Sex & Relationships  
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Should You Try Stripping?

Faced with increasing economic woes, some women are asking themselves that question.

It used to happen every six months or so. I would be on my way home from the restaurant where I work to make ends meet, smelling of salsa and coffee and the tequila I didn't drink, and wondering how over the past 14 hours of horror I hadn't even made $100. And then it would come to me, this pleasingly simple thought: Maybe I could be a stripper. I would try to chase it away with cautionary tales of prostitutes in fishnets on the side of the highway in the dead of winter, but the thought would amble back with the easy confidence of a Clint Eastwood movie. "Not a prostitute," it would say, "a stripper. An exotic dancer, if you will." Then the thought would pull out its secret ace, a bone for my vanity to gnaw on: "Come on now, you're a pretty girl…"

For many of us, if Maxim called and asked us to pose in our underwear, we probably wouldn't mind. Stripping may strike some as less classy than being on the cover of a magazine, but essentially you're still getting paid to be hot and nearly naked. In our current culture, sex appeal has attained a status that no other quality shares. So the thought of making money from it, especially in these tough times, is increasingly appealing. And as Maxim seems to have misplaced my phone number, stripping is what I think about as my bills pile up. Since our economy formally began its downward spiral, I've started to have those thoughts almost once a week. And you know it: I'm not alone.

Applications in every job market have skyrocketed since this time last year, but unlike so many other industries, most strip clubs don't have hiring freezes. They are doing better than ever. The New York branch of Rick's Cabaret International Inc., an operation of upscale gentlemen's clubs (one that's publicly traded on NASDAQ), now gets an average of 40 to 50 job applicants per week, up from 20 a week this time last year. But the company also reported a 58% increase in total revenue from 2007's last quarter to 2008's. During that same period, the number of unemployed rose by 3.6 million in the United States. Disposable incomes are definitely shrinking, but sex is selling better than ever. Is it so bad to want a piece of the action?

Despite living 10 blocks south of Private Eyes and passing Lace on the way to the gym, until recently I had never actually been inside a strip club. Although I increasingly fantasize about it as a get-my-career-off-the-ground strategy, I haven't stopped to ask too many questions. So when, in the name of journalistic inquiry, I decide to check one out, I figure a chaperone was a good idea. So I left a message for my close friend Jake (whose name has been changed for reasons we'll get to).

I call him on a Friday afternoon and am partway through my shift at the restaurant when he texts me back. His response is not what I expect.

"Did you see The Post this weekend?" he writes.

He means The New York Post, and no, I had not.

"Randi was on the cover for stripping. She's become semi-famous overnight. She got a book deal and possible reality show out of it."

I should take this opportunity to mention that Jake and I used to go out, and that Randi is his new girlfriend.

Hiding at the back of the restaurant's coat check, I stare at my phone and feel my heart drop out of my chest and land on the floor of my stomach. Jake is the last guy I really cared for. And now he's seriously with someone else. But that isn't the real reason I'm upset. Maybe it's her sudden celebrity status that's bothering me, or the book deal I certainly wouldn't mind for myself. It's that Jake has never before mentioned what Randi does for a living, and now that I know, my honest fear is that she's hotter than me. Plus, she has the courage to do the one thing I fantasize about as my "last resort" every day. Rationally, I can say I don't care, but as my heart rolls over and starts checking itself for bruises, I find myself dreading that he's traded up.