I like to think my mother raised me the right way. I have the utmost respect for women, certainly more respect than I have for men. Men just have to roll out of bed, slap on that old T-shirt, brush their teeth and, if they’re feeling particularly ambitious, clean their ears.
Women have to apply makeup, deal with all that feminine hygiene stuff I dare not investigate, spend a good hour spraying various freezing substances into their hair, make sure this blouse doesn’t clash with these trousers, shave any undesirable body hair, worry if this skirt overly emphasises those hips, wonder if their eyelashes look long enough. All this so they can go into a workplace where they have to prove to idiots that they’re smart enough to be there in the first place. I’m not particularly proud I was born with a Y chromosome, but, at the risk of sounding smug, I feel quite fortunate.
This said, I have a confession: I have been to a strip club. I recognise it is difficult to be considered a respectable and distinguished man after that admission, but there it is. I’m not one of those guys who has made a habit of it, catches the noon buffet or knows the dancers by name, mind you, but I, sadly, have visited the odd establishment on one or two occasions. Most of these excursions have been suggested by friends, usually old friends I haven’t seen in a while looking to do something “crazy”. If I were the type to try to rationalise my missteps, I would say that I have been merely a follower of more pumped-up, testosterone-enhanced comrades. But the fact remains, I went, so I won’t try to talk my way out of it.
Actually, there is something inherently honest about a strip club. It is a truly logical place of business, an ode to supply and demand. There are men who want to see women’s bare breasts, and there are women who provide the service. Guns and butter, I think they taught us in A Level Economics. Run properly, it’s the rare British establishment that actually adheres to truth in advertising. It’s certainly more honest than places like Hooters in New York, where corporate types can wander in after work, have their drinks, make snide, crude remarks about the waitresses and pretend they’re not doing anything wrong.
There are two types of people who upset the delicate dynamic of strip clubs. One is the obvious hooligan, the drunken bastard with the wandering hands, the one who pounds on the tables and calls the dancers sluts and bitches because he can’t call his wife that. Usually the thick-necked bouncer guys take care of guys like that quickly.
Then there are guys like me, the ones who try to talk to the dancers, try to find out what makes them tick, why they chose this particular vocation. These guys are also the ones most likely to whine to the dancers about their rich fiancées leaving them to hike through the wilderness. These guys don’t need to go to a strip club; they need to go to a shrink. There is a reason I am one of these people.
In the summer of 2009, I was invited to a friend’s stag do. I was appropriately wary, especially considering my friend was, well… a bit rough around the edges. In addition, he would be the only person I would know at the party, meaning, since I wouldn’t want to monopolise the time of the guest of honour for the majority of the evening, I would be on my own.
Still, I was more than a little intrigued. The big night came, and I headed to my friend’s parents’ home for the festivities, which, truth be told, I found to be somewhat strange. Things were adequately casual at first, a bunch of guys sitting around, smoking and drinking, playing cards, throwing darts, lamenting the state of football, moaning about their girlfriends. For a while, it looked like my stripper apprehension was all for naught; I mean, I had just fleeced my friend’s decrepit grandfather out of 10 quid in a game of darts, and no matter how I tried to get my mind around it, I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which this particular octogenarian would be able to handle a lap dance.
Around 1:30 a.m., I thought it might be time to call it a night. I strolled over — carefully sidestepping the blowup doll my friend had received that evening — to congratulate my friend and tell him I’d see him at the wedding.
Then, from behind me I heard, “She’s here!”
Time for another drink, to be certain. As I silently whispered a prayer, promising God I’d be careful to help small animals if he’d forgive me for this impending transgression, the melodic sounds of AC/DC began to surround me and I turned around as she walked in.
When I first moved to London, back in the late 90s, I worked with this temp — a sweet, quiet girl with thick fisheye glasses, braces and unruly red hair, who always seemed somewhat scared when her cocoon of sanctity was disrupted, which was often. She was painfully shy, but for whatever reason, she chose me for occasional contact with planet Earth, sheepishly asking me for help with a Word document or what control-alt-delete really meant. We’ll call her Annie, because that’s her name.
My inability as a writer to appropriately build suspense has reared its ugly head yet again, so I won’t pretend you’re not fully aware that, of course, when I turned to this new visitor to our testosterone-filled room, it was Annie. She’d changed a bit. No braces, no glasses, no bashfulness, no clothes. The men gathered in a circle around her, and she set up her stereo to the side of the room and went to work. She instinctively went for my friend’s grandfather, rubbing her uncovered groin area in, well, shit… you know what she did. Grandpa appeared enlivened by the experience, and I noticed later he slipped her a £20 note when he thought no one was looking.
She then proceeded to pour some kind of lactose product on her nipples and make her way around the circle, stopping at my friend’s chair to unbuckle his belt and pull down his trousers.
This was too much. Most of this time I’d been pathetically hiding behind the pool table, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with Annie. How exactly had sweet, little Annie, the girl who once left the office in embarrassment after noticing that a male colleague’s fly was open, made the transition to bumping and grinding and the oh-my-that-has-to-hurt Annie I saw before me?
I glanced at her again, but this time, she was looking back. She mouthed, “Hi, David! You’re next!”
That was the end of the show for me. I bolted outside, drank about half the bottle of Jack Daniels I had in my hand, and lamented my lost innocence. After about an hour later, the door opened.
“David! Gosh, how are you? I haven’t seen you in years!” the still-naked Annie said. “What have you been up to?”
I have grown accustomed to this question from long-unseen classmates or old work colleagues I run into at bars or even ex-girlfriends who now have better-looking and smarter guys. I have never grown accustomed to answering this question when the inquisitor is not wearing any clothes, and if my life turns out the way I hope, I suppose I never will. I stammered through some short-winded explanation of IT and writing and hey-I-ran-into-so-and-so-the-other-day. Then, idiotically, I tossed the same question back at her.
“Oh, I’ve been doing different things. And this, of course. Working out real well, the money’s great. Never ran into somebody I knew before, though. Kind of a weird experience, don’t you think?”
I walked her to her car — for fuck sake, couldn’t she have put on a robe or something? — and waved goodbye as she drove off, having finally covered up in her car. Thankfully, I’ve never seen her again!