My First Experience With a Prostitute


Sep 21, 2002


The Bottom Line This is a non-fiction piece about my job, a pack of cigarettes, and an experience I had with a prostitute in San Francisco.

I had been at a concert in San Francisco when I found myself out of cigarettes, an affliction I suffered perhaps every other day, my habit being less severe than those that had taken the lives of so many people I’d known. My friend and I had met at the theater, and we had split up after the performance, so I was alone in my truck when she approached me.

My new pack was in my hands, and I was fiddling with the wrapper when she appeared, silhouetted against the bright lights of the corner liquor store.

She said, “Hey, handsome, do you want a date?”

She was a pretty black woman of about 30, but her eyes were distant, as if she too had recently satisfied an addiction. My first thought was heroin. My second thought was of my girlfriend safe and warm in my bed. I took the plastic wrap off of my fresh pack.

She had no way of knowing who I was, or that I worked as a psychologist at a mother and children’s drug treatment facility in Oakland. Only a few nights before, I had stayed late and listened to the story of Patrice, one of my adult clients: how her daughter had recently turned six, and how this was bringing up issues for her, as six was the age at which her own mother’s boyfriend had started sexually abusing her.

Patrice had explained how she didn’t want to be like her mother, who had sometimes been in the same bed when the abuse took place, doing nothing, and how little bits and pieces of long-repressed memory were returning to her, seeing in her daughter a young an innocent version of herself. My client was always laughing and joking around, and this was the first time I’d seen her cry.

I said, “No, I have to get home.”

The woman lingered at my open window, and I looked again at her face. She was attractive, and quietly wasted at first, but then she started to get fidgety, which made me feel a little nervous as well. My motor was running, but I didn’t pull away.

I wondered who this young woman was, and what she had done before she took up her current profession. I knew that some of my adult clients had been telephone operators, receptionists, and even drug counselors before their habits took them to the street. About 70% had sold their bodies for drug money while in their addictions.

Patrice was very bright, but had been relatively young when she took to the streets. The emotions she had processed the other night were deep, and sometimes conflicting. Not only did she want to protect her daughter from what had happened to her, but she also felt jealous of her daughter: jealous that her daughter could be six years old in a mother and children’s drug treatment program where she was protected from abuse. And then she felt guilty about feeling jealous of her daughter. And she was mad at her mother, wishing that her mother, also an addict, could have found a program like the one at which she was a resident, and I a counselor.

The woman said, “Well then, hey, could you just drive me a couple of blocks down the street? I just gotta get a couple of blocks down the street.”

She was getting more antsy, and this made me a bit fearful, but I was surprised by the thought that went through my head. My fear was not that this young woman would have a weapon, and try to mug me, nor was it that some large “pimp” would emerge from the darkness and hassle me. It was that the police would suddenly emerge from nowhere and arrest me.

Arrest me for what? I hadn’t offered her any money, and I hadn’t invited her into my car. But I was still afraid.

And then I suddenly smiled at the irony: How funny it was that a part of my job was to help former prostitutes and drug dealers learn to lead the “straight” life, yet I was more fearful of entrapment by the police than of a prostitute and the unsavory company that might surround her. A couple of frivolous traffic stops over a ten year period had been enough to undermine my feeling of safety around Officers of the Law.

She said, “Come on, Baby, just a couple of blocks down the street.”

I had noticed at work that many of the women I worked with were good in the area of sales. They could keep you involved in a conversation, or convince you to give them a privilege that the rules did not allow, with great skill. In fact, in counselors meetings we had spoken of the importance of helping our adult clients “sublimate” their sales skills into what we considered legitimate work.

And there I was, mostly a prisoner of my own thoughts, but also of her persistence, actually contemplating giving her a ride.

I said, “No, I really got to get across the bridge.”

And at that point I gave her a look, I remember, of something like disbelief, as if to say, “What the hell are we doing out here having this conversation? And who are you, really?” I remember feeling kind of choked up, and like I wanted to tell her who I was, and what I did for a living.

And then her face softened, and she smiled, though just for a couple of seconds. She knew in that moment that I wasn’t a potential John, and I think she knew that I didn’t judge her either.

When she said, “Just a couple of blocks?” there was no conviction in her voice. “I’m just looking for a date,” sort of trailed off into the night.

I pulled a cigarette out of my pack but I didn’t offer her one. I suppose I was putting my boundaries back up. I said, “I hope you find a man who treats you right tonight,” and I looked her straight in the face because I meant it.

Then I threw the truck into first and pulled off.

On the bridge, the Bay Bridge which takes me back to the East Bay, I wondered if I’d see her in our Program one day, or if she’d wind up dead, or just keep on doing what’s she’s doing.

At work the next day, I wanted to mention my experience to Partice, but I did not, as it is not appropriate to discuss our personal lives with clients.

This all happened about three years ago. Last I heard, Patrice was still clean and sober, had a good job, and her daughter was doing well. As for the prostitute, I don’t think I’d recognize her if I saw her today.

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