By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
He asks me to sit with him. I say I'd love to, but that I have to finish collecting tips for my dance on stage. He asks how much I'll make. I count the heads. There are twelve customers left, which means I'll make about five dollars. "Forty-five dollars," I lie. He offers to pay off my rounds. I take him to the back of the club, and he orders a beer. I dance for him a few times, and I invite one of my girlfriends over to dance for him. His English is very poor, so the conversation is slow. When the DJ announces the last song of the night, I ask him to pay me what he owes. He says he'll give me $50, but he pulls out the hundred-dollar bill and tucks it into my garter. I figure he just doesn't understand the language. The lights come up. I thank him and head to the dressing room.
In the dressing room, I pull the hundred out of my garter and see that he's given me only half the bill. I run back out to the club, but he isn't there, so I get a bouncer to go out with me to the parking lot. The sun is coming up and the lot looks empty. We turn to go back in just as the guy's coming out. I show him the torn bill and tell him he owes me money. Suddenly, his English is better. "I said I'd give you $50," he explains. "Half of $100 is $50. Tomorrow when I come, you'll get the other half."
I'm furious, but I also can't help admiring his scam. The bouncer tells him that he has to give me the other half of the bill. He smiles sheepishly and hands it to me. I go inside and tape the two halves together.
The end of the night is the worst part. Sitting on the dressing room floor, counting a pile of singles while the DJ and bartenders stand around waiting to be tipped out. We're all tired and dying to get home and into bed. I pull off my wig, which hasn't been brushed in a couple of hours, roll it in a ball, and throw it in my bag. My mascara is down to my chin. In a few minutes, I'll be out in the sunlight, fighting the traffic of caffeinated drivers rushing to get to work.
The off-duty police officer at the door escorts Julie and me to the car. As I put my dance bag in the trunk, I hear someone calling, "Rikki!" I look over my shoulder and there's the guy who ripped the hundred-dollar bill in half. He's been waiting for me. My guess is he wants his money back. I can't believe he recognized me without my wig. I jump in the car, telling Julie to hurry. He gets in his car. I tell the cop to stall him for as long as he can. The cop throws his body across the guy's hood, blocking his way. But when we pull out of the parking lot, he's still following us. I tell Julie to step on it, and somehow we manage to lose him in the early morning traffic.
I get home about 7:45, just as some of my neighbors are going to work. It's obvious I've been out all night. I wonder what they must think. Julie waves a sleepy goodbye out the window. She still has more than an hour's drive ahead of her. In fourteen hours we'll be back to the grind.
I creep into the house quietly, but my fiance is awake. He asks how my night went and pulls me into his arms. I know it's selfish, but I'm a little grateful for his insomnia. We spend a few quiet moments entwined. Beyond the windowpane it starts to rain. I think about the other strippers and their lives. What do they go home to? What keeps them centered?
Despite how long I did it, I never stopped being unnerved that night after night I had to sit with strange men as though I were their date, pleasing them within the legal limits of public service. I'm in love with someone, I have an ordinary and respectful existence outside of the charade. But sometime during the process of learning the hustler's trade, I talked myself into accepting the service I performed: It benefits the customers, I told myself; they get what they want, and the lies I tell them have become lucrative for me. I made that $1500 a week, just like the ad said.
When you get good at being a stripper, it's like a drug. You want to see if you can make more money off more lies. Toward the end, though, I began to dream that I was Rikki, and that frightened me. Even if the motive for stripping was as clear as the need for immediate cash A lie and death A I couldn't help but wonder how that world, once entered, would continue to have its effect.