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.