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
As usual, Julie complains that even though her boyfriend knows she doesn't like to be touched after work, every morning he chases her around their apartment and won't keep his hands off her. It's difficult for me to take her problems seriously after a day spent in hospital corridors, eyeing the vacant stares of strangers who are waiting to die. Julie feels free to complain, though, since I've never told her my fiance is sick. It's such an intimate thing. Between stripping and his illness, I'm torn by the abundance of violations. Keeping his illness a secret is the only measure of privacy I seem to have these days.
Every night in the dressing room before we go on the floor, you can see the toll this life takes on the girls. Everyone looks so plain, a little haggard. In contrast to the revealing outfits we wear in the club, our 'costumes' for the real world tend to be very unglamorous. We come in looking like boys: no make-up, hair stuffed into baseball caps, ragged jeans and old sweatshirts.
It's always too crowded A 30 girls almost on top of one another, scrambling to get ready under the harsh glare of bare bulbs in a long, narrow locker room that includes the bathroom and the manager's office. The bathroom has half-stalls, like a stable. When you're going, all the male bar-backs and managers can see you. It gives you the feeling that once you enter the club there's just nowhere to hide. We're told it's to keep us from openly doing drugs, and it works pretty well. Still, it's hard for many of the girls to get through the night without being high. A few like to work on the designer hallucinogen Ecstasy. Most drink, trying to get as drunk as possible before going out on the floor, in part because we've had incidents of customers spiking our drinks.
While we're getting dressed, everyone complains about the money. Many of the girls A especially the ones who remember the days when they were making $300 to $500 every night A are looking to get out of the business, because the economy has really gouged their earnings and they can no longer justify what they do by how much they make. But it's obvious that few will actually escape. And these days, only the real hustlers thrive.
One of the girls who still makes money is a streetwise bottle-blonde who has been stripping forever. She's always examining her silicone-enhanced figure in the mirror, trying to decide whether she should have her breasts enlarged by a few more cc's. For many strippers, plastic surgery is just another shopping item required for the job: pumps, G-string, implants. They know these items are a requisite for their income, and larger breasts are a commodity purchased solely for the purpose of increasing that income. They show them off any time a colleague makes an inquiry about them, as casually as if they were modeling a dress. Any modesty they might otherwise feel when touching or showing them in public is absent A the breasts, literally, aren't really their own.
The stories you hear in the dressing room can be chilling: A stripper who went out after work for a beer with a customer she trusted was later found murdered on some train tracks, her breasts mutilated and her face disfigured. Another girl was kidnapped from the parking lot of a club in Lantana when she stopped to talk with a guy she knew as he sat in his car. After abducting her, he raped her, tortured her, and held her hostage for seventeen days, taking Polaroids throughout the ordeal. She escaped by talking him into going out to the store. When police arrived to arrest the guy, they discovered the photographs of 21 other strippers he'd kidnapped and tortured.
These stories tend to remind you that you are a high-profile entertainer, performing naked before a psychologically questionable crowd. You never know who's watching, or what might be going on in their heads. It's difficult for me to hear these stories without thinking about my own customers and wondering who among them might be capable of such acts.
The dressing room walls are plastered with Xeroxed drawings of a rapist who's been operating pretty close to the club. After he started working this area, we all had to have our photographs taken A for our own safety, the managers said; in case one of us is kidnapped or murdered, they can show a current photo ID to the police. Also for our protection, the managers conduct safety meetings every few months. We have an off-duty police officer stationed at the front door to walk us to and from our cars, and bouncers located in key locations around the club in case a situation gets out of hand. Beyond taking these safety measures, the owners are usually very protective of their girls, and managers like to perpetuate a familial feeling among the staff. They understand the inherent difficulties of the job, and they make every attempt to "cushion the blow." But all you have to do is listen to a couple of these stories or stare at a rapist's face on the wall while you're getting dressed to know that even the best precautions can't protect everyone.