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 ┬áright 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; their tops come off readily, their bottoms, for some reason, they won’t part with so easily. 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.