The Lisa Files: House of Games

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The Lisa Files: House of Games


When people asked, I’d say I became a prostitute because in the movies they always have the best comebacks. The real reason, though, was that I wanted to join the untouchables and see what that means from the inside. I could’ve done that by murdering someone or becoming a junkie, but the first would have been too mean, and the second would have taken too long. To make myself a prostitute, all I had to do was look up “massage parlors” in the phone book and strip down to bra and panties for the owner. Voila.


After sucking a businessman’s cock at five, relieving a mentally retarded gas attendant of his virginity at six, and peeing in the mouth of a perfectly elegant old man at seven-thirty, I was still everything I’d been the day before: nineteen, married, a writer. I still wanted children. I still had to shovel the driveway when it snowed. What changed was, I could relate to anyone — or at least figure out what they wanted and become that. The other thing that changed was, in doing so, I became a liar. Lying is a bridge. If you pretend something long and hard enough, it will become real. Which can be good or bad, of course, depending on what you’re lying about. When being in the business of pleasing cocks started to be what I was rather than my experiment, I got out. Prostitution sucks you in and makes you feel filled up while it empties you, the same way some religions do. It’s a claustrophobic cult of transaction. You trade pieces of yourself — your mood, your tastes, your body parts — for other people’s satisfaction in the form of money. After only a couple months, I was no longer hiding my personality at will — I was actually losing it, and I no longer knew what I was when there weren’t strangers around whose minds I could read and project myself into. So I left.


My time spent with a hundred cocks originally brought me ten thousand dollars. But their memory just keeps bringing more fortune — with unofficial cock doctorate in hand, I’ve landed several great writing assignments, including this one. It was exciting to be sent to Nevada to spend a few days at The Bunny Ranch. I also felt nervous — I was throwing myself in with all these people strong enough to stay inside other people’s dreams, a place where I had tried to survive and failed.


Highway 50, just outside Carson City, is lined with pawnshops and steakhouse casinos; it has much the same feel as prostitution itself — at once shabby and thrilling. I started tingling, thinking about men selling their watches and rings just for the chance to spend one more half-hour with a stranger in see-through black. Desperation in the air heightens the way everything looks — even these squat, gray Nevada buildings inside gray mountains. Off 50, a gravel driveway leads to the Ranch: a long pink trailer flanked by a helicopter landing pad to the right, a white stretch limo parked in front and a locked gate decked with propaganda for the house. “America’s hottest cat house,” Larry Flynt calls from one sign. “These girls are unbelievable,” Governor Jesse Ventura proclaims from another.


The women remind me of pretty monkeys: they groom one other, chatter about food and cigarettes (wanting both and quitting both), re-tie strings of slippery outfits; they swear, joke, climb on top of each other and disperse suddenly to brood in separate corners. There’s no TV, nowhere to go. They’re at the Ranch for two weeks at a time, twelve hours on, twelve off. Each girl has her own room — just big enough for a chair, dresser and a bed that she’ll sleep on after she’s had enough sex on it to pay her expenses: nineteen dollars a night room and board; fifty dollars to the sheriff for her year’s prostitution license (it’s legal in Nevada); money to the doctor for her weekly STD tests (mandatory at the Ranch); between twenty and a thousand dollars a week for lingerie and shoes; then there’s tips for the doorperson, the housekeeper, the cabbies who bring skiers and gamblers to the Ranch rather than to some other cat house, and fifty bucks a pop each time she enlists a “runner” to drive her into town for breakfast or shopping. Yet these girls look so free inside their tight, windowless little space. Gypsy, a cross between Kim Basinger and Liv Tyler, is close to six feet tall and has such irreverent posture she uses the seat of the chair as if it were the back.




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At twenty-one, Gypsy’s only been turning tricks for a few months — first as a “truck-stop ho,” then at the grungier Kittie’s down the street. She puts down a paperback decorated with giant flower petals, a pirate ship, and a woman having difficulty keeping her dress on. “I’m on page eighty-eight and I started this goddamn book tonight,” she complains. Gypsy is naturally beautiful, but natural is not something the clients here seem to go for. She hasn’t been asked into a private room all evening. I ask if she has a boyfriend. “Yeah, and he thinks what I do is great!” she says. “We’ll be having sex, and he’ll be getting a case of the limp-dick because of his age — he’s fifty-one — and he’ll say, ‘So, tell me about your john last night’ and it’ll go back up. He pets my hair, rubs my back, does all my shopping for me. When I wake up at home, he’s there with a cup of coffee and just talks to me, spoils me really bad. I realize our relationship is a sick sort of pedophile thing, but I’m very happy with it.”


Gypsy refers to all the crazy things that have happened to her as “adventures” and “learning opportunities.” She doesn’t seem sad about a thing. Why would she? She’s outside of her own fate, just looking at it. Perhaps that’s why guys don’t pick her, despite her lips and eyes and curls and body — because she didn’t alter her breasts and she doesn’t dip her head smilingly at the client’s entrance. She feels superior to what she does — she is a scientist while they are only johns.


Amy, however, is her job. At thirty-five, she can’t see herself as anything but the hawker of her own wares. “I started in this business at eight years old . . . My brother sold me for half-a-pack of cigarettes.” I stare at her the way everyone must.


“He wanted a cigarette,” she adds dryly. Amy has a big, bright, ever-present smile that reveals even more lower teeth than upper. Her jaw seems to shake under the weight of those teeth. Amy says she’s never had a relationship. Ever. Relationships look too much like commerce to her, and she’d rather keep things clear. Sex equals money, sex-money equals more sex-outfits to get more money from the next sex act. “Of course, that doesn’t stop me from orgasming,” she says. “I orgasm at least once every session. I’m very sexual. You stay within the industry, and you can have fun. Dennis has helped get me into films, magazines.”





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All the girls seem fond of Dennis, the owner of the Ranch. Dennis lives on a six thousand square foot ranch near the Bunny Ranch and spends half his day talking to the media from his home office and the other half lounging with the girls. Tonight he’s just come from the comedian Carrot Top’s show. Dennis looks like Skipper from Gilligan’s Island, but with Thurston Howel the Third’s wallet. A twenty-three-year-old girl wraps her pretty arms around one of his. When she finds out I’m a journalist, she announces that Dennis made her come three times earlier this evening. I ask him how he sees his job. “Taking a product that’s highly desirable — in this case, a woman, and sharing it with a lot of people. This is the same thing as what I used to do with beachfront condominiums in San Diego. Sex is the ultimate time-share.”


My tape recorder and I sidle up to a finger- and foot-tapping client on a little couch. He looks like a Baldwin, one who hasn’t gotten fat yet. What if the Baldwin asks me to go in one of the bedrooms? I worry. And what if I say yes, for research purposes, and then I forget to leave here? Then I remember I’m here to interview him, not vice versa. “Why do you go to prostitutes?” I ask.


“Where’s your journalistic radar?” he mocks. I try to figure out what I’m not seeing, then he waves it in front of my face: his wedding ring.


“Oh,” I say. “What do you do? I mean your job.”


“Let’s just say I’m a lawyer.”


“So when you have a regular girl here, does the sex start to feel comfortable and affectionate like she’s your girlfriend?”


He looks at me like I’m really stupid. “The sex feels . . . convenient. The girl feels young. She feels pretty. Then I leave.” He gets up and leaves.


Two drunk skiers in their early twenties get buzzed in. They pick Amy and Vicki and begin negotiations at the bar. Five hundred dollars each is more than the young men have, so all they can do is buy drinks for the girls. They keep buying. Beth B, the photographer who accompanied me to the Ranch, asks if the four would mind posing for photos. They wouldn’t mind, and the quartet of giddy blondes adjourns to Amy’s room. The women wash the boys’ genitals in the bidet and inspect for visible signs of herpes or genital warts. Even though her man’s limp (too drunk), Amy sort of pinches around the base, managing to “milk” a gland until pre-come comes out. If it’s clouded, she explains, that’s bad, but this man’s is clear, so we’re set to go. The boys seem very happy to be guinea pigs. They start getting their clean penises sucked and Beth B climbs on top of chairs and dressers, snapping away while I mutter notes into my recorder. “There’s love on the boys’ faces,” I whisper. “Vicki’s guy is getting wet eyes. Is he crying, or sick maybe?”


“Can you help get me into movies?” Amy’s guy’s voice booms over mine on the tape. Amy says, “Sure, hon.” “Oh-oh-oh, ma-a-an,” he gurgles — he smiles so big his mouth is an “O” — he actually seems to think that this woman and this moment are going to change his life.


Next on my tape is Beth saying she’s out of film and Amy switching personalities from Pele the volcano goddess to den mother wrapping up the meeting swiftly: “Show’s over, kids. Get your clothes on.” There are various “c’mons” from the boys. Five people speak at once. There is a loud snap, and Amy’s outfit is back on in one movement. “But, but,” the boys protest weakly. Then one decides to use his credit card, the one his dad gave him for emergencies. “Well, if this isn’t an emergency! Har! Har!”


Watching this familiar scene, I realize that having been a whore is like having learned how to hula hoop — it all comes back to you. After only twenty-four hours at the Ranch, I’ve reverted to searching the eyes and posture of every man for signals as to what he wants. All jobs include some level of having to understand people’s desires, but in prostitution, their desire is your whole business, and your desire is lost somewhere in the process. Which can be a lot sexier, short-term, than it sounds. You can gauge this person, charm him, satisfy him, take his money, and yet he has no idea what works on you. You are a psychological giant, impenetrable and all-knowing.


And now I’m leaving the lair of giants — weird, hollow giants, a tribe I once belonged to. I walk out the door into the mountain air and into my rented car. Blue Oyster Cult’s “I’m Burning For You” was on the car radio. I used to burn for anyone. That arrogant and married lawyer — I would have had to conquer him. Now I didn’t care about him. I no longer see power as the most important thing to have in a relationship.


Still, I lost something when I gained my own life and body. I lost nothingness. I lost hunger for everyone else’s something-ness. Jealousy and greed are so underrated — they’re great incentives for action. They were alive and well in that pink trailer, along with sadness and murkiness, the same thick sadness I breathed but never recognized back when I worked in a red brick “massage parlor.” Most of all, it’s the simplicity of the parlor that I miss. I miss the bizarre lighting, the camaraderie with the women. I miss my clients. I miss being on top and being nothing, being only what I could see in their eyes, always new.



Lisa Carver is the author of the books Dancing Queen, Rollerderby, The Lisa Diaries and Drugs Are Nice. She’s written for Hustler, Index, Icon, Feed, Newsday and Playboy, among others. She lives in New Hampshire.

Lisa Carver and