Saturday, October 27, 2007

the giver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007

dear john

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this been helpful. See you soon.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

friends and relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

the devil in the afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 08, 2007

crossover sensation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 06, 2007

standing still

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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