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August 15, 2008

What's a Nice Girl Like Brooke Doing at the Bunny Ranch?

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Back in Moline, in the Barbie aisle of the Toys "R" Us, while looking for a gift for her niece, Brooke said, "Mom, I have something to tell you."

"You're pregnant?!" Deb said, terrified.

"No," Brooke said, "but in five minutes you're going to wish I were."

Deb, clean-scrubbed with extremely weary blue eyes, describes her reaction to her daughter's announcement that she was becoming a whore as a "split-second decision" based on the following Gladwellian blink: Brooke was 24 years old, and Deb "could not exactly ground her." Getting mad at Brooke's brother when he impregnated his girlfriend had not made that situation any better. "But mostly," Deb says, "I knew that Brooke had made up her mind, and there was nothing I could do to stop her." So Deb told her daughter, "I support you 100 percent."

They decided not to tell Brooke's dad until some future "good" time.

It never came. Within a month, Bernie found an envelope addressed to Deb in Brooke's handwriting. The return address was "Brooke Taylor, Moonlite BunnyRanch." Taylor is not the family's real surname. Bernie wondered for a moment why his daughter had changed her last name. Then he just knew. He ran inside to his computer. On the BunnyRanch site, he saw topless photos of his only daughter.

Bernie didn't speak to Brooke for three weeks.

Then one day Brooke called her dad and said, "Will you just let me answer your questions and your misconceptions, and explain to you what it's like, so at least you know what you're hating?"

Bernie thought Brooke was sleeping with hundreds of men a day. Brooke assured him it was only up to a dozen a week. She further explained that she's not "just a prostitute." Because, Brooke told him, "sometimes I am paid for other things." For instance, Brooke has one customer who drives all the way from San Francisco to massage her. "We all have something," Brooke continued. "This is my thing that I've chosen for myself. And as long as you love me, you don't have to understand it."

Bernie does not understand. He attends a men's group at his evangelical Christian church every week for support. He reads and rereads the parable of the prodigal son, the New Testament story in which a young man leaves home for a distant country, where he "waste[s] his substance with riotous living." When the son gives up his wanton ways, the father doesn't just let him return home — he rushes to embrace his child.

The problem, for Bernie anyway, is that now, two-and-a-half years into her BunnyRanch tenure, Brooke says she still really enjoys being a hooker.

Among Brooke's customers is a blond, skinny guy who picked Brooke straightaway out of a lineup. But once in her room, he began visibly shaking. Brooke sized him up as the submissive type. "I have rules," Brooke declared. She marched him out to a trampoline and ordered him to bounce on it. Buck naked. He got "super hard." Now he's a regular. Now he calls himself "Trampoline Man."

Another regular likes to get walked on his dick leash. Brooke was positively elated to find a leash with a Velcro "collar," as opposed to a buckle that would eventually bite into his foreskin.

Yet another customer likes Brooke to play ringtoss with little girls' jelly bracelets on his penis. Brooke informs me that the desire to sexualize child-type games with kid paraphernalia is a hallmark of pedophilia. "But isn't it better for sexual predators to be here at the BunnyRanch than in school yards?" she asks.

Hof thinks that because Brooke is no longer on the edge of poverty, she is having motivation problems. He wishes Brooke would "get in and really knuckle down, and get to that million-dollar number [so she] can do whatever she wants to do" when she is finished being at the Ranch. Hof is the first to acknowledge that prostitution is not the kind of job most people want to do forever, so hookers need "exit strategies."

Brooke, who saves and invests 60 percent of her earnings, would like to get to the million-dollar number, too. Not because she wants to live a life of leisure, but because her mom's arthritis is getting worse, and both her parents have lousy pensions. Still, Brooke is not as inspired by Hof's "highest booker" giveaways (cruises, jewelry, mall certificates) as many other women who work there are.

But it's not as if she's lazy. Brooke has written form letters to answer the questions asked in the more than 100 e-mails she receives every day through the Ranch's website, and has hired a high-school friend to cut and paste them into "personal" responses. That way, she can devote her real attention to the guys who are most likely to turn into actual customers. Through volume discounting (three hours for the price of two), Brooke is also working on building up her regular/repeat clientele. Her hope is to move to an all-appointment business, which has a higher price point than walk-in trade.

Truth be told, though, Brooke isn't as crazy about life at the BunnyRanch as she used to be. She says it's not the sex that bothers her. Brooke is genuinely proud to be part of an industry in which all of God's men — fat, skinny, ugly, poor, handicapped, even those burdened by criminal fantasies — have a safe place to enjoy a great erotic time. Maybe because of her maimed father, and maybe because of her work with the disabled, Brooke might be the least bigoted person I've ever met. What she says is slowly driving her insane about the BunnyRanch is "all the drama" — living in a de facto sorority with women who are constantly competing with each other for business, many of whom are having sex with the boss, who is Brooke's boyfriend, and regarding whom the whole place has more than a touch of Stockholm syndrome.

But this is her life. She is now pretty much the star of HBO's Cathouse. She makes a healthy salary. She works fewer days a year than Celine Dion. She lives like a rock star. She's in love with a man she calls Daddy.

I guess it would all be fine if Brooke were going to become Queen of England, or even the next Pamela Anderson. But as Eva Perón asks in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, "Where do we go from here?"

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