“Hello, may I help you?”
“Hello! May I help you?”
“You got any girls that speak Greek?”
What did he mean by that?
It was my first day answering the phones—my phones. I could not believe I had actually started my very own escort service.
I was living in a very expensive two-bedroom apartment with my only child, my beautiful son. He was seven months old at the time. My stacks of bills were getting taller and taller by the day, but there was no help from his father or his father’s family. It was rough. I refused to ask for help from my own family because I had too much pride. When I was forced to go on welfare, it broke my spirit, but my son needed medical care. So I did what I had to. I was struggling to maintain the lifestyle I’d had with his father, Chino. Which led me right to tricking and the escort service.
Chino was a self-made millionaire. Okay, maybe not a millionaire, but he was paid. He was a big-time drug dealer, so we had plenty of material things and a ghetto-fabulous lifestyle. That came to a harsh end, and now he has a new wife and a new life.
Chino and I had been owners of an exclusive, full-service hair salon that we built from our vision… our dreams. The space we rented was in an up-and-coming shopping plaza on Columbus’s east side. It started as drywalls and cement floors. I can remember the excitement we felt as we watched the salon take shape and evolve into the vision we shared. On a daily basis, I walked the square footage of the salon planning, dreaming and envisioning what it would become. By night I browsed magazine layouts with the desire to duplicate the sleek images on the pages. With passion and complete faith, I communicated my particulars to the contracting team.
After months of hard work, our salon was finished—its black-and-white color scheme blended with state-of-the-art salon equipment to form our stylish yet practical enterprise. We included everything a salon should have: European-style shampoo bowls with padded recliners, marble countertops and inlays to hold hair products, silver cage towel holders and brass magazine racks placed within reach of the clients seated at the dryers. We installed individual oversized dryers with see-through hoods, which lined the west wall of the salon. In the reception area sat an oversized black lacquer desk with a fresh-cut flower bouquet. To show our clients that we appreciated them, we placed a counter stocked with complimentary snacks by the entrance.
Our salon was fit for the pages of a trendsetting magazine. It was the first of its kind in Columbus, Ohio, something the city had never seen. And we did this together. One could not have succeeded without the other. We were a team, and L-O-Quent Hair Salon was our dream. A dream that came true.
One of my numerous opening duties included wiping the fingerprints and smudges off the windows from the faces pressed against the glass the previous night of people peering inside to behold the transformation of the salon. We put over $50,000 into that place. Well, he did, because after all, it was his money. But it was my sweat and stress that pulled it all together.
I can remember Chino and me in the salon, when we had it all finished. We were alone, holding hands and walking around feeling the rush. Chino said, “Look, Pooh, we did it!”
Breathlessly I said, “I know, it is so beautiful. Thank you. Are you proud?” I always needed his approval. His opinion was everything to me.
“Pooh, I am so proud of you. It looks great. Let’s put on some music.” He turned on the Sony surround-sound system and jazz floated through the air.
After turning off the lights, he took me in his safe and reassuring arms, and we danced on the shiny checkerboard floor. I tingled from his touch and felt as if I were floating. At that moment, success was already ours and I knew there were even more remarkable things to come. The business partnership was only one facet of our commitment to each other. We knew that together, the sky was the limit. Chino and I even hoped to open an all-inclusive day spa if L-O-Quent was successful.
I became accustomed to the financial and emotional stability he offered, and to top it off, we had been discussing marriage. I was on cloud nine and ready to seal the deal. Pammy and Chino together forever. Whoever said that forever meant for life was a damn fool because my “forever” ended sooner than later.
I began noticing a change in Chino. He began to distance himself from me and what we had created together. I figured he was under a lot of stress and hoped that what he was going through was only temporary. After all, I was his Pooh.
Three years later, my whole life came crashing down. I sold my dream salon for only $20,000. A small fraction of what it was worth, but I was thankful for even that price since I had no money left. During our breakup, I allowed the salon to fall apart. Everything was jeopardized; the phone, lights, water—all threatened to be turned off. But the staff kept working, anticipating my return to work. I refused to go in and was unwilling to take phone calls from the stylists seeking answers. I had none. Unable to face them and deal with my situation, I walked away.
The breakup was humiliating. I escaped to my mother’s home for solitude, and I let go. I recklessly sped through money like everything was a bad dream and wasn’t real. I wanted to believe that my Chino wouldn’t do this to me. Not to me! We had everything, or I should say, he had everything. I was just the temporary beneficiary. After Chino left, to add more fuel to the fire, he refused to give me any support at all. Bastard! Alone for the first time in many years, I needed to learn to budget and to pick up other commonsense skills I had not developed under Chino’s controlling rules.
How could he be so cruel? I have asked myself this many times. How could he be unwilling to lend support to his son? Whatever the circumstances surrounding our breakup, he should not have allowed our child to suffer. That was not the man that I had fallen deeply in love with. This Chino was a stranger to me. His cold indifference toward my situation made me feel like I never meant anything to him, and that the child we shared was nothing more than an inconsequential result of a night’s passion. He was obviously punishing me by withholding support, but why?
“Chino, I can’t deal with this shit! Bitches callin’ the shop looking for you. What’s up with that?”
“What are you talking about? I’m right here, right now, with you. I can’t even walk in the door without you stressin’.”
“Darling, it’s three motherfuckin’ a.m. What am I supposed to say, ‘How was your day?’” As easily as he had come into our home, he snatched up his coat and car keys to leave. Not wanting him to go but to stay and discuss how we had come to this, I asked the obvious: “Where are you going?”
As much as I was overwhelmed by feelings of vulnerability, I was even more compelled by maternal instinct. The survival of my child was what mattered most. Flat broke, I was unable to provide for him. My family had given me enough “I told ya so’s,” so I couldn’t go to them. I needed money, and fast. I got a Sunday newspaper and began a diligent job search.
I was qualified for a little of everything because of my work at the salon: public relations, decision making, accounting, problem solving, and so on. Problem was, I had no “paper” to substantiate that fact. The importance of a college degree became apparent, and I immediately regretted not continuing my college education. I became a college dropout the day I met Chino. How could I trade in college so easily for a life of uncertainty? Only someone who has never met Chino would ask this question. He could persuade you that the sky was green when you knew it was blue. The gift of gab was what this man possessed, and eventually, he possessed me, too. It’s called selling a dream, or in my case, purchasing one.
Blinded by my first love, I bought into his ideas about how our life should be. At age seventeen, his words filled my heart and I abandoned my courses for his vision for the family—his family—the Triple Crown Posse.
I went on several interviews at fast-food joints and for secretary gigs, but no one called back. I couldn’t fully understand why. I had run a very successful salon. I had won hair show competitions and was even on TV because of it. I’d had a full staff of outstanding stylists and two receptionists. I’d sold hair products, clothes, makeup and more. Why am I not qualified?
In my desperation and embarrassment, I returned to the cosmetology industry. It was difficult for me to work in someone else’s salon since I had been a successful owner of my own business. But I had to feed my son, so I did it. Every day, customers wouldn’t allow me to forget that I was a has-been.
“Didn’t you own L-O-Quent?” a snobby woman with a mud mask inquired.
“What?” I replied with obvious contempt for the question.
“Did he take it from you?” someone else would ask.
“Did Chino take your salon from you?” The questions seemed endless.
They cut close to home because they all seemed true. Basically, I lost my salon over a piece of ass and a nervous breakdown. I discovered Chino was having an affair while I wore an engagement ring that I thought symbolized our bond. Chino wanted to betray me, and I wanted to escape the pain. Ultimately, he let go of me, and I simply let go of everything.
On the outside, I acted indifferent about it, but inside, it tore me into tiny little pieces that are still not together and may never be. But I had to go on, and I pray that one day I can let go of the pain for good and move on for the sake of my son.
I did well in this other person’s salon, and my confidence grew. After a few months, I could walk into work and not feel badly about myself. I was healing.
It wasn’t long before the salon owner began to demand longer hours from me. She was a very insensitive boss. I’d been a boss once and I knew the difference between reasonable and unreasonable demands. I had an infant and his day care closed at 5:30 p.m. I had no sitter for him; my mom lived in Michigan, the next state over. I had put all my trust in Chino and got burned, so I was reluctant to set myself up for another letdown by trusting other people to take care of my son. I quit working at the salon and began to do nails at home. The hours worked better, but I wasn’t earning enough money. For a normal lifestyle, it was enough, but what was normal for me? In my former life, the word “budget” was not in my vocabulary. I wasn’t used to worrying about rent, utilities, clothing and car maintenance. Welfare covered the food, but eating bologna when you’re used to eating prime rib is a big adjustment. Life with Chino was like “Whatever my Pooh wants, she can have.” Chino gave me the luxury cars, the expensive jewelry, and he kept a roof over my head. He took me on spur-of-the-moment vacations to Vegas and Mexico and on romantic getaways when he thought he hadn’t been paying enough attention to me. He would have paid someone to wipe my ass if that’s what I wanted. Going from being the center of his world to being shit on wasn’t something I thought would happen in my wildest nightmares.
With the demands of single motherhood and day-to-day living, I began sinking further into debt, all the while trying to live the lifestyle to which I was accustomed, hoping Chino would come back. I began to pawn things to get back on track. I even sold my son’s bedroom set to a children’s resale store. Yes! It was like that. So I returned to the newspaper with the hopes of finding something… anything that would help me live outside my definition of poverty. With tears in my eyes and a weight on my heart, I read: HELP WANTED. START TODAY. ESCORT. GREAT MONEY. I thought, Can I “date” someone for sex? It repulsed me, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so I called.
A man named Tony answered the phone and was so convincing. Tony was a smooth talker. When I informed him of what I already knew about escort services, he didn’t deny or confirm anything. Instead he dangled the carrot of unlimited income in my face. He told me that most of the girls made a minimum of a grand a day. That did it. I took the bait and he reeled me in. I went to the address Tony provided and was disappointed that I did not find a building like in the movies, all glamorous and glittery. Instead, I found a house in the ghetto off Cleveland Avenue, and here I was in my nicest suit.
Tony had the look of a retired playboy, with a body that seemed like it used to be in shape. He had a few cuts on his arms that were visible as he took drags on his cigarette. He had handsome, light hazel eyes, but some facial scars like he had gotten his ass whipped a time or two. He had a way with words, using them to get his way. I knew it was a game. Chino had taught me a lot about smooth talkers. Not enough to outsmart him, but enough for me to spot a con. He’d say, “Pooh, game recognize game.” But I was desperate; the perfect mark, so I went for it.
Tony said, “You can make two hundred in fifteen minutes.”
That’s $800 an hour, I calculated quickly.
We talked while the phones rang like crazy. As I sat there, he described me to a caller.
The money got me moving. I went to what is called an outcall. An outcall is when the girl goes to the guy, known as a “john.” The address was a hot tub rental place, and when I pulled up in front of the building, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. Feelings of shame swarmed over me until goose pimples surfaced on my arms. Dirty, filthy, tramp-like visions played tricks on my mind.
Please, I don’t want to do this, God, help me. Chino, where are you? I am about to sell my pussy. Having sex for money—something I vowed I would never do. Now look at me, I am a whore. I am a prostitute.
I thought about my mother. What would she think? What would she say if she saw her youngest child, Pamela, doing this? I was raised to be better than this. Educated in the Catholic parochial school system, college-bound and geared for success. Small tears began to roll down my face, and I wiped them away, careful not to smudge my makeup.
The client peered out the window, noticing me in my Jeep. I took a deep breath and then another one. I closed my eyes and formed a vision in my mind to focus on. I saw my son with new clothes on. I saw the stack of bills on my kitchen counter getting smaller. I saw the eviction notice torn into small pieces as I wrote a check for my rent. Then I saw me smiling. I knew what I had to do.
I opened the car door, plastering a fake smile on my face, and walked toward this old, stinky, fat white man. He had requested a hand job for $150 or a blow job for $250. I went for the hand job. Stinky flopped down in the chair behind a cluttered desk. He asked me to model for him. Turning around in a slow circle, I felt his eyes on my backside. They felt stuck on my ass. Rolling my eyes out of his view, I then turned toward him with a Chester Cheetah–like smile on my face. I kneeled between his legs, looking up at him and thinking that his exposed dick looked like a piece of raw bacon. He began to rub his dick, stroking it up and down. Then he reached out to touch the side of my face with the same hand he had used to caress his two-inch hard-on. I instantly wondered, How can I sterilize my face?
He said, “Blow on my cock, baby, make me cum.” I blew on his dick and caressed it with one hand as I fondled his pink hairy balls with my other hand. He came, squirting on my shirt, below my chin and all over my fingers. I continued to stroke him up and down as he moaned, head tilted back and eyes closed. He continued to reach for my face as I did a slow boxerlike bob-and-weave routine to avoid being touched by him again. Three minutes of work. I was so ashamed. I felt dirty and so low. I’ve never had any desire to be touched by a white man, but there I was, touching him, giving him pleasure.
This deepened my hatred for Chino. I resented him because I felt he drove me to this. I just needed a little help from him. I would have been thankful for $100 a month. He was off flashing, wining and dining while his son and I were taking a real live beatin’. It had my head all messed up. But for my son, I’d do anything—even turn tricks.
I blocked out my feelings and focused on a come-up to help my son and me. I went on seven more outcalls that day: a well-to-do white businessman, a sixtyish black man in a wheelchair, another who was blind and only wanted to eat me out, a couple who wanted me to watch as they had sex, a diabetic with both legs amputated who asked me to climb into his bed and ride ’im like I was a cowgirl and an elderly white man who wanted to be called “massah.” I opted to call him “mister,” and he just flipped up my skirt and got on top of me, fucking me, calling me “Kizzy.” That sicko tipped me $100. My last call was a young white doctor who had been poppin’ pills and drinkin’ vodka. All he wanted to do was have me model and discuss all the dates I had. I made up sordid details as he jacked off. The first date was the hardest, but I just rolled with the flow from there on out. In four hours, I made $1,200. I paid my late rent, electric bill, got my VCR out of pawn, went to the grocery store and finally had food in the refrigerator and freezer at the same time. I took a shower to clean off the filth of those johns. I prepared a nutritious meal, picked up my son from day care and was back home by 4:45 p.m. We ate, and then I gave him a fun bubble bath.
The following morning, I took the baby to day care. Around 9:00 a.m., I called Tony, and it was on again. With more confidence, I requested more tips. I made $1,600 in about four hours. I paid my phone bill in full, ordered cable TV and got other backed-up expenses in order. I purchased some much needed clothes for my son. It felt so good to be able to do something. I even got a free car wash when I filled up the gas tank.
On the third day of this new career, I learned about incalls. The escort rents a hotel room and waits for the client to come to her. Not quite familiar with this aspect of the business, I was nervous.
To save money, I shared a hotel room with a girl named Beverly. She also worked for Tony. She was a white girl who made more than two grand a day. Beverly had the typical white girl look—dyed blonde hair with a perm that she spent endless hours scrunching with hair spray. Her eyes were a beautiful green, and she constantly sprayed her body with that instant tan stuff in a can. Beverly was on the short side with very large breasts. Luckily, we clicked as friends immediately.
It’s true that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Sex sells—fat sex, skinny sex, black sex, white sex, male-on-male sex and yellow sex—it all sells. This was only my third day of work, but I was an entrepreneur. No one could pay me better than I could pay myself. I wanted my own. I told Beverly I wanted to open my own service. She looked me straight in the face, took a drag on her cigarette and said, “Hell, go for it! Send me some calls. I’ll work for ya.” Bet! One employee down.
I took the money I made that day, went to CellularOne and bought a pager. Then I went to The Columbus Dispatch and placed a help-wanted ad in the adult section, listing my pager number.
Later, I picked my son up from day care and headed home to make a voice message for my pager. In my most professional voice, I recorded, “Hi, are you looking to make lots of money with a safe, reliable and stable service? Well, you’ve called the right place. I am hiring models for full-service sessions. Please leave your physical description, measurements and number, and I’ll contact you for an interview. Please, no drug users. Thank you. Bye.”
Requesting no drug users was naive; I quickly learned that the majority of women working for escort services have habits. They work to support their habit, their families, their man and his habit. There are a variety of reasons, yet the goal is the same: money.
At 8:00 the next morning, the vibration of my pager woke me up. The message read: FULL. Wow! I told myself, Go for it! This is my come-up. Chino had always said to be for self because self-preservation was the nature of man, and I intended to survive. I returned the calls and selected a variety of applicants. I set up interviews with twelve candidates at the Knight’s Inn hotel.
I was surprised by the high turnout, and they were surprised that I was a woman since most services are run by men. They also liked my professionalism: I was dressed in a sleek pantsuit and offered coffee and doughnuts. The response was great. I held only one open, informal interview session for all the girls. While running my salon, I had acquired very good managerial skills, so I communicated well. I explained my rules, emphasizing that there was to be no stealing. In this profession, it’s easy to lie about what you make, but because I was business savvy, they knew they couldn’t get away with that at my service. I kept it all very simple. After all, we were there to make money, not friends.
I scanned the room with the mind and eye of a man. What would make me turn my head? What would make me spend money to be with them? I knew I needed a variety of girls. I chose nine of the twelve girls. And if I hadn’t been so pressed to get paid, I would have taken my chances with the dogs, too, just to see who in the hell would fuck them. But I chose the best looking and began to qualify them for my purpose. I hired these ladies because they were curvaceous, sensuous, childlike, seemingly innocent, well groomed, and easy listeners. Some were experienced. Some were first-timers. Only two had their own transportation. One very attractive young lady who was new to the business had her own transportation, no children and no habit. I wondered why she was in this line of work. But I hired her and continued on. I wrote down all the girls’ information and gave them working names.
The half-black, half-Chinese girl, I named China. She was absolutely beautiful, with olive-toned skin, an oval face, slanted, coal black eyes and silky, curly hair. She had a lot of street in her. Every word out of her mouth was fly. She had an hourglass figure and an aggressive attitude, which I liked right away. I knew she could talk a john out of some money. Problem was, she had a crack habit that was out of this world—a $1,000-a-day habit. China was up-front and open about her habit and everything else about her. She said, “Stay out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours. I work twenty-four-seven, so let that be the reason you send me all the calls you want.” I really took a liking to this girl, so I bent my “no drugs” rule. China was worth this violation.
Then there was Gabrielle. She was a young, caramel tender with 44 DDs. The men would love her. Also among the array of tempting treats whom I chose were: Renaye, Spice, Sheela, Toy, Shy, Chrissy, Sugar, Cinnamon and Pie. Pie was petite and very flat-chested. She looked like she was twelve years old. The men would love her, too. Perverts!
When Gabrielle asked for my name, I rolled “Carmen” off my tongue. It came from nowhere. From that day on, I became Carmen, my alter ego, a totally different person from Pamela. Carmen was strong, emotionless and untrusting. Pammy, well, she was the opposite: weak, emotional and trusting.
I told them they must report in by phone with their locations by 10:00 a.m. or pay a $25 fine. When they reported in, they were to give me their locations—hotel and room number for incalls—and availability for outcalls. I informed them that the phones were off at my house by 4:30 p.m. so I could devote my time to my son. This disappointed them because they wanted more hours and more flexibility. Some even asked about working for other services. I informed them that it was no problem as long as it did not conflict with my “calls.” Chino had taught me so much. I knew the way you went into something was the way that you came out of it. Thus, I went in hard. I always kept in mind all the things that I had learned from him, lessons of the streets. Rule number one: get paid; rule number two: don’t trust anybody, not even yourself; rule number three: stay free.
It was time to accept the fact that he had raised me as far as the streets were concerned, but now it was time to raise myself.
Once the ground rules were established, we dispersed, and I went to the newspaper to place my ads for the following week. I placed one exclusively for African-American girls. It read: CARMEN’S BLACK MODELS. One for SUGAR & SPICE—my bisexual white girls who did one-on-ones and threesomes. And one for the petite Cinnamon that read: A TASTE OF HONEY.
All the ads were listed with my pager number. I went home and changed the message on the voice mail. With jazz playing in the background, the new message was: “Hello and thank you for calling Carmen’s. We offer full-service sessions—$200 an hour, $150 for a half hour. We cater to your every need and all of your wants. We want you to call 555-9402, come 555-9402, enjoy 555-9402. We are waiting.” The number was to the extra phone line I’d had installed in my home so that they could call and I could arrange the dates. It was important that during the day the phone was answered, dates were arranged, and calls were made to prepare the awaiting lady. I knew they would not leave a number for a return phone call. The wife or girlfriend might answer or something.
The next morning the phone was ringing off the hook and so was the pager. Under normal circumstances, all the ringing would have gotten on my last nerve, but today, it was music to my ears.
Each tone of the ringer filled me with excitement and a compelling desire to dance. But instead I got the baby dressed and off to day care in a hurry.
I returned home and prepared myself for a day of answering the phone. Seven of the girls called in and gave me their locations. I had read up on the sex business and all the desires of men. Golden showers, balls in the butt, anal sex, titty fuckin’, peep shows, you name it. Freaky desires. Normalcy was for the wives of my callers. Erotica was for the girls, and men with vivid imaginations. If the wives only knew how vivid. If they only knew. So I began my first day on the job, my first day owning my new business, Carmen’s Escort Service. I do believe it had a nice ring to it.
Let That Be the Reason
Let That Be the Reason is the novel Vickie M. Stringer wrote when she was still serving her seven-year sentence for drug trafficking. When she couldn’t find a publisher, she printed the novel herself and sold it out of the trunk of her car. “I’ve exposed myself with the prayer that my life can be used as an example to warn other of the awful dangers of the drug Game,” she wrote in its Afterword. Let That Be the Reason begins when a drug dealer abandons his girlfriend Pamela Xavier, leaving her with nothing but a stack of bills, an empty refrigerator, and an impending eviction notice. Backed in a corner and with no prospects in sight, Pamela decides to get her hustle on. Transforming herself into Carmen, she learns to deal with the streets, the playas, the drug lords, and of course the law—by any means necessary. In no time, she is running a call-girl service, a fencing operation, and a drug cartel—all while still being a mom. Carmen wants money, but she also wants happiness. The problem is, she doesn’t quite understand what real happiness is and what real love means—or what it all costs.
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Reading Group Guide
Let That Be the Reason is Vickie Stringer’s debut novel based on her real-life experiences. Pamela Xavier is abandoned by her drug-dealing boyfriend with a stack of bills, no food in the fridge, and an impending eviction notice. With no job prospects, Pamela feels backed into a corner and decides to get her “hustle” on. As a woman caught up in a male-dominated game, Pammy relies on her alter ego, Carmen, to deal with the streets, playas, dealers, drug lords, and of course, the law.
In no time, Carmen is on the come-up, running a call-girl service, fencing operation, and drug cartel—and being a mom. With money on her mind, Carmen’s hustle is taking the streets by storm, but the ever-present danger of the police and rival hustlers makes staying in the game—or getting out of it—equally perilous.
Let That Be the Reason is a saga of consequences, forgiveness, and life-changing decisions.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. The novel describes Carmen as an “ see more