5 Strange Things You Learn as the Madam in a Brothel
Ah, the brothel. Even for those of us who couldn't muster up the balls to go in if you loaned us several sets of balls (please don't do that), it's always an interesting setting for films and TV shows. We feel like we know how one works, even though our most authoritative reference is a Simpsons episode about a burlesque house. Cracked wanted to know if such places are really everything the movies make them out to be, and also how to find one, and what you do when you're in there (it's mostly pillow fights, right?). So we interviewed a woman who once worked as a madam at an illegal brothel. Here's what she told us.
Managing a Whorehouse Is a Lot Like Managing Anything Else
I responded to an ad on Craigslist for a spa in need of massage artists. The interview was simple: They took me to the back, explained that I would be an "independent contractor," and that I would be giving relaxation massages -- not therapeutic ones, because those required a license. They also made me sign a "contract" against doing anything illegal, which helped add to the legitimacy of the whole thing. All the other girls signed contracts, too. I think the goal was to protect the owner in the event we were busted.
"Brothel?" he'd presumably say, "I had no idea. For you see, these women all signed contracts saying they were massage artists. All this sex-having must have been spontaneous!"
"Maybe if you weren't so uptight, you'd enjoy some totally-out-of-nowhere sex!"
It didn't take me long to realize that this massage parlor was clearly a brothel. I was there only a few hours before they asked me to be night manager, which is generally not a great sign of a legitimate business. The fact that our job description was "make men feel special" was another. There was also something suspicious about the fact that our spa was located in an industrial district of town, surrounded by warehouses. I agreed to work there anyway because I was desperate. My boyfriend, who had been very abusive emotionally, had just tried to kill me, and I lost my job like two days after leaving him. I didn't apply for the position thinking I'd work at a brothel, but once I found out, I didn't care. I myself was not touching anyone, and I didn't particularly care what other people got up to in the privacy of their own rooms. I could string two words together and handle myself in an emergency, and that's what they needed.
I was surprised by how absolutely mundane it could be. One girl was in college to be a pharmacist. Another had three kids and no child support and was desperate for money. It was the same list of coworkers you'd expect with any other entry-level position (pun intended as hard as it can be). In some ways it was like you'd expect -- girls walking around naked, painting each other's nails -- but the rest of it was run as a normal business. It wasn't even open late; we closed at 11 p.m. That was because the kind of people you probably assume frequent brothels are the kind that tend to stay out late at night. We didn't want them. Can you blame us?
"We've got church in the morning!"
Most of our clients were average businessmen. They were in town for work, staying at a nearby hotel and in search of some of that exotic, two-towns-over strange. The weekdays, not the weekends, were actually busiest, because most of our clients were married men. So if you showed up at 10:30 p.m. on Friday expecting a weekend-long bang fest, you'd be greeted with a "closed -- please cum again later" sign, because weekends are slow, so we shut up shop a bit early.
The business was even registered as a "relaxation clinic" under a LLC. So we could put our work history on a resume, and as long as our next potential boss didn't show up every Tuesday for some offside ball-handling, it'd look perfectly normal.
"Thanks for applying. Hey, don't I recognize you from ... uh ... softball?"
Hiding In Plain Sight Works, Even If You're Really Bad At It
The girls were all required to show up for work wearing scrubs. Scrubs are scientifically proven to be the least sexy possible garments. They made the girls look like anything but prostitutes, and that was the exact vibe we wanted. We were in an industrial district, but a cafe and a couple of little stores lined the main road. Behind us were a bunch of huge warehouses for things like Amazon and UPS. My boss's cover story was that our little "relaxation spa" was intended for all the tired workers at the park.
"We're ready to relax you now."
On paper, all of that sounds like expert covert hustling. This place must be the SPECTRE of illicit humping! In practice, it was hilariously obvious. The outside of the building still had a plumbing warehouse sign that we couldn't be bothered to take down. Clients couldn't simply walk in -- they had to make appointments and be buzzed in, even if they were already in the front parking lot. Then a girl would come to escort them in and out. Yep, a lot of the ol' in and out. We had a laundry service; that's necessary for the line of work, obviously, but you try explaining away all of those fluid stains from what's supposed to be a "spa."
"I can't believe we spilled yet another bottle of massage oil! I tell ya, we've got to stop hiring people without thumbs."
Part of my job was to make sure no used condoms got into the laundry baskets. That happened a few times and it made the cleaning people suspicious. So we had to shake out each individual sheet and check for condoms and other contraband, like drug paraphernalia. I wore rubber gloves for that duty. Strangely, "condom wrangling" was not listed in the initial Craigslist ad that I responded to.
You Field Some Strange Requests
We had a foot fetish guy who would call and keep me on the phone for like 15 minutes, asking for details on what each girl's feet were like. He wanted to know what specific type of nail polish they used, down to the brand and shade. He didn't want the girls to touch him. He'd give them foot rubs and jack off on their feet, and that was everything this guy needed for a fulfilling relationship.
It was a little weird that he boomed "Now the masseuser has become the masseused" every time, but whatever.
That was, comparatively, pretty normal. Working that job gave me a new appreciation for how bizarrely specific some fetishes are. But you've got to respect someone who knows exactly what they want. Like the guy who brought a red fishnet body glove into his session, asked the girl to put on it and a pair of flip flops, and then had her get down on her hands and knees and bark at him like a dog. Again, there was no actual "sex" -- all he wanted was to admire a poorly-accessorized dog woman.
Honestly, it was less creepy than if he had requested the other version.
It was part of my job to know the girls well enough to be able to answer fetish questions about them. I had a book with all their pictures, but I'd also have to make a note of what shades of nail polish and lipstick they were wearing, what sort of bra they wore, how authentic their Mastiff impression was -- anything someone might ask about before coming in for their scheduled sexytime. If it had been a legitimate business, I'd have been our social media coordinator. But Twitter wasn't an option, so instead I took notes on the stains in everyone's underwear.
No, the Photos Of the Girls Are Not Accurate
We advertised through Backpage. Our ads had the hours of operation and photos of the girls on duty. These photos were not always entirely ... authentic. When a girl was hired, the owner would take her to the store and buy her all kinds of lingerie and tight little dresses. Then they'd take a series of profile photos (another one of my jobs). Most of the girls would wear three or four bras at a time to make their boobs look huge, or they'd wear Spanx to help wrestle those love handles into submission. On top of all that, the photos were edited to the point that even Cosmo would probably tell us tone down the Photoshop a bit.
This started as a 250-pound white woman in a French maid outfit.
Some clients would get pissed off at us because the girl who greeted them at the door bore only the vaguest resemblance to her pictures. Because porn and sex work in general are normally such bastions of fair and accurate representation. Still, we're in the customer service industry -- even if we do take the service part a bit literally. So we'd offer the dude another girl if he got mad. He'd tell me what his type was, I'd send the girls who fit that type out, and he'd get to choose whoever he liked best. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" is an apt idiom here, though don't think too hard on who the "wheel" is, why they're "squeaking," and what, exactly, is the "grease."
It Is Still a Dangerous and Manipulative Business
Hiring new employees was part of my job. We pretty much just interviewed prospective masseuses and prayed they wouldn't freak out when we asked them to fuck strangers for money. The girls knew better than to straight up tell a new worker the truth -- "This is how you work the coffee maker, this is where the cleaning supplies are, this is how you put customers' dicks into parts of you" -- so newbies were felt out for a while before getting felt up. Management also groomed people for the role by making them feel beautiful and special. They'd get sexy photos taken, go out shopping for lingerie ... the goal was to make the job seem fun, kind of glamorous and naughty, but not illegal, gross, or dangerous.
But still, we're talking about an illegal brothel in an industrial district. This is where like 60 percent of CSI episodes start. It takes a special sort to stick around. Many of our employees either had drug problems or were in some form of dire financial straits. We had several girls threaten to go to the police to rat the whole thing out, which made firing them extremely difficult. The only real discipline I could give them was a fine -- $20 for being late, $50 for not showing up in scrubs. The bureaucracy of prostitution.
"Dammit, this is a 10-14A: Lube Request Form. I wanted a 14-10B: Teeth During Oral Disciplinary Form."
The boss, whom we'll call Sergei (sorry, Russians, but it is the perfect "scary pimp" name), was a bear of a man who looked like he'd probably written several eHow articles on the finer points of corpse disposal. He was the kind of dude who dealt with his anger by screaming and slamming his hands down on tables. Many of our employees were victims, and Sergei knew it. His behavior was terrifying to a girl with a history of abuse, and he exploited it at every turn.
Sergei was pissed when I eventually quit, mainly because I wiped out my existence there before leaving. I took and burned all copies of my license, my stubs from paychecks, and my contract. I erased emails, pictures of myself, and any computer evidence, then wiped my browser history. He no longer had any leverage over me, so he started sending me messages threatening to kill me -- or, more specifically, that he'd have me killed.
"Hey, it's Sergei. You can use me as a reference, but it's company policy to only confirm that you worked for us.
Also, I'm going to murder you to death. Thanks, let me know if you have any questions!"
Obviously, none of that came to pass. This is not the first human interest article to transcend the veil between life and death. Sergei was apparently running a few other brothels, and one of them used underage kids. He was busted, and all of his brothels were shut down by force. I would say that's sort of a happy ending, but there have been enough sex puns already.
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For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Ways Being a Legal Prostitute Is Weirder Than You Think and 5 Myths About Prostitutes I Believed (Until I Was One).
Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.