Heaven Protect the Working Girl

The revelation that Eliot Spitzer was a connoisseur of $1,000-an-hour prostitutes hit New York like one of those bolts of lightning in a cartoon that splits open the pavement in two perfectly perforated halves. No one could believe it. Now, a month after he ’fessed up and resigned, a crater in the proverbial town square continues to smoke and belch. For example: His 22-year-old hooker du jour, Ashley Dupré, becomes a millionaire off downloads of her song on MySpace and is offered six figures to pose for Penthouse. District Attorney Robert Morgenthau publicly defends his former prosecutor, saying, “I think he has been punished enough.” Mr. Spitzer and his wife, Silda, meanwhile, lay low. And men and women, couples and singles, are left to wonder: Just how many men in New York are paying for sex?

Last Thursday I went to Starbucks with one of Manhattan’s former top-dollar madams to get some answers. We met first at her attorney’s office to set the ground rules. No names. Let’s call her Jane!

“It’s like Babel,” she said of New York City, in her high-pitched, Latin-tinged voice. “It’s very tempting. You can buy anything you want, anywhere. Everyone is so busy, they don’t have time for relationships. And no time for love. So you pick up the phone and you just want to have companionship for as long as you desire and it’s there for you, for men most of the time. Unfortunately, women don’t have the same options.”

She ordered a grande latte. She wore a long blond wig. Her outfit was all black: black jacket with a fur collar; sleek, tight-fitting black pants; and black pumps. She wore bright pink lipstick. Her cell phone was also pink. Pink is her favorite color. She’d like me to say she’s in her late 30s. The work she’s had blurs the lines, but Jane’s pushing 50. A few years back she did time in Rikers. She’s been following the Spitzer scandal closely. Suffice it to say, she can read between the lines.

“The women who are working girls, that’s why they get into the business—they don’t want to get hurt anymore, not be lied to, promised love and commitment when men don’t want that, they just want sex. So let’s just be truthful and let’s all be happy.”

In over a decade of booming business—it provided for a luxury apartment in one of the city’s poshest buildings—Jane says she managed somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 call girls. They had all been hurt before.

“Not physically—emotionally,” she said. “These girls are college students. They’re gorgeous. They want to find their prince and live happily ever after—and it doesn’t happen. They decide, ‘You know what? This is what you want, then don’t lie to me and everybody’s happy.’”

Jane said that as a madam, she would receive half of the hooker’s fees. Her skill was in providing a stream of rich, reasonably attractive johns who weren’t cops and who knew how to behave themselves.

“We’re business ladies. We’re not pimps. Pimps take the girls and abuse and take advantage of them,” she said. “We’re not taking advantage of anyone. They get their fee, we get ours, everybody’s happy.

“But what I don’t understand is, there’s different kinds of madams. There’s cyber madams,” she said. Jane has a bee in her bonnet over the Web site called adultfriendfinder.com. “You can buy a membership fee, you get a membership, all these people that are members are usually married, they interact with each other and you communicate for sex. But you’re paying a membership fee. But that’s legal? Isn’t that the same thing?”

For Jane, the high-end prostitution scene in New York, in which doctors, bankers, lawyers—and now a governor—line up to put their careers and families at risk makes perfect sense. It’s how the laws are enforced that throws her. What about the porn industry?! What about Craigslist?! That’s where the real money is.

Back to the women: They don’t fit a certain profile. Jane says that even with her decades of experience, she couldn’t pick one out on the street. “They come in all types,” she said. “Plain Jane versus the buxom blonde. And most of the time the buxom blonde is not even in the business—ha-ha-ha! I’ve had girls who were very natural-looking, and you would never think … That’s the beauty of it.”

“They enjoy it,” she said, stirring her latte. “They feel like they’re not being taken advantage of any longer—they understand the situation, and they don’t get their heart broken. It’s just like being a mortician: You could just see people that are dead and you don’t get involved with them emotionally. Same thing as a working girl! Ha-ha-ha!

Unlike being a mortician, however, it seems hooking for cash—even for thousands an hour—is almost always a transitional career.

“They use the career for their purposes, and they get out,” Jane said. “After they’re gone, they’re gone. We don’t keep in touch, because that’s their private life. They get married, or fall in love; they move on, become famous. Sometimes we’ll bump into each other, which is rare because New York is so large.”

Heaven Protect the Working Girl