So it turns out that there is something more demeaning than prostitution: job hunting. At least as a hooker my attempts to perform fellatio were rewarded.
Oh, I had such plans for my gainful unemployment! I was going to go back to school! I was going to learn violin! The Big Scary Novel was going to get written! I was to live la vie boehme, financed the way I suspected that Kiki de Montparnasse and Nina Hamnett financed theirs. Other than looks, however, I would never compare my clients to the likes of Degas or Zola. I might meet the Degas of pharmaceutical sales, of course, but his effect upon the globe might be less noteworthy.
The life I had been fantasizing about every time I slogged through a bug index at the low-rent software company I worked for had started. I was free. Full-time escort, part-time adventurer. Things were turning around for Miss Bianca; I had the life I always wanted.
Oscar Wilde once said, “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it,” which, I quickly learned is still as true today as it was 100 years ago.
I hated every minute of my bohemian lifestyle.
I guess I wasn’t suited to my new lifestyle, what with the multi-hour staring contests with the cat, the meticulous nursing of a Twitter feed, and smoking copious amounts marijuana in daylight. It may sound like heaven to some, but if you’re the kind of person that needs to be contributing in some way, it’s maddening. A side effect of the monotony at my previous job was that it had completely destroyed my work ethic. I’d sit down to write and would become distracted immediately. Soon enough, a call would come in and I would be off to go get ready. Conor and I were ships passing in the night. Our schedules now completely reversed.
Toronto is not a boring city, not by a long shot. You have to try work pretty hard to be bored in Toronto, especially in the summer, when it is fully alive. Our gallery district is thriving, shopping is awesome. The food is redonkulous. There’s always a film you can accidentally be in. It is a nigh-on Herculean task to get bored around here. But, despite what this column may make you think, I’ve never been one to shirk hard work. I was bored out of my mind.
After a few weeks I knew I wasn’t going to go back to school or somehow become artistically gifted, so I set my sights on more productive endeavours, namely looking for a new job. I returned the great unwashed of my generation, begging at the doors of employers, trying to talk to somebody, anybody who could give me a leg up.
People, it is tough out there.
But I didn’t want to lose sight of how lucky I was. I still had a firm grip on the almighty and increasingly strong Canadian dollar. I was beholden to no one. All the bills were going to get paid—and in cash, no less. I’m sure paying a $120 Roger bill with a wad of twenties (is that a sneaky condom between the bills? Oh Bianca, don’t bring those to the bank!) was a lot less suspicious than I thought it was.
I’d had a promising experience at an advertising agency on Richmond a few weeks after I left my software company. They were looking for someone with technical writing experience and with a varied background. Lucky for them I had a pretty varied foreground as well.
The old building was just a few blocks from where I imagined my former boss was likely being baffled by the mechanics of a paper clip or chewing tinfoil. I walked up the worn hardwood stairs and into the office. I immediately had the feeling that I wasn’t cool enough to be there. Lichtensteins punctuated the walls. Cases of beer, a client’s I assumed, were stacked next to the desks of the bearded and bespectacled copywriters. I eeked out my real name to the receptionist with the $200 haircut.
A painfully trendy and tall man materialized as I sat down to open Zoomer magazine (Zoomer, really? Okay, I guess). Archer, his name was, naturally, led me into a boardroom overlooking the street, crammed with advertising posters.
“So, tell me about yourself.”
It was so weird to be conscious of selling myself. I would have thought I’d gotten used to it. When I was finished with compiling the most flattering biography of myself, I asked him who they wanted for the job.
“We’re looking for someone who can manage a lot of what you did at your previous job,” Archer said. My heart sank. I didn’t think I could pretend to be enthusiastic about it again. “But more creative,” he continued. Okay, this was getting better. “Someone who can deal with tough situations.” Um, hello, that’s me.
“Someone who understands throwing his or herself into something.”
Winner, winner, chicken dinner!
Maybe a little too enthusiastically I told Archer how I was everything he had described. I was still high and smiling as I walked back down the aging stairs and out onto the street onto my bike, swinging a Vivienne Westwood-suited leg over the top tube.
A weird call came in later that evening, and the glow of that morning receded. It was in Ancaster. It was weird because Adele had told me we hardly went that far into the 905. Mississauga was about as far as we went from Toronto. Oakville maybe, but that was once in a blue moon. There were other agencies, 905 agencies. Since it was so far away, we had to ensure that the calls were two hours. The call was at 7, too, right after rush hour. It was going to take at least two hours to get out there.
It was also on a credit card. This was both weird and a pain in the ass. I had to lug one of those old swipe-card machines into the call, awkwardly swipe it in front of client and get him to sign it. Magical. Usually I surreptitiously slipped the discreet envelope into my purse and counted it as I was in the bathroom freshening up at the end of the call. Also, we always added a credit card surcharge, because Adele had to bill it through a (legal) dummy corporation. The surcharge was something like 25%. I think the cash advance cash on most credit cards is around 20%. It actually worked out better for the client to take his credit card to an ATM and take out the cash. Weird. All told, with the extra charges the call was going to be around $800, $550 going to me.
The driver, Rich, called me around 3 pm and said he’d be over to pick me up between 4:40 and 5. He was a talker. He talked on and on about how he was using this job to pay for school and turn his life around. I had brought a copy of Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia with me and was hoping to dive right in. Rich yakked away about his new school program as I read about the financial crisis.
I knew Hamilton, I went to Mac. I knew when we were getting closer. We drove past Main Street and up the mountain on the west side. I freshened up in the visor mirror as Rich checked the GPS again for the address.
I was sort of surprised when we pulled up to a strip mall. It backed on to the forest and was pretty run down. The GPS directed us to a nursing home in one of the entrances. I thought maybe the guy lived in an apartment over one of the stores. Guys in shitty apartments spent a baffling amount of money on hookers. I’ve been in the car enough times when we picked up girls coming from six and eight hour calls in Regent Park to know that geography had almost nothing to do with disposable income, at least in our line of work.
I got out and searched for the number. It was the number of the nursing home. But that couldn’t be right, could it? We didn’t go to motels; certainly we didn’t go to nursing homes. Had Sandy, the phone girl, taking calls checked? Maybe not. I ran back out to Rich.
“It’s the nursing home,” I said.
“Um, okay,” Rich said, not happy. The gas and time came out of his end, and we’d just driven two hours out of the city. It’d take us at least an hour and a half to get back if I didn’t go.
“What should I do?”
“Whatever. Maybe it’s not a nursing home. Maybe just a retirement home,” Rich said.
He might be right. It had said “retirement” instead of “nursing” on the sign. Maybe it was one of those.
I walked in. The first person I met was the Head Nurse. This place was the dictionary definition of a nursing home.
“Um, hi,” I said at the little reception desk, “I’m here to see Arnold Butler?”
She raised her head from her charts. I was wearing a tight BeBe dress and stilettos. In my defense, when I was getting dressed that evening, I wasn’t expecting to show up at a nursing home.
“Oh, are you his daughter?”
BAIL OUT. BAIL OUT.
I would have left. I actually should have left. But it had taken us so long to get there, I didn’t want to get into trouble. And who was I to say that this guy shouldn’t see an escort? If we had been in downtown Toronto or North York I would have left, but I couldn’t leave the agency hanging like that.
I knocked on the door. Arnold, the worst client any escort has ever had ever, answered it.
“Are you who I called?” he asked, his eye glazed. Arnold was seventy if a day. A thousand subtle clues let me know he was in the grip of dementia. His tiny room was crammed with furniture.
I had two hours with him.
“I need to get your credit card, please.” I said, already pretending I was in my happy place, Orient Beach in St. Martin, where I went in my head whenever I wanted to be somewhere else.
I took the card into the bathroom. Against every instinct, I texted Rich that I was okay. I swiped the card and made the impression that would take $800 from this poor old man. I felt like shit. Any justification I had for the job, any redeeming value to the sex industry, any part of my soul that hadn’t been screwed, coked or bought out of me vanished with the swipe.
I came back out. He said he was ready to get started in that child-like way people whose minds are fading speak. This was actually happening.
It lasted ten minutes.
Afterward, he turned on Jeopardy. A total of twenty minutes had passed since I had spoken to the head nurse.
“I can only go once," Arnold said. "I’m pretty tired.”
Goddamnit. I was going to take $800 from this guy for 20 minutes?
“Arnold, listen to me. Are you sure you want me to leave?” I needed him to take some responsibility for this. As much as he could.
“Yes. You can go. I want to sleep.”
I ran into the little bathroom of his room. The walls had bars all over them. I felt sick. I called Sandy.
“He wants me to leave! It’s supposed to be a two hour call! It’s in a nursing home.”
It seemed that Sandy was not the font of wisdom about these situations. She had no idea what to do either. After she asked if I was okay and that I’d gotten the imprint, I told her I wanted to leave. She said to follow my gut.
I said a quick goodbye to Arnold and dashed out the front door. The nurse wasn’t there, thank god.
I bolted out to the car and jumped, thinking that someone from the nursing home might be chasing after me.
“Rich,” I said, holding back tears, tears for the nice person I used to be, who was now gone. She was replaced with this new… whore. That’s what I was. It was written on my soul and I might not be able to get rid of it anytime soon. Maybe never.
I asked Rich for a cigarette. I was already killing myself slowly in the spiritual sense. It only made sense for the physical side to keep pace.
We drove back to Toronto in silence. I called Sandy and told her I wouldn’t be taking another call. I ran upstairs and wrapped my arms around Conor. I told him the whole sad, sorry, wretched story. He didn’t have any answers either. It seemed that Conor, Sandy and I had all missed the lesson on How to Deal with Fucking Tragedies at Escorts & Company Academy.
I found a box of beautiful thank you cards I had bought at Chapters a few weeks before. I wrote a heartfelt thanks to Archer for his time. I said how great I would be in the job.
I had to get out of this.