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Lust in a time of recession

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Ms. J. hasn’t worked in three weeks, but refuses to change her rates, which start with $500 for the first hour.
Photo: Richard Abowitz

Given a choice between sex and drugs, which vice do you think people will be quicker to drop in a recession? Apparently, people cut the discretionary sex first.

I met Ms. J. at the Elephant Bar in the District. I’ve learned in the past that when interviewing a hooker, ask for a table away from any children. So, we found an isolated corner for the three of us to talk: Ms. J., her unemployed boyfriend and I.

I was lucky to get an interview with Ms. J. at all. When work is busy, she simply doesn’t have time to talk. And, usually it is or, at least, it was before the recession hit.

“Let’s just say I did not get a lot of birthday presents this year,” Ms. J. who recently turned 31 joked. “Last year clients sent all sorts of things. I registered a modest list on Amazon, and I needed a printer for my computer and I got it.”

Ms. J. works as an independent escort, which puts her above street hookers and agencies in the hierarchy of rates. She is not the most expensive sex worker in Vegas. She says she knows girls who charge $1,000 an hour, but Ms. J.’s time is not cheap: $500 for the first hour with her, $400 for the next hour and $300 more for every hour after that. Some customers tip, she says, but unlike for most activities in Vegas, tipping is not required. Unless they want something particularly unusual, her rate is stable. We didn’t discuss what would constitute unusual, beyond that Ms. J. doesn’t mind doing fetish work.

Ms. J. said she refused to give her name in part because she was embarrassed at her lack of work.

“My customers are mostly businessmen who have come to Vegas for work, older gentlemen. I don’t have any locals. I rise and fall with the tourist economy.”

A couple years ago Ms. J. was making huge money, setting hours whenever she wanted to work while not even living in Vegas. “In 2006 I made at least $100,000. I had an apartment in Vegas and an apartment in San Diego, and I would go to Vegas to work for a bunch of days and then I would make a huge amount and go home.”

But as the economy began to worsen Ms. J. gave up her San Diego home. Also, her parents became victims of the foreclosure crisis, and she now has to help them out occasionally. Finally, her boyfriend recently moved in with her, and she is now supporting him, too That’s why, having nothing better to do, her boyfriend, a healthy looking man in his twenties, came along for the interview. So, what’s his view on being supported by Ms. J.’s sex work?

“A girl is going to do what she wants to do. She is going to do it either behind your back or she is going to do it and you are going to find out later. So, I would rather have her tell me what she is up to.”

I asked him if he felt like he could influence her to pick another career or perhaps hasten the search for his own job to alleviate the financial pressure on them. He shrugged: “She likes her nightlife, and she is going to make what people make in a week in one day. How can you argue with that? Who am I to change how she is living? If you love someone, then you love them as they are.”

Since transcribing that answer, I have tried to use symbolic logic and propositional logic to break down his sentences, but failed. I guess we all tell ourselves something to sleep at night. And, he told me Ms. J. is not the first hooker that has supported him. He feels he provides a service as someone the working girls in his life can talk to about their bad days with clients. “Not many men want to hear about that.” You don’t say?

Ms. J.’s view is more straightforward: “People always want to know if my boyfriend asks me to quit doing what I do; if he can financially support me then he can ask, and if he can’t support me he has no right to ask.”

There is logic to that. And, Ms. J. has plenty of confidence in her boyfriend: “I know he’ll get a job. My boyfriend will be getting a job soon. If I am down on my luck, he’d do the same for me.”

Actually, she is down now by some measure. At the moment they’re living off her savings, and Ms, J. hasn’t worked in three weeks. Ms. J. first noticed her business beginning to seriously slow down a couple months ago. “The first to vanish were the younger guys who were tourists who would buy one hour. They were the first to go. I still have my regulars, but they may come to Vegas every other month. I have a 57 year-old client coming next week and he is great. We spend the entire night together and go party all over. But I can’t count on regulars for all I need.”

In fact, this dry spell is the first one she has faced since entering her profession a few years ago. “I am embarrassed about having no customers for three weeks now. That is the major reason I don’t want my name in the story,” she says. “That, and respect for my boyfriend.”

One option she is not considering is cutting her rates: “I refuse. I am still worth what I am worth. I’ve worked too hard to get my rates where they are and I am not accepting less.”

Read about how the recession is affecting a local pot dealer in This bud's for you.

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