CLEVELAND, Ohio. Marci Obergson, a thirty-seven year-old mother of two young children, rarely ventures into Cleveland from her suburban home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, but she’s making an exception tonight.
“I only come into the city for charity events,” she says with a smile as she applies a thicker layer of makeup than is her practice. “I feel very strongly that those of us who’ve been fortunate have an obligation to give back to our communities.”
But tonight’s event isn’t a charity ball or gala; instead, Marci will team up with a woman who identifies herself solely as “Chontelle” as part of a “Streetwalker for a Night” event that gives the city’s prostitutes a day off while raising funds for their support.
“If we’re not giving direct aid to society’s most vulnerable members, we’re not really doing our job,” says Ellen Levenson of the Women’s League of Downer’s Grove, Illinois, who is coordinating the nationwide event on what participants hope will be a clear summer night across the country. “People don’t realize that most jobs in the sex industry come without dental benefits, and hot pants and platform heels aren’t cheap.”
For the women who get the night off, the program has been a godsend. “Unlike people like you, we don’t get paid vacations,” Heidi Peters, a farm girl from Wisconsin who plies her trade on the streets of Chicago, tells this reporter. “And the internet and life-size inflatable dolls are a growing threat to our bottom line.”
The program’s success is due in part to organizers’ determination to cut out the middleman. “No proceeds will be paid to any pimp,” says Judy Walton, who will travel into Atlanta from her Ellenwood, Georgia home. “They just go out and blow the money on vulgar fur coats that I wouldn’t buy on sale.”
As night falls, Cindi Ross of Needham, Massachusetts, gets a few last-minute tips from a woman whose nomme de street is “Cheyenne.” “Yoo hoo!” Cindi calls to a passing motorist on the edge of Boston’s “Combat Zone” at the same polite volume she would use to greet a friend across the room at a garden club meeting. “Naw, sweetie, you got to put your back into it,” Cheyenne explains, and as the next car approaches, she yells out “HEY BABY–YOU WANTA DATE?” The driver, a middle-aged white male, pulls over and Cindi rushes up as he rolls down the window.
“How much?” the man asks. “It depends,” Cindi says as she checks her list of suggested prices. “If you want to go all the way, you have to buy me dinner first at a nice restaurant, so it could be several hundred dollars.” After some dickering, the “john”–prostitute slang for a customer–settles for a “Junior League Hand Job,” at $50 the lowest-priced item on the menu. Cindi accepts the cash, then extends her arm into the car where she grasps the man’s hand firmly and begins to shake it. “We’ve had a lovely time tonight–let’s not spoil it now.”
The customer is caught off guard and looks a bit disappointed, but he brightens up when Cindi hands him a receipt explaining that he is entitled to a charitable deduction for $45, since the actual value of the “service” was only $5. “This will come in handy at tax time,” he says with a smile as he drives past a police car that uncharacteristically does not take off after him. “We understand this is a special occasion,” Patrolman Liam Flaherty explains. “The more money they raise for the girls, the bigger the payoff when we shake them down tomorrow night.”
As night falls, action picks up and Cindi notices a Toyota Highlander pull up to the curb down the block, where her friend Diane Perkins begins to negotiate with the driver over a “Boston Cream Pie,” a complicated sexual maneuver that involves thong underwear, an egg beater and a movie theatre-size package of Milk Duds.
Her eye is drawn to a familiar-looking bumper sticker, a rebus with a heart and a ball that translates as “I Love Needham Soccer,” and she realizes that the driver is her husband Kurt, a financial advisor for a local wealth management firm.
“Kurt?” she exclaims with a hurt tone in her voice as she approaches the car. “Am I–do I not satisfy you?”
“Oh, come on, Cindi,” her husband says affably. “It’s for a good cause.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “The Spirit of Giving.”