These establish societal norms that are passed on from one generation to the next, reflecting the values which govern that particular community.
In Kansas City, one of the most enduring popular folk tales is that of the prostitutes who “aren’t really prostitutes.”
What do I mean?
Thirty-five years ago I was having lunch with another lawyer downtown in a restaurant known as The Haberdashery. (It was on Baltimore, in the space formerly occupied by Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson when they had a men’s store there.)
An older gentleman struck up a conversation with us. He said the place reminded him of another lunch place in the 30’s and 40’s downtown. Our narrator/ relator said the latter was known for the respectable married women who frequented it on certain days for lunch. These ladies were there to be picked up for lunch hour trysts by any man who was interested.
Our raconteur stressed the eminent respectability of these ladies who lunched, who were supposedly all from ‘good’ families, all lived in good neighborhoods (i.e. south of the Plaza), and were all married to businessmen and professionals. They weren’t whores, he stressed repeatedly. Even at the time, my buddy and I knew we were dealing with some kind of pathetic male fantasy, but we listened politely.
I’d forgotten all about the incident until recently.
As you may know, massage therapists have replaced hair dressers as the clearing house for all manner of local upper-bracket gossip. (It is amazing what people will confide to people who perform personal services, never suspecting apparently that those to whom they impart the latest juicy dish will do the same about them!)
One such masseur- “He is so much more than that!” my source insisted – told the following contemporary version of what I’d heard circa 1980. He claimed that many of his best customers (“very chic, very refined, very European”), are women professionals, moonlighting as call girls on their lunch hours. (Like Warren Beatty in Shampoo, he ministers to their psyches, as well as their appearances.)
I’m sure we all know lots of harried young women lawyers, architects, physicians and accountants (!) who like to turn tricks on their lunch hours with strangers in Plaza area hotels. (It’s the Catherine Deneuve shtick in “Belle de Jour”, the repressed bourgeoisie matron takes a walk on the wild side.)
My source assured me that the patrons pay “many thousands” for each session but what they’re really seeking is intelligent, witty, conversation. Many of the ladies have graduate degrees, he insisted.
I realized that we were back in The Haberdashery 30 years ago.
It’s the titillation of sex but with the tawdriness removed, because these prostitutes are anything but! There’s also a large dollop of cheap irony. (You may think they’re hookers, but they’re really Phd’s. You may think it’s about furtive sex, but it’s really earnest pillow talk about Thomas Piketty and “Leaning In.”)
On its face, this myth is preposterous. I won’t even bother to argue whether it’s true.
What is much more interesting is the elaborate level of self-deception and wish-fulfilment it reflects. What’s scary is that purveyors of such clichéd old chestnuts, have the ear of so many of the town’s movers and shakers and are able to pass this off as informed social commentary on the local scene.