UPdATEd WedNESdAY 8th NOVEMBER: I’m headed for Amsterdam again to talk to another group of American students about being a client in the red light district (more about that over on the janvanderdamm blog). Normally, I’ll fly out on Thursday and we’ll meet on the Friday morning. I’ll take an early flight so that if there are hitches, like KLM decides to bounce me off it, there are fallback positions. But this Thursday it’s crucial that all goes to plan because the talk is at 3.00 pm. So, late Wednesday I drove up to the airport and booked in. It’s a half hour drive and that gave me time to rehearse part one of the talk (part two on the way home). Was I able to? Book in, I mean? Yes. No standby ticket this time. I am, of course, the prime target for this each time I fly. A guy flying unaccompanied. I’ll be bounced before anything else is considered; including the fact that I booked months ago.
So far so good. Even better if you get to sleep the night before you travel, which, of course, I don’t. I went to bed at midnight hoping that I’d just crash out. No such luck. Awake all night. Sometimes I put this down to being concerned about oversleeping but I have an alarm clock beside the bed which could double as an air raid siren so that shouldn’t be an issue. I called it a night at 5.30 am, called my credit card company to say that I would be on the move, and hit the road half an hour later. The cost of leaving the car at the airport for three days totally blows a hole in the budget so I take a bus. That’s two buses actually. An hour and a half after leaving the house I was cooling my heels at the airport. An hour and a half later, we’re in the air for a forty-minute flight. Overall, this journey has been uneventful except for a moment when I was going through customs at Schiphol. “What’s your purpose for being in the Netherlands, sir?” I hesitated before saying, “I’m here on business.” The customs officer handed my passport back to me and with a deadpan expression said, “I believe you.” Then it’s about the fight for a place on one of the few trains going to Amsterdam Central from Schiphol and then a tram to the hotel. It’s in the Museum Quarter. By the time I arrived I felt like I’d spent the last few hours in a washing machine and then a tumble dryer. However, my room is ready, which is a big plus. I dumped my stuff and then went out looking for musli.
Musli? WTF? Is that the new code for a window girl or dirty sex? No, it’s code for musli. My hotel includes bed and breakfast; there is no escape from this deal. And to be fair, it suits me. I’ve stayed in this hotel before so I know what to expect. They provide a decent continental breakfast, you don’t go hungry, but the one serious deficiency is in respect of the cereal. Cornflakes. I prefer something a bit more grainy and wholesome so I decided to fix my own. Anyway, after checking the distance from my hotel to the venue (a three minute walk) I sought out a musli emporium. It provided lots of options. I was spoilt for choice. It’s a bit like hitting those De Wallen windows. After agonising for so long that the shop assistant was looking at me like I was a suspicious character intent on some evil doing, I plucked a little lovely off the shelf, paid and scarpered back to the hotel. With half an hour to spare before I was due on stage, so to speak, I lay down on the bed to relax for a moment. I spent the next fifteen minutes silently repeating the mantra, ‘Don’t close your eyes. Don’t close your eyes.’ It worked. I didn’t fall asleep, although I wanted to.
Well, I got to the venue five minutes before the appointed time and confused (and possibly frightened) a young woman who I met on the way in. I assumed that she was part of the reception committee and I greeted her enthusiastically; no kissing and no touching you understand, but enthusiastically none the less. Her taken aback reaction told me that I’d got this one wrong. I gave her what I hoped was a cheeky grin, rather than a werewolf’s leer and went along to the lecture room that I knew we’d be using. Making an entrance is always tricky. I mean, what if fifty women turn around simultaneously and give it that OMG WTF face – knowing that you’ve got at least two more hours of that to look forward to. Luckily, that didn’t happen. What I got was (a) smiley faces and (b) rescued by one of the lecturers who was accompanying the group.
After a quick discussion, we decided that using a few visuals would be a good idea and then spent a few minutes getting to grips with the in-house system (where, of course, I’ve left my search history). Then it was go.
I talk for an hour and then there are questions for an hour. I’ve been to shorter plays and rock concerts. For me the time is just jumping jack flash but I could understand it if the audience got a bit fidgety. It didn’t seem like that. We offered up a ten minute break in the middle but there wasn’t much enthusiasm for it (a good sign). We compromised on five.
I hope it looks like I’m speaking fairly naturally and off the top of my head. I’m not. It’s scripted, planned, timed to the second and rehearsed. I discovered something about that recently. I’ve just completed a script writing course and what I’ve got is a two act play in which each act conforms to a three-act structure, complete with a major turning point at the halfway mark. I guess Act Three is the one where the students set the agenda by asking questions. Even some of that is scripted. Some questions come up over and over again and so I’ve got prepared answers. Sometimes, of course, my answers are so unprepared they don’t make any sense at all.
So what? Well, being well prepared helps me to be flexible and improvise around the script. Except when it doesn’t. I’d been speaking for about five minutes when I slipped in a sentence which wasn’t in the script. What it meant was that the link got broken. Instead of one sentence leading to another well-rehearsed sentence it suddenly didn’t. It led to a dead end. Blank. The course leader helped me out: “You were talking about …” Ah, yes, I was, wasn’t I. Memo to self: don’t do that again.
Apart from that, it unfolded pretty much to plan and to time. The audience smiled and laughed in the right places and that’s always a good sign.
As always, the Q & A was good. Actually, this one was better than usual. There were lots of questions and lots of good questions and one or two cheeky questions and the whole thing unfolded, to my mind, like a fun discussion.
Can I remember any of the questions? Not many. Given that nearly everyone asked something and a lot of people asked several, there were a lot. I recall thinking how the few guys in the audience were keeping out of it, which meant that I couldn’t gauge how they were feeling about things. Actually, there were a couple of questions that I remember. One was the last question: “Are you going to be visiting a window girl tonight.” Good question. Really. A bit cheeky but in a nice way. We don’t have to be totally academic about this, do we? Well not with a group of fifty women who went to a live sex show the night before. I remember wondering if they’d spent any time worrying about how they might be objectifying the performers or that the performers might have been trafficked into it or pressured to perform by boyfriends. Whatever, curious is good. And curious about sex is normal. The answer, truly, was maybe, but I believe I said something about having a responsibility to keep the research up to date.
Another question related to an edit which I had to make. I can’t get everything that I want to say into the time available; if something goes in, something comes out. I’d told the audience that a game changer was an unexpected real girlfriend experience during my fourth Dam visit. After that I was looking for RGEs. I make the point that some people simply won’t accept that it happens. They weren’t there, they didn’t see it …. but they know that it couldn’t have happened because, as everyone knows, prostitutes despise their clients. They would never engage with such intimacy. On this occasion I had to miss out the follow-up. There are, of course, people who are more generous. They accept that something like that did take place, but not like I told it; basically I’m delusional. The question that I remember? Oh, that one. “Do you think that maybe these girls are just good actors?” I get the idea. Well, if they are, they are up there with the best in the world. Do these women melt into orgasm; not easy, is it, girls? Well, there are lots of indicators. Are they acting? No.
It’s interesting how these meetings flow. Sometimes they’re light sometimes there’s a particular emphasis; for example, human trafficking (even when I’ve laboured this during the presentation. What I don’t know is the extent to which the audience are testing ideas, testing me against what others have said, and simply exercising their own views. Take, for example, the question about my research into gender inequality. Basically, the question was, “How can you square what you do with the fact that you’ve researched this issue?” The assumption, it seems to me, was that prostitution is synonymous gender inequality. I should have asked what this meant. However, I suspect that it went like this: he buys her, he uses her, he discards her as a worthless object after he’s used her … and it smacks of human slavery. But I didn’t. Ask, that is.
Do I think I’ve bought her? No. I’ve bought her time and (although many when feel uncomfortable with this) a level of expertise and service. (To be continued tomorrow.)
God knows what the audience actually made of it or whether it contributed to their studies as opposed to just keep them amused for an hour or two but from my point of view it was another good session.
As we started to go our separate ways I was approached by a gang of five or six members of the audience. They had a group project which involved asking every speaker they encountered to comment on the notion that within prostitution some people are winners and some are losers (both clients and prostitutes). The term ‘loser’ wasn’t being used in a pejorative sense but in a literal sense. My response amounted to something like this.
Some guys get cheated by the girls, which makes them losers. I might have added that not all the men who visit have their pockets stuffed with money. More than a few (who’ve contacted me) have explained that they have to save for several months to make the visit possible. To them, a couple of costly, bad encounters is a serious hit. The other point I made was that every time there is legislation on prostitution, it’s a loss for the prostitutes. It’s never truly designed to help them but rather to constrain their activities in some way. And whatever else, it puts them back in the public eye and further stigmatises them and the profession because we can count on the press and politicians to put a negative spin on it.
Had I spent a little less time in the tumble dryer, I might have added that morality is often a zero sum game. It’s inevitable that if one side wins, the other side loses. Think of things outside of prostitution: Abortion, Assisted Suicide, Same Sex Marriage, Homosexuality. If, for example, the feminist anti-prostitution lobby prevails, women lose the right of personal freedom, sexual liberty and the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies (this is an issue where people who share the same basic moral outlook come into conflict, for example opposing feminist factions). In 2013, the Amsterdam government raised the age at which women could work in the windows from 18 to 21 (the age of consent for prostitution remains at 18 throughout The Netherlands). The rationale given was that women of 18 were not mature enough to make a sensible decision regarding working in the windows given the perceived ‘rigours’ of working in that environment. The same rationale was used a hundred years ago to argue that women shouldn’t have the vote. Whatever, the girls seemed OK with the response in that they had another comment to sit alongside all the rest.
Then, out of the blue, the totally unexpected happened. While the gang and I were wrestling with the question, one of the guys in the group came up. He was obviously waiting for an opportunity to talk. I’d noticed him watching me quite intently during the talk and Q & A, and the thought at the back of my mind was that he identified as a feminist and that although he wasn’t going to disrupt things by confronting me during the session he wasn’t happy with my stand on the issue.
When we got to talk, what he said surprised me. Actually, I was so surprised that I can’t recall exactly what he said, but I hope that what I write here captures the spirit of it.
“I was a male prostitute. And I’d been in several abusive, regular relationships. But I found the johns to be much more open, caring, empathetic and understanding. Listening to you, you captured that, I identified with what you had to say. Thanks.”
Then he shook my hand. Like I say, that quote isn’t literal, it’s a scrambled recollection. If he chooses to contact me using the contact email which doesn’t go to the site but to my email account with a correction/alternative statement in his own words, I’ll make the update. Otherwise, I hope that I did justice to the sentiment.
“Look, if I decide to report this conversation, are you OK with that?”
“Sure, that would be fine.”
His tone suggested that it wouldn’t simply be fine but that it would be a good idea.
As always, I have no real idea how the audience reacted to what I had to say and the different parts of the presentation. Early on we agreed that formal feedback wouldn’t be appropriate because they would then be influencing and inevitably changing what it was they’d come to study (me, a client). However, I’ll tell you that whatever else, that one bit of feedback made the whole thing worthwhile.
I limped back to the hotel as the the lack of sleep, the travel, the laundry experience and the fact that I’d just spent over two hours standing on stage taxing my lower back, my memory and my intellect all took their toll . But the day wasn’t over. I’d decided that if I was going to carry out my threat to visit a window it had to be before going out to eat (nothing since a shaky breakfast at the airport). I changed clothes and headed across Museum Plein and onto De Pijp, Amsterdam’s smallest window district. It was going to be a brief encounter. My approach to Amsterdam’s windows has changed. I’m less dependent on them now that real girlfriend experiences in London’s Soho is in the equation. Window visits here are now invariably short, sharp and to the point. It was dark. Indeed, it had been dark for some time and I could see the red lights of the windows from some distance away. And my legs ached. Actually, all of me ached in that ‘been in the gym all day’ sort of way. When I reached the windows I discovered that most were unoccupied. Actually, there were only six occupied. Although my threshold for entry was pretty low, it just wasn’t that low. Nothing for me here. So it was back to the hotel, another change and then a tram to the Dam.
I crossed it and headed for Restaurant Anna on Warmoesstraat. It’s a modern restaurant with any arty approach to its food. I’ve eaten there a lot and for me it’s not just about taking on calories it’s an event which lasts as long as my encounters with students who are studying prostitution. On this occasion, I started with four Oysters, accompanied by a glass of white, Spanish Viognier. After that I had fish soup with good chunks of white fish and clams. I decided on a French Chardonnay, which was at the top of the price range. It was amazing. And to finish I had duck with wild mushrooms and a delicate mashed potato. The slices of breast were medium rare and beautifully tender. And there was a duck leg which had been slow roasted to perfection. Amazing dish. I tried a glass of South African Pinot Noir. It was OK but too dry for me. Too thin. But I drank it. I finished with a glass of red from the Langoudoc which was half the price of the Pinot Noir and tasted twice as good.
By 9.30 pm I was on my way back to the hotel. The red light district? No. No way.
Friday 3rd November. I ate a bit too much at breakfast but that’s partly because it was a way to while away some time. After that I took my laptop to the residents’ lounge and typed up this blog post. At about 1.00 pm I took a tram to the flower market and then walked back to The Rijksmuseum, browsing in shop windows and exploring some of the side streets. One of those exited opposite my hotel. More luck than judgement. By mid afternoon I decided that if I was going to take in a window visit it had better be soon. Tonight is earmarked for another leisurely meal, this time at The Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on the Dam.
Well, there wasn’t much that caught my eye and I just wasn’t in the mood for a real girlfriend experience. Whatever I did was going to be very basic. So I opted for Ms. X. She was the best fit for ‘my type’. She was cheerful and friendly and promised fifteen minutes and fellatio and sex in different positions. That sounded like it would work. I went in and paid, handing over fifty euros from a meagre stash of twenties and tens. She’d barely banked the money when she went into real girlfriend mode. I think it may have been down to the fact that she elicited from me my occupation and reason for being in Amsterdam, and the fact that I would be around tomorrow. I meanwhile went from ‘going through the motions’ to paying her another fifty euros to turn this into half an hour. Unfortunately, my small change had been decimated. All I had was a stack of hundreds. I went to my wallet, took one out and put it on a shelf, indicating that she could give me the change later.
And then she set to work. That’s not how these real girlfriend experiences usually shape up but I was still tired and I just let her get on with it. And get on with it she did. It would be fair to say that she knows her stuff. However, halfway through (I don’t think she was clock watching) I took over and strutted some of my own stuff. And then we took turns to lead. I don’t have the energy or appetite for providing a blow by blow description, but suffice to say it was pretty damned good and totally unexpected.
While I dressed she went to get me my change. I told her to forget it. The experience had been worth the fee. But she insisted on giving it to me. She made a point of explaining that she plays fair. I asked about her work schedule. She works five days, Monday to Friday.
“Not really. People are always saying that I must be very busy but I’m always turning men away.”
It seems that the guys on her no-fuck list include men from black African culture, men with moustaches (I assume that includes men with beards), men who look rough, men who give her a dustainful look when eyeing the merchandise and men who look as though hygiene isn’t a particularly high priority. Oh, I nearly forgot, she avoids ‘really young men’. And there was me thinking that my success had been based on my boyish good looks.
“And do you live in Amsterdam or outside?”
“That makes sense.”
We exchanged air kisses (however heavy the session has been I always make a point of exchanging just air kisses at the end) and I went out looking for photo opportunities. I want to change the cover illustration of one of my eBooks and use an image which is obviously of De Wallen. The one on the cover at the moment is of De Singelgebied. However, that’s easier said than done. Good, representative shots don’t exist and there’s no question of photographing the girls at their windows, say from one side of the canal to the other. I took a few photos but I gave up after an hour and headed back to the hotel, changed and then trammed it back to The Krasnapolsky.
It was another two hour session and by the time I left it was about 10.00 pm. I was in no fit state to take up the opportunities in the red light district but I looked anyway. My guess is that there were about 130 women working. How many caught my eye? Just two. I decided to check De Singel as well. There were far fewer women over there. How many did I fancy? Two. However, one of those stood out as ‘the one’. There’s been a bit of movement over there in the last couple of years. There’s an import of younger, prettier women. I suspect it might come as a result of the closures over on De Wallen. Well, she was the one but I wasn’t up to the job; I’ve just had a big meal, I’ve had four glasses of wine, I’ve already had sex once today and I’m still tired (very) and ache all over. However, as a researcher, I’m tenacious. With absolutely no intention of visiting a window, I went over to De Pijp so that I could make a comparison between the three areas. That entailed a tram ride from Nieustraat to the Rijksmuseum. The tram was rammed. It was like a cattle car and as people were struggling to get off people scared that they wouldn’t get on at all were pushing against the tide, sometimes quite aggressively. For some reason, it cleared out at Liedseplein. After getting off I headed across the playground on Museum Plein and over to De Pijp. There were maybe 30 windows open. How many women was I attracted to? Two. Put another way, across the three areas, only 3% of the women working there were of interest to me. At this point, of course, it’s purely academic. All I wanted to do was sleep. It was just after midnight when I got back to the hotel.
Did I sleep?
Saturday. I’m going to fuck someone. Don’t know who (not a man, obviously). Don’t care. Why? Cos I’m here that’s why. Am I looking for another RGF experience? No. No way. I’m like a character in The Walking Dead (one of the dead guys). I was up and at breakfast at about 10.00 am. The breakfast area (it’s not a room) was rammed. What is going on? I took a table near a window (table piled with breakfast debris) so that I could watch the street and the passers by (I’m on my own 4FS, and there’s no way I’m going to sit there looking at my stupid fucking phone). I dragged it out as long as possible then went back to the room and picked up the book I’m reading. It’s called The Price Of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz. I might just as well be titled Why America is Shit. It’s not an easy read but then I’m not an easy person. I read for a while and then the Thursday sleep deprivation caught up. I just put my head down on the table (I was sitting at) and once again didn’t sleep.
So what do you do? You head for the Alfred Cuyp (pronounced coop) market. I kept my hand on my shoulder bag (see previous post for why). I walked the length of the market, took some photos and headed back. On the way I had this must piss feeling. Luckily, I came across a place called Bazar. At first, I was attracted by the Arabic inscriptions (couldn’t decode them) but I wanted the toilet. I ordered a basic coffee (OMG Fuck THAT is Coffee!!!). It cost €2.50. I handed over a generous €3.00. Then went for a piss.
Two minutes later I was checking the early afternoon windows on De Pijp. I walked the walk. Yeah! She was there. Not everyone will get this. I walked past her window and checked all of them. Yeah. She was it, the one. So I went back and made my interest known. She let me in.
She was my type. Definitely. And I figured that she was, say, thirty-five, which is closer to my age and well away from my preferred 20/21 (we talk about this during the lecture). I went in and asked what do you charge. She said, “What do you want?” I had to say that I wanted ‘the basic’.
No way I’m going to do this talk again on the same day that I fly!!!
She accepted the €50. She was past her best (still fucking good), I could see that; she was pretty in the way that Michelle Obama is pretty )girly pretty). I’m thinking that ten years ago she would have been fucking stunning.
So we get to the end and we’re doing the chit chat.
“So how old are you?”