Monday, May 26, 2008

garbage in, garbage out

So, this is what I was about to publish when all the crazy people from the Internet showed up and I got paralyzed by self-consciousness. Oh, well. Here goes nothing.

C. and I woke up so suddenly that for a flat second we didn't know what was waking us. Then we heard the sirens all around the house, so many of them, and deafening. From the bed, I pulled the curtain back and saw sparks raining from the sky. We hauled ass into our pants and I snatched the money from the special money drawer and stuffed it in my bra before we ran out into the street.

Fire was rising from the next block over -- a column of it, spiraling into the sky forty or fifty feet, whirling and throwing off sparks which were landing all around us, but thank God it was also raining and the ground was moist.

"It's that house they just renovated," said James, the neighbor we share a wall with, who was also standing on the porch and had had time to put his shoes on and light a cigarette. Fire trucks kept arriving, and showers of sparks kept blowing. Then there was a whooshing sound as the trucks turned the water on, or the foam, or whatever it is. And just like that, the chimney of fire collapsed out of the sky and there was just a red glow.

C. and I went back to bed, where I tried like hell to fall asleep because I had to get up at 9 a.m. to go to work. That's right. After four years of working whenever and wherever the hell I felt like, I had a job to get to. I fucking hated it.

No, not a "real" job, and I know what you mean when you say that, even if I don't agree. Just cocktailing at another titty bar. It's the kind of job you can walk into and make money that day, plus my friend Valerie worked at the club, and she's fun. If this dayshift was anything like the dayshifts I remember dancing through, it'll at least be nice to have a friend around during the long lull between the lunch crowd and the Happy Hour crowd.

So I drove there in the morning in a white top and a black skirt, asked to talk to the manager, and was clocked in to work by 10 o'clock. That part was awesome. Having Valerie trotting around in a Victoria's Secret camigarter and feathered hair like some kind of sexed-out Sixties go-go pin-up girl was also awesome.

Everything else blew. I'd almost forgotten this about the dayshift -- it sucks. Well, it sucks for me. For a certain kind of dancer it is like candy from babies, because all you have to do is sniff out the handful of rich old dudes who come in every day, and avoid the wannabee gangsters who wander in after lunch and sell or pretend to sell drugs all afternoon. You find those couple of customers who really, really like you --because they like redheads, because you remind them of some other girl, or maybe, just maybe because the two of you really get along. That happens, too.

Then you give them your phone number and call them every couple of days and they come to the club and give you a bunch of money to sit with them all afternoon and do whatever it is you do. Which is sometimes nothing. I have literally seen willowy blondes fresh from high school prom sit next to old men with banker's faces all day long, saying nothing.

Some girls are so good at this that they dance for the same five-to-ten guys for years. Not me. I'm really bad at this, it turns out. I have had a few loyal customers over the years, but there's a point in the pseudo relationship where I have to draw a line. I can't chat on the phone. I can't go out to lunch. I can't depend on any one guy too much, because if you do, they know it and they pull the plug. They can't help it, almost. They have to know if you really love them, and of course then it usually turns out that you don't, but if you want the money, you have to find a work-around. You DO go to lunch, or you swear that you will but then you cancel at the last minute, or you DO but then you immediately try to get him to go to the club with you afterwards and give you a bunch of money. It goes from there. I hate that stuff.

Sometimes you don't want to be anybody's fake girlfriend. You just want to take your dress off and be sexy and fun for a few minutes and get a couple of bucks and on to the next.

But this new club is not an on-to-the-next kind of establishment. Most customers who spend any kind of money have their favorite waitress up in VIP already. If you don't have one of those customers, you are stuck in the rotation where you simply get whatever customer walks in the door next, and if it's the homeless guy who comes in and buys an iced tea (the only drink that comes with free refills), tips you fifty cents and crouches in an empty dance booth all afternoon rocking back and forth and oggling the stage, well that's your fucking luck.

In two days I made $72. And on the third day I called the manager and told him I appreciated his help and wouldn't be back. I didn't really have to call. Most girls just disappear without a trace but for some reason I was inclined to be professional.

I spent the day aimlessly, but not a peacefully. I'm like a cow dog. If I don't have enough to do I chew on the furniture. Finally, around midnight, after a solid day of watching me pace the floor and whimper, C. got sick of me and threw me out of the house. "Come back when you've worked it off, whatever it is," said my sweetie, and locked the door behind me.

I rode my bike around in the dark for a while, and then I called the Satanist. He was home and said I could come by, so I tooled over through the steamy streets and we sat in his midnight garden and smoked a joint. It hasn't been the simplest thing to make a real friendship out of our stripper/customer relationship, but we have made some progress, and it's been worth it.

I like the Satanist because you don't have to downplay the drama in things to get him to take them seriously. He believes in karma and chi and magic and the collective consciousness and all that shit. So I can tell him about the apocolyptic vision, fire falling from the sky, and see it catch in his eyes behind those Grandad glasses. I tell him how my mother stood dumbstruck in her yard one day last month and saw the funnel of a tornado lift into the sky and pass over the farmhouse in a rain of leaves. We talked about the storm that tore through town a few weeks ago, blowing over trees and plowing up graves in the cemetery, cracking the plot-stones in half and up-ending them.

I lay on my back on the patio playing with the leaves of the rubber plant. I said, "Is the world ending?" and he squinted at me like a medicine man and said, "Dying people always think the word is ending."

So I told him I couldn't dance anymore, and I didn't know why, and it wasn't dancing that had changed, of course, but me. I couldn't blow the bad stuff off any more and my compassion was exhausted and I didn't think I gave a damn anymore about a single person in the whole world. And he said "Garbage in, garbage out, honey. How much shit can you take in without putting some of it back out?"

"It didn't used to bother me so much. I thought I could take in all the bad and make it good."

He nods. "You did," he said. "You did have that. But it's gone."

I tell him my chest is so tight it feels like a fist is squeezing my heart, milking my adrenal glands into my bloodstream till my body is a factory that never shuts down. I haven't really slept in days. And he doesn't ask me what I mean, because he knows what I mean, and he doesn't say he's sorry, because this is just life.

And then we smoke some more and he takes me around and shows me the holes that the hail made in the garden. He doesn't touch me once, and I am so grateful I could cry. For a minute I get confused and try to tell him how much I like him and why, but he frowns at me and things get weird for a second. "What are you doing?" he says. "Why do you do that? Why do you tell everybody what they want to hear? You're so transparent it's ridiculous."

It's too late to argue and I'm too stoned. I try to smile and not too long later he kicks me ever so gently back out into the night so he can get back to the work of whatever it is he does in his haunted house all night long. I take the hint and hug him and go. He locks the door behind me and I point my bike back towards home pushing myself up the hills and sweating and when I get home I feel so quiet and good, it's like it rained inside of me.


The Griff said...

Grace, don't give up on the writing.
You have an eloquence that can only be described as a gift. I've just come across your blog today, and it's just beautiful.

Sra said...

I don't know if you're real or not. I mean if the character in your stories is real or not, but you write beautifully, and I'm enjoying believing in you anyway.

Dan said...

Wish I had friends like that. Most of mine tend to put me to work under the auspice that I'm somehow helping them.

rat face said...

Gifted. Denied. Dying to be reborn.

@sra: "The best stories are true, whether or not they happened." (can't remember who said it but strikes me as apt & axiomatic)

LiaStarLight said...

Great post, Grace.

You've given and you've given, and now the well is empty. You have to find a way to fill it up. I hope you find it.

tiff said...

You are a fantastic writer! I just found this blog via boingboing, like the zillion other new readers, and I have immensely enjoyed the whole archive. I really hope you continue the blog no matter which professions you pursue. I hope good fortune follows you!

Anonymous said...

I found you via boingboing like all your other new readers. Your prose is wonderful, I hope that you don't stop writing. Good luck to you whatever your future holds.

Orlando said...

Hi Grace,

I'm new to yr blog, & have been reading it since last week (yep, with all the other newbies who put you off). To tell you the truth, I liked your writing so much that I've been reading the Archive stuff 1st, so as to read everything in it's proper order (yes, I'm that sort of boring guy).

What I really like about your blog is:
-The free flowing text, full of dry wit & great storytelling. I like the way you describe things, & manage to quickly fill in clever details about the situations you describe.
-The world you describe is totally alien to me. Don't get me wrong, I don't disapprove of it or anything like that. It's Alien because I'm a man, & you're giving us the woman's point of view. Also as I man I do have to manage the lust that is our lot, & it's great to have a really sincere woman's perspective on this.
-Your stories are really refreshing, it's as if for a moment I wasn't my repressed old self, but someone who is more relaxed & viewed things in a more natural way. I don't mean I feel sexually charged, or that I go off to polish the rocket or any such crap. The thoughts you share here feel good.

So thank you for all the hours of enjoyment I've had, and for all the pleasant reading that lies ahead!


Riley said...

I just read the entire archive in a couple days in tandem with my new nanny job taking care of this great 10 month old boy and finishing Atlas Shrugged, which I think I started less than a week ago.

By this afternoon, I kept getting confused when Dagny Taggert wasn't speaking in first person.

-Riley at UVA

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those new people who invaded your blog. I told myself that I would just read it and leave you alone (somehow convincing myself that it wasn't really prying if no one knew I was there), but then I changed my mind.

Anyway I just wanted to say:
C. doesn't deserve you. You like the idea of him, he likes the free rent.

I probably come across as a snotty girl who should mind her own business, and incidentally that's an accurate representation. But I thought you should know what I think, because I felt like I was stealing from you, reading this story and not giving something back. So I gave you the least welcomed gift, but it's from the heart: unwelcomed advise.

You deserve better.

Sarah said...

New reader too. Absolutely fantastic, Grace. I read the whole archive and I'm hooked.

J said...

I am not a writer, I am not graceful, but I am grateful I found your blog. I am a 44 year old father of three who spent many hours at the strip joints prior to this my third marriage, your description of my previously sad life is spot on perfect.

I wish your the best in your future, it can only get better I promise you that.

Krafty Like A Fox said...

Someone told me the same thing a couple years ago--garbage in, garbage out--and I didn't believe it until I found myself confronted with eleven months hanging around it.

I know what you mean. Here's to whatever the opposite of garbage is.

rina said...

i also found your blog via boingboing, you have such a wonderful voice! i looked at your profile, i always enjoy finding another fellow knitter :-)


thank you for this entry grace :)

im feeling the same way, i just wish i could write it as well as you do.

Paul said...

I want you to know that your writing is so on the ball, I lost most of a day's productivity the day I found your blog.

I used to go to strip clubs when I was younger, and I was always curious about the stripper's point of view. But I didn't know any way to approach a stripper and "ask about how she feels" or some such bullcrap without seeming like a giant wanker.

Keep writing. You got a good style, a good flow.

Craig said...

Props and cheers for posting again! Your writing is wonderful.

Tim said...

From what you wrote, it's possible you're kind of co-dependent, I suppose. Your description of how you felt is painful and lovely, and a little revealing.

Co-dependents do tell people what they want to hear. They also anticipate others' needs and work terribly hard to fulfill them, asking nothing in return. They give and never feel good taking anything. They are prey for narcissists and others who will take and never give. Females tend to fall for demanding boyfriends who appear to need them. And one key sign is that after a while trying to make everything all better for everyone, they become angry and resentful because others don't appreciate what they've done. Co-d's are often kick-started by dysfunctional childhoods where they feel only conditional love.

The opposite of garbage is love. Acceptance as you are. The feeling that you don't have to work to be loved.

Anna said...

Loved it, once again. And as always, it's your last phrase that goes right to my heart. I think you're doing that on purpose :)



Pamela said...

Stripping could be so much goddamn fun if people didn't cart their baggage around all over the place -- if people could just be in the moment, enjoying what is. But too many people bring their toxic energy to the interaction, and if you're anything like me, no matter how great things are going for you, toxic energy from other people slowly degrades your own energy field until you can't tell yourself from your surroundings. This is what happened when I worked around the Defense Department for a solid year. It took me three months in Palestine to stop hating life.

Neither Defense contractors nor baggage-laden strip club clientele are bad people. They're just unconscious, and projecting things onto you and people you care about that come from their own fears of inadequacy. What they don't realize is that, as Henry Miller says, the honey is under our nose all the time, only we're too busy protecting our self-image to notice. But it's there, darlin'. Manifestly. And it's marvelous.

The opposite of garbage is reality. Garbage is ego, is our projections onto what is, our stories about what is. (And I've realized that as I am right now, I'm too sensitive not to get contaminated by other people's garbage, so I have to be careful about that.) Reality is simply what is.

As my friend N. says: Thoughts get old. Awareness never does.

niz said...

Just another newbie from boingboing who is also completely hooked and has read all of your archives. I'm totally fascinated by this peek into the world of stripping, but more than that, you and your writing are so totally compelling that I would read this blog if you were writing about working as a claims adjuster. All the best to you and I hope you find some peace.

wickedneuron said...

You know, any kind of job will leave you with that soulless feeling where you're wondering if life is just going to be that shitty cycle of turning in a service in exchange for money to barter for basic goods and fun. It sounds like (and I could be wrong, of course) you might think it's the line of work, but it's not. Doing anything you don't love for too long'll bruise the hell out of your insides, I think.

Great line about the rain, by the way. Fucking solid.

Jamie said...

If one day you happen to wake up and find yourself in an existential quandary full of loathing and self-doubt. And wracked with the pain and isolation of your pitiful meaningless existence. At least you can take a small bit of comfort in knowing that somewhere out there in this crazy old mixed-up universe of ours, there's still a little place called...Albuquerque

Never mind, that's just the lyrics to a Weird Al song. Just seemed appropriate somehow.

Found your blog linked on a blog I read frequently (, and I'm glad I clicked the link. I really liked your post and your writing style. I'm sure that when you discover what new direction your life will take that talent will serve you well.

Sounds like you're really at a crossroads and going through a complicated time, my sympathies.

*boring personal musing*
To this day, I'm still not exactly sure why I have had several friends that were strippers, but have never walked inside a strip-club. Maybe it's because the term "gentleman's club" makes me uncontrollably chuckle. More likely, it just seems very artificial to me, but pretends to not be, and thus I'm not interested. Not the plastic of porn, and not the blatant realism of prostitution - somewhere in the middle? Mind you, I see nothing wrong with people doing as they like with their own bodies, and other people paying for them to do so. Just not my thing, I guess. My wife has been to more strip clubs than I have.

FAU5TU5 said...

Yeah, Jamie, I don't think it's a real surprise that someone who knows the lyrics to Weird Al songs by heart, wouldn't be a regular at "Gentleman's Clubs"

Though I have to disagree with the "artificial" branding.

In fact, the same logic would have to be used in regards to religion, counseling, dating, martial arts for those who dont fight, and just about everything when broken down.

Sure, the interaction between dancer and client, is an isolated and very small portion of what most of us would consider a "complete intimate relationship", But then, isnt talking to you're buddies about issues that you should discuss directly with your boss or wife, just the same artificial arrangement.

Also, dating with anyone you arent marrying, (and being the ONLY marriage ever) as well as any sex not for childbearing, could be, and by many ARE considered artificial and pointless.

Sexuality is far too complex to box things into artificial and genuine. It's a luxurious ignorance to think that. (no offense, meant. If I could believe that, I would jump on it.. a huge portion of the exploration of self and life would become instantly irrelevant... Just like I would love to KNOW if there is a GOD and what Happens when you die, etc.)

I do respect the lack of interest in investing any money in what for you might be an unfulfilled and frustrating or seemingly pointless interaction in a club. Many people feel the same about fiction, film, television, Sports and society as a whole.. It's a valid point of view if it doesn't fulfill anything for you..

But out of respect, you might want to consider that just about any profession or role can for the most part be considered "artificial" on some level or another.

Just as, you would have to agree that reading this blog is really no different than going to a "Gentleman's Club" only without the cost. You get a brief momentary illusion of "intimacy" with someone you don't know and doesnt know you.. It's not completely sexual, though a tad, but in essence it's the same.

Sexuality is infinitely complicated. Simplified statements about it are almost guaranteed to be wrong.

Not picking an argument, just food for thought.

Heather said...

Thank you. You just made me remember what stripping is like. It's been three years, but your words reminded me what it was like. Sometimes I miss it, the feelings, not having to prove anything to my parents. Thank you, you are an awesome writer

dectia said...


Thank you for your beautiful prose.

dectia (bOINGbOINGer)

rootdown said...

thank you for unscreening the old posts, I'm sort of reading through them leisurely now, and read the most recent one as well. I think it's very interesting that you got this flush of attention for this project of yours just as you are considering moving on to some new pursuit and are more or less bored with the idea of stripping, like it might be bad timing but it might be perfect timing, it could be all down to how you decide to play this new hand you've been dealt.

the wide world of stripping is very interesting to me, but interesting in the same way that like national geographic specials are interesting and the martian lander is interesting. I've never been to a strip club and I'm not really the sort of person who would go (and I don't mean that derisively or anything, it's just not my kink) so it's a really revealing look at a world I'd otherwise not be privvy to. I bet your entries would be even more fun if I imagined them being read by David Attenborough. I am going to try that now.

diopter said...

Wow, Grace, things are certainly picking up over here for you, this is great to see. :) As a longtime reader I feel like I'm in the minority!

That being said: I can relate to what you're going through -- having no reserves left. So take some time for you. Breathe deeply and slowly. Recharge your soul with whatever it is that makes you TRULY happy. Create small goals for this each day, lists, ideas. Hopefully the balance will be restored.

xx from NYC

nat said...

just got through all the archives, and had to join the crowd to say- that was lovely, wonderful, you're a great read.

KEBlog said...

Hi Grace
As a new reader I thought I would pay my respects. I enjoy your writings and think they have a seldom edge to them. Keep up the good work.

sv said...

Having a friend like you ought to be badass.

tim said...

you are the realest person in the world
he's right about the karma
take the book deal honey easy money ;)

Anonymous said...

the writing in this blog is amazing. i cant stop reading. well done.

Lucky Luxie said...

Grace, your blog has given me amazing insight into the stripping industry which I am interested in getting in to. I love hearing your take on things.

Quick question; When your satanist said

'"What are you doing?" he says. "Why do you do that? Why do you tell everybody what they want to hear? You're so transparent it's ridiculous."'

I felt really scared because I've heard a lot of people have that misconception about strippers, that everything they do it fake and that they are transparent. Have you found that happens a lot in your life?