It’s Sunday night, and I’m meeting Hazel* at Weegee, a Northside bar named after the famed crime scene photographer of the 1950s. She’s already there, waiting quietly at a table. I apologize for being late, as always, and offer her a drink. She politely declines, and we cheerfully sink into a chat.
Hazel is an SAIC undergrad, in the final semester of her degree. She’s spunky, talented, approachable, and, on the weekends, a nude maid. You know, the kind that cleans your house in various states of undress for a bit more money than a fully clothed woman would. I felt that it was important to approach Hazel with all the political-correctness of an uptight scholar: don’t assume she’s a victim, don’t assume she doesn’t enjoy what she does, and don’t assume she’s a prostitute.
My first question: Do you consider yourself a sex worker?
“I would say so. I would say that I am because for a lot of my clients, it’s overtly sexual to them,” she explains. “I mean, I’m not giving blow jobs on the couch, but I think I fulfill a similar role – a need for companionship, a need for some kind of exhilarating and titillating moment. I feel like the clients open up to me in ways they wouldn’t to a normal maid.”
Excellent. This will allow us to have a deep, meaningful conversation about the trials and tribulations of being a sex worker. I am unnerved, though, by Hazel’s complete honesty. There’s no dancing-around-the-issue, no need for explanation.
Hazel has just come from a job and explains to me that she doesn’t seek it out much these days, due to the time commitment that school demands. “I started this summer through the cleaning stuff,” adding that she also does some light fetish modeling.
What ground rules or boundaries did Hazel set for herself? She shrugs. “I actually didn’t think of ground rules before; I didn’t think I would have to. I thought it would be totally, ‘I’ll take whatever happens and I’ll just deal with it then.’ I do have three pretty basic rules: no photography, no video, and no inappropriate touching while I’m naked. Everything else is totally fine. You can touch yourself, it doesn’t bother me.”
She meets her clientele through Craigslist, in short and vague ads that invite people who are interested in her to write in, telling her more about themselves.
“I’m pretty sleazy,” she explains, smiling. “If I were born a man, I would be the kind that no one would want anything to do with. I’d be the kind that would take a girl to the movies then stick my dick in the popcorn…”
“I find your methodology interesting,” I say, after a pause. “Most people can’t sell their car on Craigslist to someone who’s not totally creepy.”
“The big thing is, I’m a pretty big creep,” says Hazel. “So I know what a creep is going to be like.”
“What’s your definition?”
“I’m pretty sleazy,” she explains, smiling. “If I were born a man, or if I became a man, I would be the kind that no one would want anything to do with. I’d be the kind that would take a girl to the movies then stick my dick in the popcorn, so when she reaches in she would grab it.”
“I’m really good at vetting people online,” she adds. “I’ve been doing Craigslist stuff for a while and I’m good at reading people on paper.”
“Have you ever been in a difficult, dangerous or uncomfortable situation?” I ask. “Has anyone ever crossed the line? Have you ever felt uncomfortable?”
“There was one person,” she replies, “but I didn’t really feel comfortable around him to begin with. He was really sleazy. … I guess the way I would describe him to someone would be that he seemed like that weird kid in high school, who decided to overcompensate by making a lot of money and indulging his weird interests. He lives in this Gothic manor, with 18th century-styled furniture. It was like he was living out some Goth fantasy that he’d had while he was in high school.”
That would be a lot of dust, I note. She laughs. I’m starting to get a bit baffled: the classic “weirdest/grossest story moment” questions are not lending me the existential war stories I was expecting, but then I realize Hazel doesn’t see herself as a warrior. She doesn’t find her work taxing, or particularly sensational, either. She regards it with the sort of pleasure with which one might treat having drinks with friends after class — great, but nothing to get excited about.
It’s getting desperate in here: I start telling her strange stories about dancers I knew, escorts who gave inspirational lectures in old massage parlors in New York City, but she’s unflinching. Yeah, her last client invited a guy over to watch her clean with him. Another time, the client had sex with his girlfriend in front of her. Once she decided to have sex with a client because he asked and she likes it. Wait, what?
“He was really uncomfortable about it before he asked me. I had finished cleaning and he was, like, ‘Oh, do you do… other things?’ And I found him attractive, so I was, like, “I don’t normally, but you’re kind of cute, so I wouldn’t mind.”
“Have you ever considered becoming an escort?” I ask. “You’re young, and not an idiot, and you’re pretty — you could make a lot.”
“And no gag reflex. Lottery! I won!” she laughs, then adds, “I think that the only thing that would make me uncomfortable is having that much money.”
I can think of comfortable things to do with that much money, but it’s not my ass on the line. I also can’t judge too harshly; I saw a lot of women in New York City get charmed by the money, only to find themselves having to make difficult choices when money got tight. Hazel has taken herself out of that economy, maybe the same way that artists (as Hazel is an artist too) choose not to become commercial artists. As many SAIC students graduate this spring, Hazel’s story reminds me that if you find something you love to do, and someone is willing to pay you good money to do that thing, you should do it.
I drop Hazel off near her house after our interview and I consider my paradigms adequately shifted. She isn’t a victim; she loves what she does and she’s not ashamed of it. There’s no intellectual hipster irony here, no obscure justifications of ‘research’ or ‘a friend dared me’: just the complete, unadulterated joy of cleaning.
*name has been changed