By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
When the Mary Kay rep leaves a little richer, Hof, like a hedonistic self-help guru, begins to pump up his audience for the big finish. Starting low and building, he chants a kind of brothel mantra. The rallying cry is picked up tentatively by his audience, but the small parlor soon reverberates with "Pussy power, pussy power, pussy power ..." Hof works up to a crescendo, stabbing the air with a straight-arm salute as each word booms out. The girls follow suit, stamping the floor with their high heels.
When things calm down a bit, Hof urges the girls to work the customers a little harder and to hustle. "You accept rejection too quickly," he scolds them. " 'No' does not mean 'no.' " In other words, he concludes, "You always have to be closing." When he stands to leave, he's given a round of applause. One of the girls shouts, "We love you, Daddy!"
View all photos in Kevin Scanlon's slideshow, "The Family Prostitute: Portraits of Women Brand-New to the Sex Trade."
With the boss gone, the parlor takes on the ambience of a debauched sorority. A karaoke machine is turned on and the girls have a few more drinks and sing songs with sexual themes. Chloe Daniels, a big, buxom blonde in her mid-30s who moonlights as a porn performer, acts as a sort of house mother to the rest of the girls. Wearing a skin-tight spandex dress that features strategically placed cutouts, she improvises dances based upon everyday items. "This one's called 'the Sprinkler,' " she says, mimicking the chattering Rain Bird watering system — left arm cocked at a 90-degree angle, right arm straight out, hips shaking. The karaoke machine kicks into Fergie's "Fergalicious," which elicits squeals of delight from the girls participating in this spontaneous party.
For no particular reason, an auburn-haired girl named Josie pipes up, "I suffer from ADHD, you know." An attractive, fit woman in her early 30s who wears a royal-blue, less-is-more two-piece, Josie seems a bit unsteady. Like the other girls, she is constantly laying down the "whore con" which involves touching whatever man she's talking to, calling him "baby" or "honey" and not-so-subtly showing off her body. Done skillfully, it's an art form. Done under the influence of a few drinks, it's comical.
Unprompted, she launches into an awful tale of being "abducted, raped, waterboarded and left for dead" somewhere in Los Angeles, which is where she used to call home. For her, working in a legal brothel has provided something of a lifeline.
"I need Adderall," she says, to treat her attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. She also says she needs therapy.
Josie has three children, one of whom, an 11-year-old daughter, stays with her. She says she has "joint custody" of the other two. "I don't expose my kid to this," she says of the brothel. "She knows what I do. ... I just don't expose her to it."
A former production assistant and archivist working in the film industry, Josie says that when work in Los Angeles became harder to find — and she went through numerous personal problems — she came to the brothels, first working across the cul-de-sac at the Kit Kat. "The rates here are much cheaper," she says of the $25-a-day fee for room and board. "At the other place, you had to pay for the maids, too."
But, mostly, Josie says her brothel work is for her kids.
Although it's a familiar refrain here, it's not always children the prostitutes are supporting. Ciara, at 20, one of the youngest girls working at the brothel, supports her boyfriend and his family.
It's not hard to see why she's popular with customers. At nearly 6 feet tall, with short blond hair, she's striking. Her satin lingerie ensemble emphasizes long legs and a taut torso. And as she talks, she exhibits a pleasant demeanor and a quick smile.
A local girl who grew up near Lake Tahoe in the solidly middle-class suburb of Incline, she had no prior sex-industry experience before she began her stint, in February 2009.
"I couldn't find a job," she says. "I lost my apartment. I had a best friend working here and it didn't seem so bad. She told me that it's just like a one-night stand — but that you have four or five of them a night. I had only had two one-night stands in my life."
Ciara's entry into the business was prompted when her boyfriend was diagnosed with lymphoma and began chemotherapy. "I'm supporting my boyfriend and his mom. Her disability insurance ran out. My boyfriend can't work because he's so fatigued. The chemo takes a lot out of him. Basically, I support him completely. I've been doing it for almost a year." Even though she mostly does well as an earner, she sums up her home life by saying, "We squeak by. It just depends on how work is going."
Ciara is certainly doing better here, she says, than at her previous gig at an Applebee's restaurant. "I have parties that go from $3,000 down to $100. The big money is with the VIP parties. One guy will pay me a couple grand just to take a bubble bath and watch movies with me. You develop a clientele after you've been here a while."