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I became a prostitute for a night. Not a high-class escort (the logistics seemed too daunting for an amateur like me) just a regular hooker out on the street. That would be simple enough, right?  All I had to do was go downtown where the real working girls congregated, all dolled up and dressed in my very sluttiest outfit.

I had no clue what to expect exactly, but that’s what made it all so exciting. Curiosity, as Victor Hugo famously opined, is a woman’s most powerful instinct. I was plenty apprehensive. But that, too, simply added to the excitement, the adrenaline rush. Maybe a tingle of sexual excitement as well?

I picked a weekday night, rather than the weekend, when the drunks and police were more likely to be out in force. I had scouted out things beforehand, so I knew generally where to go:  In Washington, D.C., where I was living then, New York Avenue and around 11th Street, N.W. was generally where the streetwalker action was at the time. The whole business of streetwalking, of course, wasn’t as brisk as it had once been in the pre-Internet age; but for down and dirty blowjobs, this was still the place to congregate.

The exact point of congregation would often vary, for as I would learn from one of my new girlfriends that night, the hookers might migrate a block or two in one direction or another, depending upon how heavy the police presence was. The tactic seemed to be that the police cruisers would drive slowly by, scaring all the johns momentarily away, causing the girls to scatter; though arrests were seldom made, the threat of arrest was enough.

I also learned that “we” hookers would self-segregate, as if in gated communities, according to race and sexual preferences.  The black girls were up the block a ways; the T-girls were on the other side of the street.

Into a tiny, drawstring handbag I crammed some emergency cash, lipstick, mascara, and (just in case) condoms.

Just walking from my car was an experience in itself.  Like most women, I was taught from an early age to adopt what is called in Switzerland (where I’ve also lived) the “Geradeaus Gait.”  Eyes straight ahead, fixed on some imaginary point in the far distance, head erect, with the practiced, nuanced strut of my swaying hips and quick-moving, short-striding legs punctuated by the purposeful click-click-click of my platform heels. People may look at me, but I don’t dare look at them.

“Hey, baby!  Looking good!  Wiggle that ass for me!”  The catcalls and leers, instead of offensive and annoying, I found reaffirming.  I was passing in my role play as hooker, oldest profession worker, ho/hoe, whore, harlot, tart, trollop, strumpet, slut, lady of pleasure, lady of the night, working girl, doxy, floozie, hussy, scarlet woman, cunt…whatever names made the men happy to call me.

What I found most interesting, however, were the looks I received from other women, the non-prostitutes, walking arm and arm with their dates, presumably after a romantic dinner at a nearby restaurant.  They stared at me as hard as did their dates, actually harder, for the men would often quickly glance away so as not to make their girlfriends jealous.  They, on the other hand, stared at me in judgment, if not scorn and contempt. As our paths crossed, mere inches away, still staring at me, they would tilt their heads and whisper loudly, giggling, in their boyfriends’ ears something like, “Does she turn you on?”

“Hey, girl.  You’re new around here, right?” one of the prostitutes said with a genuine smile. “Well, the only rule we have is you have to stake out your own space. Don’t crowd in on anybody else’s action.”

So that’s what I did, taking my place on the curb a few yards between two other girls, so that the guys cruising by in their cars could get a good view of the selection, then stop next to the girl he found most inviting.  Would anybody stop for me?  The question was really no different from the “am I pretty or ugly” uncertainty in the minds of every self-conscious, unsure schoolgirl.  And it was just as anxiety-producing.

I watched the other girls, mimicking their moves, waving, puckering my lips, thrusting my breasts and hips toward the slowing cars. Then I would smile, of course, as seductively I knew how, whenever a car would stop in front of me, signaling that the driver might want to engage in conversation.

“How much?” yelled the driver of a silver SUV.  Suddenly it occurred to me that I had no idea, so I teased for time:

“That depends, sweetie.”

“Depends on what?  How big my dick is?” He smirked. “I’ll give you a full 10 inches, so you ought to pay me.”  Then he drove off.

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What had I done wrong, I wondered?

“Don’t worry, honey,” said another girl in a rich Southern accent, witnessing my distress.  “I don’t know what it’s like where you came from, but here I’d say 9 out of 10 ain’t serious customers.  Driving by and gawking at us is enough to get their rocks off.”

While we’re talking, some other girls, perky cheerleader-types, walked up holding two huge boxes, like Halloween candy, filled with colorful, tropical and mint flavored condoms. Turned out they were from some local nonprofit whose mission is to look after the health and welfare of sex workers, and this was a nightly ritual.  So I grabbed a handful, without having a clue where I would stuff them in my already crowded bag.

“Watermelon is the best,” said my new Southern sister.  “But some guys will want to pay you extra if you don’t use a rubber.”

“I don’t think that’d ever be worth it,” I said, and laughed.

“You’ve got that right!  Half of ‘em stink to high heaven. Who knows when they last took a bath.”

As the anonymous guys drove by, sizing us up, we kept chatting.  She (let’s call her Bethany) was from West Virginia.  She had a three-year-old son who was with a babysitter at their home somewhere in the Maryland suburbs.  She started hooking when the father of her son left her. After saving up enough money, she planned on moving back to West Virginia, where she still had family and it would be easier to raise her son. I told her I was from Baltimore.

While we’re chatting, the men in cars kept cruising by, some hurling obscenities our way, others making propositions for a three-way.  It was clear we’d never make any serious money unless we quit “jawing,” as Bethany put it, and got to work, standing separately, more vulnerably, much closer to the curb.

“So you came down from Baltimore for the night thinking you’d make lots of quick, easy money in the Nation’s Capital.” She laughed. “Sorry to disappoint you, honey!”

“Is it always this slow?” I asked.

“Hit or miss. Thursday nights are usually pretty good, but you can never tell.  I’ve only had a total of two tricks tonight.  Might as well go home soon. Or start charging next to nothing just to get enough to pay the babysitter.”

“How much do you usually charge? Up in Baltimore…” I paused in the hope I wouldn’t have to fill in the blank.

“Oh, $100 usually, and a lot of them will tip, too.”  She paused to blow a kiss at a driver in a Lexus who began to eye us. “But on a night like this, I’d take $25.

“But not all of ‘em are bastards,” she said.  “I feel sorry for a lot of these guys.  Getting oral sex from me is the only sex they’ve probably ever had.”

I noticed that the guy in the Lexus was back, having circled the block a few times. I joined Bethany when she waved again. Then he pointed at me, and beckoned. I guess he preferred blondes. As I strolled and strutted to the open window of the passenger side of his car, I could see his right arm jerking.

He must have been beating off the whole time he was eyeing us, circling the block, for as I bent over to stick my head through window to flirt and maybe make a deal, this is what he said:

“Here, take this! It’s just for you, slut!”  And simultaneously a huge wad shot from his unzipped trousers beneath the steering wheel across the car onto the passenger seat.  I automatically jerked my head away, and he squealed off, yelling yet again: “Slut!”

It was not even 1 a.m., but I was more than ready to go home.