I wrecked my MR2 about two months ago, on the very day I decided I was going to quit my old job. That’s a story in and of itself, although one I’m not ready to tell because I’m still too close to it and there are parts of it I haven’t completely gotten myself out of yet. My car is now in a body shop getting its front bumper de-squashed. Yes, it did take me a long time to get around to dealing with it, thanks for asking. So I’ve been driving George’s car to work. He was nice enough to let me borrow it while he was on his honeymoon in San Francisco, and right now he’s still letting me have it because he’s house-sitting for some people who have a few extra cars he can drive. He’s been a very good friend to me lately.
I’m writing this on Thursday the 15th. Today I drove George and I to our new job in Fort Lauderdale in George’s car. On the way back he started telling me about the house-sitting he’s doing. The house belongs to his new wife’s aunt and uncle; their two teenage sons are staying at home while their parents are on vacation. George told me he’s afraid they are going to drive him crazy. He says the younger one, the 14-year-old, is “going to be ready for jail in a few years,” that he always gets into fights with his 16-year-old brother and that they nearly kill each other. Incredibly, the way he put it had me laughing out loud. His English is very good, but he has a thick Peruvian accent, and he says almost everything with this lazy detachment that invites humorous interpretation. You’d just have to hear him, I guess.
George says he thinks the boys fight only because they know their parents are going to pull them apart, and he’s ready to test his theory. The next time they start in on each other, he’s just going to watch and see who wins. I said that sounded like a lot of teenagers I knew all right, especially boys. I said I like almost all children except for teenagers, especially male teenagers, and that I knew perfectly well that I would intensely dislike myself as I was when I was that age.
This got George to thinking about his teenage years spent in Peru. You wouldn’t guess it from casual observation but his family was apparently quite well off. There were nine bedrooms in their main house in Lima, they had a separate beach house, every family member had their own car. They had a maid, but he says that was no big deal in Peru; everybody has a maid.
George said that his parents were very open about things and very supportive and that his dad was practically his best friend. (Unfortunately both of George’s parents are dead now.) He said that when he turned fifteen or so, his dad told him that he knew very well that there was nothing he could do to stop George from drinking, so to minimize the risk and dangers -- drunk driving, being taken advantage of, and so on -- George’s father said it would be okay for him to bring his friends to their house and drink there. Apparently their house had a well-stocked bar. George said to his father: “Really?” The detached, quizzical spin he put on that one word made it hilarious. Again, you’ll just have to take my word for it. George says he knows now that another big advantage his father saw to this method was that he got to see what types of people George was hanging around with.
George had to step back and provide a little background to continue the story. He said that prostitution was legal in Peru, that it’s taxed and regulated just like any other industry. The only restrictions are that you can’t practice it on the street; it has to be conducted in approved brothels. He said that despite that there were still streetwalkers and unlicensed “massage parlors,” but that you’d have to be pretty stupid to patronize those types of prostitution when it was legal in other places. I asked him if it was legal all over South America. He said he didn’t know about the whole continent, but for example in Colombia it was illegal but widespread nonetheless.
Stupid me, I had to be led by the hand to see where he was going with this. “So, you went to these places?” I asked, delicately, not knowing if he’d take offense. “Oh yes, many times,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It was the established thing for teenagers to do.”
George went back to his narrative. He said that after the fourth or fifth drink at his parents’ bar, he would invariably ask his dad: “Can I have some money to go to the whorehouse?” His father’s usual reply: “I cannot condone that sort of behavior. But here’s some money to go to the movies instead.” And even after that, I still wasn’t getting it. I wasn’t thinking of “movie money” and “prostitute money” as being in the same league.
It finally occurred to me to ask him how much a prostitute would cost back then. “Oh, around four dollars,” he said. “Four ... dollars?” I asked, incredulous. He nodded. “You’re doing the conversion from pesos or whatever for me, right?” “Yes. You’d pay one amount to ‘the house’ as you entered, and another amount to the woman herself, and four dollars was the total. It might be up to ten dollars these days.” He added that prostitution was largely an accepted part of the culture there. If a man’s wife was pregnant or didn’t want to have sex for some reason, most of them wouldn’t consider their husbands to be cheating if he paid a prostitute “for release,” as George put it, that it wasn’t cheating unless the man took a mistress.
“Four dollars for how long?” I asked. “For how long?” George repeated, in his usual quizzical way, as if the question didn’t make any sense. “Yeah, how long? Twenty minutes, the whole night, half a night, how long?” “Just however long it would take the man to come,” George said. “Sometimes, if it was a younger guy and it was his first time, the woman would inspect his penis for signs of diseases, and a lot of times, if he was too excited, he might come right then during the inspection. And the woman would say, ‘You are done!’ He’d say ‘No, I didn’t even get started ...’ and she would repeat ‘You are done, if you want to keep going you’re going to have to pay again.’” “And they’d make you wear condoms, right?” I asked, still not able to absorb this stuff at all. “No, not back in those days,” George said. “This was well before AIDS, of course. Anything you might get back then, you’d get a couple of shots of penicillin and that would be the end of it.”
I tried to conceal my utter astonishment at this entire concept. It had never really occurred to me that there were cultures that were structured anything like this, let alone that one of the people who participated was my friend George. If you’d asked me, George seemed like the type who wouldn’t have given sex much thought or serious consideration at all, let alone that he was going to prostitutes at the age of fifteen. And it wasn’t just an occasional thing, either: he said a typical weekend as he got farther into his teens would be that he and his friends would go out to bars, get drunk, try to pick up chicks, fail miserably, and end up at a whorehouse instead. “They might have been very ugly, but we were all too drunk to care.” He said he went to whorehouses about twice a month from the time he was fifteen until he was seventeen or eighteen.
Seeing that I was eating this up, he provided more details. He said that one year for his birthday his older brother took him to a “special” prostitute, a very good-looking one, and that he got to go to her apartment instead of to a whorehouse. (Remember him saying that you’d be stupid to frequent this type of prostitute earlier in the story? From what I’ve observed, the unrecognized contradiction seems to be a part of the Latin psyche. Ditto Catholics.) His brother said to the prostitute, “This is my brother, show him a good time, I’ll see you both later.”
George said he got to know some of the prostitutes and might see them socially sometimes. He said when you started to talk to them, you would discover that they were almost all doing it because their husbands had left them and they had a kid or two to support. He said that more than once he might tell one of them “Hey, bring your kid, we’ll go to my parents’ beach house for the weekend.” The woman would get a nice time for herself and her kid and George would get some free sex out of it.
I was already reeling from what he’d told me so far, but yes, there’s more. George said, with a perfectly straight face: “You know how when a man reaches a certain age, he’s tempted to try the family maid.” I tried not to look anymore shocked than I already was. I really think George expected me to say something like “Oh, of course. Why, my family had a whole succession of maids and naturally I did them all, no matter if they were 15 or 60.” George said that he couldn’t “do” his family’s maid because they’d had the same one for years, from before he was even born, but his aunts had a great many that were likely candidates. “But I only did one of them,” he said, as if this were a badge of dishonor, that all of his friends back in Peru would have laughed at him. He said he was fifteen and that the maid was around 21 and very cute. “I was doing her a lot,” he said, all his syllables running together, the same way he speaks Spanish.
It ended badly. He found out one day that the cute maid had been fired. He started asking around as to what had happened and it turned out that his aunts had discovered that George’s older brother had been “doing” the cute maid also, so they let her go. George explained that it could have been very bad if she’d gotten pregnant, that customs of the day practically demanded that his brother would have to marry her. His family couldn’t have one of their own married to a maid. And yes, George realizes the inequity in this, that really it should have been his brother who got punished. (He didn’t mention in there anywhere that he also should have been in for the same punishment. I guess it’s because he didn’t get caught.) But he says that telling his brother not to do it anymore wouldn’t have worked, that he was at that time pretty much beyond the reach of reprimands.
Now that I’ve heard about the way it’s done in Peru, I have to say that our system of sexual induction here in the U.S. is woefully inadequate. By not having access to sex when I wanted it, because I didn’t know how to talk to women (and even if I had’ve known it would have never occurred to me to ask for sex), I didn’t get the right kind of exposure to form my own opinions. I made it into something far more important than it really was; I did not apply the proper context at all. Lacking proper information to form my own opinions, I mythologized it instead. I put the whole subject up on a pedestal that it didn’t deserve to be on. I’m frankly jealous. In my mind, the Peruvian system is clearly superior. If I’d been brought up that way I think I would have had a much healthier attitude about sex at a much earlier age. And I might not have all this junk from the past stuck in my head that I’m still battling to this day.
From the conversational thread that evolved from this, I discovered that many people thought I was not properly “address the harsh realities” inherent in this story. To that charge, I responded thusly:
If it was my situation, then I’d have to address the “harsher realities,” as you put it. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself otherwise. Since it’s not, and it all happened decades ago, I don’t see the point. I just let him tell the story and didn’t make too many judgments. I was in awe of it and wanted to hear about it because it was so far outside my own experience.
Apparently not good enough. After being accused of assuming that all women have a “lesser libido” than men, I countered with this anecdote:
I’ve never paid a prostitute for sex, but it’s not because I have any moral or ethical qualms about it. I’ll tell a story about the time I came the closest to illustrate a point.
When I first moved to Miami, I used to hang around on Miami Beach a lot. If there was ever a place that is the physical manifestation of hedonism, then Miami Beach is it.
One night it was two or three in the morning and I was wandering around with no particular destination. I’d just been dumped by this girl who picked me up in a bar about a week earlier and I was pretty pissed off about it; she didn’t give me a chance.
So this woman comes careening down the sidewalk. (Not the one that dumped me, a stranger.) I first saw her when she was about three blocks away from me. She was pushing on all the guys she saw, hard, she was obviously a prostitute and was in a particularly bad way to find a customer. Maybe she really needed the money.
So I watched her proposition about five guys as the distance between us closed. She stuck her head in a car stopped at a light, she grabbed a guy by the arm, she nearly fell into another guy. So as we’re getting closer I thought, Oh boy, I’m next! Sure enough, I was. I was just walking along, guardedly, watching her closely to see what she’d do. And this was it: she started walking on a collision course with me. If one or the other of us didn’t veer off we were going to crash into each other. Drop-dead gorgeous, tight muscled body, a really edgy face like she’d tell you to fuck off in a second. If she was doing it for drug money, you sure couldn’t tell by looking at her.
I thought she was really hot. I didn’t like the way she was dressed, she had on a pair of those uber-anti-feminine Doc Martens, but I didn’t have any trouble overlooking that. And she just kept right on coming, she actually speeded up as we got within ten feet of each other. I was the one who finally changed course, a half-second before we would have crashed into each other. She just kept right on walking, looking for the next guy.
I would have been tickled pink to pay that woman for sex if she’d approached me differently. But I could just imagine how it would go with somebody like that: she’d no doubt be in a big hurry, she wouldn’t want to talk first, all she’d be thinking about was getting it over with and getting the hell away from me. That’s not what I’m after at ALL.
One of the things I did as a teen, in lieu of actual sex, was read books about it. Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, Shere Hite, stuff like that. One of the chapters in the M&J books was specifically about the people they recruited for their studies. They expected to have a lot of trouble getting volunteers, but for every person they accepted they always had to turn away 20 or 30. They were baffled by this (can you believe it?), so they did a survey of the participants on why they chose to participate. The overwhelming response, by both the males and females, was “to get a safe supply of sexual partners.”
Next, commenters told me that what I was describing was “exploitation.” I responded:
You’re assuming I didn’t see that. I did. I chose to overlook it, it’s not the part I’m interested in.
I can tell you what, the message those two brothers got wasn’t good at all, at least we agree on that much. I don’t think the prostitute thing was any more a part of it than anything else. I think those brothers got a sense of entitlement from their parents that fucked them up forever.
The older brother, the one who was humping the cute maid? He’s dead now. The way George told the story to me, it sounds like he wasn’t willing to come to terms with the world, he wouldn’t slow down his partying and drinking and smoking and doping and so on, and it finally killed him. AIDS was the final verdict, but if it hadn’t been that, one of his other habits would have gotten him.
The younger brother, George, the one I know: He spent a significant amount of time in jail. The way he tells it, he was hanging around with the wrong crowd, drug dealers mostly. A bunch of guys who felt like the world owed them an unending party, the same as George did. He got caught in a drug bust, wouldn’t talk, and got three years for it. I knew him for two years before he got up the nerve to tell me that, and he had to be very, very drunk to spit out the words. (And no, “George” isn’t his real name.)
He’s settled down a lot now, but he’s not entirely over it. He still believes that the world owes him things. Whenever he gets a good break, he’s always looking for an angle so that he can get a little bit more. It makes me really angry with him sometimes. He’s always assuming that people should give him things, that all he has to do is ask. He’s not above petty thievery if he thinks he really deserves it.
There, are you happy now? This is NOT the part of the story I was interested in. My point was that we would all be better off with for-pay outlets for sex.