Hanging out with male prostitutes is just like climbing Mount Everest

Mount Everest stands like a colossal ice cream sundae jutting out of Tibet, its surface sprinkled with all the nuts who perished in their attempt at mounting it. Everest is second only to Better Off Dead's infamous K12 in all-around deadliness, and I can't get it out of my head after reading John Krakauer's Into Thin Air. The book journals a doomed trek up the mountain in 1996 in which eight climbers died in a single day.

Even if you don't die on an expedition to Everest, you will at the very least feel like total shit the entire time you are attempting the summit. It stands at just under 30,000 feet, and living things aren't meant to go above 16,000. Even the yeti knows enough to turn around and head back to base camp at that point, but extreme mountain climbers are just getting started at that elevation. When you climb that high, you are basically signing on for a painful, protracted near-death experience due to oxygen deprivation (bleeding lungs, blood clot in brain, gut-purging diarrhea). It's 90 percent abject torture for 10 percent … I dunno, nice views? Some people apparently think this is fun — putting themselves in a treacherous situation for a moment's pleasure. I say save yourself 60 grand and just stay home and do whip-its on Mount Tam.

All that was on my mind last week, because when you really get into a book, the whole world ends up getting filtered through it. Waiting in line at the bank one day, I was behind an especially impatient man who kept sighing painfully because the tellers weren't moving fast enough. “Ha,” I thought to myself smugly, “this guy wouldn't last two seconds on the Lady.” (I had taken to referring to Everest as “the Lady.”)

Then there was last Thursday's excursion with a handful of male prostitutes, for example. Very Himalayan.

The evening started out simply. The way I saw it through my Everest goggles, I had two choices: the Beastie Boys at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, known for their Tibetan liberation campaigns, or the Tuvan throat singers at the Asian Art Museum. Both were appearing on the same night, at the same time, within blocks of each other.

Before all you “Free Tibet” peeps open the e-mail on your iBooks to inform me that Tuvan singers are from Mongolia, not Tibet, let me just say that yes, they are two distinct cultures that should be honored as separate peoples — even though they both look exactly the same, exist on the periphery of China, drink some fucked-up tea, and employ yak husbandry. The Lady doesn't discriminate, so neither should I.

Problem was, I couldn't find parking for either show, which for a lazy armchair mountain climber like me meant they would both be a no-go. Besides, I can sum up the concerts without even sitting in the audience. The Tuvans sounded like this, “Dreedurrrdreeeyaryardree”; and the Beastie Boys sounded like this, “Yo yo yo yo yo yo yo check it.”

Yet my girlfriend Maria and I still had it in our heads that we wanted to locate some form of entertainment, so we headed up to Polk Street to find us some gigolos. The hookers in this neighborhood have a mysterious quality borne of ambiguous sexuality, drug addiction, and that subtle hint of desperation that any redblooded woman would find sexy. We are risk takers and thrill seekers, after all.

Kimo's is usually a good destination, but the bartenders there tend to be as sullen as the patrons, and when you are a girl sauntering into a gay bar you want a bartender who will make you feel welcome despite your vagina. So we headed straight to Club Rendezvous, a cozy little dive that is often a hangout for hustlers in between clients. The last time I went there, the night ended with me surveying a row of the man-hos by grasping each of their bulges through their pants and rating them on a scale of one to 10. I'm tellin' ya, these are fun-time guys who love a good laugh. Maybe that's because the rest of their time is spent in a rather treacherous profession that is 90 percent risk, 10 percent thrills. Let's face it: Any prostitute working on the streets is involved in an extreme sport.

“Hello,” said a man outside the Rendezvous, looking me up and down approvingly. He had an Eastern European accent, a telltale light gray wife-beater tucked into baggy Levi's, and a handsome, blue-eyed face. “Can I say, if you don't mind,” he continued, “that you are beautiful?” The “beautiful” rolled off his tongue like he was Dracula. Now this was what I came for: sexual business arrangements under the guise of flirtation. I inquired as to his origin — Russian? Czech?

“I am from Romania,” he replied, to which I retorted with the first icebreaker that came to my mind: Nicolae Ceausescu. He stared at me coldly.

“Hey, look on the bright side,” I said, trying to mop up my mess, “if you were German we'd be talking about Hitler.” He did seem to soften up a bit, so I then launched into an allusion to everyone's other favorite Romanian, Dracula. Now, before all you “Free Romania” peeps open up the e-mail on your iBooks to tell me that Dracula is from Transylvania, a separate province of Romania, let me say that yes, they are two distinct cultures and should be honored as separate peoples — even though they both look exactly the same, exist on the periphery of Russia, drink blood from the jugular of wandering peasants, and employ ox husbandry.

The Dracula joke didn't go over with him, either, but he sort of asked for it when he said his name was Angel, my favorite prime-time vampire. He politely said good night and told us to enjoy ourselves inside.

We saddled up to the bar and ordered two Bass ales, sipping them to the backdrop of Nena's “99 Luftballons” and a subtitled Turner & Hooch on the overhead TV. The Rendezvous is long and dark, like most good bars, with a tiny stage on the south wall that is used biweekly for the club's amateur strip night. The bartender was kind enough to unlock the rarely used girls' restroom for us, noting that it was “nice, clean, and needle-free.”

It didn't take long for us to be approached by two guys, one who looked exactly like Gerardo of “Rico Suave” fame, and his pal with a big nose and tattoos. “Hello,” said Gerardo, “what are you ladies up to tonight?” We replied that we were keeping two seats warm for them, that was what we were up to. “Ho ho!” he gasped at his good fortune, and pulled up a seat. He first introduced his friend, Rich, and then himself, Rico. No shit, Gerardo's real name was Rico. Never mind that Rico is Spanish for Rich, so in essence we were sitting next to Daryl and his other brother, Daryl.

“So, what are you ladies up to tonight?” he asked again, one of many times throughout our conversation. He seemed to be waiting for the right answer to his question, like, “Well, we were thinking of blowing you guys,” or, “Um, I dunno … bukkake?”

An ad for hot tubs came on the TV, and Rico pointed at it. “That looks fun,” he said. I informed him that most hot tub places in S.F. are disgusting cesspools of spent spooge. “Well, you don't need to go in the tub,” he replied. “You can do it on the floor.”

This was apparently supposed to be a sensual comment that would entice us into partaking of his nectars, but it reminded me why I hadn't been back here for a while. Occasionally what sounds like a fun idea — “Hey, let's hang out with homeless hustlers!” Or, “Hey, let's climb 29,000 feet with no supplemental oxygen!” — can turn into a somewhat depressing jaunt into a world in which few people really should be treading. Sometimes these boys have asked if they can come home to live with me. Sometimes they have asked me to listen to the story of their breakup or their mother's death. Sometimes they have asked if I wanted to be fucked on the floor of a seedy hot tub place. Yet I keep coming here. Maybe it's out of some morbid curiosity mixed with a genuine esteem for people who are hard-luck outsiders. Or maybe it's just because it was there.

When it became apparent that us gals weren't looking to buy his goods, Rico kindly said good night to pursue what he described as “bad boy stuff,” i.e., drugs.

“You know all that stuff does is deprive your brain of oxygen,” I replied, helping him with his coat.

“Is that so?” he answered, bemused.

“Yeah,” I continued after a glug of beer, “it kills brain cells.”

“Well,” he joked back, “I like to live on the edge.” — Katy St. Clair

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