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Ho for the Holidays

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 PERSONAL ESSAYS







Thanksgiving Eve is the best day to be a stripper. But I missed it this year. Instead, I hung out with cozy friends, all hovering around forty, all preparing for the holidays with glee, with husbands, kids, grown-up furniture. The kiddies were excited, the turkeys were organic, the Christmas trees were going up, and all I wanted to do was put on my Santa hat and silver G-string, blast Metallica and slap my ass in front of a bunch of construction workers.

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   The holiday season hasn’t been the same since I stopped dancing. I feel flat, dull, geriatric. Stripping keeps you young, bubbly and in stilettos. The perfect job. It paid for my life for more than a decade. It made Christmas a breeze, gave me the condo I live in, got me through school. The day I graduated, I wore my cap and gown on stage and thanked my customers. Some of them cried.


   Stripping requires a contrived sluttiness that calls for a certain amount of control along with an ability to appear nonchalant. Mostly, it was easy. I love music, dancing, men, five-inch heels, and wads of cash being thrown my way just because I can take my shirt off with my teeth.

If
you’re a clever stripper, you always work a double the days before
Thanksgiving and Christmas.

   Yet, stripping is the most normal thing I’ve ever done. The most basic, the most direct, the meat and potatoes of sexual ritual: Get attention from male, arch back, exhibit ass, retrieve dollar. I find it soothing. Real life is often such a clusterfuck that sometimes being a piece of ass in high heels feels like time off.


   If you’re a clever stripper during the holiday season, you get your little Santa hat, your red thigh-high boots, your White Zombie, and you always work a double the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Day shift brings you the happy construction workers downing pitchers of Bud, off early and badly in need of a line of demarcation between work and a long weekend of family obligations. I liked the roofers. They were tan, young and scratched up. The builders had more money, though. The key is to find the project manager, the real money, the hot shot treating his underlings to a holiday bonus.


   Some guidelines. If you’re going to flash anyone, flash the boss. Get the D.J. to crank Van Halen, maybe add a smoke machine for effect. Jump onstage in perfect cut-off Levi’s and a damp wifebeater, and they will be yours. Tightly wadded dollar bills will bounce off every part of your body, though they’re always aiming for the twat, the bull’s eye of go-go. Try to strike a pose that will encourage precision and mass hysteria. Face in floor, chest down, butt in the air, legs in a straddle and as straight as possible. By the time you’re writhing to Guns ‘N Roses, you’ll be bringing in a hundred dollars a set, no problem.


   Night shift is for regulars, your hardcore customers that need quality time before you disappear for four days into your own life (which they don’t want to know anything about). You call these guys, make appointments. Give them about an hour each. Sit with them and only them between sets, and they’ll take care of you. Frank, eight o’clock. Manny, after nine. No overlap. They need special attention, it’s the holidays, they’re depressed, they’ll give hundreds.


   Regulars come in two flavors. Either they’re the perfect man for you (educated, handsome, funny, successful, great-smelling) but married. Or they’re still-living-with-their-Mom, Violent-Femmes-loving, Anne-Rice-worshipping lonely guys. You take their money, but they break your heart a little every time. These guys bring out the altruist in you. You’re willing to go way beyond the call-of-duty nipple flash. You’ll actually push them to get that GED, you’ll actually write the essay that gets them into community college, you’ll actually pay for their haircut in a nice salon for their birthday.

In
a go-go bar, the nights before Christmas are thick with the tension
of the Stock Exchange.

   One of my favorite regulars was Douglas, an engineer. On holidays, he would bring me practical items like a toaster oven (which I still have), an iron (which I still have), accounting software (which I still use), and the complete works of ABBA (which I gave away).


   In a go-go bar, the nights before Christmas are thick with
the tension of the Stock Exchange at three o’clock, a flurry of financial activity.
Everyone is scrambling around, high on adrenaline. Most of the dancers are wearing
red, most of the
customers
are pretty drunk, all of the regulars are bearing gifts. Shopping bags line the
floor of the club. Occasionally a bouncer will escort dancer and customer to
parking lot, where a large box (hopefully that All-Clad cookware set) will be
transferred from the trunk of his car to the trunk of hers.


   As the night goes on, they get younger: the unattached, the rockers. By two a.m., they’re so pretty you might have to take one to the diner after work, buy him some French fries, then fuck him in the car. Usually, I tried not to mix work with, say, indiscriminate sex with strangers who only knew me by my stage name. But, face it, if you’re getting your uniforms at Victoria’s Secret, and your customer base consists of men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five, and they’re sitting there feeding you money, compliments and Amaretto Sours, and they’ve got long black hair, blue eyes, half a hard-on from the wicked table dance you just gave . . . it’s bound to happen once in a while.


   I never dated the owners, or the bouncers, or the bartenders. Except if you count the manager’s nephew. Every time I wore my purple sparkly dress, he came out of the D.J. booth to watch me. Afterward, he would come up to the stage and hand me a twenty. “You’re killing me,” he’d always say. He had a deep voice, a serious five o’clock shadow and was not old enough to drink in New Jersey. One wintery night in the early nineties, the purple dress got the better of us. We wound up in the club’s game room after hours, where he threw me on the pinball machine and basically plowed me senseless.


   Other than that, I maintained an excellent work ethic — always on time, no catfights with the girls, only occasional drinking, no handjobs during lap dances. The consummate employee.

The
other day I drove by one of my old clubs. It made me ache. Can I still
do it?

   I miss collecting tips in my big furry X-mas stocking. I miss my slutty elf outfit. Bunny at Easter, kitten on Halloween, red fishneted Elf for the birth of Christ — I miss it all. The other day I drove by one of my old clubs. It was three in the afternoon, and the parking lot was full. It made me ache. Can I still do it? I could really use the money right now. I seem to be a thousand dollars short every month since July. Basic expenses, life in the city: cellphone, cable, therapy. Another thousand and I can stop feeling guilty about the gym membership. A thousand. That’s only two nights work if I were still a stripper, three if it’s slow.


   My platform ho-shoes — pink, red, clear, three black, one rhinestone — wait in a box on my closet floor. But it’s been a few years. I’d have to lie about my age, take some dance classes, tone up my butt. My friend needs help dog walking — that will help a little, for now. I’m also learning to bartend. It’s hard, but the money is good. Almost as good.


   Now it’s snowing, and I have to walk the dogs. If I hurry, I can make the spin class at the gym, work on my inner thighs, my butt, get back the six-pack. I need about a month to get in shape, psych myself up, get my hair highlighted. I don’t know if I will. I need to think about it. Maybe instead of the gym tomorrow I could take myself out for a beer, check out the titty bar just off the turnpike, one of my best clubs. I could see how it’s doing on the second-best day of the year to be a stripper: Christmas Eve. I’ll wear a hat, glasses, no make-up, disguised as myself, my pedestrian self, safe in anonymity, no red lights bouncing off my skin, no set of hungry eyes to perform for, no shower of money to collect. Just me sitting in a dark corner, far enough from the stage to relax, with enough time to fish a few dollars out of my wallet so I’ll be ready for the dancers when they come around to collect. It’s rude to just sit there and watch without tipping, this I know. 

 

©2003 Ondine Galsworth and
Nerve.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ondine Galsworth is working on a novel about her experiences as a go-go dancer and a book about her new addiction, the rodeo. A New York native, she now lives in New Jersey.