below, I screamed,

“HOLY FUCKING SHIT MOTHERFUCKERS I HATE YOU

YOUR MOTHER SUCKS COCKS IN HELL

MOTHERFUCKERS GET ME THE FUCK DOWN FROM HEREEEEEE

FUCK

FUCK

FUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!”

I can still hear my profanities echoing through the mountains.

 

One night, while we were in our groups doing some bizarre personal transformation exercise, I noticed several assistants building fires in all the indoor fire pits. As the room gradually heated up, I thought to myself, “They’re gonna make us get naked.”

They did.

We all had to take off our clothes, and one a time, stand in front of our group. If there was a point to this exercise, it escapes me.

At this point, several people left. I remember one woman was doing the Intensive with her son, and she adamantly refused to stand naked in front of him.

 

Each night of the Intensive ended with a dance party. On that night, people began taking off their clothes. We had all seen each other naked, so it just…happened. Hundreds of people, dancing naked, whooping like wild Indians.

It was liberating yet scary, empowering yet vulnerable and totally, totally joyous.

 

One afternoon, back at the center, I saw something that disturbed me greatly.

I was working in the kitchen. The staff forgot I was there. In a room behind the kitchen, the Leader was furious at his staff and screaming at them.

And then he began to hit them. They were in a row in front of him, and you could see that they had been trained to take his blows without fighting back. He hit them savagely, punching them in the face and stomach. Men and women alike.

I fled from there. I was confused and sickened. I discussed it with my boyfriend. All the other doubts that I had pushed away, surfaced. It was time for me to leave.

They did not let me go without a fight. They called me over and over, for weeks. They wrote letters. They came to my apartment.

I contacted other people who had left the organization, and they confirmed all my worst suspicions. The leader was just another charismatic, greedy New Age imposter. Although he had facilitated many breakthroughs, he had done so accidentally while seeking his main objective – Power and Money.

 

I did not return to my prior life easily. I was constantly agitated, sad and disoriented. The world around me looked strange, almost as if I was on LSD.

I had to get deprogrammed.

That’s what it takes to reverse the brainwashing of a cult. I had to go to exit counseling – counseling with a therapist who specializes in helping to loosen the bonds of cult.

I saw my deprogrammer for about 2 months. About a month in, the hallucinatory after-effect of sleep deprivation, social fear, and reinforcement from all the groupthink wore off and I felt like “me” again.

 

I don’t announce to people, “Hi! I’m Samara and I was in a cult!” Because I didn’t recognize it as an established cult, like the Hare Krishnas, and ask, “Can I please join you and dance around airports?”

I was in pursuit of something higher, and I got lost along the way.

I’m still a little lost. I’m still finding my way.

But never again will I surrender all my power to a group, to find it.

 

 

Have you, or someone close to you, ever belonged to a cult?
What other crazy things have you done in the name of enlightenment?
Talk to me. I’m listening.

0

 

Debby and I were now unofficially living together.

She often disappeared, sometimes for days at a time. At first I used to question her. But she always shut me down, and I soon realized I would have to accept this.

No doubt she was off nodding with her junked up punk friends.

She was deep into the hardcore heroin lifestyle. I was a drug dilettante at best. If I did indulge with her, I usually snorted it.

I hated that bruised inner arm look that junkies sported; always having to wear long sleeves, even in the summer.

Of course, years later, I would stop caring about those bruises – unless they signified a collapsed vein and a hunt for a new needle target on my body.

 

I really loved working on 51st street. This group of women became my little dysfunctional posse. It only took me a week before it hit me like Ike did Tina –

these women were THE poster children for “Daddy Issues.” They had enough absentee father issues to fill several Lifetime Movies of the Week.

They were strong, independent, tough talking but underneath, fragile. They either looked to men to validate them – or mistrusted and rejected men altogether.

Sounded familiar…

 

There were some repugnant aspects to the job.

We did receive our share of degenerates calling.  After all, we were advertising in Screw Magazine, the preeminent and spectacularly tasteless hard-core porn newspaper.

I learned to hang up on the heavy breathers, who were obviously calling so they could masturbate while I described “a leggy blonde with D cup breasts.”

And every few weeks, I received at least one heartbreaking phone call from a wife, denouncing me as a slut and a whore.

After calmly explaining that I was just a receptionist, I would suggest that this was an issue best discussed with her husband.

I tried to be as consoling as possible.

What woman wants to find out that not only is her husband unfaithful, but a whoremonger?

I reassured them that it had NOTHING to do with them and everything to do with the fact that men are dogs. And had I known he was married, I NEVER would have booked the appointment. (This part was a lie; most of the clients were married. But these women were usually crying.)

 

 

And then there were the customers who wanted to book a session with ME. Chiefly, because I WASN’T available.

He’d chat with all these sexed up women, who were pouting or giving him seductive eyes.

I’d ask, “Okay, so and so. Who would you like to see?”

He’d look right past Kathy, her D cup breasts spilling over a leopard bra that her tangerine baby doll dress barely covered, her long gorgeous legs clad in thigh high stockings that ended in leopard fuck-me pumps.

And look at me, In black jeans, baggy black Ramones tee shirt, Converse Hi Tops.

“You,” and point at me.

“I’m not available.”

“I only want to see YOU.”

Did I forget to mention the geeky glasses I wore?

What a perverse thing the male psyche is.

 

One busy Thursday, Kathy, Nicki and Gail were all on the schedule. Those were my favorite days, when all my girlfriends were working. The shift flew by, with us making wisecracks and acting silly in between the steady flow of customers.

A client who’d been there before came in to see Kathy. He was a big, beefy looking Irish guy and he brought 2 friends who I thought looked familiar. They had a drink in the reception area, and all three disappeared into bedrooms with a girl.

After a few minutes, Kathy came out.

“He doesn’t have enough money. He wants to go to an ATM machine and come back.”

“Tell him to put it on a credit card.”

“He doesn’t want it showing up on his card. He’s married.”

Most of them were. It’s not like the statement listed “51st Whorehouse.” It was a dummy entertainment corporation. Still, he wasn’t the first married customer to be skittish about using his credit card.

But no one had ever come in and left to go get more money.

I immediately became VERY nervous.

“Was he naked when you discussed this?”

“Yes! Of course!”

 

Although I gave rates on the phone, money was never discussed or changed hands until a client was “completely comfortable.”

Theoretically, undercover police officers are not allowed to be naked. It’s much easier to construct a case for entrapment if the police office is nude.

But now he was going to get dressed and leave and come back?

I heard him in the hallway. Now his two friends were out of their rooms, as well.

Did all three of them come inadequately fixed for cash?

Something was VERY WRONG.

My first thought was, I’ve GOT to hide the session log. I was shoving it in my bag when the three of them came stomping in the reception area.

 

“WE’RE THE POLICE, AND THIS IS A RAID!”

Could this be a practical joke? Please let this be a fucked up prank.

One of them flashed his badge at me and said,

“There was an offer of prostitution made here. You’re under arrest!”

I answered him,

“I didn’t make anybody any offer of prostitution.”

He answered angrily, “What do you think is going on in all those rooms?”

I answered, “Those are consenting adults.”

 

He became enraged and yelled in my face, “You’re under arrest! Now face the wall and SHUT UP!”

They stomped through the townhouse, snatching the women from the rooms.

They sat them in the reception area huddled together. Several of them were crying.

I would NOT cry.

I looked at Nicki. Her face was a dispassionate mask.

I set my face the same way.

 

An officer led me into the kitchen and handcuffed me. They interrogated the two clients who had been in session when the raid started. They were issued tickets and sent on their way.

Now they began to lay siege to the townhouse. They tore through the desk, through the closets where the girls kept their street clothes and belongings, flinging things every which way.

Watching them unnecessarily ransack our place made me more angry than scared.

I got mouthy. Demanded to see a warrant. Challenged them as to what evidence they had.

They ignored me and continued to tear the place apart.

 

A female officer accompanied the girls into the bedroom, where they were allowed to change into their street clothes. And then, we were led out, handcuffed in pairs.

I was handcuffed to Nicki. Thank God. She said “Well, if I have to be handcuffed to someone, I’m glad it’s YOU.”

I was relieved Debby wasn’t working that day. She’d never survive a day in jail, with her heroin habit.

 

The back of a police car is quite odd looking. There are no handles on the doors or any window mechanisms. There’s a grill separating you from the front seat.

It’s basically a cage on wheels.

We were driven to the local precinct, where they fingerprinted us, and took all our belongings. We had to remove our belts.

We were allowed our one phone call. I dialed my boyfriend’s number and got his answering machine.

Of course.

 

I was put into a postage stamp sized cell. I tried to stay calm, despite the close quarters. One officer had told us we’d be processed, arraigned, and probably out the next day. I wondered how I would survive the night in this tiny airless cell.

I needn’t have worried.

After a few hours, we were led outside and put into a van. We looked at one another questioningly.

Finally, I asked,”Where are we going?”

The officer driving said over his shoulder, “Central Booking.”

My head went numb.

Central Booking?

The Tombs.

This was a notorious detention center in downtown Manhattan.

People got KILLED in the Tombs.

 

Bianca, a petite curvy brunette, started to weep. I comforted her.

“Shh, it’s okay. We’ll be out by tomorrow.”

The officer sitting up in the front turned slightly, and said to me,

They will. Not you. You were just charged with promoting prostitution.

That’s a felony charge.”

 

My heart stopped.

Oh, dear God. I’m fucked.

WHAT?

These women were fucking 12 guys a day, and I’m a felon? I’m a goddamned receptionist.

 

At Central Booking, we were taken into a narrow courtyard, then led through a tiny armored booth, and then along a maze of concrete and poorly lit corridors.

We were led down one flight of stairs, then another, then another, then another. I was beginning to understand why it was called “The Tombs.”

 

The holding cell was a large room, about twenty feet long, fifteen feet wide. Along one side were metal bars. In one corner was a filthy toilet and sink.

A shiny metal bench ran alongside the rest of the perimeter. The walls were a putrid light green under glaring flourescent light.

 

It was filled with an assortment of 40 of the scariest looking women I had ever seen.

Some of them didn’t even look like women.

This was not like any female “sexy inmate” porn.

They were filthy, and beat up looking. They stunk like garbage. The other prostitutes were skanky streetwalkers.

There was one fairly clean, almost presentable woman in there.

I later found out she had been arrested trying to sell her baby for drugs.

 

After the corrections officer slammed the door shut, we stood huddled together while the Tomb’s finest looked us up and down.

The hard-bitten wise-cracking tone I’d adopted with the policeman disappeared, and was replaced by

 COMPLETE TERROR.

I thought I was such a hot shot, playing fast and loose with the law.

But now- I imagined myself beaten. Stabbed.

Just last week there had been an article in the paper about a woman whose face was completely shattered against the very bench I was now looking at. By another inmate of the Tombs.

The Tombs is a place with signs posted to visitors that say:

POSSESSION
OF
CONTRABAND
(WEAPONS)
RAZORS KNIVES SHANKS SHIVS BULLETS
And any other weapon capable of causing injury and/or
otherwise endangering the safety of the institution
WILL RESULT IN YOUR IMMEDIATE ARREST

 

Who was going to help me now?

Debby was probably off high, somewhere.

My boyfriend hadn’t answered the phone.

My family knew nothing of this job, and there was NO WAY I would ever each out to them.

I. Was. Dead.

 

Next week: The Conclusion! Phone Girl in a Whorehouse, Part 4.

Click here for Part 1 and Part 2.

 

Have you ever gotten yourself into bad trouble? Or been arrested? 
Talk to me. I’m listening. 

 

The most inaccurate depiction of prostitution in the history of the world

The most inaccurate depiction of prostitution in the history of the world

 

The job of a phone girl in a brothel is basically a sort of sub-madam.

Clients, either established or new, would call. Once they arrived, I would let them in, pour them a drink, and seat them in main lounge, where they could chat for a few minutes before deciding who they would like to have a session with.

We called them “parties.”

I also had to keep the place stocked with alcohol, make sure all the laundry was picked up and delivered daily, collect weekly doctor’s notices from the girls, make sure the supply closet was stocked with tissues, baby oil, condoms, etc.

The clients, were normal, run-of-the-mill men. They weren’t unsanitary freaks incapable of attracting women. They were pleasant. Some were extremely handsome.

They were men who did not wish to ask their wives or girlfriends to fulfill some of their kinky fantasies.

It’s complicated to go home to the wife in Scarsdale and say, “honey, tonight I’d like you to pee on me. Afterwards, please dress me up in a giant diaper and spank me.”

I did find some of their predilections unnerving at first. We had a couple of dominatrixes on the premises, and I could never fathom the male masochistic inclination.

 

I occasionally got ensnared into a party.  Strictly as a voyeur, and reluctantly. If it was an “emergency” and everyone else was occupied.

“He wants you to watch while I stick my stiletto heel up his ass. PLEASE! He’ll pay you $50. There’s no one else available.”

The first few times, I was completely freaked out.

Then, it just seemed absurd.

 

Once, one of the dominatrix’s was running late. Her client had already arrived, and he was getting antsy. She insisted I “get him started.”

Even on the phone, she scared the snot out of me.

I looked in the closet where she kept her sadistic accoutrement. And shut it, quickly.

I ended up making him crawl around the room with a garbage pail on his head.

That was the best I could come up with.

 

I knew what I was doing was illegal. It appealed to my sense of non-conformity.

At least, it was an honest admission of being dishonest, as opposed to more covertly dishonest professions. Like being a car salesman.

Having grown up in a house with all brothers, I also enjoyed the sense of female solidarity. I gradually bonded with the girls, and became close with four of them.

Nikki was Queen Bee of 51st Street. She was in her mid 40’s. Strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes; a kind of luminous sensuality.

Men of all ages desired her. I never quite understood why guys in their 20’s wanted a woman in her 40’s.

Now that I’m her age, I…kind of understand.

She was married to Joe, who accepted her profession. Some husbands were like that.

They had a gorgeous apartment on the Upper East Side, where I spent a lot of time.

Their favorite hobby was doing massive amounts of cocaine all night while playing bizarre porno movies in the background.

Our all-time favorite was “I Spit On Your Grave.” One of the characters wore glasses, and when he was pounding away at women, closeups of his face showed there was no glass in the glasses.

This seemed hilarious at 5 am on an 8-ball of cocaine.

“No expense was spared in the making of this movie.”

 

Kathy was a big, voluptuous, 25-year old brunette.  She lived on Long Island, and was working her way through college.

Gail was very tall but model-thin; fair skinned, auburn hair with a pretty, girl-next-door look. She was my age, and lived near me in the East Village. She was also working her way through graphic design school. We frequently went out together after work.

And then there was Debby.

Debby.

Barbie doll body, unbelievably full, pouty lips, huge brown eyes and artfully tousled blonde locks.

 

Debby was a reigning queen of the East Village punk scene. She’d run away from home at 13, and had been on the scene since the late 70’s.

She knew EVERYBODY.

She was a musician. A painter. A writer. A vagabond. A free spirit. Brilliant, talented, tormented, fragile, tough…

 

At first, she was aloof and scornful. She’d mock how I was dressed when I was heading out with Gail.

Little by little, she let me into her world.

I realize now, she saw in me her younger self. Before she’d become so damaged and lost her innocence.

And was somehow trying to regain it through me, by osmosis.

Instead, the reverse happened.

 

Yes, I was impressed with the fact that she knew and hung out with all the punk icons I worshipped. What can I say? I was a kid.

She’d had a tumultuous on and off again romance with Johnny Thunders, and although he was now married, she completely lost it when he died.

I loved her particular habit of referring to rock musicians by their real names. It spoke of a true familiarity with them that I envied and craved.

She’d see Richard Hell – whose album Blank Generation I worshipped – at a downtown bar and command him, “Meyers – get me a drink!”

Much later, when she finally introduced me to them, I picked up the habit.

It wasn’t the only habit of hers I picked up.

 

Debby was a world-class junkie. I was so naive, I thought she was just frequently stoned on weed, like other girls at work.

I saved all my money and acquired a nice apartment on 2nd Avenue. East of where I lived was known as “Alphabet City” – it still is.

Debby was living in a “squat” – an abandoned building on Avenue B.

I didn’t connect that she was earning money at the brothel, but still couldn’t afford an apartment.

Alphabet City was a seedy place in the early 90’s.

 

Our friendship began with her sharing my taxi home from work. I always paid.

She’d critique my look. Make a few adjustments in the cab.

“Here – belt this.”

“You can’t draw a good cat eye with pencil- you need liquid liner.”

“Is that…glitter on your face? Where are you going, a fucking Bowie concert?”

Then, she began inviting me to go out with her after work.

 

The minute she entered the room – a bar, a club – she OWNED it.

I had a boyfriend at the time.

I was feeling things for Debby that I had never felt before, but I didn’t identify what they were.

I wanted to crawl up inside her and live IN her. I was besotted.

It wasn’t that she knew everyone.

It was the way she smelled. The way her lips looked when she was making an exasperated face at me.

Her walk. The sexy way she flowed through a room.

I could never imitate it. I tried for years.

 

Fridays were always busy on 51st street. People get paid on Fridays, which creates an illusion of abundance.

We all made a lot of money on Fridays.

Debby and I usually started our night at a popular bar, like the semi-subterranean Holiday Cocktail Lounge on St. Mark’s.

This time, she told me she had to make a stop first.

We drove to a sketchy part of the East Village.

In the early 90’s, Avenue D was run down and filthy. A barren urban wasteland of empty storefronts and abandoned buildings.

I said nothing as we got out of the cab. Debby had taken me to some squalid places before, and I learned to just keep my mouth shut.

 

The streets were littered with junkies and freaks.

Men, mostly Hispanic, wearing carpenters aprons, were walking around, announcing their brands.

“Pac-Man!” “Nynex!” “Fire!”

Two men were herding people in lines, and bringing them over to a burnt out laundromat.

It was my first visit to an “open air” heroin market.

 

We crunched across the lot in our heels, across broken bricks and trash and weeds. When she found the man calling out, “Terminator,” she made her purchase.

By now, I knew she was buying heroin. I tried to act as nonchalant as possible, but I was taken aback. And worried.

And extremely curious.

 

We made our way back through this perverse street bazaar to Avenue A, which was more civilized.

Debby wanted to go to the Park Inn Tavern for a drink. It was one of her favorite dive bars; pitch black walls and skinheads loitering outside.

It was a locals only place that would never attract the “Bridge and Tunnel” crowd – people from New Jersey, or the boroughs.

We walked in, and she nodded hello to the bartender.

She said, “You wanna wait here? Or come with me?”

“Where are we going?”

She laughed and ordered two shots, two beers. Took my hand and we went into the filthy bathroom.

Junkies shoot up wherever they can, as soon as they can.

 

I wanted to try it.

She insisted I go first.

“If I go first, I’m gonna be too high. I’ll fuck it up.”

 

Debby pulled all sorts of paraphernalia out of her bag.

She tore open a package and took out a syringe. She mixed the heroin with water, and put it in a spoon. Added heat from her lighter. She took a tic-tac sized ball of cotton from a Q-tip to filter it.  She dipped the needle into the cotton and sucked-up the heroin mixture.

She sterilized my arm with an alcohol wipe. Tied a black band around my upper arm.

She tapped hard on my upper bicep.

“Your veins are so tiny,” she crooned at me.

And then-  she found what she was looking for.

I felt an almost imperceptible prick.

There was a buzzing sound,.

For about 30 seconds, my brain felt like it was orgasming.

I got a metallic taste in my mouth that drove down my throat.

The sound of my own breath became echo-y, like I was under water.

 

And then I got violently ill. I RETCHED. For what seemed like an eternity.

When I finally finished, I looked up. Debby was leaning against the wall, stoned.

She looked at me and said,

“You look so beautiful with vomit on your face.”

 

She went to the bar and got paper towels and cleaned up my face. Handed me gum.

We sat at the bar for hours.

Or maybe not. I have no clue.

My entire life felt like it was in a bath, at the perfect temperature.

We ended up back at my apartment.

 

That night, I found out who puts what where in lesbian sex.

 

She took her time with me, and that, coupled with the heroin, made the experience euphoric.

She knew exactly how fast and slow to move, exactly where on my body to focus more of her attention;  knew what was going to curl my toes and just make my entire body tremble.

When we finished the first time, she just laid next to me and ran her fingers through my hair until my heart rate came back to normal.

The next day, she pushed her shopping cart over from the squat on Avenue B and moved in with me.

I didn’t know what I was getting into.

 

Next week: Part Three! The Conclusion. 

Part One Starts Here

 

Have you ever gotten involved with someone you shouldn’t have?
Or had a job you knew was a terrible idea?
Talk to me.  I’m listening. 

A little more clothing than this. A little.

A little more clothing than this. A little.

“VOICE OVER ACTRESSES WANTED $$$”

Only someone impossibly young would answer an ad that has “$$$” in it.

Especially when it’s in the Village Voice, not even Backstage magazine. But I had been back in New York a half hour and was impatient for Stardom.

I called, set up the audition, and off I went to a…

Townhouse in the East 50’s?

A very posh one, tucked in between Sutton Place and Lenox Hill.

The location was odd – a townhouse? in the east 50’s – but did I mention I was young? And probably hung over?

First sign something was amiss – not too many auditions take place in townhouses.

Well, they do.

I just walked out of those. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be blogging, that’s for sure.

I announced myself to the disembodied voice on the intercom, waited patiently for a surveillance camera to scrutinize me, and entered a posh hallway.

Surveillance camera?

I suddenly became hyper aware that this was a MOST unusual setting for an audition.

I climbed a flight of thickly carpeted steps anyway, and was met at the door by a tall brunette who introduced herself as “Katherine” and led me inside.

It was a luxurious apartment. Decorated in that cliched 90’s mauve/grey color scheme. Plush carpeting, tasteful artwork. Two long couches adjacent to one another, and atop, lounged 5 women.

“Lounging” is the only word I can use to describe the way they were artfully arranged on those couches.

And they were dressed in outfits that were a little too sexy for the standard audition. Not completely sluttish – maybe a few degrees south of slut.

My instincts told me something was not right there.

My curiosity got the better of me.

Katherine led me down a hallway into a  beautiful, albeit sparsely furnished bedroom. Platform bed, nightstand, fishtank. A vaguely impressionist painting on the wall.

I started to ask questions, but she cut me off gently.

“Make yourself completely comfortable.” And with those words, she left the room.

I sat back on the bed. Kicked off my shoes. Listened to the fish tank gurgle.

Moments later, Katherine came back in. Her eyes swept over me.

“You need to be completely comfortable before we can talk.”

“I am. I’m as comfy as can be.” I gestured towards the fish.

“Nice fish tank.”

“No, I meant COMPLETELY comfortable.”

And now, she used sweeping hand motions to gesture completely down the length of her body.

SHE. MEANT. NAKED.

What the hell?

I hightailed it out of there.

On my way out, a beautiful blonde with pouty red lips – A Debby Harry look alike – made eye contact with me.

She gave me a sultry look of half come-hither, half disdain, and half challenging.

(Yes, I know that doesn’t add up, but when a hot blonde gives you a look like that, you forget fractions).

“Another one bites the dust.”

“Excuse me?”

“Run along, little girl. Phone girls make a lot more money than office temps, but you just keep walking.”

“What’s a phone girl?”

Then it dawned on me exactly what a phone girl was. I hadn’t been reading the Village Voice all those months for naught.

“Is this a whore house?”

She and the other 4 women looked at me.

“Well, we prefer in-house escort service, but sure. We say ‘tomato’ you say ‘whorehouse’.”

They burst into peals of laughter.

I ended up taking the job.

Getting naked is a prerequisite to ensure you’re not a police officer. Apparently, if you take all of your clothes off, you cannot be accused of entrapment.

This is not really a correct interpretation of the law, as I later found out.

Katherine loved my youth, my innocence, and especially my inexperience. No bad habits to untrain.

The gentleman callers appreciated seeing a young innocent girl when they entered the establishment.

She valued that my college education allowed me to sound articulate and artful on the telephone.

Best of all, I was adept at handling large quantities of money, balancing out cash and credit card receipts at the end of each shift and was never off – not even by a penny.

I took the job for 2 reasons.

First – the money was extraordinary.

I was paid $10 an hour, and worked a 12 hour shift – noon to midnight.

In addition, I was paid $5 for every “session” booked. On a good day, I walked out of there with $300 in my pocket. In the 90’s, this was a FORTUNE.

Of course, the girls made 3 times as much, but that was to be expected.

These women were very skillful with certain things–manual sex, for example. They know how to finish up a client in well under the hour.

Or, how to “extend” because his hour is almost up and he’s  having such a good time (read: she hasn’t let him actually fuck her yet) he wants to stay for another hour. She’d show up at the front desk wrapped in a towel, looking like a triumphant hot mess, his credit card in hand.

And I’d write in a big fat tip for her, because, well, by this time he’s just crazy about her.

The girls got to keep half of what the house charged for hour ($100 was her split).

They also hustituted the bejeezus out of these men. Even though it was technically against the rules, there were a thousand extras the girls could charge for. You want anal? An extra $300. You want to cuddle? It’ll cost you. Kissing?

Not likely, but some girls might. The other girls hated the “kissers.” They were considered “scabs.” They broke an unwritten rule.

The truth is, as much as the customers wanted to think the girls were really enjoying themselves –  sometimes it was good for the girl, sometimes it was bad – but in reality, it was work. Work is work.

I’m sorry. Every man I ever told this to looked like a kid who just found out there was no Santa Claus.

Even though they made bank, I was never tempted to “jump the counter.” Not ever.

This is not, in any way, a reflection of my feelings towards sex workers, but more a reflection of how clearly I understand myself. How much I revere sex, and its role in human relationships.

Besides, I was fantastic on the phone. Phone girls had this robotic spiel we were instructed to deliver – what was included in the hour (French, straight, 69, etc).

I improvised. The girls loved it. I lured in a lot of business this way.

It was the house policy to call the women “girls,” even though most of them were older than me. Nikki, the “Queen Bee” and highest earner, was well into her 40’s.

As much as it was discouraged, I eventually became friends with some of the girls. After all, they had twelve-hour shifts, and often there was down time.

There’s only so much sitting, smoking, ordering food and watching TV you can do.

If you recall, I said I had two reasons for taking the job.

The other reason was Debby, the blonde who mocked me when I first showed up at East 51st street.

She was close to 30, and was the epitome of NY punk. She toned down this look for the job, but I could tell by her tousled blonde locks, smokey lined eyes, and screaming red lips that she had a rock and roll edge.

She had a little girl face and an incredibly sexy body, The combo was deadly.

Half the customers were in love with her.

Eventually, so was I.

Katherine saw me getting that starry-eyed look whenever Debby was around. She was not happy about it.

“Can I give you a piece of advice? You need to learn not to be taken in by these girls. They’re smart. They’ll chew you up and spit you out. Trust me. I’ve been in this game a long time and I know what I’m talking about.”

Her advice fell on deaf ears.

By the time she got around to saying this to me, I was already smitten with the first woman I would ever fall in love with.

And as it turned out, Debby would be the least of my problems…

Next week:

Tune in for Part 2 of New York Stories: Phone Girl In A Whorehouse

What was your strangest job?
Have you ever known anyone who worked in a brothel? 
Anybody feel like (ahem) sharing their brothel experiences? 
Talk to me.  I’m listening.