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
Because of the money involved, strippers are very territorial. When a customer has been to the club more than once, and has sat with the same girl, he's a marked man A the unspoken rule says he's her territory, her "regular." Other strippers will sit with the mark only if invited, either by the stripper or the mark. If the mark spends a lot of money in the club, other girls will try to get themselves noticed in an attempt to be invited to sit with him. But among strippers, the club is polite society: showing respect for another's territory is simply common courtesy.
One of the girls I work with refers to us as "naked psychiatrists," because we spend so much of our time listening to problems and helping to solve them. Short of large breasts, I think a solid working knowledge of psychology is a stripper's best asset for generating income. You have to keep your customers interested, or they'll find someone else. It often takes real cunning to keep them coming back, and I've become pretty good at quickly assessing their desires. To older men I sometimes claim to be sixteen, working with a fake ID that says I'm nineteen. I beg them not to reveal my secret. They love it.
Yet no matter how good you are, eventually you lose your regulars A who are an absolute necessity for making real money A when it becomes clear to them you aren't going to date or sleep with them.
Unfortunately, one of my regulars is a student, a type of customer I've learned to not waste my time with, because they rarely have much money to spend. But I didn't adopt this guy; he adopted me. He's from some foreign country with fifteen letters, all of which are consonants. He can't really afford to tip me, so when he comes to the club I spend most of the evening avoiding him. His major is something like bioelectromolecularcomputernomics. He started coming to the club, he told me, to "let off some steam." Now he returns every week because he's convinced he's in love with me A or rather, with Rikki. On those occasions when I've made the mistake of sitting and chatting with him for a moment, the same thing occurs. At first he's polite and offers to buy me a drink. Then, without warning, he lunges at me, crying and screaming, "Oh, Rikki! What do I have to do to make you mine? I love you, Rikki, I'll give up everything for you! I can't get you out of my head! We must be together! I'll quit school!"
After prying his fingers off my face, I straighten my wig and reply, "Let's try to be strong." Then I make my exit ASAP. It never fails: always the same actions and same dialogue, word for word. One night it ended with him chasing me around the bar (he's quite a sprinter), thrusting a jewelry box in my face, screaming, "Rikki, these are for you! Beautiful earrings! I've been saving this money since I was six!"
Julie and I often talk about how much we hate the job, how dirty we feel, how we avoid our old friends because we have nothing in common with them any more. Neither of us likes to go out any more A I even dread going to the supermarket A because we don't like being around people. It makes us feel too vulnerable. The resentment and mistrust we harbor toward the customers, whose violations we accept because we need them to make money, is easily transferred to any man we meet outside the club. After a while, you become accustomed to believing that anyone who looks at you or strikes up a conversation with you simply wants to violate you.
When I come out of the dressing room onto the floor, the noise A typically ear-splitting disco music A hits me in the face. The club is dark, illuminated only by red lights reflected off mirrored balls on the ceiling. The hue of the lighting is intentional, to bathe the strippers in a fresh, rosy glow. It camouflages flaws and gives an even look to the strippers' skin, much of which is plastered in thick coats of body make-up. Every wall is covered with mirrors, making the room look larger than it is, and full of nude girls. Men are sitting at the bar, at tables, crowding the aisles, all with that same hungry look on their faces. Naked girls are on stage and tabletopping in every part of the room, touching themselves, writhing, trying to look seductive, as though the dance excites them. When they turn their backs to their customers, you can see the boredom on their faces. But when they turn back, they are, again, in heat. We've all mastered the art of turning the seduction on and off; we've all got that switch.
As I scan the crowd, I notice Howard, one of my regulars, sitting in a booth, wrapped around a new girl. I fix a smile on my face and move to reclaim my territory. I walk past Howard's table, ignoring him, and make my way to the bar as though I'm looking for someone else to dance for. A minute later he's behind me, trying to look cute. "I'm mad at you," he whispers in my ear.