Street Smart Chicago

Walking on the Wild Side: A Former Prostitute Recalls Life on the Street

Essays & Commentary, Love & Sex Add comments


Illustration: Kady Dennell

Illustration: Kady Dennell

By Anonymous

I am standing in front of The Closet, a gay bar on Broadway between Addison and Belmont. It is a warm summer night. I am twenty-four. I am going to get in the first car that stops. I am a sex worker, but right now, in the 1980s, we are called prostitutes and streetwalkers. If we do it in a hotel we are call girls. Interesting how long it took for people to realize this is a job and work.

Neither the johns nor the sex workers realize that in a few years a lot of our cruising will be online. We will be using Craigslist and cell phones to screen out nuts and psychos and cops. Hopefully. But the Internet has not been invented yet. Right now, if you are selling it or buying it, you have to rely on your street sense.

When you are out here, you don’t think about the danger. For one thing, I am high as a kite on meth. These guys are rude and repulsive, but I can enjoy myself because I am high. People without addictions don’t understand that there are three highs: the high; the high of knowing you’re going to get high; and the high of doing risky things while you’re high.

Could you do it straight? No! First you would think of the shame—your parents, teachers, your friends in high school. Then, you’d think of the danger. It has not been too long since John Wayne Gacy prowled the streets of Chicago. Sure, he killed boys, not girls but the point is they got in his car.

I am white and I do not have a pimp. But the black girls who do have pimps say some of their wives-in-law are being strangled up by North Avenue. You hear it all the time—girl found dead in dumpster. No one cares.

What is the danger out here? What isn’t the danger? You could get robbed, raped, cheated, beat up, knifed, shot, strangled, abducted and, of course, arrested. You could get STDs. Once I got pregnant. That’s what the world needs—a meth-and-alcohol-addicted baby from a john. You don’t think about the danger because when you are high you think you are bulletproof and making your own luck. And, for some reason, there is something about putting yourself in danger and surviving it that makes you feel safe. Anyone who’s had trauma, whether from war or the streets, knows this. This is why you can’t stop drug addiction by legalizing it. Danger is part of the high. It relaxes you.

I am totally addicted to getting in cars. There is no addiction like this addiction. It’s cash, sex, attention, “love,” drugs, control, gambling, adventure, ego, street theater, making your own luck and the thrill of getting away with it. This must be how it feels when you hold up a 7-Eleven and get away with it. The more danger, the greater the relief. Every time you get away with it, you think you’re not just lucky, but indestructible. You think you rock.

This is so addicting that one of my customers told me he picked up a girl who was walking down Broadway getting in cars, giving blowjobs and not charging. She had become a sex-worker zombie. To me, that is really scary.

The customers are addicted, too. For some it is a full-time job. You see them all day long. One guy drives around without pants. Just like us, they are addicted to the thrill of getting away with it—not getting arrested, not getting robbed and, in their case, not having their wives find out. Most of the guys are married. Some of the guys see as many girls a day as we do customers. They will tell you what your competition is charging or who is spreading a disease. Johns often tell me if they were a girl they’d be doing what I am doing, too. They are doing it—except we’re the ones getting paid.

I love this so much I am out here by choice. Since I have been getting in cars, for more than a year, I have developed regulars who I meet at their place or my place or a motel. I have a shop owner in Skokie, a guy who owns a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the western suburbs, one guy who runs a hardware store and another an electronic store right here in my ‘hood. I also have a bunch of money-guy traders who work in the Board of Trade. I could see only my regulars and never be out here but I love being out here.

How did this start? I didn’t have the normal childhood, but who does anymore? Doesn’t everyone come from the single-parent joke of a family? No money, no dad, no fitting in? Kids laugh at you at school and pick on you. Then you come home and the family picks on you because the kids pick on you. Then one day you get a taste of drugs or alcohol or something else that makes you feel powerful for the first time (for me, men) and you say, that’s it—this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life. And you do.

When I moved to an apartment on Cornelia between Broadway and Halsted after college, I was hooked on drugs and alcohol but not sex work. I was coming home from the Jewel with a bag of groceries, probably wearing overalls, and this guy followed me into the vestibule of the apartment building. He crouched down, licked my boot and began masturbating. It was like out of a movie. It seemed like a joke. No one saw. When he was done, he handed me several crisp bills. He had not even touched me. This was my first taste of sex work: let the guys do what they want, and you get quick, easy money.

Soon I was out there every night in a halter-top and shorts. My friends, who were all gay men, thought it was really cool. They were going to the baths like Man’s Country and doing essentially the same thing. They would egg me on.

The truth is, I don’t have any girlfriends. Other women don’t like sex workers and vice versa. I get hate looks from straight women and I want to yell, “Your husband will be late for dinner.” These flatbackers get the diamond, the house, the car, the respect and where do their husbands go for a blowjob? Me. Same with the girlfriends. A guy will spend all his money on Muffy or Mindy and come to me at the end of the evening. Thanks for nothing. Sometimes I taunt or even fuck with the straight couples going to the Fat Black Pussycat on a Saturday night and say “hi” to a guy. He has to start pleading to the girlfriend that he doesn’t know me. It’s hilarious.

One time another girl and I were waiting for the Broadway bus and I was sure she was thinking the worst about me. The joke was on me. When the bus came, I got on and she didn’t. She was the one who was working.

One of the first cars I ever got in tried to bargain about price. I thought, I’ve sunk as low as a woman can sink and you want to bargain? You actually think I am worth less? It was one of the few times I got out of the car. Another time, a truck driver tried to bargain with me in a Travelodge parking lot. This time I also walked away but he came running after me and agreed to my price. Hah.

Soon after turning out, I began to get regulars. My hardware store owner pays me every week whether or not he sees me—don’t ask me why. He actually calls it my “allowance.” He has a fatherly attitude but makes me do lesbian acts with his other girlfriend, which turns her on. It is very degrading. The girl-on-girl thing is where I used to draw the line. But you always redraw the line in addictions. We have a saying on the street, “from bedpost to lamppost,” because our standards drop so much. So this is my lamppost.

One of my regulars drives a Jaguar and is also a drug supplier. He is in some kind of insurance racket where he stages pharmacy robberies. He also sends me guys who give me drugs. Another regular wears a blue jean jacket and looks like Robert Redford. I don’t know what he does for a living but he actually gave me some Ambush perfume as a Christmas present. A Christmas present! I have a secret crush on him, but business is business.

I have never spent the night in the Town Hall district police station lockup on Addison right near Wrigley Field, but I have been there to bail out some of my customers. There was a period where the police were using decoys and some of my customers fell for it. The way the law read back then, the first person to offer money for a specific act was the criminal. The woman decoys would sometimes say, “What would you like me to do, and how much will you spend?” and entrap the customers.

I was shaken down once by two woman cops. They were big and fat and ugly. They took my money, my drugs and kept me in the squad car for hours for no other reason than I was begging them to let me pee. Then they made me walk along the lake while they trailed me in the squad car. I wanted to scream, “Can’t you just book me?”

Even though it has been ten years since the blockbuster porn movie “Deep Throat,” Linda Lovelace is still the fantasy of most johns—a woman whose clitoris is in her throat so all she wants to do is give oral sex. This is what they want along with props and outfits and certain kinds of talk. Most johns are very turned on by hearing what other johns do. Johns usually don’t want normal intercourse because it is easier for them to get without paying. A lot of these guys are paying for the right to be passive. They want to lay there with their socks on and get oral sex or oral sex with some anal action and do nothing in return. Of course these guys would never kiss a sex worker—thank goodness. Never have I met one who wants to perform oral sex.

Since this is the john’s dime, you have to play like you enjoy his fantasy, whatever it is. If you really enjoy it, which can happen during genital sex, you have to hide it. The johns I have would actually say, “Why should I pay you when you enjoyed it too” if they knew. They are that cheap. I had one who stole the money back when I wasn’t looking.

When you are high on meth, performing oral sex on a repulsive stranger is no worse than cleaning out the toilets, especially because it is over quickly. That’s why I won’t do escort work where I have to actually deal with these people. One of my regulars said he would put me on the payroll if I would entertain his clients. Right. I am really going to sit across a fancy meal with this guy and pretend I am not hired to give a blowjob. I have been offered weekend getaways and yacht trips. Forget it. I want to take the money and run. I hate these guys, plus as a meth head I get bored easily.

There was one old guy whose car I got in. He had some buddies and they were bar crawling and wanted me along. When you are high on meth you don’t want to be around dumb drunks shooting darts! It must have been six hours. I got so mad that when we finally got to a motel I stole his wallet just to get even. He was too drunk to remember.

I also won’t be a B-girl, making my money off hustling drinks. One guy I know who tends bar on Broadway said he would get me in at a topless bar in Bensenville. It was just depressing. You’ve got some wastoids at the bar and girls on the stage picking up Coke bottles with their vaginas. You get like seven dollars for each drink you get someone to buy you, but the house keeps most of it. How much Coke can you drink? If the customer buys your champagne you go in the back with him and get paid more. How long does it take to get to that point? Girls work there because they think it’s safer. So do the johns. But the police pop those places too, so what’s the diff? I think they shut this place down.

I also won’t work stag parties. When men are drunk and in groups how are you going to get paid? Who is going to be your bodyguard? Who is going to make sure it is not a free gang rape, which it will be? I can tell you from at least three experiences: no one.

One of the sad things about being out here is sometimes I get a guy who is so sweet, I wish I would have met him before this started. One guy, a construction worker named Al, is always trying to be my last date for the night so he can spend the whole night. Like a boyfriend. He doesn’t understand the reason I boot him out is not because there is another guy coming; it is because I am done working. I want to come down from this meth high with some Jack Daniels and watch something stupid on TV. At least two of these guys have said they would marry me. Right; you, me and my drug and man addiction. If they want to save me they are about ten years too late.

It is eight thirty and just getting dark because it is summer. A car stops. The guy is young and small, Hispanic. He wants a blowjob. We drive west on Belmont to an abandoned warehouse he probably goes to a lot. It is deserted and there’s a weed-covered loading dock. I should be scared but I’m not. Twenty minutes later I am back on my street corner with several crisp ones in my pocket. We are both high as a kite because we weren’t arrested or rolled. We are winning at this street game and will keep doing it until we aren’t.

It is a few minutes past nine and a car stops. A very weird guy offers me three times the going rate through the window, not even waiting for me to get in. I worry that he is a nut but go to a motel on Lincoln Avenue with him anyway. He is not a nut but he looks really sick. He acts depressed like he is dying. In addition to genital sex with no condom he wants to cuddle. Even though he has paid for my time, this makes me mad as hell. I am speeding my ass off on meth and the last thing I want to do is play statue with some needy stranger who won’t even let me smoke cigarettes. This is agony! Finally this guy is done playing spoons and I am back on my corner.

It is eleven and I am in front of the Treasure Island. A Lexus stops. The guy is dark-haired, maybe forty, a little too spacey for my comfort. Too much like the murderer in the movie “Klute,” which I can never get out of my head even though it has been ten years. I go with him to a room around Irving Park though I worry he is a nut. Is this his room? Or is he married and keeps a room for girls? Who knows—who cares? This guy wants me to wear a negligee he has while I masturbate him with a pair of female underpants which he also has. Why does he pay for this? You’d think he’d get a girlfriend. He says he’s single—he is not even bad looking. Go figure.

It is twelve thirty and I am happy to be back on my corner. A car stops. It is a warm summer night and here is a new customer.

I am no longer a sex worker. I met someone who helped me get out of it by “loving me until I could love myself,” as they say in the twelve steps. He stood by me for at least two years until I was ready to give it up. I also joined a twelve-step group for drugs and for sex work. Only after I was off the streets for a long time did I realize the risks I took and how lucky I was to survive.

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