When Steve would get home from his job as a night shift floor maintenance man at a 24-hour supermarket, he'd punch in the numbers to Ashley's beeper. She'd get back to him, and sometimes they'd chat on into the dawn. That was really something he looked forward to; working the night shift, it's tough to meet anyone who shares your hours--let alone a girl--but Ashley had an odd schedule, too. Steve and Ashley saw each other about once a week for a year or so; then Steve woke up one night and realized he was in debt to his five credit cards for $6,000, and had drained his savings of $4,000. Totaled up, that's roughly half of what he made in a year.
Dating can be expensive; with Ashley it was very expensive.
That's because she was a prostitute.
Steve's one-bedroom apartment is incredibly neat and clean. On the dining-room table is a basket of pine cones spray-painted gold with a candle sticking from the middle of the pile. There is a stuffed penguin doll sitting atop a stereo speaker. On one living-room wall there are two group shots of the Cardinals cheerleaders. All those perfect smiles are aimed directly at a poster on the opposite wall of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But who calls prostitutes these days? Rich guys? Losers? Frat boys? Traveling businessmen? Men with Martin Luther King Jr. posters on their living-room walls?
Like the apartment, Steve himself is neat and clean, too. Girls might like that, but he says they don't like a guy who works the night shift, and if it's not that, then it's always something else.
"I'd date girls, I'd take them to a concert or a movie and they'd find out I was a night worker, or there was some reason they didn't want to go out anymore. It was tough to go out with somebody and be rejected by them. Plus, there's AIDS--it's hard to meet girls nowadays."
So he works at night, and he's used to rejection. Steve's also polite, sincere and as open as a 7-Eleven when it comes to talking about himself and Ashley, a relationship that began with a Sunday edition of the Arizona Republic about three years ago.
"I was looking in the paper, and I saw one of those escort service things, and I thought, 'I'll give them a call and see what it's like,'" he says, taking a sip from a glass of Coke that will proceed to go untouched for the next hour and a half.
"I called, and they said we've got this girl, and her name is Ashley. I told them it was my first time, and I'm kind of nervous. Then she called me back, and they try and impress you by letting you know their size and all; they don't want you to hang up. She told me it was $150 an hour, but they won't go into great detail about what you're going to get. I kinda wanted to know; I've heard of where people will pay like $100, and all that is is to come over. You still have to give more money just to do something with her.
"She said, 'I guarantee we'll have a lot of fun.' I thought, 'Well, the worst thing that could happen is I lose $150.'"
Ashley arrived. Steve says she looked a little older than she had claimed to be, but that she was "pretty good-looking." He digs up the only photo of her he has, one he's wanted to get rid of but just hasn't quite been able to. She has her back to the camera and is looking over her shoulder; from beneath a black cowboy hat, she smiles in profile looking very Irish, her arms around the neck of a horse. Can you describe a call girl as "fetching"?
"When she got there, I paid her right away, then she asks me what I want to do. I was like, 'I'm not really sure.' Of course you have ideas what you want to do, but this being my first time doing this, I didn't know what I could do, and what I couldn't do.
"She said, 'Well, why don't you just sit in the chair?' So I sat down, and she took her clothes off. I was able to pretty well touch her, it wasn't a nontouch kind of thing. It just kind of happened. Before I knew it, it got down to where I was going to have sex with her, but of course I didn't have any protection, so I was like 'forget that.'"