By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
|Photos by Alix Lambert|
Time-traveling west on Melrose Avenue, I’m nearly oblivious to the Los Angeles chemical sunset swallowing the cityscape. From the back seat of a 1980s Volvo station wagon, I take in the foot traffic on the sidewalk as we round the corner from Van Ness Avenue onto the boulevard of love. Santa Monica Boulevard. The meandering. The disenfranchised. The gender-challenged in high heels with bruised ankles and manufactured hair. Teen boys with absentee fathers seeking surrogate “uncles” play cat-and-mouse with Hollywood vice cops. African-American parolees with practiced gestures designed to draw the eye to superior “package” presentation, promising a really big, black bang for the buck as a discerning flesh patron in a BMW 7 Series slows his roll to inspect the trade.
Directly across the street, a manic, dirty-blond 16-year-old crystal-meth orphan outfitted in urban-guerrilla chic attempts to light at a bus bench in hopes of attracting a suitor, but the chaos at work in his nearly skeletal frame won’t permit a moment’s repose. He scampers down the block at a frantic pace, disappearing into the night as the last vestige of the golden hour dissipates.
Taz, my old friend and running partner, and I are on a sort of archaeological expedition, taking a comprehensive citywide tour of my now distant past.
“Everybody loves hookers,” Taz jokes from the front seat. I laugh, but it isn’t funny. These people are not in good shape. I can’t imagine most of the young’uns will see 30. I’m not quite sure how I made it. Back in the day, I did my own tour of duty on this very same bleak street.
My initial exposure to prostitution came at the tender age of 10. My friends and I would hang around the playground after school until a young trollop named Tracey would happen by and take us home to her garage. There, we would poke and sniff around at her thing for a nominal fee of 50 cents per person, per session. I was a prepubescent john.
I turned my first trick in my hometown of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, at 13 when a 30-year-old pedophile paid $20 to watch me masturbate. I was a Midwestern teenager who instinctively understood the commodity value of my youthful sexuality. I knew right away that it was just the job for me.
Like most other kids doing time on the street, my fate was sealed early. When I was 7 or 8 years old, a perverted, sexagenarian relative of mine started molesting a young cousin and me. It went on for years and was one of a litany of sexual injuries I sustained during childhood in an atmosphere as toxic as the air over Hollywood. My bell was rung early on, and no one seemed to notice. My trust had been shattered in a world seemingly filled with the silence and complicity of co-conspirators.
A few years down the road and more than a few times around the block, I began honing my street-sex skills to a fine edge in New York City and Los Angeles. As a full-blown teen hooker, my appeal was my fresh-faced, heartland, boy-meat aesthetic. Young, dumb and full of barbiturates. For a brief time this was an accurate outward rendering of my internal condition. But under the tutelage of three highly skilled Puerto Rican hooker-brothers from the Bronx — Kiko, Coco and Benny (13, 15 and 17, respectively) — I created a caricature of myself to use as a marketing ploy. My new friends were masterful at their craft and shared hard-learned, practical skills with great generosity.
The mark of a good busboy is the absence of noise and an awareness of his presence around the table. When a level of mastery is achieved, you don’t even know the table has been cleared. You only experience the clean table. It’s Zen. The mark of a good hustler is the absence of sex while getting the cash. The perfect trick is the one where you walk out with the money and don’t engage in sex. As opposed to prostitution proper, hustling’s ultimate goal is to profit financially, not to trade sex for money. It’s a hustle, a con and also a somewhat Zen practice that few understand, let alone master. A savvy hustler will ultimately have to serve it up from time to time, but even the best three-card monte dealer goes home broke some days.
I was a quick study with a natural ability. I had all the moves and was good to go, prolific right out of the gate. Though prostitution was my primary career, it wasn’t my only option. At 18, I was creative, ambitious and focused in other areas as well. I signed a major-label record deal fronting a band and worked as an actor on a network TV series and in films. I was also laying the groundwork for still another full-time job as an IV drug addict. The childhood injury was massive, and I was stuffing it full of anything I could get my hands on. I was very, very busy.
Clearly, commerce was not the impetus for me to work the streets, as I was banking more than $100,000 a year. Yet I was still turning tricks on a regular basis, engaged in something called a re-enactment compulsion, trying to get a handle on an old wound from the reverse side. The level of commitment I had to the “lifestyle” was commensurate with the level of sexual damage I had sustained as a kid, but I was lifetimes away from that realization.
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