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.
Your brutal honesty about the reality of life is mind rattling yet somehow reassuring in that we all have our own personal hells and aren;t alone. Judy
Glad to assure you, that we’re all in this mess together. We all get clobbered. It’s just with how much dignity we can endure the blows that distiguishes us. I’m getting better at this.
Hello Marius this is Ernesto your old GM the guy who promoted you. I never realized that all the girls came on late on my day off “Sunday”. You should have said something I could have made some changes and or suprise visits to keep the girls on thier toes. I never really saw the Sunday guest was up to you to deal with when I was off. Thanks for all your hard work I wish you the best take care…
Orale Ernie! Damn dude, it’s so great to hear from you. I didn’t write about you in this piece bro, because basically, there was nothing to make fun of. You were a great boss and a good friend. But that’s not funny. Although we shared some wild adventures alright. Heh-heh. But…I wasn’t going to spill the frijoles on all that.
Jesus, I wasn’t going to come and complain to you about Sundays. You had enough on your plate. I’ll hit your e-mail, and we can catch up all proper.
Right on. Ernie. Holy shit. How cool.
Life can be one helluva ride. It all depends on your perspective and where you come out in the end. I wonder if one day I’ll tell of my adventures with such bravery.
I love that you heard from your old GM. How about that? Life is awesome that way.
Yeah, it was great to hear from Ernie. I need to write something about that guy. Very interesting man. We had some wild times. And that means wild by my standards, so you can probably imagine the proportion. Not too much about those episodes that I could write about here, out of respect to his privacy, and his current relationship. Let’s just say some epic overnights in Tijuana. (I’m smiling just remembering some of the low-lights) Anyway, he was a great boss. The problem was the owner above him. That guy was insane. And that means insane by my standards. So you can imagine.
Listen Phoenix, you can be brave recounting your past adventures. Especially if you don’t include your last name or photos of yourself like I do. Hell, you can let it all hang out. I think that kind of honesty goes a long way in ultimately making us comfortable in our own skin. But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can let a little painful truth leak out now and then, and when the mob bearing pitchforks and tar torches doesn’t materialize outside your house, you leak out some more. It’s a process like anything.
Even my blog is somewhat sanitized for my protection (and others). I’ve pulled some punches. Kept out some of the more gory or lurid details. My real sins and crimes were much worse than what I fess up to. So you can imagine.
How much fun I really had.
Thanks Marius. You are right of course. I am made up of light bits and shadowy bits and I would not be me if I didn’t have both. Little by little I am falling in love with my shadowy bits. I know that some people out there will have experienced what I have and my stories may be cathartic for them as well. I do appreciate all the advice though. 🙂
Your experience and how you relate it to others is why I take the time to read your posts. I have been to strip clubs where the illusions were strongly maintained, and then some that let everybody see the ugly reality of what the sex industry is all about. Once I started to see that underlining reality, and tried to wrap my mind around the conflicts in my mind between morality and desire, I would go away heartbroken, realizing there ain’t no easy answers when you are just trying to survive.
I agree, JR, some strip clubs do manage to pull off the illusion better than others. It also depends on your mind-set going in. I remember the best times I ever had in a strip club were back in Santa Fe, at a place called Cheeks. It was when this plumber I was working with would get mad at our boss. He’d decide to get back at him by rolling up the job an hour early, so we could spend that time drinking beer and staring at boobs and butts. But on the clock. We would be essentially be getting paid to do it. Instead of digging out some sewer-line. Now that was awesome.
It wasn’t so awesome when I got paid to do it years later though. It was different then. Then it, like pretty much everything in my life at that time, became a drag.
As for the conflict between morality and desire, well that seems to be an ongoing one, eh? Good thing too, or I’d run out of things to write about.
Peace be with you,