Confessions of an Ivy League Callgirl

People ask so many questions about it. You did that? You're kidding, right? What's it really like? What kinds of people use the service? What kinds of girls work for it? Men, especially, are utterly fascinated by the subject. It's like getting a glimpse into some mysterious semi-forbidden world, a world caricatured by pornography and attacked by conservatives and speculated about by just about everybody. Men get a vicarious sexual frisson thinking about it. Women wonder what it would be like to have someone pay — and pay well — for something they routinely give away. And, inescapably, people look at me and get a little scared. I could be — I am — one of them. I am their sister, their neighbor, their girlfriend. I'm nobody's idea of what a whore looks like. Maybe that's why I'm scary.

They want callgirls to be different, identifiable. That keeps them safe. The reality, of course, is that usually we're not. Oh, the girls on the streets at night, yeah, with them, you know. But callgirls — women who work for escort services, especially expensive ones, especially those run by other women — we don't look any different than anyone else. Not even always prettier. So we're scary. Because, you know, we could be you, too.

Maybe we are.

I had a master's from Yale and had just received my doctorate in social anthropology. I was anticipating tenure-track employment. What I got instead was a series of lecturer positions, because most universities were no longer offering professorships or offering very few. I was teaching on a semester-by-semester basis, being paid the less-than-princely sum (before taxes) of $1,300 per class. And I needed money. I needed a lot of money, and I needed it quickly. I needed the money because Peter, my most recent boyfriend, had not only decided to fly to San Francisco to meet up with some ex, but had emptied my checking account before leaving. A prince among men. Rent was due. The decimated bank account had held all the money I had to live on until the end of the semester.

So I picked up the Phoenix, and I opened the “After Dark” section and read the ads. I circled one.

The woman on the other end of the line, who I will call Peach, ran an agency that could be considered a midlevel escort service. How can I explain it? She didn't get the rock stars when they came to town, but she did get their entourages. She got people who owned companies, but not necessarily companies anyone had ever heard of.

Peach's employees stood out in that she required a minimum of some college education. The fact is that she helped pay off a whole lot of graduate student loans. She had a specialty niche: She did well with clients who wanted intelligent conversation along with their sex.

Her clients were university faculty, stockbrokers, and lawyers. They were computer geeks who couldn't tell a C-cup from a C-drive. They owned restaurants, nightclubs, and health spas. They were handicapped, busy, socially inept, about to be married. They saw girls in offices, restaurants, boats, their own marriage beds, seedy motels, strip malls, and suites at the Park Plaza. They were the most invisible, unremarkable group of men in Boston, having in common only that they could afford to spend $200 for an hour of company.

They used the time in a variety of ways, and that is my usual response when someone — and someone will, inevitably, in any conversation about the profession — says something judgmental about the perceived degradation of exchanging sex for money. Because, in my experience, that doesn't make sense. You think I'm just manipulating semantics here, don't you? I'm not: Hear me out. Many people are paid by the hour, right? An employer hires a consultant, for example, on the basis of certain areas of expertise the consultant can offer. The employer — or client — pays for the consultant's time by the hour. A callgirl is a consultant, using her expertise and experience in seduction and giving pleasure to fulfill a verbal contract with a client who is paying her by the hour. She is a skilled professional possessing knowledge for which there is a demand and for which the client is willing to pay her a predetermined rate.

If there's such a gulf between these two people, if there is more degradation in one than in the other, I'd like you to explain it to me. I have women friends who are waitresses in so-called sophisticated restaurants on Newbury Street, and I'm sorry, but I would never put up with what they have to endure every night. Not for any amount of money.

Speaking of the money, it's a pretty good hourly rate. Remember that what we get, we don't have to share with anybody — no state or federal tax, no social security. I take that back: It's a damned good hourly rate.

Occasionally there is no sex. Lonely men sometimes are just looking for company, for someone to listen to them: That's worth the fee. I remember a scene in Frankie and Johnny, when Al Pacino, newly released from prison, hires a woman to “spoon” with him — allow him to fall asleep curled into the curve of her body, her arms around him. I always found that scene incredibly touching.

The reality, however, is that most clients do want sex. Some want it quickly and efficiently, after which the girl is free to go; others want it as part of a date-like interlude. And there's every imaginable situation in between.

Peach was brisk on the phone. “You can refuse any call if you don't like the sound of the guy, or how it feels,” she said. “You can say no to anything you don't want to do, and I'll back you up.” I could have sworn I heard her stifle a yawn. I was far from yawning, myself. I answered with trepidation, but apparently I gave the right answers. Evidently, I passed the test to which I was being subjected. There was the briefest of pauses. “Hmm. All right. I'll have you see Bruce tonight. He'll like you.”

“Tonight?” For all my eagerness, that seemed very soon. Panic set in. “Peach, I'm not dressed.” I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a black vest and an olive linen jacket. Not my image of how a callgirl should dress. (Like I knew anything: I had seen Half Moon Street and Pretty Woman. What you might call a limited frame of reference.)

Peach was dismissive. “Don't worry — you're dressed perfectly. A lot of the clients go for casual. So do it, or not. Call me at 7, if you want, and I'll set it up.”

And that was that. Do it, or not.

I decided to do it.

Bruce seemed pleasant enough on the phone (I had been expecting a stutterer, maybe?) and gave me directions to a local marina. He lived, it transpired, on a boat.

He was a bear of a man, bearded, with eyes that twinkled behind his glasses. We sat on a sofa in the cabin of his sailboat, drank a very nice chilled Montrachet, and talked about music, our conversation interspersed with clumsy silences. It felt oddly familiar. To tell you the truth, what it felt like was a date. A first date.

He went to refill our glasses, and when he came back, he did the classic yawn and stretch — the favorite move from everybody's first junior-high romance. But at that moment, I leaned forward to pick up my glass, so he missed. Finally, he kissed me. A first date kiss.

It was at that precise moment that I knew it was going to be all right. This wasn't anything esoteric or bizarre or dangerous: this was something I had done before, something I did well, and — best of all — something I enjoyed doing.

Later, I learned that some callgirls won't kiss, that they consider their lips the only part of themselves they can withhold. I disagree. Maybe the pretense of romance is better than no romance at all. Or maybe I just like to kiss.

Can I tell you this? It was better sex than I'd had with the rat bastard boyfriend. Ever. And I was getting paid for it. I felt like singing, or skipping, something joyous and happy. I had just spent a pleasant evening. After I took out the $60 that was Peach's fee, I had made $140. In one hour. Anybody else out there making that kind of money?

There was a guy up in North Andover, a handsome, middle-aged black man who I saw from time to time. After a semi-successful three quarters of an hour on his bed, he would make out a check (previously cleared with Peach, of course; this tends to be a cash-only business), always with a flourish. He winked at me as he wrote that it was for the “purchase of artwork.” There was a ridiculously young man in South Boston, nice, who offered me a light beer and never gave me a chance to drink it. There was my first hotel client, a regular who visited once a month on business. He was very busy, he informed me, gesturing toward his open laptop on the coffee table. He was as good as his word. I was out of there in under 20 minutes. It was 8:30 at night, and I was walking down a hotel corridor with $150 that I had made in less time than it had taken me to get dressed.

None of these men had a particularly scintillating personality. One kept following up his remarks with, “Oh, you probably don't understand that. Like, who am I talking to here, Einstein or something?” “True,” I agreed, the third time he said it. “Einstein's doctorate wasn't in anthropology, mine is.” He was pretty much quiet after that.

All in all, they weren't bad people. Ordinary, marginally attractive, with questionable social skills, yes. Dull, predictable, full of insecurities, sure. I had dated men just like them in the past and for no compensation.

Among my regulars there was Phil, who liked to show me off to his friends. We sipped cocktails together in trendy restaurants on Columbus Avenue, chatting with all the people he knew who “accidentally” happened by that night, before going back to his place for sex.

Robert took me to wine-tasting parties at Cornucopia on the Wharf. We'd sit at big circular tables and listen to the distributors discuss the wines while we ate and sipped, and he watched the other men watching my breasts.

For Raoul, I dressed in little black nothing cocktail dresses and went to the symphony and the occasional opera. We ate dinner first, wonderful dinners. The sex always seemed to be an afterthought. More frequently than not he would ask if I'd terribly mind skipping that final portion of the evening; he was in his sixties, and quite naturally got tired. I always managed to express regret.

You walk along Commonwealth Avenue down near the Public Garden and Beacon Street with its wrought-iron fences, and you wonder about who lives behind the mullioned windows and thick velvet draperies. You imagine that they must be people of culture. So when Peach sent me to Beacon Street, I felt nothing but a sense of mild anticipation.

Her directions led me to a fourth-floor apartment that overlooked the Charles, and as soon as I got there, I moved toward the window with an exclamation of delight. But this client — Barry by name — wasn't paying me to enjoy the view. I know this to be true because he said so, even as he grasped my arm and pulled me away from the window, a grasp that was to leave clear, deep imprints of his fingers on my bruised skin.

Barry pinned me against a brick wall, and it hurt. His hands hurt, too, pushing against me, squeezing my breasts. I gasped and pulled away and told him to stop. He laughed. He actually laughed. “You don't tell me to do anything,” he said. “You're just a whore. You do what I say.”

I remember being pushed onto the bed, with him on top of me. I remember his voice, over and over: “You're just a whore, aren't you? You're just a dirty little whore. Say it! Say you're a whore!” I struggled away and crouched next to the headboard. No amount of money was worth this. I took a deep breath and screamed. And did it again.

Barry sat on the bed, the fury draining from him. He stalked toward the bathroom. “Don't slam the door on your way out,” he said, coldly. “I'm taking a shower. You made me feel dirty.”

I had made him feel dirty.

Later, I met a woman named Margot who also worked for the agency. Over drinks at Jillian's, we began sharing client experiences. Barry, it turned out, was one of Margot's regulars. I stared at her. “How can you stand him?”

“Well, see, I have this theory.” Margot took a liberal swallow of her Manhattan. “Guys like Barry, they have so much rage against women, you know?” “No shit,” I muttered.

“Okay. So he keeps pacing around his apartment and muttering about women being whores. Maybe he watches them through his windows, pretty women down on the Esplanade or Memorial Drive, and it's stoking his feelings of insecurity and inadequacy — well, eventually there will be too much pressure, and it'll blow.” She sipped her drink before delivering the punch line. “So if the pressure gets eased, maybe he won't blow. Maybe if he can play out his sick little fantasy with one of us from time to time, with someone who can handle it, you know, then he won't walk down Beacon Street one night and follow some innocent woman home. Maybe he won't hurt her.”

I liked Margot's theory. Everything I'd been reading about prostitution was about how it contributed to the oppression of women, how it perpetuated men's fantasies of control and power. And here was this woman, calmly sipping her Manhattan and telling me she was considering the needs of other women. I liked the thought of that anonymous woman walking down Beacon Street at night, her footsteps echoing. I liked thinking that she was safe because somewhere four stories up, Margot was there, sleeping with the enemy.

I don't know, in the end, why I left. I'm not even sure it matters. Take your pick: I left because I got scared, or because I got hurt, or because I grew up, grew out of it.

In the end, I think that I left because it was simply time to leave.

The business had given me what I needed. It gave me financial security. And maybe, too, it gave me the thrill of having lived on the edge for a while.

Sometimes, even now, when it's around 7 o'clock, I'll stop and wonder what's going on tonight. Who's working, what clients will call, that sort of thing. It won't be anybody that I know, not anymore. Time has moved on, in this business faster than anywhere else.

But the names don't matter: The needs will always be the same. Telephones will ring, girls will fix their makeup in vanity mirrors. Tonight, as every night, money will change hands. Callgirls will give pleasure, excitement, mystery, hope, enchantment.

I stop and I think. Then I shrug and head out to the bike path for a ride, or I load the kids into the car.

I have told one story — mine. I willingly and deliberately entered the employment of an escort agency. I do not regret having made that decision.

Because agencies like Peach's exist, agencies that do not exploit or injure their employees, a number of women like myself were and continue to be able to attain a measure of financial security in a society where it is difficult for a woman to do so. I am aware, however, and most urgently want you to be aware, that many women are not in this profession because they need to pay off student loans. I have a positive story to tell. I'm not at all sure that my experience is that of most women involved in this business.

Please don't be so quick to call us hookers, to judge us. We could be your mother, your sister, your girlfriend, your daughter. Even your college professor.

No, I take that back. It's not a matter of saying that we could be. We are.

Excerpted from Callgirl by Jeanette Angell, The Permanent Press, ©2004. All other names have been changed.