My feelings of insecurity are quickly assuaged entering this suburban strip club by strippers with average sized chests wearing jelly bean colored push-up string bikini’s and sarongs, making it a day at the beach under the black light. As much as my eyes wanted to fixate on the girls the stage was hard to ignore. Something about the way it juts out from a mirrored wall in an octagon shape with an enormous brass pole makes it farcical to me. How could anyone not look at this stage? It was the Titanic. It was a fire-station. It was the Washington monument of stripper poles. Where was I? Here was a strip club that seemed out of an 80’s movie set in a town that had one strip club and they were going to cram it full of dark wood, sofas, mirrors, neon and flesh. After all the after-hour clubs and raves I’d attended over the years I’d never seen a place that made me intimidated and excited the way I was in here. We head over on the left side to a huge chocolate brown oak bar with men sitting on bar-stools and a curly brunette bartender in a tight tank top. Taking a moment I try to visualize myself in her place. Could I be like her? Would I eventually get muscular arms and a “don’t fuck with me” expression? How can a single woman herald so much power and presence with one bottle opener? I watch the bar-back, a short pot-bellied man heaving boxes of empties out from behind her. He reminds me of Popeye as he smiles when looking at me.
“Hey Rick! Howzit goin’?” Mark greets the sailor.
“Hey Mark! It’s goin’ buddy! Who’s yer new girl friend?” he asks in a sanded down voice from years of smoking.
“She’s the new bartender, so you better watch out.” He jokes passing him.
“Hey Mark, why couldn’t I be the bartender here?” I ask him as we sit down at a table in the back.
“You wouldn’t make as much money as you would dancing, and I’m pretty sure you’d need to work your way up by waitressing first.” He tells me and lights up a smoke.
Television sets broadcasting the hockey game are suspended in every corner of the club. There are a few sets to the left of the stage and the far right corner playing porn.
Again I’m perplexed by the playing of porn. Do these men really need both a live naked girl up in front of them on stage and ones on the screen, not to mention the game as a mass hub of entertainment stimulus? I scope the room to the sounds of Prince’s Raspberry Beret. To the right of me there’s a raised area with two large pool tables. A muscular blonde girl in a Budwiser bikini starts sticking her tush out holding a cue really getting into the game while two men in jeans and cowboy boots watch her, sip beer, and seem content. She plunks the cue down beside her and puts her hand on her hip looking very much like a tribal queen. I scan the crowd tonight and see how there are so many average-Joe type guys in windbreakers, toques, baseball caps, and lumber jackets eating wings and fries. It pretty much looks like a regular bar or restaurant on a Thursday evening aside from the half-naked girls and dim lighting.
Mark introduces me to a girl who could be any twenty-something selling me trendy co-ordinates at Le Chateau. She has very short auburn hair and a tiny black t-shirt with a red heart on it. She briefly shakes my dry, un-manicured pedestrian hand which is almost always stained brown from the coffee beans in her soft, feminine cool palm. She lights up a Matinee Menthol which is pulled with finesse out of the pack. My eyes are drawn to the white tips of her acrylic nails accentuated by the dark black velvet of the towel she’s holding. The towel has Tweety Bird on it and when I say I like it she pulls down the back of the neck on her shirt to show me her Tweety Bird tattoo.
I’m impressed by her devotion to this character as much as I’m impressed at how well her demeanor and posture is. The tattoo is a necessary external adornment to play this part after the investigation downtown and now here proves. I’ve never wanted to go through the pain enough to have something on me permanently. I like to wipe-out and annihilate something quick if it doesn’t work for me after, maybe like this job.
Mark explains to Olivia why he’s brought me in tonight. She lays her towel on the seat and rests one of her black knee-high boots on the chair beside us beginning to explain the mechanics of this club.
“Okay, so the easiest thing is to remember when you work is how you need to walk around going table to table, and always take the time to approach customers yourself. If I just did my stage shows and waited around for them to approach me about private dances then I’d never make money. By being attentive and responsible you go for what you want as long as they’re not some girl’s regular customer or already sitting with another dancer.” She turns her head over her shoulder to blow smoke away from the table nodding as she speaks. There’s something truly enlightening about the responsibility that is given to you to just go for what you want when you want it.
“So are they called table dances cause they’re done at the table?” I ask.
“Very rarely but sometimes you have to, if like say the customer wants to show you off, or the DJ announces that we all have to stand where we are and table dance – they do that here. Mostly we all do them back there in the V.I.P area or those grey seats off to the side there too.” She points to the same small grey bucket-shaped chairs they have at Jillys.
“But when you’re doing a dance you sit in their laps or-“ she cuts me off quickly, “No, you don’t sit in their laps. That’s where you can get in trouble with licensing. I just pull up the chair across from them and sit on that or stand. That’s mainly why I carry around a towel, cause really I don’t know who’s bum was on that chair before me and that’s how girls get zits on their bums.” Olivia butts out her smoke and shifts her weight in her seat.
“Ewww, that’s nasty!” Mark teases her. A short, pudgy waitress with curly blonde hair sets down two cokes in front of us. I guess they’re free cause there isn’t any booze in them making this a completely sober investigation for me.
“What’s nasty?” she asks us in a strong South African accent.
“Olivia telling us about the bum zits that the girls have.” He says tossing a few loonies on her tray.
With one hand on her waist she says, “never mind the chairs, that stage and pole must be completely covered in germs. Some girls don’t even bother to wipe it down before they start and practically hump it.” Olivia and the server begin to discuss the merits of anti-septic and baby wipes. Involved in their own conversation Mark’s attention is drawn to the dancer on stage. He chin waves to the brunette girl dancing to Aerosmith. These are the tiniest, tattered, barely-there shorts I have ever seen and how they don’t disintegrate when laundered puzzle me like a lot of these new things. She unclasps her orange bikini top and does a full spin around the pole tilting her chin back at him and mouthing the words: can you drive me tonight?” He gives her the thumbs up sign. Smiling, having received the confirmation she turns on a scuffed white heel. She has legs that are so picture perfect they resemble the kind that are photographed for calendars. Remembering the girl we watched at Le Strip and how she’s able to just spread her legs open and have any guy in the audience stick their face there I waited to see if this dancer would do something similar. Mark tells me that her stage name is Diamond and she just had a baby girl. The DJ’s voice announces, “Could she be any sweeter? I can’t think of a more precious stone then a diamond, can you? This little cutie is coming back for one last song, so catch her after and get a dance. Next up we have sensual Dayyyyee-nuhhhh.”
It never occurred to me that some of these girls have to work to support a baby. Diamond walks down the side stairs on the stage carrying up a fake fur blanket. She spreads it out on stage as if she was at the beach. The pattern was Winnie the Pooh with butterflies around his head. Waiting to see if she was going to open her legs without her orange g-string, I pretend to act interested in Mark and Olivia’s conversation. I keep stealing glances up at the stage to observe how her g-string doesn’t come off until mid-way through the song, and to my relief she’s keeping her legs shut.
A tiny Indian girl with eyebrows painted on so severely they resemble the Count on Sesame Street, slinks over to the table and cheerfully introduces herself as Jasmine. Turning to Mark she asks him about the weed he had on him yesterday. I’ve come to understand that most of the girls who work here smoke and probably smoke weed.
“Nice to meet you Annie. You have to come and work here – there’s seriously no better place around to be at for your first club.” Jasmine leans in and I smell her fruity-scented perfume.
Mark tells me that Jasmine’s boyfriend Jeremy is one of the DJ’s. When she walks away from the table he also adds that Jeremy is a fat Chinese dude with a horrible temper. Olivia laughs and says, “Hope you come back to freelance here hon, I’ve got to jet now and get ready for my set.” She leaves in the direction of the stage entering a doorway beside the open window to the kitchen. I guess that’s their change-room by the way girls come in and out. Most of them are smoking and smiling which is a really good sign to me.
Mark and I head to the office so I can be properly introduced to the manager. The office is sandwiched between the DJ booth and front entrance. The first thing I notice beside the immediate change in lighting is the Sunshine girl centerfolds taped up on the imitation wood-paneled wall, a comical surprise.
Bruce the manager has his shoes resting up on his desk, and is a victim of horrible pock-marked skin, which reminds me of my childhood nemesis’’ mother who used to scream at me from her Audi. I didn’t want to stare at his skin, but instead imagine my skin becoming that way someday and feel sick. I stop fixating on it, and focus my attention on his impressive grey suit and lemon yellow tie. He has reddish brown hair and a huge smile. He is the youngest of the managers I’ve met so far. Maybe the suit is his way of gaining more authority, I guess. Bruce begins to pitch the benefits of working at Charlie T’s to me while I notice how his eyes become bigger and shiner taking my focus away from his cratered cheeks. This guy could really sell. Considering I can talk anyone into purchasing that extra slice of chocolate chip banana cake at the Have-a-Java, I figure Bruce could have sold the House of Hair the whole cake, and a year supply of beans. He was testing my ability to stay focused and on my game.
“So Annie once you get your license every thing is legal, I can give you whatever days you want to work on schedule. Mark is a very reliable and responsible guy to drive you to and from the club.” He fiddles with his tie, eyes staying focused on mine without even blinking.
The Sunshine girls look out, happy, sexy and free from financial worry.
“Are all these girls dancers here?” I ask Bruce.
“Yes. Yes they are.” He laughs and doesn’t finish with, “and you also can be a Sunshine Girl one day if you loose 20 pounds!” I guess now would be a good time to let him know I probably wouldn’t be coming back alone but with my best friend Hilary.
“My friend Hilary would be interested in trying this place out too.”
“If she’s as pretty as you, I’m the luckiest guy in the world. You’ve got great teeth, white eh? You don’t smoke I bet.” He fixates his icy blue eyes on my mouth. His comment genuinely flatters me, and I can see how easily any girl could be charmed by him if she wasn’t street smart.
“No, well, I do sometimes.” My gaze shifts to a pile of crumpled papers on his desk covering one of those big calendars covered in names and numbers. The ashtrays seem to look as if they’re holding down the calendar in case a huge gust of wind blows in, although there’s no windows in here but a crooked ceiling fan with a thick layer of grey fuzz covering the slats.
“What if I didn’t want to start working on schedule right away? What if I just wanted to come and try it…freelancing?” I ask trying to not sound un-sure or worse un-committed to this lucrative position.
“Well, Okay, there is the freelance option, but think about it this way Annie: if you’re a schedule girl you’ll get paid for dancing on stage, where if you’re just freelancing we collect ten bucks from you for DJ fee and we don’t pay you, but all the money you make from private dances is yours solely, and we don’t take a cut from that like other clubs do. It’s up to you if you decide you’d like to tip-out the bouncer and that other stuff.” He smiles leading up to filling a pause, “Did Mark give you the tour yet?” he asks me reaching out to rest his hand chummily on Mark’s black bomber jacket. It was a gesture that tells me that they both get along. Either that or he’s grateful that Mark brought me in as young ‘fresh meat’.
“That’s cool. I’ve pretty much checked out the whole club, except for the change rooms and VIP lounge and stuff.” Anticipating his invitation to get up and take a gander at the rest, I’m surprised at how he didn’t react, instead opening up drawers searching for his smokes.
Smoking and chatting both of them walk out of the office with me following behind. I observe them interacting with the other strippers before we leave. Somehow I take the signs of how comfortable and happy the girls are when speaking to them, either getting or giving hugs and high-fives as assurance of nothing really creepy going on here. I evaluated the place on my way out; Charlie T’s doesn’t have the same seedy or deviant character behaviors I noticed in the clubs downtown. So what if the manager reminds me of a used-car salesman? I wasn’t going to be working alongside him as much as the variety of ordinary Joe-Shmoe’s that frequented the place every weeknight.
Mark and I talked some more on the drive back to my house. I told him honestly about my doubting this business.
“Why? Look, if you know that you’re a good dancer – I did get to see you shake your thang at Sneak’s…then you’re more than half-way there.” He flatters me and I feel good.
“…and according to Carrie and my sister you have a long history of clubbing in Toronto, so there shouldn’t be any problem with you making shit loads of cash.” For the first time that night I catch him sneaking a peek at my chest. Pretending that wasn’t where his eyes land I tell myself it would be the norm if I start working as a stripper. Too busy with imagining all the things the money could buy me, I didn’t ask about whether the guys could touch during the private dances, and is that the worst thing a girl has to deal with other than being turned into a sexual object. As it stood now, I haven’t really appreciated or found the worthiness of my femininity other than getting complimented on my small waist size. Can I really capitalize and profit off my boobs and tiny waist?
“Let me call you later this week and let you know what’s up. Thanks again Mark.” As I step out of his Honda I wonder what life would be like getting out of this car over and over again on many other week nights like this one. The only way I could work there is with Hilary, I thought. I’ll call her in the morning.