She’s beaming and she’s sweaty. She’s tan, and she’s holding a fistful of dollars in one hand, and her wadded up outfit in the other. The kneepads I picked up at the store for her are now slung around her ankles. I’m walking into my shift, no makeup, and she just got done with her stage set. I’ll never forget her smile. Her warmth, every time she greets me with that grin. “Hi, mama!” It’s always the same. She’s 18, and she’s one of my favorites. She calls all of her fellow dancers “mama,” it’s not just me. She’s sweet, but very tough. She’s been through some especially hard times she once told me, but her facade of Young Bubbly Stripper hasn’t cracked yet. I want to keep her just like she is. She’s funny and charismatic, and customers eat it up as she makes faces at them onstage while “Gangnam Style” or “Thrift Shop” is blaring through the speakers. I’m happy for her. She practically jumped on me when I came back to work after being in Los Angeles for 2 weeks, and it’s experiences like these, the women I work with, the things that happen BEHIND the curtain, that have driven me to do this for so long.
“What do you like most about being sober?” my dear friend asks me, while swilling some dark beer at nice restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. I was spaced out, I take a moment to consider, and deliver this response: “Oh, I was just thinking about how I don’t like it.” “What, why??” “Because now I have to feel things.”
My friend laughs, and tells me I have a good point.
I don’t have some terrible, looming, undealt-with past that only copious amounts of benzos and booze can alleviate. I just prefer to be in that spinny, blurry state of being instead of reality. It’s more fun, and it’s what I’m used to.
That guy. That fucking guy. I’ll probably never forget him, but probably only because I jotted a note about him so I could write about it here. He had short blond hair. Told me he liked my haircut and that it reminded him of someone. When I said who, he mouthed “meeeee.” (Uh… what????) He wore a runner’s shirt, with a race name emblazoned across it that reminded me of my father, the marathon runner. His breath smelled like tuna pasta salad, and his body smelled like that almost sweet kind of sweat that exists on places like the top of your arms after working out. He was ridiculously effeminate. I was so confused about his mannerisms, and the way he presented himself contradicting the bulge in his pants. He complimented my press-on nails in a way that I can only describe as “gay.” He mentioned a girlfriend.
Later, in VIP, when I couldn’t name who originally did the song that was being played he said (with an index finger in the air): “Paula Abdul. Straight up.” I analyzed my analysis of his sexuality as closely as I could, trying to tap into my gender and sexuality studies background…. why did I even have to make it a thing? Why does the behavior of individuals have to fall into a tightly prescribed set of norms fitting the binary, and opposing gender system we’ve been prescribed? … etc. Whatever. Maybe he was bisexual. Who cares. He also seemed like he was on ecstasy, or at the very least drunk, but he swore up and down he doesn’t like to get drunk. (I didn’t bring up ecstasy.)
Before I sat down to write this, (dreading it as I always do, for I’m afraid of feelings remember,) I got excited at the prospect of taking the whole weekend off. I skipped last night, even though I paid to work. My cousin is getting married Saturday, and I entertained the idea of saying “fuck tomorrow as well.” Then I realized I left my makeup at work. Stripping lately has been a fucking roller coaster, monetarily, and mentally.
Saturday night I broke my record of Best $ Night of All Time. I made $1,122. Tuesday, I worked a shorter shift, but nonetheless then made my other record: Worst $ Night of All Time: $18. FUCK. THAT. After tipping out, and paying to work, etc. I lost money to work.
Luckily I’ve been hardened, so I didn’t cry like I did on the back steps of Deja Vu years ago after making $33 for a whole night.
Instead, something amazing happened. We in the dressing room collectively devolved into mayhem, giddiness, and outright absurd displays of behavior. The dancer with the scorpion tattoo that takes up her entire breast got most of it on someone’s phone camera.
A friend was doing somersaults one after another, across the length of the dressing room. I *finally* nailed a pole trick I’ve taken years to learn, then screaming “THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER DONE THIS!!!” in what was later described as an “Exorcist” voice. There was tit bouncing (more like flailing, because these things aren’t small;) running, and screaming. One friend tried to act out the meaning of the term “turnt up” to another.
Times like that, when faced with the fact that you didn’t make minimum wage to strip for hours, you actually lost money to strip for hours, would normally be an unbearably painful reality, possibly one that would make a fragile newbie want to hang up her stilettos forever. Everyone in the aforementioned scenario was sober, I must add. But thanks to the bonds of the women, and the ability (and necessity, that night,) to make each other literally scream with laughter on the ground, sides splitting, it just wasn’t so bad.
I’m listening to Philip Glass, trying not to sound like a privileged “Everyone Look at Me, I’m an Educated, Sane Stripper- Don’t Believe the Stereotypes!” bitch hole. Engaging with the sex worker community recently online, and for the first time ever, has been amazing, but it has made me more sensitive about how I come across when I tell my stories, and I’m glad for that.