$20 hooker could teach morals to political hustlers

September 08, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Her name wasn't Posie, but I called her that in the newspaper to protect her identity and whatever shreds were left of her modesty. That's the first thing you need to know. The second thing is this: She used to stand on the parking lot in front of the 7-Eleven on Patapsco Avenue, in Brooklyn, where she made a living at $20 a half-hour as a prostitute.

I made Posie's acquaintance (and nothing more) when she telephoned the newspaper where I used to work, called the News American, for reasons that have since fled. I think she just wanted to talk, and maybe see traces of her life sketched out in print. She had a sweet lilting voice that matched her disposition, and blond hair, and a silhouette beginning to get too ripe for professional purposes as she approached 40.

I think of her now, maybe a decade since last talking to her, because of the thing happening with Dick Morris and his professional lady, and with Bill Clinton, and with the way such matters are now talked about in America until they become a kind of implicit boast and an explicit cashing-in.

In the case of this Morris, who is himself a political hooker comfortable servicing candidates of either party, we're told he spent $200 an hour with a prostitute named Sherry Rowlands. She is given no nom de journalism, such as Posie, as she has already happily sold her story to one of the gutter tabloids and wishes to market her name in every conceivable way.

Which, come to think of it, so does Morris. He is shamed (everyone imagined) on the cover of the Star tabloid but, a week later, surfaces (with his wife) on the cover of Time. They give interviews to Time's reporter. They pose for photographs. They go to New York and dine with Random House Publisher Harold Evans and his wife, New Yorker editor Tina Brown.

Morris will address a New Yorker "business community" breakfast this week, designed to hook potential advertisers for the magazine. He'll write a book for Random House. The book, we're told, will reveal how the brilliant consultant Morris took the floundering President Clinton and made him a winner. And never mind that November is still two months away. And never mind that we'll need a new definition for the word "winner." At the moment, counting his money, Morris seems to qualify.

It turns out, he was seriously underpaying this Sherry Rowlands. For $200 an hour, sex wasn't enough. He made her listen to speeches, Al Gore's Democratic convention speech and Hillary Clinton's, and such things immediately made me think of Posie standing on Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn looking for her little share of the American dream.

"Some of the men," she said once, "don't even want sex."

"What do they want?" I asked in my naivete.

"Company," she said. "There was one old, lonesome man who just wanted me to listen to his Mario Lanza records and talk. I told him I had to get back to work, but he kept wanting me to stay, and every time I'd get up, he'd give me more money and put on another Mario Lanza song, till it mounted up to $120."

In the political context, the ghost of Mario Lanza becomes the voice of the ghost writer for Al Gore. Posie never told me the old man's name, and I wouldn't have asked. A little privacy, please. But this Sherry Rowlands woman, not happy with $200 an hour, calls up the Star newspaper and tells all of America about Dick Morris. Shame, shame. Or, at least we might have imagined once.

But no more. In America, private sin is now merely the first triumphant step on the road to public salvation, if you market yourself properly. To hide in a corner is to convey guilt. To step forward, and offer apology and contrition, is to invite sympathy ("We've all made mistakes, haven't we, Oprah?") and then profit. A nation of voyeurs looks on and applauds, if we deem the sinner has groveled sufficiently.

Except, the process has become so refined that Morris has now managed to bypass the middle step. Got caught with a hooker? Let her listen in on private conversations with the president? Yeah? You got a problem with that, buddy?

The problem is, our public figures hustle not only their identity but their dignity for profit. Posie had enough decent upbringing to know that what she did was a private affair. At a certain point, she knew when to mind her manners.

"I've been real depressed," she said the last time I saw her. "It's a depressing business, being with men you don't like. Although there's this one guy who comes to see me, and I'm kinda hung up on him."

"Is he married?" I asked.

"I don't ask," Posie said.

This Sherry Rowlands didn't have to ask. Everyone in Washington knew Dick Morris' family background, and now everyone in the whole country does. So think of it as a marketing ploy. Consider the response a sign of sophistication that transcends old-fashioned notions of morality.

Or think of it this way: Poor Posie had more class than all of these jerks put together.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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