This was inspired by a number of things. Not the least of which is a blog I like to read on a regular basis by chelsea called pretty dumb things
. I have mentioned in comments here and there that I have a daughter that was a stripper while she was in college. Now for those of you who think that this is hopelessly cliché (as I once did) think again. For a college student dancing can be the perfect job while you're in school. It can pay very well on the time invested money return scale. Part of my wanting to tell this involves putting a human face on girls that are easily objectified. This is the story of my peek behind the curtain. Now that I've seen the wizard pulling the levers; I don't buy tickets to see the elephant anymore.
StripperGirl first moved to Alaska because she was given an education scholarship at University of Alaska. She fell in love with the place. The clean air and water, she even loved the winters. While she was a student she was struggling with the high cost of living. Things we take for granted in our everyday life in the lower 48 are precious luxuries in the frozen North. She chose to go to school a little less and work a little more.
Alaska also has one of the highest ratios of men to women anywhere in the world. Lots and lots of men, very few women. I never got the full story on how she became a stripper, she never really got around to telling me. I suppose it happened pretty easily. She's always been a free spirit, fiercely independent, and has always prided herself on being self-sufficient. This is all stuff I love about her.
We hadn't been around each other very much. I was still in the Navy when her mother 1stX and I divorced. We split up for a huge number of reasons. I was gone all the time. When I wasn't gone I was getting ready to leave. In a lot of ways it was like my career as a musician. Her mother also decided that she was going to come out as a lesbian. No, wait, that's a lie, she was about to be outed and Court-Martialed by the Navy for being a lesbian and when they offered the option of resigning she took it. Then she figured since the jig was up anyway she didn't need me to be her “cover” anymore. She entered into a long term monogamous relationship that lasted many years. (far longer than any of my disastrous marriages) So StripperGirl never really had much Ward and June Cleaver action growing up. She once told me that when she needed to be going through her rebellious phase it required drastic action because I was usually on the road with one act or another, raising eleven kinds of hell myself. I mean, how's a girl to rebel when she knows Dad was taking a chainsaw to a hotel room last night? (that actually only happened three or four times but it's a hard rep to live down once you have it established)
For most of StripperGirl's childhood her Mom and I were pretty far apart geographically. After the divorce 1stX moved to her old home of Rhode Island. I stayed out West in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Then I heard from my out-laws (what I started calling them after they quite being in-laws) that 1stX and family had moved to the L.A. area. I gave my number and told them that she could call me any time. She never did. I still sent presents and letters and cards and stuff through the grandparents but there wasn't any in person contact between us until one night, very early in the morning I woke to the sound of barking dogs and a doorbell. I pulled on some sweatpants and a robe and went to the door. Out on the porch was a young girl (she was about 16), with a brand new rose tattoo on her shoulder, pink hair and a cigarette dangling from her lips. I knew who she was instantly and opened the door. Before I could say anything she said “My Mom's a bitch!” I said “I knew that fifteen years ago, come on in.”
During the course of our first conversation I found out that the car she had driven over here was stolen (luckily she stole it from her Mom, although she had skills in that area I would find out about later) so we had to smooth that little speed bump out. We kind of fell into a relationship. She was a hero to my three young ones and a big help to the woman who was biding her time before becoming 4thX. When I was home off the road she would move in with us. I even took her on a couple of tours as my guitar tech. Then when she was 19 she sobered up. She said that trying to cut her teeth as a drug user and drinker while in the company of touring musicians was like trying to learn how to hit a baseball with Trevor Hoffman pitching. When she was 20 she got her scholarship and went off to college. She was 21 when she started dancing.
Now we fast forward about eight years. She's dancing more, and going to school a lot less. She explains it by telling me how much money she makes every night that she's working. It's stupid money. I mean stoopid
money. There aren't that many women up there to begin with, plus StripperGirl is gorgeous. She's tall, about 5'8”, very blonde, green eyes and has a lively wit. She worked at a club in Anchorage that catered to pipeline workers that hadn't had a thing to spend their money on for a couple of months, and hadn't seen a woman in that long either. I must say that she also learned her trade well. I was up for a visit, I had been clean and sober a few years myself at this point and during the visit StripperGirl told me that she wanted me to come and see her dance. I said something really Dadlike and pithy. The only problem was that it came out “Arrghacckkk!” She said “No, I really want you to see what I do. I know you say you don't have a problem with it, now's your chance to really prove it.”
She went on to tell me that some of her friends at the club were very excited about the idea of a parent coming to see a girl dance and that a good percentage of them were also clean and sober and that they would sit with me and make sure I was alright through the process. I figured “How bad can it be?” After all, I'm going to be sitting with a group of beautiful young women, there might even be one there with a thing for older, fat, bald musicians who walk with a limp. You never know.
Luckily I only had a day or so to stew about it. I made my peace with the idea and decided to see things through. We went to the club and I got the tour from the owner. He was a fairly decent bloke, we had a nice chat, he said wonderful things about my daughter, praising her talent and work ethic. (showing up on time in shape to dance can be a problem at places like that) I got to meet my “escorts” for the evening. They introduced themselves by their stripper names. I got to meet most of them off the job later and learned “real” names, but for purposes of narration they will be Candy, Mandy, Sandy and Dandy. Respectively they were cute, gorgeous, stunning and dangerously pretty. We spent some time just getting to know one another. They had heard stories about me from StripperGirl and were wondering if they were true (mostly), they wanted to know what some of the people I had worked with were really like, all the usual stuff. We were having a grand old time. Occasionally one or another would toddle off to their dressing room to get ready for her set then show up on stage to do her three dances. After the dance they would make their rounds, snagging the extra tip here and there, selling some time in the “champagne room” and other such nagging bits of business. I was thoroughly enjoying myself until I was startled by an elbow to the ribs and one of the girls (I honestly don't remember which one) whispered “Here she comes now.”
The DJ made the introduction and there she was. She was on her huge platform stripper shoes wearing an outfit that I had bought for her from Fredrick's the last time she was down for a visit. Some girls want Dad to take them to Disneyland, not mine. One thing I was absolutely not prepared for was the music. It was me playing an old Son House piece called “Pearline” on a slide guitar. Sandy, the stunning one, said “She always uses this song first, I just love it, don't you? It's perfect. She won't tell me where she got it.” She danced around the rail, all slinky and beautiful. One of the girls (I think it was gorgeous Mandy) said “She's sizing them up now. Watch what she does next.” She was moving perfectly within the motion of the slide, slipping herself along, easing into the beats and perfectly mimicking the phrases I was playing. Then she did a turning, dipping movement that had the shoulder of her dress slipping off one side. Without appearing to actively do anything the dress began to fall away, then slid down to the floor. She made another circuit, this time in bra and bikini bottoms to work the tip rail. The ones who had put money on the rail got extra attention, the ones without any money up got this look that said “I'd really like to pay more attention to you but that will take a little extra.” After she passed most of them began digging into their pockets. The second song was not anything I was on. So now I had no excuse for any distraction. About halfway through the song the bikini bottom came off, leaving her in a G-string. Candy, the cutie, said “She's got a really great ass, don't you think?” I swallowed nervously and said something clever like “Ulp!” Another trip around the tip rail and she was nearing center stage for some pole work. She was good. I had an idea of how intense a workout that pole could be and was impressed at how effortless she made it look. I said to the girls “I guess those gymnastics classes really paid off huh?” Then, at the top of the pole, the bra came off and she finished up center stage.
The last song of her set was an old Delbert McClinton tune “Mary Lou,” I recognized my work on the slide again, stunning Sandy said “That's you playing isn't it?” I was my usual glib, charming self, I managed to nod and mutter. Not all that long into the song was when the G-string disappeared. I must have turned pale and stuff because Sandy took a hold of my hand and whispered “Watch how she works this crowd, she's really good.” I was doing that and really getting a sense of the effect StripperGirl was having on them when Sandy gave my hand a squeeze and whispered “She keeps looking over here at you but you're not looking at her, it's alright, it's only a dance.” I looked, our eyes met. I saw her fierce pride and felt her sense of accomplishment. I smiled, no wait, I beamed. I could see that she not only wasn't the least bit ashamed of her body or her profession, she was proud and comfortable in them. It wasn't just the money that had her up there, she was dancing for the sheer joy of knowing that she was young and beautiful. She loved it. I gave each of the girls $20 bills and sent them up to the tip rail, StripperGirl made a huge fuss over them as the girls are wont to do when a woman is at the tip rail. StripperGirl had never made any pretense of hiding her bisexuality when she was growing up and, quite frankly, I generally liked her girlfriends better than the boys she would turn up with. (present hubby excluded, Dude, you're a prince) Some of them I swear she only brought by to see me get pissed off and surly (but then I must remember that I am notoriously self-absorbed she might really have liked them). Finally the set was over, I survived. StripperGirl still had to make her rounds, she ended up with two trips to the extra expensive place (which alone makes it a successful night). At last she came to the table, sits down and says “So what'd you think?” I told her she was very good. That she was my favorite dancer (which caused the other girls to pelt me with ice cubes and wadded up napkins and call me a perv but it was all in good fun) and that I was proud of her. StripperGirl said that one of the biggest things she noticed was that when she was without the G-string she and I were making eye contact. That was unusual, and took some getting used to. She said “Usually when the G-string's off the eye contact part of the show is over, it can almost be like having some time alone.”
I made it through the rest of the night. I would usually manage to find a way to leave the room during the last two songs of her set. I figured out that what she was wanting from me was a performer to performer validation. During my visit she told me about how she used to watch me perform and would always try to reconcile the person she saw on stage with the man she knew. I told her that I was often in the same position. There were many times when I didn't know who that was out there playing. StripperGirl kept dancing for about five more years. Then, as has happened to many friends of mine who dance, her body began to betray her. It was becoming less of a romp and more of a chore. Like a few of my friends, she never quit the business, it quit her. She got her Bachelor's, then her Master's in Education. She's teaching now. She's very good at that also. I still get to visit her at work when I'm up there. It's easier when she's got a classroom full of kids. I take a guitar and a banjo and we have a music day. Sometimes, just to be a pill, I play “Pearline” and we exchange knowing looks and a laugh.
The biggest change I noticed was in me. Having seen behind the curtain, the fantasy doesn't work that well for me anymore. I can't lose sight of the fact that the women up there have real lives, they go to school, they fall in love, that their job is to show me a glimpse of something beautiful but untrue. I just can't release myself into the illusion now. I really don't miss it. I have had a relationship with a dancer named April on and off (mostly off) for several years now and I've never been in a club where she danced. If you can still bring up the fantasy and buy the illusion, I encourage you to go and enjoy yourself. Please, for me, remember that these girls are somebody's daughter, sister, mother, friend and lover. Have fun, but show some respect. If your idea of fun is wad up a bill and throw it at her, make it a $100 and nobody will mind. If you're tossing singles, then you're not paying enough to be that kind of asshole.
cross dancing a feature slot at 3Beez