Friday, February 13, 2009

its ladies night oh what a night

It's been our ritual for years, these two friends and me.  When faced with big life changes we conspire to make it happen and this time was no different and in fact it's somehow the biggest change so far. I'm leaving them this time and there were no excuses to be had. My life will be so far away from this I can't help but say yes.

So we hopped on a plane to Vegas.

I rarely drink bloody marys but in Vegas it's all I am thirsty for.  We arrived at dusk as we watched the sun set and the moon rise from 30,000 feet.  It was spectacular and for a moment rational thought settled in. Then my friend handed me another bloody mary.  

When together we are so ridiculous and so silly that we spend most of our time doubled over, this motley crew of gender and race, we three race from taxi to hotel to casino, hurling our bags in the overpriced room one of them sprung for. We have to. It's our last night.  We spend the next several hours gambling and laughing and ordering drink after drink.  We have a minor run at the poker table, thankfully one of us is a professional and simply told the others what to do. Bet, hold, pass, shut up already.  All of a sudden it's 3am and two of us are fading fast but one of us, he can never let a night end. He looks at us and jumps up and down.  We have to, he says. In fact it would mean a lot to me. It's not the first time he's asked us to do this, in fact he asks us every single time and we always laugh and ignore him but it's one of the reasons we love him, he never gives up and is always earnest even when he's wrong.  But tonight feels more final somehow. So we look into his soulful brown eyes dancing with gin and look at each other and nod, fueled by a night of cocktails and our judgment is impaired. We are going to a gentleman's club.

I barely remember the taxi ride, our hilarity is so over the top.  The club like all the other clubs is as bright as sunrise.  We tumble out of the cab as groups of men stream past.  We females look at each other and shake our heads. I can't fucking believe we are fucking doing this she says and laughs.

The beefy guy at the front tells us how much it costs to get in and I turn to leave thinking there's absolutely no way in hell anything inside that room is worth this price.  As I'm turning I notice my friend pulling out his wallet. He pays for all of us and the velvet ropes part. We step over the line and I want to grab my friend's hand but it's time to cowboy up and this is no place for sissies. We walk inside.

This is where I should pretend like I'm sophisticated and worldly and that my jaw didn't drop on the floor. That I wasn't caught speechless by the dozens of drop dead ridiculously gorgeous women all walking around in every fantasy possible. Now I really want to grab my friend's hand but when I look over at her I realize she's got a woman pulling her towards a table. We sit down and three or four women descend immediately.  One of them starts petting my friend's hair and she looks at me in desperation.  Now who wants to hold whose hand I think with a grin.

Our reason for being there is for the first time all night playing it cool.  He settles in his chair and looks at us expectantly. So whaddya think?  I start to tell him exactly what I think but all of a sudden he's got a woman next to him. She's not doing much but she's beyond sexy. They all are. There's no denying this simple fact as much as I'd like to posture about how terrible I think all of this is, how baseless and demoralizing and....but I am suddenly captivated by a woman onstage dancing with a pole.  I've never seen this sort of thing in real life and now all of a sudden it's everywhere, it's dripping out of every pore and oozing from the floor. I turn to see if my girlfriend is watching and I catch her eye.  We cock an eyebrow at each other for a moment in shock and awe. I can't believe some people can actually move like that in real life. Girls come and go, a steady stream of them artfully and professionally ascertaining exactly how much money they can get out of us and fairly shortly they settle on the boy in the group, no surprise there. Even the five or so minutes of constant attention was so unsettling that I am happy it's over and they've focused their efforts elsewhere. We sit and watch for awhile longer, I'm sipping a final bloody mary like it's water and I've been in the desert for weeks.  

We talk quietly between us, mostly whispering things like look at her oh my god look at her how does she do that mother of god look over there when a woman sidles up to us and starts petting my arm.  Do you like what you see baby she says to me in exactly the way she's supposed to and I say sister you are smoking but can I ask you something and she nods I'm asking in all honesty and with no disrespect do you like this because I can't imagine this is fun for you and she looks at me and laughs. She plops down next to me and says fuck no, this is just the shit I do because men are dumb enough to want to pay for it. We start talking about this like I'm a freshman and she lays it all out, all the ins and outs and nightmares in between. She grabs my drink and finishes it off but for some reason I don't mind. 

Another girl comes up and joins in and we talk some more. It's the obvious things, the cash, the tips, the hours, and surprisingly, the medical benefits that make them choose this. We might as well be shoe shopping as they points out girls who glide by fake, real, what do you think, she's everyone's favorite, she's really nice, that guy is here every night that one's a nightmare and on it goes. She's nice, this woman. She goes on to explain how the private rooms work and my eyebrows shoot up again at the price. I want to ask what exactly comes with a cost like that but it strikes me that I might sound like I really am the most naive person in the room. So our conversation runs its course and I like her and I also want to cry.

Sensing there's nowhere else to go she gets up and leaves. My friend and I look at each other, we are exhausted now, this whole place is so tragic and unreal and stimulating and wrong.  We look at my friend and he sees our faces What? You guys want to go? And his face falls a bit, it's one of the reasons I love him, he's always earnest even when he's wrong.

It's just really sad here I say and my friend nods and says honestly what did you think we would think. I just can't believe you can really enjoy this and he shakes his head.  Well if you want to talk about reality then I guess it's ruined and he laughs and stands up to go.  We stumble past the rest of the scene and I can't help but see it all, the fake and the pretty, the desperate and the glitter and heat.  We go outside and fall into a cab. I smell like them now my friend says and she does, it's cloying and sparkly and sweat and silicone. We ride into the predawn, silent now for the first time all night. That was really weird doing that with you he says and we punch him in the arm, one on either side. What did you expect, you jackass. And he laughs and reframes himself. I just wanted to do that with you guys and even though it should be weird it's not because he's earnest even when he's wrong and somehow it even makes sense.

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hypoglycemiagirl said...

I once accepted to join someone to a place like that in a city in Europe. I lasted for about 20 minutes; one of the saddest thing I've ever seen.

kgirl said...

Amazing story, Jen. Not just because it sounded like a (mostly) really great time, but also becuase you manage, with grace, to find the humanity everywhere. I would have been way too awkward to ask those questions, regardless of how much I would have wanted to.

Anonymous said...

My girl Teri lived in and outside Vegas for years, and I know how hard it was for her to be so close to all of that "glamour." It breaks my heart that ONE MONTH before she was diagnosed with her cancer that she got a boob job. And how it made her feel when her husband would come home with glitter on his clothes.

Mary said...

It's no surprise to me that they dropped their guard around you and became real. You're like the velveteen rabbit for the disenfranchised. You just love people and they trust you. It's freaking magic.

Magpie said...

God, I love you.

ewe are here said...

I've had a couple of friends who have danced/stripped in the past at clubs like that... and it was for the same reason: men were stupid enough to pay for it.

But what they might not have told you is how warped their view of men became from there on out... it can really, really mess with your head.

metro mama said...

Sounds like a surreal evening.

You just have this magical quality, and people want to talk to you.

Janet said...

You know what I love about you? The way you automatically zero in on the humanity, no matter the context.

Kyla said...

I hate that they are called gentlemen's clubs.

Everyone is right, you draw the truth right out of people. You are a safe place.

Christine said...

dude. what a wild, freakin' ride

Bob said...

I apologize in advance if I'm being dense here, but I'm curious about something and I'm going to ask.

you say several times near the end that "he's wrong". I.E. "...I love him, he's always earnest even when he's wrong" and should be weird it's not because he's earnest even when he's wrong".

You paint a very clear picture of how you feel - or view - strip joints. Having read the post I understand why you would think they are wrong. What you don't explain clearly, at least to me, is why you think he is wrong. Is he wrong to want to go to a strip joint? is he wrong to think you would want to go to a strip joint, or that you would like it?

You very clearly state that you think that strip joints are wrong.

But what was your friend wrong about?

QT said...

Having been friends with many a dancer, you only get the experience you had when you first walked in the place *one time*. After that, you see the facade every time.

FWIW, women who are not stripping but are in the strip club are magnets for the strippers. It is a chance for them to let down their guard for a second and take a break, as it were. I wouldn't expect you to be anything but gracious in any circumstance, my friend.

Especially in a city like Vegas, many of the strippers are actually trained dancers, former gymnasts or cheerleaders. It IS indeed incredible what they are able to do.

mamatulip said...

Wow, Jen.

I can relate to this post in ways I'm not sure I can adequately express.

flutter said...

I am so familiar with that feeling, of being in the wrong place

Sierra said...

Maybe I'm wrong about this, and if I am I apologize, Jen...but Bob, it seems to me that Jen thinks he's wrong for thinking that a strip club is true beauty, true love, true desire, all those emotions and feelings that go along with real love. True love. And maybe even that he's wrong for buying into the glitz and glamour and demoralizing these women just as much as all the other men in those clubs are.

I understand that for some people, dancing is the "only" way for them to make a living, support the kids they have, etc. It's a sad situation, a sad reality, a sad truth. But doesn't it speak volumes about secular society as a whole? Heck, as SOCIETY as a whole, religion included. It would be a lie to say there are no Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc, whose faith says that objectifying women is wrong, but who engage in those activities anyway.

What will it take for all of society, men and women, to see humanity as beautiful, period? Without the lingerie (or lack thereof). Without the glitter. Without the bright lights. When will we allow ourselves to be that transparent with each other?

Sorry, I got a little long-winded. I feel only a *little* strongly about this... :)

Bon said...

this is one of my favourite posts of yours, ever. it's a complex thing, people and money and "sexiness" even if it's not sex per se on sale the desire being sold cheapens everybody in a way (and Bob, i'd say that's what Jen's friend gets wrong is that he sorta doesn't get that, only sees the facade).

and still sort of a perfect last hurrah with your friends. i'm glad.

Bob said...

Bon & Sierra -

you could very well be right. But Jen doesn't say how he feels, she only describes her impressions. Believe me, most men know exactly what is going on in these places. They aren't fooled - they go along with the facade willingly. But what Jen didn't do is talk to him about it. She talked to the stripper. As she is his friend she may well be right that he falls for the facade. I suspect that he doesn't, he merely enjoys the facade.

Don't fall for the easy explanation about why men go to strip joints. Most don't fall for the glitz, deep down they know exactly what goes on.

The men who go to strip joints go for many reasons, and most are quit willing to suspend reality and enjoy the spectical.

I agree with you all regarding the realities of strip joints. So do most men - as I believe Jen's friend does.

I hope Jen responds, I still really want to know what she thinks.

Maggie, Dammit said...

I had a very similar experience about 12 years ago in Florida. By the end of the night it was me and most of the strippers sitting in a circle jawing about life and doing shots, but the men in the place didn't notice anyway because their zombie-sweaty-glazed eyes never wavered from that stage. I kept wondering what exactly they were seeing up there?

You captured so exquisitely that tummy-sick mingling of admiration and pity that I felt in that moment. You always do.

jen said...

Bob, Sierra, sorry, I was away from the computer. Thanks for asking, I'd love to explain.

I said he was "wrong" because (and what I didn't explain clearly) was that he thought we (us girls) would love experiencing this with him and as a "triad" we'd have a great time. Perhaps like when he's out with the guys. But it didn't go that way, and we figured that from the beginning, hence the resistance initially, and then it proved itself accurate at the club.

Does that make sense?

painted maypole said...

wow. i went to a couple of nudie shows in vegas, and they were weird enough, but not nearly as weird as that. and OF COURSE you would talk to them and get the most real story you could at such a time... fascinating

monkey said...

i can smell the too dark room, the makeup, the dirty floor, the false power.
as much as i'm not a fan of strip clubs, i'm always amazed at the pole dancing.
as long as they're good at it.
there is nothing more tragic than watching a woman writhe on a pole ineffectively.