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Lessons from a madam

Education’s tall tales fall short in hands of former sex worker

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Rick Lax

Pop quiz: What time of the week is busiest for a call-girl agency? Friday night? Saturday night? According to Ma-Ling Lee, author of The Education of a Very Young Madam, the answer is Monday morning.

“In the minds of most men,” writes Lee, “Fridays are for their girlfriends, Saturdays are for their wives, and Sundays are for themselves … Mondays, with the stress of the coming week lying in wait right in front of them—that’s when men feel like they need my services the most.”

Ma-Ling Lee ran away from home at 13 and began her career in the sex industry shortly thereafter. Julio, a Massachusetts pimp with “more gold than Flavor Flav,” met Lee and her best friend Natasha on the street, and put them to work a couple of hours later.

Lee soon realized that Julio was more trouble than he was worth, so she drove to New Jersey and started a “massage parlor.” Her biggest earner was a 60-year-old Korean woman who “had work done on just about every part of her body.”

The Details

The Education off a Very Young Madam
Two and a half stars
Ma-Ling Lee with Christa Bourg
Scribner, $24.
From the Archives
Inside the “other service industry” with a former madam (11/10/09)
Beyond the Weekly
The Education of a Very Young Madam

The cops busted Lee’s operation after just four months, so she moved to Baltimore and began an “escort agency.” It wasn’t a proper call-girl agency; it was a “rip-off agency”—meaning when Lee’s girls showed up at your door, they wouldn’t sleep with you. But it’s not like their vague phone-book ads (e.g., “Foxy Playmates for All Occasions”) said they would.

When a customer complained, Lee trained her girls to say, “Oh no, I can’t do that. I’m just an escort, not a hooker.” If the unhappy would-be john called Lee to complain, she’d respond, “What you are asking for is illegal, sir. We are an upscale escort agency that offers companionship only … If you are going to turn this into a situation, sir, we will have no choice but to call the cops.” That usually shut the guys up.

Next Lee moved to Canada and started up a legitimate call-girl agency: University Escorts. A “Sexy Classmate” ran $140, a girl on “The Honor Roll” $200, a “Teacher’s Pet” $300; and, for $500, a customer could book the “Student of the Month.”

“The secret,” explains Lee, “was that there was really no difference among the categories. I used the same girls to fill all levels, depending on who was available when a call came in.”

Lee’s audacity is as unbelievable as her stories—and I mean that literally; some of her stories are extremely difficult to believe. For instance, Lee says that when her pimp Julio drove Natasha and her to New York, he made them strip down to their tank tops and G-strings so they wouldn’t run away. But they still did. Writes Lee, “Julio took off after us, causing a couple of other pimps to take up the chase as well. We darted in between people and parked cars, ducked into the driver’s side of one car that was unlocked, then jumped out the passenger side as soon as one of the pimps reached the door … Natasha and I were laughing the whole time.” To me that reads like something from a bad slapstick comedy.

Lee runs into further literary trouble when she attempts creative wordplay (chapter titles include “Baltimore or Less” and “A Brave New Jersey”) or humor (“There are only four things that I’m deathly afraid of: commitment, heights, Vegas and Elvis”).

I don’t know how much of this is Lee and how much of it is her co-writer Christa Bourg. But either way, I respect Ma-Ling Lee’s business prowess more than her writing ability.

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