I climb the fifty-five steps to the front door of the tantric temple wearing a soft jersey tube dress, leopard-print leggings, and flip-flops. My uniform suggests comfort and allure. It carries the cotton promise of bare shoulders, kundalini poses, and sun-kissed highlights. One shoulder bag is stuffed with freshly folded towels, sheets, pillowcases, and running shoes still moist from the five miles I jogged around the reservoir; the other holds a $15 bottle of organic grapeseed oil, a package of baby carrots, Trader Joe’s spicy hummus, and my computer. I’ve eaten my egg whites. I smell like vanilla soap and fabric softener.
At step forty, the same number as my age, I pause. I consider tossing the towels in the trash can below and sprinting away through the alley. But my compliant sex-worker persona slides over me like the coconut oil I slather on my clients and I continue up the stairs. Besides, my rent isn’t going to pay itself.
A civilian might think that the services described on the temple’s website—“tantric body work,” “sacred temple body work,” “body of bliss”—sound like yoga classes. But these are euphemisms for oily massages with happy endings performed by naked chicks wearing feathered earrings. In Arizona, a temple that uses the same New Age jargon on its website was busted after neighbors complained about the unsavory racket and pedestrian traffic going in and out of that one house on the block. Seventeen “touch healers” were incarcerated and their faces plastered all over CNN. The sight of the raid on my television made me shiver. Another arrest would seriously fuck up my life. Which is why I’ve given my two-week notice.
On the last wooden step, the knot in my neck throbs from the climb and I breathe heavily. This is the fourth day in a row that I will jerk guys off from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. in increments of fifty-minute hours. I drop the bags and fish for my keys to the temple, which is really a modest loft on a residential street in Silver Lake. I look up at the cornflower-blue sky. It’s almost over, I think.
The sun burns my forehead while I unlock the front door and step inside. The woman who hired me stands in the communal kitchen holding a large knife. She cuts a papaya in chunks and crams them and a brownish-green paste into a glass blender.
“Good morning,” she says. “You have Dragonfly Jay in twenty minutes.”
All the clients are assigned nicknames so their real names aren’t displayed when we check the temple iPad for our appointments.
“Dragonfly?” I ask, wondering how he earned that name, but the blender whirs and she’s already on the phone.
Before the temple, I commuted to New Orleans, where I stripped at the Bruiser on Bourbon Street. On days off, I swam at a country club where the strippers, burlesque dancers, and queers all sunbathed naked together. Someone there introduced me to Laura, a woman who “does the work,” which means she gives hand jobs. After a high five and a shared plate of pot stickers, Laura and I spoke in sex-worker code:
“Is it body to body?”
“Is it in-call only?”
As with the porn industry, those who work at places like the temple form an insular tribe where outsiders are suspect. The temple doesn’t take walk-ins or accept job applications. You have to be asked to join, like a Masonic fraternity. Laura put me in touch with the manager, who agreed to meet me at a trendily overpriced restaurant on Sunset Boulevard for dinner, my audition.
She’s got short, wavy hair and olive-green eyes. Her long legs are muscular and she wears a strappy leather vest that exposes her boobs. I notice they’re organically small, unlike most strippers I’ve worked with. I ask questions while she sips Pellegrino out of a wine glass.
“What goes on in sessions?”
Her lip gloss leaves a pink stain on her glass and she laughs like a giddy bird.
“Every session is different.”
I wonder what that means. Do some girls blow the dudes? Does the temple offer full service? Do girls keep their bras on or is it nude? I want to talk about money.
The temple keeper glances at the tuna tartare as if she’s never skipped a meal or fretted over the cost of dinner. When her salad arrives, she closes her eyes and holds her hands in prayer. I watch her, ashamed of my need for cash, because in New Age circles that means I’m not abundant. In fact, I’m scarcity walking, a pariah, an open mouth needing to be fed by lonely Los Angeles.
I snatch up the salty fish and pop it in my mouth. She opens her eyes.
“What exactly do you do in the private rooms?” I ask.
“It’s a sensual, sacred bliss massage, ending in a hand release,” she says, already bored with the subject.
She’s just returned from a yoga retreat in Belize and she’d much rather giggle about her Belizean boyfriend than talk shop, but all I can think about is making some dough. I need her to like me. I need her to trust me enough to grease me up and slip me into the temple so I can stop posting ads on Backpage.com and inviting strangers into my home, where they use my shower and soil my towels. So I won’t have to hydroplane on bald tires while driving to Camp Pendleton with five bucks in my bank account just to jack off a couple of hostile, drunk Marines on a bed the size of a tampon surrounded by Domino’s Pizza boxes. So I won’t find myself alone when a client pins me down and shoves his tongue down my throat after I say, “This is going further than I want.” So I won’t have to yell for help in an apartment with claw marks on the walls when I make a client come too fast and he demands his money back while no one knows where I am. So I won’t get arrested again.
At the temple, there are always girls working in other rooms, and clients are screened using LinkedIn and Google.
“How much do we pay the house?” I blurt out.
“Eighty dollars for the hour session.”
In any place of ill repute, a house fee is standard procedure, even though it’s illegal to take cuts from workers’ tips. Strip clubs charge a fee for renting the stage, similar to how a hairdresser rents a chair at a salon. The temple takes 40 percent of every massage. Clients pay $200 an hour or more, depending on the length and type of massage. This is one swanky jack-off joint.
I pass the audition, and after dinner I’m given keys and the address to the temple.
Bride and Groom
Mar 30, 05:17 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
All rights reserved, Antonia Crane and Slake Media.
Do not reproduce without permission.