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October 30, 2006

Brothel, A Guided Tour

by guest mystery author, Barbara Parker.          Go to fullsize image

So tell me. How many of you have been to a brothel? . . .  Anyone? What if somebody offered you a tour? . . . Be honest.

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I couldn't say no either, when  my pal Liz and I went out to Las Vegas recently to see a friend.  Turns out she had a friend in the business, a "working girl" who thought it would be neat to talk to a writer . . . so next thing you know, the four of us are driving west through the desert to the town of Pahrump, where prostitution is legal.  (Not so in Vegas--at least, not openly.)

Dana is in her late fifties, but still a knockout, with long eyelashes, raspberry lips, and black hair piled on top of her head. She and just one other girl work at The Cherry Patch, where the manager is a Vietnam vet in a wheelchair who usually dozes off about midnight, leaving the girls on their own to peer through the window when someone presses the buzzer. Dana says most of their customers are older men or Mexican migrants. In the car she showed us a rate sheet, a single piece of paper decorated with hot pink kiss marks. The minimum is $100, for which you get a hand job, though once she agreed to do a college student who only had $75, because it was his first time, and she felt sorry for him.

Dana used to work The Strip. She says she did Flip Wilson, Lou Rawls, some VIP politicians, a few celebrities who shouldn't be named because they're still alive, and too many rock musicians to remember. Those were the days . . . .  Now she gets by, working three weeks out of four, paying $25 a day room rent, turning over half her earnings to the house. She'll retire someday, but not yet. Her boyfriend in LA drives over in his Corvette the weeks she's off duty.  He wants her to marry him, but she values her independence. We found ourselves liking Dana, for her dry sense of humor, her grit, and a clear-eyed view of human nature.

Coming out of the mountains west of Vegas, the road took us into Pahrump Valley, then south through sun-baked fields with cinder block ranch houses and the occasional cow. We stopped for a photo op at The Chicken Ranch (inspiration for the Broadway show and movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.) Next door, behind some trees and under a big American flag is Sheri's Ranch. Except for the posters of semi-nude women over the entrance, you'd think you were looking at a Ramada Inn along the Interstate. Dana used to work at Sheri's, and she'd called ahead to set up our visit.

We went in through the sports bar, found a booth (red vinyl with etched glass dividers) and ordered a beer, which alone was worth the drive. On a weekday afternoon, the place was pretty quiet--a couple of Harley riders shooting pool, a few guys at the bar chatting with the girls, who were as you'd expect: shiny lipstick, hair extensions, thong panties under see-through skirts or hot pants, and heels high enough to induce nosebleed. Nobody seemed curious about us, even though unaccompanied women are a no-no at brothels. I went over to the gift shop and bought a t-shirt for my brother and ogled the toys. Yikes. When I got back to the table, our tour guide was there.

T.J. (her real name) was a blond goddess in buttercream yellow lace panties, a 38DD bra and a short silk robe, standing about six-five in her heels. If I weren't straight, I'd have handed over my charge card. We went through the lobby, a Victorian fantasy with a white grand piano, crystal chandeliers, and a gold-framed rate chart on an easel--$200 minimum. The lobby opened on a long corridor with a row of doors on the right, big picture windows on the left, revealing the pool, the barbecue area, and snow-topped mountains in the distance.  The place smelled aggressively clean, like floral air freshener.

Sheri's welcomes couples, so if you're interested, you can book a room for the weekend. You and T.J. frolic in the tub in The Bubble Room while your guy holds a remote control to the bubble machine. Next door is the Dungeon, the same size but painted black, with fake rocks on the wall. T.J. specializes in S-and-M.  Yeah, I could see her in a black leather bustier, holding a whip. There's a bondage chair, and chains on the wall, and a padded sawhorse thing where you can get tied up and spanked . . . well, no, not you. The Dungeon is for guys.

Back in the hall, a red light went on, and a bell sounded for a line up. A customer had arrived, and the girls had three minutes to get to the lobby. They paraded past us, their eyes flicking in our direction, probably wondering who these old broads were. In an alcove lined with shoe racks, they changed sneakers for high heels, hitched up their strapless tops, and smoothed their miniskirts.

Out of sight of the customer, we peered around the corner and watched the girls smile and cross the room,their shoes thudding on the dark wood. "Hi, I'm Annie."  "Hi, I'm Crystal."  And so on. A thin Asian girl in a red dress was picked, and they came right past us, hand in hand, while we tried to vanish behind a vase of silk flowers. He was a short guy in a plaid shirt and khaki pants.  They came back five minutes later. She'd "walked him." T.J. explained they'd probably been unable to agree on a price.

T.J. showed us her room--flat-screen TV, antique dresser, a pink scarf over the lampshade, a four-poster double bed with a leopard print duvet and dozens of while sheets. A fresh one for each customer because, "I'm a squirter."

Getting under the covers is not permitted. The office watches the negotiations through a videocamera, which is turned off after the deal is struck and the envelope containing the cash or signed charge receipt is sent down the hall.

T.J. told us she has degrees in English lit and theology. She works about half the year and makes over a hundred grand. She is 48 years old. We exclaimed, "You're not!"

"Oh, yes, I am."

Really, though, it's inspiring, to think how long you can look that good. Her beauty secrets: lots of exercise, a spray-on tan, and Crest White Strips.

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On the drive back to Vegas, Dana cracked jokes and related more stories about life in the business. The rest of us were pretty quiet. I'm glad for the experience, but I don't think I'll set a book in Vegas. There will be no murder in a brothel, no reformed working girls, bcause when you get really close, you see that this is their life. Forget the moral qualms.  It's just . . .  boring.  Once you get past the giggles and the glitter, who cares?

Here are some pictures from our adventure in Pahrump

Here's Sheri's Ranch, but it's not a website for the kiddies.



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If this one doesn't wake you up on a Monday morning, you need to have a brain scan.

What a great guest blog - entertaining AND informative. Cannot imagine this career, but getting an inside look was fascinating.

I hear you about the boring part. Plus, whole body acting has got to be exhausting.

Ditto on the boring part. About two or three years ago, I went into a strip club with some friends. My first visit since my college days.

There was a no nudity oridinance, so the dancers wore pasties that looked like nipples. With the blaring technopop industrial music, I became detached and started observing the situation.

Atone point, all the club strippers came out and within moments these women were in some degree of pasty nudity. I felt a sense of deja vu, that was not pleasant. The dark atmosphere and grinding music, no this was not Rick James "Superfreak."

I finally made the conection were I had seen this scene before, the naked women reminded me of the naked women taking a shower in "Schindler's List."

I'm awake! What a great way to start a Monday. You'll be a hard act to follow tomorrow, Barbara. All I can say is that I'm jealous...and intrigued. What's that about the shoes? (From going to the link on Barbara's website - check it out under more pictures.) That's a cultural study right there. I'm curious to know what these women really think when they're doing it, not what they advertise, but their general feelings.
And this English/theology thing...Hmmm. When I was a reporter, I interviewed a couple of hookers who also told me they had English degrees (one from Connecticut College - I loved that!). Then, when I put it in the paper, a snot reporter pulled me aside and advised me that unless I see the diploma, actually hold it in my hand and feel the stamp, I should never take a hooker's word that she has a degree.
The thing is, I think he had a lot of experience in this area.
Great, great post! Welcome!

With all those college degrees, I wonder if those ladies spend any time debating whether or not prostitution should be legalized or if it degrades women, between their bubble baths. Or what it must be like working in the kind of Bangkok brothel where John Mark Carr spent his free time. Here's a story about how legalizing it in Sweden actually cut down on the abuse of female sex workers: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/3900361.stm

Anyway, the only hooker I ever knew--a high school acquaintance---died of cervical cancer (from HPV) at age 24. I've met her daughter, though, who's brilliant---a happily married scientist on an wonderful career path.

Thanks for the guest blog, Barbara!

Do they come in to school for their children's career day?

There's so much more I could write, but I think others will do it.

The thing is, people have been paying for sex since time began, or at least Pompeii, where they unearthed a brothel complete with atmospheric wind chimes and instructional manuals.

It's kind of like weed - you can throw as many cops and federal program dollars as you want at this 'problem', but it is never going away. Better to legalize and tax the stuff.

Also - foul on comparing prostitutes to slaves - no one should be forced to do anything without their consent. Slavery of any kind is wrong and must be stopped. We're not talking about that in this case. T.J. and women like her make their own choices. You may not like, or understand the choice, but at least she's a productive member of society. If you don't like strippers or hookers, guess what? You don't have to go see them.

Hmmm, so Crest White Strips you say? I'll put that on my Target list.

Not sure this counts, but I did take a brothel tour in Skagway AK...The Red Onion Saloon was the most famous one in those parts during the Gold Rush and after. The upstairs is kept exactly as it was when the "girls" worked their 'cribs' (and if you see the rooms, you'd understand the term fits). We heard a lot of history, including how the bartender knew when the girls were done and ready to entertain another prospect and how the term streetwalker meant the lowest class of prostitute as well as the shortest lived. Brothels were the upper class of the profession...and the most protected since the madam never beat you for not making a quota. Still, I'm sure it doesn't measure up to your adventure :o)
And you know, somehow exercise, self-tanning and Crest White Strips don't do the same thing for me :o)

I'm a little bit in awe of someone who's in better shape and far better educated (diploma in hand or not) than I am. What I can't get past is getting that close to strange people's Personal Smells all day long. If I could turn off my olfactory system, I could probably be a hooker, although it sounds kind of . . . hard.

...children's career day...good one Josh...

Wow, Barbara, checked out your photos and your guide was gorgeous. What an interesting tour. I would have gone too.

I have watched 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' but never realized the Chicken Ranch was in Nevada. Next time my husband and I go to Vegas for our gambling experience, we'll have to go check it out.

A brothel in Scagway, Arkansas.

That makes me laugh in and of itself. I think that might be Mensa's southern headquarters. hee hee.

Scagway isn't in ARKANSAS. It's in ALASKA.
Not that we here in AR don't have some illegal brothels. I just don't know where they are!
GREAT post. I would have LOVED to have been on that tour.

Yeah, I'd say that touring the "Ranch" was one of the most memorable experiences EVER, but not one I'd care to do again. Somebody asked what these girls --- excuse me, WOMEN -- are really thinking. Do they LIKE what they do? Actually, some do. Most, I think, would rather be in some other line of work, but don't have the discipline or smarts. It's hard to find a hooker without serious problems in her past. Women like T.J. are rare indeed.

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