Reach Out And Touch Someone 

Boise's phone sex biz: hidden, but growing

Dateline Boise--BW news editor Nicholas Collias and I meet at a Basque watering hole to discuss story ideas; he's nice enough to buy me a beer, so I don't complain too much about stuff like paychecks and weather. That's when he drops a hot Idaho spud into my lap: "How'd you like to write an article about phone sex for our Valentine's Day issue?" I'm not sure he and I are quite at the stage in our relationship where we can glibly discuss the ins and outs of personal manipulation whilst sending digitized signals only God and the Department of Homeland Security knows where, but what the hell--he's renting my time and the beer's good.

"What's the angle?" I ask. I have no idea where he's going with this; I only hope it doesn't involve a ride in the country, a dozen wee people, and the soundtrack to Miller's Crossing. If that is the case, however, I could be in for some serious therapy and copious amounts of prescription drugs.

"Boise's the angle. I want you to talk to some people in town that do this for a living, see how they got into it--that sort of thing."

Thank god, no dwarves in fedoras.

Armed with three e-mails as contact information, I head into the dark, unspoken place of the Boise phone sex industry. Surely everything will be fine.

However, there are no large signs to indicate where one might find out about phone sex in Boise. Perhaps I envision a sweltering warehouse with cinderblock walls and an octopus-tangle of telephone lines jockeying for position jammed through a hole near the ceiling through which one could spy dozens of be-robed, fuzzy-slippered, chain-smoking and slightly-mustachioed lonely housewives in the act of spewing forth words of indescribable naughtiness, proposing acts unseen since the age of Caligula, reciting credit card numbers to Samoans in three-piece white business suits. Perhaps I see desperate actresses, community theater rejects seeking the spotlight one last time with lonely audiences who can't see their expanding waistlines or varicose veins or the fact that they still refer to the script once in awhile. Perhaps I don't have a clue, and need to make contact.

Unfortunately, my information in this caseleaves a bit to be desired. In this age of immediate communication, walkie-talkie telephones and illegal Blackberry devices, even e-mail has begun to feel like the snail mail of 10 years ago; the only bonus is that now, when a communique goes to the dead-letter office, we're treated to the following in our e-mail in-box: Delivery failure to ________@yahoo.com. Gave up after 19 hours, last error: recent slow open age=54 delay=189 399 TCP Read failed.

"Good lord," I think, "I'm lost in the wilderness, surrounded by satellites beaming hidden digital pornography directly to my brain, and I don't even have a map!"

I ask my friend Sherry if she can help me out. Sherry owns the Discreet Secrets adult novelty stores in Boise, and she has had more than her fair share of customers pick up a pair of strawberry-flavored edible undies, double-ended stimulus devices and battery-operated quake-generators to go along with their double-latte from the Moxie Java around the corner. Every one of these customers has a story to tell, and the one Sherry hooks me up with goes by "Julie." Long story short: Julie lives in a community where--were her real name to get out--she'd wake up in a very lonely place.

"They wouldn't understand," Julie says over the phone, talking about her family. "For me it's just a job, but, well, you know."

Julie's story goes like this: Having grown up in the Boise area and gone to school at the local football institution, she needed some "extra cash" to pay the bills. A few years ago, a friend of hers pointed her towards phone sex.

"It was awkward, yeah," she says about losing her telephone virginity, "but after awhile, it wasn't what you'd think. It wasn't blowing my mind with weird stuff or anything like that--just guys calling to get off. Most guys weren't very imaginative, so it'd be sorta like a game, with me trying to get them to talk about stuff."

Part of that coaxing is due to how Julie's paycheck was calculated: By adding the total minutes for the week with callers and dividing that number by the number of calls she took, Julie earned a weekly "hold time" average. If she took over 60 calls in a week and had an average of 10 minutes per call, she'd then make 40 cents per call; conversely, if Julie had less than 60 calls in a week and averaged less than six minutes per call, she'd make seven cents per minute and possibly lose her contract with her company. In short, the goal is to keep the caller on the line as long as possible. "I got pretty good at getting them to talk about their fantasies," says Julie. "The more they talked about it, and the more I reacted to it, the longer they'd stay in their 'happy place,' instead of me just telling them what I was wearing or what I was going to do to them."

Like most of the larger phone sex companies, there is no warehouse filled with cubicle after cubicle of lascivious, Kathleen Turner-voiced minxes: "We're called IC's [independent contractors]," she says of the company she worked for. "I know of five other girls in Boise that do this, but we're all over the country." Asked how many girls in Boise dish out adult chat for a living, Julie isn't sure, but guesses, "easily more than 100. I mean, if you can handle it, it's an easy job. We just call our service, log-in, and then work out of our living rooms, bedrooms, wherever the phone is." For those of you wondering if that grandma holding up the line at the green light is working as a "phone entertainer," relax: "You can't use cell phones because they have connection problems, and you can't even use cordless phones, because people pick them up on scanners."

Sweeping for phone sex on a scanner? How can that be? One answer is the price: with some telephone services charging up to a $40.00 minimum for their fetish chat, some people are more than willing to sneak in a little fantasy eavesdropping. Still, according to Julie, not all calls are swiped: "I was talking to a guy who must have been on a cordless or a cell or something," she recalls, "and then there's, like, this little kid talking to his grandmother on the line while I'm describing what I'm doing with my handcuffs."

Ultimately, it's a consumer's market, leading to big worldwide business; according to Juniper Research, sales of adult mobile services are seen as tripling between 2004 and 2009 to $2.1 billion. What this means for us is simple: more cell phone-flashed images of naked models in classrooms, boardrooms, and supermarket lines; more annoying ring tones in the movie theater (girlfriend calling? No problem: set her ring tone to your favorite Behind The Green Door scene), and more things to explain to the kids before sending them off to school in the morning.

Questions? Randy banter? E-mail news@boiseweekly.com.

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