Stuffed full of sushi, and having sufficiently picked apart the poor service at Enso, we pondered what we should do next.
“Tomorrow’s my Saturday. Woot!” Amy celebrated while she clutched a bottle of
Kirin with both hands. Our waitress never bothered to offer us glasses for the over-sized bottles of Japanese beer.
Actually, it was Tuesday night, and though I knew I had to work the next day, Tuesday is my favorite day of the week, and I wasn’t ready to close it out. We wandered for a block until we found ourselves in The Mint. Shane ordered one round and distributed the drinks, but it didn’t take long for us to recognize that The Mint wasn’t where things were happening that particular evening.
I can’t remember who made the suggestion.
“Let’s go to the strip club.” I rolled my eyes from over the top of the foam in my plastic beer cup.
“You’re our driver. You have to take us wherever we want,” Shane asserted, and I rolled my eyes again at his logic. Actually, everyone knows that the driver calls the shots – because the driver doesn’t get to take shots. Still, just a few minutes later I found myself in the notoriously low-class strip joint located under the
overpass. Golden State
“Open your purse” Blake commanded me and I looked at him, confused. “Just open your purse.” I opened my black bag, cluttered with things unknown that I’m sure I might need someday, and Blake dropped three pint-size bottles of Jack Daniels into the pouch. It’s going to be that kind of night, I supposed. I glanced around with concern, but realized that on a slow Tuesday night when the audience is populated by a handful of lonely men, the goings-on in my purse were of little interest to anyone else. Amy selected seats at the edge of the stage and we parked ourselves next to each other with the guys on either side of us, and began to chat while Shane and Blake passed my purse back and forth, adding the whiskey to our $2 cups of Coke.
Amy and I chatted about work, and plans, and how in our minds we look like the girls on stage but that we’ve both actually got a number of years and a number of pounds on most of them. I took note of the faintly visible stretch marks on the stomach of one of the dancers and a Facebook meme came to mind: An image of a post-partum belly with the same marks and a caption reading “These aren’t stretch marks; I’m a tiger whose earned her stripes.” I thought of the absence of stretch marks on my own tummy, perhaps God’s way of giving me a little something since He took my son from me. I’ve earned my stripes too. They’re just invisible.
“If you ever see me in a split, call an ambulance,” Amy joked as some nameless dancer dropped from the pole and slammed onto the stage in a split.
I grinned. "Don’t bother calling one for me. If I ever find myself in a split, I’ll probably be stuck like that for life.” Amy tucked a dollar bill into her cleavage and the dancer withdrew it with her teeth, then glanced over at me and Blake. I offered her the couple of singles in my hand and shrugged at her. “I’d do that too, but I’ve got nothing to hold them up and they would just fall to the floor.” She seemed amused, but then, I suppose her job is to seem amused.
At the end of each performance, the girls would wrap themselves tightly in short silky robes, and crawl along the edge of the stage collecting their earnings. “Thank you,” some of them would mumble quietly, clutching their robes, and I was surprised by their ironic displays of modesty.
“I hate it when they say ‘Thank you,’” said Amy, and I agreed. “Would you show off your goodies for a dollar?”
“I pop open a beer, and someone leaves me a dollar. No. I wouldn’t do that.” I stare into the dull, vapid eyes of the girl on the stage and I wonder who forgot to tell her that she is loved. Who didn’t make her feel valued? Who never told her, “You are special. You have worth.”? All of those girls, after all, are someone’s daughter. I made yet another promise to myself that when I have a daughter of my own I will instill her with love and respect for herself, so that she might never find herself so very exposed and vulnerable.
Immediately I was struck by my own hypocrisy as my cell phone rattled to alert me to an incoming message. “If the Yankees weren’t so banged up, yes.” And suddenly I was exposed and vulnerable and stripped down again, reminded of the way I had recently bared my heart in a show of unrequited feeling. Clothed and bathed in the neon lights of a bar with my heart naked on display, I was just another girl. Just another bartender. I typed a swift response and replaced my phone in my purse, between two near-empty bottles of Jack.
Blake appeared beside me; I hadn’t noticed that he’d walked away. He and Shane had been draining the limited supply of alcohol, and he was smiling. “You’re gonna get a lap dance from Nikki,” and he clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “And I get to watch. I already set it up.”
“That one.” And he pointed to the girl taking the stage. Right away it was evident that Nikki had been instructed to make me as uncomfortable as possible. Her eyes were alive with the promise of Blake’s $20 as she danced, her attention focused in our direction. She slinked her way to our corner of the stage and summoned me with her fingers. I stood obediently and she instructed me to lean towards her. She tucked my hair between one of my ears and leaned in close to me and I turned to face her and whispered, “Did you check his bill? He likes to pass counterfeits.”
Nikki’s face flashed with momentary worry. Ever the professional, though, the sleepy sexy smile spread back across her face as she realized she wasn’t going to get the reaction from me that would make her the most money. Shane called from the seat next to Amy, “You suck at this!” and Nikki slithered away to finish her routine.
Moments later as Nikki led us to a cushioned red booth and Blake clapped with delighted anticipation, I asked her “It’s not weird that he’s my brother, right?” She whipped around and her eyes flicked over us in assessment.
“No you’re not.”
“No. We’re not. Don’t tell her that!” Nikki sat me in the both and instructed Blake to insert his $20 bill in a slot on the wall. She began to dance and Blake shifted uncomfortably in front of us. “I’ve gotta go, this is too weird.” And he walked away.
“Is he gone?”
“Yeah, why? Do you need him back? He already paid.”
“No. You can stop now.” I waved a hand at her dismissively. She leaned against the booth.
“It’s just a job, you know.” For a fleeting moment I envied this girl with the torn fishnet tights, whose hard life became evident on her face with our proximity. Just a job. I thought of the applicant who stands to have his leg amputated while I, a co-defendant and his attorney perform a litigation dance to determine who’s liable for what extent of his injury. Somewhere along the way, Nikki had learned to do something I have yet to master. She had learned to turn off her feelings, or at least compartmentalize them. She picked at her nails while my brow furrowed reflectively. Perhaps I give Nikki too much credit. Still, I bet none of her patrons ever broke her heart.
A light began to flash. “What does that mean?”
“Ten minutes are up.” We walked back to the front where Shane stood with my purse over his shoulder. He was showing one of the girls his puzzle ring. In the years I’ve known Shane I’ve never been able to solve the puzzle ring.
“That’s the third time!” And she held up the ring triumphantly. Blake looked annoyed.
“Shane’s like, the Stripper Whisperer. And that’s not fair. I paid for your dance and I didn’t even get to enjoy it.”
I found Nikki sitting at a counter. She was eating a bag of potato chips. I handed her $20. “Can you dance for Blake?” She nodded, and reached for the $20 with one hand while licking the seasoning from her fingers on the other as she started to stand. “You can finish your chips, it’s no hurry.” She looked at me as though no one had ever told her she could finish her chips before.
With hugs and promises that we would never forget each other EVER, Blake, Shane and I left the club. Amy had departed sometime earlier. I transported them back to our regular lives where I am the only one of us that works “regular” hours, and they bragged that they didn’t have to answer to an alarm clock at 6 in the morning. I was careful to remove the empty pint bottles from my purse. I summoned the dogs from outside, showered and dressed for bed, then wrapped myself securely in my sheets and blanket knowing that no matter how much I am covered, I am someone who’s always fully exposed.