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On the prowl with a North San Diego County gold-digger

Ten grand for a dance

They learned to stay out of the beer bars, the working-class bars; to hit the La Jolla and Del Mar nightspots — La Valencia, Bully’s, Dini’s.
  • They learned to stay out of the beer bars, the working-class bars; to hit the La Jolla and Del Mar nightspots — La Valencia, Bully’s, Dini’s.
  • Image by Stephen Vance

When Andrea was a little girl her father used to brag, “My baby’s got legs that go clear up to her neck! ” At the time she didn’t quite understand why that was something to brag about — she was still just a thin, gangly creature with braces on her teeth. But in time, mostly through observing her mother, she came to understand exactly what it meant: that women are born with certain physical talents which, for mysterious and unknown reasons, can wield an almost devastating power over men. The way a woman displayed the outline of her breast or the curve of her thigh could temporarily transform otherwise responsible men into slobbering dogs. Men had some kind of hormonal problem, and a woman of craft and cunning, she discovered, could manipulate this biological defect of male nature to her advantage.

It really wasn’t something Andrea had to learn; it just came naturally. “My mother was a Las Vegas dancer,’’ she says. “She had the prettiest legs I ever saw. She used to tell me, ‘I’m young. I’m alive. I’m going to go out and have a good time.’ My father tried to keep her at home, but he couldn’t do it. All she wanted to do was to go out dancing. After they were divorced, she’d get a babysitter for me and go out. She liked men, same as me. When I was little she’d show me the rings they bought her. She was kind of a gold digger. I guess I’ve just got it in my blood.”

By the time Andrea had grown into her legs, she stood five-feet ten, had long dark hair, an almost abnormally high energy level, a lusty curiosity about men, and an alluring voice that somehow combined the qualities of sweetness with the promise of seduction. (Her name has been changed here.) Even before she was out of high school, one of her girlfriends told her, almost enviously, “Andrea, when you put on lipstick and high heels, you look just like a call girl.” Men were irresistibly attracted to her. Her own cousin once proposed to her — he couldn’t understand that she was just practicing her wiles on him and that he shouldn’t take her flirtations seriously. Growing up in the age of feminist politics, she selected that rhetoric which advanced her own personal independence, her room to move, then chucked the rest like last year’s wardrobe. She knew instinctively that all the twentieth-century feminist fantasies didn’t change the million-year-old reality that sexual relations between men and women are based on economics — and women are still selling, and men are still buying. Politics meant nothing to her. You can’t dance to politics. She was a good-time girl. High heels, lipstick, dancing, drugs, and men were a lot more real than rhetoric.

In 1976, at the age of twenty-one, Andrea moved from Los Angeles to Encinitas, that town where everybody’s always wondering whether they’re having fun yet. Her goal was to pursue a degree in choreography at UCSD — like her mother, she had become a dancer — but her more immediate plan was to have a little fun, to flirt, to exercise her God-given talents, to see what opportunities were available to a beautiful girl who knew how to handle herself. She soon realized that the strip of North County beach from La Jolla to La Costa was the perfect place for a girl like her. It had the nightspots, the restaurants, the racetrack, the money, and the fun. She found an inexpensive apartment near Moonlight Beach and immediately set about disposing of the last remnants of her innocence. All she lacked to become a legitimate contender in the competitive world of gold digging was that calculated coldbloodedness, that nervy assurance that her stuff was as good or better than the next girl’s. She made friends with a girl who was more experienced and daring than she, and together they learned their way around. They learned to stay out of the beer bars, the working-class bars; to hit the La Jolla and Del Mar nightspots — La Valencia, Bully’s, Dini’s; they learned that if they went to the track at Del Mar on the weekdays, they would find the local crowd, while on the weekends they would find only tourists; they learned to tell by a glance at a man’s clothes how much money he had to spend, and they learned to tell by the look in his eye how much cocaine he had in his shirt pocket. They could read a personalized license plate on a Mercedes from a block away. They read the society columns, Connoisseur, Ranch & Coast magazine. They paid attention and learned who was who around town. They learned how to bait a very subtle trap. “If I saw a guy I wanted to meet, I wouldn’t go up and talk to him, but I’d make damn sure he noticed me — in the way I danced, the way I was dressed, the way I talked. And he usually did. If there were five girls sitting at a table, the guy I was trying to attract would always come up to me.”

Their first real attempts at gold digging were almost naive, yet still gutsy. “We heard that a band we liked was coming to San Diego — a New Jersey rhythm and blues band. I never would have had the nerve to do this, but my girlfriend suggested we bake them some cookies and try to meet them after the show.” Andrea wrote one of the band members a suggestive little note to go with the cookies: “I really like the way you play your horn ...”

The plan worked perfectly. The day after the show the girls received a phone call from the band inviting them to come down to their hotel — the Westgate —in San Diego. Naturally the girls accepted, and a limousine was sent to pick them up in Encinitas. They partied with the band all afternoon, and that night, when it was suggested they all go to dinner, the girls coyly protested that they had nothing to wear; so, the band members took them shopping in the limo to Kippys boutique in La Jolla and bought them dresses, shoes — whatever they wanted.

During the next few days Andrea became close friends with one of the band members. By “friends” she means they reached an understanding — he provided money, drugs, gifts, and a good time; she provided sex and companionship. For several years, whenever he was on the West Coast, he would call and send her money to join him. “We always stayed in the best suites. He would take me shopping in San Francisco and buy me beautiful silk dresses, gold earrings, designer shoes. We always went to the finest restaurants. He knew I was going to school, so he would sometimes give me a hundred-dollar bill — for my education. I had a great time. Bubble baths and Dom Perignon. It was wonderful!” Even now when Andrea talks about that experience her voice trembles with a sense of adventure, as though she had accomplished a great physical feat through raw talent.

Andrea came to know other musicians, and through them was introduced to the world of drugs.

She saw what alcohol, cocaine, and even heroin did to people; she didn’t like it, yet somehow the thrill of moving in that crowd was irresistible, and she began using drugs too.

More and more, Andrea’s relationship to men became less emotional and more mercenary. Although she worked part-time as a cocktail waitress, she couldn’t afford to live the life she had come to know without men helping her. Her job paid for the basics — rent, gas, electricity — but all the extras, all the little baubles and trinkets, the expensive meals, the fine clothes, came from men. “I never considered myself a prostitute or a call girl, though. I was never a professional, and never considered it a job. If a guy wanted to offer me something, that was fine. I never had to ask for it. There were always more men who wanted to take me places, on trips and little adventures. I never made a point of asking them for anything. But my girlfriend was different. She would always insist on going to the best restaurants, order the best wines, and then be really cruel to the guys. She might order the best lobster and filet, knowing she wasn’t going to eat it; or get guys to buy her clothes she knew she didn’t like and wouldn’t wear. She really used men just to see how far she could get with it. When they called her, she’d say something really cruel like, ‘I really didn’t enjoy your company.’ Then she’d hang up the phone and say, ‘Fuck off and die.' ”

One of the truly curious things about Andrea’s relationships with men was that somehow the men always knew they were expected to offer her something, as though they sensed instinctively that the relationship couldn’t progress any further until they had. Andrea spent an evening at Crystal T’s dancing with a designer-shoe salesman from New York, and later, when they went out to his car, without a word he reached behind the seat to his boxes of expensive shoes and came up with a beautiful pair of high heels.

One evening she and her girlfriend were waiting in line to get into the Red Onion at Newport Beach. “I noticed a very, very large man in front of me. He was wearing a Minnesota Vikings jacket. I struck up a conversation with him, and later we danced for a while. He told me he was staying on his boat in the harbor and asked me if I would like to go there with him. I said, ‘I don’t know. I really just want to stay here and dance.’ He pulled out six fifty-dollar bills and said, ‘Would you come if I offered you one of these?’ I reached out and took one of them.” Before the night was over, she had taken all six of them.

Another time Andrea and her girlfriend were sitting at a table at the Distillery, in Solana Beach, when they were approached by a well-dressed young man, perhaps eighteen years old. “Excuse me,” he said politely. “My friends and I would like to ask you to join our table,” and he pointed across the room to a table full of men ranging in age from eighteen to sixty. Andrea and her girlfriend could see they were spending their money freely.

“What’s in it for us?” Andrea’s girlfriend asked coldly. But the young man seemed unaffected by her bluntness — he knew the game as well as the girls did. “I’m sure you won’t regret it,” he smiled. The girls got up, went over to the table, sat down. Without a word one of the older men reached in his wallet, pulled out several one-hundred-dollar bills, and laid them on the table. The girls looked away, trying to appear bored, but everyone knew an agreement had been reached. The men, it was soon discovered, were professional gamblers from Las Vegas. They had flown in that afternoon to party at La Costa, hit the track at Del Mar, and look for young women not quite as professional as the Vegas call girls they were used to. They wanted to scout out the farm teams of prostitution, the minor leagues, so to speak. The group danced, drank, and partied until the Distillery closed, then they adjourned to a private home in La Costa where an all-night party was in progress.

There were middle-age women in bras and girdles being chased around the house by fat old men in boxer shorts. At dawn the maid cooked breakfast for everybody who was able to eat, then the word began going around: “The plane is ready! The plane is ready! ” They all drove to Palomar Airport, boarded a private Lear jet, and flew to Las Vegas, where they were met by a chauffeur in a pink Cadillac. The men took the girls shopping for clothes — they hadn’t brought anything with them — and the party continued. For three days they played baccarat at the casinos, went water-skiing, drank, and took drugs. When it was finally over, the girls were given a plane ticket back to San Diego and cab fare back to the parking lot of the Distillery.

Andrea chose her sexual partners with a certain emotional distance — the thrill of money and adventure was more important than any affection involved. Still, she was occasionally surprised by how passionate her affairs could become. “I was working at Pancho’s, in Del Mar, which is where a lot of the horse people come after the races. There were lots of after-hours parties, lots of drinking, lots of drugs. Tuesday the track was dark, so Monday was the night we could party. One night this very handsome jockey came in. Of course he was short — four-eleven — but he was dressed in beautiful clothes and had the nicest manners. He invited me to come out to the track in the morning and watch the time trials, and I did. In time he asked me out. He was interested in the arts. He took me to the ballet. But what surprised me most about him was that he was able to excite me. It might have been the biggest surprise of my life! He was so short — I was a foot taller than him. But he was used to handling those 2000-pound horses, and he could handle me. He made the football player seem like a wimp. With the football player I thought how fun it would be to have this big, beautiful man make love to me; but really, he was an elf compared to the jockey.”

During the next few years, Andrea played the unspoken game, danced the ritual dance that goes on between a man of means and a woman of charms. It was surprising how often the game didn’t have to be concluded with an act of sex. Sometimes the men behaved as though just knowing they could purchase their fantasies was more important than actually realizing them. And for Andrea, the thrill of the experience, the thrill of exercising her power over men, was more important than the money or gifts. “When I was standing in front of the mirror making myself up to go out for the night. I’d be asking myself, Am I making myself pretty for me, or am I doing it to see if I can attract to myself whatever craziness is out there?’ ” She found, too, that she didn’t enjoy playing the game with all men — besides being wealthy, there had to be something exciting about them. “I must say that doctors, lawyers, and stockbrokers can be very dull. Young men who graduate from college and go directly into graduate school have had to block out any thought of men/women relationships until they got older; then when they turn thirty-five they seem to have a need to be eighteen again. They want to have a young woman to make them feel like they didn’t miss out on anything. They’re inexperienced at having a good time. They want to be partyers, and may even think they’re some kind of party animal, but in reality it’s very hard for them to cut loose and have a good time.” Having a good time for Andrea, on the other hand, was as natural as dancing. “I guess that’s why they wanted me around.”

Professional athletes, musicians, gamblers — even in the relatively affluent beach communities of North County there are only so many men capable of supporting the lifestyle Andrea was looking for. The next step was, of course, drug dealers, since there are nearly as many of them in North County as there are professional men, and they can outspend them as well. But Andrea found the competition from other women was tough when it came to drug dealers. “San Diego is full of coke whores. I know girls who would drool over some guy just because he had a couple of grams, and they would do almost anything to get to a guy who had an endless supply of the stuff. When coke whores go to a party, they know the coke is usually in one room of the house, sitting there in a big pile. They start looking around until they find that room; if they can’t find it, they start getting nervous. They’ll start going through the drawers and cupboards. They’ll go through the wastebaskets, pulling out the papers the coke was wrapped in and start licking them. They’ll cut open the straws it was snorted through. They’ll tear open plastic baggies to get to the last little bit. There are a lot of guys around here who thrive on girls like that.”

And vice versa. The girls know the drug dealers are usually free spenders because their money is illegal — it’s easier to spend it than it is to launder it, and besides, there’s more where that came from. More often than not, the money goes for things the coke whores love: clothing, champagne, cars, trips to Tahoe, nightclubs, and ever more exotic drugs. In North County, coke whores and drug dealers are like a coyote in a chicken coop, except it’s impossible to tell which is the coyote and which is the chicken — they are both predators, each pursuing an illusion, and being pursued by an illusion.

“When guys do a certain amount of coke, they get sexually excited. But there are very few men who can stop at that, especially if they have access to all the coke they want.. They’ll usually get to the point to where they’re impotent. They’ll get so strung out they’re disgusting. Their facial expressions change. They can’t even touch a woman right because their hands are so clammy. They can get all these beautiful women, but they can’t make love to them. It’s sickening to be around them.” As for the women, they have the cunning to maneuver themselves into their dream world of luxury and abundance, yet they are there by invitation only. After they’ve seen how easily drug dealers come by their money, they start fantasizing about being big-time drug dealers themselves, as Andrea did. “It was a thrill just having the stuff on hand, making all the phone calls — ‘You wanna buy this? Can you sell me that?’ Some guy in a bar would come up to me and say, ‘I’ve got a couple of grams in my pocket, you want to do some?’ And I’d say, ‘I’ve got a couple of ounces in my trunk, you want to buy some?’ It’s a dangerous game, and a lot of girls get hurt playing it because the kinds of girls who hang around drug dealers are rarely smart enough to pull off their own deals. The really big-time guys wouldn’t even tolerate having a girl like that around. They want a woman there for sex, and to make them dinner. They’ll dress them up in pretty clothes and give them whatever they want; but they’ll never allow them to get involved in buying and selling.”

Sometimes Andrea would help drug dealers get rid of coke whores who had become more trouble than they were worth. “This guy would pick up girls all over the country when he was out making drug deals. He’d bring them home to North County and party with them for a while, then in a couple of days he’d put them up in Motel 6 and give them my phone number. I’d do him a favor by taking care of them for a few days, then putting them on the road. Whatever he wanted, I always went along with because I knew he’d make it worth my while.”

One trouble with gold digging is that a girl only has ten years or so to make a go at it, and if she hasn’t struck a bonanza by then, or the lifestyle hasn’t killed her, she has already passed her peak earning years. As for Andrea, she never really expected to strike it rich, or so she says. It was more like she had it in her blood and it had to come out. “I could never see myself settling down when I was younger. I couldn’t understand why all my girlfriends were getting pregnant or married. I was wild. My energy level was extremely high. I loved to flirt. I loved to talk to guys. I loved men! I always wanted to see what the next guy’s style would be like, how he would treat me, what he had to offer me. I played a lot of games with them. I hurt a lot of really nice guys. I was a bitch, no doubt about it. There was never any love involved. I never really had anybody I cherished. I had a boyfriend all this time, but I can’t really say I loved him. He was never willing to say, ‘I don’t want you with all these other guys.’ All my little adventures would happen when he wasn’t around, or else I’d make up little lies, tell him I was going away for the weekend. I knew he was seeing other women. It wasn’t like it was one-sided. Sometimes guys think they can use women, but women can use guys just as much.

“Maybe I thought I was rebelling against what women are supposed to be in this society, that I was refusing to follow the typical role of women as quiet, sweet, and unaggressive. Maybe I was throwing a monkey wrench in the whole machine. I saw my mother as being unhappy with my father, and I was afraid if I loved a man I would end up like that. I never wanted to be a slave to a man. But I can’t really say that I know why I was doing what I was doing. It all got so confusing. Instead of pursuing my own life and my own goals, I was always thinking about what it would be like to be with this guy in Vegas, or this guy in New York. I was always pursuing somebody else’s cheap thrills.”

Maybe there is nothing in this world more natural than a man giving a woman gifts, money, security. Maybe it’s a ritual so ancient its origins are biological — man the provider, woman the nurturer. In most places in the world, and even in this country, that ancient pattern follows the course it has always followed. But in certain places the forces of affluence, idleness, independence, narcissism, and an inordinate preoccupation with sexuality create whirlpools of deviation and even perversion. Economics and sexuality become so intertwined it’s impossible to tell them apart. Men rate women by their appearance, and women rate men by their earning power. It can become nothing more than a subtle form of prostitution.

“In a way, I’m glad I did it all. It’s out of my system now. A girlfriend was telling me the other day about all these rich guys she goes out with. She was impressed by all the expensive things they had: This guy’s got a $25,000 BMW, this guy’s got a million-dollar house. I told her, ‘Who does the BMW belong to? Whose name is on the pink slip? Is the house yours? No? Well, then what the fuck is it to you? It doesn’t mean a goddamned thing! He earned it. He worked for it. He conned for it. If you want it badly enough, you go out and get it for yourself.’

“My girlfriend, the one who was trying to see how cruel she could be, has everything now. She has the nice house, the car, the clothes. But the one thing she wants, which is to be loved, the man she is with won’t give her. What I finally learned is that a man will spend money on a woman like that, but he will never really love her because he knows in his heart she will always be looking for the next guy.”

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