I didn't get hired at Centerfold's. Or rather, I did get hired, after a thirty minute wait during which I had plenty of time to assess the three working dancers (not remarkably prettier than the girls at my club back home, despite Centerfold's reputation as a fearsomely picky hirer) and general atmosphere of the place (stuffy, ornate, dead empty.) Finally, the daytime manager came out and gave me a limp handshake and a bored look and some paperwork to fill out. I was working my way through the stack when he told me he couldn't book me that week, but I could come back next. I told him I was only in town for the week, so that wouldn't work, and got a reaction so melodramatically negative I can only assume that a stripper from Texas who was only in town for a week must have murdered his entire family and burned his village to the ground. I was told that "girls from out of town have no incentive to follow the rules" and escorted unceremoniously from the premises.
Fortunately, the only other strip club in Boston, the Glass Slipper, is right next door. Like, literally, right next door. I invited myself in. It was different -- a tiny place, like a neighborhood bar that just happened to have a naked lady dancing on a stage behind the bar. I found out later the club had moved from it's 21-year home across the street the Friday before. The decor was nice and new and managerially everything was sort of in chaos.
Everyone was friendly to me right off the bat. In strip club context, this is not necessarily a good thing. It smacks of desperation. Still, I needed a place to work, and the other clubs were out in the suburbs, many subway transfers and train rides and taxi fares away from me. And I did see customers, a nice row of them sitting along the bar like ducks in a shooting gallery. Good.
They wanted me to come back the next day to dance, so I took the afternoon to walk around Boston in the surprisingly nice weather and showed up the next morning bright and early. I was the first girl on stage, and some Irish guy tipped me $20 (an unheard of stage tip in Texas) and told me I had a nice can. And really, it never got better than that.
A dump doesn't have to look like a dump to be a dump. The customers, though grumpy and aggrieved in that unique New England style, were bearable. The place didn't smell. But it was awful. Probably it's the fact the management here makes it impossible for their dancers to earn money, consequently attracting only girls who (a) can't get hired as dancers anywhere else (b)are genuintly too dumb or too cracked out to work at McDonald's.
You see, there are no lapdances in Boston. Dancers can't touch customers unless they are fully dressed. Customers can't directly hand money to dancers. With money and touching -- more or less the life-blood of the strip club transaction -- off limits, what's left is a pretty pale experience for everyone. Now, you can give a "private dance" back in the brand-new "private dance area" -- a bathroom-sized space with restaurant-booth-style seating around the walls, where a dancer can remove her dress and panties and prance around buck-ass (except for shoes) as long as she stays three feet away from you at all times and her gentle admirer sits on his hands. Oh, and a bouncer is back there with you, watching every move either of you makes. Now, I pride myself on being able to create an intimate experience out of pretty much nothing, but this was tough.
And I'm almost forgetting, the process of buying a private dance -- what with handing a girl money constituting prostitution and all -- is positively Soviet in it's baroquely bureaucratic complexity. The customer gives $25 to the bartender, and then you go back to the private room to wait. The bartender goes and buys a ticket -- looks just like a carnival ticket and says "Admit One" -- from the doorgirl, who then gives the ticket to the floor-guy, who goes outside to make a phone-call and then maybe has a beer before coming back over and handing the ticket to the customer, who hands the ticket to you, and then you get naked. If you happen to touch the customer lightly on the shoulder or leg while waiting you are Out.
I'm dead sure that this process could be streamlined and dead sure that it won't be, not any time soon. The club hasn't got much incentive to make it easy to sell dances, since they are "only" keeping $10 of the $25 price of admission. The club would much rather the dancers sat at the bar all day selling "ladies drinks", which cost $30 and consist of watered-down Sunny-D or black cherry Kool-Aid. The agreement is that you will sit and flirt with the customer while you drink the drink. For this, the club gives you a cut of $4. Yup. Four fucking dollars. You can't drink more than one drink every ten minutes, either, effectively limiting your income to $24 an hour. The club, in that hour, will make $156.
The first day, I hustled my ass off, worked a double and made a pinch over $300. In Texas, this is the kind of night I would bitch about all the way home. At the Glass Slipper, managers were all over me like I'd pulled off some kind of economic miracle. Yuck. And the general manager's hands, on which I fixated each night while he counted out my money, were white with scaly, star-shaped warts, or maybe it was leprosy.
The girls who stick around for this kind of bullshit are girls for whom $24 an hour is money they just couldn't make any other way. There was a fat girl -- not thick, not heavy, not curvy, fat -- with a gap between her front teeth who wore fish nets and a blond wig and staggered around all day with a boozy smile, like something from another century. There was a sad-looking girl with a muddy complexion and many scars who, once fully nude on stage for the last song of her set, would reach down and sort of milk her vagina until a few drops of whitish fluid dribbled onto the stage. With these notable exceptions, the girls were not that ugly. The black girls especially were lovely, as is often the case in racist areas where they can't get hired at better clubs. I don't know why they put up with it. Dumb, maybe? Used to being taken advantage of and treated like shit, so what does it matter?
I lasted three days, but the strain of making so much money for the club and so little for myself was making me bitter and bored. On my last day, I found I'd really rather sit at a corner booth and read the Wall Street Journal than troll for surly guys to buy me Kool-Aid. Four dollars hasn't been enough to motivate me since I was, like, five years old. I swore I wouldn't smoke in Boston, but on my last day I was up on the fire escape outside the fourth-floor dressing room sucking ash. Since the typical fire-escape grating acts like a cattle-guard for girls in stilletto heels, someone has thoughtfully put down a few sheet of cardboard to keep us from spraining our ankles and falling to our deaths. From here we can look down the alley at men and women with briefcases and J. Crew sweaters hurry to and fro, tiny as ants. Maria, a cute, thin Puerto Rican hoodrat with glasses, joined me and asked what kind of day I was having. I assumed my expression of kabuki calmness and said I was doing alright, though I wasn't.
"Well, I'm doing bad," Maria said. She started telling me about her best friend, who used to be a dancer but now has a pimp and is flying around to Vegas and L.A. making three thousand dollars a night, or so she says, and how she showed up at Maria's apartment last Christmas Eve with a carful of presents for Maria's son. "It look like she bought out the whole fucking Toys R' Us," Maria said. She gets wistful. "I sure would like to have that money. I'm thinking about fucking around with them for a while. She says he's real nice, says he don't put his hands on his hoes hardly."
I'm not one to make other people's decisions for them, but I ventured that if I were going to enter the realms of prosititution, I'd be working for myself and keeping my own money.
"Nah, mami, I know," she said. "But he looks out for you. Like just now, I'm sittin at the bar rubbin on this guy's dick, and he put fifty dollars on the bar and say if I get him off I can keep it. So I rub him off and he cum in his pants, then he take the fifty off the bar and give me ten. And there ain't nothing I can do about it. If I have a pimp, he'da make sure I get my money."