I just watched Johns, a film directed and written by Scott Silver, about two hustlers in L.A., played by Lukas Haas and David Arquette. There were some things that didn't quite ring true, seemed too self-conscious maybe, but there was plenty of humor and sadness and beauty, the things I look to films for. If you like your movies to be perfect, don't watch it; otherwise I recommend it. Heartbreaking performances by both lead actors, and some beautiful photography of seedy L.A.
I think, like most people, from time to time I romanticize prostitution. A certain type of prostitution, young kids on the street living by their wits, keeping their own hours. Whatever it really is, it looks like freedom.
Now that I'm older -- and desperate sometimes to possess something capable of generating income for me without much sacrifice or effort -- I look at young hustlers with some envy. I suppose it is because I'm older and experienced enough to apparently put very little value on sexual intimacy that I can see prostitution as not involving a great deal of sacrifice or effort. I guess I'm saying that if I could I'm not so sure I wouldn't.
My second job in New York, after I dropped out of Parsons, was in the stockroom of the gift shop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was 22. I made $4.35 an hour. My rent was just under $300. I got by, but it was tough. One of my supervisors was a very fat man, in his thirties, bitchy, dry sense of humor. A huge flirt.
I wasn't attracted to him, but I was very attracted to the effect I had on him. He was closeted in that disorienting way men seldom are any more. He was a big queen, but whenever he talked about his dates or boyfriends, he would use "they" or "she" when he meant "he."
He knew I was gay, I didn't hide it, and he purposely set up situations where we would be working together alone. It didn't bother me at all. I liked him, and I had some sense of the power the situation gave me. That is, I didn't have to work too hard.
He told me about the hustler bars he frequented. There was a notorious place called Rounds in the east fifties. I think it was sort of a piano bar for well-to-do businessmen and their rent boys. Definitely not street hustlers, these were well-groomed boys in polo shirts and chinos. I asked a lot of questions, about the boys, about the way it worked. It was new to me. At that age, I wasn't what you would call naive, but there were things I didn't know yet. I was unshockable, but there were still quite a lot of things waiting for me to be unshocked by.
He'd say things like, "You'd be very popular there. We'll have to work on your image a bit, artsy doesn't go over well with that crowd. But you've got a pretty face." I told him that I was curious, but intimidated, since I'd never done anything like that before. He said that, in that case, it would be best to try it out with someone I know first and see how I like it. I was a little freaked out. Turned on, but freaked out. I dropped the conversation and he didn't push.
But a few days later, he offered me a ride home in his car, and he made it clear that there could be a stop on the way, and that there was cash to be made, if I was up for it. I said no. But I doubt that, had I stayed at that job making so little money and being so strapped all the time, I would have resisted his offer if it had come again. Very soon after that I got a job waiting tables in the cafe in the basement of Bloomingdale's, the first of many New York restaurant jobs. My life changed completely. I left work every day with pockets full of cash, and I forgot all about that guy and his offer to make me a star.
It's impossible to speculate. I think back then sexual intimacy really was something precious, despite my jaded pose. This was before my first real boyfriend, before my heart had been broken. And I know for a fact that -- though the prospect turned me on -- I didn't see myself as someone sexy enough to pay for. So who knows how it would have turned out if I hadn't got the Bloomingdale's job? What I do know is that I had that option -- then, when I didn't have the confidence or savvy or detachment to take advantage of it -- and I don't have that option now.