By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The leather man sits in the shadows with a smug look on his face. He outlines his request, I outline my fee. He wants to take me to a hotel room. I tell him it's out of the question.
"What can you do to me here?" he asks in broken English.
I tell him, "You'd be surprised."
He says, "No."
I shrug and start to walk away. I'm already counting my money.
"Okay, wait," he says, grabbing my arm and pulling me back. "Where can we go?"
I take him to the darkest part of the room. He's skeptical, but I assure him I'll be discreet. He agrees, either because he believes me or because he simply doesn't want to ask what "discreet" means. "But it's $100 if it's here," he says.
I tell him $300.
He shakes his head. "No way, Jose."
We haggle some more over the price, then he slips two hundred-dollar bills into my garter.
"Don't take off your clothes," he whispers huskily.
He orders a gin and tonic, which I grab before he's touched it. I take a large swig from the straw, tilt his head back, and spit the drink in his face. With his head still tilted back, I squeeze the lime into his eyes. He begins to moan, but the sound is drowned out by the 2 Live Crew screaming, "Hey, pop that coochie, baby!"
I crouch down so I can't be seen and extract his cigarette from the ashtray. Following his instructions, I take his hand in mine and lay the business end of the burning cigarette in his palm.
His moans turn into cries of pain as he begs me to stop. But he doesn't pull his hand away. I notice his palm and wrist are covered with the scars of previous similar episodes, and I am momentarily sickened by the fact that I could bring myself to do this. But I also know that if I don't do it, he'll find someone who will. And I don't recall it being on the list of illegalities.
I squeeze the rest of the lime into the palm of his hand. He throws his head back, moaning with rapture. I move the burning cigarette up to his chest and look into his eyes. In the time I've worked here, I've never actually seen anyone in the throes of ecstasy. Until now. I smell burning hair as I press the lit cigarette to his chest. He screams, jumps back, and the coal of the cigarette falls into my thigh-high boots. I try to maintain some semblance of composure, but my stocking is burning, and his two songs are up. I calmly squeeze my boot to crush out the coal and make my exit.
It was the summer of 1991 when I read the classified ad: "$$$ DANCERS WANTED $$$ Amateur or Pro $1500 per wk only 3 shifts Will Train." I'd been dancing since I was three years old, had trained and worked in the most prestigious ballet schools and companies on the east coast. Beside the newspaper lay a stack of medical bills. My fiance was facing his third operation for a rare brain tumor. In the months following surgery there would be radiation therapy, blood tests, experimental injections, CAT scans, more tests. He would be unable to work. I had a chance to make a real difference financially.
I called the club and entered its amateur contest A my audition. Despite popular belief, there are rarely any amateurs in these contests. The contestants are strippers from other clubs who want to make a couple hundred dollars without working a whole night at their own clubs. They make the rounds on their nights off and take their chances. That night I was the sole amateur. It was one of the most frightening nights of my life: the night "Rikki" was born.
After my audition, anywhere from three to five nights a week, I was Rikki A in skintight black leather, thigh-high boots, black gloves, and a long dark wig. Some weeks it seemed like Rikki occupied my entire waking life. I'd work the club all night, sleep all day, work the club all the next night. I did it for almost a year, then gave it up when it became too draining. Now, when I look back on that time, some of the nights I remember stand out very sharply. These are my snapshots of a stripper's life.
When my friend Julie comes to pick me up for work, I'm exhausted, having spent the afternoon with my fiance in radiology at Jackson Memorial Hospital. Julie goes straight into the kitchen to fix herself a Thermos of rum and Coke. Being drunk is the only way she can face the job. She always makes more money than me when she's drunk. I drive. I wish I was the one who was drunk. She's nervous all the way to work. This job petrifies her. She could work a lot closer to home, but she's so afraid that someone she knows will catch her dancing that she makes a three-hour commute each night.