Of all the things Marc thought a journalism degree would prepare him for, studying naughty classifieds was chiefly not among them. Prostitutes were listed under “escorts” there, in case you didn’t know (not that you’d look), and for some reason he found that funny. Wasn’t an escort a bigger person protecting a smaller, more vulnerable, more valuable person?
No, of course he’d never looked at those sections that carefully before, not even for himself. Especially not for himself. He was young and good-looking. He didn’t need help finding partners. And who but a loser would pay for sex?
Marc was just like you that way, except he knew whereof he spoke, Because he’d gotten remunerated, after a fashion, for his charms. Plenty of times. Mostly by older men who offered him gifts in exchange for a night out. Sometimes there’d be sex at the end, but sometimes not. Some guys didn’t actually want sex. Sometimes the sex would be at the beginning, and there’d be no end to the evening except morning. It was amazing how many of his special friends (he refused to think of them as “customers”) were just looking for pleasant company, in or out of bed. And Marc was happy to oblige. He was a student on a budget, and going out with special friends was an easy way to upgrade his lifestyle. He got restaurant meals he could never have afforded otherwise, and Marc was a foodie long before the word was invented. He liked clothes, too. It was a special treat for him to be taken on a shopping spree to parade fine European casual wear. If he did it especially well, he might get to bring a new outfit home.
You won’t fall out of your chair when you hear that, decades later and then gainfully employed as a professional writer, Marc was not prepared to disclose his experience to the sex-repelling Victor Henderson. But yes, Marc was especially suited to writing about trading material benefits for sex, even though he himself had never taken money straight up. Prostitution was more complicated than most people thought. Usually, the less you knew about it, the more rigid your opinions about it were. As with so many things in life, come to think of it. But reality never gives a shit about the insecure and uninformed feelings of know-nothings.
Sex for benefits wasn’t a great career choice. But to him at least it wasn’t that awful either. Sure, it made him feel a bit shameful, thinking his worth was in his pants like that. But in Marc’s case, prostitution was pretty mild; nobody ever tried to rape or abuse him. Maybe because he wasn’t desperate for money. He could always afford to be choosy and only go out with guys who didn’t make his skin crawl. And only when he felt like it.
Maybe some of the “escorts” in the newspaper whose names he was circling in red pen were in a similar situation? He sure hoped so. He didn’t want to get suckered into interviewing desperate women. That wouldn’t make for good writing. Too one-dimensional, which is depressing. No, he thought, if this project is to succeed, it would have to feature women — or maybe just one woman — who were at least average smart, slightly better than average pretty, and crucially, doing sex work by choice. Not, you know, a single mom on crack covered in bruises.
Marc wanted someone with a complex story. Someone whose life would be of interest to him. And his readers, yes. He wasn’t that self-centered. But he had to be careful not to turn off the prudes. “Maybe,” he fantasized, “I’ll make them read my stories in secret…” He could see them, unable to help themselves, utterly fascinated, just like drivers who slow down traffic on the highway because they just have to look at the accident on the other side. Sexual rubber-necking, is what Marc was dreaming of. And who knows, maybe a few of them would get attached to his subject and even care about her a little.
It would be a challenge, to write about a stranger’s sex life without getting her in trouble with the authorities. Sex is such a personal thing, but in this case it would be ordinary details like her name and address that would be taboo. Oh, the irony.
“OK,” Marc told his boss after a few days, “I think I can swing it, so to speak.” The joke fell flat. Damn that Victor. So jaded. He didn’t laugh at anything. “But I only want to do one woman. Someone who’s pretty and smart enough, someone with options.”
He explained his reasoning while Victor read a press release from the mayor’s office. “OK,” the editor finally said, “let’s go with one, unless she becomes boring and repetitive. Who’s the lucky girl?”
“Oh, I don’t know yet. I’ve got a few numbers to call, but I haven’t actually talked to anyone yet. I’ll get going on that this afternoon. See how many I can convince to talk to me, and how many giggle as they slam the phone down. Can I have money for this?”
Victor almost hit the fluorescent bulb nine feet high. “Money?!? But… I thought you were gay?”
Marc laughed. “I don’t need money for that! But maybe we’ll get better responses if we offer to compensate them for their time…”
Victor thought about it for a minute. “No,” he finally decided. “We don’t pay our sources. And besides, we can’t possibly justify giving money to a prostitute in exchange for time alone with a reporter — gay or not gay. Wouldn’t pass the smell test. But you can offer coffee or simple lunch — no booze! — to the more promising ones after you’ve talked to them on the phone. I’m sure you can make it work.”