I became a rent boy by accident. I posted a hook up ad on craigslist in the men seeking men section. A man responded, and offered me $250.00 if he could watch me jerk off. The money seemed too easy. So later that day, I decided to post an ad in the same section looking for generous guys, and by the end of the month I had made $1200. If I had stayed with it, I would have paid off all of my student loans. I was twenty-seven and had just started journalism grad school in Boston.
I had been propositioned a few times in my life. And for years friends and guys I had dated told me I should do porn because of my “exotic” looks and my big dick. I always laughed it off. I was thin, flat chested, with a lot of grey hair. But flirting had always come naturally. Now, I could direct it towards my clients.
My first experience, I drove to the man’s house in Brookline. He was short, pudgy, and black. I could tell that he had done this before by the way he instructed me to take my clothes off as we entered his bedroom.
“You bring any poppers?” he asked.
I had none. I had never done them.
“Don’t you have better underwear than tighty whities?”
I didn’t. They were my favorite kind of underwear. I didn’t like wearing anything else.
He disappeared into the closet and re-emerged with a yellow and orange jockstrap.
“I’m too big for that,” I said.
“Right,” he said smiling.
I waited for him to leave the room to let me adjust the thing at least. But he stayed and watched. He adjusted the jockstrap without asking, then told me to play with my penis while he played with his. When I couldn’t get hard he turned on some porn. It took him thirty-three minutes to get off. My first lessons in being a rent boy were silence and malleability. As it turned out, there were no other lessons.
My first time having sex with a client was with Ralph, a Harvard med grad. I met him the same evening he responded to my ad, at his home in Somerville. He was bald, very tall, fit, and handsome. He studied me as I stood in the doorway.
“Fuck!” he said, “Those pictures don’t do you justice.”
I liked being told I was more attractive than I thought I was. I wanted to be noticed. I had things to say. I was going to be a short story writer and novelist. I kept telling myself that this was a means to an end.
“Were you able to find parking?” he asked.
“Come in,” he said. “Are you thirsty, can I get you a drink? I’m having a glass of wine.”
“Sure,” I said.
I looked around the living room at the bookcases filled with books. Some very old, some vintage.
“Sit down,” he said.
He gave me a glass of white wine, and then gave me advice. He told me to only take the money after providing the service to protect myself in case something happened.
“Like what?” I asked.
“A lot can happen,” he said.
The night before, Jack—a rent boy who had hit me up for my services, and who I later befriended—told me that I should not only accept the money at the end, but that there would be times when I would be asked to do things that weren’t part of the agreement. I should never do anything I’m not comfortable doing. This was good advice.
Nobody told me not to eat beforehand.
I had no plans to engage in any kind of sex. Certainly not any where I would be the bottom. So when this Harvard med grad said he would double the amount if I had sex with him I froze. I didn’t bring any condoms or lube, and had just gotten done eating a big plate of chicken teriyaki and rice at the food court.
I sat on the chair in the corner staring at the bookcases filled with books. It wasn’t what we had discussed when we chatted online.
“If you’re not comfortable,” he said, “that’s fine.”
He lifted up off of the couch and gave me a tour of his house. Every room, every hallway had bookcases filled with books. When we got to the last room he showed me a first edition of Mark Twain’s “Roughing It.”
“I’ve never read this story,” I said, “this is stunning.”
“So are you,” he said.
He then kissed me, which was also not part of our agreement. I felt a little dizzy, but closed my eyes and imagined it was the force of his hard lips pressed against mine. I missed the tender kiss of my boyfriend who would press his lips gently and ask, You okay, hon?
Ralph began taking my shirt off, then laid me down on the bed.
“Please excuse my fucking squeaky old bed,” he said.
“I take it this isn’t the bed you sleep in,” I said.
He started giving me a massage. It wasn’t long before I was relaxed and enjoying his hands rubbing my shoulders.
“What hurts?” he asked.
“My lower back,” I said.
I tried to glance over to Mark Twain’s “Roughing It,” now laying on the nightstand, but my head was firmly in Ralph’s grasp. The windows hadn’t any shades or curtains and looked out at the next-door neighbor’s windows. The walls were painted a tan color, which matched the color of the comforter on the bed alongside the two birch nightstands. The lamp on the left one was on. He didn’t turn off the light before he started taking my pants off, then my underwear. I closed my eyes and imagined the neighbors across the way did, too.
I was now naked and so was he. I could feel his tongue licking my back, then my butt, going down inside the crack. It aroused me so much that I let him put a condom on and penetrate me.
This occurred for almost an hour. I tried to breathe. The acid from the chicken teriyaki simmered in my throat. My stomach did summersaults. But I held the position. Then I fainted dead away in that fucking squeaky old bed.
By the summer of my second year in grad school I had become a “pro.” I had ads posted on the all the pro websites, clients who were regulars, and was making $2,600 a month all while only working part time. One of my regulars, Randy, was a fifty-five-year-old married corporate lawyer, who came to Boston from Chicago every month for work except during the months of July and August. He offered to fly me in to see him during those months. So I accepted. I had never been to Chicago, and wanted to see a new part of the country for free, to give me something to write about.
He put me up at the Fairmont hotel in downtown for those weekends, giving him a chance to see me more than once, and me a chance to explore the city and potentially find other clients. That summer, the temperature stayed at a dry mid-eighty degrees. It was unusually cool for a Chicago summer, yet when he came to visit me in my room, he refused to turn on the air conditioner, which sat in the window tantalizingly close to my bed. He liked sex to be hot and sweaty. Not me.
In the mornings, I left the hotel early to go for a run along Lake Michigan and explore the city. Chicagoans were polite and friendly, more so than Bostonians. While the men in Boston were in much better shape, the men in Chicago were flawlessly styled, their suits were pressed, and their hair was locked in place. Chicago had more African Americans than Boston, and many more than my home state of Rhode Island for that matter. I felt like I belonged. It was refreshing. I was African American, Native American, and English. Most people said I looked Cape Verdean.
Each afternoon, around two o’ clock, Randy would come visit me. I had to turn the air conditioner off an hour before.
“You are the best,” said my well-fit, handsome, white regular. “You are literally the best.”
I was. I had turned my body into a muscular physique, and mastered the needs of my clients. But I no longer recognized the person inside of my own skin doing things that I did not want to do. I stopped looking at my clients as human, learned to keep my mind on the money while keeping my eyes on the wall. It was like an audition every time.
The next day, Randy texted me an hour before he was to arrive to remind me to turn off the air conditioner. When I didn’t respond, he rang my phone, but I ignored his call. I took a two-and-a-half hour kayak tour of Lake Michigan that consisted of parents with their children. We paddled past the beaches and breakwalls, along the shoreline, way out to the lighthouse. This was how I wanted to travel, I told the tour guide, even if it wasn’t free.
At thirty, I was in my last year of grad school, had published two short stories, and wrote for Natural Health magazine. I weighed two-hundred and six pounds, having had put more than fifteen of them on over the course of that year. I was beginning to not care about having the perfect body or whether my clients liked it.
“I don’t want you to be upset or do anything dangerous,” said Ralph the last time I saw him, “but you should exercise and watch what you eat. High protein, low carb diet works best.”
I subsisted on Doritos when writing at night. Most of the rent boys worked out in the mornings then again in the late afternoons. Three-hour work outs, six days a week. They swallowed vitamins and supplements by the tub, many of which had long-term damaging effects on their organs. They ate protein shakes in place of actual food.
One night, Jack—who became a close friend—came over for dinner. I had cook beef stroganoff and pasta.
“What’s that smell?” he asked.
“You don’t expect me to eat that,” he said.
That was the year Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage. I had the local news coverage of it on. Jack turned it off and put on a DVD of his new porno. He was so excited. Hoped it would lead to him becoming a “real actor.” I watched it. I didn’t want to be a porn star. I didn’t want to be an actor. I wanted to be a novelist. Still, having model looks and a rocking body I was told every guy would kill to have looks like mine. That was part of what kept me there.
After three years of being a rent boy, I ended up not ahead in terms of money. It paid my rent, and my bills, but none of my tuition. I was in the hole more than $70,000 in student loan debt. I was told to travel, go to the big cities of the world. Men and women had paid off their student loans by doing that. All year, I waited to decide until I was offered a job writing for Muscle & Fitness magazine.
About a month after that, I ended my gig as a rent boy. If you search for me on the internet now, you won’t find me, because I never posted my name or any face pictures on any of the ads. But what you will find are my short stories and my magazine articles. I no longer obsess about having the perfect abs or going to the gym six times a week. I now have a bit of a belly and I’m okay with that. I’m happy.
More than ten years have passed. Still, being a rent boy remains the most fascinating thing people want to know about me. I get the same question every time: what did the men look like? I answer the question the same way, every time: I don’t remember their faces anymore, but I’m sure they still remember mine.
Allen M. Price is an MFA candidate at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. He has an MA in journalism from Emerson College. His work has appeared in the Tulane Review, Oxford Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Open Minds Quarterly, Natural Health, Muscle & Fitness, Pangyrus, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, among others.