High heels. A form-hugging bandage dress. Enough make-up to start an opera company. That’s an escort when she steps out to meet her driver and start work. There’s an air of class while at the same time a sexy flair that beguiles the designer label on all clothing visible and non-visible to the untrained eye. She’s going to the symphony. She’s going to the gallery opening. Most likely though, she’ll go to a glazed condo building or a high-end hotel, disappear for an hour and only emerge to meet her driver.
She’s beautiful, but not quite beautiful enough to raise eyebrows when she’s seen with her client, gliding through the event or the hotel lobby or past the doorman. Desirable and elegant. Such a chic entity in the world cannot help but have a price tag.
But that’s not me.
At my desk at work, I’m as close to sexy as Beijing is to Buenos Aires. Or maybe the moon. Jeans and a T-shirt. Maybe American Apparel underwear (and not the kind in the porno-lite ads) and FitFlops, for God’s sake (although they technically are sold at Victoria’s Secret). I have to wear thick glasses to read a computer screen without getting a headache. I wore cardigans before they were trendy and wore them constantly. In my office the air conditioning has two settings: off and Arctic. In the heat wave gripping Southern Ontario now, I have to heat my hands by blowing on them just to make it through the day.
At the end of the day I look at my task list, cross off what I’ve done, send my boss a status update over Skype Chat, shut off my computer, and take my bike lock keys out of my pocket. My bike is locked with a U-lock to one of the distinctive City of Toronto bike racks. It’s a circle a foot off the ground with an iron pole bisecting it. My hog is a pink Roadking. The tires are the perfect width to get lodged in streetcar tracks.
Toronto rush hour in a heat wave is as enjoyable as thirty minutes spent with a rabid tortoise. It is truly amazing how something so slow could be so aggressive. Sometimes it’s hard to say I love Toronto. There are elements about it I love, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but anti-Torontoism is as much a part of my socialization as a Canadian as apologizing is.
Dear Americans, let me explain. Our politicians might not run on rights issues and our political system is not as binary as yours seems to be, but outside of the few urban centres we have, the Great White North is wall-to-wall rednecks. Rural, unambitious, fiercely religious folk whose main hobbies seem to be xenophobia, homophobia and urbo-phobia. I love Canada. It think it’s the greatest country in the world, but nothing is communicated more clearly in rural and suburban Canada than, “The City is scary/expensive/full of foreigners/full of gays/dangerous.” Almost one in three Canadian households owns at least one legal firearm and the concentration is far greater in rural areas than in urban.
And I’m from Hamilton, originally. If you don’t know, Hamilton is a city of 500,000 people 40 miles west of Toronto. If someone could take all the municipalities in Canada and arrange them by Toronto-hate per capita, Hamilton would be the runaway leader of the pack. Hamilton, and more recently Niagara Falls, run their tourism campaigns based on how much everybody hates Toronto.
So sometimes, whether real or peer-pressured, it’s hard for me to say I love Toronto. But right now I do.
Because when I get through the traffic on College Street to my apartment, I kiss my boyfriend Conor and ask him how his day was. He’s an unemployed engineer from Ireland, so he spends his days looking for jobs, fixing things in our apartment and eating cheese sandwiches. I’ll take a quick shower (we call it a “hooker shower”), and then put on my matching underwear set, stockings, heels, dress and make-up, wolf down some salad and a diet Coke, brush my teeth, and text my driver that I’ll be down in a minute.
That’s the escort life.
It takes me about 20 minutes to go from schlubby professional to movie star girlfriend. My day job is almost sublimely boring. My job title has the word “writer” in it. I’m not the interesting, challenging relevant kind of writer, I’m the other kind. When you install new software, a document with all of the new enhancements pops up. You probably close it immediately. Well, I write those enhancements. But my second job is anything but. It’s always new, always fresh and always exciting. People have to be nice to me. I’m the commodity. It’s way better.
Oh, and I make over seven times more an hour than at my day job.
Let’s get it out of the way right now. I’m only kind of putting myself through school. Somehow even hookers have clichés. I’m through school. The school has been gone through. Now I have to pay for it as well as some of the silly decisions I made while I was going through it. As jobs shrink and the ends get harder to meet, debtors aren’t allowed to have as many excuses as employers have. When I was 17, I went to university. I got two degrees in three years. Not three years each, three years for both. Then I went to grad school far away in Ireland. I got another degree. I got a job. I met Conor. I fell in love. Then the job folded. Then another. And then another. I didn’t have a lot of the luck of the Irish, as it were. All that school needed to be paid for and it wasn’t going to come in the form of a legitimate pay check. I bounced around. I worked in America for a while. The debts got bigger and meaner. I sat down with a calculator and looked at all of it laid out in cold hard specificity. The final number on the screen said $25,000. Twenty-five grand. It didn’t seem like I’d ever had that much money in my life, and I guess I hadn’t. Writing enhancements, I make $39,000 a year. Before tax.
I felt like there were three ways out. First, die. Second, cry. Third, fuck for money.
It seemed like I had made all the right moves. I made right moves other people didn’t make.
Everything that was supposed to happen after I made the right moves didn’t. “How could someone with so much education become a hooker?” my parents might say if they ever found out (which I pray they won’t). My reply is, “How could someone with so much education not become a hooker?”
Conor believes that the maximum any employer could possibly pay you is half of what you’re worth, or you’re too expensive. My agency charges $200 for an hour of my companionship. I get $100 of it, I’ll take it as a compliment. I’m actually worth $200, I guess. But my writing’s only worth $37.50 an hour. Good thing I’m better at fucking than writing.
My agency’s website has my photo without my face showing. I’m wearing panties and stockings. It lists accurate measurements and almost an accurate weight. It says I’m 22, but I’m really 24. It says I specialize in something called a “girlfriend experience.” It says what days I’m working. The calls come in. I get in the car and the driver takes me where I want to go.
Am I exploited? Of course. I know exactly who exploits me on a daily basis. Visa, MasterCard and OSAP. Even if, after ten years, I could chip-chip-chip away at that 25 large, how long would it take to save enough for a house? Or kids? Or a car? Or a goddamn weekend away in Muskoka?
Well, I thought that I couldn’t wait. I have a life to live.
And if there are any questions, I’ll clear it up. Bianca was a whore in Othello. It’s not my real name, nor my “real” name.