Tuesday, February 28, 2006

locked out

I spent most of yesterday pissing my boyfriend off. Which is sort of amazing, because I also mastered the art of the Martini-Girl Pole Spin at work, went the gym, and prepared my taxes. So, quite a full day.

It's even more amazing when you know that C. is one of the most amiable human beings ever. This is the man who laughed when we ran out of gas in a rainstorm in the middle of Wyoming, whose only response to insult and threat is a slight tilt of the head. He is one cool, cool cat. And he is so over me.

I do a lot of stupid things. If you tell me to do five things, I will forget two of them. If you write them down and put the list in my pants pocket, I will change pants. If you wash my pants for me, I will immediately spill red dye on them and then put them in the wash again and accidentally dye all your undershirts pink. Fortunately, I am also amusing company, but after a while (like, say, two years) I fear even such blandishments as the Funny Leprechaun Voice and the Amazing Wobble Dance are wearing thin as compensations for my general wooliness and incompetence.

I started the day out wrong by asking to borrow the car at the last minute to go to work. We compromised with me dropping him off at work and zooming up north, then picking him up for lunch and being dropped off at home. Everything went smooth as hell, except I was an hour later picking him up than I said I'd be. So C. spent most of that hour panicking and waiting for the hospital to call and tell him I had been in an awful accident, which would be paranoid except that a little over a year ago the hospital did call and I had been in an accident, and for the next six weeks he had to cook me oatmeal and prop me up in bed to watch TV.

By the time I arrived to take him to lunch, he was sort of a wreck. And then, since he had to drive me all the way home, there wasn't time to stop anywhere for lunch anyway, so I reheated him some crab chowder I made for myself the other day, which apparently disagreed with him because he threw up. Then I asked him to drop me off at the pharmacy on his way back to work so I could refill my prescription for crazy-person medications, but I forgot to take my house key with me, so when I walked home I was locked out.

I had asked him to call me when he got back to work (I was worried about the throwing up) but I didn't have my cel phone with me, so I hiked around for thirty minutes to find a pay phone, and called him, by which time had been trying fruitless to reach me on my cell and was once again fantasizing about the hospital and the phone call and the oatmeal. And in the midst of this I had to ask him to stop by the house between work and band practice and unlock the door. His voice was strained when he said yes, which made my own throat hurt. My poor love. For your sake, if for nothing else, I wish I was not an idiot. I will try harder not to be an idiot.

Meanwhile, I was locked out of my house in filthy workout clothes with nothing but my wallet so I spent the afternoon at the gym. By the time I got home, the door was open, so I slunk inside and did my taxes, comforting myself with the idea of how much money I make, even if I am about half retarded. I went to bed before C. got home from practice, of course, but I have a sleepy memory of being woken up by kisses, so maybe all is not lost, after all. When I woke up this morning, he was already gone.

Friday, February 24, 2006

scouting trip

Last night I loaded up the boyfriend and drove us to a club on the northern outskirts of town that I've been hearing good things about. I was impressed, but then I'm a sucker for a new club. I can still be wowed by the seedy glamour of pink lights and heavy bass and gyrating naked bodies in blacklight-responsive thongs. In a new club it's easy to overlook the inconveniences and little moments of ugliness. It's easy to believe in glamour and good times and easy money and excitement.

This club is the "sister club" of my current one -- the cuter, sexier, more popular sister, apparently. The dancers were hot -- no fatties, no scares -- although there were few real standouts. Customers were plentiful and appeared to be biting.

I tipped a dancer with many tattoos and shaggy Elvira hair, a cutie. She stopped by after her stage set and I bought a dance for the boy and one for myself. They were nice dances, medium contact; she wasn't a very sensual dancer, but she had an adorable smile. There were some dances going on in the room, although not a huge number. It was early, though. Dances seemed to be lower mileage than at the current club. I did see a guy running his hands up between a dancers thighs, but she batted him away, whereas at my place this kind of touching is more or less standard

I bought Elvira a drink and she gave me a little run-down on the club, seemed to think it was a foregone conclusion I'd be hired, which was nice. She offered to get the manager and disappeared for a while but couldn't find him. She brought me an application, though. I think I'd like to work here and so I'm terrified, paralyzed with self-consciousness, like I always am before trying out at a new club.

What if they won't hire me? What if I'm too ugly, too fat, too flat-chested, too old, too young, too something, not something enough? As if working at a better club for more money would prove that I'm better and worth more. I know that shouldn't be true. But sometimes is.

Monday, February 20, 2006

grasshopper singing

My boyfriend came home from work to have lunch with me but we has sex instead. After he left I got stoned and cleaned the house and then practiced bellydancing isolations in front of the hall mirror, with the bathroom door open to let the heat from the gas-burning unit seep out into the hall while the predicted freezing rain hissed lightly against the windows with a sound like drops of water hitting a flame.

I wonder what I would have thought about myself if I'd known back in engineering school, that at 25 I'd spend a Monday afternoon looking for cheap stripper clothes on Ebay, not busting my ass downloading the Peterson files for the Big Presentation with the Guys From Out of Town. Do I feel guilty? Sort of. Sometimes. Maybe on warmer days. Not right this second, thank you.

You remember that grasshopper/ant spin they make such a big deal about when you're small and impressionable? It's supposed to teach you the virtues of foresight and delayed gratification and other middle class virtues. I remember one particular book illustration of the grasshopper, shivering outside the ant-hill in a cold November wind. I don't remember feeling a lot of empathy. As a kid, I identified strongly with the ants. Hey. Winter's coming. Stupid grasshopper could have known that. The ants didn't have to be such smug little pricks about it, and, you know, they probably could have spared some of that grain, but what the fuck.

I did not expect to grow up to be grasshopper. I did not expect to be outside the hill when all the grass died and it was cold. And of course, I'm not outside tonight. Not literally, and maybe not metaphorically either. I just ate. Later, if I'm hungry, I'll eat again. I make the money to pay the gas company to keep the gasburner burning and so it'll be warm all night. I have what I need. Still, I wonder if I'm doing it right, whatever it is. Those ants had focus. They had drive. Those ants would never have let important e-mail from assistant editors languish all day in their inboxes. Damnit, those aunts were so on-task.

As for me, I can't relax, nor can I fully buckle down to anything that might matter. Even now, when I am fucking off in life about as much as I possibly could somehow I still manage to be weirdly uptight. I can't stop making plans for things I know will never happen. The plans are supposed to make me feel better, but instead they make me feel worse. I look at the plans and I look at my life and I am somebody standing on a street corner looking at a map of a city they are not even in.

Last month, my therapist asked me to think about how I wanted to be remembered when I die. I haven't got a clue. When I was a kid, I was so sure I'd do something important. Now, I don't know. The thought of big projects, like, say, overthrowing the government or saving a rainforest, seem out of reach and scary. The odds of failure are so huge. I do so hate to fail. So maybe I'd be content to better the world around me in more humble and local ways. Or maybe I'd rather throw my energy into something that's of no significance, even to me. Something where my most urgent concern is the size of my ass and the biggest risk to my pride is falling off my platform shoes and landing on a fat guy with a comb-over.

But it isn't about nothing, the dancing. I tell myself that. There are things I want to learn. There are very important questions I have to answer. There are hidden sides of myself that ought to be explored. There are issues I've got to settle. Not just for myself, but for the world that's right THE WORLD!

Meanwhile, little beads of ice are rattling gently at the window. I am sitting on the floor with my laptop in my lap, inching closer to the bathroom door, leaning into the little space that is warm.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

meeting of the bored

The club called a mandatory meeting of all dancers Sunday afternoon. I imagine people who work in offices must wonder what their officemates look like naked. Me, I was more than a little intrigued to have a look at all my coworkers wearing pants.

The meeting starts thirty minutes late, of course, because we're strippers and stripper are thirty minutes late. The old white men who run the club line up on stools at the back bar neat as clay pigeons in the classic strip-club manager pose: hands clasped over paunch, gaze cast contempuously down over rosy red nose.. The General Manager starts out with a cheery greeting. "This is not a question-and-answer session," he says in his too-good-to-be-true Godfather accent. "We will tawk. You will listen."

They go on to own up -- finally -- to the lousy slump into which the club has been sunk these past months ( or years?): the lack of paying customers, the abundance of cheapskate perverts, the prevalence of dirty dancing, the generally low spirits and tatty appearance of the dancers. They tell us what they will do to fix things (buy new chairs) and what they expect us to do (lose weight, come to work sober, wear dresses instead of raggedy mismatched bikinis, "stop wawking around here with a longneck in one hand an a cigarette in de udder.")

Personally, I am not hopeful. This used to be a classy club, from everything I hear, and it still gets its share of high rollers, maybe because there's really nowhere else for them to go. Most of the other clubs in town have well-deserved reputations for the unappealing qualities of their dancers, the youth and rowdiness of their customer base, the ready availability of sexual gratification, or any combination of the above. If this club were able to step up and fill the high-class steakhouse-with-tits niche it formerly occupied, it would have only a few real competitors. Not sure I can stick around whirling my thumbs till that happens, though. If it happens.

On the other hand, moving on is an uncertain quanitity, too. I don't know how much money other dancers make, because I don't ask, but from what filters back to me, I'm actually doing surprisingly well. If I changed clubs, it could take me months to rebuild the regular customer base I have now. Hard to know if it's worth it. I think I'll take the Boyfriend on a fieldtrip to one or two clubs, and get a feel for the lay of the land. Horoscope says "change may be imminent." So there you have it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

dear john

So Mr. Red Tie has e-mailed me twice about the lunch date I half-assedly sort of not really agreed to. I finally wrote him back this morning to let him down:

Mr. Red Tie,
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I've thought a lot about our lunch date, and I think we've been very honest with each other, so I'm just going to be honest.

Awww. See, Mr. Red Tie? I trust you. Isn't that sweet of me?

I must have been carried away when I agreed to meet you outside the club.

You swept me off my feet with your good looks and charm, you see. How's a giddy young thing like me to resist?

I have a very strict personal policy against this, as I've had some bad experiences this way in the past. Thank you for understanding.(At least, I hope you do!)

The world is full of psychos and a girl can't be too careful.

I do enjoy your company and hope to see you again.

Threw this in, just in case. Although to be honest, I could live without this one. The money was good enough, but I've made just as good without having to flail around guarding my poon while I was trying to dance. So sulk all you want, Red. The world is full of money, and frankly, you're kind of a jerk.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

hot damn

My best day ever, in all my spotty dancing career. It was slow again, but I was pulling some bills. Mr. A came in with a Valentine's Day present for his ATF, Katrice. (A gift card and an unscented candle, since you ask.) Katrice was busy doing something or other, though, so I entertained Mr. A for three songs worth, then tactfully vanished when she showed up, like the soul of discretion that I am.

I was about to lolly back into the dressing room and finish out the shift reading the Missed Connection ads in the newspaper, but I paused to say hello to a non-descript, heavy-set chappy with glasses, who happened to be sitting in my can't miss seat -- the middle table in the raised section that used to be the VIP Room but is now simply the area outside the private dance booth room. In general, this section is a good sell; it's far from the stage, so the peepshow guys avoid it; it's private, so you can have an actual conversation, and because it abuts the PD area, the guys who sit here tend to be serious about their lap dances. This particular seat, though, is a magic charm for me. Guys who sit there are all mine. I know it's crazy, but I don't make this shit up.

So when I see someone sitting there I make a beeline for him. This guy turns out to be a computer programmer, so I sell myself on the basis of my nerdiness and former history as an engineering student. He gives me $200 and tells me to dance as much as I think it's worth. I am in love. He gets the best dances of his life, and knows it. I am athletic, sensual, and tireless. Three trips to the ATM and several hundred dollars later, we part with mutual expressions of esteem.

By then, my boyfriend, so I slide back to the dressing room to change into my unraveling sweater and stinky jeans and float out of the club on air. I am a rockstar. I am invincible. Was I saying around three o'clock that I needed to quit this lousy club for an establishment that deserves me? Forgive me, I misspoke.

Friday, February 10, 2006


Ah, Flashdance. That bizarre every-Friday ritual in which the entire shift's dancers are rounded up into the dressing room like so many prime heifers, given a short pep talk -- SMILE! -- and herded on stage all at once, to the tune of the "Mission Impossible" theme.

I assume the intended effect is a wild frenzy of female pulcritude, but they are not reckoning for the general slackness of us day girls. Where we should be giggling and jumping up and down, most of us are standing around numbly onstage, or shivering like orphans. We are then to jump down and mill through the crowd, putting our bums onto lunchtime customers for 5-10 second intervals and demanding dollars, in much the same spirit that bums clean your car windows at stoplights and then ask for a tip.

But cynicism aside, today was my best day since Christmas and I like to take it as a sign I'm finally pulling out of my cedar fever/PMS/body dismorphia slump. Also nice: it wasn't all from one customer. While those gents who occasionally waltz through the club scattering G-bills and proposing marriage are a thrill, it's nice to know you can pull a good day without them.

And speaking of marriage proposals, today I received my first. OK, I'm kidding, sort of. On stage for my last set before Flashdance, I noticed a fellow in a red tie making googly eyes at me from VIP. He even tipped me, which was a bit of a surprise. VIPs rarely tip at this club; they just sit back and flash their Rolex watches and Italian shoes at you and wait for you to race over and collect like the lucky girl you are.

This chappie was attentive, though, and I made him priority one during Flashdance. But you're not allowed to sit with one customer; you have to circulate for about twenty minutes, spreading good cheer and simulated blowjobs. By the time I got back to Mr. Red Tie, he was eating a steak dinner, so I buzzed off and made my rounds. Came back again, made party chat, answered all the basic questions.

Yes, I like to dance.

No, Grace is not my real name.

My real name is Fantasy. Just kidding, it's Ecstasy. No really, it's Bambi. No really, that's it. I know. Blame my parents.

Yes, I think you're very handsome and nice and you certainly know how to treat a lady. Yes, I feel the super-special attraction between us.

All that out of the way, we move over to a couch in a dark corner and get down to the real business of the afternoon. Guy moves FAST. I have to play super-shy college girl to keep his finger out of my twat, and even then, reminders have to be issued with a fair frequency. But I'm making good money, and I keep it up.

Every time I tell him something he wants to hear he marvels about how wonderful and special and amazing I am. After an hour he's telling me that he plans to remarry, and when he does it will be someone just like me. Then he's asking me to lunch. The money I'm making is too good to cut things short, so I say he can e-mail me about it. Now I've got to think of a way to weasel out. I do really hate lying. I guess the trick is to remember that his involvement is that of a big game hunter, not a lover, so that while I may disappoint him, he won't actually be hurt. Or so I tell myself. Damn me, why do I have to think of customers as real people? I know good and well they don't think of me that way.

Also in play, my all-time favorite customer, the Plumber. This late-forties successful blue-collar guy is sending himself back to school to study political science, just out of curiosity. He's affectionate (but not in a creepy way) respectful and kind. When I say I'm glad to see him, I really mean it. When he looks tired, like today, I'm genuinely concerned. He never stays long and never buys more than two dances. On the other hand, he never asks for my phone number, never wants me to meet him anywhere else, never tries to make our relationship something that it isn't. There's a comforting reality to our interactions: I'm a dancer, he's a customer, we like each other, end of story.

And: my Evil Scientist, who is totally inhuman, absolutely sweet, and the most racist asshole I've ever met. He brings Klan material to the club for me to read and pretend to consider and told me he'd rather I fucked a dog than dated a Negro. He also takes all his table scraps home to his neighbors' dogs, and always tips the one raddled, middle-aged junkie waitress in the sea of curvy, college-aged ones. He loves to buy me dinner and make me eat, although he has to be high-pressured to buy dances. When I do dance for him, he's exceeding gentle and polite in a physical sense, but the things he says to me should curl my hair.

Mr. A. The most thoroughly inoffensive guy on the planet. He's a club institution, pours money around like water, buying snacks for the waitresses and shots for the DJ's. I'm one of his second-tier players. If his favorites -- invariably the most beautiful and veteran dancers -- aren't around, he'll get two or three dances from me. He likes to hum along with all the songs, and doesn't make eye contact.

And now goodnight. I'm off to shave my snatch in preparation for tomorrow's festivities.

Monday, February 06, 2006


This weekend was not bad. Actually, it was bad -- slow as all hell; I made about half what I would make on a good weekend -- but it wasn't bad. By some quality of mercy in the universe, I stayed out of the dark mental territory that had me fingering the straight razors weekend before last. It wasn't that kind of bad.

The worst it got was dancing for the hefty prominent-citizen type who seemed so humble and boyish until I sold him on a dance. He wanted to dance in a private booth, so I took him back there. The first bad sign was when he disagreed with my choice of booth. I favor the booths where there is a clear view in and out from either the floor or the back bar. So that, you know, if anybody started slitting my throat in there, there's some slim chance someone else might see it and come to my aid. There's one booth squirreled away in the back corner where there is no clear view in or out. Pervs discovered this booth long ago. If a customer insists on going back there, I'll guarant-goddamn-tee you'd better talk fast and dance evasively, or you are going to get a tongue (or worse) in your ear (or worse) faster than you can say "you can't rape a whore."

So this particular gentleman was a kisser. As in grab your jaw and force his tongue down your throat. We did a few dances, me with both hands on his shoulders and my full weight pressing him back against the seat, so he couldn't lunge forward and lay a slimy one on my mouth.

"Careful," I tell him "I bite."

"Come on," he says, "C'mere. It's just a kiss."

But a kiss is not a just. A kiss, when properly done between two consenting adults, is a pinnacle of tenderness and expressivity. You can kiss someone you love and know more about their state of mind than if you talked to them for hours. I can't imagine trying to force someone to kiss me. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of the thing?

Then I hear the DJ calling me to stage. Whoops, gotta go, babe. And by the way, where's my money? He hasn't got it on him, he says. He's got to go the the ATM. The DJ calls me again, not patiently. Center stage is empty. I ask him to bring the money to me on stage. He says he will. If I'll give him a kiss. His mouth looms in the dark like a cave.

I walk away. By the time I get off the three-stage rotation, he is long gone, taking my money with him.

But whatever, you know? All in a day's work. Leave the office at the office, or, in my case, the titty bar at the titty bar.

So then I went to yoga class Sunday morning. The teacher did a set for the heart center, anahata chakra. For those of you who don't know, this involves a lot of stretching in the chest, shoulders, and upper back. Fine. I'm a little stiff up in there, since I've been focussing most of my attention in my own practice on rehabilitating my hip injury. But I'm having a good time, grooving right along like the nerd I am, and then we lie down for Savasana, the final resting pose. And the teacher launches into this meditation for the heart. You might know it; it's a fairly common one.

You think of someone you love, and conjure up the feeling of that love. Then you think of someone you don't know, and try to feel the same love for them. Then you think of someone towards whom you feel resentment, and try to love them as well. Finally, you try loving yourself. The last time I did this meditation, last August, I was just at the end of yoga training. I was working at my beloved studio and daydreaming about the camping trip I was going to take with my boyfriend. I was awash with love. I was love and love was me. When we were asked to think of someone we resented, I was at a loss. Then I went camping, and when I got back the studio fired me ("not a good fit") and I started dancing again. The rest is history.

This time around with the love meditation, I know I am sunk from the very beginning. "Think of someone towards you feel nothing but love," the teacher says. " No resentment. No hurt."

I start to panic right away. My heart's too full of thorns for love like that. Fallen so far in so few months. It's all gone, all of it. That love and light. I'll never feel it again. It tricked me. The world tricked me into thinking it was good. I hate it.

Teacher's voice, still going. Murmur, murmur. She asks us to think of someone we don't knowl -- maybe the person next to us, if they're a stranger. Someone for whom we have no feelings

I got annoyed with the girl on my left at the beginning of class when she asked me if I'd move my mat over to give her space. Something about her tone of voice, something that didn't even make sense. The guy on my right has been irritating me with his breathing for an hour. Come to think of it, not sure I feel neutral towards anyone. Not even that.

"Now someone towards whom you are harboring negative feelings." Oh my god. A flood. Everyone I know. Everyone I love -- that web of expectations, interlocking disappointments. I fail everyone and when I fail they fail me too. Everyone I don't know and don't love. Every customer who refuses to look at me when I say hello or stares at my outstretched hand like hand-shakes are some sort of suspicious foreign ritual, or grabs my breasts after I ask him not to, or just stares at me, bored and contemptuous, with his shallow, porcine little eyes OH FUCK OH FUCK.

By the time the teacher is asking us to love ourselves, I am twisted in a little knot. I can't even stay lying on my back. I have to roll over on my side in a tight fetal position. My chest hurts, and also my throat.

The world hasn't changed since August, so it must be me. I don't hate dancing, or not any more than I hated waiting tables or washing dishes or sorting mail or temping, godforsaken temping, the worst, the most soulless, all day under fluorescent lights in enforced idleness making up jobs for myself to keep from going crazy.

Whisper chorus says my life is in a bad place, what did I go back to college for if I'm just going to be a stupid dancer stupid dancer. Why do I have to want to write, do things that make no money, make no sense. I should have stayed at that receptionist job, toughed it out and maybe someday if I do it all just right (do what? There's nothing to do. I'm paid to sit here.) it would have Led To Something.

I need a plan. A life plan. I need to know what I'm doing next. But the things I could do next look like cheap treats on a tray at a bad party and I don't want anything that I should want and so I get up in the mornings and shave my legs and take the bus across town and cross the parking lot, through the swinging doors (strips clubs always have such impressive-looking doors) and pay the house fees and do this thing I thought I was done with. The last time I made a plan, my plan was never to do this again. So much for plans.