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Trading sex for money and drugs: what it’s like to be a street prostitute The hard lives of street prostitutes are very different from our idealized images of 'high-class' call girls.

[Ed.: When you say the word “hooker,” the image that comes to most people’s minds is a white girl like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or the highly paid call girl in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, the former New York governor. She may have made a few wrong moves in her life but she’s likeable with a heart of gold and will straighten out if given a second chance. We don’t necessarily forgive her for accepting extra money for her “favors” but we understand it.

The story is very different for survival prostitutes who work the streets and get in cars because of drug habits. Their lives are less Pretty Woman than Monster, the story of Aileen Wuornos, for whom hooking was a kill-or-be-killed situation and who was herself put to death in 2002 in a Florida state prison.

Survival prostitutes are the most easily and frequently killed of all women. They lack the glamor of call girls and “victimhood” of trafficked women since their pimp is their drug habit itself. They have been abandoned by their families, their communities and the other people on the street. Even law enforcement and social services slighted them until recently.

The author spent time as a survival prostitute driven by her drug habit until she found recovery in a 12-step program. This is the first excerpt from a diary she kept while getting in cars.]

A Car Stops: A Streetwalker’s Diary

A car stops. I get in. He tells me what he wants and we agree on price. He drives me to an abandoned warehouse and we park by the weed-covered loading lock. He is in his 30s; Hispanic; says he’s a machinist. We make the exchange. I get the money. I am back on the corner I left minutes earlier, with crisp ones in my pocket. NEXT!

I was high as a kite when I got in the car and now I’m higher still. Every time things go right and you get a normal guy, not a nut, a cop, a non-payer, it feels like the world is your stage. Money, control, drugs, dudes, drama, excitement, attention, sex, nightlife “love,” glamor — I slam!

The dude is high too. Like me, he’s relieved he didn’t get robbed or stabbed or attacked by unseen accomplices, what used to be called the Murphy. Sure his wallet is lighter and he risked arrest and having his car impounded. But he got away with it — and doesn’t even feel like he cheated on his wife since it was just oral sex.

I do this for drugs but it’s also what I do when I’m on drugs. You couldn’t do it straight because you’d think about the dangers, disgrace, your parents and your teachers. Plus when you’re high getting in cars is fun! You’re dressed up, people “like” you and you’re making a huge hourly wage. You even wonder, in your drug haze, why all women don’t do this.

I look good. I may be hooked on meth, alcohol and cigarettes, I may not have eaten a nutritious meal for a year, I may not have been to a doctor or a dentist for five years, but the long legs with high heels, the emaciated torso and the big hair is stopping traffic. The straight women give me hate looks.

“Your husband will be late for dinner,” I want to say to them but I never have. The worst I’ve done is on a Saturday night when the dates come down my street, I’ll say “hi” to a cute dude I don’t know just to watch Muffy or Mindy or whoever the hell is on his arm lose it and ask him how he knows me. “Honest, I’ve never met her,” he insists.

One time another woman and I were waiting for the bus and I began to worry she thought I was working when I was legit and really getting on the bus. What a shock when the bus came and SHE didn’t get on because SHE was working. Who knew?

How does a nice girl turn out? A broken family and drug habit help but essentially the customers turn you out. You’re walking around the city with no job and no money and monkey on your back and the cars start stopping and pulling to the curb like an X-rated runway. They know your profession before you do.

My first exchange happened on a Saturday night when a guy who noted my high leather boots followed me into the vestibule of my apartment, crouched down and began licking my boot. In less than a minute he handed me money and left. I barely saw his face. The only words we exchanged were the “thank you” he said. I didn’t feel repulsed, sullied or offended– I felt exhilarated. Where are more of these guys? When he drove by in a car a few days later, we both knew the drill.

One of the first cars that stopped for me was a foreigner who barely spoke English. I told him what I cost and he wanted to bargain. I thought, I’ve sunk as low as a woman can sink and you want to bargain? It was one of the few times I got out. Another time, a truck driver tried to bargain with me in a Travel Lodge parking lot. This time I also walked away but he came running after me and agreed to my price.

The guy at the appliance store was one of my first meets. He is physically repulsive — maybe 300 pounds — and mentally repulsive. (“When you and me gon hook up” seems his only line.) But he’s set me up with several repeat customers — I have to do him and his brother in perpetuity — and more importantly he gives me drugs. The first time I got in his car he took me into the basement of his store which was such a dungeon I would have been praying to God if I believed in him. The fear of chainsaws and meat hooks actually cut through my meth high for a minute.

These johns all seem to know each other and more importantly they know other men. Many set up “trees” where they bring me their friends who pay full price while they get a discount or free. Not only is sharing a sex op a “boy thing,” most men have a little pimp in them and want to exploit “johns.”

One guy who drives a Jaguar knows a pharmacist who staged a robbery and has a lot of merch. He even gives the guys he sends me merch to give me. He had polio as a kid and is very short. He is not married. We talk a little; I don’t dislike him. He says he would marry me but someone like me would never stay with one man. He was shot in the face in a holdup recently and his jaw has been reconstructed. It is very odorific and makes sex unpleasant.

Another of my regulars owns a hardware store where we sometimes do it. He pays me every week whether or not he sees me and actually calls it my “allowance.” It is hard to square his fatherly manner with his lewd lifestyle. Another girl he sees sends me her rejects — a group of fat men who can’t ejaculate because of the drugs they are on. She thinks she’s dissing me but I need the money.

Another of my regulars is a big hedge fund trader. I hear he is rich but he pays no more than anyone else. In fact he pays less; he insists on meeting in a hotel room near financial row and deducts the room from my pay. He is also fat. I sometimes wonder what would happen if these fats guy expired while they were with me.

Mr. Hedge Fund has other rich friends including one who actually drops my cash on the floor and orders trades on the phone while I work on him. These guys could never be Sugar Daddies because I hate them. They invite me to meals (right–knowing their plans for my mouth) and on their yachts like I buy their lifestyle if I could just get past this selling sex thing. In fact one guy who pushed the escort thing and forced me to socialize with his friends in a bar crawl that lasted all night, I robbed him when he passed out in a motel. I left the door open so he would think the staff did it.

I also won’t do men in groups because they turn into rapes. You can control a one-on-one situation but you can’t stag parties and drunks. Once at a motel on the edge of town with no phone or switchboard because the office closed down, a whole group of men who knew I was in there broke in and mauled me. I had two choices: do it or do it and get beat up. It was terrifying and humiliating. When you’re outside the law, you can’t go to the police and say “I wasn’t paid.” Your lifestyle is your consent. The guy who set me up in the motel, told me later he went and shot out the windshields of the guys who did it. All I could think was, you knew the people who did this?

What happens when men want to pay you money to cuddle, and the thought of it makes you sick?

I wasn’t even working, I was going to the store. A car stops and the guy offers me three times the going rate through the window, not even waiting for me to get in. I worry that he is a nut but go to a motel with him. He is not a nut but he looks really sick and also acts morose. In addition to sex he wants to cuddle which, even though he has technically paid for my time, irritates the hell out of me. I am speeding my ass off and the last thing I want to do is play statue with some needy stranger when I can’t even smoke. This is agony.

This guy reminds me of Al, a construction worker I see a lot. He’s in his 20s and always trying to be my last date for the night so he can sleep with me. He doesn’t understand the reason you boot a guy is not because you have the next one or need to meet a quota, but because you can’t stand the sight of them once you’re done.

In his defense, he is nicer than any boyfriend I ever had. If I would have known guys like this before, I might not even be here. Where was he before my heart turned into a gizzard? But I also realize there is something self-hating about a guy who falls in love with the town pump.

It’s like my printer. I go by his print shop several times a week and we do it on the darkroom floor. And he always cautions me to use the client bathroom, not the employee bathroom, because one of his female employees is loose and might have an STD. Where does he think I have been all day, at the library?

One guy I did end up spending the whole night with. His name was Kurt, he was German, an artist and easily in his 70s. No dick problems there. Again, it didn’t matter how much he paid, I couldn’t stand being in the clammy sheets with him for all that time. And he kept waking me up for more, though sleeping on speed I wasn’t sleeping anyway. We couldn’t exchange a word because he spoke no English. In the morning I felt so dirty from all the manhandling, I bought a fifth of whiskey, some hydrogen peroxide to gargle and a laxative. No, I would rather get in and out of cars all day.

My best trick ever was a similar situation. I was in California and this guy picked me up and said if I would spend the night with him, he would give me a car. Right–I really believe that. But much to my amazement, after a long night of performing oral sex on me even though a million women would allow that for free, there was a car. It was a Honda Civic and the reason he was giving it to me was it was hot. He put on welder’s glasses and blasted out the serial number. He made me promise I would junk the car when I got home though I had no intention of keeping a promise to a john. He also gave me a packet of meth. I kept thinking, how does a girl start out hoofing it and end up a day later with wheels and speed? The car lasted two weeks and its entire exhaust system just fell into the street. But it got me home.

Since I have been doing this I have had to be strict about boyfriends and freebies or I won’t make any money. Almost every guy thinks he’s an exception and his ego doesn’t want to let him pay. Instead of money they try to trade CDs and expensive handbags and dresses (for all the cotillions I go to) because it makes them feel less like a john. Younger guys are especially bad and I have had them steal back the money while I wasn’t looking.

Then there’s the guys whose fantasy is a turned-on woman, which is lot more work than a simple plumbing job. What do you like, they ask me, like I want my fantasies satisfied by some stranger who calls himself Mr. G? Beside money, I want to say. You have to be careful about requests for your erotic participation. A john can turn around and accuse you of getting paid for something you do anyway.

You also don’t want to get your heartstrings involved. There is one guy named Bruce who works in the airline industry and is so cute and young and polite and even single I want to say keep the money, let’s have real sex instead of me doing you. Same with another guy who wears a blue jean jacket and bought me a Christmas present. A Christmas present! But I never lost my professionalism. I also never drink on the job because I would get soft or sloppy and not get the money. I try to stay within daytime hours when the johns are sober and everything is efficient.

I guess I would call my boyfriend Ricky who I met in the day hospital. He makes no sense except for when he talks about Meher Baba. I think he is a schizophrenic. One time he got violent and had dark circles under his eyes, but I think he had gone off his meds. Most of the time he’s good, low-key company. We have a good time; we get a small bottle of Jack Daniels. He says his psychiatrist told him not to get emotionally involved with me.

Don was my boyfriend for a while and he is definitely a schizophrenic. He described to me how the TV began to talk to him and tell him things and he jumped out the window and broke both legs. He’s shown me the exact place where it happened. Now he seems fine but it will never work between us because he orders me around. You’re not wearing that, he said once when we were going to a party, and he marched me back into the apartment to change. If I want to take orders I can get in a car.

Probably my biggest problem is drugs. The meth keeps me up and geared for each new day, but has its downside besides my mouth being dry all the time. I have to drink a lot of whiskey to be able to sleep. I could probably take downers, but they would step on the meth high in the morning. Someone told me and I believe it’s true, if you’re trying to sleep with meth in your system you’re not getting REM sleep and won’t be refreshed. And sure enough I wake up not just crabby and cranky which is maybe where they got the word, but downright paranoid. Some days I am afraid to leave the apartment. The hood is so dense with people it feels like everyone stares at me. There’s not a patch of green anywhere where you could sit and just be a normal person. Within minutes some guy will come over and hit on me. I used to tell them to go away, but now I just name a price. Still, shouldn’t I get a goddamn day off?

This article is part of the What it’s like to be a street prostitute series written by a former prostitute. Read the other entry: The strange things men pay prostitutes to do.

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