Our room was hot and stuffy in the morning and the door was stuck, so I used the wall for leverage and pulled hard. Outside, snow-capped mountains towered against a pristine blue sky. Palm trees lined a packed parking lot. I thought I recognized a customer from the club the night before, walking his dog on the lawn. He called me “Humboldt” all night then in a drunken stupor, asked me to be his Valentine.
Stripping has never flattered my real romantic relationships. It makes them look like fat neglect machines, poking holes in my pincushion heart. While guys in strip clubs shower me with easy, unconditional adoration, my real relationships are tense and difficult. Lately, I’ve been filling up my empty wallet and my emotional well with knee-jerk marriage proposals from strangers. I’m not saying it’s right, but I’m grateful to have found Desert Showgirls; at least, my ego is.
L is my stripper spirit guide. She knows where to go and I listen, pack my survival kit and hit the trail. Years ago, she swore by New Orleans, so after a bloody Mongol fist fight broke out at an Italian restaurant (that also illegally allowed us to strip) near Pasadena, I borrowed $200 for a one-way plane ticket and spent the next three years falling madly in love with NOLA and the clubs that embraced me there. Ever since then, I follow L’s lead. The best place to strip in LA is not in LA at all but near Palm Springs in a nondescript strip mall. Desert Showgirls is the Snickers Bar of strip clubs: Generic and dark on the outside, creamy gold mine on the inside. And like most places of ill repute, it’s near an adult video store and shares a parking lot with a suspiciously vacant cigar shop and a very good Mexican restaurant that keeps unpredictable hours.
Unlike San Francisco, dancing in LA has always sucked. After dropping the drunken girls off at their overpriced apartments in Hollywood, I wondered why I didn’t go put on a skirt and wait tables at Swingers instead. Actually, I knew why. I’m a terrible waitress, but a great stripper. The two jobs are similar but different. Both jobs require being nice to rude, demanding people and having superb listening skills. But, I have no instinct for that perfect balance of timing and attention to detail when it comes to serving food. However, I am acutely aware of other hungers: the desire to be desired and the need to be heard. And In twenty years of stripping, I’ve always been a night girl, never a day shift girl, but now I see the benefit of being the one girl on the floor at noon. Day shift guys are different. They seem sadder, sneaky and more stoned which can attract a strange breed of clientele, like Jerry, the man who cried while I gave him a lap dance.
No matter what time of day, strip clubs invite a heightened sense of suffering and affection, kind of like kissing the hand of someone dying; meeting their suffering head on and dancing with it, like last Saturday, when Jerry cried during our lap dance.
In issue #441 of The Sun, Janna Malamud Smith recalls psychoanalyst Jonathan Lear’s belief that we are “finite erotic creatures.” Meaning, we dangle on a tight rope between our “expansive desire and our inevitable death.” We Strippers shimmy to that tune. We experience the world through erotic movement and connection and that movement is towards our death.
An older dude in a bright red sweatshirt kept calling me “honey.” He followed me around the empty club, so I had to deal with him.
It was about 4p.m. and he was shitfaced.
“Honey,” he growled. “I’m sixty-four years old. I’ve been to clubs all over the world. I saw Jim Morrison perform in public for the first time.”
“Oh yeah? Where was that?”
“The Rainbow Room. He was scared.”
“Scared of what?”
“Performing in public. What’s the matter, Honey. You too cool to dance for me?”
“I’m about to go on stage right now,” I lied. “You like Pink Floyd? Led Zeppelin or the Stones?”
“Oh, Miss Attitude is too cool, huh.”
A petite brunette finally joined me on the floor. I told her Jerry was looking to spend some money. She refused to talk to him. He stunk. He was rude. He was shitfaced.
“I’ll dance for him, so he’ll leave,” I said and pulled him into the VIP area, slightly worried he didn’t have enough cash on him to pay me.
He grabbed my hands when I took his glasses off his head.
“What is wrong with you?” I whispered, my mouth brushed his ear.
“I love women. Been married four times and they always leave me.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“I cheat. I get bored. I hate women.” Tears streamed down both of his cheeks.
I kept dancing and he kept crying. At the end of the song I said, “I’m not taking any more of your money, Jerry.”
“Keep dancing,” he said, still crying.
“Fuck you, Jerry. Go smoke.” I snatched his cigarettes, phone and his cocktail, his headphones and his wallet.
“Get up. We’re going.” He over tipped me by fifty bucks and I walked towards the door where guys could duck outside and smoke.
The bouncer walked up to us. “Your cab’s here sir.” I kissed Jerry good bye on his wet cheek.
Antonia Crane’s work has appeared in: The Rumpus, Salon.com, DAME Magazine, Black Clock, SLAKE, Word Riot, PANK, The Whistling Fire, The Coachella Review, Phantom Seed, Smith Magazine, Diverse Voices Quarterly and lots of other places. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University. She wrote a memoir about the sex industry and her mother’s illness: SPENT and is one of the editors of The Citron Review. She teaches Creative Writing to at-risk teens for Write Girl and Woodcraft Rangers. She lives in Los Angeles where she runs, tweets and blogs: Check her out on … Twitter: @AntoniaCrane Web: www.AntoniaCrane.com