Friday, January 25, 2013

The most uncomfortable moment of my life.

     This was truly the most uncomfortable, embarrassing moment of my whole life. Embarrassed for myself, and for the other person, and then myself again. I'll tell you this story for two reasons. One, because it's too good to keep to myself, and two, because it still makes me think about some really interesting ideas. Oh, and three, because I don't have enough content for a recent story.

     From 1998 until 2008 I worked in a strip club, first as a bartender/waitress, then a bar manager, then a manager. Ooo...that's really it's not. It's sad. But for a woman who got her GED and that's it, and had three people to support by herself, it was a sweet gig. I made a ridiculous amount of money for what I did. I didn't even have to mix drinks so it was easy. In California, fully nude clubs are not allowed to have alcohol, but we did have O'Doul's, and I had a perfect pour I'll have you know. Working in a strip club is very strange at first as you can imagine, but after a few weeks it's just like any other job. I know people who have out-of-the-ordinary jobs always say that, but really, I used to eat pizza during fully nude stage shows. That's how unaffected I was about the whole thing.

     As a strip club manager, my job was to record how many and what type of lap dances each dancer did, collect a fee from them at the end of the shift, sic the bouncers on unruly customers, and hire nearly every female who auditioned. We were required by law under the Americans with Disabilities Act to let every female who asked for an audition do so. Sound fishy? It was. The club's lawyer told us we had to do that, because at the time, the city was looking for any reason to shut us down. We were located in a city which had the highest homeless and murder rate for 60 miles around, but the district attorney there was trying to further his political career, and so took on projects like city gentrification VERY seriously. We had the most beautiful trees and sculptures by local artists downtown for the homeless people to live under.

     I was a brand new manager when the incident happened. I was under a lot of pressure, being the only female manager in the whole company, and the other employees who were vying for the job were watching my every move for mistakes. Our bouncers were MMA fighters who did King of the Cage and aspired to UFC, and those steroid laden pit bulls of men did not take to a female boss easily. Despite the negativity around me, I was determined to impress the owners, and new hires were a great way to do that. The more girls you have, the more selection the customers have and the more money everyone makes. You never know when a guy with a stretch mark fetish will come in with his tax return check. Well...probably around March.

     On this day, I was counting a drop for the bartender when a bouncer came in and told me there was a girl filling out an app to audition for dancer. The look on his face was....confused. I told him to let her into my office and I'd be there soon. He looked at me for way too long. "What?", I said. "Come outside." he said.

     When I went out to the front door, the bouncers nodded toward a black, primer van with no windows in the parking lot. "That's the van they drove up in. It's that chick and her boyfriend. Just wait, he'll come out." The emphasis on the word boyfriend was to let me know it was most likely her pimp. Okay. These things are an infrequent occurrence, and although it is undesirable to hire a girl with that kind of nonsense in tow, it did sometimes happen. After a moment, a tall, American Indian/white trash (that will only make sense if you've lived in San Bernardino) dude came out of the van, along with a cloud of smoke. He was wayyy too happy to meet me, and went on and on about how his girlfriend was gorgeous and a great dancer and can't wait to work here. Okay. I let him know that boyfriends were not allowed in the club, and assured him that she would do her audition and be outside shortly. He was surprisingly cooperative for how shady he seemed.

     I went into my office and immediately swallowed a half-scream. This girl was young and pretty, had a walker nearby, was clearly paralyzed on one side, and one hand was palsied. Here is a picture of hand palsy for reference:
     Immediately she explained that she had a stroke when she was younger, and assured me that her disability would not affect her job. I broke inside. Holy fucking shit! What should I do? Was she sent here by the local cops to test us? Was she seriously auditioning? Was that guy her pimp? Was this God's way of telling me to find a new job? Was I an asshole for asking myself these questions? I had to let her audition. It was the law. Fine. I showed her the dressing room, directed the DJ to explain how the audition works and get her music, and waited for her turn on stage. The DJ, who was a friend of mine, looked just as scared as I was after he talked to her. When he got to the booth, we exchanged looks and hand signals (because that's how communication with DJ's is done) that meant, "Let's get this chick done and over with asap."
     Strip club customers are animals. They like fresh meat. Every time they hear the words, "A brand new audition", they flock to the stage like vultures on a fresh kill. As our DJ uttered those words he has uttered 1000 times without thinking, we both cringed. Customers came running to the stage. Fuck. By this time, word of the new girl had spread through the club, and employees were peeking out of every crevice to watch the worst moment of my life.

     "Sadie" made her way to the stage with her walker. She parked it at the base of the ramp and scooted herself on her butt along the rail to one of the three poles. The customers were frozen. As the information before their eyes swept over them, you could see the confusion render them motionless. None of us knew what to do. As she enthusiastically hobbled and hopped from one pole to the next, made sexy faces at the men on the rail, and did the best possible floor work a paralyzed stripper could do, we all searched our moral compass for help. We found none. We were all assholes, for sooooo many reasons. Especially me, for allowing her to be in this situation. Or was I? I still don't know for sure. I looked at the DJ, and motioned the wrap it up signal. Her two minute set became one minute. It was the longest minute of my life. Longer than the last few pushes of child labor. Fucking...LONG. At the end, we all erupted into a thunderous applause. The minute she walked from the stage back into the dressing room, every single customer left the building. Every one. I wanted to cry. Mostly for myself because I thought somebody set me up and won. Yes, it was a selfish thought, and that made me feel terrible too. But also because I allowed this girl to be in such a situation. Because as hard as she tried, none of these men saw her as a sexual being. Because I didn't either. Because she wasn't taken seriously in this club, and neither was I. Because my bosses would laugh at me for being in this situation. Because I should probably be just as horrified at ANY young girl objectifying herself like that, but I never am. The whole thing fucked me up for weeks. I think about it now and still can't fully wrap my head around it.
     When she was dressed and back in my office, I told her she did a great job, which she really did. I told her I'd give her app to the owner and would call her back if we had a spot for her on the schedule. As you can guess, she never got a call back. I still wonder about her. Was that dude really her pimp? Did she work at another club? Was she a set up? I'll never know. I have told this story and laughed my ass off during it, partly because the people I told saw humor in it, and that's how I survive earth, in case you hadn't noticed. But just as often I have kicked myself for all of it. What I DO know, is that this experience made me feel like the biggest dick in history, and I am really, really glad I shared it with you so that you can feel the same discomfort I do and I'm not alone.

     And there you have it. Let's all use this opportunity to think about our ideas of femininity and sexuality, and what makes each woman unique and special. Or let's just go drink away the mental image I gave you. Either way, goodnight.


No comments: