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Archive for Phone Whore

We both know what’s going to happen here…

card files

Hang on, I need to look up just how much I want to let you lick my boots.

Had another one today, another regular who, for some reason, felt compelled to dance around different scenarios before settling on the same one that we've been playing with for the last three years.

Yeah, I have a few of these guys. A couple of the more egregious offenders are definitely time wasters. I guess they like the sound of my voice enough that they want to prolong the experience, so they dawdle in the set-up. But for the rest of them, I know them pretty well, by phone-sex standards. I'd like to believe that I have built up a certain amount of trust and rapport with them. Why don't these guys just SAY what they want?

Because the shitty thing is, I can't press them to just SPIT IT OUT ALREADY, the way that I could if these were unpaid relationships. And I can't just barrel on through to what I know they want to talk about, I can't say, for example, "Listen, we both know that you really like to pull my pubic hairs out one by one, we can do that again." If I get too specific and definite, I'm going to lose that willing suspension of disbelief that is part of any acting job. The callers will be pushed a little too close to the truth, that I have a card or cards for them in my index card box, that I don't actually keep their vital stats and call history in my head, that it's written down on paper. I feel like I need to spare them something that might feel like a humiliation.

Ugh. Maybe it all goes back to that stigma around using sex-work services. God forbid you should "have" to pay for getting some quality aural sex. Too much reminder that this is a business, and I am a service worker, and there goes the sex magic, all out the window.

Or maybe it's part of not owning their fantasies. Still, after all of this time, if they suggest the direction they want to go, then they are responsible for all of the imaginary violence or blood or ass-fucking or pube-plucking. Whereas, if I say it, well, they're just going along with what I want.

Goddamn, people draw weird lines around shit.

So, I tip-toe around their desires, pretending like I don't know anything, that I don't remember anything, but still trying to drop little crumbs of story to give them a hint that yes, I can handle anything they want to talk about. I've only been handling it twice a month for the past two years. And still they hem and haw and hesitate, until I want to scream.

Look, I want to say, we both know how you want to end this. There is nothing wrong with knowing the route ahead.

CALL OF THE DAY: I’m not a therapist, but today I wish I were…

He really doesn't like himself. I would go so far as to say he loathes himself. He hates his fantasies, so much so that getting them out of him is major excavation work, and some days he doesn't even want to talk about them. He might ask me for a narrative, and let me talk for five minutes—in this careful, feeling-my-way-through-the-dark way that I do with him, because I just can't tell what exactly is or isn't working—and then he'll say meekly "thank you for listening" and abruptly switch the subject over to something less threatening, like my thoughts on best action-film directors of the '90s or some obscure political conspiracy theory. He hates his fantasies so much that he will call a phone-sex line, and then pay a lot of money to avoid them.

And he seems to hate himself so much that he is talking about killing himself.

Stupid as it seems, getting the operator's pity is part of the fantasy for a few guys; this could be happening. On the other hand, there is a certain section of our client base that probably does spend a significant portion of their interpersonal interaction budget talking with us, and if things go pear-shaped, we're going to be the most likely point of first contact for these people. But I don't have coworkers to ask, to get a reality check.

Neither do I have crisis-counseling training. All I could do today is listen and ask clarifying questions. I asked if he had a social worker or something; he said he only gets in to see her once every six months. I asked if he takes psych meds, and he said he used to, but they gave him seizures. He says he just recently got out of the hospital; he seems angry that they just let him go back to his apartment without checking in, like, they should know from looking at him that he's not ready to be on his own right now. He doesn't feel safe talking to counselors about his depression, I suppose because it's being exacerbated by how much he hates his sexual fantasies.

It's not imminent, what he's talking about. He said today, "I'd like to just pass away. I'd like to just… not keep going," as if even the effort to do something more definitive about it would be too much work. He's tired of it. He doesn't like going outside and seeing people; he says his hygiene is really bad and getting worse. I tried to clarify what that meant by "hygiene", but didn't get anywhere. He wants to stop eating. He ate some pizza, but that might have been a couple of days ago. He said maybe Monday, when he got some money, he might go get something to eat, but maybe not. "Don't worry, though, I'm going to make sure to deposit the money for you ladies. You all have been so nice to me, I would never leave without making sure you're paid up." And more of the same, for a half-hour.

I called the dispatcher/my boss after the call, and told her what he had said. Shouldn't we call emergency services? I asked.

"I don't know," she said, "I don't know. I can't call the police. If they ask how we know, how he told us, and I tell them that we're his phone sex company, they won't believe me. They won't do a damn thing. I'm going to ask a friend what she thinks, but I don't know what to do."

I don't either. In my head, I flinch at outing a non-criminal as a phone sex client. Bad. Bad, bad, bad, in our culture, very bad.

After I hang up, I walk downstairs to get some coffee and run into my billet host getting ready to leave for the weekend. This billet has an open floor plan, and he has, of course, overheard some of the call: "That sounded like a therapy call." Yeah, and I don't know what to do, and my boss doesn't seem to know what to do either. "Your boss should call a suicide hotline and ask for their advice."

YES. Of course. I google "suicide hotline" and get the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, then call my company back and leave the lifeline number on the machine. I hope you will call soon, I say in my message, and then let me know what you found out. We should have protocol. I don't know what to do. You don't know what to do. We need to know what to do.

*****

That was where I was going to end this post, but I just heard back from the owner. She got the number I left, she's going to call, but she doesn't think it'll do any good, and she doesn't think he's telling the truth anyway; he's been calling almost every day for weeks. I can hear her clicking through his record, and she names off the dates. Yep, right back to the beginning of the month. Besides which, she says, he's gone through periods like this before, last year and the year before that. "If he's been in the hospital, if he's seeing a therapist, they're the ones seeing him face to face. And if they're releasing him, then they obviously don't think he's in danger."

The most we can do is tell him to see a counselor, she says. "If he calls back and talks to you again about this, you can give him the suicide hotline number. He won't listen to me, he doesn't want to talk to me about this. But he might listen to you." She'll let me know what the hotline says.

"We're not therapists," she says, when we're getting ready to hang up. "We're a fantasy line. All we can do is tell him to get counseling. If he doesn't do it, I don't know what else we can do."

I don't feel good about it, but she's right.

Notes for a new lover

I guess it could be a little weird to hear about this stuff I do on the phones all day. It's not something you thought you'd ever think about, right, being in a relationship with a phone sex operator? Nobody knows who the phone sex operators are, so you don't really know what kind of person they might be (turns out, any kind), and so you don't know whether you could ever fall in love with one (you could, well done!), because you don't have any mental image of them, not an accurate one, anyway, so even though you don't have a particular "type", phone sex operator just never really entered the non-existent picture. There's been no actuality to hang anything on.

And then, well, we met. And you know what happened with that. I'm still reeling, you know. I love that you totally knew what I did, the phone sex and the theatre, when we met. I've been public about my work for a long time; it's important. I was so glad when you came to see Phone Whore. That's a really important show for me, and you had so many questions, about everything! I loved it. I want you to ask those questions; keep asking them, I know you're not through! I want people to understand what I do and why, especially anyone who is going to play with my gushy bits at any point. I don't know why, that's just essential, that they get me before they get me.

As far as the sex work I do, and my attitudes toward it? Phone Whore holds most of the keys, but not all of them, no. So when I referenced a call on Facebook recently, about Extreme Top threatening to take a hammer to my face, you weren't ready for that. It hurts me to read that, you said, to imagine that happening to you.

I know, love, I know.

Your concern speaks to the nature of our power dynamic, you get a little protective, don't you? You don't want anyone hurting your little girl. I know. (You understand that the game you and I play would be super freaky to some people, right?) I take your concern as a sign that you care, and also that you have a vivid imagination and it picks up on what would be a very disturbing scene for most people, and really just runs with it.

Funny thing is, that scene in particular, that thing with the hammer, it was a mild one, in terms of the way I wrote it up for FB consumption. I had to tone it down quite a bit. A few other lovers who have shared living space with me for a time, they've overheard much worse. You try sitting in the kitchen and concentrating on a chess game while I take eight calls in a row from the same snuff guy. Yes, there are much more extreme calls that I do. You haven't had domestic time with me yet, so you wouldn't know.

You also wouldn't know that afterward… I'm fine. I really am fine. The parts that I get most stressed about doing, with phone sex, are the physical parts, where I get a headache because my voice has to be pitched too high for too long, or my throat starts to really get sore because the Tickler wants me to laugh for a half-hour straight. I get stressed out because I really really can't be late for this meeting, but my dispatcher coerced me into taking one more call, just one more, and now I'm totally going to be late, goddammit. I get upset when I really really want to be spending time with my lover(s)—by "spending time," I mean someone is ears- or balls-deep in my pussy—and the calls keep coming in.

These are the things that stress me out. They're REALLY frustrating, right? Even though you and I are far apart right now, and we aren't doing a lot of phone calling or Skyping yet, you've already gotten a taste of the interruption thing, haven't you, when I suddenly go quiet in the FB chat box, and then type "10 min call". It sucks, right? And it's even worse for me, those interruptions, so pretending to be afraid of this dumb-ass phone daddy hitting me in the face with a hammer? That's easy.

You don't like to hear about violence like that, especially happening to someone you know and love. Yes. Understandably. But I told you already, and I hope you understand, I mean really, that this is NOT happening to someone you know, it is not happening to me. It is happening to a fictional character. There is no wear and tear on my psyche, if I am fully present in the belief that the client and I are just playing around in a dirty little sandbox, and we are going to pack it back in when he's done. I have learned not to internalize this shit. Please trust me that I can do that.

So I don't need your sympathy and aftercare for that. Trust me that I can tell you what I do actually need from you, that I can articulate what I want, things like a glass of water if I've really been screaming hard. Or five minutes alone time, just to catch my breath and come down from the scene. If I was cooking dinner when I went into that long call, I need that dinner cooked and plated up and two settings at the table when I come out of the call. Either that or some Chinese food delivered, because you didn't know how to finish what I was cooking, but you knew I'd be hungry when I came out.

Cuddles, real or virtual, are always good, but not for the reasons you might think. I don't need to be soothed about the hammer, or about the dead babies or any of the stuff that upsets you. I need to be reminded—immediately, physically—that my desires are important, too, even though they are often interrupted and put on hold for my clients.

You and I are important.

So remind me. Say it in my ear, running your hand down my side. Say it to the web cam, keeping eye contact there.

Babygirl, you are amazing. What do you want?

ASK A PHONE WHORE: how do PSOs learn or improve on their skills?

Psychopathia Sexualis... VOLUME ONE?

Psychopathia Sexualis... VOLUME ONE?

I don't know about other phone sex operators. I personally started out pretty kinky, but that wasn't nearly enough. My company had me listen in on two phone calls, and then they threw me in. I have heard about some companies with extensive training periods, and other companies with no eavesdropping period at all; they just put you on the lines straightaway. So I guess my company was somewhere in the middle there.

This (non)approach to training goes a long way toward explaining the high attrition rate in phone sex employment: in the sink-or-swim model, a lot of people just sink. The fact that I was still afloat after that kind of intro meant only that I had just enough skill to float. I had a baseline minimum for being able to work in phone sex, but I quickly found out that basics are not going to get you regulars. I needed to get good, or at the very least, better.

So I found my way to an online industry forum for PSOs. What worked for me there in that community wasn't so much skill-sharing—I mean, there are lots of tips and tricks about sound effects that are fun, but I just never used them—as much as just normalizing my experiences. From hearing other PSOs' stories, I got a sense of all the different types of callers that were out there and, at the same time, I got to a quicker understanding that many of the customer archetypes and antics are the same.

Some of my continuing education has taken place on the Internet, specifically FetLife. "Like Facebook, but for kinksters," is one of the things they float out as a tagline. It's very little like Facebook, thankfully: one well-chosen picture from Fetlife would shut down Facebook for, like, 12 hours.  They also have pretty well established writing collections, and if you join special-interest groups and behave well, people are generally pretty good with providing you directions for other Internet destinations that you might like. I turned to Fetlife for help with fetishes like cuckolding and race play; these are things that I had heard about, but couldn't seem to wrap my mind around the attraction on my own.

Everything else that I've learned boils down to one thing I've learned: how to listen. That is by far the most important skill for a phone sex operator. And that, they don't really teach at all.

CALL OF THE DAY: The Handyman and the Case of the Sudden Dildo

I don't know, but I can't find room for any of my dishes. Maybe something's stuck?

I can't find room for any of my dishes. Maybe something's stuck?

I really thought most of my guys would have forgotten me, during my four months in the UK. I mean, because FOUR MONTHS IS AN ETERNITY FOR AN ERECTION. But no, I am getting requests, and sometimes from callers I just wouldn't have expected.

Like, The Handyman. I didn't have a nickname for him before, because his personality and fantasy just didn't seem strong enough to warrant one, but I am going to reward his loyalty with a nickname. And he does have a distinct narrative thread through his fantasies! Even if it's a very clichéd one…

The Handyman is always either a neighbor or a technician whom I have just called, and he's porn-helpful, in these 10-minute scenarios. Porn-helpful = he needs a really plausible excuse to be knocking on my door, right at a moment when I'm wearing a tight skirt (to show my ass when I'm leading him to whatever minor home repair needs to be handled), and high high heels with stockings (I've just come back from unspecified work or, in the case of this week, just came from the airport).

So, we have to start out with a household problem that I am not wearing the right clothes to deal with; he's right at the door and breathlessly eager to make things easy for me. He wants me to describe what I'm wearing, and then… this is where it gets silly. Because he's not just porn-helpful, the issue has to be a porn-problem, usually to do with a dildo: it fell behind my desk and knocked my internet cables loose. It's underneath the bed where he's fixing the bed frame. Things like that. What started out as a simple helpless female dilemma blooms into a sudden exposure of how ravenous my pussy is, because look at that dildo! I am the slut clown and he is the straight man.

We both understand the formula here, but I still like asking him what our scene is for the day, because a) I like that he is aware enough that calling it "a scene" doesn't put him off, and b) he honestly spends a few seconds creating the back story, and when we get to the "suddenly dildo" part, he clearly experiences a little bit of glee and creative charge, coming up with some reason for that dildo to be there.

This week's story had me calling him in because there was something wrong with my dishwasher. I had loaded it up and started it running before I went on vacation, but when I pulled it open to get the dishes out, they were still a little dirty, it was so weird, could you come over and take a look? When he rummaged in the dishwasher… oh, dear, I'm so embarrassed, here, give me that, I don't know how I could have forgotten… yup, the dildo that I was cleaning in the dishwasher had jammed up the sprayer. Oh dear. But I'm glad it's okay! I sure wanted it while I was on vacation! None of the guys I met were really well equipped. But YOU, Handyman, you always have the right tools for the job!

And then of course it's all over but the fucking (dildo demonstration, then standing while bent over the bed or doggy-style, please leave the stockings and heels on!).

I feel like the Handyman probably watches a lot of porn, but still gets drawn into the little plot that is there: "Oh wow, what's going to happen now? She doesn't have enough money to pay for the pizza!" His engagement with the non-sex action is … cute. I don't know why he needs me to help him lay it out, but I'm glad he does.

CALL OF THE DAY: white lines and mysterious powders

Like, I don't want to snort this, I just want to jump in it, that's how naive I am.

Like, I don't want to snort this, I just want to jump in it, that's how naive I am.

The calls that require the most acting from me are the ones in which I am supposed to be submissive, which is funny, on the surface of it, because in my real sex life I can be incredibly submissive in certain very specific ways. But a) that submission is happening with people who I know and trust, and b) most of my "dom" callers have only the dimmest, most cartoonish, broad-stroke understanding of power dynamics (see Extreme Top), so the scenes they lay out are laughable, and I have to enter into those scenes and make them work somehow.

The calls that require the second most acting from me are the ones that involve drug use. I don't have enough (read: any) personal experience with harder drugs like crack or cocaine or meth or anything like that—thank god—and the kinds of movies or TV shows that depict realistic and at-length user experiences of those drugs, those are not the sort of shows that I'm interested in watching, in fact, I run away, EEEEEEE! I'm very drug-squeamish, basically, so when someone wants me to act like I'm doing hard drugs, or make them do hard drugs, I have next to no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.

So the call I got the other day turned out to be one of the tougher calls I've gotten in a long time, because he combined both of these things and he was SO BAD AT IT. He was so ham-handed about verifying my submission—I took a chance on calling him "sir", and he ate that shit up—and ramming all kinds of things up my ass, and I had to choke on his dick (I get why this is a good fantasy noise for many guys, because seriously, MOST OF Y'ALL'S DICKS ARE JUST NOT CHOKE-WORTHY). It was going along fine, until about ten minutes into his 15-minute call, when the caller said, with what I guess he thought was a Villainous Dom growl, "I've got a vial of white powder here, do you know what it is?"

I first thought "cocaine," but then in a flash I totally second- and third-guessed myself. What if it's ecstasy, all chopped up? I saw people doing that in London; I didn't know you could powder ecstasy. What if it's some other powdery drug that's really popular right now, that I've never heard of? I mean, I haven't heard of a lot of drugs. I don't want to be uncool and guess the wrong thing! Why have I suddenly gone into high-schooler head space around this stupid caller and his stupid vial of mystery drug?

So, I said, in what I thought was a nicely quavery, submissive, naive, afraid housewife voice, "Oh, god, uh, I don't know, what is it?" Because, right? Would most 47-year-old housewives really know anything about drugs? This was not the right approach, apparently, because he hung up.

My dispatcher didn't say anything when I had to call back and let her know about the hang-up. But now I'm wondering how I can take care of this gap in my knowledge base. Using the drugs is obviously right out, and I'm kinda pushing back against the prospect of even reading up on the effect of drug use on conversation style and mannerisms. I mean, I don't get very many of those calls at all! On the other hand, I get more of them then I do snuff calls, so … And I don't want to have callers, even one person, hanging up because I'm not getting it right. That stings my professional pride.

Ugh. It's so strange. I know all this shit about sex, and nothing about drugs. My naivete is both narrow and profound. I am okay with that, but some of my callers aren't.

Do clients ever leave the nest?

I don't want to push them, I just want to beep at them...

I don't want to push them, I just want to beep at them...

I've been back on call for a few days now, and am relieved that regular clients are finding me again quickly. Not all of them, I mean, I'm sure I lost more than a few to the immediate pressures of needing to wring one out. But there are a gratifying number of callers who either remember the date that I said I was coming back and are asking for me specifically, or who finally, FINALLY, hear my name in the line-up again and jump on me, metaphorically.

One of them is my surfer dude. I got him my second day back for a call that was five minutes longer than his usual. Good thing he got that extra time, because he was full of excitement about his summer happenings—"I went to seven shows in 29 days, man! It was amazing!"—and more importantly, his new girlfriend, who he met at one of the jam-band shows he loves so much. She's AWESOME, she's smart, she's so frickin' hot, "and she loves Phish too!" In short, this new girlfriend is everything good for Surfer Dude… except she doesn't know about Wendy, the hot-lesbian-bitch alter ego that he puts on to role-play with me once or twice a month.

"l still want to do Wendy every now and then," said Surfer Dude, "but I'm probably going to be calling you less." I make the supportive, believing noises, and say the congratulatory things that he clearly wants to hear, but in my head I'm going, "Fuckin' TELL HER ABOUT WENDY!" Just TELL her. Suck it up and talk about role-play, and what has she done, and what have you done, and what could you do together? She's a free-wheeling, jam-band-following type. I DON'T THINK SHE'S GOING TO FREAK OUT.

I would be happy if Surfer Dude stopped calling because he had found someone in real life who he loved and was able to play hot girl-on-girl talk fantasies with. I would be thrilled. I would be happy if some of my cocksuckers were actually out there sucking actual cock in a safe, sane, and consensual way. I would love to hear that any of my panty boys had gotten up the nerve to ask the women in their life to come shopping with them at Victoria's Secret. I wish there were a way for me to know if these steps forward happened. Seriously. I would love for my work to be obsolete for that reason.

Because while some of the stuff that comes up on my phone line is not possible, for legal, ethical, or laws-of-gravity reasons, a lot of the things we talk about are totally possible, and I just… GRRRGH…. i just want to reach through the phone and shake them and say, "Go on! Be brave! Say what you want. I do it, even though it freaks me out sometimes. You can do it too. You could have so much fun! It's worth it!" But my callers aren't paying me to be a life coach. They are paying me to help get their jizz out, in the easiest way possible, in a way that doesn't involve hard conversations or potential plate-throwing or furtive checking of underwear drawers to make sure that nothing's missing.

That means that Surfer Dude's girlfriend will remain blissfully oblivious to one little corner of her boyfriend's libido, and… well, I can yell in my head as much as I want, but that is just not my problem.

CALL OF THE DAY: the Case of the Reluctant Dom

I was hoping for a good call to get me started back, after four months of being away. No, let's be honest: I was, in my heart of hearts, hoping that I would make it big enough in theatre this year that I wouldn't have to get started back. But, since I have known for some weeks that I would be doing phones again this fall, I have hoped that my re-entry would not be too horrible. Not Extreme Top. Not the Strangler. Not Dead Soul. That shit you gotta work up to.

I lucked out, though. I got the Reluctant Dom.

I think I've written about him before, but I can't find any other posts about him here, so I'll be brief in the recap: the Reluctant Dom is a gentle man with a sadistic streak a mile wide, and he loathes himself for it. I remember more than one occasion, after a call in which he has just been lashing me with a belt or pulling on handfuls of my pubic hair, and during that gasping post-coital cool-down, he has said something along the lines of "I'm a bad man. I can't keep doing this. What woman would ever want this?"

Sigh.

Of course I tell him that there are women out there who would want that, who would gladly take all the torment he dished out, if he took care of them afterward.  I tell him it's fine. I'm not sure he's listening. I don't know whether or how much of his self-loathing is essential to his turn-on. I don't think much. I think he really doesn't want to be turned on like this, and as an active kinkster, that makes me sad. So occasionally with him, I break my own rules and ofter advice or meta-scene encouragement. This is okay to want, I say.

Today I looked at the Reluctant Dom's card and realized that I hadn't talked with him in over a year. He just hasn't requested me, and he said, without prompting, that he hasn't called for at least a year. He had me up in the examining table in the doctor's office, where a mild-mannered interview about my continued lack of orgasm tumbled pretty quickly into him calling his two beautiful nurses in to beat me with a belt and suck on my tittieses and fuck me with a strap-on while I begged for more and eventually came. After he came, I asked if there was a reason he hadn't called in so long, and I could almost hear him shrugging his shoulders and blushing.

Right. Not my place to know. But I like to imagine that he wrestled with his demons, and then won and went out and found Fetlife. A year is about long enough for that journey to at least begin, even for a very reluctant dom.

ASK A PHONE WHORE: “Can I get your business number?”

Your feigned casualness makes my fingers itch.

Your feigned casualness makes my fingers itch.

Q. Can I get your business number?

No.

No.

GOD, NO.

I have fielded variants on this question hundreds of times, ever since I started promoting Phone Whore, thereby putting myself in the position of being publicly out about currently, actively doing phone sex. Yesterday evening I got asked four times in the space of four hours, while I was out doing Sidewalk Smut in Leicester Square, a heavily touristed spot in London, and it reminded me HOW VERY MUCH I HATE THIS QUESTION.

When the question comes in a little pop-up Facebook chat box, I don't respond and block the fucker immediately. In person, it is usually asked with a leer, sometimes with a completely dry, dead-pan face that the asker thinks will give them plausible deniability as "it was a joke! I was just winding you up!", but I can see the twitching little boner-on-the-rise in their eyes and I never laugh.

There are the logistical, practical issues for not giving out my business number:

  • I don't actually keep business cards for it, and I don't know it off the top of my head. I mean, I'M not calling that number ever!
  • I've said it before: phone sex is the safest, most anonymous form of sex work. I'd like to keep it that way for myself.
  • My boss would shit pallet-loads of cinder blocks if she found out I was recruiting real-life, face-to-face guys for the phone line. If they have other channels of reaching me, then I could take them "off the grid" at any time. Bad business!

There are other things oh-so-wrong about this question, layers upon layers of assumptions and misinformation that just rub me raw. Yes, reader, I phrased it like that on purpose. Go ahead and sit with that image, make it as crude as you like. That is how it feels to be asked, to my face, for my business number.

They think I must be on the prowl constantly.

They think that I do not discriminate in who I give my contact information to, which shows how much they've thought this through (sex workers are as cautious as anyone I know, if not more so, about giving out contact information).

They think that they have found a shortcut around making themselves vulnerable by admitting that they find me attractive and asking me for my personal number, or a coffee date.

They think they have got me up against the metaphorical wall (if I'm sitting down at my Smut Stand, I might be up against an actual wall, too). Obviously someone doing phone sex must be so desperate for money that OF COURSE I would give them my number. How could I turn them down?

These. Some combination of these assumptions is there, when a dude, or a bunch of dudes asks me for my number.

I modify my response depending on how safe I feel, how many of them are there, how drunk they are, how long I have to be in their proximity, who and how many other people are witnessing/listening. Is it a heckler at a comedy showcase or a festival line-up in broad daylight with other patrons listening or a longish conversation at a party where the exit is far away and blocked by a hundred other party goers? Rapid calculations of risk occur, before I make my response. Sometimes a curt "no" is all that is required, or the cut direct. Sometimes I have to banter them back.

But always I wish that I could spontaneously develop dragon-like fire-breathing abilities and scorch them into righteously smoking cinders. Always I want to say: If you meant that for a joke, find another one. Because that one has been hack since the first time it was uttered.

Sometimes it's easier to just leave it at "no".

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