The Eyes Have It

I've been to strip clubs a few times in my life.

It's always been depressing.

The most recent trip happened sometime between 2006 and 2008. I can't even remember, that's how important the experience is.

This particular place was in Arlington, VA. I went because a coworker had never been to one and wanted to go. It was a topless place, almost more a dinner club than a strip club. I was bored. I stuck with it, though, for the sake of my co-worker. I was barely in my late twenties, but I felt already like an adult compared to the person I went with, who was just over twenty one.

We sat, we drank beer, we watched. The girls came around, solicited drinks, etc. I already knew. He didn't, but he learned, and in the hardest way possible.

This guy, Paul, lived with his mother in one of the nastiest houses I have ever been in. The glass case where his snake was kept was the cleanest space in the whole house. We would grab some beers and play Guitar Hero after work occasionally. We could smoke cigarettes inside. Of course.

I think I could have been a better friend to him. Or rather, I was a good friend at the time, but after I left for New York, well, the past was the past. What did we really have to talk about? Life sucks, retail sucks. We ended up going to a Skinny Puppy show together. I liked it more than I expected I would.

A particular confusion of mine. I am, still, and have been, just as angst-ridden as any Tool-loving teenager from the suburbs, but, the educated, urbane aesthete in me, hard to shake, even as that same angst prevents me from taking my place amongst those who I "belong" with.

Regardless, topless place.

The girls came and went, money was requested, drinks were bought. At one point, a young girl sat down next to Paul. They started talking. Much was discussed. Broken homes, tough lives, tough jobs, and, especially, more totemic bands of disillusioned young white suburbanites everywhere. It could have been a conversation anywhere, in any context; it was going well.

Of course. But not really. We bought her a drink. A professional, she didn't touch it. She got up and left. A deep connection was broken. What could have been the love of Paul's life up to that point went to talk to someone else, about something else, for more money. I could see in his eyes that he really believed, if only for a brief moment, one that ended with her exit from our booth.

Before that, I had gone to a strip club at some point in 2004. A friend was getting married. He had never been. It was silly.

There were, and may still be, two strip clubs on M Street NW in Washington, DC a few doors down from each other south of Dupont Circle. We went to one. The bouncer was having a hard time reading my friend's ID. My friend stated his year of birth, and the bouncer asked him to repeat himself, looking affronted. My friend obliged, and the bouncer decided, for some reason, that we were too drunk to come in.  We had had one beer already that evening.

Perhaps this is not funny by itself. I should add that my friend spoke with the same sort of earnest and friendly tone of voice that someone proud of their small town and of a hospitable nature might offer directions.

We walked a few doors down and got in to the next club, easily.

And, other than the fact that, of course, the drinks were too expensive, that's all I remember. Not because I drank too much, but because it felt so pointless. There was, of course, as my friend had suspected, no epiphany to be had.

When I went to the club in DC it had been five years since I had been to a strip club.

That club, the first club, was somewhere in Ohio near Cincinnati.

I was living in New York in 1999 during a year off between high school and college and was living in a one bedroom apartment in Park Slope with two girls, both of whom I had known from my previous school. My dad was, ludicrously, proud, even though nothing happened, and we, the girls and myself, were all better off because of it.

They had a lot of shoes.

I don't mean that to sound sexist. I just tripped. A lot. There were probably at least thirty pairs of shoes on the floor at any time. It was a small apartment for a married couple of below-average height and perfect physical fitness. Yuppies on yoga. I'm sure, given the neighborhood, that our residency was followed by precisely such a couple.

A guy called Jason was a friend to us all. But why? I'll never know. I guess I can credit not having ever found a place for myself in this world for most of the misery I have experienced and continue to experience, but I've met a lot of interesting people, if only because they wanted to be friends, even if there was absolutely no sane reason for us to actually be friends. I think I may have hurt some people because of this, but never intentionally.

Jason was into the Dave Matthews Band and had his parents buy him the same model of guitar that Dave Matthews played. I knew some of the songs, but was way too cool to be in to that music, especially in 1998, though I did end up "jamming" with Jason every so often. He was a year behind me in school, and stuck there while I moved to New York. He was attracted to one of the girls with whom I lived.

That became a problem. She was manipulative. She told him she was pregnant with his kid. She wasn't. I was stuck in the middle of that situation, compelled to clearly explain to Jason the truth, which my roommate would constantly contradict. I lasted in this apartment for six months. I stopped paying my bills at the very end and started buying records instead.

The mother of the girl who lied about being pregnant showed up to the office where I worked one day drunk, before noon, to scream at me. Apparently, what I was told I had to pay for rent by the aforementioned girl, and had always paid, was not the same amount I was supposed to be paying. It was news to me. Thankfully, due to the mother's behavior, should I have ever forgotten in subsequent months exactly how much money I was meant to pay, I would have had at least thirty people from which to solicit that information.

I should add that the most awkward conversation I have ever had with management soon followed.

While I am still not talking about strip clubs: after I moved out, I began receiving threatening calls from another boy who was enamored with this girl promising physical harm should I not pay back the few hundred dollars for utilities that I still owed. And calls from Jason about pregnancy.

But before all of this happened, I made the thirteen hour journey from New York Port Authority to Cincinnati. It was summer, right after my graduation, and before Jason had to return to school for his senior year. Jason had guilted me into coming all the way out there for his birthday, which he did not want to spend alone, or, better said, without at least someone from school. He had plenty of friends in Cincinnati.

I got there, and nothing was as I expected. Apparently, Jason had to attend summer school. I had not known this before getting on the bus. I spent the days playing video games in his parent's massive home while he was off at school. In the evenings, we would tool around the suburbs, me smoking, most likely, at this time, Galouises Blondes, and him, his pathetic Marlboro Ultra-Lights. We were in an SUV, with the greatest hits of the Steve Miller Band blasting through the stereo.

Early evening were spent doing nothing, getting stoned, drinking beer, playing video games at his friend's apartment. Chili, Graeter's ice cream. The late evenings were something different.

We went to the same strip club every night for almost a week.

It was misery.

Jason, he who would soon be convinced that a certain girl was pregnant, was, at this time, convinced that he had a chance with a certain stripper. So we went, every night, to see her dance.

I guess she was attractive, but, given that I had seen her naked, my ambivalence should be seen as vaguely insulting. She was certainly nice, which is, ultimately, more important. She certainly wasn't in love with Jason. This became more apparent when a crew of us went back to her place to hang out. It was, well, uneventful. I think she had kids. Sleeping in the next room.

During that week at the club, spent patiently chain-smoking and sipping water as I was underage, I developed a sad, perverse fascination. No. Not that.

I would watch the girls in the mirrors instead of directly, and would watch for the moments when the girls would see their reflections and allow one moment of self-loathing to reveal itself subtly at the moment of self-recognition. It wasn't something I enjoyed. Or rather, it wasn't something that made me happy. I guess I enjoyed it, not due to the self-loathing, but to finally get the chance to see real nudity: vulnerability. That that moment could even exist, that these women had not been completely subsumed in their objectification, was, and here's the perverse part, the only true moment of possibility, of hope there to be witnessed.

1 comment:

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

na guy i knew in college who was a friend of mine became a major customer at strip clubs after starting work - the last time i saw him he was saving his money to go to thailand in order to buy the virginity of a barely pubescent girl - i don't know if he actually went through with it but i guess there are a lot of people who do - i now live next to a municipality which has as its motto 'character counts' - as john lennon sang, 'better recognize your brother' [and/or sister] - 'everyone you meet'