Are You Sure You Don’t Want a Date?

I cross the intersection of East Fifty First Street and Madison Avenue, in the shadow of St. Patrick's Cathedral. It’s my first night on the job. A leggy, blonde wearing a fur coat walks towards me, making eye contact and seductively smiling. She’s got high cheekbones, with eyes set wide apart, a facial structure that guys alternately view either as exotic or bizarre. I opt toward exotic. Blushing, however, I’m oblivious to her purposes.

She steps in my path, brushing against me while grabbing my shoulder to slow my pace. She brings me to a halt in the middle of Madison. Northbound traffic stops one block down, thanks to a well-timed red light. We stand in the crosswalk, but only long enough for her to ask, “Do you need a date tonight?”

“No, not tonight,” I respond with a hint of naivete, continuing on my way.

She changes direction and walks alongside me, still smiling. Her perfume is strong, but stimulating. After running her right hand along my left suit-sleeve, from shoulder to the biceps, she drops her fingers to my crotch, grabbing a handful and asking, “Are you sure you don’t want a date?”

I later explain to my new coworkers what had happened, expecting them to be as shocked as I was. They look at one another and grin.

One of the guys, a retired cop from the Bronx, asks, “Was it a tall, blonde bimbo wearing a mink?”

“In fact it was,” I say. “How the heck did you know?”

“That's Bambi. She's been peddling her rear-end between here and the Waldorf for years. It won’t be the last time you see her.”

“Don’t they ever lock her up?”

“Sometimes. I’ve had her arrested so many times that I can't be bothered anymore. I just throw her out.”

“So what should I do if I see her in the hotel?”

“Bring her in here and have her arrested.”

“But I thought you just said it's a waste of time?”

“It is, if you do it repeatedly. But since you’re new here and you already know what one of the regulars look like, you might as well take advantage of it. If the security chief sees that you’re making apprehensions so soon, he’ll stay off your back for a while. He'll give the paperwork to the general manager to show that the boys on the midnight shift aren’t sleeping all night. The G.M. stops bothering our boss, and our boss stops bothering us. It’s all a game.

“You can’t be gung ho about busting hookers,” he adds. “It’s like shoveling shit against the tide, if you know what I mean.”

I soon learn that the prostitution trade is flourishing in New York, despite a rise in sexual anxiety stemming from the AIDS epidemic.

Call Girls and Streetwalkers

From 1987-1992 B.G. (Before Giuliani), you could take a stroll through any of the hotel districts in Manhattan after dark and find hookers readily available. Even if you couldn’t find one hustling in the open, all you had to do was turn on channel 35 (then courtesy of Manhattan Cable) and scan through dozens of advertisements for “escort services.” The ads stopped short of saying, “Have your credit card ready, make your request and wait for us to deliver a whore to your door. Operators are standing by.”

White and Black, Latino and Asian, male and female, straight, gay, transvestite and even transsexual hustlers seemingly are at your disposal in the Big Apple. From the perspective of a midnight house detective, one could see that people from all over the world came to New York with the goal, whether as a primary or secondary consideration, of buying or selling flesh.

Just take your pick and bring them back to the hotel, folks. Or at least try to.

The Palace was a veritable magnet for criminal activity, since most hookers were drawn to its cash-rich customers as a matter of economics. Responding to demand, the girls provided a supply. Similarly, the visibility of this supply sparked a demand from intoxicated, lust-filled guests.

Other girls were less entrepreneurial than they were opportunistic, often robbing their victims after selling – or in pretense of offering – sexual satisfaction.

There are only two types of prostitutes [working the Palace and the surrounding hotel district]: call girls and streetwalkers. The call girls always show up in a cab or a private car chauffeurs them to the hotel. Many are gorgeous. Most, at best, are decent looking or marginally attractive, and work for agencies that send them all over the metropolitan area for a $250 hourly minimum. If the hooker is beautiful or has an outrageous body, she charges $500, $1,000 or even $1,500 an hour.

Call girls rarely, if ever, rip off their customers. No wonder, considering the going rate. Their agency bosses further discourage thievery by the fact that such organizations are notoriously mob connected. Do you think it’s a coincidence the police occasionally identify dismembered bodies found stuffed in suitcases and left in bus terminal rental lockers, and bloated corpses found floating in the East River as known prostitutes? This isn’t to say that these women don’t suffer at the hands of murderous sadists, who no doubt take advantage of the vulnerability of the girls’ positions, job-wise and horizontal-wise. Skimming profits and scaring away repeat customers often leads to career-ending brutality.

The typical routine for hookers of the street-level variety is to venture by foot from Lexington Avenue, the heart of the East Side hotel district. Others arrive in their personal cars which, for some reason or another, almost always have New Jersey license plates.
Some might fit into the attractive category. Most are skeletal hounds in need of a blood transfusion and a few hearty meals. Others are candidates for liposuction or some other drastic measure.

Regardless of how they get to the Palace, they either circle the hotel like vultures in flight or go straight to Harry's Bar in the hotel lobby, waiting to get picked up by a drunk who doesn’t mind crawling between the legs of a cross-eyed and toothless streetwalker.

To be continued.