Today started out dismal. My good friends, loneliness, self-loathing and hopelessness finally found out where I was staying and stopped by at around 4 am this morning. They brought a box of tissues with them, which was kind, but I really wish they wouldn’t have stayed so long. They never get the hint. This is what happens when you open yourself up to feel something; you don’t always get to pick what feelings are going to show up.
Luckily, I had made plans to meet a fellow artist for coffee. Jetske had come to Los Angeles two years ago as an exchange student when we were both in our first year of graduate school. I hadn’t seen her since so it was nice to catch up and compare notes now that we were finished with our respective programs. She, like most artists, works several jobs to make ends meet and we met at one of her employers, the FOAM museum. FOAM is the museum of photography here.
After having a tour of the place, with my own private tour guide, we left to walk around town a bit. I wanted to find a place to write that wasn’t in the RLD (Red Light District) but close by because I had booked a “behind the scenes” tour with the Prostitution Information Center and a meeting with it’s owner, Mariska Majoor. Jetske and I found a cute vintage café, Latei, and we joined the other “artists” and “writers” for fresh juices and sandwiches.
It was getting close to 5pm, so I left Jetske and headed over to the RLD for my tour. When I got there, the place was packed with tourists. There were so many in fact, (28 to be exact) that they had to divide us into two groups. The first tour guide gave us some ground rules before we left, like “Don’t crowd in front of the windows because you’ll block the view for any potential customers!” and “Don’t take pictures out of respect for the girls.” and, basically, don’t look like a dumb tourist!
I hung back to be in Mariska’s group which was to be the second tour. I had exchanged emails with her prior to tonight, letting her know that I was going to be coming to the tour and telling her a bit about my project. She had agreed to let me ask her some questions after the tour.
Before we left, Mariska gave us all a lesson on how window prostitution works. She asked for a volunteer and of course my hand went up. She sat me in her window and began to explain how a prostitute works the window. Luckily a group of about 10 men stopped in front of the window. Not because I was in the window, mind you! They were taking some other kind of tour and their tour guide knew that this window was not an official sex worker window so that it was OK to stop here. Mariska proceeded to instruct us all on the men’s body language and which ones she thought would be good clients, good meaning, gentle, sweet and tender, and not violent or aggressive. She stressed over and over again how important it was for sex workers to take care of themselves and she told us how the decision to enter the room was made. A number of us remarked how she should do a dating column for Match.com! Her advice seemed to transcend that of sex worker!
Apparently, the window prostitutes work for themselves, paying a rental fee for the room that can range from 60 Euros ($78) for an 8-hour shift to 250 Euros ($328) depending on the location of the window and the time of day. The women get to choose whom they let in and they do not have to agree to have sex with anyone they don’t want to. In fact, they can refuse to open the door at all. If they do open the door, they discuss the deal right then and there, while the man is still outside, and with their hand on the emergency button, just in case.
50 Euros ($65) buys you 15 minutes of “nothing fancy” sex. Mariska stressed how important it was to ask the man if he can perform in 15 minutes, because if not, they need to negotiate a higher price upfront. She said most customers take less than 10 minutes.
After all was said and done, Mariska asked if I had any more questions. She offered me her window for any art project I might think of, which was great since in order for me to rent a real window I would apparently have to get the US Embassy involved. She then sent me home with a book she wrote called “When Sex Becomes Work”. I asked if it would make a good Bridal Shower gift and she laughed. She wrapped up the book and put it in a tote bag that she had designed herself that said “Op de Wallen komen we geen van allen!” Which means, “On none of the ramparts we come!” Ah, yes, Dutch humor.
Surprisingly I did not see loneliness, self-loathing and hopelessness in the RLD. Perhaps that is why men have sought out the company of these women for centuries. They did not follow me home either.