By the Hour
A male escort reflects on the effects of charging by the hour.
I did not begin by carrying a watch.
Instead, I had a natural efficiency for time, and it was my second nature to be timely and arrive no more than five minutes late for a client. In some circles, that might be considered too late already, but this was Seattle and on the West Coast, lateness was measured more by protocol than minutes. As an erotic masseur (bodyworker, jackoff artist, whatever you prefer), I was paid by the hour, and making those hours count was important to me.
Like all good young Americans, I took to the hourly wage with religious devotion, Stamping my first timecard at 15 for a job cold-calling my small town neighbors about their furnaces and air conditioners. With that initiation into the taxpaying society, I felt more a part of this gigantic bureaucratic network than my parents as I was paying for the school I was currently in, for the roads I would travel far further than they would, for the military I could eventually join (I wouldn’t) and so on. Being paid by the hour told me that every hour I worked translated into money in my pocket and renewed asphalt that would take me away from my hometown. For me, being American meant working hard and respecting the hour.
For this reason, I did my best to never be late to scheduled appointments during the summer of 1994 when I was faced with an economic dilemma. In addition to a non-paying internship soaking up 40-60 hours of my week, I was working more or less 10 hours a week at minimum wage at a record store ($4.25 an hour that summer to attempt to cover costs of transportation and food. Erotic massage, however, would theoretically yield between $50-$100 each hour making one hour of massage worth more than 1 week of sales floor labor.
I won’t lie and say that the choice was not exciting or that spending an hour naked in oil was more strenuous than wearing my nametag explaining the alternate versions of the Macarena. I will say that I approached the new industry with a vigor for customer service unfathomed in retail. Having already sold shoes, air conditioning, records, and even candy bars for my high school, the ability to expand into the handjob and untrained rubdown market was swift and simple.
My advertisement set the price and when clients attempted to barter, I sourced it like a contract, noting that additional time meant additional money and tips, of course were welcome. We had a schedule to keep, and for this reason, I planned out the massage to arrive to the orgasm 50 minutes after arrival with a cleanup and adieu lasting the final 5. I wanted it to be clockwork. In time, I hperfected this strategy without the use of my watch. Years later, I would schedule 6 to 8 appointments a day, running my body on a pattern set for arrival, disrobing, orgasm and salutations that made me acutely aware of any client’s abnormal slowness (or rare swiftness) in completion.
Sex, in this way, began to take on a solid structure around the turn of hours and I found myself comfortably slipping into the miracles of the minimum wage. Sure the minimum wage was meager at the start (only a quarter per hour in 1938) and it was still meager in 1994, but the idea of hours was the foundation of the sort of-almost-slightly legal sex industry. It has been the legal loophole to stretch and expose ourselves to the possibility of what an hour was worth. Some of us might compete in our cost per hours (mine would eventually raise to $250 an hour for fetish work, a price for which I was proud in an otherwise dull market) and others must proclaim that they are not clockwatchers, a term that often given to white collar laborers. The hour is a communally decided allotment of potential and structure that secures when to arrive and, more importantly, when to leave.
This would never be clearer than when I had taken a job jerking off for the web in Toronto. For two hours, people paid to be entertained by sexual frolic, and I was paid a small amount of money to insure this. Now, some guys would attempt to jerk off for the entire two hours — turning their sausage into Spam by sheer friction and determination. Instead, I chose to make a show of it, timing the moments when articles of clothing might be removed, when the “money shot” could take place and the pillow talk (done in a cyber chatroom) could be just enough to justify entrance fees.
It would only occur to me later that when I was not working, my private sexual life would also be inescapably timed. Sex for over an hour seemed to drag and under was unfulfilling. I began to think of it in the back of my mind when I came, and if I came twice, it happened all before an hour. After an hour of recreational sex, (since I wasn’t being paid or needing to clean up my things) I wanted to do something else and abruptly quit. My natural clock had chimed, and there didn’t seem to be a snooze.
But the hours ticked me off even more in how I created a social economics for my time. In my mind, I had become a whiz at evaluating the cost for my time to do things like going to the movies ($400-500), grocery shopping ($350) and even a birthday party (daytime, $300 – nighttime, $500+). Every hour came with a price tag of clients I would not be taking, what they might be paying, and where I might be best served.
Indeed, there was a period where I grew certain I could run a tight ship, manage my time in valuable increments and maximize the space to allot 8 clients (always aiming for 9) in a day. Time became the way of managing the work. Like a waitress looking for tips and the customer service employee’s ticking timecards, I was certain that I might reach maximum output and receive kudos, a thank you, a sense of satisfaction as the good worker I had been trained to be. But that never came. Just more hours. I realized then that the management of my time needed to include other things. Sex and work required off hours, and that sex during off hours would be work to move from a ticking timer to relaxed engagement.
I would allot time for this. While in the beginning, I did not carry a watch, I began in my second year in the business to wear one. It told me when to turn the phone and the pager off. It told me when to turn them back on again. It told me that a few hours of time away from work allowed me time to return again. Renewed and with a mean, clean, and rested machine.
(Originally published in $PREAD Magazine)