Originally published in Boulder Weekly

June 2008

When I was 26 years old, I decided to write the great American novel, and so I moved to Prague. My plan was to grow a beard, purchase a pipe and hang out in coffee shops all day, where I would sit in dark corners and compose stories on an old-timey typewriter, tat-a-tat-tat-tat, about gut-wrenching topics such as war, poverty, death and many other subjects that I didn’t really know anything about. My favorite writers at that time were the kind of hyper-masculine dudes who could knock out a grizzly bear with their giant schlongs and then recite an evocative poem about it. Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein. I wanted to be tough. I wanted to be introspective. I wanted to have sex with leggy, Eastern European women named Svetlana or Dixie, who would appreciate my brooding intellectual nature and make me pancakes.

The book started off strong — terse dialogue, scintillating romance, intense metaphors involving sunsets and bullfighters — but I made one fatal mistake: I based the main character on myself.

Somewhere in the middle of chapter six, the protagonist inexplicably began smoking pot, eating Doritos and watching reruns of Friends. He didn’t want to pursue his love interest or participate in any of the clever plot twists that I had so painstakingly outlined for him in a large, yellow notebook. Instead, he spent his days listening to Guns N’ Roses albums and engaging in pointless conversations about the homoerotic relationship between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in Rocky III. My protagonist was a lazy, good-for-nothing bastard, and I ended up killing him in chapter seven by dropping a piano on his head. Needless to say, the book was never published.

This is when I started drinking heavily and hanging out with off-duty prostitutes.

There was a decrepit, little bar next to my apartment building and I would sit there all night and drink Pilsner and eat these horribly addictive snacks that tasted like peanut butter-flavored Styrofoam and generally just feel sorry for myself. I lived smack dab in the middle of the city, about two blocks from Wenceslas Square, where dozens of prostitutes lined the streets after dark, chomping on giant wads of chewing gum and propositioning male tourists.

Prostitution is not exactly legal in Prague, but the police turn a blind eye, primarily because the brothel owners pay them to remain blissfully ignorant. In many ways, Prague is the European equivalent of Las Vegas for uptight, British blowhards who take “business trips” to the Czech capital on the weekends and spend their time drunkenly stumbling around the cobblestone streets in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, shouting at the top of their lungs and paying attractive women to give them handjobs in the park.

I have always had a fascination with prostitutes. In fact, I’m intrigued by any kind of sexual deviance. My father is a fundamentalist preacher, and when I was growing up, he basically taught me that if I so much as looked at a lady of the night, my wiener would fall off, and it would then be eaten by a pack of ravenous wolverines. This is why I have always been nervous around prostitutes. And wolverines.

At midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, some of the more “seasoned” prostitutes would trickle in for a few minutes of R&R. At first, they thought I was a possible john, and they propositioned me with compelling pick-up lines like, “Sex? Yes?” However, after realizing that I was far too uptight (and too cheap) to pay for their carnal carnival rides, their lines changed to, “Beer? Yes?”

My favorite prostitute was an elderly matron named Meg. (That wasn’t her real name, of course. Like strippers and professional wrestlers, prostitutes adopt an alter ego while they’re on the job. Meg’s real name was one of those grandiose Slavic concoctions that, when pronounced properly, sounds not unlike a musk ox coughing up a lung. I think it was Kunderákäfka?vejkérton. Or something like that.)

Meg was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met. She could keep an audience captivated for hours with tales about her childhood in Slovakia and/or her legions of abusive ex-boyfriends and/or her dog, Santa. I have no idea how much money I spent on beer during the course of our conversations, but it was certainly a lot less than the cost of an MFA program.

When my savings finally ran out and it was time for me to go home, I asked Meg how I could become a great storyteller. She belched loudly and said, “Stop being so boring.”

Originally published in Out of the Gutter

Summer 2007

“How many men did you have sex with today?”


“That seems like a lot.”

“No, not so much. This night is slow.”

“How many men do you usually have sex with in a night?”

“It depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Weather. holidays. Start of month. End of month.”

“Why does it matter what time of month it is?”

“At beginning of month, the men are broke. They pay for rent, food, bills. No more money. At end of month, they get paid. They have money. Time for sex.”

It’s two in the morning and I’m sitting on a plastic barstool in a deserted casino/disco near the Narodni metro station. It is dark. Very dark. The only light comes from the garish glow of the half dozen digital slot machines slumped against each other in the center of the room. I am talking to Katjana, a prostitute from Slovakia, who moved to Prague six months ago with her boyfriend, an aspiring mathematics teacher that abandoned her shortly after they crossed the Czech border. It is late and Katjana is drinking coffee (milk, no sugar). I am drinking tea (Earl Grey). Our drinks cost about 60 cents total. There is no sales tax and no tip. The bartender is watching European football on a small television that is bolted to the wall. Muffled techno music bounces around in the back room. In my breast pocket, I have a small tape recorder and I can feel it vibrating softly against my chest like a small, defenseless animal. Later tonight, when I return to my apartment, I will listen to this conversation. The sound quality will be extremely poor, but I will be able to transcribe most of this interview onto my laptop computer.

“Do you like the men you sleep with?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you attracted to them?”


“What kind of men are you attracted to?”

“Husbands, fathers, old men with nice clothes.”

“Really? Why?”

“They have money and they are nice. They bring me things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Sometimes clothes, sometimes necklace. I like the old men.”

“But are you attracted to them?”

“I don’t know what you mean. They are nice. Yes, I like them.”

Katjana is the ninth prostitute I have interviewed in Prague. I have also interviewed prostitutes in Mexico, Nicaragua, Holland, and France. In every case, I have gotten close to the girl by pretending that I am a potential customer. Prostitutes are accustomed to nervous, indecisive young men, and they usually invite them into a café or bar to chat with them and try to ease the tension.

When I walk home drunk from the bar, they approach me and ask if I want to have sex. In response, I blush and stutter without giving a positive affirmation. This is easy for me. I always blush and stutter when women talk to me. The women then ask if I’d like to buy them a cup of coffee. I agree. They lead me to the nearest 24-hour disco.

That’s when I start grilling them with questions.

The trick is to start of slow, keep them thinking that I’ll pay for sex as soon as they satisfy my curiosity. But you can only keep this up so long before the subject turns back to commerce.

“Why do you ask so many questions? You are a very strange man.”

“Where did you get that coat?”

Katjana’s jacket is long and brown and fringed with ugly, gray fur. It looks as though it was made from the hide of a balding raccoon.

“I take this from my sister,” Katjana says.

“I thought you said you were an only child.”

She shakes her head. “I have sister. She lives at home.”

“What’s your sister’s name?”

“Why should you know?”

“No reason. I’m just making conversation.”

“You make what? I am tired of your talk. Let’s go now.”

“Sure. Right. No problem. Maybe in a minute. Let me buy you another cup of coffee first.”

In Prague, you can get a blowjob for just 1,000 korunas (about 40 dollars and change in the U.S.). Normally, the prostitute will take you to a public park near Wenceslas Square to perform the act. For 1,500 korunas, you can spend 30 minutes grinding on a dusty hotel bed, and for 2,000 you can pick whatever orifice you want.

I have never purchase sex from a prostitute. To be completely honest, I can’t even masturbate while thinking about hookers. I’ve tried. Many times.

This is not because I necessarily have a higher moral constitution than others of my gender; it’s because I have enough conservative, Protestant guilt left over from my childhood to create an extremely dysfunctional sexual cocktail, which sloshes around in my subconscious during the loneliest hours of the night. I am fascinated by the idea of vaginal currency and sexual deviance, but I’m too repressed to ever act on my fantasies.

I don’t know exactly why I continue to conduct these interviews wherever I travel. I never set out to publish them. I talk about them to friends and strangers over dinner, bragging, basking in their awe and disgust. Maybe I want to shock people, to force them out of their perfect, clean lives and get a little dirt on them. Maybe I want to defend the godless hoards who live by a different moral code than the rest of the world. Maybe I want to start a movement. Or maybe I just want to try anal.

“How old are you?”

“How old you like?”

“No, really. How old are you?”

“I am twenty.”

“You don’t look twenty.”

“How old do I look?”

“You don’t look twenty.”

Prostitution is not legal in Prague but the police turn their heads, primarily because their palms are being greased by the brothel owners and pimps around town. There’s plenty of money to go around. Women come here from all over Eastern Europe to take advantage of the blossoming tourist industry. Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey. They trickle into this wedding cake of a city, usually in the spring, girls, just girls, sixteen or seventeen, beautiful girls, girls whose innocence will cling to them for the first few months like a shadow, blondes, brunettes, Christians, communists, atheists, gypsies, skinny, barely able to fill out their second-hand blue jeans, frail, tough as fucking rocks, but still just girls. In the beginning, many of them try to get jobs at the local shops, but their English is not good enough to sell sausages and fried cheese sandwiches to the drunken foreigners that are stumbling through the streets at all hours of the night. The shops won’t hire them. They don’t have the educational background to enroll at the universities. There aren’t many options for employment.

Prague is a prime destination for Europeans who want to stretch their dollar. Considerably less expensive than the capital cities of Western Europe, it offers a mystique that you won’t find in London or Paris.

The British are particularly fond of Prague. It is their Las Vegas. They come here on the weekends for stag parties. They guzzle cheap beer and scream obscenities in the streets and pay women to fuck them. These are proper English gentlemen, these chaps, these mates, these businessmen, raised in private schools, Oxford alumni, equestrians, polo players, fox hunters, Tories, Whigs, and they can’t wait to discard their Victorian principles and run around like a pack of ignorant, perverted hillbillies.

There are also Italians of course, and some are Scottish, and a few are Americans, but the British are the worst. Everyone knows this, though no one talks about it. They are pigs and everyone hates them. But at least they pay. They may be offensive, Anglo slobs but at least they pay for what they take from these girls. I am worse. I waste their time and steal their stories while I delude myself into believing that I have the moral high ground. After all, I’m not having sex with them. I’m not exploiting them physically. I buy them coffee and I ask them questions. What’s the harm in that? I just want to learn about their lives. Like a counselor, or an anthropologist. I am concerned about them.

“What color is your bra?”

“Come with me and I’ll show you.”

“Is it black?”

“No. Not black.”

“Is it red?”

“No. I leave now.”

“Don’t leave.”

“You can come with me. We can go to my room.”

“Do you use the same room every time or does it change? Do you know the owner of the hotel? Does he get a cut of the profits?”

In the end, the truth is that I want to know everything about prostitution without actually experiencing its horrors. I get a vicarious thrill from talking to hookers, from imagining myself as some sort of manly rogue who moves seamlessly through the cultural underbelly. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just a frightened, self-conscious boy that has spent too much time reading Bukowski and idealizing a lifestyle that I will never comprehend. In my mind, prostitution is guiltless debauchery; it is sin without remorse; it is freedom without the responsibility that makes freedom unbearable.

Finally, after three cups of coffee and about 50 more questions, Katjana gets up from her seat to leave.

“You never talk to me again,” she says.

I nod and finish my tea. The bartender stares at me with murderous intent while I count out the coins to pay for our beverages. “Have a good night,” I say.

He mutters something in Czech that I can’t understand, but I doubt he’s returning my genial salutation.

My apartment building is less than four blocks away, but I don’t go there. Not right away. Instead, I turn in the opposite direction and walk to the center of the city. The night is young and the streets are still filled with vendors and policemen and faceless tourists. British, American, French, Spanish, Italian, Canadian, Australian. We are all the same in the half-glow of the Prague street lights.

Immediately, I blend into the crowd of foreigners, perverts, pimps, drug dealers, fathers, brothers, deviants, priests, husbands, professors, artists, rejects, stockbrokers, writers. I see a young woman standing beside a street vendor wearing an impractical skirt despite the evening chill.

“Sex?” she says. “You want?”

I shrug my shoulders and brush my hand lightly over the tape recorder covering my heart. “I don’t know. Maybe. Let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

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