September 28, 2005

Red Light City

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2005Red Light City

After three huge hits, I tired not to cough as I put down the joint which I had sprinkled with Moroccan hash. Miami stopped smoking ten minutes prior and was zoning out while she sipped her tea. I took turns with a German guy with bad dandruff and we smoked the rest of the wonder joint as we sat at a small table in a coffee shop off of Nieuwendyk Street in Amsterdam. He got up and left without saying anything and staggered out onto the street.

"Take me to go see the hookers," Miami said as I looked at my reflection in her glazed eyes.

"It's the middle of the afternoon," I explained. "Only the old hookers work the day shift."

"Then let's go see the old hookers. I'm sure they have great stories to tell," she insisted.

She was right. No one weaves a better tale than an old hooker. To hell with Hemingway. If he chugged 50,000 cocks in his day, I'm sure his writing would have a slight edge to it. If anything, my journey into the Red Light district could become research for a new book idea... Existentialist Conversations with Hookers.

Miami had been to Amsterdam dozens of times before, but she never ventured over to see the area of town where the prostitutes worked. After our quick tour, she walked away from the Red Light district very depressed. Like so many other people, Miami had a romanticized image of the world's oldest profession. She instantly felt sorry for the old whores. In the highest trafficked area, you only see old and ugly hookers. They have been turning tricks since the Carter administration. The better looking ones are on the side streets and you have to navigate the narrow alleys while following the aroma of cheap sex in the air to find the doorways with the girls. And for $50 Euros, they can be yours for 15 minutes. It's weird to see a group of old Japanese ladies saunter by on a walking tour of Amsterdam soaking in the scene. You also notice how the scummy looking guys walk around the same block several times, circling for an available hooker.

The prostitutes stood inside small rooms with glass doors. Most of them wore their underwear or other lingerie. Some of them tried to get your attention as they knocked on the window. Others winked at you or blew kisses. Some actually touched themselves. On the day shift, I spotted several hookers yapping on their cell phones. One read the paper. Another watched TV. No matter what, do not take pictures of them. Derek tried once and a surly Russian hooker told him to "Fuck off!"

Miami and I estimated that a hard-working prostitute in Amsterdam's Red Light District averaged 2,500 Johns a year. That's $125K Euros a year after taxes and fees to rent the space. But even if they are clearing $60K a year, that's almost twice as much as teachers in NYC make. What does this say about us? Seriously, 2,500 tricks a year?

"That's gotta start to hurt after a while," Miami said as she grabbed her crotch and shuddered as we crossed the canal and walked backed to the coffee shop.

Tenin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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