Below are two excerpts: one from a June 5, 2002 Devon’s Diary entry and one from an interview recorded that day in Philadelphia, where I’m currently staying, with Bastian King, a Philly-based escort who had done both agency and independent work and who had an interesting perspective as an African-American sex worker. Note — or, if you’re kind, ignore — the very green art writing about the Barnett Newman survey. — Devon Britt-Darby
From the diary entry:
(Bastian and I) met on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I had just seen the Barnett Newman retrospective that’s up through July 7. Newman was an interesting case as an artist, the very sort of painter whose work people who dislike abstract art look at and say, “my ten-year-old can do that.” But his intention was to create art with a “timeless and tragic” subject matter, and people have been known to break down weeping in the presence of his works. While not quite taking me there, his best paintings certainly did move me, and his work is best seen in large groups like those assembled for this well-organized show. He was something of a windbag who made bold claims for the transcendent power of his art, with Biblical references in his titles — that is, the ones that weren’t in Latin or Greek — but his masterpieces like ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimus’ do manage to rise to the challenge. Certainly he was a brilliant colorist: his reds are amazing and in his Stations of the Cross series he used raw canvas and black and white paint, attempting to make “the whole canvas…become color and have a sense of light.” …
A museum guard walks through the National Gallery of Art's permanent installation of Barnett Newman's Stations of the Cross in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 20, 2011.
When Bastian and I hugged hello I was surprised by an unexpectedly powerful smell, a familiar one that I couldn’t quite place. It was only when we stopped by my hotel to pick up the camera that we realized he’d spilled a bottle of poppers in his backpack, which he’d picked up for a client (the poppers, not the backpack). Such are the perils of escorting. We couldn’t resist taking a whiff from the bag before commencing with the interview. When life gives you lemons, etc.
From the interview:
Bastian: When I used to run print ads, I forgot once (laughs) to put that I was African-American, and guys would call, cold call, and we’d start talking, and on the phone I don’t have a naturally African-American dialect, because of moving around young, and all that. And then I’d show up, and, you know, I would forget about it; it’s such a non-issue — for me — I’d forget about it, just show up and — (imitates startled client) “Oh! You’re, uh…come on in.” You know, and it would take a little while to smooth that over, and –
Devon: Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Bastian: Guess who’s coming to dinner. Yeah. But actually in one case it was a big turn-on for a guy to find that out.
Bastian: His scene was semi-extreme, but…You know, he was very verbal, liked to use a lot of derogatory, racist language during, you know, sex and…so that was surprising.
Devon: How does that make you feel?
Bastian: I don’t like it. It’s a turn-off. It’s a big turn-off. So there was a lot of acting going on in that call, a lot of acting.
Devon: How do you feel when you come away from a call like that? I mean, like–
Devon: Richer? (laughs) Well, that’s good.
Bastian: You know, I mean, he was happy; I did my job; I did what I was supposed to do. And at the time, while it’s happening, you try and emotionally distance yourself from it so it doesn’t affect you for after the call. At least I do. And it’s not easy, because all my life — you know, I have kind of activist-like parents, and all my life I’ve been told, you know, “Boy?! Boy?! Boy lives in the jungle with Tarzan; I am not a boy. ” That kind of thing. Got that from my mom…so when you hear it, you immediately want to leap into some kind of activist rhetoric about, “That’s wrong, that’s…not to be PC, but you know it really doesn’t help anybody,” but you know, you’re on a call, and it’s their dime and their time, so you can’t say anything, and you just gotta go along with it, and pretend like it’s what you want too, and that sort of thing. Which I can do pretty well, if I’m given some notice. That one time was a big surprise.
* * * *
Devon: Say we break this down — like, I mean, roughly how many, percentage-wise or whatever, you know, ball-park, of your clients are looking for a black guy versus, you know, you happen to be black and you’re — you’re just, you know, you’re a nice escort, in other words, they’re relatively equal opportunity, so to speak, in terms of who they would hire?
Bastian: I would say that eighty percent are looking for a black guy specifically. And then you know, roughly, the rest are just looking at whoever, you know, is the most available, most affordable, the nicest, reliable, that sort of thing. I mean, not that the others aren’t also, but they’re looking for a speciality. They’re looking for something very, very specific…
Devon: Does that make for fewer evening appointments, or like dinner dates, that kind of thing, because they’re sort of looking for a scene, so it’s –
Devon: — like a one- or two-hour kind of…
Bastian: Yes. I definitely do not get the calls for overnights, the calls for extended dinners, companion — show companion, dinner companion — that’s rare. A lot — a lot more rare than I’d like it to be. Because then it’s a lot easier to just be yourself — or for me to just be myself — and I prefer getting to know people. You know, if you’re going to be intimate with somebody, it’s easier if they get to know you and you get to know them. Other than: Walk in the door, you’re pigeonholed even before you get there, you act it out and you leave. A lot of one-hours. But (smiling) I’m happy that they’re there. Don’t get me wrong.