by Rick Whitaker
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows
179 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
Rick Whitaker’s Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling is 179 pages. The pages are small, with ample margins (and many blank pages between sections). Such text as there is is padded with vacuous journal entries with names of persons who do not get mentioned in the main text and about which nothing of interest is mentioned in the journal.
The books is also padded with names of books and authors Whitaker read while he was drugged, between lengthy but climaxless bouts of masturbation. Other than the college dropout laying claim to cultural capital, what he writes about what he read is rarely of any interest.
The book is shapeless: not meandering but altogether devoid of shape or direction. His “analysis” of prostitution is hackneyed psychobabble about being an “addictive personality” and the standard American explanation for messing up one’s life: low self-esteem. Whitaker vacillates between claiming that prostitution is not debasing and riffs on how bad it made him feel (so that he needed drugs to function and then needed clients to have the money to pay for the drugs…)
I will grant that he portrays a set of parents and step-parents whose incompetence (his mother) and malice (his father and several of his mother’s subsequent husbands) could explain seeking more benign older patrons who were interested enough in the man in his late 20s to pay for his company and to explain engaging in a lot of sex. (This is, I think, the place to note that someone familiar with physical addiction—to speed—should be able to distinguish addiction to drugs from “addiction” to sex.) His own analysis is:
Hustling allowed me to act out intimacy with men roughly my father’s age, and getting paid for it gave me the resolve to do it… Older men frighten me sexually; but the money they gave me compensated for the fear, and it seemed at the time like a bargain. (p. 42)
He also realized at times that he seemed to be seeking censure (but apparently not physical punishment) from father figures. He also alludes to “sexual humiliation,” but is generally vague about what was humiliating for him.
Whitaker also invokes the other popular American explanation: denial. He says that the dissociation from what he was doing rested on the “state of mind that a hustler instinctively develops; it’s just a mixture of denial, laziness, and romanticism” (p. 101). His definition of a romantic (“read someplace” in contrast to the usual pretentious citations) is
someone who always wants to be elsewhere…. When you’re a hustler you are always elsewhere. Your mind is never where you are, and you are someplace different every hour or two anyway. Keeping your mind and your body apart is not at all hard to do: you just let yourself drift away. And it’s deeply pleasurable, at least for a while. Hustling itself was not normally a pleasure for me, but I enjoyed the trance in which I lived…. I was addicted to the experience of being taken away from myself. (pp. 102, 166)
He is candid about not lots of sexual attention and thriving on his clients being excited by him (and/or the idea of a hustler and/or his body, which he was careful to step back and display at least once in every encounter).
He is admirably candid that he loved drinking and loved drugs even though hating being an alcoholic and a drug addict. There is no detail about recovery. The book was written within a year of stopping hustling, drinking, and drugging. A year is not a very long time for reflection, and such reflections as he recorded while he was “in the life” do not even rise to the level of being facile.
It is obvious the book was rushed into print without sufficient editing by the author or by anyone else. Surely, any moderately competent editor would have suggested cutting all the journal entries and some of the sophomoric philosophizing and have urged him to tell more stories. Whitaker records that someone did tell him that what people would want to read about is how he felt while selling access to his body. He could not do much with this advice, however, because he felt very little. It would take a far more accomplished writer than he is to write interestingly about feeling numb.
Similarly, he cannot provide very much detail about the encounters with clients:
Even the vague memories I do have of the men with whom I had sex as a hustler seem to be fading fast. The reason for this obscurity is obvious enough. I didn’t want to know these men, and I don’t really want to remember them. (p. 153)
Given his manifest ambitions to be The Author of a Book, one might suspect that, after writing a novel that was rejected by many publishers, he became a hustler to gather material to write about. Both the journal entries and the text make this less plausible. Although what he wrote about hustling did get published, the book is devoid of the detail about the men with whom he had sex and what he felt (in contrast to Renaud Camus’s writings, most famously Tricks). If his aim was to gather material, he was largely unsuccessful.
Although it is obvious that I think this is a very bad book (qua book), there are indications that Whitaker can write interestingly, particularly the section about Francisco, a hustler with whom he sometimes performed. Whitaker writes that Francisco was “somehow able to think of his clients as people” (p. 115). Figuring out that “somehow” would have made Whitaker a better hustler and a better explicator of hustling.
Pros: Occasionally perceptive
Cons: Pretentious, padded ramblings fill 2/3rds of the pages
The Bottom Line: Within this shapeless material is an interesting long article on (male) prostitution and the author’s experiences.
©2001, 2016, Stephen O. Murray