So New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned because the FBI discovered he was sleeping with expensive call girls. America, predictably, went crazy. A man cheated on his wife! Quick, call all the pop psychologists and famous feminist authors, and book them for the morning talk shows! And I, a former booking agent at one of New York’s most exclusive escort agencies, just rolled my eyes.
Remember that scene from Casablanca, when Captain Renault declares that he is shocked, shocked to find gambling going on — just as the croupier hands him his winnings? I keep thinking of that scene when I read about all those politicians who are baying for Spitzer’s blood. Because I know, and they know, that almost all of them have been escort agency clients too. Show me a rich and powerful man between the ages of 35 and 60 who has never paid an escort for sex, and I will show you a man who is a very rare exception.
But why would a rich, powerful and handsome man pay for extra-marital sex? Aren’t there tons of women waiting to throw themselves at him for free? Yes, there are. But those women always want something: they want attention, intimacy and romance. They want to enjoy the high of sleeping with a powerful man. Escorts don’t want or care about any of those things. At least one of the articles about the 22 year-old escort who slept with Spitzer implied that she didn’t even know who he was. Based on my experience, I think it’s highly unlikely that she knew or cared. She was in it for the money, and she had as much to hide as he did.
One high-powered New York attorney explained it to me like this: “Of course I love my wife. Escorts have nothing to do with that. She comes to my hotel room and I don’t have to know her name, because they all use fake names like Amber and Kimberly. I don’t have to worry about how she feels or what she wants. It’s a simple exchange: I give her a thousand bucks, we have a good time for a couple of hours, she goes away and we never have to see each other again.”
A thousand dollars is nothing for these men. Money has little value; because no matter how hard they try they will never be able to spend their hundreds of millions. And if you are about to say that for a thousand bucks those girls must supply the best sex in history, then you really do not understand this world. Because it is not about sex; it is about power. And the simple act of ordering up an anonymously pretty 22 year-old girl to do your bidding in the salubrious confines of a luxury hotel suite is an act of power.
So, how common is this escorts plus rich-and-powerful men phenomenon? Really common. So common, that one aspiring model who worked for my agency told me she was leaving her midtown apartment, which was located near the luxury hotels, white shoe law firms and hedge funds of Manhattan, and moving downtown because she could not poke her head out her front door without running into a client. The aspiring model, by the way, started working as an escort because, as she put it, “I have sex with photographers and agents for free, just because they promise that they might get me a modeling job. At least with the escort agency clients I know for sure that I’ll get paid.”
The clients at my agency ranged from Saudi princes — including one who showed me his Harvard ID card when he came to the office to pay in advance by credit card for a night with two girls – to ordinary Wall Street billionaires. A lot of them were nice family guys — albeit the kind who could afford eight bedroom apartments on upper Madison Avenue, a weekend estate in the Hamptons, a full time driver and a private plane. They took me out for lunch at the Four Seasons and we talked about books and politics. Anything but sex. I went because I enjoyed their company. They were smart, interesting, well-educated men.
In fact, I rarely discussed sex with the escorts, either. This was for the protection of all of us: if we were ever questioned by the police, we could safely stick to the story that the clients paid for companionship, and that sex was something that happened between two adults but it certainly was not the service we offered. The only time I heard specifics about clients from the escorts was when the client was “difficult.” If I heard the same complaint from more than two girls, I would either blacklist the client or make sure that I sent a girl who could handle his type.
Take, for example, the CEO of an international airline who was a cocaine freak. Once a month, usually over a weekend, he would check into a suite at the Pierre, call the agency and book a dozen or so girls. He would book the girls for four hours each, staggered over the following two days. According to the girls, all he did was sit half-naked on his bed next to a mountain of cocaine, which he snorted constantly while crying about his divorce and the stress he endured at work. As the hours progressed, he would become increasingly paranoid and irrational. Every so often he would pass the tray of cocaine over to the girl and insist that she take some. So I would only send girls who had long hair, which they used to hide the fact that they were not really snorting the cocaine but rather brushing it aside; and I would make sure the girls were sufficiently tough to handle a guy who would occasionally sidle up to the window, look down and mutter that “they might be coming to get him.”
Once, that particular client ran out of cash toward the end of the weekend. In a shaking voice he asked me to please let him pay by check, because he just could not be alone. So I agreed, because he was a regular client. The next day I took the check to his private bank and exchanged it for several thousand dollars in cash — after the clerk, who had the client on speed dial, called to verify that the shaky signature was really his.
Another “difficult” client would offer the girls $40,000 in cash if she would agree to have intercourse without a condom. Or there was the one who like to watch girls defecate on a glass table. And then there was the Wall Street guy who had a closet full of sado costumes. He would instruct the girls to wear them and perform for him while he sat in an armchair wearing only an adult diaper.
But most of the clients were of the cookie-cutter variety: rich, powerful, cynical and married. About 95 percent of the clients were married. I remember one who was flipping through the photo album in the office, pointing approvingly at various escorts’ bathing suit shots, while carrying on a mobile phone conversation with his wife. Apparently she was redecorating, and they could not agree on the colors for his office.
Yes, I did become cynical, jaded and confused. On the one hand I could not deny the basic reality of supply and demand. None of these girls was coerced into selling her body for money. Most of them came from middle-class backgrounds, and many had been accepted to universities. But they dropped out as soon as they discovered that they could make $20-30,000 a month as an escort.
Then they got addicted to the money and the lifestyle. And then one day, usually between the ages of 25 and 28, once they’d developed that knowing, experienced look that clients instinctively disliked, they found that themselves in a classic bind: they were addicted to high living but could no longer pay for it; they had no marketable skills; and years of late nights and lazy days had left them with no self-discipline. What to do? The really smart ones pulled themselves together and, with the help of a sympathetic client, started some kind of a business. Others married rich, cynical, older men in a sort of paid-wife arrangement. Those were the most common stories. I did not inquire into the fate of the girls who sort of faded away. I did not want to hear about their loneliness and poverty.
So the value of the escorts declined rapidly as they aged. Meanwhile, the value of the clients increased because they accumulated more money and more power. I could not make my peace with the power imbalance, even though I understood intellectually that the men would always want to pay women for sex, and there would always be women who wanted to be paid for sex.
But as a modern woman brought up to believe in romance, intimacy, equality between the sexes and monogamy, I had a really hard time dealing with the dawning understanding that the very men I’d been taught to value — my peers, as it were — were pretty atavistic types. They seemed to prefer whores in the bedroom and ladies in the salon.
And so, we come to Spitzer’s wife. Apparently, she urged her husband not to resign. I can understand her. They may have stopped having sex years ago, as many high-powered couples do. If so, she knew he had not stopped having sex altogether — just with her. And if so, she stayed with him because she enjoyed being the wife of the attorney general, and then the wife of the governor. She liked the social perks, and the money. And she may have loved him, despite it all.
As long as they kept up appearances, everything was fine. She had her life, he had his, and they had the kids. But now, the mask of hypocritical social propriety has been ripped off. Her female friends are all looking at their husbands, knowing that they dodged a bullet. And Mrs. Spitzer must figure out how to maintain her dignity in the face of mainstream America’s hypocritical opprobrium.
“Ruth Henderson” is a pseudonym for a writer and blogger who once worked as a booker at a New York escort service