The girls were encouraged to show up at 7 p.m. If you showed up at 7 p.m. your house fee was only $25. The house fee went up $5 every half hour. But I always showed up around 9:30p.m. and paid a $50 house fee. That’s because the club was dead before 11.
I spent very little time in the dressing room, because I prepared my look at home: a cat eye with heavy black liquid liner, perfect faux lashes, a little blush, lip gloss, and my hair curled. I wore black lingerie underneath an attention-deflecting outer shell of sweatpants, sweatshirt, and black hoodie. Once in the dressing room, I’d quickly take off the outer shell, fold and tuck it into my backpack. Then I would fasten the ankle strap of my lucite platforms, spritz Dream Angels Heavenly into my hair, pull my red garter two-thirds up my right thigh, and walk back into the dimly lit 10,000 square feet of carpeted night club.
I would walk over to the DJ booth in the corner and check in. He’d write my name on a list, adding me to the stage lineup. Sometimes I would give him in a new cd, “GINGER” written on it with a black sharpie. I always tipped him out well, and in exchange he always played my music during my set. This insured I wouldn’t have to dance to that nightmare trend of the early 2000s known as “nu metal.” (Staind, Linkin Park, Godsmack, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Sevendust, Coal Chamber, Taproot, Papa Roach, fucking Drowning Pool, et al.)
Then I’d stop by the bar and get a clear plastic cup of ice water. The bartender would put one of those tiny black straws in it so it looked like a real drink. And then I would go sit at a small, high table against the wall and look around at who I had to work with. I sipped my water and watched whoever was on the stage.
Either I would wait for my turn in the spotlight or a customer would approach me and say “Do you work here?”
Usually I would sit there for thirty or forty minutes until the DJ called for Ginger. 10 o’clock was a good time to take the stage because the people were coming in, getting drinks, taking a seat, and weren’t yet buzzed enough to want a private dance.
Each set was two songs, and the top had to come off during the second song. I’d usually start my night off with Crazy on You by Heart and Hazy Shade of Winter by The Bangles. You see, older men were at the club this time of night, and these songs were nostalgic and familiar to them. After drinking alone for an hour through nu metal and reggaeton, what middle-aged man wouldn’t welcome seven minutes of 70s/80s rock and roll?
I always enjoyed the stage time. I wasn’t anything special on the pole, but I could do some basic spins. I spent most of the time at the edge of the stage, smiling and making eye contact with the audience sitting around the stage, and slipping their ones and fives under my garter.
Sometimes a customer would be waiting for me at the stage steps ready to shell out the $25 for a lap dance. Other times I’d walk the room looking for men sitting alone.
I hit it off with two types: college educated, white collar working men whose travel or recent divorce brought them here — or awkward, introverted young enlisted boys who would often pay me just to talk and listen to them. Of course they wouldn’t say “Hey, I’ll pay you just to talk and listen to me.” It happened something like this: We’d make small talk. I’d ask where they were from, where they were deployed (It was always Iraq.), and how long their leave was. I’d ask if they had a girlfriend. If the answer was no, I’d say “I’m surprised.” After a set of this, a set being the two songs per girl on stage, I’d say “The bouncers are gonna come over here and make me move. I have to get lap dances to earn money for the club, but I wish we could just keep talking. If you want, you can pay the lap dance fee and I’ll dance or we can keep talking.” And then off we’d go, hand in hand into one of the semi-private rooms and shut the door. It sounds manipulative; and while the bouncers were not going to bother me, it was often the truth that I would much rather keep talking to this person than roam the 10,000 square foot carpeted night club. But I also wanted money.
The lap dance rooms had two loveseats facing each other about four feet apart. There was a side table and lamp next to each loveseat. The room had a glass door, and a bouncer would peer in every song and tally how many songs a girl had been dancing for. That’s because for every $25 lap dance, the house got $5. Most girls waited until the end of the night to pay off their tally, but I would turn in my dues each time I left the room. That’s because I liked to look at the list and see how well I was doing in comparison to the other 15 to 25 dancers. I was usually number 3 — trailing a few dances behind Sweets, a petite Asian with bleached blond hair and perfect augmented breasts and way behind Desire, a tall dark Hispanic girl who kept her impressive stacks of cash in her knee-high red pleather platform boots.
I could maintain third place because I was good at repeat business. I typically got three to five dances per customer. The key was lots of eye contact and timing. I would dance standing for the first half of the song, then climb onto the customer’s lap and slowly undo the front clasp of my bra. My how time flies, should I keep going for another song? “Keep going,” he’d say.
I would gaze into his eyes, lay down and stretch out my whole body along the loveseat and across his lap.
And I would constantly repeat in my head how much this person owed me. “Fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty, fifty…” Just before the song would end, I would press my chest against his own and whisper into his ear, “One more?” and then fill my mind with “seventy five, seventy five, seventy five, seventy five…”
Sometimes I would get very lucky and charm a man who had lots of money to spend. Such men would pay for consecutive lap dances for nearly an hour. On the rare occasion, a group of guys paid myself and a couple other girls $300 each to dance for them for a couple hours. And one time I met a man who had to travel to the area every 2 weeks — and after explaining to him that I always had to make a minimum of $450 to pay my rent — for the next three months he came to the club and gave me $400 as soon as he saw me. And then bought $100 worth of lap dances.
The club had a fairly strict no touching policy. Dancers could touch patrons, but patrons could not touch dancers anywhere. If a bouncer peered into a room and saw a customer touching a girl, even on the ankle, he’d come in and say “Sir, no touching.”
I never felt unsafe during a lap dance.
The one time I felt unsafe in the club was at the bar talking to a customer. A man quietly told me I was a whore for getting naked for money. I pointed out it was a topless club, and he said I was still a slut. I started to walk away and he grabbed my arm and pushed a glass of wine in my face. I said that I didn’t drink, and he said he had ordered this wine especially for me. With a smile and a very sweet voice I said “Oh, that’s so nice. Let me just run to the restroom and I’ll be right back.” I walked over to a bouncer, told him about the man grabbing my arm and insisting I drink the wine and how it might be drugged, and the bouncer escorted the man out — no questions asked.
While most nights were basically the same eight hour routine, as most jobs are, there was the occasional great day at work: like that one night when 2 Live Crew performed at the club.
The place was packed all night; bouncers had to interrupt lap dances at 6:30 a.m., a half hour past closing, and tell customers to leave. My best friend was in town and she spent the whole night with me at work. She was only twenty years old so other customers bought her drinks and lap dances. At one point she got on stage with 2 Live Crew and threw her hot pink satin push-up bra into the audience. Some guy caught it and put it on his head, buckled the clasps under his chin like a helmet. My BFF couldn’t convince the guy to part with his “amazing souvenir,” but I managed to convince him to buy a lap dance from me, and I stole it back.
And then there were those nights when the art school kids would come to the club after the bars closed.
3:00 a.m. It was the night’s second wind, a burst of energy and people who wanted to keep the party going. This is when I would dance on stage to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Sounds, Annie, Goldfrapp. The music of my peers, my peers in the audience: classmates and acquaintances, my nextdoor neighbor once, my roommate’s boyfriend, the boy I myself was seeing. The last two on that list knowing this was my thing, the others discovering it with giddy shock. They’d tip me like crazy, and each buy two or three lap dances. I remember dancing on stage to Y Control and sweeping up the piles of dollars with my arms. It was on one of these fun, friendly nights that I was so popular that a line formed outside the semi-private room. As soon as one customer walked out, another one was there waiting for me. That night I tipped out three times what I normally did.
And I still went home with over $1,200.
And there were the not so good nights. That night the power went out and all the girls were quarantined on the stage for safety, guarded by bouncers with flashlights while we waited for the power to come back. The slow, boring nights when it seemed there was a one-to-one ratio of girls to customers. No one buying. No energy to encourage any of the customers around the stage to make it rain. Not making enough to pay my rent even before I had “paid out”.
The pay out happened once the club was closed and the bouncers ensured all the customers were gone. All the girls would stand in line at the bar, one by one walking up to the bouncer with the clipboard. First was the house fee. The bouncer would check to see what time you clocked in. I would hand over $50 or $55. Then the bouncer with the clipboard would check to see how many lap dances you owed the house: $5 for every dance. Because I always paid my fee as soon as I left the lap dance room, I usually didn’t owe anything. Then it was $5 for each bouncer working that night. Between four and seven bouncers worked each night. Most nights I would tip a little extra, $6 or $7 per bouncer. So I would typically hand over another $30. Then it was $5 for the DJ but I always gave him $10. And most nights I’d give the bar tenders $2 to $5, although that wasn’t required.
After I paid out, I’d wrap a rubber band around my remaining cash and put it in my backpack, then join the group of girls waiting at the front door. I would pull my hood up to hide my hair. A bouncer would come to unlock the doors and escort us into the parking lot. He would watch to see that we all got to our cars or our rides safely.
As I walked in the twilight to my shitty little car, I would look into the backseat window and make sure no one was there.
I would drive home vigilantly with my hood still over my head. I would constantly look up into the rearview mirror. And more than once, maybe twice or maybe three times, maybe even four, I was followed. It could have been coincidence: someone just happens to be leaving near where I left and going where I am going. Perhaps this person also needs to drive across the river at 6:15 a.m. on a Sunday. But if there was anyone behind me once I drove onto the cobblestone streets of downtown, I would drive straight into the parking lot of the police station. Not once was I followed into the parking lot of the police station.
Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., I would turn on to the alley behind my apartment and park. I would step out of my shitty little car into the morning — the fresh, calm, welcoming morning. The successful morning. The start of the best part of this whole routine.
I’d walk up the metal fire escape stairs, up three floors to the top, and open my back door. The back door opened to the kitchen where we, my roommates and I, had a washer and dryer. I would immediately throw into the washing machine all of my clothes saturated with eight non-stop hours of cigarette smoke from a thousand cigarettes. But I wouldn’t start the machine, just trap the smell. I needed the hot water. In the bathroom I would start the shower, and while the water got hot I would count out my money on the toilet lid.
A hundred. Another hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty — boom there’s next month’s rent — eighty, a hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred. Twenty, forty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, a hundred. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, forty-five, fifty, fifty-five, sixty, sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five, seventy-six, seventy-seven, seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three. Seven hundred and eighty three dollars. A single Saturday night.
I got into the shower and soaked my hair in the warm water. I had to always wash my hair twice with Victoria’s Secret Love Spell shampoo, the only shampoo with perfume powerful enough to strip out the disgusting cigarette smoke. I would blow and pick my nose; the boogers were black. I scrubbed with the fluffy plastic pouf, brushed my teeth while the conditioner sank in.
All clean and exhausted, I’d walk naked to my bedroom with my money. I’d put the little pile of cash down on my vanity. Put on a clean pair of panties and matching bra, always matching, and climb into my soft beautiful bed. Whenever I woke up, my roommate and I would drive to the commissary of a nearby military base and I would buy whatever food I wanted.