I kicked my foot against the door—hard.
“Fuck!” I cried in frustration, “You want me to fucking go? Fine.”
The club wasn’t like all the ones I’d been to in New York. This looked more like a pre-Guliani Times Square triple X video booth. But I’d said I was going to do it. If you’d asked me, I would’ve said I didn’t have a choice.
(Of course I did. We all have a choice.)
I pushed past the line of underaged Hispanic men teeming around the door in the flashing neon lights. I saw a guy who looked like he was in charge—he was tall and black, with a walkie talkie in his hand.
“You’re auditioning girls tonight?” I asked, squinting in the relentlessly bright, Vegas style lights.
He looked me up and down, just like I expected he would. I put up my arms defensively to hide my meager chest and flipped my long blonde hair. It was my hair that would get me in, I understood that.
Downstairs in the dressing room, I watched surreptitiously as the other dancers changed outfits, sprayed deodorant under their sweaty arms.
I found a space on the counter that was relatively free of beauty detritus and set down my things. I took off my t-shirt and put on my dress. It was a long white dress made of spandex. I put on my shoes, white strappy platforms I bought in Boyztown, at a shop that catered to transvestites. I peered at myself closely in the mirror. Was there any powder clinging to my nostrils?
Upstairs in the club, I stared as the girls wiggled and laughed, leaning over their clients who watched either raptly or dismissively. I clutched my Coke, the liquid condensation slithering down my cup and underneath my fingers as I waited for my turn.
The man from the front door waved at me. It was time. I climbed the metal stairs to the tiny side stage, lights against black walls flickering all around, the DJ saying, “Annnddd noowwww, Ariellllle!”
I looked toward the main stage and there she was; Ariel, less than five feet tall, an exquisite Philippino girl who was so astonishingly beautiful she didn’t even have to dance. She just stood on the stage, gazing out at the men, her delicate forefinger pressed against her full lips.
I had no such luxury.
On my little side stage, I had to dance my heart out. No one would have looked at me otherwise. Nobody really looked at me anyway.
When I finished, there was one customer waiting for me. He had a dollar in his hand. The guy from the door waved me over and said, “Come in tomorrow at 11.”
I didn’t know the day shifts were for the losers.
When I came the next day it was just me, a couple of girls who had black and blue marks all over their legs, and one dancer who looked like Barbie incarnate. Almost as tall as me, her elegant tanned limbs were smooth and glimmering, her mini-dress sparkled in cobalt blue and her perfect platinum curls rested just so on her soft shoulders.
It was obvious that she ruled the roost, and that the rest of us were just there as filler.
I sat through the shift miserably, praying it would be over.
The next day it was the same, same girls, same customers. The only difference was, I didn’t have enough money to get home. I had to dance.
Client after client turned me down. Who knows why? Finally, one said yes. A short, doughy man with a space between his socks and his pant legs, which showed a pale slice of hairy flesh. When I danced for him he said, “I usually prefer Coco (the Barbie), but she’s busy, so I guess you’ll do.”
I didn’t know then if I’d rule the roost myself one day, and what if I had? What did it mean? A couple thousand dollars in my garter every night… for what? Everyone in the club wanted me, but there was no me to be had.
I reflect on those days and wonder, what happened to those girls with the bruised legs, to beautiful Ariel, to the Barbie whose real name I never even knew.
I am safe, saved by a good man and my own stubborn spirit, but things could’ve gone another way. Many other ways.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum