BY JEFF DEENEY TODAY I SAW a monger scoop up a prostitute under the El at the corner of Monmouth Street, a block north of Cambria. It was 8 am on the dot; the rising sun in the east softly illuminated the transaction as a pale, freckled and deathly skinny white girl with waist length bright orange hair looked both ways for patrol cars before running out from the doorway where she waited for a John. Her faded jeans rode real low, revealing the red g-string panties she wore underneath. She ducked her head in the open passenger side window of a tan Hyundai Sonata saying a couple fast words and nodding her head off in the distance. “Are you datin’? I know a spot.” She scrambled to hop in as fast as she could and the car sped north on Kensington Avenue.
This early in the morning there are still a lot of streetwalkers still working in broad daylight; the crack addicts are still at it since last night and trying hard to come up with the cash for that last blast and the dope addicts are just coming to, kicking off another day of hustling and in need of a wake-up dose to stave off sickness.
Further south on Front Street between Jefferson and Master, where the girls stroll along a desolate row of industrial warehouses and garages, there was a pretty young black girl sitting on a concrete slab attached to the facade of a building. She had her hair intricately arranged and also wore low riding jeans that revealed a white thong string that hugged the curve of her hip. She had on an orange halter top with a deep v-neck. When she saw me she started yelling and waving, then making loud, smacking kissing sounds when I was at the stop sign directly across the street. She reached inside her top and took her left breast out; she shook it in my direction as I drove past, then lowered her head and licked at her nipple.
AFTERWORD: Early mornings along the Kensington Avenue stroll offer these kind of bleak images pretty much every day. Many of the girls are still up from the night before; some of them have been running and gunning for days on end. They look sick usually because they are sick, suffering from STDs, Hep C, chronic addiction, malnutrition, etc. The Johns — they call themselves “mongers,” short for “pussy mongers” — are trolling for a blowjob or a quick fuck in on their way to work. So there’s a flurry of activity on the Avenue in the early morning hours; I was often headed into the field to do client visits in the Badlands around this time and would have to swerve around the Johns when they slammed on the brakes after seeing the girls by the Woodshed porno shop or the 7/11 near Tioga Park (“Needle Park”) waving at them to pull over.
How, any sane person might ask, could a guy be so compelled by sex-need that he would risk arrest to pick up a prostitute who looks like a concentration camp survivor in broad daylight on his way to work in the morning? There is definitely a John pathology. These are men who appropriate the name “monger” with pride and brag online about buying women in sex forums. They exchange stories about the women they’ve been with after each encounter in order to determine which are the best buys, worthy of seeking out for repeat business. They trade information about law enforcement activity, trying to stay one step ahead of the Vice Squad. They keep almost obsessively detailed logs of which women are working which corners, sometimes even accompanying these reports with actual photos of the women they surreptitiously snapped on the street. They claim that this cataloging is for their own safety; prostitutes who assault or rob mongers are placed on ban lists the groups actively maintain. The Johns sometimes go to extraordinarily dangerous lengths to get sex, following prostitutes into crackhouses and shooting galleries to get off. Philadelphia Johns from online sex forums have meet-ups like other online forums do, except they connect in Kensington and Camden to scout the stroll. They report that they can’t get through a day at work, or get to sleep at night, unless they’ve bought a girl once the sex urge hits. It’s a bizarrely compulsive behavior that I have never quite understood. I was a doubter of sex addiction as a legitimate disorder until I encountered this community.
I have worked with a number of former prostitutes as a social worker and almost exclusively their histories consist of a long trail of sexual trauma leading back to childhood sex abuse. Men rape for sport in Kensington; I have been told by women who worked the stroll about roving vans full of drunken goons who scoop up girls, gang rape them and then dump them back on the Avenue knowing they’ll face no repercussions. I don’t have a supporting citation at hand but wager that the vast majority of women working the Avenue have a serious mental health disorder co-occuring with their drug addiction, which is universal. Both these addiction and mental health disorders are continually exacerbated by the casual violence an Avenue prostitute encounters almost daily, which makes sustained recovery even harder to achieve than in most cases. It’s a very challenging population to serve, part of a very ugly facet of life in certain parts of Philadelphia.