“Exotic dancers, your instant key to a blissful vacation of the moment.” -Wayne Chirisa
I was a smoker, and I somehow still found myself fighting the urge to cough by the amount of putrid smells and impure air. Clearly the stage people here did not get the memo that fogging the place up makes the ratings go from classy to trashy– and quick. Then again, the cheap colognes and perfumes coming from the girls and their customers didn’t help. I felt like I just walked into a Tarantino movie.
Allowing my lungs to get adjusted, I looked for a front row seat. The arrangement of seats was clearly planned. The options were set up in what I saw as layers. The first layer was around the stage, relatively close, for those who were overzealous and over ready for a lap dance. Or in my case, ready to take notes, though I would not turn down getting up close and personal with a beautiful woman. (I’m straight, it’s research). I assumed this was not the first show that the people in the first row had been too. I doubted the number of visits was under 100 by the way they loosened their ties and sat back, as if they were relaxing into a regular routine. You could also find an occasional group of horny 18 year old boys celebrating a birthday with wads of one dollar bills. Peeling back to the second layer, there were scattered tables. I think these were for the people who thought they were too good to go to a strip club, so they started by looking at everything but the dancers. I imagine they were discussing the recent stock numbers and what Kim from Accounting wore to the last meeting until they got drunk enough to admit they aren’t getting any from their wives and turned around to see the dancers. The last tier was the stools at the bar. They came alone for the most part and just drank and watched the dancers gyrate from a more than safe distance. I truly did not understand their reasoning for choosing this club over the everyday bar— and didn’t plan on asking. It’s worth noting that all but one of my fellow customers were men. I drew a few eyes, as if a woman appreciating this form of performance art was strange. I understand why, but it did nothing to ease the anger brewing form the clear prejudice. Until I realized I had just judged them for the same reason. Two wrongs definitely don’t make a right, they make it awkward.
Upon my second visit to the club, I found the courage to talk to one of the other patrons. He seemed like an easy target: alone, drunk and already leering at my miniskirt. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t beat around the bush, I questioned his reasoning for being there. Cameron Hemmings, my new friend, stated, “It’s obvious. Not your business. I do like the price of drinks and there’s nothing wrong with it.” Not the response I was hoping for, but one that I was totally expecting. My fingers had been crossed that the miniskirt would do the trick but not quite. I guess people weren’t forthcoming with things they were ashamed of, surprise surprise. That was the closest I figured I was going to get to an interview that night, so I moved on quickly.
Just as I saw the stage and the fog as a fixture in the atmosphere of the place, the manager was just another part of the club. I compared him to furniture in my head. His name is Ricky and his hair looked like Pauly D’s form the Jersey Shore, but that is where the similarities ended. He was only overweight between his sternum and button of his pants. His shoes were as shiny as his hair and over white teeth. His thin lips and average face made him seem like one of those sex offenders that no one accuses but isn’t surprised when they’re arrested. At our first meeting, my friend Morgan had my back and we easily convinced him my project was legit. A little flattery will get you anywhere, but I knew that when I mentioned I might one day want to interview him, I was lying. There was no way I was going anywhere alone with him.
The girls were kind, even when I could tell I was in the way when we were backstage. A few of them, Jen, Yvette, Kristi and Lizzie, were the first ones I introduced myself too. I asked Lizzie if she would tell me about the facilities from her point of view. She shot back, “Well, the shit here (backstage) is small. I have no room for all my makeup.” I immediately liked her. She also told me she used her real name because, “I have nothing to hide. It’s not like they can take a picture of me and won’t recognize my face, they’re not looking (at my face).” I ran out of time to interview the girls when they had to start getting ready, but I did get to do Jen’s eye makeup. Lizzie was right, there wasn’t enough room for the amount of makeup they all had. The set up was just a dinky long table with chairs in front. The girls had to bring their own mirrors and supplies. They were surprisingly playing Bon Iver. I asked about the music choice, expecting a meaningful answer about finding their center before they went to perform but they all just looked at me funny and said because they liked it.
I walked back out to the main area to watch them dance from the front row again. I realized that the name strip club is completely misinforming, seeing as very few strip. They simply walk out in just their skimpy lingerie. Some leave it on, others take a piece or two off but for the most part they walk in as they walk out, missing the key “stripping” ingredient. I winked at Lizzie and stood up to leave after a little while, having had enough of the dense air and thick, blaring music.