Q. Calm down.
Hey, trust me. You don't have to tell me your name. Tell me about you, your business. How much does it cost to spend the night with you, a prostitute?
A. Don't say prostitute, It's such a dirty word.
Prostitute. Working Girl. Lady of the night. She looks to be in her late 20s, early 30s. Bleached blonde hair in a page-boy cut over big, soft brown eyes.
Last week she read an editorial in The Washington Post that asked for suggestions as to how the city could help the residents of Logan Circle in their fight against prostitution. That neighborhood is being renovated, and the new residents do not like the all- night activity, the cruising cars, the sassy-rude tramps hawking big hips and every other variety of hot flesh. In a campaign to rid the area of prostitutes, they place "Disease Warning" stickers on cars of the men who come to buy. And they persuaded a judge to send one woman, Michele Griffith, to jail for a year after she was convicted of prostitution.
Despite the stickers and jail sentence, the trade in glittery women continues near Logan Circle.
Q. Why did you come to the newspaper?
A. Because I want to help. I want to do something for that girl in jail. That ain't right. Why should she be in jail for a year? I want to help the city, too--those people who want the ladies off the streets. I can understand where they are coming from. . . . I decided a truck could run over me tomorrow and I want to do something with my last day on Earth to help other people find the solution to this. I've got experience in it. . . . So just pretend Auntie Em waived a magic wand and an angel appeared to help you.
She asks for a reporter's notebook while sitting in the Madison Hotel's coffee shop. She writes down some suggestions for helping with the prostitution problem. Prostitutes, she writes, must be given jobs in the afternoons so that they do something other than sell their bodies.
Q. Why do they need another job?
A. The money is too good. It's too strong. You need something outside of you to make you have another life. There's got to be a time limit on how much you can work. When people ask you at a party or at church what you do, you can't say, "Oh, I'm a prostitute." If your afternoon job was to help at the newspaper, take tourists around Washington, to the zoo and places like that, you could say, "I take children to the zoo."
The restaurant is getting crowded. She catches glance after glance. She is getting tense, even though she is whispering. We go to an office at The Post where she pushes off her black, open-toe shoes. Her next suggestion is that the girls on 14th Street be taken into a call-girl service so they wouldn't have to patrol the streets.
Q. Where do you work?
A. I work for a club, an escort service. We work all the good hotels. The guys call up and make an appointment. They talk with the appointment secretaries. They tell them what they want, and then I go out to them. . . . It's safe that way. The escort service gets $100 dollars for setting up the date. . . . Why do you want to talk about money? It's best when you just get that out of the way. How much? Oh, you know, it differs. You can tell when a guy is giving a girl his all. When he has on his nicest night clothes, there's music and wine. . . . the rich ones will leave a thousand, but that doesn't happen very often. Then there are guys who want to know what the bargain basement prices are . . . the average is a few hundred. Five hundred for a night.
Q. Do the girls on 14th Street charge that much?
A. No. Fourteenth Street is like McDonalds. It's all fast and cheap, you know. That's the problem. We need to elevate those girls. It wouldn't have to cost the men that much more than what they pay those girls now. If there were clubs that made the dates and got the girls time off for their jobs, then that would be nice. The ladies wouldn't have to work the streets. They could legalize it, and people could make money by running nice, clean, safe private clubs.
Q. Do you know that some people think prostitution is immoral and would not want the city to legalize it?
She pulls out a piece of an old newspaper with a picture of the pope leaving the hospital. She puts her hand on the picture as if it were a Bible.
A. I feel better this way. I'm really talking to him and he knows I'm trying my hardest to help. . . . What we do is we give a few moments of joy to men who are fighting hard lives. Do you know that stockbrokers work from 7 in the morning to 7 at night and if they are away from their desk for an hour they are losing hundreds of dollars? There are men who have marriages that are torture. With seeing me, they can go on; I'm like a release. That keeps the marriage together. That's not wrong is it? Who would say that's immoral?
She is sipping a Tab. She toys with the top button on the white blouse beneath the gray and black suit with the puffed-out shoulders. She has never walked the streets, she says. Her work is always done by appointment, by phone, credit cards, traveler's checks and cash. She left her home in the Midwest when her parents threw her out and her boyfriend broke up with her. She fell in love, but he had another woman. When they broke up, she looked in the Yellow Pages and saw an ad under massage parlors for Towers of Tranquillity, an escort service.
When she told her ex-boyfriend that she was now a prostitute, to spite him, he didn't scream at her. Instead, he took her to dinner and asked her to give him half of her earnings. He said she could even use his friend's boat to cut out the cost of the hotel and increase the price she charged. She told him to go to hell.
Q. Do you enjoy what you do?
A. Yeah, it can be lots of fun. You can't just close yourself off altogether when you do it. Especially when a guy is nice and your having a nice time. But you'll probably never see him again. It's just heartbreak after heartbreak in that way. Sometimes that gets to me. Some girls use dope to handle it. ... Right, there are rough times, too. But 1 percent--it's rape. They choke you or threaten to sic a dog on you. When that happens, I just make love as fast as I can and get them to relax so I can run for the door.
But we keep talking about me. I want to talk about what we can do to help that girl.
Q. Do you think the pimps would stop sending girls onto 14th Street if there were legal clubs for prostitutes?
A. Pimps. That's an awful word. Like prostitutes. The same people who set up the dates now, pimps, could be the social secretaries in the clubs for the girls. Or they could be the drivers. But they would be real businessmen then. Don't you see? And that would get the girls out of the neighborhoods where they aren't wanted.
The interview over, she collects her shoes, throws the Tab can in the trash, and is gone.