Day Strippers

While you're at work, Miami's exotic dancers put on a naked lunch.

On days she's not up to being sweet to her boyfriend, she tells him: "Go get a fucking lap dance."

After giving a tour of Showgirls, Sara Lee introduces me to two of the club's day strippers: Athena (who requested her stage name be changed) and Extazy.

Like a proper lady, Athena primly spreads a white cloth napkin on a black barstool before sitting. She is topless and doesn't bother to replace her black and white bikini. The slender 22-year-old smoothes her long, ramrod-straight brown hair. She releases the bills crumpled in her fist and counts them: 10 bucks. As we talk, the spindly legs of a flat-chested woman stalk by on the bar.

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"I feel so guilty," Athena says of stripping when I tell her I'm working on a story for New Times. (I had given up trying to pass as a customer.) "Do you guys have any jobs?"

She lives with her mother, a nurse, who thinks Athena works at Ann Taylor at The Falls shopping mall in Palmetto Bay. Athena wants to be a teacher. Like other strippers I met, she claims to be a student at Miami Dade College, which seems to be furthering the educational goals of half the daytime strippers in the area.

"Ever since I've got saved, I've felt out of place," she says, wringing her hands in her lap and looking around. "It's sinful. I want to get out of here. I'm a Christian."

Athena's disaffection came after she dropped some bad Ecstasy. She made a promise to God: She would go to church if He let her live. The day before our meeting, she had attended a Bible study. She told the group she used to be a stripper, too embarrassed to admit she hadn't quit. They prayed over her and she burst into tears.

She pledged not to return to Showgirls, but her checking account is overdrawn. It's the next day and here she is. She pulls out her cell phone to show me photos of herself, as if to prove there's more to her than a topless girl. "See, I have glasses — like yours."

Athena's friend, Extazy, has just turned 20. Petite and curvy with shoulder-length ringlets and a little girl's laugh, she is Hawaiian, but patrons think she's Latina. When she doesn't respond to Spanish, the mean ones get mad and call her a whore.

Both women started out working nights, but they prefer days, when the clientele is older, tamer, and richer. "Older men are more willing to spend," Extazy says. "Though sometimes they're perverted. I can tell they're like child molesters."

"They are more respectful," Athena chimes in. "Young guys like to see free you-know-what."

They share stories of backsides bitten, breasts squeezed, indecent proposals, and dollar bills crammed in places nobody would want them. Like other dancers, they don't exactly have a glowing image of their male customers — especially the ones who give them only a single dollar.

The pair asserts the day shift can bring in just as much money as the nighttime. Athena hit her record, around $700, on a Sunday afternoon, a good shift. "They go to church; then they get bored," she explains.

Typically the dancers earn a few hundred dollars each day. (Strippers at higher-end clubs estimate they earn $1,000 on a good day shift and don't like to leave without at least $500.)

Both pledge they're on their way to quitting. "I feel like it's degrading," Athena says. "It's good money, but I don't need it anymore. I don't think any women should be doing this."

Extazy, who dabbles in painting portraits and landscapes, aspires to work in a gallery. "I just want to do it and move on with my life."

About a week later, Athena sends me a text-message update: "STILL LOOKIN FOR A JOB."

I text back: "R u at showgirls in the meantime?"

":( yeah I wanna stop"

"its hard - ebody has to pay bills"

"Yeah but i rather work a normal job"

Two days later, she forwards an image of Christ with the message that the picture is sacred. But faith alone doesn't pay the bills.

Rain seems to spit, just to rub in the grayness of this Thursday afternoon in June on a soulless swath of downtown NE 11th Street. White, purple, and gold balloons bob outside Gold Rush, lending the place the melancholy air of a lousy garage sale.

Gold Rush holds the local distinction of being the only club open 24 hours a day. To customers, it's also known as a place where they don't have to pay "tolls"; girls don't ask for a dollar after they dance.

Inside, a neon green sign flashes "All U Can Eat," under which a free buffet offers chicken parmigiana with salad and lentil soup. On Fridays, Al the cook hauls out a beef carving station.

Near a long stage, three men hover like bees around a blond with a high ponytail that loops into spirals. She wears a rose-colored see-through lace top and ruffled panties, and introduces herself as "one of the Barbies." (Apparently, at Gold Rush, there are two.) Sparkles dust her eyelids.

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