Monday, March 31, 2008

Canadian Gigolo

Meet Craig. He's handsome, sensitive and yours, for a price. Georgie went out with a $100-an-hour call boy and learned a lot. About herself.

I look from side to side as the maître d' leads us to our table at the Café Victoria in Toronto's King Edward Hotel. We settle into a corner banquette at the far end of the restaurant while I continue looking ever so slightly over each shoulder, wanting to be seen but a little embarrassed. I've tried my hardest to shed some of my 45 years with a slimming, beige silk-blend dress, a windswept gamine hairdo and carefully applied, creamy nude lipstick to emphasize my best feature, my mouth. We sink into the soft cushions. It's private and we have much to discuss.

My date tonight is "Craig"--a tall, blond, burly 27-year-old former hockey player--and we both have only one thing on our minds.

Craig is costing me $100 an hour.

For that, he's mine. We can have dinner and just talk or I might simply move my fantasy date upstairs, order a nice bottle of Pol Roger champagne, instead of just the glass I'm sipping on, dim the lights and enjoy a much more intimate evening. That's because this cuddly boy with the Mel Gibson eyes makes his living in a financial institution by day, but by night he's a male escort. Since he started in the business seven years ago, he's dated between 200 and 300 women. Of those, he's, ahem, gone the distance horizontally with about 30.

Ever since Richard Gere cuddled up to Lauren Hutton in American Gigolo and whispered, "Did you make the right decision last night?," I've fantasized about the freedom, the control, the sheer fun of ordering up a good-looking man whenever I felt like it. A man who would listen to me, laugh at my jokes and have mind-blowing sex.

I know more than a couple of women who are bright, attractive and funny, but who, faced with the dating wasteland of the ' 90s, have resigned themselves to a seat for one at the sushi bar and a frequent-renter's card at the video store. I'm getting a divorce myself and am always on the lookout for business ideas, so I toyed with the idea of setting up an escort service for them--and myself, of course, but I wasn't quite ready to get into "madam" territory.

Then, coincidentally, Chatelaine challenged me to find and date a male escort, expenses paid. It was an irresistible dare. My first reaction? "In your dreams, girls!" I'd heard about an Australian man who boasted about the women who paid him for sex, but that was one guy on the other side of the world. Anyone who catches Jerry Springer knows you can find somebody, somewhere, who does anything you want, but this is Canada. We wanted a male escort with a maple leaf on the flagpole, so to speak. I was skeptical but I would try.

My second reaction was "If I find a guy, this is going to be fun." So, I asked my single friends if they had ever dated a gigolo. Everybody said no, but that doesn't mean much. Men never admit to dating a paid escort, and they certainly exist.

After checking out various magazines and newspapers, I combed the alternative press and found lots of men, but only available for other men. Then it struck me...the Internet, the bastion of all things prurient. I typed in the words "male escorts for females." Up came the names of Craig and about 10 other Canadians.

At first, it was a little hard to believe. But as I spoke to Craig over the phone, it didn't seem that far out. Craig seemed quite credible. I asked him some pretty explicit questions and he didn't laugh. He was matter-of-fact about the sex part, almost clinical, like your doctor describing a Pap smear.

We made a date for the King Edward in two weeks. Meanwhile, I continued my research. It led not only to at least one other male escort who I came to believe is real, but also to some interesting revelations, especially from my pals, about the whole business.

The other escort I found was in Vancouver. "Akili" described himself as tall, 27 years old, black, with a shaved head. A fantasy man. And true to form, he was fun to talk to. Our conversation had my female friends in a frenzy. "Most of the women I take out want companionship, someone to listen." Now, that made sense--a guy to take to fancy dinners and the ballet. (Craig told me later he' d seen every play in Toronto--Miss Saigon five times. Regular guys just don't like plays.)

But sometimes it progresses to wild and woolly sex, Akili said. "I had two women at the same time. One woman gave me to her girlfriend as a birthday present. It was wild and exciting." I'll bet. My hairdresser wanted his number. "He' d be the perfect gift for my friend who's turning 30," she said.

How did he make love to a woman he didn't find attractive? Out poured lines such as "Each woman is beautiful in her own way" and "It's great to stimulate the mind and not just the body."

The guy was slick. It's his job to make women feel great. But most women have their female antennae so well tuned to male insincerity that Akili's talk would have the vibrations knocking them unconscious in no time at all. Most of us enjoy having a man wax poetic about how soft our skin is, but whispers in the ear shouldn't feel like part of a guy's job description.

While all this was going on with Craig and Akili, I kept polling my friends about their views on stud services. A long-time buddy in Ottawa told me, "I don't think I would pay for sex, but I could see using a male escort to make an old boyfriend jealous." Akili remembers, "One woman's husband was cheating on her; she wanted revenge. We went down to the store her husband manages with the keys to one of the storage rooms. We had sex there standing up. Then she told him what happened and now they are getting divorced."

Sounds fun at first, but how would you feel about yourself after such a binge? My friend said she' d be happy to date an escort at a restaurant where her old flame could see them. But wouldn't sending your ex dead flowers give you a nice warm feeling without trashing your own reputation too?

But let's say you weren't looking for revenge--just sex, which is obviously a dial-a-hunk specialty. Well, most women anxious to save their hard-earned money for another pair of shoes or a weekend away with the girls would find it difficult to splurge on this. After all, couldn't most of us walk into a bar and get it for free if we were that desperate? Then again, not many guys look like Akili....

I was veering back and forth on the male escort question when I dropped my anchor at Sue Johanson's dock. Johanson, the well-known sex educator/counselor, thinks they' re a pretty good idea. She argues that not only are you going to have complete control, but you will get what you want. "Most of them are very attractive; you don't get any huge beer bellies and you usually get guys who have good communication skills, are good listeners and good lovers." But as we talked, she introduced the concept of the sex buddy, for those times you are between regular sex situations. A sex buddy is a man you have sex with but you don't have to pay him.

These guys can be found anywhere. They could be an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend; even just good friends who are happy to oblige you with no strings attached. Their idea of fun may be hanging around in their bathrobes and watching Fashion Television, but if you' re just looking for good old-fashioned sex, why not just call up a buddy?

Still, how many of us have a sex buddy in our back pocket? I mean, calling up an ex-boyfriend might boomerang you back into his heart, not just his arms. And that would never do. You' d be back where you started.

I'm due to meet Craig in four hours and I'm getting nervous. A trip to the hairdresser's (can you make me look 25?) and my favorite dress should do the trick. I can't believe I am going on a date with a gigolo. Will he be Armani-suave like Richard Gere or piles of pecks like Fabio?

To my amazement, when I walk into the King Edward and spy an attractive, young blond man in the lobby and mouth the name Craig, he nods back at me. Wearing a deep blue shirt, flowered tie and grey pants, he's talkative and polite.

Craig tells me he started in university after he and two buddies were offered a chance to work for an escort service. It has now closed down, but he decided to keep his shingle out. As he speaks, I'm rethinking the whole notion. Indeed, if I believed Craig and I were actually here to do what he is often paid for, I'd run screaming from the restaurant. It would just seem too cold-blooded to be sitting here thinking, "Well, I'll have the salad and the salmon and for dessert, this young man."

But even if I could get past my revulsion, how safe would sex be with a man who puts sexual intercourse on his r鳵m鿠Both Craig and Akili wear two condoms, which one of my male friends says is like applying Novocain to the area. Craig admits, "It's not that great, but I have to do it. I don't want to catch anything." They also stick to regular intercourse, although Craig says, "I'll have oral sex with my regulars." Akili is happy to tie you up and spank you if that's what you want, but Craig shies away from it. "One woman wanted me to do that, but I was worried she would call the police and I'd be in big trouble."

Craig is nearly 20 years my junior. "My parents are 48 years old." Oops? three years older than I am. I feel like a dirty old lady asking him questions about sex. How would I feel actually doing the deed? And how could I know whether he finds me attractive? Asking straight out wouldn't help--I would never believe him if he said yes.

Then there's the whole electricity thing. Craig is cute and athletic and even a good talker, but sparks aren't flying down below. I could invest in a few more dates to get myself interested, but by then we' d have a relationship. I'd be back where I could be for free, exactly what I'm trying to avoid here. (Actually, both Akili and Craig admitted they have fallen in love with clients: the bad part, an emotional relationship you may not want; the good part, they stop charging.)

I don't think Craig even likes having sex on the first date. "If someone wanted me just for sex, they would have to pay a lot more." He tells me he prefers being that sympathetic ear or good company at the theater. But, hey, my girlfriends fill those needs and they' re not charging.

Remember the term "zipless fuck" from Erica Jong's book Fear of Flying? The idea was to have no-strings sex with a man who you hardly knew--only to discover your passion disappearing as you got to know him. The truth is exactly the opposite for me and many other women. It's knowing those endearing little weaknesses, seeing those funny high school photos and knowing all of his family foibles that make a guy fascinating and desirable. And I think even Jong's narrator eventually found relationships more fun than the zipless fucking she described.

After our evening, Craig and I go our separate ways. If I see him on a Toronto street, I promise to wink and smile...and who knows? He is a financial consultant by day. Maybe he can give me some advice on where to invest my money.

It's been a great trip around male-escort land, teasing my imagination with a what-if scenario while knowing that I have enough room on my Visa card for at least one encounter. But even though I've had the chance to taste the forbidden fruit, once I get up close to it, I'm not sure if I want the whole banana.

One of my friends says the difference between the sex you pay for and the sex you get for free is that the free sex costs you more.

I'm sticking with the free stuff.

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