By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
So, what's a nice girl like me doing on a 1-900 line like this?
Two months ago I broke off a long-distance relationship with someone I really liked. He wanted me to have phone sex with him and I declined. It's not that I don't like phone sex. I do. I just don't believe that phone sex has anything to do with real sex, and I thought that maybe someday I'd want to have real sex with him. I wanted him to see my body without comparing it to some highly optimistic description I'd given him over the phone. Similarly, I believed that, since Qwest allows couples to avoid eye contact, it sometimes facilitates intimate confessions too early in the courtship process. I'm a private person. I'm not going to tell anyone about my peculiar fetish for rodeo clowns. At least not until the third date.
Truthfully, though, my fear of toll-free loving probably stemmed from The Incident. One day during grade school, I dialed a 1-900 number a classmate had given me. "The best part," explained my worldly companion, "is that it's a 900 number, so there's no long distance charge!" When I dialed, I heard a tape recording of cooing female voices: "We're hot, wet, and horny, and waiting for your big hard...[blah, blah, something sexy, blah]." I didn't understand the acts that they were describing. So I dialed and dialed and dialed until I had deciphered the code--or thought I had. The only certainty in the whole transaction was that I was in some very serious trouble when the phone bill came. Remembering the moment during my parents' reprimanding lecture when they asked me, "Did that turn you on?" was enough to keep me from glancing through a certain alt-weekly's back pages until I was 30.
Still, I toss this life lesson away. During my next trip to the supermarket, I pick up 900 Lover, a Harlequin "Blaze" Romance by Rhonda Nelson. The heroine, Rowan Crosswhite, is an out-of-work teacher who pays the bills by working as a phone sex operator. She takes most of her calls in the garden while she's weeding. That is, until she and the gardener of her dreams ride off into the sunset. As early as page six, I read that this is the ideal profession for people who want money without really having to do anything-- basically, the entire human race. "The less said, the better," Nelson writes. "Hell, all [Rowan] really had to do was gasp, wince, and moan. Easy to do, particularly when one was, say, cleaning the toilet, or weeding a flower bed, and the guys, thank God, took care of the rest."
That sage advice has proven true enough in my sex life. This is the first time I've ever agreed with a Harlequin novel. Then it strikes me: Of course, Rhonda Nelson knows what she's talking about. A romance writer has the same objective as a phone sex operator. And, while there's nothing particularly romantic about penning stories for a newspaper, I'm a writer, too. The reporter in me loves it when freaky people call me up and tell me shocking stories. Plus, with $10 in my bank account, I need a way to pay rent....
The less said, the better, as Ms. Nelson says. But I think you know what I'm thinking.
SexyJobs.com shows an opening for several phone sex operator positions. I put my name down for three of them, filling out the same type of application forms I'd be completing if I wanted to work as a grocery store clerk. A month later, I get a phone call.
The woman on the other end of the receiver says she's from a New Jersey-based company that employs PSOs (phone sex operators, to us lay people) across the country. She sounds completely generic. No identifying accent. No heavy breathing, funny inflections, or affectations. She is matter-of-fact and well-spoken. Ms. Generic explains that her website, which promotes PSO services, is completely unique because it caters to upscale gentlemen and relies on the "girls" to be classy and educated. I roll my eyes and ask what they pay. The caller shells out $2.35 per minute, she says, and the PSO gets 75 cents. The company keeps the rest.
"Tell me about yourself," she continues. I wonder, Does she mean my real self, or the self I'd play as an operator? They're two totally different people, and I don't think they get along. Plus, I don't relish the idea of talking dirty to my future boss. I opt for the real self.
"I'm a writer," I tell her. "I work from home. I thought this might be a way to pad my monthly income."
That answer sounds good to her. I wonder what answer wouldn't sound good to her.
Less than half an hour after we hang up, I get an e-mail welcoming me to the company.
A young girl with Manic Panic bangs? Not quite. A dominatrix in stilettos? Probably not. A beach bunny with fake boobs? No. Definitely not.
The New Jersey company has instructed me to pick out "character photos" from the company's website. There are about 20 sets of photos available to potential callers. I'm trying to decide which of them looks most like me.
Although I assume the client will direct the conversation, knowing that it's pure fantasy, I also expect that some of my sexuality will probably come out in the process, and that this "character" will, to some extent, really be me. Looking from photo to photo, I just don't think I can be sexy like a blonde, or like a goth, or like one of those girls with fairy wings. So I settle on a model with a preppy look. Unfortunately, she's wielding a dildo. But sometimes you've got to compromise.
Now I need to create a sexy profile for my character and maintain that personality on a LiveJournal account. I am comfortable with this type of task. I write about sex. I talk about sex at parties. I make jokes about sex over beer--though over the last 30-odd years, I've learned that this is often too much for men. So I choose a character that seems like me, just with a little more class. She teaches salsa lessons. She watches A Room with a View. She reads Phillip Roth. She listens to classical music. I even mention the kinds of schools I attended (Catholic prep school, small liberal arts college). I hope like will attract like and that I'll avoid nasty frat boys and ghetto-chic kids. Fine people, I'm sure, but what would we talk about, outside of my amazing ass?
Our company guidelines suggest that we troll online for callers. The idea is a bit of a bait and switch, so it's important to be clear that I'm working and not just surfing for companionship. But talking to people in chat rooms is tricky: I'll have to tease them a little to get them interested, but I can't engage in cybersex to the degree that the potential customer, erm, no longer needs my phone services.
Cybersex is largely plot-driven, meaning it's not uncommon for people to type things like "BigTits2004 sits on BigHardJohnny's lap" in the course of a chat. Not unlike Dungeons and Dragons, characters in chat rooms develop as a course of the action initiated. On the phone, I notice that younger callers tend to talk through a scenario, watching themselves act out a cinematic fantasy in their minds: I run my hands along your sides, pull off your top, and pinch your nipples gently. Older callers seem to opt for something more direct and literal: Baby, I'm stroking my hard cock right now. Though I don't know the ages of the prospective callers I meet online, they tend to fall into the latter category.
"Hi ladies! Anyone in the room like it up the ass?" asks one eloquent gent.
"Oooh! A buttfucker! I love a buttfucker!" coos my competition. Two other girls chime in immediately. With three girls on his lap, this guy isn't going to call anyone.
I find another adult chat room titled "Masturbation Time." Bingo. I don't even need to introduce myself here. As soon as I enter, I've got 20 men flopping around my feet like bullheads. Some of them type like children: "Hey! 'Sup. I wanna fuck you so bad." I throw the little ones back. At least one of these guys types on a 12th-grade level, but apparently, his high school education only taught him how to show me his penis on webcam. One gentleman seems interested until he discovers that I'm a PSO.
"You're just another 'bot," he complains, referring to the erotic e-mail services that spam in-boxes. "You don't care about anybody! Just the almighty dollar."
I take a moment to reflect on this. How much did these guys care about me? What sort of fulfilling long-term relationships have I turned down in declining to view their webcams? Are they really looking to find deep, loving interactions within "Masturbation Time"?
Maybe I don't know whom I'm dealing with here. I'm not so sure I'm cut out for this job.
I finally get my first call. A nice Midwestern guy has been instant-messaging me. I close the sale by saying I've got a salsa student coming in 45 minutes, so our 30-minute call will fit into my schedule just fine. After discussing a vivid situation involving me, my dance studio, and a dildo, he's done with a few minutes to spare. I expect him to hang up and save the extra money, but he stays on the line.
"So you teach dance?" he asks. "I took some lessons back when I was a kid. What are your students like?" He wants to know where I'm from originally. He notes that his ex-girlfriend is from my hometown. He wants to hear about my day. He wants to get to know me. Perhaps this friendly chat makes the process of caving in to his baser desires less lonely. Or maybe he enjoys basking in the afterglow.
They say men are interested in sex and women are interested in relationships. But I wonder, has this perception created a social standard that leaves men hungry for friendship? So hungry that, even when they can get sex for free, they'll pay women to have conversations with them? By the time I hang up the phone, I kind of like this Midwestern guy. He's caring. He's thoughtful. And he just made me $22.50 richer.
The masochist seems apologetic for calling. Maybe he should hang up, he says. Not all girls are into what he's into. My mind reels into fantasies that involve small animals and hot sauce.
"Why don't you tell me what's on your mind and we'll take it from there?" I say. Turns out he has a high-paying job in an affluent East Coast neighborhood. His fantasy is to lose that job and suffer the humiliation of working for the socialites and snobs who are currently his friends. I listen to him enjoy his money and his status: "What if you were my trophy wife?" he asks. "Would you just sit by the pool in your swimsuit and hat while our servants tended to your every need?" Then I listen to him contemplate losing everything--his wife, his kids, his career, his dignity. While he seems to be aroused by this fictionalized turn of events, the call is much more conversational than sexual. He could easily be calling me from his office--no one would have any idea who he was talking to.
There's a pause. "I like the authors you list on your profile," he says. So we talk about books. Then we talk about The West Wing. Then we talk about his experience working with the Kerry campaign. My caller confesses to relishing the moment that Bush was elected over Kerry. Clearly, he enjoys humiliation.
This whole situation reminds me of something a teacher once told me. Children seek out scary stories because it allows them to understand what's it's like to be afraid without actually risking the consequences that make an experience frightening in the first place. In theory, the next time they're in a scary situation in real life, they'll be more equipped to cope. Maybe this is why my East Coast friend wants to talk about losing everything. Good for him. I'm willing to help him through this line of therapy. And at $2.35 per minute, I'm cheaper than a shrink.
My caller wants me to hypnotize him. Apparently, he doesn't want to remember that he just asked me to treat him like a sissy.
I have a vintage copy of The Woman You Want to Be, a charm school textbook written in 1942 by Mrs. Margery Wilson. I read him chapter titles while he applies lipstick. He especially likes the section titled "Why Women Have to Please and Placate Men." So I have him tie himself to the bed, turn on his vibrator, and listen as I give him a pop quiz on etiquette that would make Miss Manners blush.
"Which fork is the salad fork?"
"I don't know."
"Wrong answer. SPANK!"
"How long do you have to send a wedding gift?"
"Sorry, one year. SPANK!"
"Tell me you're a lady," I demand. "Say it 10 times."
As the sissy follows orders, I look up from my laptop and see my kitty. She's wandering into the living room with a pair of tiny pink paws dangling out of her mouth. I'm not sure how much damage she's done, but dead or alive, that is one unhappy mouse on her tongue. Moved by respect for my beloved hamster, Sheldon Schwartz, I rise to my feet, still holding the phone.
"I've not been ladylike, I've been quite bad!" insists the sissy. I flick my kitty on the head, hoping she'll drop the mouse.
"Oh, you are bad," I say, to both the pussy and the sissy, even though they're both just doing the jobs God gave 'em.
I dribble water on kitty's head. "Oh, you bad, bad thing!"
"Yes, I've been bad!" says the sissy.
I grab the kitty and shake her a little. She starts to choke. The mouse has taken a proactive role in its own self-preservation and is wiggling against the back of her throat.
"Ever suck on something so big it makes you gag?" I ask the sissy.
"Yes," he says excitedly.
"Good," I say. "Do that now. Gag on it!"
The sissy is gagging. The kitty is choking. And then, lo and behold, the mouse gets ejected from those feline jaws and runs toward the Promised Land behind the refrigerator. I strut toward the door with pissed-off pussy in my arms, feeling victorious.
"You can stop gagging now," I tell the sissy. "I'd like you to praise me for my beauty and brilliance."
And the sissy responds with honors that I feel I actually deserve. "Ma'am, you are so beautiful and brilliant and ladylike and wonderful," he says, breathing harder. "I barely deserve to speak with you." As pussy claws the hell out of my back, trying to get back to her dinner, the sissy climaxes his way out of our call.
I've been told for years that the freaks come out at night, but that's certainly not true online. All's quiet on the chat room front as I search for potential customers. Only three other girls are in here with me. One of them doesn't seem very confident. When someone asks, "Are there any horny little sluts in this room?" she answers, "Ooh! Me! Me!" like Horshack clamoring for Mr. Kotter.
"Hey, you can stand up for yourself in here, you know," I tell her in an instant message. "I think the guys kind of like it."
"Oh, I don't mind," she answers. "This isn't humiliating. When my entire family was in the delivery room taking pictures of my baby's birth, even though I'd asked them not to? That was
I get an instant message from Midwestern Guy.
"I had a fantasy about you last night," he says.
"Really?" I type. "Tell me about it."
"Well, mostly it was just that you were at my apartment waiting for me when I got home from work."
There's a long silence on my end of the messenger.
I hope he finds a nice girl.
The phone rings and I'm greeted by a fellow PSO. "Hi," she says cheerily. "We've got a two-girl call with the sissy. 'She' just wants us to overwhelm her and humiliate her."
I'm in. My cohort clicks the sissy in to the conference call.
"Okay, Sissy! Up against the wall!" the other PSO bellows dramatically. "Get those ankles cuffed together! Switch the vibrator on and throw the handcuff keys across the room!"
A blissfully yelped "Okay!" is eked out of the sissy.
"Look at the poor sissy wriggle around in those cuffs. Pathetic, isn't it?" the other PSO asks me.
"Wow, is it ever," I agree. I have little else to add. My partner takes over for the rest of the call.
I'm not pleased with my performance. There are a number of reasons why I don't like having another woman on the phone. I have trouble letting other people help me file my taxes, much less arouse a man. Also, I'm afraid that when this other PSO hears my fake sex noises, she'll arch one eyebrow, roll her eyes, and think to herself Really? Isthat how we're going to play this? She'll see right through me. Plus, three people on the line is too much. Since only one person can talk at a time, one person always gets left out.
Still, there's one good reason why I remain on the phone with this other PSO: After 15 minutes of saying almost nothing, I am $7.50 richer.
I'm awakened by the automatic phone dispatch. A lesbian client would like for me to do a two-girl call with another PSO. Our confident customer has worked as a PSO herself, and she knows exactly what she wants from our services. "I basically want you to rape each other," she says. "Like, maybe one of you forces herself on the other girl. And the second girl says something like, 'Eeew! But you're a lesbian. I'd never do anything like that.' Maybe you start out just wrestling each other. Which of you is the more dominant?"
I'm pretty sure I'm not the dominant one here. Nevertheless, when there's a lull on the line, I pipe up, "I am." I want this to be over as soon as possible.
"Okay," I say, not entirely comfortable with the situation. "Let's say she and I are dancing, and I back her into a corner...."
"Yeah, that's good," the client chimes in.
I contemplate hanging up. I don't like rape scenes. I don't like violence. It's not worth the $45 an hour to have someone batter you, even if it's just over the phone. My client senses my hesitation.
"It's all fake anyway," she insists, trying to assure me that she has no intention of acting on these fantasies. Whether that's true or not, I let her go on describing the scene she wants: "So we tie her to the bed, and shove that strap-on dildo into her...." My fellow PSO and I are just cooing along with her.
I wish she'd chosen a scenario that didn't make me feel uncomfortable, or even one that might turn me on a little. But I stay and participate because of my fellow PSO. When you work in a restaurant, the waitresses stay late to order a cocktail, and the bartenders always pour a little heavier for their co-workers. The same rules apply here. I want to do right by my fellow PSO. I think she deserves it. But one thing does feel strange about my rationale for going through with this fake rape scenario: Do I feel like I owe her something precisely because I'm not turned on?
The old man wants to have a woman shave his head and ridicule him. He wants her to be mean, to laugh at him.
This is funny to me. I laugh.
"That's an evil laugh you've got," he says. This kinky septuagenarian sounds like he's from the Bible Belt. I'm putting my money on Kentucky.
"I've almost gotten my hair cut off many times," he continues. "Sometimes I go into hair salons and just sit there, pretend I'm waiting for someone, and watch people get their hair cut. One time I went into a beauty shop. There were two women working there. One gal took me back in the chair and held me down and put a towel on me. The other old gal reached down to get something out of the bottom drawer and I could see her panty lines. She was wearing briefs--you know, like the old gals wear. She caught me in the mirror, looking at her. She was mad. And I was aroused. What could I do? I ran out! What do you think they thought of me?"
"I don't know," I say. "Did they see that you were aroused?"
"No, I had that big beauty parlor cape on."
"Well, I bet they thought you were crazy," I say. "Or a pervert."
"Sure. What would you think if someone came into your hair salon and then ran out before he could get a cut?"
"What kind of panties do you wear?" he asks me. "What size?"
"Size 4," I answer. That's less than half the size I take. "What kind of panties do you like?"
"Well, I'm old-fashioned," he replies. "I don't have much to say about a thong. I like a brief."
Over the next 40 minutes, we discuss a salon in New York that's known for something called "bikini graffiti." He wants to know what women think of this sort of thing. He wants the opinion of an expert. Evidently, that's me.
One Week Later
I am awakened by the sound of a fist banging on my wall. I shoot up in bed and my body freezes, calling on all of my senses to gather information about the danger that's happening around me. Since I can't see what's going on in the apartment next door, I turn my good ear toward the wall, listening for details to provide the 911 operator. There is a heavy, angry, rhythmic banging, and then...shit. I hear the sound of a woman struggling. I can't make out words, but she sounds like she's trying to be heard. I pick up the receiver to dial, when suddenly, I hear it.
"Oh yes. Oh yes! Oh baby! OH YES!"
Oh hell. My "intruder" is just my 20-year-old neighbor, getting laid. She's shouting so loudly that I can hear her affirmations straight through the plaster that separates us. I have to give her partner credit, though--it sounds like he's doing his part to find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. And my neighbor, screaming everything but "Go, team, go," is one helluva cheerleader. But her utterances are artless and clumsy, and something tells me they're not genuine. She's screaming her head off, but the pitch of her voice stays up in the stratosphere at all times, rather than occasionally lowering to a rumbling purr when her lover gets things right. And as her squawking picks up the pace, it seems less inspired by delight than by a desire to get this show on the road.
Poor girl. Though I'm still a novice at this aural sex thing, I've learned quite a bit about talking dirty over the past week. Sex noises, like trust and consumer credit, must be earned. That's why I told my long-distance ex that I didn't want to have phone sex before we'd had real sex. That's why beauty salon matrons don't appreciate strangers who pant loudly over their granny panties. Ultimately, that's why callers want to speak with me--they know they've earned my own ecstatic coos, right down to the last deductions from their Visa cards. Ideally, once we've hung up, no one--not me, not my callers, and not their girlfriends or wives--has to say anything between the sheets that she doesn't mean.
I hope my neighbor eventually figures this out. Her sex life will be much better when she does.
In the meantime, if Tootsie Pop Guy keeps her moaning like that, there's a certain number I'm gonna want to call....
*Suzy Olson is not the author's real name