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Love, money, booze, drugs, the mob… some jobs the U of T career centre just doesn't prepare you for.

I'll call him Mark, though Mark isn't his real name. He is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, and a man who had one of the most interesting gap jobs of anyone I know. A couple of days ago, I sat down and talked with him about his time working at an underground nightclub in South East Asia (at his request, and for reasons that will become clear later in this article, I really can't be more specific about where it was.)


Mark graduated from the University of Toronto with a double major in economics and philosophy. Originally from outside of the country, he hoped to return home and leverage the strength of a U of T degree to secure a career in the financial sector. But, like many other new graduates, he soon discovered that having a degree was no longer a guarantee for easy employment, especially if you did not have top marks. He was below the cut-off point for most major banks in his hometown, and could barely get an interview.


After a few months money was running low and Mark badly needed a job, any job.


"Yeah, I started to ask around, see if anyone was hiring. When this friend of mine, he told me about this place that was hiring. A place where I could make $300+ a night. What choice did I have? I applied."


The place in question was a ‘Host Club’, where for the right amount of money, a patron could spend the evening with an attractive, nubile young man. A place where they could pick and choose from a whole bushel of pretty boyseach and every one of whom would gladly flirt the night away and make them feel special. A place, that in the simplest terms, was an emotional brothel.


After he got the job, and after some training and a rocky couple first weeks, Mark officially became a Host. A regular night for him would go something like this:


He would come in for work at around midnight, change into his work gear (some nice preppy clothing), and find a spot in the club where he could lounge and put himself on display. The other hosts would do the same. Soon enough customers would start to trickle in, mostly wealthy middle-aged women, who would tour the club and pick out the handful of hosts they like best. If Mark was lucky, he would be picked early on in the night. Thereafter, he and the other chosen hosts would take the customer to a booth and stage “the trial”. For 15-20 minutes they would put on their best airs and do the utmost to entertain and seduce their customer. If Mark succeeded at this point he would win the privilege of spending the next few hours, and maybe even the whole night, with the customer. For 70$ an hour Mark would find and exploit every single way in which he could make them feel special. Sometimes the hours would be spent in laughter peppered with sweet witty compliments. Sometimes they would consist of little more than gentle glances and even gentler cuddling. Sometimes they would be somber and deep and sad and profound. And sometimes, they would be something totally different. Regardless, Mark’s only goal was to make sure that the customer wouldn’t leave and that she bought as much (overpriced) alcohol and cocaine as possible. Of course the difficulty lay in the simple fact that these two purchases were made mostly for him, and wit and a gentle touch rarely couple with 10 drinks of vodka and 3 lines of coke. Not drinking or snorting so much as to pass out or throw up was as much a part of his job as anything else—and it was not easy.


"For for the first couple of weeks I was puking every single night. Fuck, I drank so much! The jackpot was always when the girl fell asleep on your shoulder. It was perfect. You would still make your money and you wouldn't have to keep drinking the whisky they bought for you to make them happy."  

 

It should be obvious at this point that this particular Host Club was not exactly legal. In fact, it was run by one of the more notorious crime syndicates in the country. This complicated Mark's already convoluted terms of employment. For instance, he and his colleagues had to deal with infrequent but nevertheless disruptive police raids. When this happened they had to turn up the lights and stash the coke all while causing a minimum of disruption for their customers. Or, if he, the other hosts, and his boss were walking down the street and they saw members tied to an opposing syndicate, they pretty much had to fight them.


"Yeah, we had to get into some street fights. At least technically. I never did, I just sort of hung back and watched, didn't want to get too involved in that sort of thing."


One of the most serious restrictions had to do with having sex with the customers. Now, Mark himself would never do it—in fact, he wouldn't as much as kiss his customers. Other hosts, though, did not have the same compunctions.


"Me, I wouldn't do it. Though some guys would, especially the younger ones. This one kid, he would do the nastiest shit—make out with girls, fondle them, lick booze of their chests."


But no matter how steamy it got, sex was out of the question. It threatened the possibility of a relationship occurring outside of the club, and a relationship outside the club is one from which the syndicate makes no money. In other words, if a host valued the normal functioning of his unshattered kneecaps, he would keep things firmly above the belt. But still, did hosts ever have sex with the customers?


"Definitely… Though not very often. They tried to keep it on the down-low"

               

Mark's selling point was that he spoke English, very good English, just-graduated-from-U of T English. In this he was unique, and as a result was highly sought-after by the type of clientele that wanted a classier, more cosmopolitan experience. But this was not all that separated Mark from his colleagues. He was the only one for whom this was consciously a gap job to tide him over until he found what his degree had promised him. For the others, most of them not even high school graduates, the host club was a much less temporary affair. In it, they saw a way to make their dreams come true, even if it was only for the hours between midnight and sunrise. Most of them wanted to be stars. They wanted to be adored, and being hosts gave them that adoration. The oldest host in the club—he was somewhere in his early 40's—used the job as a simulacra of his dream of being a famous singer. He knew he was too old to ever make it big, but every night he sang his heart out to the customers, each time waiting to see tears roll down their cheeks.


Still, no one does a job just to satisfy an emotional need. Money always matters. A top host, fully booked all night long, could make over $350 an evening—not to mention the expensive gifts lavished on him by his most devoted customers. At Mark's club, the top host was a regular recipient of any number of luxury goods, including Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton shoes, and Armani sun glasses.


Ultimately, Mark made good money at the host club, and most days of the week he would hit above $270 a night. But the drinking, the drugs, and the stress of having the mob as your employer took its toll. After one particularly scary incident Mark decided to quit. The boss’ younger brother had come down to the host club, and decided that he liked Mark the most.


"He asked me if I had a girlfriend, and I said no. He asked me if I had a boyfriend, I said no. He took my hands and asked me if I wanted to be his boyfriend. I had to figure out how to turn him down but politely… so politely. He kept trying to go further, he stayed with me for five hours."


I asked Mark what would happen if the little brother got angry at him for being rejected.


"Heh… The very best case scenario? I could never ever go back to that part of town."

 

Today, Mark no longer works as a host, and he's finally made it into a more stable position in the financial sector. When I asked him if he regretted his time as a host, he said no.


"I regret nothing. Though, I gotta say, that was a pretty weird year."

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