Jeff. His name was Jeff, and I was sitting on his lap and it was maybe five hours ago. He had glasses, and when I asked where he was from, I noted that it's quite a distance from the club. "Yeah, I take the bus. It's about two hours each way. I do it everyday." To work at a pizza place. I was horrified. This dude takes the fucking BUS in insane Minnesota weather to work at a pizza place in a suburb so far away it takes four hours out of his daily existence just to get there and back. I imagined him last winter, the "polar vortex" winter, freezing his ass off making multiple transfers and standing outside in -45 degree wind chill. I was halted, and felt something I usually don't feel this strongly (or sometimes ever,) for customers, this thing called "human empathy." I looked in his face and he was genuinely proud of his job ("I'm the cook!") and he was earnest and sweet and a fucking nerd. I wondered what he was doing there, at my strip club on a Monday night, alone. He wasn't old, 24 maybe. Did he need me? Us? Someone to pretend they care, and smile when he makes jokes? He didn't shudder with pleasure at the simple touch of my fingertips on his arm, like some customers have. I asked him for a second dance, and The Feelings drained away when he said no, when on Mondays dances are only 10 dollars instead of 20. The Feelings returned when he tipped me $5. I wondered how much he made, thanked him, and walked away.
I stormed down the flight of stairs, flung open the curtain, and marched up to their table. My last customers of the night. The one who had visible cocaine in his nostril and a gigantic wad of cash. Hundreds.
"Is this ten dollars?"
"Count it out." I handed him 10 one dollar bills gingerly, fuming. "Count. It. Out." I tapped my acrylic nail on the table with each word for emphasis.
"Wait, come ba-" he slurred to my back as I walked away.
Flash forward hours later, after Jeff the Nerdy Pizza Cook to closing time. I was called back downstairs to give this motherfucker his change he (I thought) had forgotten about, and didn't care about at the time. I had already stepped down from my 7" stilettos in the dressing room. I was removing my stripper jewlery that I put on piece by piece nightly, like "pieces of flair" in Office Space. It was time to call this, like all Mondays I've ever worked, a failure and go home. But no. Not yet. My manager was mad too, not even subtle with the notion that I was scheming, and cheating this lowlife out of his tengoddamndollars.
There's a point in your life when you've been dancing so long that parts of your body that start to wear down in old age are doing so before you hit 30. My body is betraying me. My joints ache, the bruises on my knees never go away, and my back kills. I fall asleep on an ice pack when I can. At least once a week, I make less than $150 (like tonight,) and that is completely unacceptable. I care not for protestations of "but lots of people make that in a paycheck/week/whateverthefuck imaginary amount of time." Those people aren't getting on their literal knees, naked or nearly naked, dancing in a room full of people, and made to remain there onstage, even if no one gives them one measly dollar, multiple times a night. Those people aren't sitting on laps of men who aren't paying them, because that's where you sit where I work when you're still just in the "asking/negotiating" phase of getting a lap dance. "You girls make SO much money!" an extremely wealthy club regular told me tonight, knowing full well that at that moment, I had $60. I reminded him that not only are we not paid hourly, I still had to pay for the house fee, valet, and tip out. "Yeah, but you girls make a TON of money." I wonder where this money is, that money he must think I had stashed away, in addition to the pitiful $60 in my garter belt after midnight. Incredible.
I'm very ready to be done.
I find myself far angrier at my demographic working at an "upscale" topless bar than I ever was at some of the more blue collar nude clubs I've worked at before. These white men who wear cashmere sweaters in winter, boat shoes in the summer, and suits year-round. I hate them. Sometimes it consumes me. Trust fund twentysomethings with various vague titles like "financial manager." Yeah OK, breh. Whatever.
The bachelor parties who vomit on the carpet. The dudes that put the money in their mouth like an animal doing a trick in the circus, expecting me to take it with mine. Men with the million yard stare of someone blacked out, and completely incoherent. If I'm lucky and they're not too handsy, this moment is usually when it's easiest to take advantage of them. And I never feel bad. If you're a man and walked into a place where women make a living off of you and your arousal, and then proceeded to get so drunk you can hardly walk, those things were your choice and doings, not mine. I never, ever feel bad when I imagine their shock in the morning, looking at their bank accounts or credit card receipts. I feel great, actually.
Of course I'll remember fondly times laughing in various dressing rooms until I was doubled over, abs aching. I'll remember the North Dakota farm boy named Jimmy who adored everything about me, and told me he wished he could take me home to "ma." I will remember the many nights spent sleeping in other strippers' beds or on their couches, and the bonds I formed with them. I can't forget the regular I've met across years and three clubs who is morbidly obese, smells strongly of urine, and tells me about his suicidal ideations. His name is Charlie. I'll also remember the countless men who've used my body on a stage as target practice with crumpled ones. I don't tolerate that. I'll remember the man who bit my breast when I was 19 so hard that it left a mark that stayed for days. I hold on to all of these stories, good and bad, amassed over eight years and eight clubs that bob to the surface unexpectedly, like debris in the ocean of my mind.