On Tuesday October 15, I went to the DuPont Circle Starbucks and sat next to an attractive woman dressed in a sparkly silver long-sleeve and with blue eye-makeup.
“Can I share the outlet?”
“Of course.” She had an interesting voice, sort of musical.
“Are you British?”
“I’m from everywhere.”
“My dad was in the military and we moved around a lot.”
“We lived in Germany for two years and then all over the U.S. I hate the ‘where are you from’ question.”
“How do you like D.C.?”
“I love it! I don’t live here. Just here for a week. I live in Alabama but am constantly traveling.”
“Not even. A small town a few miles from the Georgia border. What about you? Do you like D.C.?”
“I like it a lot. Sometimes it’s too familiar, though.”
“Ya I grew up here, and most of my friends are people I knew in high school or college. It’s hard to see new people and do new things.”
“Wow. I can’t even imagine.”
“You must have old friends.”
“Not really. I moved so much growing up.”
“What do you do now?”
“I’m a model.”
“Wow. What kind of modeling.”
“Free-lance stuff. I’ll be in San Francisco next week. What about you?”
“I’m finishing up a novel right now. My agent says it’s ready to submit to publishers. Used this as an excuse to quit a job I didn’t like. I was a statistician.”
“That’s great! You’re doing what you love!”
“Most people think I’m crazy.”
“Most people don’t know what crazy is.”
“I bet you have some crazy stories.”
“You have no idea,” she smiled coyly, returning attention to Macbook Pro.
Thirty minutes later, we left Starbucks and went to the The Black Fox, a bar just down Connecticut Avenue with live jazz every night. I couldn’t believe it. I’d parlayed Tuesday night Starbucks into drinks for two.
“A glass of Chardonnay and an espresso martini.”
“Sorry, we don’t have espresso.”
“Umm. Then I’ll just get a rum and diet coke,” she said.
On the walk over we’d talked about books. She asked what mine was about. I told her it was a satire on accountability in upper class America, and, really, everywhere else. She said she writes poetry sometimes but doesn’t know if it’s any good. She plays piano whenever she’s alone in her house in middle-of-nowhere-Alabama. Russian literature is her favorite, she said, but it’s so depressing. I’d just read The Luzhan Defense by Nabokov and didn’t like it precisely because it was so depressing. It’s about a Russian kid who gets bullied a lot and becomes good at chess.
I asked about her family. She’s the third youngest of 9, living in middle-of-nowhere-Alabama but traveling constantly for work. I then asked more about her job, and she continued to be evasive. She asked about my family, and I told her. I showed a picture of my brother. She squeezed my arm and said we looked like twins. “Well, we are,” I said. Conversation hovered on the twins subject. I put a hand on her knee. It was a nice knee. Very fit. She’s half-Asian, Korean mother, Scottish father. She has a bright smile, and she was just as pretty from up close as from far away.
A drink in, she was feeling it, and I again asked about her job. She exhaled, leaned over, and whispered, “I’m not really a model.” I said OK. She leaned over again, “I’m an escort.”
“Is that repulsive?”
“No. People do what they need to do.”
“You really had no idea?”
“The sparkly shirt and the eye-make-up are a bit flashy by D.C. standards. But I figured it’s normal wherever you’re from.”
“I never tell people what I do. It’s embarrassing.”
“I don’t mind. A writer just wants to hear stories.”
“Oh I’ve got stories.”
“What does your family think you do?”
She has a five-year-old son named Alexander, after Alexander the Great, living in Tampa with the parents of her ex-husband. She’s 27, comes from an abusive household and an abusive marriage. She started working a year and a half ago, after the divorce. Her husband had taken out student loans in her name and bought cars with the money. She’s Mormon and only started drinking this summer when a client introduced her to espresso martinis. She got married at 18 because religion and family pressured her into it. She was the prettiest girl in her high-school, and her ex-husband came from the most well-to-do family in their small town in Tennessee. It was a logical match.
“Sounds like everything that can possibly go wrong conspired against one individual.”
“Ya I know. All you can do is laugh.”
“Ya. You’ve been laughing all night.”
The band finished the bluesy ballad and the saxophonist bowed before taking a fifteen minute break. We’re the only people at the bar. At 10:30 on a Tuesday night in D.C., a jazz bar is an unlikely locale.
“What about you? How can you just quit a job?”
“I have enough saved up. I can job-search a few months.”
“Nope. I’m lucky. My parents paid for all my college stuff.”
“Wow. You’re lucky.”
“It’s sort of what my book is about. Privilege. Capitalism’s false promise of equal opportunity.”
“What do you mean?”
“It doesn’t take into account that family wealth is so important. If you have parents who can provide, you can mess up four or five times and end up fine. If you don’t, you have to get everything right on the first try. Eventually you have the privileged multiplying their advantage and the less-privileged falling further.”
“I just hate when people act like they deserve to be where they are.”
“It’s cool that you’re writing a book.”
“Never said it was good.”
“I’d read it,” she squeezed my arm again.
“Tell me more about what you do. How do you get people to actually pay up?”
“I ask for cash up-front. I don’t have problems getting people to pay.”
“I do everything in cash. Hotels, hospitals, flights. It’s tough because a lot of times airlines and hotels won’t accept the money. I can’t use cards though. Most girls get caught either flaunting money or with drugs.”
“Do you do drugs?”
“You don’t have a pimp?”
“I had one, but he stole a lot from me. I switched to another who did as well. So now I just have an online profile and demand cash up-front. Getting paid isn’t a problem. It’s other stuff.”
“Is there anything about your job that you like?”
She says there are parts she likes. She’s free. An entrepreneur. Running her own business. The only part she doesn’t like is client relations. I asked if she ever liked a client. “As much as a client can be a good client,” she said. She’s never had a real orgasm but fakes so well nobody ever knows. She repeatedly said she’s the best and seemed to take pride in it. She’s the one-in-a-million who’s clean, all-natural, young-enough, pretty, personable, and willing to do WHATEVER the client wants. This makes for degrading situations. “Think bodily fluids,” she explained. She hinted that she’s been “unlucky” recently, and I didn’t ask what that meant. The job, she says, is lonely. She can’t talk to anyone. Around clients she’s acting, and to people who know her as Rachel, her real name, she hides her profession. It’s how she maintains sanity. When she’s with a client, she’s ‘performing’. It isn’t ‘her’ who does those things, it’s the character.
“Are you performing right now?”
“No. This is the real Rachel.”
“What does the other Rachel do?”
“She’s super touchy and tells guys how great they are. I’m the best. Clients post reviews online. I really am the best.”
“Have you ever done porn?”
“No. If I did it, the act would be over. This is fine because it’s anonymous. I wish I could be a better mom though. I travel down to Tampa and visit every month or so, but it’s not enough. It hurts to not be there. I want my son to know his mom cares about him.”
“Do you have other options? You’re smart and personable. I bet you could teach pre-school or wait tables.”
“You’d probably have to know somebody who knows somebody. But I bet you could figure it out.”
“My ex-husband’s mom was a teacher. She got $40,000 a year. That’s nothing!”
“True. I bet you make a lot more.”
“The money is nice.”
“You can’t do this forever though.”
“I think I can only handle it psychologically for another three or four years.”
After the second drink, the room was spinning, she said. I got the bill, and she went to the bathroom. I needed to go as well, so I followed. It’s a coed bathroom, and there’s a picture of man and a woman on the door. “Guy and girl! Let’s make it a threesome!” she said in a joking way. I waited for her to go, and I went after. The whole time I was thinking that threesomes for her are probably as commonplace as spreadsheets for me.
Her hotel, the Hilton, was only two minutes away, so I walked her back. It was drizzling, and we shared the hood of my grey Princeton hoodie. I was wondering how the night would end. She really couldn’t hold her liquor. Just two drinks and stumbling everywhere. About 20 yards from the hotel entrance, she stopped and said she had fun. I said I had a great evening as well. I did. Then she stalled a minute or so.
“You live in Chinatown? That’s so far away.”
“I’ll hop on a Capital Bikeshare. It’s a ten minute ride.”
She then said something about how she has to change hotels every day and she’ll be in Chinatown tomorrow.
“I think I’ll go to a hockey game tomorrow night,” she said.
We hugged goodbye, and she took my number with a pen and paper. Haven’t heard from her since.
A lot of things have passed through my mind. I wish I’d asked her rate. Just to know. If she’s really the best and guys are flying her in and putting her up at the Hilton, one of the best hotels in Washington, I bet she makes 5-figures-a-week. If she charges that much, she might’ve had a famous client or two. I wish I’d asked. It’d be funny to learn about Dick Cheney’s black dildo fetish, for example. A lot of the money she makes probably goes to hospital bills, child-support, and body maintenance. That said, she makes more money than she needs. If she put in the effort to become a pre-school teacher, she’d make $40,000 a year. She wouldn’t be staying at the Hilton or going to Capitals games, but she’d also be able to live with her son, and she wouldn’t have to tell a stranger to “think bodily fluids.” A lot of prostitutes do it because they can’t do anything else, but Rachel, I think, does it because the lifestyle it affords allows her to forget she’s a single mom without friends or family and with debt that she has no real way of paying off. This is the second saddest part of the encounter. The saddest part is, given a different set of circumstances, her entrepreneurial attitude might be on display in Silicon Valley.
Part of me wishes I’d followed the night all the way through. It would’ve been easy to ‘hang out a little longer.’ I’d like to know if, at the door, she would’ve turned and said, “A-thousand-an-hour, five-thousand-a-night,” or was it really as innocent and random as it seemed? I was both saddened and impressed by my choices. Under other circumstances, under the circumstance of her being a “model” and not an “escort,” I would’ve jumped at the chance to continue the evening. But a model has better things to do than get a drink with a guy in an orange T-shirt and sear-sucker shorts wearing a Wimbledon backpack. On my end, I was curious about what ‘the best in the business’ could offer, but I didn’t want herpes. I wasn’t willing to believe she was as clean as she claimed.
Overall, though, I’m grateful for the interaction. It was sweet. It was random. It was two people from completely different places exchanging stories and making a night a little less lonely.