I hated working at the strip club on Sundays. Sundays are sad enough. Strip clubs are even sadder. A strip club on a Sunday is as sad as it gets. The refuse that washes up on its shores is pretty ugly. The level of sleaze that frequents a strip club on a Sunday night is lower than, say, a guy who just wants to pop in while his wife is in labor.
I was working as a shift manager in an old club by LAX. “Nude Nudes” our sign redundantly declared. It was run-down and dirty, like the clientele, and our featured entertainment. I had started out as a bouncer, but because I could muster more cognitive ability than a Neanderthal, knew simple arithmetic, didn’t steal, and wasn’t drinking, I was singled out for promotion to management. I really felt like sobriety was moving me up the food-chain. Unfortunately, it was of a species that tended towards bottom-feeding.
On Sundays, we opened at 6pm. I got there at five, to unlock the place and get things in order. The strippers were supposed to come in at staggered times from 5:30 onwards. Instead, they would start showing up around 6:30, but definitely staggered. Some drunk, some hung-over, others poisoned by powders, but all late. Meanwhile, I had guys who had just been stuck with a substantial cover charge, sitting around drinking skinny glasses of six-dollar soda, looking at an empty stage. “Where are the girls?” they’d ask me. “Fuck if I know,” I’d tell them, and no they couldn’t get their money back.
I’d stand in the parking lot, pissed-off and stressed-out, waiting for the girls. Eventually, they’d begin to arrive, by their new Lexus or Escalade, or by taxi, or boyfriend’s truck. They were a sight to behold. No make-up, stained sweat pants, ratty hair, sometimes red-eyed and bruised. You wouldn’t think some guy would squander a large percentage of his paycheck to rub up against them, but you’d be wrong. For me, the relief of seeing them finally show up diluted the anger.
Coco was notoriously late. An ebony bombshell, with boobs like a bullet bumper from a ’55 Buick Century Riviera. She had the body that let her get away with a lot of things in life. She took advantage of this fact, along with a lot of suckers who fell under its spell. We hated and liked each other in equal measure.
“Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Your Highness. We have champagne and a eucalyptus body wrap waiting for you.”
“Shut the fuck up, I’ve had a hard day. Could you take my bag…please.”
I bent down to pick up her bag and noticed her new Louboutin shoes, then saw the polish on her toe nails was chipped and flaking. Says it all.
“Having to tote around this duffel bag stuffed with dollar bills will take it out of a girl, or was it the Iron Worker’s convention?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
We walked to the back gate and had Tiny buzz us in. We went down the hall to the dressing rooms.
“I’ve got a roomful of Japanese business men sitting in there angry because I have, as a poor host, disgraced their honor. Anytime now they might realize they’ve been drinking non-alcoholic beer, and that alone is enough to restart the war.”
“Why is that my problem? My back hurts, and I started my period.”
“Wow, that’s just great. I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot of guys out there breathing a sigh of relief.”
“Is Boogie here?”
“She got here ten minutes ago.”
“She’s got something of mine.”
“Shut the fuck up.”
We got to the dressing room. It smelled like hairspray and weed. Girls were putting on make up, getting dressed for getting undressed. Some were laughing, others bitching and complaining, many drinking from paper cups. I turned a blind eye to all the boozing and substance abuse. I understood that getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers, and giving them a view usually reserved for the doctor, required a special sort of mind-set. Being sober wasn’t it. Besides, who was I to judge? I would drink to fortify myself for a lot less daunting tasks, like going to the mailbox or to take a shower. I dropped the bag by her locker.
She sat down, pulled out the massive coconuts from her lace bra, and just let them flop like tired seals.
“Nice. Okay, please don’t peel it back here for too long. The natives are getting restless. And try not to get too drunk tonight, Howard might be showing up.”
“I need a tampon someone!” she yelled.
“Listen for your song…and don’t forget to cut the string.”
I went inside the lounge to check on things. Willow was on stage. Poor thing. She was a lost little hillbilly, mercifully dim-witted enough not to realize how cruel her lot was. Her boyfriend was some ass-hole that was basically pimping her out. He took all her money at the end of the shift, and doled out a measly stipend for her to buy Cool Ranch Doritos and breath mints, which see seemed to live on. I tried to look out for her as best as I could, but the predators were plenty. Besides, she’d be going home to one, so it was a lost cause. The place was full of those.
I looked at my floor guy, Armando. He seemed fairly sober tonight. He had the clipboard. His job was to mark which lap dance booth the girls were privately dancing in. The “dance” was usually some form of dry-humping and groping, and each one had to be accounted for. It’s not landing a probe on Mars, but enough of a hassle for a drinking man. He had to keep track of twenty-two different booths located in various parts of the club. Every booth that had a girl with a customer inside, had to have a little light bulb lit up by the door. That showed that the girl activated the light by running her card, which was basically a debt card she had been issued at the beginning of her shift. She would pay for, or be given credit for, a number of song’s worth of dances. That was how the house got it’s cut. It cost her seventeen dollars for every two and half-minute song, but don’t worry, she’d get that back from her customer and plenty more. Especially if she didn’t bother to run the card.
Armando had to make sure that didn’t happen. He really had to have his hustle on checking each booth. Some of our more scandalous scamps would dart into the darkened booths as soon as he turned his back, in order to grind one out rent-free. Fortunately, Armando watched vigilantly. It’s not that he cared about making Howard more money. He just didn’t like the idea of some stripper outsmarting him. I got that.
My bouncer was Danny, a gang member, ex-con, off-and-on drug user. Good guy. I was grateful to have him. He could handle a fair share of shit, leaving less of it for me to deal with. Regardless of the management title, I was still just a bouncer, but one that had to count a lot more.
The money from admissions, the bar, and the dances didn’t just have to add up, it had to add up high. The owner had decided all of that depended on me. If guys didn’t come in, that was my fault. If they didn’t want to drink more soda than the two drink minimum, or pay some creature forty dollars to sit on their lap, it was considered a failure on my part to motivate them. I had to get them to fully participate in their own fleecing.
Every night I’d have to call in the final numbers, and would pray that Howard wouldn’t pick up from the answering machine. By then, he’d had a few, and was prone to screaming tirades, even if the numbers were okay. I stressed balls over the numbers, and looking back, I can see it was all for nothing. Howard was going to rage whenever he felt like it. Worrying about it was a futile waste of misery. It didn’t make staying sober any easier, that’s for sure.
My DJ on Sunday was Dan. Jesus. How can I describe Dan? He looked like some troll that just stepped off a fantasy game board. No, troll is not right, more like an old garden gnome, but one who instead of wearing a pointy cap, had wiry hair pulled back into a Thomas Jefferson type of thing. Just a strange-looking creature, but you forgot all about that when you got to know how weird he really was on the inside.
He was paranoid and saw Big Brother watching everywhere, so he had decided to watch back. He would listen to a portable police scanner while in the booth. Don’t get me wrong, the scanner is a valuable tool to keep a step or two ahead of the squad car’s arrival, but he wasn’t up to anything. He’d monitor the calls coming in and make scary, cryptic announcements . “Somebody’s about to take a fall on a fifty-nine dash eleven, and nobody knows who’s going to be next!”
I was already jumpy from not drinking, and had recently had some trouble with the law, so I never knew if I should pay attention to him. Every time his radio came on, it sounded like cops had entered the building, and I’d have to fight the impulse to bolt. Paranoia is highly contagious.
Dan was bizarre on the mike. I’d have to do the voice for you to get it across right, but it was an over-the-top, greasy AM radio smooth, but with a pervy quality. It was like audible leering. This combined with his odd choice of patter to make everything sound sick and sinister.
“Yes yes gentlemen, the time has come for our two-for-one special! Our ladies are waiting for you to take advantage. Exercise your freedom of choice while you still can! Grab one of our young ladies, before it’s too late, and allow her to entertain you. Don’t feel the regret of lost opportunity the lost opportunity of not taking advantage…of our two-for-one special. Be good to yourself, and do it now…” He was clearly trying his hand at mind-control. The girls were all creeped out by him, and they didn’t creep out easily. I felt sorry for him. I could tell he was a lonely soul, and he wasn’t doing anything to fix that anytime soon.
Carla Chronic was behind the bar, her eyes fighting to stay up at half-mast, selling sodas, juice, and non-alcoholic beers. Because we were an all-nude place, the law said we couldn’t serve alcohol. I guess the reasoning was that seeing a woman’s vagina while drinking was going to make men too crazy. Two powerful intoxicants, when mixed together can have a dangerous synergistic effect. I have to begrudgingly agree with our lawmakers on this one. One or the other is trouble enough.
I looked around the room. The crowd on Sundays was a depressing lot. We had The Fiddler. He was slunk down behind a table in a dark corner. He would wear flimsy nylon running shorts so he had easier access to massage himself. In order to throw him out, I’d have to catch him in the act, which I was never enthusiastic about. He would change into shorts from his work clothes, out in his car before he came in. He was someone’s Dad, I thought, and that must really suck.
There was Lover Boy, a chubby guy who would bring gifts to a certain stripper. Flowers, cards, candy, balloons, little trinkets, all brought with great anticipation of bequeathing to his lady-love. He would then take her into a booth, sit harmlessly next to her for $400 worth of songs, and tell her about his day. She was kind enough, but when his time was up, she’d have to leave to find another guy. He would watch her go off into a booth with some dude, and then bring the balloons over to me for safe-keeping, and leave. It was brutal to witness. Like watching a duckling get flattened with a tennis racket.
Off to my right, was Pappy Parker. I think his real name was Roy. He was one of those guys with a big beard and a hanging gut that required both a belt and suspenders. He sold custom-made knives at gun shows, and made bolo ties that had real scorpions embedded in amber-colored resin. His big thing was taking part in Civil War reenactments, the ones in which Pickett’s Charge succeeds and the South wins. He also liked to have strippers cradle his head in the lap dance booth while cooing baby talk. There were rumors of a pacifier involved, but I never saw it. I watched him pick his nose and wipe it off under the table.
Everywhere you looked there was something to feel bad about. Someone was exploiting someone, often while being exploited themselves. If it wasn’t the bad feelings and bullshit, it was the boredom. By then, I had become desensitized to even the most alluring of dancers. I’d watch some slutted-up slice of seduction, wantonly writhe around on the stage, and find myself thinking about having to buy new socks or wiper blades. “I need to mail in that rebate, it expires pretty soon.” That would freak me out. What’s happening to me? When your favorite stuff starts to bore you, you know you’re in trouble.
I was in bigger trouble than I realized. I was letting it all get to me, and that’s not good for somebody trying to recover. The constant worrying about my earlier legal troubles, and the stress of trying to appease the unappeasable Howard, was making me thirsty, and not for a six-dollar soda. I hadn’t learned to live without alcohol, and that meant I hadn’t learned how to live at all. A strip club was probably not the best place to take those baby steps. I would eventually start drinking again, and Sunday nights wouldn’t be so sad anymore. They would be even sadder.