What Playing Pool With a Retired Stripper Taught Me About Men
When I was in college, I used to take the train to visit my boyfriend in Hoboken, New Jersey. He’d pick me up in his rusted white Toyota Tercel and we’d listen to Wynton Marsalis CDs while he drove me to his two-bedroom apartment that smelled like bleach and weed.
The bleach and the weed both belonged to my boyfriend’s roommate Rick. Rick looked like a model in a J.Crew catalog. He showered multiple times a day and was always working to correct the gelled spikes in his hair. He was nice to my boyfriend, but they weren’t friends.
When I was around Rick — which was a lot since the apartment was small — I always felt a little bit excited and a little bit uneasy. When he told jokes, I didn’t laugh because they were funny, but I laughed because I was afraid of how he would react if I didn’t. Rick was the kind of guy who oozed power, sex, and sports trivia. I loved my boyfriend, but I was fascinated by Rick.
Rick also had two girlfriends who did not know about each other.
His primary girlfriend, Melissa, was in her twenties and had a grown-up job in advertising. She was the one his family knew about, but when she wasn’t around, he complained about her ‘small tits’ and her ‘bad attitude.’
Rick’s other girlfriend was named Sonya and she worked as a stripper at a nearby Hoboken strip club. Sonya had brown curly hair and wore big hoop earrings. She definitely did not have ‘small tits’.
When I visited, I understood that the girlfriends didn’t know about each other and everyone agreed to keep it that way. I don’t think Rick liked me, but he tolerated me because when one of his girlfriends left a stray earring or nail file in the apartment, he could say it was mine.
One Friday night, we played Trivial Pursuit with Rick and Melissa. On Saturday night, Sonya wanted to play, so we played again. Sonya was amazed at how smart I seemed, but really, I was just remembering the answers from the previous night.
Then one weekend, a duffle bag with thousands of dollars worth of Sonya’s work outfits in it was stolen from her car. Of course, she was upset, so Rick wanted to cheer her up by bringing a bunch of people — including me — to watch her dance that night at the club.
Men like him will never be good. But they’ll also never be lonely.
I was (and am) always game to try new things, so I squeezed into the back of Rick’s Acura and went along for the ride. I was wearing Asics running sneakers, flared jeans from the Gap, and an oatmeal-colored turtleneck sweater. In my defense, I hadn’t packed for the weekend knowing we’d be visiting a strip club.
We made it past the bouncer and entered the club. I was immediately uncomfortable. It wasn’t the strippers, the strobe lights, or the thumping music. It was the temperature — it felt like a million degrees and I could feel myself starting to itch under my sweater.
The scene was also strange for sure. Rick passed dollar bills to his friends to tuck into his secondary girlfriend’s thong. Then he stood back with a pout on his face as she flattered them with attention. My boyfriend looked at me uncomfortably, and I shrugged. Sonya, with her hairless body and glitter-covered face, felt otherworldly to me. She certainly wasn’t any kind of threat to my relationship.
So I decided to take a walk and try to cool down. Near the back of the club, a door was open and a woman stood alone with a pool cue. She was small, but she had big features — big lips, big hair, big boobs. When she asked me if I wanted to play pool, the lines on her face and the gravel in her voice gave away her secret: she was old.
We played a little pool, but we mostly talked.
She was a retired stripper. She’d worked in almost every state and made enough money to own several properties. She had a few husbands, a son, a few arrests on her record. I was fascinated since the people I mostly rubbed elbows with were fellow college students, struggling to decide which medical schools to apply to or which blazer to order.
I doubt she was fascinated by me, but she did ask me what I was doing there. I didn’t take it personally. I was dressed like I was on my way to return my library books and I stuck out like — well — a stripper in a library.
When I explained the complex situation between Rick, Melissa, and Sonya, she nodded, as if it was something she’d heard a thousand times before. I described Rick’s magnetic personality and how both girlfriends were so in love with him.
“Men like him will never be good,” she sighed, “but they’ll also never be lonely.”
When it was time to leave, we hugged and I got into Rick’s car for the ride home.
Before that night, Rick had always seemed larger than life to me. I felt small and uncool when I was around him. But after seeing how dismissive the retired stripper was of him, my perspective changed. There wasn’t anything special about him at all. His bravado was an act. He didn’t have two girlfriends because he was more of a man. He had them because he was too much of a coward to choose one of them over the other.
I didn’t feel like I needed to laugh at his jokes or pretend I liked his cooking anymore. I saw him as a phony who hid behind his hair gel and hoped nobody would notice. If he didn’t impress a chain-smoking former Saturday Night Special dancer, he didn’t impress me.
Later, Rick broke up with Melissa to be with Sonya. Sonya found out about Melissa and broke up with Rick. When Rick tried to get back together with Melissa, she already had another boyfriend.
My night with the retired stripper happened in 2003. A lot has changed since then but I bet Rick hasn’t.
Be wary of good looking men who smell like weed and bleach.
For an even stranger take on relationships, try this: