I wait tables. Customers come, customers go. A dollar, two dollars, more, less, sometimes none. Black pants, polo tucked into a black belt, white t-shirt, black socks. After a group leaves I kneel half way in the booth, half way out, looking out the window. The sun sets into the interstate causeway. Trains bearing the same graffiti I saw months ago pass by, headed west, headed east. Dead flies lay on their backs, black husks arrayed into a dust covered insect graveyard.
In another universe we might have met somewhere else. I would have noticed her curves, her eyes, her lips, the way both work together when she wants your attention. She’s not a beauty but there’s something pretty about her. A realism to her. I meet Aurora and it doesn’t take me long to realize I want her. I want her body because I know I shouldn’t. She’s a dancer, a stripper, a mother, she’s someone’s wife, someone else’s girlfriend. Still, I want her.
“It’s complicated,” Aurora tells me as we speak of her husband, “It’s a pain.”
“But you guys are technically together,” I inquire.
“We’re separated. That’s about as good as it gets right now. But let’s not talk about him.”
“What about you and Suit?”
“Life is good. He still gets irritated he’s not allowed in here. So.” A few weeks prior Suit was kicked out of the club for his actions regarding a situation with Aurora. Now he’s only allowed in when she’s not there.
“People don’t really seem to like Suit.”
“I would imagine. I don’t care,” Aurora giggles.
“Other people bring their boyfriends in. Autumn and them.”
“I have no idea. Should I know why? Should I care why? When I’m not working it’s time for relationships and- do you have the ashtray?” she asks another girl.
Whether she was meant to be or not, Aurora’s crafted herself into a unique sexpot. Five thousand dollars worth pumped to make already impressive breasts larger. Tattoos line her waist and back like ink-jewelry. Microdermal anchors go from her collar bone down to the middle of her sternum. A necklace of sparkling aurora-borealis colors. In the semi-darkness, beneath the black light, the eye might make one believe it is a standard decoration instead of gems punctured into her skin.
“How do you feel for these poor assholes who, don’t want to take a stripper home but, genuinely fall for [them]?” I ask Aurora.
“There’s a big difference there. Yeah, I don’t feel bad for guys who come in here expecting to go home with a stripper. I, I think they’re arrogant and have the least chance of getting a dancer, stripper without money outside of the club.
“Now, a guy who comes in with the intention of spending a little bit of money and locking eyes with a girl and going ‘Oh my god, there’s no way in hell I’ll ever have her’, I would feel more sorry for him if he doesn’t get her than I would for a guy who’s like ‘Oh yeah, I’m built, I have a six pack, a twelve pack, I’m bad ass, I’ve got the tips of my hair dyed’.”
“What do you mean ‘feel sorry for them’?”
“It would make me feel bad because it’s-” Aurora pauses, touches her feet in pain, “Stripper shoes.
“It’s sincere. Their feelings are sincere. They’re not in it for the sex. They, you know, they honestly click with the conversation, you know? That makes me feel worse than some guy coming in here and going ‘Oh yeah, I’m taking one of you home tonight’. Fucking no you’re not. I wouldn’t date you if you were the last guy on earth. Simply because of [their] attitude.”
Some people would like to demonize strippers, create succubus out of them, say that any woman willing to take her clothes off must be willing to go further for a couple more dollars. Whores, trollops, harlots, sluts, hookers, every term, any term, a human being willing to go to great lengths to remind everyone, including themselves, that someone else is seen as greater trash.
And a dancer will be offended by the mere idea that they’ve ever gone home with a customer. Never meeting for dates. “Only whores do that” and sometimes they imply the “whore” is right across the room. Ask the “whore” the same question and they’ll accuse the real “whore” at the bar. An endless game. There is an animosity towards these “whores” that is as fierce as the misunderstood hatred of those outside the nighttime world.
Yet most of the women meet their male counterparts for life or the moment in the club. When your existence revolves around a place it is bound to happen. Isis, Trouble, Satin, these women all met their husbands in the club- some of the men were co-workers, others customers. Brooklyn, Vanessa, Sadie, Belle, Shie, Tessa, Nightmare and others have met and dated a customer or someone they work with at some point. Some instances result in love, in children, in long term investments. While others burst into proverbial flames, leaving both parties bitter, eager to let loose the injustices they feel were thrown upon them.
For the most part the girls are tight-lipped about these romances. Secrets guarded beneath the plates of their psychological stripper armor. Aurora is an exception. The other dancers look at her situation with up-turned noses and speak of it with disgust. Still married but separated, Aurora dates Suit, a man she met at the club. In a world where their skin is for sale in limited amounts, many of the girls attach great pride to fidelity and monogamy. Prostitution is weeded out, disgraced, put on display and then eradicated. Extra-martial relationships receive similar treatment. And flagrant showings of male-female sexual interaction between the dancers and any male, customer or otherwise, triggers a reaction.
“What they do is their business,” a girl tells me, sitting straight in her chair, “but when [Aurora] is blowing [Suit] out in the parking lot when we all get out of work, that makes us all look bad. Separated or not, that’s fucked up.”
Update 4/13/2012: Back in Fort Collins, living in the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in as an adult or a child. Things are changing, jobs are changing. Still a piercing apprentice, still writing. Said I’d never come back to this town, told people how much I hated it, how fucking stupid it was.
Now look at me. Made a motherfucking liar of myself.
Oh well. Now read what you came here to read.
I never notice her until she brushes passed. Any interaction with her is rare. She keeps to herself. Nightmare in her pewter cloak, shrouded like a figment in the back of the strip club. Ignoring the world, face buried deep in the pages of a mass market paperback about rogue angels and demons who harbor human emotions, she looks as if she’s as comfortable in her lingerie and high heels as she is at home in sweats and a t-shirt. Anytime we make eye contact or I talk to her I feel as if I’m bothering her. Her answers are stunted, her gaze is cold, her voice disinterested. She scares me a little.
“If there’s one girl in here,” Pumpkin says to me one night as we sit at his throne, smoking his menthols, “If there’s one girl in here, if you ever wanted to date one, it’s her.”
“It’s who?” I ask.
“Her,” Pumpkin points his finger to a six foot woman with a pixie haircut wrapped in a cloak model walking to the bathroom.
“Her? What? Why? No way.”
Pumpkin laughs his hearty laugh and shakes his head.
“She’s not my type. Girls like Vanessa and Aurora are.”
“Stay as far a fucking way from them as you can. If you ever decide to go after a girl in this place that’s the one.”
“Not happening. Besides, I’m pretty sure she hates me.”
“I have this knot in my right ankle,” Nightmare tells me, showing me from beneath a long blue dress. It’s the kind of outfit 9th century nobility wore, showing only the shape of her toned shoulders and narrow hips.
“Why not get a massage then?”
“They’re like callouses. If I get a massage it will make it worse.”
On stage Nightmare is a dark liquid. Darkness seems to envelop even the neon underwear she sports. She can be slow and sexual, quick and seductive. Her motions and movements, her choices, her actions, all of it is filled to the brim with forced symbolism, creating imagery to go with her name- the outfits, the songs she dances to. Everything is crafted to make you remember her name. To invoke nightmares. During the song that is her namesake she halts at the end of the chorus, arching her back as she lays across the stage or leans against the pole and while the band sings she lip syncs, reminding us all.
“OOOOOOO, YOUR FUCKING NIGHTMARE!”
“My grandmother made this for my wedding. My ex wore his Air Force uniform,” they were married in Cheyenne. A small ceremony. They had met on the internet through a social network where you rate other people and hopefully get their attention.
As Nightmare walks by me her scent reminds me of childhood. A Macy’s or Victoria’s Secret memory from my mother’s bedroom. I’m taken back to her arrays of perfumes and lotions lined across the white counter top, reflected back by the large mirrors latched to the walls. Memories of when I was young enough to wander in on my mother naked, her breasts hanging down as she hits her forties. Her blonde hair up in a tan towel as she spends hours making herself up to go to the super market or hang out around the house.
What an inappropriate vision to be conjured, especially by a woman in a fucking cloak.
“You have bedroom eyes,” Bailey tells Nightmare across the back table, smiling, teeth showing like a shy concubine.
“I what?” Nightmare wraps her cloak tight around her slender body and takes a drag from her cigarette.
“Bedroom eyes,” Bailey smiles wider.
Vanessa pays no attention to the conversation, drawing a picture of a buffalo out of squiggles and shitty lines.
Nightmare and her ex split in the winter, the divorce itself still floating in the atmosphere and cumulonimbus clouds that stretch from Wyoming to Alaska where she relocated to be with him.
She would find messages and texts between him and old ex’s or women he’d met on dating websites. Exchanges about how he wanted to put his tongue inside their cunts, about pulling their hair while fucking them up against walls.
“One day we went to buy perfume,” she tells me in the same uninterested voice she uses to tell any tale or vocalize any statement. From the tone she might as well be talking about groceries. “[He] tells me he likes how the perfume smells to him, but that he doesn’t need [a scent] because my natural aroma attracted him. I knew it was over then.”
One night the wind is horrendous to the point where they close I-25 and 85 and those of us who live in Colorado wait for news, sit around wondering if we’ll be able to get home or if we’ll be stuck in Cheyenne. The club is slow, most customers already gone. It’s only the girls, the bartender, DJ and myself. Bailey tells me if things stay shitty we can get a room together.
“I don’t have money for a room,” I say, embarrassed.
“It’s okay, dude. Don’t worry about it.”
I sit around, waiting, wondering what will happen and then she comes up out of nowhere.
“Hey,” Nightmare says, hovering over me, five inches taller than me in her heels.
“You can stay at my place if you don’t want to drive home.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Well, it’s up to you,” she walks off, back to work.
I think it over for about an hour and I’m not sure why I say yes. I find her at the bar.
“Okay, I’ll stay with you.”
“Yeah, why not?”
“Okay,” she tells me her address and tells me to meet her there after the club closes., “But don’t tell anyone. No one.”
“Yeah, dude, I know.”
Fate sealed. Road taken. No going back now.
Her name is Heidi and in her face and body I see remnants of whatever genetic strain courses through Bailey’s veins. There is something sweeter in her face and in her voice. Harshness has not set in. She is all smiles. Bitterness against where she works has had no time to settle into her mind and bones and beating heart. Her words bounce from a throat she tells me she uses to sing opera. Her pearly whites look so unused. I imagine braces coming off them only days before.
She works at A Hunt Club, a ‘no touch’ gentleman’s club in Fort Collins. College boys and out of place Mexican workers slobber over girls they can’t have. Not even the illusion is complete, a bastardized monster that will haunt and torture them as they lay awake, surfing the internet for porn that tickles that spot they can’t find a woman to caress. The girls are all young in the way only females in college are young. Inexperience veiled in the varied uniforms of what they perceive as maturity.
“I like their no touch policy,” Heidi tells me from across the high table, “I don’t think I could work anywhere that didn’t have that.”
“Where you have to touch on the guys?” I ask.
“Yeah, where you have to touch or the guys touch you. So,” Heidi pauses, “Yeah, I think I’d be really bad at lap dances. I’m a really awkward person. Like, when I started here I was the worst dancer ever. So, if I had to, like, learn how to lap dance it would be bad.”
“I would never tell anyone at school I work here.”
“Is that a personal decision or are you ashamed?”
“I’m not ashamed,” she squeaks, quick to the trigger, “Like, if they asked I’d be like ‘yeah, it’s just a job’. It’s just a job, that’s how I look at it.”
Nude Night. Though all-nude strip clubs are illegal in Wyoming, The Den manages to get away with it by only having one night every couple weeks where the girls strip down to nothing but their skin and subconscious. Though any girl can work in any amount of clothing, most decide to shed it all and make the extra money with their cunts exposed, splaying for strangers and raking in the greenbacks,
Daisy plants herself on my lap and vents. I don’t mind this. Usually I do but I don’t with her. This isn’t romance though we connect or a crush though she is attractive. It’s almost a sibling-like feeling. An understanding. A pretty girl who doesn’t feel pretty finding safety in a boy who realize tthis and wants nothing more than to let her talk. She tells me about some asshole taking pictures of Nightmare while she dances. I try not to care. It’s not my place to care.
There is an innocence that floods from every pore of Daisy’s body. From her white outfits to her eyes that always look shut and bothered by the cigarette smoke to the sweet soprano of her voice. She is all legs and hips and backside, an archetype of what I should want but that isn’t there for either of us. She moves to a seat of her own and begins to let it out.
“There’s just a certain level of nakedness that shouldn’t be shared with the general public,” Daisy tells me, “I mean, like, boobs are okay. Boobs are fun. Like, I like my boobs.” she stutters a bit, bending her head to the side like a curious bird and corrects the motion with another avian movement, “Granted they’re-they’re small but they’re fun. I-I just feel like that’s a very private area that gives life, that-”
Daisy changes courses as if her first explanation wasn’t appropriate, “Have you ever seen that commercial where it’s, like, ‘It gives birth.’ It can, like, bring down nations. I think it’s for, like, a vaginal care thing.”
“Douches?” I offer.
“Yeah! It’s a stupid commercial.”
“I didn’t even know douches had commercials.”
“Yeah and then, like, two men , like, are battling and then there’s a picture of a woman. It’s, like, ‘Wars are fought over it’. And- and it’s all about the vagina. And so, but, I feel like there’s a level of nakedness I’m not okay with.
“And, you know, I feel like if you’re sharing, if you work here and you’re sharing a certain part of yourself, like, if you’re sharing a certain part of yourself like you’re lap dancing and putting your tits in someones face, you’re having fake romances, maybe, like, ten a night. So you should [keep your vagina] for yourself and if you are in a relationship, for [your partner]. It’s like your two, three inches of dignity, depending on how big your thong is.”
“Do you feel there’s a hypocrisy in what you’re saying?” I ask.
“No,” her answer is quick and adamant. Offended, “I mean, it’s my opinion on it, I guess. Sure, I may show one part of my body but that doesn’t mean that my body isn’t sacred to me. Like, I personally like to save something for myself. That part of my body is completely different from the top part of my body. Like, men play sports topless. Like, the penis and the vagina have always been sacred. They’ve always covered it, look at the statue of Adam. Is it Adam? The dude with the leaf covering.”
“I don’t know who that is.”
“But, like, in, like, sculptures and what not, and in- and in, like, books, they’ve always had to censor out those parts. So I feel like boobs aren’t that big of an issue.”
“But it wasn’t always like that. Wasn’t it the Catholic church that made them cover up?”
“Yeah, well, that’s what I feel,” Daisy says, her voice dejected and dismissive, “I don’t care.”