Landing on my feet: After the the first lawsuit
How to Protect and Financial Planning Institute were dead. I had started a new imprint, Mt Ivy Press, that had published a couple of cookbooks, a couple of other non-blockbusters and a prurient but not hard-core tome, Gigolos — The Secret Lives of Men who Service Women, containing interviews with the real deals plying their amorous trade in Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and Florida.
The book was a glimpse into a hidden world that most people never even imagine. We got tremendous media coverage. The trash-talking daytime TV shows ate it up - we did seven or eight network shows, one after another. When my authors were unavailable to tape the show, I was interviewed, flanked by a couple of tanned California gigolos, by Leeza Gibbons.
The shows’ producers were invariably sweet young things right out of college with names like Mindy and Buffy, who hadn’t the faintest idea how to locate gigolos to appear as guests. It became my job to unearth the elusive creatures and convince them to appear on network TV. There was no dearth of subjects who liked the idea of having fifteen minutes of fame, but all had reservations about the effect of such publicity on their high-paying patrons. The compromise: to protect their anonymity and that of their customers, they would appear on air in shadow and/or disguise — appropriate enough for their chosen way of life.
We placed ads in the Triple-X-Rated Personals sections of alternative papers like The Boston Phoenix and The Village Voice: “Small publisher seeks male escorts to appear on TV to publicize book.” We were surprised at the many responses the ads elicited. The press kits we mailed out always contained a copy of the book. More often than not, the producer at the other end would call immediately to make arrangements for a show and to ask for additional copies because the staff was fighting to read it.
The term “gigolo” was coined by author Edna Ferber during the period when young men went off to fight in World War I and women went to the dance halls to find replacements. I learned some unexpected things from this project. For instance, most gigolos got into the business after being propositioned by a woman, a nice, respectable woman at that. The men typically were very candid, obviously enjoying the rare opportunity to speak freely about their secret lives. Unlike female prostitutes, the men consistently reported that they never felt exploited. They did not refer to their women as tricks or in any other demeaning language. On the contrary, they respected their clients, enjoyed their work, and were proud of themselves for doing their chosen activity well.
Surprisingly, they were not necessarily handsome; in fact, most were rather average. They were not necessarily hired for sex either; some were arm candy for women who needed escorts to important social events (particularly in Washington, DC, where insiders referred to them as “walkers.”) Some offered a dry shoulder to cry on, or a complete escape from reality or the fun and companionship that was missing from a marriage of necessity. Whatever the woman needed, they supplied. The gigolos came in all ages, from college kids to a widowed grandfather we encountered with a penile implant. He was supplementing his Social Security in Florida to the tune of $2,000 a week. Most of the men had at least a college education.
It was a fascinating project. After talking with scores of men I noticed many consistent similarities. Most surprising, all of them, with one or two exceptions, had been raised Catholic. Having myself been raised Catholic, I searched my memory for some clue as to why this was so. Out of my own experiences I was not able to come up with a theory.
Some years later when the clergy sex scandals became headline news in Boston, I made the connection between prior abuse and what could be seen as deviant behavior. The gigolos who had women friends in the sex trade (I met a couple of them) reported that the women in that business also were overwhelmingly Catholic.
Men I knew who heard about this project invariably asked, Where do I sign up? I always told them, You wouldn’t qualify. The gigolos’ chief virtue was that they understood that the sine qua non of the transaction was that the woman had complete control. Absolute and unequivocal power was the ingredient that woman would pay good money for, because it is rarer than diamonds. How often does a woman experience voluntarily conferred, not-to-be-challenged power in an intimate relationship with a man?
Sometimes the gigolo net would pull up an unexpected fish, like the time I got a call from a curious college professor who had seen the ad in The Phoenix. It was after-hours but I was working late in my home office when the phone rang. He was not a male escort, he said, he was a dominant for hire. Submissives, he explained were people who, for one reason or another — he didn’t elaborate — needed a certain degree of pain to achieve sexual gratification. He helped them experience pleasure.
Sensing my discomfort, he pronounced, somewhat donnishly, that S&M was just another form of sexual gratification, one that involved a very high degree of trust between the submissive and the dominant, more than in what is known as a “normal” relationship.
I listened spellbound, without judging, as I had been doing all along with the gigolos. This was another intimate transaction that was all about control, I realized. The professor seemed anxious to educate me in the ways of his chosen alternate lifestyle.
Because there was pain involved, he explained, it was absolutely necessary that the submissive trust his/her dominant. In an encounter that involved the submissive being in bondage there was always a prearranged signal between the two participants that meant “stop.” It was never the word “stop,” he explained, because the submissive might cry out, “Oh, no, please stop,” as part of the enactment. It had to be an out-of-context word like “albatross” or “department” which, as soon as it was invoked, was an inviolable signal to the dominant to desist.
The longer we talked the more I was able to understand the ritual aspect of the behavior and the less horrified I was. I asked about prior abuse, shame and guilt as factors in this lifestyle, but my instructor seemed uncomfortable with this line of questioning and I did not persist. At the end of our long conversation he invited me to a nightclub that was a watering hole for the sado-masochistic set, in the basement of a gay bar downtown.
I checked what he’d told me about where he worked; he was indeed a full professor at a local college. At the time, I was dating a man who was six-foot-three and over two hundred pounds, and he was willing to accompany me on this odd mission. My curiosity got the better of me.
On the appointed evening we approached an unmarked door in a purple-painted building in the Fenway area of Boston and entered a vestibule hellishly aglow with red light bulbs. A line of gay men in tight pants and shirts open to the waist was waiting to be admitted to the bar overhead. Pounding dance music poured down the stairs. Another flight of stairs led down to our destination from which no sound arose.
It was like lifting a rock and finding a space tunnel to another planet. I was Luke Skywalker entering the saloon full of Wookies and other peculiar space creatures in the movie Star Wars.
The basement, low-ceilinged with a long wooden central bar surrounded by high stools, resembled any other dim, crowded night spot except that the mingling crowd was dressed from head to toe in black leather. The men wore heavy boots, the women spike-heeled platform pumps and fishnet stockings. Most sported dog collars and wristbands gleaming with mean-looking metal studs. Some wore heavy belts from which dangled various whips, handcuffs and chains.
Our host had been watching for our arrival and met us promptly at the door. He was a small, gray-bearded, professorial man attired (incongruously, it seemed to me, as I studied his benign face) like the others. A gracious host, he began escorting us around the room, introducing us to people he thought would interest us. We met his submissive, a plump, pleasant woman who said she was an executive secretary in a major corporation. She was one of the few there dressed in street clothes but she, like our host, was greeted by the others as a regular.
If control was the currency, then black leather seemed to be the vocabulary of S&M, worn by both dominants and apparently also submissives. In one corner of the room, facing the wall, a young man with his black leather pants around his ankles was handcuffed to the metal pipes overhead. By agreement with law enforcement, our host explained, there was no frontal nudity here. This pas de deux was called a “scene.” The man was having his bare fanny lightly whipped by a dominatrix who wore geeky eyeglasses and, except for the leather and fishnets, looked like she might be a spinster librarian. They both seemed bored, as did the crowd milling around ignoring them.
Other than the whips, I wasn’t sure how the participants signaled their predilections to their opposites. We, of course, were not wearing black leather which, I guessed, indicated that we were probably outsiders. But when our host introduced me as the publisher of a book about male escorts, we were instantly accepted. The professor stayed nearby until it must have seemed that we were mingling more or less comfortably, then wandered off leaving us to carry on by ourselves.
I was surprised that I did not feel unsafe among this crowd of people who clearly had visited their dark side. If I closed my eyes to their manner of dress nothing seemed amiss. Men and women were circulating and chatting all around us. Overheard conversations concerned a recent Red Sox trade, the unpredictability of New England weather and other such routine social fodder. Just your usual Saturday night cocktail party, I thought. If liaisons were being established, it was all done discreetly, or at least while we were there.
At one point, I struck up a conversation with a young woman, elaborately outfitted in leather and whips, with the pretty, intelligent face of an upwardly mobile yuppie. She was a graphic designer by profession. We had something in common — that was also my field, I told her. She had been a dominatrix for five years.
How much did she charge for her services?
Three hundred dollars an hour.
Did she enjoy the work?
Yes, she found it interesting.
Where did she get her leather outfits?
Who were her clients?
All kinds. Bus drivers. Cops. Clergy.
Any one group most heavily represented?
Lawyers - by far.
I had briefly considered publishing a book about the S&M lifestyle but quickly changed my mind, in large part because of the surprising sales figures for Gigolos - the surprisingly low sales figures.
Gigolos was an easy book to publicize but a hard one to sell. The average woman wasn’t comfortable handing it openly to a clerk with her credit card in a bookstore.
Bad timing. In a few years the anonymity of the Internet and its huge marketing potential would have allowed the book to reach its full, fabulous potential.
While I was working on Gigolos I came across a criminal attorney who represented sex trade workers and also some of the more dangerous elements of society — murderers, rapists, and the like. He had been raised in an affluent family with all the advantages a child could have. He graduated from an Ivy League college and law school. My impression of him was that he was a very nice person. I was curious about how he had gotten into this particular area of the law and how he felt about his work.
“It’s a job that needs to be done,” he told me, “and it pays well.”
“But what about your clients? What happens when you’re representing someone you know is guilty? Like a murderer.”
“I do my best to get them acquitted.”
"Have you gotten any murderers off?” I asked, shocked.
“Oh, sure, lots, many,” he replied.
“But how do you sleep at night?”
“I sleep fine. I’m just doing the job the law requires of me.”
“So how do you get a murderer off?” I asked.
He began to recount the story of a client of his who was accused of murdering someone in a parking garage when I interrupted him.
“Did he do it?” I asked.
“That’s not a question for me to answer,” he replied. “That’s for the jury to decide.”
“But what was your personal belief about whether or not he did it?”
“Oh, I’m quite certain he did it. But I don’t have to worry about that. It’s the state’s job to make the case against him, beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“And with your help he went free?” I was shocked.
“Listen,” he said. “When the prosecution presented the evidence against him they had a witness who testified that he had seen a brawl between my client and the dead man on the sixth floor of the garage where the murder occurred. When the jury saw the crime scene photos taken by the police, plain as day behind the chalk outline of the body and the yellow crime scene tape you could see painted on a concrete column: FLOOR 8. The state didn’t do its job. They should physically have taken the witness to the crime scene so he could confirm the location of what he had seen. My client walked.”
“But he may murder somebody else,” I said, disturbed.
“He may indeed,” the lawyer replied. “But you have to remember one thing. If someday someone falsely accuses you of being a pedophile, and your family disowns you for disgracing them and your neighbors turn away because they’re afraid of you and your friends are revolted by you, where do you turn? These things happen all the time. The only person in the world who has to stand up and zealously defend you is your lawyer.”
Some days later I joined him for lunch with a couple of his clients, a gigolo and a Fourty-second Street peep show girl with a master’s degree in finance. He ordered his first double Scotch at 11:30. By the time we left the restaurant at 1:00, he had had three more.