It’s early and there’s only one customer in the club, but we still have to go on stage. Five of us sit in plush chairs around a dark table, sipping our water, wine, and vodka-cranberries. Aria is on stage, hanging from the pole by one hand as she swings lazily around it. When her feet touch the stage she spins on one foot, arching her body around the pole in one sweeping, graceful motion. She climbs back up the pole, quickly pulling herself up with her arms, gripping with her muscular legs. At the top she arches back, frozen in time for just a moment before she swings out, kicking her feet over her head and wrapping one leg around the pole. When she lays back her free leg counterbalances her, the whole thing one exquisite arch. I’m almost relieved when she starts a slow spin down the pole. Her hands touch the stage and she moves into a handstand and then falls into the splits.
Aria is some kind of athlete that I’ll never be. It’s the upside down six feet up part that scares me, and the times I’ve seen girls fall because of lotion or baby oil rubbed off on the pole from another girl.
She crawls to the front of the stage and sits, cross legged, bored. When she’s not moving she looks like any other girl. No make up, c-section scar that gives her tummy a little pooch, hair still up in a pony tail. Then she rolls backwards, landing in the splits again and arches back, bending a knee to touch a pointed toe to the back of her head.
This is the everyday magic of stripping.
Next to me Analise is reciting the names of bones in preparation for her anatomy test. “Scapoid, lunate, trapezium…” she recites in her very precise voice. Analise is 21, has a 4.0, and is on her way to medical school.
Brandy stands up. “I need a fucking shot. I’m gonna call some motherfuckers to come buy me a drink.”
I nod. Makes sense.
The DJ picks that moment to call Brandy to the stage, and she glares at him. On stage she does a funny chicken dance, rolling her eyes around. We laugh. Then she stands in front of the pole and leans her head forward so that her long, beautiful hair spills down in front of her long, saggy tits and frames the beer gut that hangs over her skirt.
“Tara.” Analise grabs my arm and reaches into her purse. “Look what I found. Do you know what animal this is from?”
“Beaver,” I say, taking the skull from her. “See, the two front teeth would be here, and they go all the way up into the skull here. They actually grow for their whole lives.”
“I thought it was something like that. Do you ever think about how beautiful bones are just on their own, without being part of anything? But then you put them together with other bones, and muscles and organs and blood cells. It’s so much beauty.”
We both look at Brandy, sitting on the stage bouncing her ass in boredom.
“Yeah,” I say. Once I found the almost whole skeleton of an elk near a desert canyon with a bundle of mugwort growing perfectly from its eye socket. It was the kind of medicine too strong to touch.
“Hey, there’s customers,” Analise says, shoving her flashcards into her little purse. I turn around and there are indeed four guys coming into the club. They’re young and I already don’t like them, so I pretend I have to pee and go back to the dressing room.
When I come out all the strippers are doing shots with the young guys, and there’s a dirty old man sitting by himself by the wall. I mean dirty quite literally. His shirt is covered in dark stains and he’s a few days away from clean shaven. For some reason, I’ve always trusted dirty people more than clean people.
“Hey,” I say, sitting down across from him.
“Hi! How are you?” he asks, startled.
“I’m wonderful,” I say, glancing down at my breasts, “how are you?”
I lick my lips. “You look good.”
He’s practically hypnotized now.
The waitress comes around and brings us drinks (fake sea breeze for me, jack and coke for him). I ask his name, his birthday, what he does for fun, what he loves. He says I’m beautiful. I say I’m even more beautiful when I’m dancing for him. He says of course, let’s do a dance. Oh, I tell him, once we do one you’ll want more. This is how it is. It’s hypnosis, it’s sales, it’s one of the realest things in the world: my skin on his.
A new song starts and I kick off my bone-weakening shoes and pull my dress down, slowly, eyes following my hands. His eyes follow my hands too, until my dress is on the floor and I run my hands up his chest and play with the hair on the back of his neck. He gasps. I lean in, brushing my skin against his. This is how it is. Hypnotic, sacred, routine.
At the end of the song he asks for another, and another, and another, until I have to go on stage. He doesn’t even watch me on stage. I would be a little offended, but I’m just not. I spin around the pole, crawl around the floor, stretch out my back and my legs, and practice hanging from the pole (right side up!) until my set is over. There’s still no other customers, so I go back to my dirty old man. I keep dancing for him until he runs out of money. I thank him with a little hug and he says he has to be going now.
There’s still no one, so I go back to the dressing room and count my money. It all has to face in the same direction and then I rubber band it tightly to my garter.
Analise is reading about brain cells growing themselves, Brandy’s fighting with her boyfriend on the phone, and Autumn is on the phone with her babysitter about a sick hamster. I check the messages on my cell phone. Hat-ma just finished the night at a club in Florida and the money is great. She thinks I should hop on a plane with Bro. My friend in PA wants my advice about screening customers for foot fetish work. And my sis wants some advice for her speech class and her dogs kidneys. I love my life.
I walk out into the club again and there are six customers now, but four of them are taken. I sit down with the oldest, dirtiest one. He asks what my real job is. “This isn’t real?” I ask. Of course not, he says. He can tell that I have potential, a lot of potential, and I need to get off my ass and follow my dreams. I don’t bother telling him that I make more in a night of stripping than I would in a week of work with my degree. Instead I cut right to the chase. “Do you want a dance?”
He says yes. I’m a little disappointed, because I didn’t really want to listen to him for a moment longer. But I’m also a bit of a sucker for those twenties. The whole time I dance he tells me about my potential and how I need a real job. I just turn around and wiggle my ass in his face the whole time. Apparently he loves it because he asks for another one, even though I don’t offer it. He ends up getting four dances, lecturing me the whole time on how much I could be doing with my life. I keep my back turned and don’t listen to him. This is how it is. Depersonalizing, boring, and a little ridiculous.
After that I need some me time, so I wander back to the dressing room and call Hat-ma in Florida. A customer has offered her a job selling boats, and we laugh about it.
This is how it goes all night long. Slow, profound, meaningless, and profitable. A sociological train wreck, someone called it once. At the end of the night I’ve got a nice stack of twenties and I’m almost done with my book. I sneak a look at the dance sheet, and Analise and I are tied for the most dances at 36. She’s ready for her test and has an outline for a paper she needs to write. Brandy is drunk and calls her boyfriend to come and get her. Aria is meditating with a pretty stone, and Autumn is pissed that she didn’t make enough money.
This is how it is.