Perhaps at some point in my distant past, I might have read another book from cover-to-cover, but if I did I can’t recall. But since, as they say, the memory goes first, it just may be that I’m in the initial stage of slipping into my dotage. But I certainly hope not.
Nonetheless, Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey Into the Red Light District by David Wienir, grabbed my attention in the first few pages and refused to let me go. I read it from cover-to-cover on a recent Saturday afternoon and relished every page of it.
The book is an impressive tour de force, a well-crafted work that is part travel guide, part memoir, and in large part a well-reasoned polemic on a subject that’s at the core of our very being. Wienir set out to humanize the sex workers that have for years stood in the windows of the Red Light District of Amsterdam (one of the most fascinating cities in the world), and he does so with an aplomb and verve that is surely going to raise as many eyebrows as it will have heads nodding in approval.
After many false starts and dead ends, the author was able to convince Emma, a young sex worker, to allow him to get to know and interview her. The resulting conversations were, by turns, reveling, tender, but above all else humanizing. There’s nothing the least bit exploitive in the conversations between them; instead, the retelling is in fact informative, just as was the other parts of the book that gives armchair travelers true glimpses of a city that is fascinating beyond belief.
It took Wienir 18 years of on-again, off-again writing to complete this book, and given the somewhat sensitive nature of the subject matter, I can understand why. As an accomplished attorney who has represented some of the biggest names in show business, he is risking the opprobrium of both potential clients and colleagues with this book. In other words, he has real skin in this truth-telling game.
What? A lawyer writing his flat-out version of truth? What’s the legal profession coming to?
“There is nothing corporate America likes less than someone trying the change the status quo,” said Wienir, “or worse, someone who strays from the herd.” Using another colloquialism, he has gone way, way off the reservation with this work of nonfiction.
However, I came very close to not reading the book at all. As a print and radio journalist I literally get dozens of emails a week from publicists asking me to write a review of one of their clients’ books, or have them as a guest on my radio show. Ninety-nine percent of the time I simply pass, and of the one percent of the books I do request a copy of, the vast majority of them I never completely read — and certainly don’t write a review.
Additionally, I have to admit that the title threw me at first. I certainly didn’t care to waste my time reading a salacious recounting of some dude’s journey through one of the world’s better-known fleshpots. But due to Wienir’s stellar academic credentials, I thought, “What the hell, I’ll have the publicist send me a copy, but my real intention was to play ‘gotcha.’” I wanted to catch this guy writing something that I knew to be total bullshit, so I could wag my journalistic finger in his face and call him a fraudster.
But man, was I wrong: Wienir never hits a false note, and my life experiences provide me with a basis on which to make valid judgments on the subject matter. For better or worse, I spent a good portion of my callow youth engaging in sexual escapades with women of less than stellar repute. And although I’ve never been to Amsterdam, sex work has a strong component of universality to it. Not for nothing is it the world’s oldest profession. Also, as homo sapiens, we’re keenly interested in the subject, even when we loudly protest otherwise.
Another reason I ordered a copy of the book was because I’d recently written a screed lambasting the federal government for stupidly throwing the baby out with the bathwater by shutting down Backpages, the online and hardcopy site where sex workers sell their services in the U.S. The excuse was that the site aided in the sexual trafficking of children, which is by and large a myth. Not that such child sex trafficking doesn’t exist; it does, and those responsible should be consigned to the lowest rung of Hell when they are apprehended. They should be placed under the penitentiary, not in it.
But closing down the sex site because one-tenth of one percent of the ads was questionable and akin to swatting mosquitoes with a sledgehammer. There are better ways to protect vulnerable children, and this largely meaningless gesture is simply a way for society to let itself off the hook. Now we don’t feel compelled to solve the real and systemic problems of financial inequality that are the root cause of the exploitation of children.
And now these adult sex workers will be driven back to standing on street corners to sell their wares, lowering the quality of life in certain sections of our nation’s cities. No one really thinks that the shuttering of the Backpages site is going to end prostitution, do they? But what will happen is that the number of sex crimes will increase, and in some cases dramatically. It’s a proven fact. When men don’t have a safe — albeit paid — outlet for their lusty desires they often become monsters.
Wienir does offer up a strong caveat for potential purchasers: “For those politically correct readers, or those easily offended, it is my sincere hope that you will love this book, but be forewarned that it is very real. I didn’t soften the edges — at all. To do so would be inauthentic, and defeat the purpose. I saw what I saw. What happened, happened.”
Even if the subject matter is personally distasteful to some readers, the level of writing and the philosophical reflections on life still make this book a very worthwhile summer read.
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.