Apathy Jack writes:
I went to my first stag night recently. It was a fun night, and a very nice way to send off one of the still small number of my friends getting married. Of course, as is tradition, the night was composed mostly (well: entirely) of a couple of bars and the commensurate number of strip clubs. Now, I must say that the majority of my time in the clubs (for “majority” read: “anytime the dancers were not dressed in nurses outfits or cowboy hats” – because I’m only human) was spent up the back with my old cobbers Darmeus (who was on strict anti-stripper orders from his girlfriend) and Mr Stupid (who is gay or a eunuch or something) chatting about television, drug abuse, and whatever else you talk about with people, and politely turning down offers of everything from over priced drinks to overpriced lap dances. Now as a night out with friends went, I couldn’t have enjoyed myself more, but it got me thinking about the idea of strip clubs.
The first (and heretofore last) time I went “strip clubbing” was something like six years ago (with, now that I think about it, much the same people I went with this time). I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I must say I didn’t find it. Contrary to graffiti you may have read, I do quite like naked girls, but after the first few, my attention span kicked in, and it all got a bit samey. I don’t drink, so that wasn’t an option for distraction and the televisions in the club were playing cricket, my feelings on which are a matter of record. This meant that my only option for entertainment was talking to my friends – something I find distasteful enough at the best of times. Except now they were all uncommunicatively staring slack-jawed at the women on stage. A testament to the skill and beauty of the dancers to be sure, but it didn’t alleviate my boredom.
The whole experience was, well, I want to say hollow, but that would almost give it a gravity it didn’t warrant. It was a little sad and a lot pointless. Hell, if you want to read what I think only written better, go to this old post from Dog Biting Men and skim down to the heading 223 – it’s not talking about the same time, but sums up the feeling of it.
Since then, I’ve spent two years flatting with a stripper, over a year going out with a stripper, and one particularly harrowing afternoon talking a student out of becoming a stripper. Given that I was over the phenomenon something like twelve minutes after I was introduced to it, it’s not like the mystique has become more alluring over time.
(As an interesting aside – every time someone finds out I used to date an exotic dancer, they always ask the same question:
“Did you ever go and watch her dance? ’Cause that would have been cool!”
“Let’s see... Did I trudge all the way into town and pay a twenty dollar door charge to watch my girlfriend get naked for nine minutes, when she was coming home to my place at the end of her shift anyway?”
“Yeah! ’Cause that would have been cool!”)
So this time I’m at Showgirls, looking at what is meant to be sensual and provocative. It is neither. I mean, the dancers are all very attractive – hell, they have good enough bodies to make a living wage by simply displaying them. But over and above not being sensual, I don’t even find it particularly sexual. Not even effectively lascivious. It is just there. Talking with my friends at Showgirls is much like talking with my friends at the bar we had visited beforehand, except my coke costs almost exactly twice as much; I get my change in monopoly money that I can’t spend outside a garter belt; and at the old bar we weren’t interrupted by tip-dependant staff pretending that they found us just as funny and interesting as the last ten guys they had tried to entice into a private dance.
Mr Stupid says he is disappointed that it is not like in the movies – there are very few burned out detectives at the front of the stage. Actually, there may very well be, but they’re dressed in boat shoes, and staring dribblingly at the dancers rather than disconsolately into their drinks, so you’d never recognise them.
We move onto Mermaids, where I am immediately struck by the sight of a dancer rubbing up and down against an old man who reaching around to grasp her breasts. What hits me isn’t the act itself but the respective expressions they wear: The man is clearly enjoying himself more and more with each moment, grinning like a drunk Chesire cat; but the dancer (facing away from him) has the same look I see on the faces of my students when they’ve run out of things to write in an exam and there are still two hours to go. I’m reminded of an old acquaintance who used to take dancers trying to solicit a private dance as a sign that they were in love with him... There must be some level of delusion needed to enjoy this properly. The next day I’ll talk to my flatmate (also along for the trip) who will wonder aloud how demoralising it must be for the dancers to see the tired expressions of people at (for example) stag nights who have been looking at “boobies” for four straight hours – surely it is disheartening to see a look of apathy on the client’s face. It hadn’t occurred to him that the dancers were not emotionally invested in whether or not we had a good time, that their job began and ended with convincing us they stripped as a vocation rather than as a rent-earner, not actually believing it themselves.
The woman at the bar has her hair tied back in an efficient pony tail, and is wearing those thick NHS glasses that emo-kids like so much. She has a stripper’s body, but looks very much the geek from the neck up. As I hand over the four dollars it takes me to get a coke, she flashes me a smile that would give a condemned man the strength to tunnel through walls and break down bars. The sort of smile that Satan probably saw, because after seeing something like that, betraying the Lord your God wouldn’t seem like the biggest deal in the world.
Why did she flash me that smile? Well, shocking as it may seem, it wasn’t because I was special, nor, I imagine, because she was especially impressed at my ability to find correct change. The cynic would say it’s because she’s a stripper, and that’s what they do – make you believe you’re special so you part more easily with your money. Even the optimist would be forced to admit that the best case scenario involves her being one of those naturally warm people who exudes this sort of charisma.
But you know what – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in the middle of this emotional wasteland of desperation and flesh and disappointment, I saw one brief moment of true beauty. So much gyrating flesh attempting to convince me what beauty is, but I saw it for just a second that night.
And that was enough.