A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free: Phone Sex On And After 9/11

by Nicole Witte on September 11, 2013 · 3 comments

in Phone Sex, This Time, It's Personal

("Nose art" by Alberto Vargas)

(“Nose art” by Alberto Vargas)

I will forever associate foot fetishism with terrorism. Although George W. Bush had been in office for almost a year, 9/11 was when “the Bush years” really got rolling. I’d been politically curious my whole life, and activism-oriented in recent years, energized and excited by the emerging global trends that were dubbed the “anti-globalization movement.” A friend and I had just submitted an article discussing the murder of Carlo Guiliani to Onward!, a now-defunct anarchist newspaper. Guiliani was killed by police during protests against the G8 summit in Genoa, in July 2001 and our article contrasted his movement martyrdom to that of the Kent State Four, and the less famous Jackson State Two. It was exciting to be wanking theoretical, especially about how we, as US-based members of A Movement, might effectively organize domestically for change without an obvious and tangible Big Bad (i.e. The War) to rally people around.

Hahahahahaha!

The article was outdated before the issue went to press. Suddenly, years of organizing and strategizing around the IMF and World Bank policy were blown out of the water and there was a new, even more mass-murderous game in town. Soon we’d have two big, obvious wars, not to mention the racist detentions of Arabs and Muslims right here in Brooklyn, a wave of attacks on mosques, massive crackdowns on civil liberties, endless new, tangible evils, and not much more by way of an effective mass movement.

When the first plane hit the north tower, I was in Manhattan, near the Empire State Building, talking to a foot fetishist. I worked the Tuesday morning shift at a phone sex bank—someone had to. This was the fourth Tuesday I’d swiped in ten minutes before 8 a.m., picked up my headset and booth sign stating my stage name and “girl number,” settled into a vacant cubicle on the talking floor and logged in for early morning action.

“Ding!” I had a call already. My client wanted to be trapped in a gymnasium filled with women wearing woolen socks and work boots, for them to surround him, remove their footwear, and smother him with their sweaty, stinking feet. This guy took a good 20 minutes or so out of the start of his Tuesday to discuss this and ejaculate in my tele-company.

Once the customer had happily said good-bye, my colleague two booths over appeared at my side, her eyes wide.

“They bombed the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.”

“What?!”

“Look outside,” her arm slowly raised, finger pointed towards the one wall with windows all the way across the room, “You can see it. You can see smoke.”

“What?!” The foot fetishist was part of a world I knew. This was not. This made no sense. The world of innocent, childish humiliation fantasy in which I’d just sleepily wallowed cruelly evaporated into stark, real, this. What was this?

“My last caller told me,” she said slowly, stupefied. “He had the TV on. I asked him if he’d like to get off the phone. He said no, he wanted to do the call. So we did the call.”

She looked like she might cry. We stared at each other until one of us suggested we go to the television, and we logged out and went to the break room, where there was a TV set pinned high up on the wall, near the ceiling. A small crowd had already gathered. We craned our necks and saw the strangely smoking tower: a plane had collided with it. Oh. I thought there was a bomb?

Suddenly, a plane appeared and flew straight into the undamaged tower.

What the fuck was happening? Wait, the newscaster was saying this was a second plane? Two planes. This wasn’t an accident. It couldn’t be an accident. United in mutual bewilderment, we all stared as the towers collapsed. I can still hear our collective, involuntary gasps.

“It was Arabs. It was the Palestinians,” one woman opined immediately, but no one replied. My numbed body felt my heart sink a bit lower, but I mustered no corrective reply. It was hard to make my muscles work, let alone my brain.

Each at her own pace, we emerged from stun and began talking to each other, unsure as to what the hell we were supposed to do. Not get back on the lines to talk to more horny guys, that was for damn sure. We were all terrified, primarily for our friends and family in the city, especially those that were anywhere near there. No one I knew was. I thought. Did I know?

We lined up for turns on one of the three pay phones down the hallway. Those of us with cell phones found them useless: the grid was down. We tried to get through to friends and family to make sure they were all right and tell them that we were, and that took a long time.

The company’s operators, meanwhile, had their hands full with lines ringing off the hook. The talkers, the ones who did the phone sex, were not actually “operators.” The operators connected the calls to us, talking to customers when the automated menu options did not suffice. They connected callers with requests to their favorite talkers. They parsed hyperspecific fantasies, deciding which talker would be a good match. They were not going to try to tether us to our phones, as the receptionist in the front office made clear.

We all wanted to leave, but how? Trains were shut down, we heard, there was no way to take public transportation anywhere. A co-worker who lived in the Bronx invited a bunch of us to walk over to her apartment, “we can get food on the way, and just hang out,” she offered, and the company and camaraderie was tempting. But the fact of the matter was, I lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, so what sense did it make to hike miles and miles to potentially strand myself in the opposite direction?

I ended up walking downtown, alone, towards the dust and smoke, towards my apartment on the Lower East Side. Police were shutting off north/south streets below Houston to everyone except residents, and of course I had nothing proving residency on my person. My old New York State ID still had my parents’ address. A small band of pedestrians headed east, picking up a straggler or two each block until we hit a street not yet barricaded. Finally, I reached my building, trudged up the four flights of stairs, and was home.

Home was terrible. The air quality was awful. I could feel the pollution in my throat and lungs, I could actually taste it. My fellow asthmatic roommate and I both began coughing.  We both packed up some stuff (including her cat) and headed to the Queens bound F to stay with far away friends, me toting liquor, her with her cat in her arms.

Meanwhile, back at work, dudes kept calling. “We are in New York City!” an operator told me she explained, time and again and again,

(Image courtesy of madamepickwickartblog.com)

(Image courtesy of madamepickwickartblog.com)

“Do you know what is happening here?” Yes, they did, and they didn’t care. Some of the callers didn’t think 9/11 was an excuse for their erections to be denied. Apparently, New Yorkers weren’t the only ones with an emergency downtown, and neither internet porn nor a skin mag from the corner store was gonna cut it. We might have lived in a newly designated war zone, but they didn’t, and if a guy can’t even call up a phone ho when he needs to get off, haven’t the terrorists already won? “No girls are available right now, sir, but if you’d like to eavesdrop on a call…” These guys were irate at the operators’ suggestions that they listen in on an “eavesdrop” line, which meant listening to a pre-recorded, staged call that we pretended was happening live.  No matter that Manhattan was burning, that their country had just been the target of multiple terrorist attacks, that we were on the brink of war—these dudes wanted a cooing, nasty girl to help them whack off, and they wanted her now. Fuck the towers, these dudes had crises in their very own pants.

I used to wonder how they voted. I used to wonder what they thought of the wars. I care less now that it’s all so far away.

These angry, unsatisfied callers were but a segment of our customer base. I won’t tar all my clients with this selfish brush, it would be neither fair nor accurate. But the fact is that a significant number of grown men, on 9/11, could not accept that we were not there to serve them. This sense of entitlement is one that on all days except 9/11, we catered to. We pandered to the immature, to the antisocially selfish, the rude and the deluded. We were where they could go to be told that their awfulness was sexy. These guys could not process a moment in our world in which their desires were not central, globally catastrophic historic event or no.

Soon we all returned to work. We at the phone sex bank, like so much of America, hoisted our flags high. Yes, boys and girls, the sex industry is about as patriotic as industries come, sometimes even more so! I mean, somehow my company presented plaques of appreciation to the NYPD and FDNY. From the company. Without revealing what the company did, what we were. We were just a generic, patriotic corporation. There was a photo op. I saw the pictures of some higher ups and admins smiling with the cops and firefighters, posed around the plaques. They festooned our hallway bulletin board for years.

We were all made to attend a mandatory workshop regarding our new, very special responsibility to our country: providing comfort to our boys overseas, or those who were about to go. We were given a pep talk about the long, proud history of all types of sex workers entertaining those defending our freedom. We were told it was an honor to be a part of a new wave of women doing the same. We were soon told that, for a mere dollar, we could trade up our old company-issued insulated water mugs with sippy-top for an attractive new red, white, and blue model featuring a flag ribbon reading “support our troops” with repeated “USA”s all ‘round. We weren’t allowed to drink anything that wasn’t in a company issued sippy-cup in our cubicles, so whichever model I had was going to be stared at a lot. For years. I repeatedly declined the new “America! Fuck Yeah!” edition, and this is saying something as my original mug was adorned with condescending, improperly quotation marked instructional phrases such as:

“Everyone is Happy when we are ‘courteous’ and ‘polite’”

Three months later, in December, I got a call from someone claiming to be a veteran of Bush Sr.’s war on Iraq. He said his leg had been amputated without anesthesia on the battlefield. Not only that, but the whole gory, awful ordeal had been videotaped, and was now used to train military nurses. He said he was watching the tape as we talked, and did I want to hear it? Um, NO. No, there was little I would like to hear less, actually. However, as I was fairly confident that he was completely full of shit, it was with little fear that I sexy-chirped “yeah, sure!” What I heard was clearly from Johnny Get your Gun or some other intentionally unpleasant war film of yore. There was much moaning and medical talk in anachronistic actor-ly accents, with much better sound recording than you could get with any 1991 camcorder, even if you weren’t supposedly filming on a battlefield.

That was wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it wasn’t until 2004 that I got a nauseatingly offensive topical call.

“Do you ever get into…torture?” the caller from Montana asked.

“Oh sure! In fact I have my own dungeon! I love to torture guys, and girls! But I’m also a switch, so…”

“Like what kind of torture?” he interrupted, “What would you do to someone?”

“Oooh, there are so many kinds of torture…I love cock and ball torture, nipple torture…” He wasn’t audibly responding to any of this so I tried to open up options, “…just trying someone up and going a more sensual route…”

“But what about stuff like what they did at Abu Ghraib?” He interjected,  “Do you think that’s sexy?”

Abu Ghraib, wherein prisoners were physically, psychologically, and sexually abused by US personnel? Prisoners were raped, sodomized, otherwise tortured, and even killed. Photographs of military personnel assuming wacky poses among abused prisoners, frequently bound and naked, had emerged and sparked an international scandal. As well as this guy’s libido, apparently.

I could not go there. I didn’t know if there was any way I could do so even if I wanted to while staying kosher within company policy which forbade discussion of “mutilation”, but even if I could…no. I was not gonna help some guy jack off by talking about Abu Ghraib, by talking about real people who’d really been tortured and killed. Absofuckinglutely not.

“Actually, that’s not really so sexy to me! It’s actually a turn off. I know a lot of way hotter ways to torture…”

He hung up.

I wondered how else our suddenly-revamped cultural landscape would affect my calls and if I would get calls about raping terrorists or Islamofetishization or worse. Occasionally a caller would connect my location in NYC to the towers exploding, and sometimes, very rarely, they’d even express concern, but mostly they didn’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t sexy.

There was a sudden increase in calls from military personnel, or at least those claiming to be military personnel. Very occasionally my bullshit detector went off, and I suspected that the guy on the line was either trying to impress me or himself with misguided fibs, or just got turned on at the thought of a man in uniform. Mostly, though, the callers who said they were in the military just seemed like legit young soldiers, bored and horny on base, waiting to ship off to Afghanistan, and then eventually, Iraq. I tended to give good service to these guys, and they tended to be good customers. They called when their bunkmate was gone for the afternoon, and they wanted to make the most of their limited private time. I would try, they would be appreciative, I would wish them well, wish them health, wish them luck, while a doughy knot sank deep in my stomach and expanded with grief.

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Noname September 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Great article. Phone sex sounds like the most difficult form of sex work, in that the whole point seems to be to indulge fantasies that would be unacceptable or impossible to fulfill in real life. Mentally draining.

Surprised that many guys have free time during the day to call, let alone on 9/11.

Reply

Sarah September 12, 2013 at 12:40 am

I was still in high school when the towers went down. That evening after school was out I remember feeling so vulnerable, so hollow. My friends and I spent all evening on the phones together, just talking and talking to fill up the void.

At first I thought your phone sex callers might have continued calling on 9/11 for a similar reason – but it sounds like they were a different beast. I’m sorry you had to put up with that.

This was a beautifully written post. Thank you.

Reply

Robin October 6, 2014 at 5:58 pm

This brought back a lot of memories. I was also working at Creations at the time of the attack. You didn’t name the office but I knew it from your description. I remember seeing the cloud of smoke where the towers used to be from the wall of windows just as you described. I find myself wondering if you and I knew each other.

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