*This post originally appeared in Room 220: Antenna Gallery here http://press-street.com/room220/
“The women station themselves by the sides of the roads that traverse the undergrowth, weapons at the ready, killing all those that pass.” -Monique Wittig, Les Guerilleres
The women who strip at the Bruiser travel from Florida, Denver, Mexico, Alabama Georgia and Philly because they heard there’s money in the clubs in New Orleans, but they’re too late, the money’s dried up. The Katrina money’s spent and the oil spill is yesterday’s bad dream. New Orleans, the final frontier and last surviving economy, is hobbling on her sprained ankles. The women struggle. They say they make in five nights what they used to make in three. I’m one of twenty-nine mercenary women on the schedule on this rainy Wednesday night.
A woman sniffs loudly in a bathroom stall, walks out and adjusts her long blonde hair. Words drip out of her pink lips like warm milk: “I told him, I promise. Mommy will wake up tomorrow, in time.” In the mirror, her pupils are tiny pepper flecks. “…I’ll take you to the fair tomorrow.” Her goopy smile, a lie. She walks past me.
Downstairs, on the floor, there’s a cold draft in the black and red room, so smoky, it’s like dancing in a chimney. Our hair smells like ash, our shoes are scuffed. Our knees have blue walnut-sized bruises from the marble stage. We wear dresses that aren’t actually dresses. We whisper into ears. We shiver, rattle our beaded glitter bracelets like furious snakes, hoping to get lucky, begging for a $20 yes that leads to a $60 yes. My neck’s out and I’ve nursed two migraines in four days. My thighs burn as I walk across the floor.
Rhinestone necklaces fall between our boobs, drop into the pink, black and red spandex below. We have legs like gold ropes and eyes like slits and we climb over men. We’re ravenous spiders that swing our hips to dance music and hide our worry. We bend over and smash our bellies onto the stage while lights press down on our skin. We dance fast and then slow, like an erratic heartbeat.
The women miss their mothers. What fathers? They ask. The women are hungry.
“I’m six weeks pregnant.” The woman from Georgia says while smoking a cigarette. She giggles and touches her shiny turquoise belly, to smooth the fabric creased there.
“They’re going to fire me,” she says.
“No they won’t,” I say. The woman from Philly walks by.
“The manager said I need to lose weight.” Her forehead crinkles.
“Unless they say you can’t work, you’re fine.” I have an impulse to pet her and feed her chocolate dipped strawberries. I want her thighs to stay thick, her mouth to stay plush. The Black Keys play. The Stones. Britney Spears. A soundtrack of jagged disconnects in a mostly empty club.
The women slither between chairs and perch on sets of knees. They say they have lower back pain. They say, “This sucks. It’s slow. It’s dead.” Philly wears red; her skin is the color of biscuits. Sexual attraction is fickle. Thin women aren’t sexy to me. They look small, brittle and hard like Adderall. They smoke cigarettes and don’t have an innocent ass that jiggles. They’re all sharp angles and tight grins. They’re victims of an impossible standard of beauty, cult of the Master Cleanse. I’m a wake-up-I’m-a-fat-stripper-girl.
The women frown. “One more dance, then, I’m gone,” they say. They lean against the bar, their buttery skin bulging through fishnets and lace. Their rosy cheeks fat with bubblegum and their purses empty.
The men who come to the Bruiser are from Chicago, Connecticut, Norway, Minneapolis, Montreal and Florida. They come to strip clubs knowing in their bones they’re moving towards death. Their knee jerk response is to grasp at life, grab at beauty and dance with it.
The intimacy of sorrow forbids a person from fully merging with another. The man in white pants sips a Michelob. “Tell me something about why you’re here,” I say. When he was thirteen, he was hit by a drunk driver and pronounced dead. According to his parents, he said, “Get away from me, I’m not dying,” to the priest. Five hundred stitches later and a rebuilt hip, he’s like new.
“Don’t be afraid to fail. If you don’t fail, you’ll never know what it is to reach your potential,” he says.
“Let’s have a profound dance,” I say. I consider failure, how easily I feel crushed by agent rejections, while at the Bruiser, I shrug off rejection and keep moving. I circle my hips and removing my bra, and commit to failing. I noticed the scars on his face, delicate gossamer strings over the surface and a crooked eyebrow.
“Americans have forgotten how to dream,” he says, eyes closed. I nod because he’s right. He hands me sixty bucks.
“Go out there and fail,” he says. Our dance is over. I walk over to a very drunk fat man who’s yelling something. He tips Philly on stage and waves his arms around wildly. “Do you want to sit down with me here?” I ask. I want to sooth him, sober him and take him to AA. He smells like puke. His shirt is wet. I hear him say, “Touch me like you know me.” He collapses in a chair and reaches out his hand to me. It is also wet but I hold it anyway.
“Okay,” I say. He reaches in his wallet for sixty bucks. I take the money and lead him to the couch for our dance. His pants are wet. We are both failing together—me, in a job I’ve failed to leave, and the puke guy for failing himself. We are all failing tonight, I think, the men and the women. And the drunk guy says, “Touch me like you know me,” like he’s rehearsing the line until he gets it right.