Wednesday, June 25, 2008

boss man

I push through the swinging doors into the dressing room. I just want to sit down for a minute. It's a lousy night. There are twenty waitresses on the floor and probably about that many customers in the whole stupid club.

The club's response to an ever-weakening economy has been to jack up cover prices, which has run off a whole tier of customers. They've also hired more dancers, so that the house can collect more fees from them. I don't know why they've hired a bevy of new waitresses and scheduled twenty of them on a Tuesday night, but if I had to guess, they're trying to turn them into dancers. In a week, the youngest and prettiest of the new waitresses will complain to the managers that they aren't making money and the managers will say, "Why don't you dance for a night and see how you like it." The older, uglier waitresses will just drift away.

I always had a feeling if I knew too much about the runnings of this bar I'd hate it. When I was a dancer I came and went like a ninja. I made my money and got out, keeping interaction with management to the bare minimum possible. This is harder now that I'm waitress. Now that I have to sit in meeting with the managers for thirty minutes after the shift starts and thirty minutes after we close and wipe the tables down. Now that I have to ask the managers permission for everything I do, and report every dollar I make. Something in me that does not love a boss. No wonder I've been fired from half the straight jobs I've ever had.

I just want to sit down. Unfortunately, the waitresses' corner of the dressing room is occupied. The shift manager lounges in the ass-sweat-saturated wheelie chair, legs spread like a pasha. Waitresses perch around him, and one brand-new little blonde teenager crouches at his side with her head on his knee. He has one arm draped heavily over her neck, a lordling posing with his favorite hunting dog.

I get just a flash of this as I walk past, back into the dancers' space, where girls are re-curling their hair and bitching in familiar ways about familiar things. I want a cigarette. I even carry them on my tray, for customers to buy from me. But I don't smoke any more and I'm proud of myself.

I can't shake it. I can't shake my distaste for that frat boy gone to seed, with his white-blond hair spiked up and his pink-pink skin. His baby-faced smugness, eyes opaque as marbles. I can't shake my distaste for the whole stupid scene and I'm not sure why. I hope that little blonde girl has an epiphany some day soon and realizes that even if crawling on the floor for men's approval is her thing, she could be doing it for somebody a lot more worthwhile than the little oinker in the chair there. For fuck's sake.

Later in the night the same manager comes up behind me and raps my tray with his knuckles. "That's one," he says. As in, that's one strike.


"Don't put your tray there."

My tray is sitting on a wide ledge that lines the ramp down to the main floor. It looks pretty safe there to me, especially since I am standing next to it with my hand on it.


"Yes, really. Because someone could come along and just do this."

He puts his hand on my tray and gives it a sharp shove. It flies. Matches and lighters and cigarettes and ballpoint pens scatter while cocktail napkins and credit card receipts drift down slower, like snow.

We look at each other. "Really?" I say, finally. "But, who would do a thing a like that?"

He doesn't say anything and he doesn't have to. He folds his arms. I stoop to pick up my stuff, and here I am, on my knees, at his feet. He wins. I lose. I've been out-pissed in this pissing contest.

I sort everything back onto my tray. I go back to the dressing room. The chair is empty. I take one of my rescued cigarettes and roll it lightly in my fingers, put it to my mouth and light it with a kiss. It tastes like, fuck you. And it tastes like, enough.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I never was a Superstripper. I never had the strategy. I just smiled a lot and hoped that would take me where the money was. It often did.

I have a big smile, open and full of teeth like happy dog. My eyes crinkle shut when I smile, too, which according to some eastern diagnostic traditions means I am destined for a happy life. Here's hoping.

I still smile a lot now that I am cocktailing at my old strip club. I think it's the only reason I make money, not that I'm making that much. Note to self: working for tips during a recession is shit.

I smile all huge at the guy I'm talking to now. "Can I get you something?"

He's all sprawled out in his chair and now his eyes roll up at me like bloodshot eggs. He probably doesn't need another drink. I ask again if I can bring him something. Water, perhaps?

"Just bring me your tits."

"Okey doke," I say. I turn and walk away.

Why are you waitressing? All the waitresss ask me this. Like there's going to be some big dramatic reason. I tell them I just needed a break, but they look at me like they don't get it, so after a while I start making up stupid reasons. I tell them I was tired of shaving my pussy. I tell them I developed an allergy to men's pants.

The dancers don't ask me why I'm waitressing, not the ones I've known for a while anyway. They know dancing can get old.

"I wish I could be a fucking waitress," Ronnie says. "I can't do it though. I'm a horrible waitress."

Ronnie's been here longer than most of us, and yet she never quite looks like a stripper. Her hair and make-up are haphazard, as though she's never quite got the hang of them. Clumsy in her shoes, she sidles crab-wise across the club, awkward and stoop-shouldered. Her pupils are no bigger than a pencil-tip and when she talks to you she stares right through you. Drugs, maybe. Or she's really crazy. I really don't know.

My regular, B., told me she once offered to give him a blow-job after the club closed. She wanted a couple hundred dollars and she gave him her phone number and promised the meet up with him. He says he didn't call her. I can't think of any reason he would make this up.

Everyone sort of knows that Ronnie is a whore, but everyone lets it go. In theory, strippers hate girls like this because they drive up customer expectations and undermine the market for the dancing-only kind of entertainment. But it's hard to hate Ronnie. She isn't hurting anyone.

"I tried to be a waitress," Ronnie tells me, staring right through me at a spot six feet behind my face. "I couldn't do it. It's hard."

"I hope I make it," I say. "I'm sick of dancing."

"Right on," says Ronnie, nodding. "Right on, right on."

And she squirrels away. I'll see her later at the end of the night in the dressing room, where her locker is two down from mine. I'm supposed to use the waitress lockers in the waitress part of the dressing room now, but I don't. Waitresses here are as cut-throat and mean as dancers are sweet and laid-back.

Or maybe it's just a sign of the times. No one's making money any more, and for some obscure reason the club keeps hiring more girls. More dancers, more waitresses. Flooding the floor with girls even as the pool of customers shrinks till we are like angry sea-birds around a vanishing tide-pool. I did OK tonight, but barely, and only because I smiled at the right people at the right time.

Ronnie is cursing next to me and I don't want to know why. "She's so fucking stupid," she says. "She thinks she's all that, but she's not. That's the funny thing. She is not. She is NOT."

She's slurring. She might be a little drunk, but then again she always slurs. It's hard to tell. Maybe she's always drunk.

"You OK, baby?" I say, only because I feel like I have to say something.

"She is a fucking god-damned piece-of-shit cunt whore is what she is,"Ronnie says. "And she thinks she's so hot. Fuck her! Fuck her, right?"

"OK, baby. It'll be OK."

Not because it will be. Just for something to say.

She slams her open palm into the closed door of the locker next to her. And then she does it again, and again, and again. "Fucking fuckingfuckingFUCK!"

I stuff my things in their bag. I pull the zipper shut. I take another look at her, but I can't think of anything I'm supposed to do. I'd rather just not be involved. I imagine a lot of people feel this way about Ronnie. I wonder if anyone loves her.

I back away, and really I don't turn my back on her until I am at the dressing room door and then I go out. The last thing I see is her pitched forward, with her face not quite pressed against the locker door, not quite crying.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I think that's the Egyptian. I've seen him here twice, at my favorite downtown coffee place, the one I stop at on the way home from meetings with my Dayjob Project partner and her team. Meetings start early and run long. I'm tired by the end, every time, but excited. Things are going so, so well. On the bike ride home I stop for coffee to balance my thrill out with my exhaustion.

I've seen him here twice now. I think that's him. He's quite distinctive. Tall, with a ridiculous, matinee idol face. Dark eyes and Rudolph Valentino lips. So nicely dressed, too. Lovely shirts, expensive belts and shoes. We met at the old club, when I'd been dancing for a couple of months. He doesn't look any different out here in the light. I wonder if I do.

"You should be called Layla," he used to tell me, and his accent reminded me of heavy perfume. "Layla means night. Not just any night, but a night in the desert, under the sky. A beautiful night. A romantic night." He really talked like this.

His fingers were always digging into my crevices, trying to creep between my thighs, or my ass cheeks, or my armpits even. Like he was going to put his hand right into me, the way you thrust your hand up in the warm guts of a freshly-killed chicken and neatly twist them out. He didn't stop when I asked him to stop. He didn't even stop when I would grab his wrists and try to force his hands off of me. He was stronger than I was, much.

He would come in in the middle of the afternoon lull when there had been no customers in the doors for an hour or more, and it was sit with him and make money or sit by myself in the dressing room and go home broke. I sat with him every time. And I didn't scream. I didn't go and get the manager. I didn't do the things that I'd tell any other girl to someone else to do if they were me. I stayed and silently fought his hands, and then I took the money and went back to the dressing room and folded and straightened all the bills and put them in my locker. I took his money, and so, I am sometimes reminded by voices in my head and commenters here, I have no right to complain.

Who's complaining? I'm just remembering. I sit here at my table with my coffee and remember. I remember everything. I remember pulling at his fingers and saying please stop, and I remember the obnoxious strength of him and the hairs on his wrist like black wires. He was a big man, with big arms. It was one of the things you would find attractive about him, if you met him somewhere.

"Baby, you're beautiful," he would say. "Your face is a doll face." And he would brush his hand across my cheeks, finger-tips jabbing lightly at the openings of my ears and eyes. "I love you so much, you know that? Run away with me, darling." Then he would laugh fondly. He had a wife. He told me he had a wife. But there was...something. Some real or imaginary problem. I don't remember, if I ever really knew. Then he would dart for my crevices again.

I took the money. I sold my right to be shocked. Some people would say it wasn't worth it, but those people put a higher price on innocence than I do. I'm not sorry I know the things I know now. I'm not sorry I know that there are people out there who will touch you even if they know you don't want to be touched, and that some of those people are attractive, well-spoken, wealthy, and nicely dressed. I always had my suspicions that this was true.

I sold my right to be angry, too, and that's OK. What I feel now isn't anger, anyway, just a great and unbridgeable distance. Such distance that I don't care if he sees me or not, if that curl of lip is recognition of me in particular, or just of the woman-shaped thing I also am, with eyes and hair and a mouth.

I don't care.

I don't care. He is just a shape. There's nothing he could say or do to me now that would matter to me at all. He could stand in front of me and block my way and I would walk right through him, because he isn't really there.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

the light in the afternoon

I am on the phone with Scarlett. It is 99 degrees outside and humid; clothes are impractical in this weather, so I am in my underwear in the middle of the afternoon, on my back, on the couch, on the phone, sweating.

I hate how dark this apartment is. There are no windows that face the sun, at any time of day. The light is always murky, and you don't know what time it is. Scarlett's voice sounds like it's coming to me from the moon, and my own voice sounds that way, too.

"I don't want to be touched anymore," I say.

This is not kind of me. Scarlett went to New York City and went straight, got a straight job and an apartment and some friends, and came back to visit this winter looking sleek and blooming. But things can go downhill fast in a city that big, and this week she started at dancing again, at a "private club" with beds in the VIP.

"I convince guys I'm going to fuck them for fifteen minutes for $160 and then I don't do it," is what she says.

Fifteen minutes is a long time to spend in a closed room with someone who thinks they just paid to fuck you. Everything about that sounds bad. Body-in-a-dumpster bad. I don't want to be that bitch who gets out of dancing for three weeks and comes back and tells all their friends they are Ruining Their Lives, but I am scared for my friend. I want to put a fence around her eight miles high.

I noticed the strain in her voice as soon as I picked up the phone. She launched right in, talking fast, spinning plans for the future, and I hear how she is pushing herself. I know my friend. I hear her brain scrambling in all directions, heart burning at a high heat.

I soothe her, like I know how to do, and when she simmers down a little she asks me what I'm doing, and I say I've left dancing, which is no surprise. I told her my reasons months ago. I try to be cautious about what I say, because there's too much tinder on the ground to go throwing out sparks. But like the good friend she is, she puts her finger right on the sorest spot and presses down.

"What does C. think?"

I tell her I don't know. I tell her he's playing along, but that I'm not sure he really understands, which might say more about me and my lack of faith than it says about him. He hasn't said a harsh word to me, or even rolled his eyes. He tries to live peacefully with me, the hurting monster lurking in the bedroom. He doesn't complain.

But I don't know if he understands. I don't know if anyone who hadn't spent too much time in titty bars could understand how you know that it's been too much time. I don't really understand it myself, not the exact mechanics of it. I don't know why a few months ago it was fine and now it's not, or why I can't conceive of getting my things together and driving to the club. The whole routine -- the coffee I buy at the drive-in on the way there, the parking lot I pull into just at dusk, the front desk where I pay my house fees, the dressing room where I apply my make-up ritually, every stroke, every day, the same -- seems foreign, like something I've heard about but never done myself.

I'm sure C. wishes I could suck it up and go back and make a thousand dollars in a weekend like I used to do. I am sure that he wishes this because I wish it myself. If there were just some actual reason why I couldn't do it anymore. Like, if my leg were broken. If I had a reason to give him, one that I'd know he could understand.

Scarlett understands.

"It's a tough job," she says. "You've done it for a long time. You got a lot of good things out of it. You're tired. It's OK."

She sounds pretty tired herself. I should stop, change the subject. We don't need to talk about how much stripping sucks right now, when she has to get off the phone and shower and shave her snatch and catch the subway to the private club with the VIP and it's waiting beds.

It feels so good, though, to know that someone understands, to be sure of it. And that's when I say it, about not wanting to be touched any more.

The pause is taught.

"Well, it doesn't get any simpler than that," Scarlett says.

"I can't do it. I really can't."

"I know. I know."

Her voice sounds tired. More tired than before? I wish I could see her face. I want to hug her, and be hugged. I wish she were here. There's not even a phone line between us, in a proper sense, just two thousand miles of electrified ether. It's not really quite enough.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


I don't do a lot of re-posting on here, but this is the funniest thing I've ever seen. It really is.