Prologue. Someday far into the future, historians and social archaeologists out to discern the spirit of the time before the economic crackup might skip past the stock indexes and Wall Street tell-alls and excavate instead the junk mail embedded in computers moldering amid the ruins of life as we know it today. There they will find recorded the anxieties and aspirations, the hungers and delusions of the age:
Ready to Refinance?…adjustable rate mortgage…ashamed of your size…add a huge asset to your physique…which lender will you choose…make your girl HAPPY…make her wet and crazy…Rates are near 40 year lows…Rolex Replica Watches…Cialis $2.26, Viagra $1.31…get out of debt quickly…Turn Your Snake Into a Mighty Python…Your Home. Your Price.
Behind the scrim of boom there was always debt and sex, family and home and secret pursuits, an intimate economy of panic and desire. The engine that drove construction and consumption on credit simultaneously drove a supposed epidemic in sexual dysfunction–ED, FSD, HSDD–and exploding markets for manuals, therapies, Dr. Phil and drugs, mostly drugs. The backhoe and the little blue pill, the crane and Cialis; one way or another, happiness was just an expensive erection away.
While credit was easy, straight men, particularly those who prospered off the bubble, could pursue that happiness as they always have, freely circulating capital in the form of money, goods and emotions among wives, girlfriends and hookers. Not every man was so sexually leveraged; what mattered was that he might be, that every potential need had a market to satisfy it, and every market had the means to stoke and restoke desire in a mutually reinforcing system of monogamy, adultery and prostitution. That system, as old as the credit system and even more dependent on trust, confidence, magic and risk, was always messy, because love is complicated and sex might be, and because in a culture for so long ruled simultaneously by having it all and never having enough, how do you measure need?
Now, like Wall Street, the intimate economy is in turmoil. Just as the simple act of a family’s mortgage default, multiplied many times over, has rocked the rococo system of credit and finance, so the financial crisis affects the rococo system of monogamy and its adjuncts, as well as the myriad services that support and are supported by them, from the beauty industry to childcare to telecommunications, from low end to high. Where sex is concerned volatility reigns, and not just because its business but because it’s life.
Act I. Scene I. Before. Ed Hayes, New York attorney and man about town, has long gauged the stock market’s temperature by a High-End Girlfriend Index and High-End Stripper Index. “When times are really good, guys spend fortunes at strip clubs: $2,000, $5,000… You got a 20-something-year-old, he just got a $3 million bonus, he might spend $20,000 in one night. This guy in a club once says to me, ‘Listen Eddie, whatever I spend it’s cheaper than the divorce.'” Likewise, a courtesan’s time, even if it cost $10,000 a month, was a bargain next to the package for courting the young, fashionable girlfriend: the lease on a car, the $2 million Lower East Side condo, the dinners and baubles and $1,265/night weekend getaways at the Mandarin Oriental. Hayes has represented women after relations with the married boyfriend went sour: “I tell him, it’ll cost you a couple million to straighten out; it’ll cost you $50 million for the divorce; you figure it out.”