Saturday, December 29, 2007

fivefourthreetwooneblastOFF

I'm not at work. I'm not even in Texas. I'm holed up under a feather comforter in my brother's new house in the bleak mid-western city where he lives with his wife and eleven-month-old daughter.

The house is huge, swank, and located in an exclusive neighborhood of old trees and other nearly identical huge, swank houses. I don't think any member of my family as ever lived in a house and neighborhood like this before, ever. But we have always wanted to.

His wife is a doctor, see. She works in adult medicine at a city hospital, which has got to be one of the most thankless jobs in the profession. Her patients are all sicker than sick, most of them with chronic illnesses that only get worse. They might live relatively pain-free, she says, if they would take a modicum of responsibility for their own health, but they don't, so they end up in the hospital. Lots of them die, essentially of laziness and stupidity. That's her take on it anyway.

But, she makes a lot of money and has a really nice house and a semi-psychotic trophy husband to stay home and take care of the baby, cook her nice meals, and clean his guns. So somebody in my family married money, after all.

My brother. The handsome one. He got the blue eyes and the ash-blond hair and the eyebrows arched like one clean stroke of ink. He got the brains, too, and he got something else. I don't know what to call it. Men in my family are cursed, and I was supposed to be a man, but I'm not. I only felt the shadow of it but my brother got the full dose of doom. I always wanted him to love me, but I see now that he couldn't.

I recognize little things. Like yesterday I was looking for coffee in the pantry and found the half-eaten bar of chocolate wrapped up and hidden in an old canister. Food hoarding. Weird, residual instinct. I've done it, too, but not in years. Only in times of stress. Food under the bed. Food in the top left drawer of the dresser where no one can see it, no one can find it. Just in case. It's not the food you need as much as the secret.

When my brother and I were small, I didn't know we were poor. Life on the farm was pretty idyllic, in a Tom Sawyer way, if you filtered out my mom's trips to the hospital and my dad's rare but terrifying outburts. My brother was the one who taught me we were poor. He taught me not to ask for toys or treats or second helpings at dinner. He taught me that having things is a zero sum game and every bite you swallow comes from someone else's mouth.

And now he lives in this house, this enormous house. This house with rooms that they don't even use. He is making himself ugly, bit by bit. He fights, MMA, and his ear is permanently fucked. He shaves his head and tries not to be the handsome one.

He's sweet with the baby, though. Plays peekaboo and tosses her in the air and spoons mush expertly into her tiny mouth, like dads are supposed to do.

She's a pretty cool baby. She learned to walk about a month ago. She takes a lot of face plants, but gets up without a tear and keeps trying. I could watch her fall down and get back up all day.

I haven't thought about whether I'll be dancing in the future, and I won't bore you or myself with the details of the last couple of weeks. Well, just this: my last night, an occasional customer of mine I call John the Gimp paid me again to flick ash and spit loogies in his beer and "make" him drink it. When John the Gimp started coming to see me, I had to fake a lot of the agression. But over the nearly a year I've known him, I've come to hate him nearly as much as he wants me to. I wish he wouldn't come to see me, but he does. I tell him to give me the money and shut the fuck up.

He shuts up, but only for a little at a time. Then he's sniveling again. "Could you please -- oh, mistress, could you please -- could you blow your nose on this napkin and feed it to me?"

"Shut up," I say. "You're disgusting, you know that? I mean it. You make me sick."

"Oh, yes. Oh, yes."

I blow my nose and push the napkin into his loser mouth. He waits til he thinks I'm not looking and then quietly takes the napkin out and puts it in his pocket. I wonder, not for the first time, which of us is really being degraded.

So anyway, maybe I'll dance again and maybe I won't. I'm not deciding right now. I'm just enjoying this feather comforter for all that it's worth. Which, given how my bro lives now, is probably a lot.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

six: funny story

Friday night: holiday parties in full swing. And since it's chic and edgy for co-ed groups to go strip-clubbing these days, lots of civilian ladies with their tanned and moisturized civilian flesh hanging out of their civilian clubbing clothes.

The night's a blur, really. I was tired, and I was drinking: Two Bud Lites with an Asian guy who kept chanting "Jesus help me" while I danced, but must have liked it anyway, because he dropped a pretty penny. A Jack and Coke with Brit who wanted to know why some girls like other girls. Shots with some young Indian guys. More beer with some girl and her cowboy boyfriend. White Russians with another Brit.

It was well after midnight. The chairs had all been pushed away from tables, and the tables had all been shoved around, and the whole floor was one vast obstacle course through which I was weaving when I caught the eye of a man so non-descript I couldn't tell you the first thing about him, except his shirt was blue.

He waved me over and I sat on his lap and we were well into negotiations when there was some lady hovering near us whom he introduced as his wife. Strip club ettiquette, such as it is, dictates I offer her the first dance, and I did. She waved me off.

"I've bought about a million dances for her tonight," this dude said. "I want a dance for me."

Fine. The old song ends. The new song starts. I get up. He grabs my wrists and pulls me down. "You know what I like?" he says. "I want you to twist my nipples really hard. Make it hurt. Can you do that?"

Sure, guy. What the fuck ever. I ask if he'd like to go to the private dance area. He hands me $60. "Do it here."

I dance. I pull his hair a little bit and pinch his nips, because I am a dedicated hussy and I aim to please. He gasps. "Oh, you fucking bitch," he hisses. "Do it harder, bitch."

I don't like to be called a bitch, so I slap his face, just a little bit. He moans and tries to grab my tits. Over my shoulder I hear his wife say "You can't do that," but back off lady. I take care of myself.

I grab his wrists and pull them over his head, dig my knee into his thigh, and tower over him so he must lean way, way back. I lean down and whisper in his ear that he's a nasty, nasty boy. A dirty, squirming little slut. His eyes squeeze shut in ecstacy. "Make it hurt," he moans. "Make it hurt, make it hurt, make it hurt."

The old song ends. The new song starts. There seem to me more people around us now. I do his buttons down, reach inside his shirt and take his nipple between ring finger and thumb. I don't know what's gotten in me. I must have tasted blood. "Bitch," he screams, "You fucking dirty BITCH."

I hear his wife again, "You can't do that, Stan" or whatever his name is. I feel a little sorry for her, but I don't give a fuck really, about their nice little walk-on-the-wild-side office party. I don't give a fuck about her Pashmina shawl and salon highlights or their fifteen years of mediocre domesticity. I don't give a fuck about his six-figure job, or his cocksucker boss sitting wide-eyed over there. They're all in my house now. He makes another wild grab at my tits and I slap him again, hard. I whisper sweetly in his ear: "I'm going to fuck you up, asshole."

Then there's another lady bending over us, a blond, the nice friend of the family who volunteers at the homeless shelter and runs in marathons, and she is telling him firmly that he must stop. His eyes are glazed. She won't get anything from him. I push her hair aside and ask if I should disappear. Her looks says she's surprised that I speak English, but it also saysyes and thank you, so I go.

The crowd is thick and it's easy to disappear. The gimp paid me for three dances and got one and a half. Sorry, gimp.

Ten minutes later I'm on the couch in VIP with some guy named Patrick or something. I'm smiling and writhing and he's giving me his phone number and telling me he and his friends are getting together at his house later and I should come.

"Silly, you don't really want me at your house."

"Oh, yes I do," he says.

"Oh, no you don't."

Friday, December 14, 2007

seven: petty shit

So that guy and I did have coffee, and he didn't ask to put his tongue in my ass. Instead we had a very productive conversation about state mental health policy, which led to him telling me about being abused as a kid and later institutionalized for bipoilar disorder back in the 60's.

I told him about having major depressive disorder and he stretched his hand across the table and said, "The only thing I still don't know how to deal with is the loneliness. I've done so well in life and I have a lot to be proud of, and sometimes I feel so alone that it just doesn't matter. I don't know how to be with people unless I'm working." He asked me if I was ever lonely.

Huh. You know, I've had variations of this conversation over and over in the last few years. I have met this man -- this lonely, successful man -- so many times, but never while fully dressed. And you know, it makes a difference. With my pants on, I felt less threatened, less overwhelmed, less tragic. Clothing gave me distance, and distance bred a truer compassion.

I told him the thing that makes me feel best is to subsume my own tortured ego to the service of others, and to find ways to belong to groups in whose aim and purpose I believe. And he nodded, and he said I had a friend in him, and he said he would help me and my project in any way he could. And we shook hands. "I respect what you're doing," he says.

Thanks, dude.

I went in to work that night. When I stripped my jeans off in the locker room I realized I hadn't shaved my legs in the several days since I'd been to work. The sink in the dancers' bathroom was clogged and overflowing. It often is. I don't know if the plumbing is just completely shoddy (probably) or if girls are forever dropping cigarettes and used napkins down the drain (also, probably) but anyhow, it's gross.

I went out to the old sinks in the dim hallway behind the stage, where the old bathroom used to be, hopped up on the counter, and put my feet in the sink. I had just finished shaving and was wiping the counter down with a paper towel when the manager rushed back -- the "handsome" one all the girls have crushes on -- and asks me what the hell I think I'm doing.

Shaving my legs, I say.

"Yeah. You can't do that back here, honey. This sink is for customers."

Bullshit. We are in the hallway behind the stage between the dancers' dressing room and a random room where Christmas decorations are stored in the off-season. No one comes back here.

"Dancers have their own bathroom, sweetie," he says. Like I don't know this. Like I haven't worked here almost two years. Does he even recognize me? Hello?

I tell him the sink in the dancer's bathroom is clogged, and maybe he can talk to someone about getting it cleared. It's like he doesn't hear me.

"Don't. Do it. Again," he says, in the loud, simple tone of voice people use on children and pets. "OK?"

"Where am I supposed to go?"

He raises his hand in a shushing gesture. "Just do as I say, OK?" He turns on his heel with out waiting for an answer, and he's gone.

Stupid little interaction. Annoying moment. Trivial. The kind of thing you ought to forget about the second it's over. But I brood about it for the next half hour. I hate being treated like a child. I hate it so much.

I know managers have to deal with a lot of dumb, drunk, young girls. But I've been here for a long time. I'm never dumb, rarely drunk, and have never caused a second's trouble for anybody here. I wish that counted for something, for anything.

The rest of the night is unremarkable, till the last thirty minutes, which I spent with some giggly, ham-faced guy who tells me within minutes of sitting down with him that he has "a lot of money, if that counts for anything."

I take him to the couch for dances and climb onto his lap. He tries to stick his hand under thong all sneaky. I climb off his lap, put a safe distance between us, and give a dance that consists mainly of striking sexy poses while defending myself from his marauding hands. "You're so hot," he says. "Are you going to cum? Are you, baby? Are you going to cum?"

Er, I'm two feet away from you, standing up, swaying back and forth and slapping at your wrists. But yeah, sure, I'm going to cum. Just give me a another song baby, and I will have a mind-blowing, earth-shattering orgasm after which I will fall in love with you, take you home, and give you oral sex til dawn. Seriously, just one more song.

This goes on until last call and the DJ turns off the music and the lights come up. Grabby McPhee pulls out his wallet, hands me thirty bucks, and says "That should cover it, right?"

"No."

"Well, how much do I owe you?"

"It's $20 a song and we did six songs."

"No way."

"Yes."

He says he has to go ask his friend for more money. He says his friend is outside and he will go talk to him. He says he will be right back.

I say no. I follow him to the front door and take firm hold of his sleeve. I say, call your friend on his cel phone and tell him he has to come back inside and bail you out because you're a retard with no self-control who's really bad at math.

Fortunately, the friend comes back in at that exact moment, before things get really ugly. The friend seems like a very nice guy, raises his eyebrows at his friend, and pays me my $90. I hope Grabby catches shit about this from all his friends for a month. I also hope he catches crabs someday, if he doesn't have them already.

These small things. These little moments of indignity. These things I will not miss.

Friday, December 07, 2007

eight: decay and fall

All night there's this table of rich dudes on the main floor behind the DJ booth. Early in the evening, I approach the guy at the head of the table and unpack my charm, but he's guarded and dismissive. Geez, dude.

In his front pocket there a wad of "funny money", the club's mechanism for charging dances to credit cards. He must have a thousand dollars folded up in his pocket there. But he's making it plain in no uncertain terms that I am the kind of girl he wouldn't stoop to scrape off his shoe with a stick, so I buzz off and figure I'll come back later when he's drunk.

The club is slow that night, and back in the dressing room the talk is all about this table of guys. How much money they have, how little they want to spend it. They are the top brass of some Atlanta-based construction company, in town to romance prospective clients. I stop by once in a while to cut a junior officer from the herd and make a spare bit of scratch, but there are girls all over that table like sea birds on a tidepool. In fact, nearly ALL the girls are over there, which leaves the rest of the customers to just a few of us. Not a bad thing.

Except by the last few hours of the night, the customers are all bored with the small number of girls not pursuing the El Dorado of that folded wad of funny money. Soon all the regular guys go home. The table from Atlanta is still there, though their battleline has broken and scattered. The captain, the one I spoke to earlier, sits slumped and alone. I got over and perch lightly on the arm of his chair.

"Damn, you've got an ass," he says, barely looking up. He is an old man. Old. A night of drinking hasn't made him any younger. His eyes are bloodshot and his face is a map of lines. His speech is slurred so I bend down to hear him and he is offering me a thousand dollars to go back to his hotel room where he and his friend will double-team me. I look at his friend, a spry lad in his sixties, who nods confirmation. These two old men want to run the train on me. "I've got to put my tongue in that ass," my new friend says. "A thousand dollars. How does that sound?"

And I think: you dumb fuck.

And I think: Tithonos, all withered but your lust, aching forever towards the dawn.

And I think of a lyric in "Else" by Built to Spill: your body breaks/your needs consume you forever. It's better when you sing it, even better when you are singing along with it in the car on some mix-tape from some long-forgotten boyfriend, driving through a foggy late winter dusk in the city, and you pull up to a stoplight and a bum taps on your window and pats his knuckles on his lips in the international gesture meaning "I have none; give me yours."

I declined the offer from the guys from Atlanta, and went back to the dressing room to take off my shoes and sit on the floor by my locker and smoke.

When I got home I had an e-mail, in my real-life legitimate inbox, from a man I met on Monday while working on Dayjob Project. This nice retired guy volunteers helping troubled youth, and since this is tangentially related to the aims of my work, we got into conversation and exchanged business cards and agreed to have coffee later on. His e-mail follows up on that. At the end he signs off, "Look forward to seeing you again."

Which is so harmless. Which is nothing. It's just the way you end a letter to someone when you're making plans to meet them. But I feel anxious and ill and weird, like all of a sudden in the middle of coffee he's going to lean across the table and ask if he can put his tongue in my ass.

If he even puts his hand on my knee, I think I will scream.

I will scream.

It's a stupid thought, but I haven't been able to shake it, and I've felt strange ever since I woke up.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

nine: and then again

So then the next night was wonderful. I walked out of the dressing room and ran slambang into D., the sweet kid (well, he's my age) who's been coming to see me here and there for a couple of weeks.

They're a distinct type, these shy boys. They're cute and funny, prime boyfriend material, and when I meet them at work I'm not really sure why they're here in a strip club with me and not home spooning on the couch with a cutie during the Daily Show. Except they never have girlfriends and they seem really deprecating about the whole idea that they could ever have them.

C. was like this when he was younger. A late-bloomer and a virgin til 21 (when he was deflowered by a childhood friend who had become the town whore) he got the idea in his head somehow that girls were just not for him. Around 25 he had some kind of mysterious Saul-of-Tarsus moment of epiphany, after which he got laid like crazy for a couple of years and then met me. If I knew the secret of his converstion I would bottle it and sell it, but he says it just happened.

In the meantime, they pay me to get naked, and I pocket their money and no harm, no foul. I think D. might have a genuine crush on me, though. Oh well. He's a smart kid. He'll survive.

After D. left a waitress came and told me someone was looking for me, and lo and behold it was John Wayne, my irregular regular who splooged during a dance in the Champagne Room last time I saw him and then disappeared. Our reunion was awkward and affectionate. Pro forma, he asked me back to his hotel room and I said no, and we parted friends.

After that I made a random lump sum from some guy I'd never seen before who claimed to be a long-time regular of the club. I believe him; he had the professional regular vibe. These guys usually hate me, and it's mutual. I'm neither hot enough to be their evening's glamour queen nor slutty enough to give them something juicy to post about on ASPD, but I must have had my mojo working because this one rolled for me like a cream puff.

I ended the night back on the couches with some wild Lebanese dude who only wanted me to sit on his lap and stare into his eyes for $20 a song. "I love you," he said. "You are different. You are special. You are unique."

Sometimes you have to take a breath and remind yourself that just because some weird Lebanese dude in a strip club is telling you these things in between yelling for shots of vodka doesn't mean they aren't true.

"You are beautiful," he is still saying when I tune back in some time later. "You are amazing. I will hold you until the morning. I will never let you go. We will listen to jazz records and smoke pot together all day."

About thirty minutes into this I start getting nervous. I should have gotten my money up front. My intuition gives it fifty/fifty that he'll skip his tab, or pass out without paying me, or forget that I've been dancing this whole time, or claim he though dances cost $5. Some jive.

I'm gearing up to try and extract some cash from him in the here and now before he has a meltdown and gets taken away in an ambulance, but then DJ announces last call, and to my utter surprise, the dude takes out his wallet, pays the full (substantial) sum owed, tips, and wishes me a good night.

All in all, so sweet and easy. No one stiffed me. No one called me names. No one tried to zing me in the cooter.

This is the kind of night I'll be thinking about when I'm getting all rheumy and nostalgic in the nursing home about my glory days as a high-priced hootchie-cootchie girl. I must have talked to a score on asshats last night, too, but they are forgotten and nothing's left in my mind but the feel of swaying through a crowded room on six-inch heels, the glitter of a sequin on a dress, the smell of money on my hands.

Monday, December 03, 2007

ten

Well, gang, this might be it. I'm putting my clothes back on, at least for now. I wanted you to be the first to know.

Mr. B came in last night and we spent a sweet and quiet evening in the VIP. It will be our last. B. is not renewing his VIP membership. The managers have changed their minds too many times about what is and isn't included in the VIP membership, and he's tired of the nonsense. And anyway, he's probably gotten the maximum psychological benefit out of having naked girls on his lap. When he started coming to the club late last fall he was overweight and shy, hadn't been laid in eight years, and didn't even remember (he says) what it was like to have a conversation with a girl.

"Coming here was like a dress rehearsal, practice" he says. "To remind me how to be with women." I feel good about my role in B.'s adventures in Lapland. I'm glad he's smart enough to quit while he's ahead.

This club's gotten strange lately. Or maybe it's me, noticing things I didn't used to notice. The dressing room seems filthier. Plates of half-eaten food and the dead remains of two dozen Bacardi-pineapples and Redbull-vodkas sit on the make-up counter all night. The lightbulbs die and no one replaces them. The new girls they're hiring now are very young, or have bad skin and bellies. It's not kind of me to notice, but it's a bad sign.

I see the new girls come in, flocks of them wheeling through the messy dressing room like seagulls, squeaky voices and eyes shiny with excitement and Jagermeister. I'm 27 and I'm old. It doesn't matter if the club has changed, or if it's me. When you feel like this, it's time to go.

B. leaves and I spent the rest of the night in VIP with a forty-something "credit specialist" who tells me he did two years in Huntsville for a three-strikes DUI. "I never joined a fucking gang," he says. "I'm not a racist. I was alone. I got beat up a lot of times. The worst thing was to see what people do to each other. Because I love people, and I hate to see it." He coughs, and then a tear rolls out one ice-colored eye. I hold him and kiss his cheek.

From the corner of one eye I see one of the new girls come in with a guy by the hand. They sit on the couch catty-corner to us. She straddles his lap reverse cowgirl and leans forward to put her hands on the floor. She rubs her crotch vigorously over his and he reaches down and grabs her tits full-handed and squeezes. I can't read her face at all.

My ex-con whispers in my ear that he'd like a girl to fuck him in the ass with a dildo, and do I think that's strange. No, I say. I think that's fine. "You're so sweet," he says. "You're just the sweetest woman. I never met a girl like you."

I'll work ten more days. Till the end of the month. Then something else, I don't know what. A woman I met at a professional mixer last month offered to do fundraising for Dayjob Project. She's a pro and she's working for me pro-bono because she loves the project. I trust her. She'll get me some money. That's six months away, though, at least.

What I'll do till then is anybody's guess. I could cocktail waitress at the club or at some other club. I could sell my body to medical studies, the way I did when I was 19. I could teach yoga. Or any combination of the above.

I could change my mind tomorrow and keep taking my top off to Fitty Cent for the next five years, or whenever C. plans on being done with school. I don't think so though. I think I'm through. At least for now.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

mcdonald's money

That's what we call it. It means that, in dollar-per-hour terms, you didn't make any more for dressing up and curling your hair and offering yourself to the general public for $20 a rub than you would have made deep-frying chicken mcnuggets for the drive-thru.

Usually when we say this we're exaggerating. Minimum wage being what it is, and taxes being what they are, you would be freaking lucky to leave the Fry Hut at the end of the shift netting $50. And it is darn, darn hard to make less than fifty bucks as a stripper most days, if you bother to leave the dressing room at all. Then again, having manned many a deep-fryer in my time, with the splattering of ancient grease-burn scars up my forearms to prove it, I might still rather dance.

It's been a long time since I've made McDonald's money, though it has happened before. My worst shift ever, I made $4. Actually, I'd paid the house $15 to work, so technically I left the club $11 in the red. It was a tough day.

This month I had two days under $100, which is worrisome. The first night, I failed to sous out and escape from a real vampire of a customer, the kind who just drains you of any will to live. Early in the night he told me he didn't buy dances, or if he did, he would only pay 2-4-1, because "really, they're not worth it. You know that right?" I should have walked away right then, but it was slow. Plus, he said he did give girls money to sit with him. "I want to be like your friend," he said. "Just come by and talk to me once in a while, and at the end of the evening, I'll give you whatever it takes to help make your night a good one."

Do I even have to tell you the rest? I sat with him periodically throughout the night, which continued to be slow, endured his jabs and put-downs, flattered his insufferable vanity, fed his self-obsession. At the end of the night he asked me how I'd done. "Not good," I said. "I could really use some of that help you mentioned."

He smirked. "I think I spent all the money I want to spend," he said. "You haven't really been coming by that much. And you haven't been that fun for the last hour or so. You must be tired."

"I am tired. I'm really, really tired, and I haven't made any money." I stretched my arms out on the table and folded forward onto them. I let my back and shoulders shield me from the room and the lights and the Top 40 rock and Mr. Whatsisname shifting around uncomfortably in his chair. Stillness came over me and I rested my head for a long time.

"I have to go," Whatsisname said. I heard him getting up and I felt a bundle of bills bounce next to my ear. I know the sound and smell and feel of money even in deep repose. When I sat up, with no idea how long I'd been down, I gathered the money up and took it back to the dressing room. Unfolded and smoothed out the crumpled bills and turned them all the same way up. It was $7.

People like that will ruin as much as you let them. Your coffee break, your evening, your best years, whatever you let them have. I can't remember the last time I felt so profoundly negative towards a customer, and in that way I gave him even more of my time. The next night was bad for me, and the next night, too.

But yesterday I said a prayer and put on my fightin' fishnets and had a decent afternoon. It was slow again. By five o'clock, the youngest girls were either drunk, crying, going home, or all of the above. I had no single good customer. The crying girls were right -- they were all cheap bastards with attitudes. But you hit it, and hit it, and hit it, and in the end it adds up.

The 19-year-old brunette with the glasses and the premature worry lines is crouched on the floor between two rows of lockers, whispering into her phone. "Forty dollars," she says. "Forty dollars, baby. I made forty dollars." I don't know why they all call their boyfriends when things go wrong. Like there's anything he can say or do.

She has her pants half on and the contents of her bag are spread across the floor. It's quitting time for this one. Times get lean enough, you don't even feel sorry. You just think "more for the rest of us" and you just keep walking.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

fucking off

Sunday night, $10 dance night, dead as a stone. Economic downturns hit the luxury market first, and leave us naked girls -- pneumatic, Lycra-clad little luxury objects that we are -- sitting at the bar with our chins in our hands.

Late night it picks up a bit. I got on stage for the umpteenth time and there's a lady in a T-shirt at my tip-rail. Lady customers in titty-bars are a questionable quantity. They hate their husband for bringing them, and me for being there. Or they've got something to prove and prove it by slapping my ass and biting my nipples just as mean and rude as the nastiest male customer ever born. Yeah, I'm real iffy about wimmins in clubs. But shut my mouth, this chick is into me. She's got her chin tilted up and her eyes all big like the cutest little stripling boy who ever lived. She positively glows. I do my thing and she tips me, and then she goes back to the table she's sitting with and gets a bunch more dollars and tips me some more and then I get off main stage and go to one of the satellites and she follows me, tipping, tipping, tipping.

I get off stage and go over to her table. "Hello, future wife," I say. She's a sweet little elfin Hispanic lady, probably pushing forty, classy vibe. Probably a professional of some kind. Smart. Her name is Veronica. She buys a dance, and dancing for her is so freaking fun. I am concious that I am letting her get away with a little too much, especially right out here on the main floor in front of the main stage. But I love the way she handles me. Her hands are confident and strong. I want to bite her. I restrain myself.

I sit with her too long after the dances are over. We drink a drink. She talks so dirty to me, I'm swooning. Finally I drag myself up and away. I've got to make money. It's been slow all week. I'm behind. A youngish man flags me down. I start to sit on his lap, but he waves me into the chair next to him. "My girlfriend's in the bathroom but she's been waiting for you all night," he says. "She really likes you."

Well, cool. It's nice to be liked by women. It doesn't surprise me anymore when guys want to nail me, but when women do, it's shocking and flattering and intimidating like I'm a teenager all over again. His girlfriend comes back and she's stunning, with eyes like Angelina Jolie. I know celebrity comparisons are lame, but serious, that's exactly what they look like. She's got on this little cashmere sweater and talks in a clipped, polished voice that I used to think was affected, but now know is just the way people with money talk when they're shy. "I saw you playing with that other girl," she says. "I wanted to come over and join you."

I talk her into a couch dance, which we end up doing a couple of, and then she excuses herself and tell me to wait right there. She comes back with my first friend by the hand. "I thought we could share a dance," she says. Veronica is giggling. Hell, yeah.

So they molest me for a couple of songs, and I am overcome with the visuals of it. They are both so pretty. Unfortunately, I can't really feel it, the way I can't really feel 80% of what happens in the club. Even if someone is nice, even if they're good-looking, even if they smell just right, I'm still at work.

I'm thinking about whether the next song has started yet and worrying about whether you are going to pay me, and making sure that everbody stays that critical inch or two away from the pink that is all the difference between everything being OK and getting clobbered with a shoe in the dressing room for being an extras girl. I'll be jilling myself for weeks on the memory of this encounter, but I'm sad to say that at the time I might as well have been being wrapped in a quilt and lightly pelted with small bean-bags for all the sexual impact of the experience.

I seem to feels things less and less. Not just at work, but everywhere. It's as though my senses were dimming one by one, leaving me in a world of numbness and fog and muffled sounds. It's not too noticeable, unless I'm doing something that requires my full physical presence, like conducting business on the dayjob, or fucking my boyfriend. Then it is sad and frustrating to know that I'm not really there. The rest of the time I drift.

Sometimes I have to think to know what room I'm in, and who is there with me. Sometimes I can't beleive that I'm awake. I need my meds, adjusted probably, because this is stage one. Stage two is sleeping all day long. Stage three is horrible.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

the giver

Last night I sat on my friend Maria's couch, watching her coax her live-in boyfriend Arthur into getting her a glass of water from the kitchen. Her eyes were droopy and winsome as a sleepy puppy's, her legs curled listlessly under her in the cushions. "Please, baby? Please?"

I was fascinated. It was so foreign. The art of asking for things, making people want to tell you yes. I can pull it off sometimes, but I haven't mastered it, can't do it on command. And honestly, I've never liked the kind of men it works on best.

It's not working on Arthur. Arthur has narrow lips and pale eyes. Arthur is thin and wry. It's a hard type to coax. Coaxing works better on fleshy folks, full-lipped, dark-eyed folks. They like it. Arthur is kicked back in his chair, amused, watching Maria work. He likes the bedroom eyes, but he's not getting the water.

I like Arthur's type, the bloodless type with the cold blue flame. Last time I was at their house he and I hugged goodbye for a fraction too long. I think Maria noticed.

Mr. K has been to see me twice now. He's a U.S.-educated Indian, young and well-placed in the tech industry; handsome, wealthy, and sheltered; fanciful, sweet, and lonely. Dark-eyed. Full-lipped.

The first time he took me back to the Champagne Room he tried to put his hand in my thong and I told him no, and he hugged me and told me if I ever needed anything --anything--all I had to do was ask.

"I'm a giver," he said. "I'm a giver, not a taker. I want to take care of people. I love to take care of people."

His family wants him to get married. They would arrange a marriage for him. They are wealthy, and would find him the prettiest, nicest, most cultured girl money could buy. "But what if she doesn't really like me?" he wants to know. "What if she's just pretending to like me because I have a good job and live in the U.S. and have a lot of money?"

I nod understandingly. I do understand. At least, I've got a vivid imagination, and that sounds like quite a pickle. I don't point out that, of course, the reason I'm here is that he's got a lot of money, too. That would be tactless. Besides, he must already know. Isn't that part of what's so reassuring about paying a stripper to hang out with you? You don't have to wonder if she's doing it for the money. She's doing it for the money. And when you're sick of her doing it, or out of money, no hard feelings.

Mr. K loves to travel, and play tennis, and, apparently, take care of people. He really is a catch. Maybe. For a certain kind of girl. I don't know why he's chosen me, though, because I'm not that kind of girl. I have no idea how to let someone take care of me. I don't even know what that means, really, but the whole idea make me sort of suspicious. You don't get something for nothing, right?

"I won't ask you to be my girlfriend," Mr. K says. "I know that's not appropriate. I just want to come and talk to you once in a while. And I just want you to call me if there's ever anything I can do for you. Anything. Can I bring you presents? What kind of things do you like?"

Uh. I'm such a bad stripper. I don't even know what to ask for. Seriously, I have no idea. Pay my bills? Give me diamonds? Maybe I should work up to that.

Mr. K tells me he wants to adopt a child. He doesn't think he will ever get married, now, because he is too old. "My years are almost over," he says. "But I would like to pass on what I have to someone." He's 33.

I suggest he adopt a cat, and he really liked the idea. He asks if I'll go to the shelter and help him pick on out. "Then when I am petting it I will always think of you." I resist making a joke about petting the pussy. I say I might go with him, maybe. We'll see. I wouldn't mind actually.

My guilt and suspicion over accepting things from someone so (pathologically?) eager to give them are abating. If giving presents really, really makes him happy, why deny him that pleasure? He'll just find another girl to wax generous with if I do. Another girl whose better at accepting presents. And I don't want that. I'll just have to work on my bedroom eyes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

dear john

An Open Letter to the Strip-Club-Going Public About Some Things I Can't Beleive You Don't Already Know:

Dear Strip Club Customers:
There are customers out there who treat us like equals, pay us what they owe us, and respect our boundaries. Then there are sociopaths and anti-social personality types who make up 3.6 percent of the adult population -- probably a higher percentage of the strip-club-going population because these types have more trouble than usual forming the kind of normal, intimate, adult relationship that might lead to the removal of clothing, thus necessitating the purchase of service.

Then there's the rest of you. You are not sociopaths, but neither have you the strong inner compass that allows you to bring your personal ethics with you into unfamiliar environments. You look around you to gaugue appropriate behavior, and you do whatever other people are doing. If those other people are sociopaths, you go with the flow.

Take comfort, however. Going to a strip club is not nearly as confusing a moral environment as you may suppose. Girls are walking up to you and begging permission to take their clothes off, which doesn't happen to most of us much in real life, but space-time is not collapsing in on itself and all bets are not off. You are in America in the 20th century and the women walking around in their underwear are very possibly the same women you saw walking around in the grocery store earlier, and many, though not all, of the same rules and standards are in effect. So here's a reminder of some things you may not have thought about:

1. You have no idea how disgusting you are when you're drunk. Now I am no teetotaler, and a nice buzz is a fine thing. But there is nothing -- nothing -- as unsexy as a drunk. Maybe because with your incoherent speech and temper tantrums and flailing limbs, you are so much like a three-year-old. Not the cute kind that I want to pick up and hug. The kind screaming three rows behind me on a five-hour flight to Boston. You suck and you are ruining my trip.

2. Don't whine to me about how the last girl slapped you/bit you/was rude to you when you tried to grab her tit/ass/vagina/god knows what. Are you fucking serious? Think about it a for a second. Is there any other professional environment in the known universe where you would complain to me that you sexually assaulted my colleague until she was forced to take physical measures to defend herself and expect me to tell you that what you did was OK and that girl must be a total bitch? Maybe you think there are extenuating circumstances but -- as someone who just Saturday bitch-slapped a bachelor party attendee for pulling down my thong, and once dug my fingers so hard into a customer's wrist while struggling to prevent the forcible penetration of his finger into my vagina that I later found little flakes of his skin underneath my fingernail -- you are talking to the wrong bitch.

3. Don't touch me where I tell you not to touch me, because that's called sexual assault. Boundaries, people. Accepting $20 to take my shirt off doesn't imply that I will be doing any more than that, just like accepting a ride home doesn't mean I will give you a blow-job. If you won't take no for an answer in either situation, congratulations, you are a rapist. Now, I understand that sometimes you are not sure where you can touch and where you can't touch. Ask. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Yes, you have money, and yes, that gives you leverage and yes, a girl might put up with more than she wants to because she wants your money and yes, that's technically "not your fault." But which transaction would you rather be involved in: compensating a professional to perform a mutually satisfactory service, or paying a hireling think about cheeseburgers while just barely tolerating three minutes of your sexual grotesqueries?

4. Wash your balls. Seriously. Wash your balls just like you would before you were going on a date. You do wash your balls before you go on dates, don't you? Never mind. I don't want to know. Just wash your balls. Sometimes I do this move where I kneel on the floor in front of you and look winsomely up through your knees. I do this a lot of you are ignoring #3, because it's a position in which you can't reach very much of me if you are being grabby. It's not like I have my nose buried in your crotch, but even from a foot away, sometimes it smells like you have a ripe fish in your pants. I'm not grossed out by wrinkles or warts or scars or confessions of bizarre sexual fetishes, but I am grossed out by this. Wash your balls. With soap.

I hope this been helpful. See you soon.

P.S. Did you wash your balls? Please double-check.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

friends and relations

Well, you folks have just been sweet while I've been toughing out these last couple of weeks. So much kindness and concern out of the dark void of the Internet -- who'da thought?

Things are on a more even keel for right now. A few things have changed. C. came home one evening last week, walking into my office and started yelling at me for not paying off his credit card. I snapped.

Anger is a lot effort for me, so I save it for special occasions and the people I love most. It is a momentous and awesome event. I black out a little bit, but I don't get violent. I don't think I even raise my voice. I just reach in and take your heart in my fist and squeeze the blood out, until you are born again as someone I can love.

When I was twelve I snapped on my father for the first time, and by the time I knew what was happening I was on the front porch of the farmhouse, eight feet tall of cold and righteous fury and he was down in the yard, wide-eyed and looking toward the road like maybe he could make a run for it. After I let him back in the house he was better and we were close for a while.

I'm careful with it, because I don't want to scare people into doing what I want. I just want their lives to flash before their eyes so they can start taking their decisions a little more seriously.

Since that day, C. has picked up another day at work and voluntarily quit smoking weed. We've talked a lot, and I understand his position better. It's easy to say that he has a sweet life -- a life of art and school and a stripper girlfriend to pay for it all. He does have a sweet life. He knows he does.

On the other hand, it's hard supporting someone who doesn't support themselves, and that's exactly the untenable position I've been putting C. in lately. In times of stress, I get into what might be called a pathological state of generosity. Or maybe "generosity" is too nice a word. Basically, I will do anything for anyone, but no one can do anything for me. I can't even do anything for myself. I can't rest. I can't have fun. I can't even eat. I even stopped taking my anti-depressants because I decided we couldn't afford them. Oh, my. Was that ever a dumb decision.

After the dust settled that day last week, C. pointed these things out to me, and I understood with a new humility. I started taking medication and eating breakfast and resumed yoga and meditation and things came back into their correction proportion. I've bitten off a lot in the last years, and I'm still chewing, but everything is going to be OK.

So, just in case you were concerned, I'm going to be fine. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, October 15, 2007

the devil in the afternoon

One day last week I woke up late and crying for the third day in a row. The idea of spending the day at home alone was too terrifying to endure and I went searching through my mind for someone I could call. There was not anybody.

I have some of the best women friends a girl could ask for, but sadly they are all highly motivated individuals who have moved away to pursue wild dreams in exotic locations, while I pursue my own wild dream right here. I have not made a new friend in years. I haven't needed to. I had C.

But that morning I felt shaky and helpless and I needed someone. Someone who would be home with nothing to do in the day time. Someone who could supply me with copious quanitities of coffee and cigarettes. Someone who wouldn't mind a distraught girl weeping on their sofa all afternoon. I picked up the phone and called the Satanist.

"Hop on your bike and come right over," he said. I blew my nose and brushed my hair and pedaled west, watching the leaning foundations and dusty door-yards of my marginal neighborhood give way to the tricked-out Edwardian cottages of his. He met me at his door with a hibiscus flower and tucked it in my hair.

His house is somewhere I've always wanted to be. It's big and rambling, dark and cornery, full of little alters to strange gods. Being there is like being ten years old on a rainy afternoon in the attic of a haunted museum.

We smoked a joint, talked about China, listened to records. In little bits, I told him some of what was wrong, but he didn't pry and I didn't gush, and it was better that way. I cried on and off, but it wasn't painful, and the Satanist sat by me and stroked my hair and rubbed my shoulders and all those little pacifying gestures C. won't stoop to. It was nice. Then he started kissing my neck and I had to ask him to stop. Oh, well.

I knew, of course, that there was an ulterior motive or two to all this kindness, but I needed someone to be kind, and I took it where I could get it. This is really the strip-club customer's dilemma, isn't it? You've got something that someone wants, and you'll trade a little bit of it for what feels like affection. Once you've made that trade, you can't start to torture yourself about whether the affections is real. It's real enough.

I wasn't brought up to think of myself as the kind of girl that people are nice to just because she's pretty. I was brought up, in fact, to consider myself pretty fiercely plain -- the kind of girl who would always have to be smart and work hard to get by. In this, my people did me a great service but they also left me a little unprepared for the real world, in which beauty is quite plainly and commonly commodified. Everyone else seems to know already what they can trade and how much they can trade it for, and I'm a little in the dark.

Under most circumstances, people are pretty nice to me. I always thought it was because I had such good manners. Now I wonder.

The afternoon I spend with the Satanist was lovely and long and at the end of it I felt much better. I really like the Satanist and would really like to be his friend, but I'm not sure this is possible. He knows me as a stripper, after all. I'd like to think the force of my charm and intellect could displace all the times I've straddled his lap in Lucite heels, but maybe that's not realistic. I'm not offended -- but if this "friendship" involves the constant rejection of sexual advances, well, that's just more work than I'm up for right now.

When the light got long, I told him I should go; I had to work that night. We smoked a final cigarette on his front porch. After he stubbed out the butt he put his arm around me, kissed my temple. "Stay and work here," he said. So I left.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

spun

Baby, I said, last time C. and I were fighting about money, baby we're so close to the edge. I can work three days a week and pay for rent and bills and groceries and car insurance and gas and your art-school installment and your paints and brushes and canvases and stretchers and my crazy-meds. I can do all this. And I will have time enough left over to work on the dayjob project which is the thing I want and need and love to do.

But nothing, you understand me, nothing can go wrong. We cannot get sick and go to the doctor. The car cannot break down. Because any little thing, any unforseen incident, will send us spinning.

Then I cried and he clucked and the conversation was over, and he never answered me. And then last night we got spun.

The break light on the car is broken. It's been broken for a week. Somebody dinged me while I was parked downtown. I meant to get it fixed as soon as I had some money.

I left the club last night at 2am, turning onto the access road of the highway, and the cruisers were parked right there. They camp there, waiting for drunks to leave the club after last call. Red and blue lights in the mirror and I pulled over into the grass.

I told the officer right away that my license is suspended -- I wasn't carrying insurance when that van T-boned me three years ago come December and left me with the zipper-scar. Another thing I meant to do when I had some money. He asks where I'm coming from and I say I'm leaving work. He says the name of the club, like a question. Well, duh. There's nothing else down that road that's open at 2am.

Yes, I say. He says he smells alcohol and please step out of the car. I had a beer around midnight with a Mexican tour-bus driver named Alberto. I pray this doesn't put me over the legal limit. Seriously, I pray. I get out of the car. He shines a light in my face and tells me to follow his pen with my eyes. We do this for what seems like thirty minutes before he turns the light off and tells me I don't seem drunk, but I can't leave without a license so he's going to impound the car anyway.

Cab ride home: $75
Cab ride back to the impound lot to pick up the car this morning: $80
Impound fee: $152
Fine for for driving with a suspended license: $500

Not going to jail in hand-cuffs: Priceless, I guess. But fuck.

I don't like I-told-you-so's, so I waited till this morning to say, Listen, baby: this is the unforseen incident. All the money I made this week so far, all the money, gone. That was the bill money.

To which he says, it's no big deal. You make that kind of money in a weekend. Work a few extra days. It'll be fine.

But I don't think it will be fine. Because I'm crying again, and I don't cry this much unless something's wrong. I've cried every day for the last week. Sometimes I'm not even sure why I'm crying; I just get started and can't get stopped.

I don't think for a second that C. would act this way if he really understood how scared and vulnerable I feel. But since I've told him a few times now, using the words "scared" and "vulnerable", I don't think he's going to understand.

I don't mind supporting C. I don't mind working. I don't mind paying for things. But somebody asked me in an earlier post what I was getting back, and I don't know the answer. And by "something back" I don't mean money, or anything material, even. I don't need him to "pay me back." We love each other, and the things we do for the people we love are beyond price. It's a relationship, not a savings and loan. I would be happy if, in return for supporting him, I also felt supported. I don't, really.

I have fantasies about being held and feeling safe, but when C. holds me I still feel afraid.

Baby, I said last time we were having this argument, what if I get sick? What if I break my leg? What will we do? To which he says, "You could start temp-ing again, couldn't you?"

That sound like leaves underfoot is my heart breaking. It's a softer sound than you'd expect.

Monday, October 08, 2007

crossover sensation

One morning last week I was at a twee coffee shop near downtown to meet with a big mucky-muck I was going to sweet-talk into helping me with my project. I got there early so I could have a slice of pie and do the crossword and compose myself. Midway through my pie-and-crossword induced reverie in walks Massage Guy with mid-morning sunlight glinting on his spectacles.

Massage Guy has been coming to see me since I worked at the old club, years ago. He pays me $20 a song to rub his shoulders and scalp, many songs in a row, so that a half-hour chair massage can end up costing him $200 or more. Having known real, qualified massage therapists, I am aware of the ludicrousness of this, but it's his idea, and I do a hell of a job. I adore Massage Guy, and not just because he's so generous and so little trouble. His semi-autistic fumbling of social cues and deadpan demeanor and general oddness awake a strange tenderness in me.

And there he is, ordering a double latte and a croissant in his distinctive muffled voice that sounds as though he were speaking from inside a box wrapped in wet towels. I consider hiding behind the newspaper, but he's walking right toward me, so I look up and smile. When he sees me he does a text-book rendition of dumbfoundedness, including stopping dead in his tracks and dropping his jaw.

Then he sits down at the table next to me and we have a fairly normal conversation about yardwork and the American cult of victimization. I don't remember how we got from the one to the other, but this is a fairly normal conversation for us; Massage Guy doesn't dick around much with small-talk, which is a trait we share. The art of talking about nothing for hours, so crucial to stripping, was a painful learning curve.

After ten minutes, Massage Guy gets up and says he has an errand to run, and leaves me half his croissant, which I eat, because I am a scrounger. If I had to run into someone in the middle of the morning right before I business meeting, it'd could've been a lot worse. I'm not sure Massage Guy has ever even seen me naked. He'll tip me on stage occasionally to alert me that he's in the club, but he always puts the money on the stage and darts away. Still, having my stripper-self summoned up in unfamiliar surroundings is weird, and I can't get back into the crossword puzzle. I sit there feeling a bit, well, naked.

Then my mucky-muck comes in. We've never met but I know it is him because he's looking around him like he's supposed to be meeting someone. He's hot, too. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed a few years ago, when I wasn't really into older guys. But I'm older now myself, of course, and dancing has really shifted my frame of reference as to what constitutes an "older guy." Some men, I've noticed, go through a second sexual ripening in their early forties, when you can just sit across the table from them and smell the rut musk, strong as any adolescent boy's, but gamier. I'm grossing myself out. But yum.

Anyhow, I got a grip on myself, didn't start pawing at him under the table, and we had a very good meeting. He's going to help me. Actually, I got an e-mail from him on Friday with some of what I requested. So, go me. The stripper wins again.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

standing still

I woke up yesterday, leapt out of bed, and crashed to the floor. The room went round and round and round. Holy shit, I thought, how much did I drink last night?

Two glasses of Zin back in the Champagne Room with an out-of-town computer programmer named Gene or something. So that's not it.

After the second glass he grabbed my hand and tried to make me touch his dick. My usual M.O. when customer wants more than I'm willing to give is to giggle and flinch and weasel around and hope it takes them at least an hour to figure out that I'm not selling what they're buying, so I can collect my hour's fee. But that night I was feeling tired. I didn't have an hour's worth of wiggle left in me. I laced his finger into mine and looked up into his face with all the piercing sincerity a farmgirl from heartland can summon. "Listen, I really want you to have a good time," I said. "I really do. But some things I just don't do."

We looked at each other. Then his face went all squishy and he clutched me to his breast and started kissing the top of my head. Well, whatever. He stayed an hour and I made my fee. (Plus tip.)

Then I woke up the next morning with the room going round me like a carousel. I headed for the kitchen to get a glass of water, veering like a drunk. I drank some water and then, with much concentration, filled a bowl with cereal and tried to eat. But every time I turned my head I felt like I was at sea in a storm. I wove back down the hall and into bed, said fuck it to the day, and went back to sleep. I had a terrible dream about losing my purse on a sinking ocean-liner, looking for it everywhere while the water rushed in the portholes, terrible and black.

I woke up late in the afternoon. C. came home and fussed over me, told me I was probably just tired, and made me stay in bed. This morning I woke up a little better. Still swimmy. Then C. and I had a fight about money and I stewed for an hour after he left for work.

I had asked him if he would mind looking for another job, because his current weekend gig pays just enough to support his vices, but not enough to help me out with the household expenses. He reminded me that I agreed to support him while he finishes school, and why don't I just suck it up and dance a few more nights a month and everything would be peachy?

I know this was the deal. C. would go to school. I would make money. I wasn't supposed to get involved with a dayjob project that takes up too much time and pays next to nothing. I was just supposed to dance. I did it for a year, but I'm way to too frenetic to be happy with just that. I have to have projects. I have to keep my mind busy.

I don't mind supporting C. I don't mind hard work. What I mind is the guilt, the recriminations, the constant feeling that I could and should be doing more, more, more, more, more. I think I might have to leave him, or maybe kill him. Not because I don't love him, but in the spirit in which a fox chews off it's leg to get out of a trap.

In the mean time if I turn my head too fast I think I'm falling. Did I have a fucking stroke? I'm going back to the couch to sit very, very still.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

yoga for skanks!

From my newly launched books series "...for Skanks!" Upcoming books topics include Livestock Judging and Small-Engine Repair.

Stripping is intense physical activity. Like ballet and most sports, stripping is about getting the most out of your body. That the body will wear out from use, that we will develop aches and pains and gimpy tendons and trick-joints -- the kind you can pop in and out at parties to entertain your friends -- this is all expected and tolerated.

I mean seriously, those shoes are hell -- on the knees, on the ankles, on the low back. Total hell.

My first day of dancing, I thought it was a testament to the ghetto-ocity of my club that the first girl on stage that day had on big, black elastic knee pads. I got a big chuckle out of it. By the end of the week, sure enough, my knees had swelled up like baseballs and couldn't bend enough to sit comfortably in a chair. I complained about it to a fellow dancer one day back in the dressing room. "Tell me about it," she said, pointing at the Ace bandage around her ankle. This was a club, no doubt, where old strippers came to die. But they were old like boxers are old. At forty, the flesh was already surrendering to repeated assault.

Unless you work at the kind of club that will let you dance barefoot, I don't know if there is any way to dance completely without injury. Injury can only be minimized, dealt with, and supported. But if we don't minimize, deal with, and support our bodies, we will all be walking around in our fourth decades on plastic knees with pins in our hips. So here goes. Of course, I'm only drawing on my own experience and a few others' so feel free to comment with your own stripping-related aches and pains and any remedies.

I'll start at the bottom, the feet. My feet themselves have actually held up OK. I wear open-toed shoes, so as not to smush my toes together, which I hate. Outside of the club, I walk barefoot a lot to keep my arches healthy.

The ankles are another issue. Unless you are very, very experienced at walking in six-inch platform heels, it is natural to wobble a bit. The wobbling can be slight and barely noticeable, especially since our minds are usually doing a million other things, like scanning the room for our next customer. Unlike muscle tissue, which expands and contracts readily, the ligaments and tendons in the ankle will stretch out, but will remain permanently loosened. Over time, through the repeated, minor, barely noticable stress of wobbling around, our ankle joints lose their integrity. If weakened past a certain point, the joint will begin to sprain or twist readily. The more it happens, the more likely it is to happen again.

The best way to address weakness in the ankles is to build strength and coordination in the surrounding muscles. Any yoga posture that incorporates balancing is helpful. A simple one is Vrkasana/Tree Pose.

A big concern for me is the shortening of the calf muscles. High-heeled shoes keep the toe in a permanent pointed position, which the backs of the calves shortened and contracted. If you spent too much time in heels, the muscle fibers in the calves become short and dense. Forward bending poses address this foreshortening, as do poses Warrior I and Warrior II, if one pays particular attention to pressing the full frame of the back foot into the floor.

Like the ankles, the tendons in the knees will not contract again once they have been stretched. The best thing to do is not to stress the knees at all. Any movement in which the leg is bent and the bent knee is forward of the ankle can stress the knee. In dance, this includes any of the squatting postures we may use to get up and down off the floor. Pressing the knee hard into the floor is a different kind of stress, which can cause the joint to over-produce fluid in an effort to cusion itself. While this fluid will usually go away once you stop squishing your knee joint, it is very painful and debilitating. While kneeling on the floor, press the whole of your shin and the top of the foot into the ground, rather than asking your knee joint to support the whole weight of your body. Moves that strengthen the muscles of the calves and thighs, such as Utkatasana, are supportive for the knee as well.

Low-back pain is another common issue. It's useful to try to distinguis between pain in the lumbar spine (the lower vertebrae and surrounding muscles and nerves) and the sacro-iliac joint, which is the inverted wedge-shaped plate of bone that sits between the crests of the pelvic bone and is the base support of the spine.)

If your SI joint is stressed, it may feel as though you have a V-shaped wedge of pain in your low back, around the level of the navel or a little lower. SI pain results from over-stretching in the SI joint, which is supposed to the fused to the pelvis and is only supposed to stretch during childbirth, and then only with the release of specific SI-joint-loosening hormones. The usual culprit in SI-joint pain is that we have been trying to force our hips to stretch wide than they want to go. Like if you find the splits painful, but force yourself to do them anyway, this is basically like prying at your SI joint with a crowbar. The SI joint is the foundation of the spine. If it is destabilized, there will be instability in your posture all the way up. So, stop doing the splits if they hurt, for Pete's sake. It's not that sexy anyway. If your SI joint IS destabilized, you can build up the muscle of the lower back and buttocks through poses like Salambhasana/Locust.

Lumbar pain is a complex problem that can stem from more than one cause. If there is instability in the lower body, the muscles of the lower back may be overworked in a desperate attempt to keep the body upright. For strippers, low back pain may result from the high heels tipping our pelvis forward -- that much desired "butt out, tummy in" look -- so that we may have to strain the muscle of the low back to bring the rest of our spine upright. Strengthening the muscles of the low back through poses like Salabasana may help. We also want to strengthen the abdominal muscles through poses like Navasana, and be sure to engage the abdominal muscles (pull the navel lightly up and in) as we walk, stand, and dance in our shoes.

Dancing doesn't seem to have provoked much pain in my upper body. Actually, walking with tits up and shoulders back and down not only looks good but is a fairly correct posture if not exaggerated. I suppose if you really, really exaggerated the "tits out" bit you could tweak the area between your shoulders. For this I would recommend at least the upper body part of Garundasana/Eagle Pose.

The Cat Pose/Marjyasna flexes the entire spine and is good for both upper and lower back pain, toning the organs, and relaxation.

I do occasionally get pains in my wrists if I dance for several days in a row. I beleive they come from putting my palms flat on the arms of a customer's chair as I face away from him and supporting my weight on my arms as I lower myself to brush my tush over his lap. They are similar to carpal tunnel pains, and respond well to regular stretching.

Yoga is also excellent for calming and supporting the emotions and intellect, which we could probably all use. I recommend a few poses before and after work to this effect:

Twists are great for tired back and releasing anger and tension. Some good ones to try are Ardha Matsyendrasana and Marichyasana.

Forward bends encourage relaxation. Try Uttasana, Paschimotanasana, or Child's Pose/Bhalasana.

And of course, arguably the ultimate relaxation pose: Savasana

Based on all this, I recommend the following short, 15-20 minutes sequences:

Before Work, 15 -20 minutes
1. Uttasana (3x, hold for 6-8 breaths each time)

2. Utkatasana (3x, hold for at least 3-5 breaths each time)

3. Warrior I (2x each side)

4. Warrior II (2x each side)

5. Marjaryasana (6x)

6. Salambhasana (3x, hold for 6-8 breaths)

7. Seated Twist (1x each side, hold 10-12 breaths)
<
8. 1 minute of focussed breathing, meditation, or visualization

After Work
1. Uttasana (3x, hold 10-12 breaths)

2. Garundasana

3. Paschimotanasana (hold 10-12 breaths)

4. Marichyasana (1x each side, hold 10-12 breaths)

5. Child's Pose (hold 1-3 minutes)
6. Savasana (hold as long as you want, or do this pose in bed and fall asleep)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

science

The itinerant metalurgist I call John Wayne was in town and came to see me Tuesday night. He's a nice guy, not too grabby with the hands. He likes me smalltown and simpleminded so when I'm with him that's what I do. The only thing that bothers me about John Wayne, really, is that on $10 dance night he only pays me $10. That, and it can be a chore to can the sass and think of two or three hours worth of naive observations and girlish double entendres.

He likes me to talk, and when I realized this I tried to get him into the Champagne Room where I make an hourly for this kind of thing. He proved resistant. He likes to buy long strings of dances, though, so I always end up compensated for my time. I gave up pushing him on the Champ Room a long time ago.

But last night, for some reason, he brought it up. How private was it and what goes on back there and so forth. "I'd sure like to give you a massage," he said. "If we could find somewhere to stretch out." So of course, the couches in the Champagne Room are the best possible place in the world and I would absolutely love to get a massage for my usual hourly rate. This was my second night back since surgery. I was stoked to be making hourly.

So we went back there. He didn't give me a massage. He was really concerned with getting value for his dollar, sat down like the meter was running. "Show me what's so hot about back here," he said.

I straddled his lap to commence my Champagne Room dance, which is just about risque enough to justify the upsell. He grabbed me around the waist and pushed me down hard. "Hey," I said. "Hold your horses, big guy."

He thrust up against me. His fingers dug painfully into my hips. One hand grabbed the back of my head and pulled me towards his mouth. "Oh, baby," he whispered against my face. "Oh, baby, I can't beleive it." And then he came in his pants.

I got off his lap with as much haste as tact and we smoked a cigarette and composed ourselves. He got up. "Keep the smokes," he said. "I'll see you next time."

He paid me for the full hour.

I wobbled back to the dressing room and repaired my hair and make-up. I couldn't decide if I was mad at myself for not reacting faster to prevent the splooging, or for not getting more money. Now I'm not a good girl or even a good bad girl.

The DJ calls me to stage and this guy comes up over and over again to tip me. I know his face and even remember his name. Matt. But I don't know why. He asks me to join him at his table and after a couple of drinks and a few dances it clicks in my head that he was my lunchtime regular back when I was a waitress at a pizza place. I've been in this town too long. He never figures out who I am. At the end of the night I tell him and he says "Well, I'll be dipped."

Back in the dressing room all the girls are counting money and getting dressed.

"But don't you realize," thin blond Lily is insisting to some other blond girl who always and only dances to country songs. "Don't you realize that in the big bang there was all this energy and that energy is never created or destroyed, but it's a creative force inside all of us and every living thing. I'm not making it up. It's just physics."

The blond girl shakes her head. "I don't believe there's any creative force. I just believe everything is because of science."

"But this is science," Lily says. "Don't you get it? Everything is created. All of this." Her arms sweeps around and her gesture takes in the rows of beige gym lockers and the crummy carpet, the club out there and the night beyond that. "What do you call all this?

"Science," says the blond.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

speak of the devil

So after all that, B. sent an e-mail to my stripper account last week, saying that whenever I was ready to dance again he'd like to engage my service. I had doubts -- severe ones -- about letting the boundaries between my stripper and non-stripper lives get this soft.

B. hasn't even finished the site I hired him to design yet. I'll have to meet with him at least one more time in my professional mode and we'll sit across a table and pass papers back and forth, and that will be weird because, yes, I went to the club and spent the night with him in VIP being naked and lithesome. I needed the money.

Then again, money is a piss-poor excuse for anything. It's nice that I have a fat roll of bills in my purse again and it's nice that I can pay the electric company and buy down some of the credit debt C. and I incurred while I was in the hospital. It's nice that I can afford to keep working on the dayjob project a little longer now and it's nice that I can take my boyfriend out for breakfast this morning. I still feel weird.

Nothing untoward happened, mind you. That is to say, I didn't do anything I could go to jail for. For six straight hours I made cute faces and pretty conversation, listened attentively to whatever was said, and made positive, esteem-boosting responses while gyrating continuously in ways calculated to display my naked assets from the best possible angles.

It's not a completely mindless task, making sure someone else has a good time. I don't usually feel bad making the money I make to do it. I give good service for the dollar.

I was nervous as a cat all day the day before. At moments I really wanted to call him and cancel. I didn't, though.

My dance-bag has been sitting in a corner of my bedroom for nearly three months now. When I unzipped it to get my shoes, the smell of strip club seeped out -- stale cigarette smoke and the powdery smell of make-up, and the vinegar of a million random vaginas under a fog of fruit-scented bodysprays. That smell soothed me. By the time I was at the club caught up in the familiar ritual of curling irons and smokes and peanut M&M's I was in fine fettle again. I felt good, predatory and heartless. Strippery.

We had a nice night, except that I had to close my eyes to dance, like I used to do when I was a newbie. Customers always used to call me on it. "Why are your eyes closed?" Some of them thought it was cute shyness or that I was maybe carried away with passion or something. The truth was that the walls were lined with mirrors and I found the multiplicity of my naked self, repeated into infinity, distracting.

Still, we had a fun night. I got a little drunker than usual and enjoyed myself. B. must have a good time too, because he stayed till close and then gave me a large ammount of money, enough to give me my third best single-take night ever.

I got home and de-stripperated myself in the shower, peeling and rinsing off the layers of plastic and greasepaint. I got out of the shower and promptly felt awful. I got the money out of my bag, put it in an envelope, and left it on my desk. I would obviously have to give it back. I was ashamed of myself. Whore, whore, whore. I tossed around in bed for hours, imagining the awkwardness of the scene where I would give the money back. Maybe I would just put the envelope into his hand and run away. Find his house and poke it under the door. Something.

The next say I sought council with my wise stripper friends. The consensus was, don't give the money back. "You want things to be simple, right?" says my friend Jade. "Money makes things simple. You did your job; he paid you. If you give the money back, you upset the delicate balance."

OK. I let the envelope sit on my desk another day or two, and then I took it to the bank. My car needs work. I think it's the fuel-injection line.

I emailed him yesterday, just my usual little "thanks-I-had-a-nice-time" note. He replies: he had a nice time, too. But when he got home he was profoundly depressed again. His life is full of loneliness and he doesn't know what to do.

I don't know either. I'm not qualified to deliver therapy, though for what I get paid it feels like I ought to deliver something. I can give advice though, and I do: "Do what make you feel healthiest and best. The only reason to strip-club is because you enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, don't come."

That's really all I've got.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

satan in danger

The other morning I woke up from a dream about the Satanist.

The dream left me with a feeling so vivid that I called him up later that morning. He sounded happy to hear from me. I told him I'd dreamed about him. He wanted to know what the dream was about.

Me: I can't really remember. I woke up feeling really guilty, though, like I'd done something bad to you, and I wanted to call you and apologize. Then when I woke up and realized I hadn't done anything I was so happy I called anyway.

Satanist: What had you done?

Me: Nothing too fucked up. I didn't stab you, or shoot you, or anything like that. I think I just made a scene, like, yelling at you. Maybe I was drunk.

Satanist. Oh.

[pause]

Me: So how are you?

[pause]

Satanist: Well, I've been stabbed and shot.


Turns out, he had been. One evening a week or so ago, he woke up in the wee hours in his nifty historical home in one of Austin's Better Neighbhorhoods to the sound of his air conditioner wiggling in the window frame as somebody outside tried to dislodge it. Since he's a shady underworld figure who doesn't want the Law at his house, he went outside to deal with it himself. Long story short, he got stabbed in the arm, and a ricocheting bullet took a small divot out of the bridge of his nose. Then the stab wound got infected and he had to buy a pump to suck the puss out. He was on Delotid as we spoke. By legitimate prescription, I believe.

Poor Satanist. One of those people to whom awful things seem to happen with more regularity than ought to result from chance alone. I offered to stop by and smooth his pillow, but he said the house was messy and he was messy, and give him a day or two to make himself presentable.

I like him so much. He's the only strip-club customer I could ever incorporate into my outside life with any degree of comfort. He was always so respectful and appreciative. Even when he offered me $300 for a blowjob, he made the offer in the politest and most professional way, and without the least pressure. "Just putting it out there," he said, "So, you know, call me if you're interested."

Aww.

I don't want to blow him for $300. But I would miss him, kinda, if for some reason I could never see him again. Like, if he were fatally stabbed or shot by intruders outside his house in Old Money Town. In my dream, I was beside myself with remorse for whatever ill-defined, gauche thing I'd done. I wanted so much to give him a hug. He is really huge -- both tall and broad -- so that hugging him is like throwing yourself into a feather bed. I would miss that.

I didn't tell him that part, though.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

whither sixty?

The venerable "Sixty's Place" -- a blog chronicling the stripclubbing adventures of an articulate forty-something Yankee with a marked taste for high-mileage blondes -- disappeared in May. From the ammount of clamoring in the comments section of this blog, others, like me, have mourned the passing of the greatest literary perv since Pepys.

As best I recall, in the year or so I followed Sixty's adventures -- and it was a blog whose entries dated to the dawn of blogging -- he got entangled with an older dancer with apparent designs of his freedom, shtupped his 20-year-old favorite dancer for whom he then developed a deep distaste, abandoned her, got divorced -- wait he was married? Throughout it all he maintained a knightly devotion to the one hot, blonde stripper who wouldn't go OTC with him. (Although he always did intimate that she gave it up pretty good in the Champagne Room.)

Then, like a bolt from the blue, Sixty fell in love with a live, human female of the kind who keeps her clothes on at work. He blogged a bit about the blissfullness of it all, went to see his fave a few more times in the dutiful spirit in which one visits an elderly aunt. Then all of a sudden I got an e-mail from him asking me to take down the link to the blog, because it didn't exist anymore. And that was that, til this morning, when I woke to find this in my inbox:

Grace ...

Was sorry to hear about your misadventures in Colorado, but glad you're home relatively safe. I wish you good health and prosperity. I wish you enough, at least, for you to appreciate where you came from. Keep an eye on that zipper, now.

In case you were wondering, I'm doing fine, ridiculously happy and in love, totally against all expectations. I'm no longer blogging about stripclubbing because, funny thing is, I'm not finding any interest in doing it any more. Ah well, it may return some day, that interest ... I'm too much of a horndog to pretend it isn't lurking just beneath the surface, ready to spring at the slightest opportunity. I would've left my blog up, but coincidentally it was discovered by my old fave Miss C(remember her?). She got pissed at me, and so much do I love and respect her that I immediately took it off line. Funny, isn't it, that a blog that so pathetically gushed about how completely enamored I was of her should offend her. I don't know, maybe it's not so hard to understand after all. Let me ask yhou: if you were in her clear heels, how would you feel?

Best always.
"Sixty"



Mystery solved. Yes, strippers have computers and Internet access, too.

As to how I would feel if I discovered I were being blogged, I can only imagine. I imagine it would give me the creeps just on general principles. Like most people, I think, I prefer to think that people just don't think about me when I'm not around and that I am therefore in a position to control their every thought about me through the sheer charisma of my immediate presence and the clever things I say. I find direct, written evidence that somebody had been weighing, assessing, and speculating over my words and deeds and drawing their own conclusions about me would probably give me a gray turn.

I do live in constant anxiety that one of my blog subjects will discover us here. (No, not you, Tommi. I know you're here, silly. And not you either, Joe. That's all champagne under the bridge now, no?) But one of the innocents. That would be terrible. I worry most about Mr. B, both because I like him awfully and because, being a tech guy who spends a 85% of his time on computers anyway, and who discovered Stripperweb all by himself, he is the most likely to find us.

I've never written anything especially mean about B. -- in fact, I think I've spoken of my fondness for him many times -- and he's not my customer anymore either (or hasn't been for months) so it's not an issue of economic concern. It's just that one of the chief agencies of this blog is to speak frankly about a world where everything is art and artiface except the money and the tits. You were like this, too, Sixty. Most people just don't like to hear a frank opinion about themselves. They'll say they do, but they don't.

(On the subject of blogs and anonyminity, I also live in contant fear that I'm going to forget to log out of the Grace account before I go posting on the blogs and message boards where I maintain a professional prescence, and fifty million of my colleagues and collaborators are going to get an earful about grindage and benjamins and how I hate it when fat old golfers slobber on my neck, but will endure if the price is right. Sheesh. Now that's really a nightmare.)

Then again, maybe Miss C. is annoyed that you used her real name. Well, not her real name, but her real stage name, the name by which she is known in her professional life, which is as real for most purposes as any other name. (You'll not that I have ommitted her full name from the body of your e-mail.) Did you use her real name, and the real names of all those other dancers with whom you did sport over the years? I always wondered this. Maybe she didn't like having her professional name linked with the naughty things you said the two of you had done in the back corners all those times. I know that while I personally have made my peace with what I will and won't do at work, seeing a catalogue of my activities detailed on line somewhere would be disconcerting.

Still, if this is the problem, it's easily fixed. Change Miss C.'s name -- and the name of anybody else you care enough to protect -- and pop the blog back up. It is too great a loss to the world of stripper-blog literature to be lost. As I wrote in my reply e-mail to you, maybe you should tell Miss C. that her frank and persistant refusal to see you OTC, and your continued adoration, were an inspiration to me as I moved upward into the ranks of strippers who get taken back to the VIP and offered hundreds or thousands (OK, one thousand) of dollars for a romp in a hotel room. Would the prospect of being an inspiration to young strippers everwhere would reconcile Miss C. to a place in the spotlight?

Anyway, I hope you at least saved all your posts somewhere. Truly, they were awesome.

I still curse the circumstance that took my right past your hometown last year but wouldn't let me stop and siphon out your wallet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

money troubles

Fuck me, it's already started. Today C. and I had our fourth fight about money in three days. It's mostly my fault and it's utterly predictable and I still can't seem to help myself. I'm such a raging cunt.

Thing is, I've been poor before. Back in college I used to dig through the sofa cushions for enough change to buy food and if I couldn't find it I'd steal something. I particularly liked stealing from the convenience stores on campus. I'd take the good shit, too -- killer sandwiches, organic juice, candy bars, danishes, coffee, flan -- and just stroll out the door with it. No one ever stopped me. I was invisible. Stealing gave me an angry kind of high, all puffed up on my own boldness and invincability, the stupidity and complacence of everybody else in the world, especially the other kids my age shopping and working at those stores, soft and groomed like over-bred dogs. I was so tough in my own mind in the those days. Little old Army of One.

Stealing made me feel poorer, and being poor made me feel weirdly privileged. Like it was OK for me to take advantage of other people, because they had it better than I did. Like if I was smart enough to take things, that was proof that I deserved to have them more than other people did. Bad, bad mojo. My karma is probably still in the red from the things I did in this phase of my life.

I also had a boyfriend/room-mate at this time who was fourteen years older than me and worked at the post office. He made twice the money I did as a graveyard-shift short order cook, but somehow he was always broke anyway. He rarely gave me a full month's rent, and sometimes he would wake me up in the morning to ask me for five dollars, ten dollars, like a fucking child, like I could just roll over in bed and pull the money out of my ass. I had actually started to hate him by the time we broke up. Sleeping with someone you hate is a rotten karmic practice also.

That was years ago. Still.

I knew this stuff would come up for me if I agreed to be the breadwinner while C. was in school, and it has. For the most part I've dealt with it OK. C. is a wonderful person and a supportive boyfriend, not a free-loader or a jackass or a deadbeat. And I'm not a dumb 19-year-old desperate enough for love and acceptance to buy it at inflationary rates. I'm much too clever and enlightened to let myself be so taken advantage of ever again, no way, never. This is what I tell myself. Meanwhile I look at all the other people tell themselves they'll never again make the mistakes they are at that exact moment engaged in making. And I think, holy crap.

I mean, we're not broke, C. and I. We just have to be careful. The day-job presently pays me an entry-level professional salary that would have seemed exorbinate to me back in my fry cook days, and if it's less than I was making a few months ago, well boo hoo. Most people can't make a grand in a weekend every time they feel like it. As long as I keep the mental abacus constantly running a tally of what we have and what we need and what we've spent, and don't get careless or indulgent, we're OK.

But the result of all this internal calculus is that we'll be at the grocery store and C. will ask me if we can get olives, and instead of just thinking it over and saying yes or no, I'll start to hyperventilate and wonder if he even really loves me. I freak out over ridiculous shit, and C. can't understand why, and thinks I'm a crazy woman, or maybe just a bitter cow being mean for the hell of it. But listen:

When I was small, I saw one of our barn cats taken down by a litter of her half-grown kittens. They were big enough to hunt, but they didn't feel like it and she still had milk in her tits, so they pinned her to the ground and sucked her dry. They did it every day, every time she walked across the yard, till she was skinny and her hair fell out. One day she disappeared. Probably she crawled under the barn and died, but I'd like to think she just said fuckit to the whole program and lit out on her own, and maybe she's retired in a condo somewhere in Florida.

I don't even know, man. I don't even know.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

sort of like normal

As I was healing up in the hospital, C. and I were pondering how best to get back to Texas with a van that didn't start half the time and an adult with a recent belly wound. We needed a wing-car.

My family were the closest people to us geographically, but they proved unwilling to make the trip, and come to think of it, wouldn't have been much fun anyway. C.'s parents, who are awfully nice, offered to come and shephard us back to their place in New Mexico, which was supposed to be our pentultimate destination anyway. It would have been a long drive for them, though, and fate happily intervened in the form of my hetero lifemate B., who was looking for an excuse to drop out of graduate school and who brooked no denials in flying out to Denver, renting a car, and rushing to my bedside.

So I was born back to Texas via Las Cruces, NM in a winged chariot with air conditioning and XM radio and good shocks. I even felt a tiny tinge of guilt as C. rattled along in front of us, hot and dusty in good old Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which predictably died at every other pit stop, so that B. had to nose the rental car in behind and give the van a little boost til C. could pop the clutch and start her. This worked like a charm, however.

So now we are back home and my regular physician took my staples out last week and told me to avoid "heavy lifting and extreme activity" for at least two months. I guess this means I won't be dancing any time soon. I was wanting some time off this summer. Now I don't have much choice.

The scar is long and red as a millipede, and sore. Standing up straight without wincing takes effort and concentration. In a few weeks I may be able to cover up the cosmetic damage with clever use of corsets, but the real test will be stamina. I don't think I could walk around in stilletto's for eight hours bullying drunk people out of money at the moment. We'll see.

Meanwhile, bills are coming due, not least of them C.'s fall tuition. I have some savings, and my dayjob project has enough funding for me to pay myself to work on it full-time at least for the next little while. Lean times, though. Let's hear it for beans.