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
After I put on my black leather costume, the last thing I do before leaving the dressing room is to brush out my wig and fit it on my head. I began wearing a wig because I didn't want any of my customers to be able to recognize me outside of the club. But I realized that having long hair helped me make a lot more money, and the wig soon became an integral component of me the stripper. Of Rikki. On the few occasions I've worked without it, I didn't make much money. At first I thought my real hair wasn't sexy enough. But the truth is, it doesn't really matter, I could never do this job as myself. With my wig on I am Rikki, and Rikki is a character all her own.
When I began dancing, I was naive. I didn't know the ropes. I thought I'd show up, dance naked, take home a bundle of cash. It was a huge blow to my ego to realize I would have been better off bagging groceries at Publix. I was working an eight-hour shift five nights a week, and bringing home an average of $40 a night. I didn't know how to make money; I didn't know how the system worked. I didn't even know there was a system. Then I started studying the girls who were making money. It was an education I'll never forget.
It works like this. As a stripper you are an independent agent, you don't worry about 'punching in' or paying taxes. There's no salary, either; all your money comes from tips. You get tipped for your on-stage strip, which is a two-song set of music you pick and perform to several times a night. You also get a minimum of five dollars a song to "tabletop" for customers A dance just for them, on a small wooden box you bring to their table. And you can also get paid just to sit and talk with a customer.
Since you earn your pay dollar by dollar, you have to be making money every minute in order for your night to be worth it. Some nights it's easy. Most nights it's not. You are constantly manhandled, pushed up against walls and pawed for cheap feels by middle-age, pot-bellied nobodies with tequila breath, who drool endearments in your ear, like, "I want to tickle your taco bell, baby. I want to run for your border with my tongue." You have to smile and remove their hands without making trouble.
These men always want to know about you, or, at least, the "you" you've created. They want to touch you, they want to sleep with you, they want to get inside your head. You're at their mercy because they're putting food on your table, so you use any means you can to make your money. Basically, you lie. The trick is to act as if you're available to each man you dance for or talk to, while always keeping him at a distance. To do this, most strippers rewrite their history every night, lying about their lives, deleting boyfriends, husbands, children. It can really turn you inside out. But the lies you create are the only real barrier you have between you and the customers. They help you maintain your psychological edge A and therefore, your control.
Each man who comes to the club seems to have two beliefs: First, that he can pass unnoticed in this place that allows the illusion of anonymity. Second, that it's possible for him to have a relationship with a stripper, whether he's looking for a one-night stand or a girlfriend.
Neither could be farther from the truth.
As soon as any man walks through the door, he is immediately assessed by the girls solely for his potential to make them money. If he has money, or is someone known to throw a lot of money around, this information is quietly passed throughout the club by word of mouth. In a strip club, everyone knows your business. A customer is neither anonymous nor a potential romantic suitor to anyone. Not that a stripper doesn't occasionally date one of her customers. But the odds of her dating a customer for reasons other than money are only slightly higher than those of being struck by lightning twice. Yet because no man wants to believe that his only value to a stripper is monetary, he is easily led to believe otherwise. The average man who frequents a strip club is simply lonely: average job, average life. He believes this atmosphere is his escape, that he can walk through those doors and be anyone he wants to be. A guy like this is a loser, paying for a fantasy. The stripper's job is to make him feel like a king.
You maneuver the relationship to your advantage by making the guy, your mark, feel he's "in," while you're getting at his money and then keeping that money coming back week after week. Some customers do come every night, paying their regular girl for her companionship. Many will have you sit with them without stripping. They just want someone to talk to, someone who'll listen to the mundane, day-to-day details of their life. They need somebody they feel cares for them, and they're willing to pay for the "friendship" they think they're developing with you.