The Strip Club

On a Wednesday we go to a place called The Nine-O-Five. It’s occurred to me recently that I have never been to a strip club, and the strip club is an American  right of passage. And so I ask my friend, the friend I see while my husband is away, to take me to a strip club.

The place is neither seedy nor luxurious, perfect middle-of-the-road, as-seen-on-tv, strip club. Wednesday is amateur night, so you can watch girls in the process of becoming strippers, a dying breed, really. They take their clothes off slowly at first, and then all at once. Their tops come off readily, their bottoms, for some reason, they won’t part with so readily. They came prepared to show you their tits, but not their pussies. It is comical, really, because what did they think they were here for.

The girls are varying levels of uncomfortable, with the odd one being very confident. It is worth coming here to see them crawl around on their knees to pick up the small bills the audience throws onto the stage for them.

During the lulls I wander around the club. This is a strip club that reminds you of another strip club, its style is that it has none and the occasional girl is worth seeing. There is a corridor off one of the hallways that leads to a change room for the girls. There are posters here that read “Do you have a problem with cocaine?”

On my third trip around the club, a man clutches at the hem of my dress. His eyes are glassy and he isn’t quite sure that I am real, and if I am, why I have all my clothes on. I tell him my name, which he keeps mispronouncing, and I sit for awhile at his table, both of us idly watching the confident girl who has her back to the audience and spreads her legs, her ass, everything pink and shaved smooth.

Off to the side are strippers who are not stripping. They are go-go dancers for the evening, light entertainment that doesn’t take the spotlight from the amateurs. One of them is dancing on a podium, black panties and tank top, long dark hair, perfect body, everything you want in a girl. This evening is coming to a close and I need an image to take home with me, something burned onto my retinas when my eyes are closed, and this girl is going to be that image. My friend and I will go home and we will have sex and I will close my eyes and watch her dance across my eyelids. I’d really like a photo of her, so I sidle up close, trying to nonchalantly focus my camera, trying to look completely innocent while doing so, but the security guard isn’t buying my babe-in-the-woods bit, and I move on.

On the main stage the winner has been crowned. The losers are offered a Faustian bargain; they can still take some money home, if they are willing to play a game. A table is wheeled out, on it large plastic containers with goldfish. The losers can earn money for every fish they catch with their mouths, for each one they swallow. They are given 5 minutes, and I could watch this game forever. The philistines here have no idea how a game like this should be played. They have come close, but it’s still wrong. When we are in the car, I let my friend talk so I can sit quietly and think about the fish; shitting in the plastic tubs, getting stuck in the girls’ throats, swimming around in their stomachs, still alive.

After he falls asleep, I put on my shoes and coat and wander out into the night to walk. Some evenings I am gripped by a strong energy, a force in place of an emotion, a desire to see how the night plays out while we sleep, to watch it and be unknown and unobserved. I walk for a long time, out of the suburbs and into the city, past a darkly open garage, grass partly mown, some of it dead or dying, in the darkness looking like a crime scene, a particularly suburban crime.

At the lip of the city I swerve out of the light, walking where instinct tells me to go. The suburbs aren’t the right place and neither is downtown, too brightly lit, empty despite all the condo dwellers. You have to find the few places that are still left here, and not for long, untouched by gentrification. But poverty is something that never sleeps, and it has deeply unmet needs, and they are here to stay because inequality is natural and gentrification is just tile over a linoleum floor, pushing things deep underground where they will still flourish without the light. Things like the girls I pass, hovering by a disused gas station, young and out too late, not the sort of girls who have parents that care about them getting up to go to school on time. They look up at me and I wish my footsteps made no sound, I wish I was a ghost, invisible, real, hovering, wanting.

I must look young in the dark because a man stops me, steps in front of me to get my attention, get my price. I look at the dark sky above us and I think of my friend, asleep in his bed, the door left unlocked because I have no key. Not tonight, I say to this man, I forgot my mask and I am wearing the wrong face. He will ask one of the girls by the gas station, of course, and they will sink further into their lives as they are laid out by nature. The strippers at the club don’t have the same quality that these girls do, some of them never will. That angry vulnerability, strength that is nothing but spackle. I want to see what these men do to them. I want to see the inside of their homes, their dirty sheets and clothes that they wash once a month without separating the colours, their sad, third-and-forth-hand Ikea furniture.

I want to see who they become in five years, if they are still alive.

It isn’t abuse, it’s nature.

It isn’t abuse, it’s nature.

It isn’t abuse, it’s nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My grandmother was born into wealth. Her father owned a coal mine in Germany.

She was an only child and her mother did not love her. She came from a long line of women who did not love their daughters.

When the war came, her family fled Germany. They became poor, and poor people have goats. They unlearn their love of cow’s milk and become accustomed to goat’s milk. Every day the smell of that milk permeated their cramped home like an intolerable reminder.

The goat sickened suddenly, died the next day.

In her new school my grandmother became one of the poor children. They sat away from the children from well-to-do families.

The most well-to-do was a girl named Maya. Maya was plump and well dressed, my grandmother was gaunt and shabby. My grandmother would watch Maya unwrap her school lunch every day and stuff delicacies into her pretty, plump face.

The day before school let out for the summer the nurse’s thermometer was stolen; it was found broken, the pieces stuffed into the trash. Maya became very ill, and when she returned for the next school year her cheeks had lost their plumpness and her appetite had vanished.

My grandmother almost became a doctor. In the end she didn’t; she married unhappily and birthed a daughter. Her whole life people wondered why she had squandered her talents.

My whole life people have been telling me that I am bright, that I could have done more with my life. Maybe. But this is what I did with it.

 

On the nights when I am alone, I go looking for her. It is harder to find her these days.

I’ve heard things over the years from people, about girls crying, real things you could sink your teeth into. Those days are gone, people tell me, long gone. No secrets anymore, everything gone underground.

Sometimes I search for hours. You can still find her, but when you do, It’s mostly unexpected, a wonderful surprise, happy early birthday.

When you find her, she is a self-made mess. It was her lucky day to make such a stunning amount of money in such a short period of time. I wonder what she needed the money for.

The magic moment generally comes early: The dawning realization that she is in over her head, discomfort, panic, terror even, if you are really lucky. Coupled with it, another realization- that she did it to herself, orchestrated her own doom. Some stranger waved candy in your face and you followed him down the rabbit hole, silly girl. It was only what you do with boys anyway, with the eye of a camera trained on you, such a small difference. But the man with the candy isn’t like the boys at your school.

Sometimes there are two magic moments; the shock, and then the split, the girl’s eyes glazing over, the thousand-yard stare, I’m not here anymore, wake me up when it’s over. It’s hard to decide which of these moments are better.
Only exceptional videos have this quality, a kind of rightness that cannot be staged. When the rightness isn’t there, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I can hear that it’s not right within seconds of the video starting, but on occasion I am fooled, the girl such a consummate actress that it’s only right at the end you realize you’ve been had, the girl’s mews of distress turning into pleasure, shutting the page like you’ve been scorched, your arousal wilting. Sometimes I’m too tired and disappointed to try again, searching from scratch, the upward climb from disappointment to orgasm impossible to attempt.

If you find the right one you can sometimes extend your pleasure by finding her elsewhere. Often these girls are never seen again, but occasionally they dig in their heels and become stalwarts of the industry. You can track their decline by seeing the evolution of their public persona, the films they star in, the ink on their bodies. Staring defiantly at the camera, at us, hardened, each year hollowing out their eyes.

Magic.

I have seen you watching me, as I quietly go about my chores. You may think you are unnoticed, but I have been noticing everything about you, filing the facts away in my head for later, writing them down in my journal, a catalogue of your traits, a profile of you that no one knows exists.

At night, when I am alone, I parse out our interactions, examining them piece by piece, from every angle. I have seen your eyes sliding over my body, and know that you long to get away from the drudgery of the everyday: your job, your boring colleagues, your life that you keep wishing would finally begin instead of slipping away unmarked by anything but time.

I smiled sweetly at you the last time I was in your home. Did you notice? I’m fairly certain you did. I was just finishing up for the day, gathering up my belongings, and I caught you staring. I practice my smile every day, so I know it is sweetly beguiling; it used to belong to a girl I dated, but I stole it from her, so now it is mine. I have practiced it many times in front of a mirror, till it was just right, till it said everything about me that you needed to know.

People have a way of trusting you when you have a nice smile, a pretty face; they shouldn’t, but they do.

Perhaps soon you will find a way to catch me alone, off-guard. You will imply that I owe you something, that my performance has been lacking and there are only so many ways of redressing the situation.

And I wonder: when we finally meet in the dark, which girl will I be? The one who gives you what you want, or the one who takes everything away?

I was sitting having a coffee. Looking back, I can’t think why he came up to me. I don’t think I looked any different from the other women there.

How much, he said. I must have looked confused; this seemed to afford him some sort of satisfaction. He smiled, though not kindly. Spoke again: I know a whore when I see one.