Here’s the question everybody seems to want to ask: Why prostitutes? Are you some kind of depraved whoremonger? Your new book, Whore Stories: A Revealing History of the World’s Oldest Profession certainly indicates you have more than just a passing interest in prostitutes.
Why can’t I find prostitutes and prostitution fascinating without being a whoremonger? I’ll bet people writing about the Spanish Inquisition don’t get asked if they dress up like Torquemada and toast heretics on the grill. The truth is, I can actually pinpoint the first seed of the idea. Below is a transcript of a Gchat conversation I had about a year and a half ago with my agent at the time, Jon Sternfeld. Here’s an excerpt:
TSS: So I’ve invented a car wash where you rent a limo with your manfriend or ladyfriend and it’s in a big limo—plenty of room. and palliative oils. It’ll be cheap. Good tunes, too.
JS: A car-wash whorehouse?
TSS: A drive-thru love station with rain.
JS: Hey, that’s something—you should write something about whores.
I got to work right after that exchange.
You seem to have a pretty good tolerance for turpitude. Did anything shock you in your investigations for Whore Stories?
Hundreds of things. For instance, did you know that it’s actually possible to fuck yourself?
We can take this outside anytime, smart-ass.
No. I mean literally. I discovered something called “autopederasty,” and it’s defined as an “uncommon occurrence of a man, one with an unusually long penis, inserting his penis into his own anus. Due to the position and detumescence of the penis, ejaculation is not considered possible.” I say nothing is impossible, but I’m no doctor. I was also shocked to learn that for decades, what was thought to be Rasputin’s severed penis was actually a cucumber. True story.
Okay, which sex worker do people find most uncomfortable to learn about? People can’t be too happy to learn about Nancy Reagan or Maya Angelou.
The frustration and disbelief people encounter upon learning about Ms. Reagan and Ms. Angelou are nothing compared with how irate people get learning that Steve McQueen was once a whore and what’s more, when he was living in Havana, Cuba, he performed on stage masturbating into a cup of coffee.
The same cup every time?
Does that matter?
I guess not. Why do you think people are so hostile to the fact that Steve McQueen was a prostitute?
It seems like Steve McQueen has reached such iconic status that people assume he was shot from his mother’s womb driving a Dodge Charger around San Fran. The fact of the matter is, everybody’s had a day job. But with McQueen, he’s just come to symbolize cool and sex and fast cars and beautiful women and when we learn that he’s been jacking off into a coffee cup for Cuban pesos to make ends meet, well, that sort of shatters any illusions we may have had about Steve McQueen and his cool. Unless you think masturbating into a cup of coffee at erotic dinner theater is cool. Then you shouldn’t have any problem coping with this McQueen revelation.
I think it’s nice that you have it evenly split 50/50 for both male and female whores. Did you try to give each sex equal billing?
I did. I wanted Whore Stories to have something for everyone.
What about people with four breasts and two vaginas? I’ll bet you didn’t consider them.
I did! Behold Blanche Dumas, the “Three-legged Courtesan” out of Martinique. Nice set up, man. She had four breasts and two vaginas. She ended up marrying a man who had twenty-eight toes and three testicles. No, kidding.
Wow. This sounds like the most interesting book in the history of the world.
You know, you’re awfully confident sitting here in your underwear, watching I, Claudius with the sound off.
Look I’m just trying to help. Prostitution is a pretty serious issue. Did you worry that your tone might be too light to fit such a heavy subject?
I was petrified. I’m still petrified. I hope people can find the humor in things, but I certainly recognize that I’m skating on thin ice. Of course, I think everybody is fascinated in some way or another by prostitution. Some people are horrified of sex and sex workers; some are curious; others are uncomfortable and, as it turns out, lots of people are paying customers. Some of the world’s most vaunted performers, politicians, artists and aristocracy have been prostitutes, but the business of prostitution continues to carry such a stigma. My hope is that Whore Stories will be lighthearted, but never condescending.
You mention in the introduction to Whore Stories that your mother and father used to drive you down Main Street in Houston to look at the prostitutes when you were a small child. You say it helped you go to sleep. Did your parents drive you around crack houses when you had the flu? Or idle past the burn unit at the hospital when you got chicken pox?
I would like to straighten things up a little on that front. Yes, my parent’s drove me around the seedy streets and ho-strolls of Houston, but they also drove me around nicer neighborhoods. They want this made clear. It wasn’t only strumpet lullabies on South Main Street. Don’t you remember? You were there, too.
We were like one year-old.
I suppose you’re right. We’ll just have to take Mom and Dad at their word.
Okay, you came across a lot of whore stories while writing Whore Stories. Do you have a favorite whore or pimp? You should mention that Whore Stories also includes madams, pimps and other entrepreneurs of the sex trade.
Whore Stories also includes madams, pimps and other entrepreneurs of the sex trade. I don’t think I have a favorite. However, I will say that I’ve really been getting into The Whore of Babylon lately. Tremendous passion, huge forehead, good staying power and possibly sporting horns waaay before body mods got so popular. She’s transcendent, and also maybe part dude.
Let’s talk about your experience with prostitutes, shall we? …. Oh, don’t be such a baby. He’s stormed off, folks. Who do you think you are with all this drama…Bjork?! Get back here and eat your liver. Why don’t you tell them about Nuevo Laredo and the crossword whore.
Okay, That one’s pretty innocuous. Then we talk about the book. Three friends and I were drinking something blue at this Mexican restaurant in Houston and we ended up in Boys Town in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, in a depressing Mexican sex compound. There was no music. With debauchery you usually get musical accompaniment, but this place was crickets. We sat around for what seemed like an eternity and the last thing I remember I was doing a Spanish language crossword with a Mexican prostitute who taught me Roman numerals. We must have been the only clientele ever to pay for four hours at a cathouse and not remove a single item of clothing. We all passed out in the lobby of the Boys Town waiting area and woke up at dawn with a large man trying to charge us an “overnight rate” when all we did was nap. We ended up giving this ornery gordinflón bouncer-like fellow $500 and then had to go back to the Best Western and pay them, too. At least I learned Roman numerals. Did I mention the prostitute was doing the crossword in pen?
Let’s do free association: If you had to get a body modification, what would it be?
That’s not how free association works. Nevertheless, I think I would have the voice in my head removed.
TYLER STODDARD SMITH’s writing has been featured in: UTNE Reader, McSweeney’s, Esquire, The Best American Fantasy, The Science Creative Quarterly and The Morning News, among others. He is also a contributor at The Nervous Breakdown and an associate editor of the online humor site, The Big Jewel. His first book, Whore Stories: A Revealing History of the World’s Oldest Profession was published in July 2012 by Adams Media.