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Surprising and Intriguing
on 19 August 2004
The question posed on the dust cover of Jeanette Angell's memoir is "If you were offered the same choice, are you sure you'd make a different decision?" Provided that you're strapped for cash, the question is whether you would choose to work at a Borders bookstore or a Starbucks coffeehouse for a tad over minimum wage or would you become a call girl earning approximately $140 per hour?
Well, my response before and after reading this intriguing bio was "Hand me a Starbucks apron, please." Personal options aside, Ms. Angell has cogently and thoroughly described the time she spent in juggling her day teaching job and her night work as a paid escort, which she describes as being "a skilled professional possessing an area of knowledge for which there is a demand, and for which the client is willing to pay......"
After earning a Masters in Divinity from Yale and a 1995 doctoral degree in social anthropology, Ms. Angell anticipated joining the faculty of a prestigious university and beginning her climb to tenure. That was not to be the case. Instead she found herself teaching classes at a small Boston area college where she received a semester by semester paycheck. She also found herself co-habiting with Peter, a lowlife who absconded with the contents of their joint checking account.
Determined not to ask her family or the State of Massachusetts for assistance, she began to scan the want ads. Available openings paid the above mentioned minimum wage, which would not begin to cover her bills. Looking further, she found that girls were needed by an escort service run by a woman identified only as Peach. She picked up the phone. Mystified by the fact that Peach didn't want a face to face interview, Ms. Angell nonetheless agreed to begin immediately by seeing her first client that evening.
It worked for her. Of that encounter Ms. Angell writes, "This wasn't anything esoteric or bizarre or dangerous: this was something I had done before, something I did well, and - best of all - something I enjoyed doing." Thus, for Ms. Angell, known by night as "Tia," a second career was born, a career she would follow for three years.
During her initial days or more accurately nights as an escort Ms. Angell was teaching a course titled "Life in the Asylum," which was in part an examination of the cruel ways in which institutions then and now deal with the mentally ill. Ms. Angell, obviously, feels passionately about this injustice as she does about the ways in which women are oppressed. Writing from a sociologist's point of view, she takes time throughout her narrative to eloquently discuss these issues, as well as making a heartfelt plea not to stereotype prostitutes.
The author of several previous books, she is an accomplished writer who laces Callgirl with deftly painted portraits of her clients. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, at other times a bit frightening, these men are all different from the 400 pound fellow who seeks to control the personal lives of "his girls" to a wealthy gentleman who sent her home with a giant size bottle of Chanel No. 5.
Assuming she was only being social she began using the all too available cocaine, which she eventually needed to start each day. It was not long before she realized that this abuse was jeopardizing her teaching. Then a scary brush with the law that would have ended her academic career forever pushed her into a determination to quit working for Peach. Of this decision she writes, "It wasn't cerebral. It was emotional. More than anything, I was feeling the job, with all of its uncertainties and stresses, slowly slipping off my shoulders like an old, worn-out coat that has served its purpose well."
Ms. Angell was lucky. At the close of "Callgirl," which was written 10 years after her retirement she is happily married, teaching, and is a mother. When she looks back at what she calls the "glamour of those days," she smiles.
As I said, Ms. Angell was lucky.
- Gail Cooke