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Stripping My Way Through College

A nonprofit intern counts down the hours until she can shed her office attire in a Times Square gentlemen's club.

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*   *   *

“Who’s ready for a dance?”

One guy volunteered.

“I really like this song,” I said as I took him by the hand. “I’m going to make this dance extra special.”

When I leaned into him the first time, he whispered something in my ear.

“What’s that?”

“I said, I bet you just love it in your ass.”

The job is to smile like you love it. No matter what. I gave him a smile. He smiled in return. I leaned in again and breathed heavily. “Let’s make believe that you’re my daddy.”

I felt his dick stiffen against my thigh.

What a pervert, I thought.

The truth was that they were all just like my father. Working at Flash, I sometimes thought I understood my father better than ever before. My father was the kind of man attracted to the back rooms of bars, the barn area of the track and everywhere else he had no business being. He would not change no matter how hard my mom tried. A gambler and possibly a sex addict, my father spent our family’s grocery money on whores. He was the type of sleazy character who couldn’t help but be attracted to the type of sleazy woman I’d worked so hard to become.

The song came to an end. He went for his wallet. On cue, I started getting dressed. When I went to take the money, he wouldn’t let go. He leaned in one more time, putting his mouth against my ear.

“I’m going to go home and fuck my wife,” he whispered, “and I’m going to think of you.”

I pulled away, smiling tightly, still feeling the heat from where he’d put his mouth. He let go of the money, finally, and walked away. I turned to the mirror and straightened my dress.

*   *   *

I grind my teeth in my sleep. In my dreams, I see myself a million times multiplied by the mirror I am dancing in. I dream that I am back in Ohio. I see Ohio from above, crisscrossed with freeways like cuts. I see myself driving in a car on a freeway, trying to escape. I am trying to escape the anxiety, which is being eaten like the miles of yellow line beneath my tires, but like the yellow line, it is never-ending. The Midwest, in my memory, goes on forever in every direction. It goes on inside of me. I am crisscrossed, scarred like a cutter. I am the smell of rubber and asphalt. I am something worthless glinting in the sun. I am the debris in the gulches on the side of the highway. I am broken glass. A blown tire. I am the cornflowers — dirty, dull, blue.

“Who’s ready for a dance?”

Not right now, honey.

No thanks.

No.

Maybe later.

Tempting, but no.

Not right now. But maybe you could tell your friend over there that I’d like to speak with her. No, not her. The other one. Yeah, her, the one with the big tits.

Right around the time my father moved out, my best friend Jenny and I started going dancing nearly every Friday night at a club called the Cosmopolitan — the Cos, we called it for short. Week after week in a different tube top and the same skintight black pants, we’d pull into a strip mall parking lot, where the club was sandwiched between a Dollar Tree and a Payless shoe store. On under-twenty-one night at the Cos, I felt so grown up, so sophisticated. Before this, Jenny had been the sexy one. I was too smart, too bookish. I tried too hard and everyone could tell. At the Cos, I discovered I could be sexy, too, just like Jenny.