It was 2004. I was a year out of college. I had moved back home and was living with my parents in a Washington, DC suburb. I needed a job, but with my liberal arts degree and lack of work experience, I kept hearing "no." I would look through the classifieds every day, trying to find something, anything.
And then one day I saw it -- an ad for waitresses (and dancers) at a strip club in the city. I was intrigued. I had just spent a year of my life bartending. I had waitressing experience. Even though I had never been in strip club before, I figured with my D cups, I could make good money as a waitress. But could I do it? I had gone to a woman’s college for goodness sake! I told myself if I ever happened to be in that neighborhood, I would pop in and just check it out.
About a week later, I got called for a job interview that was just blocks from the strip club. After the interview, I drove to the club, pretty sure this was the craziest thing ever. Who goes into a strip club in the middle of the day in an interview suit? This chick, apparently.
I walked in and was met with three stages with naked girls dancing around the pole. Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look, I told myself. I headed to the back and asked a man about a job. As a waitress. Emphasis on waitress. He had me fill out an application. “Come in on Thursday night and get trained,” he said.
All jobs have an impact, but there are some jobs that stay with you. Being a waitress at a strip club is one of them. I worked there for almost three years. I worked the day shift. The night shift. The Friday and Saturday party night shift. The Sunday afternoon shift. I perfected leaning over, cleavage just right and flirting with strangers. I had regular customers and had their drink ready for them when they sat down. I learned people’s life stories or at least the stories they wanted to tell. I formed friendships with fellow employees. And I learned a few lessons along the way.
1. Men will pick sports over a naked woman.
We had two large television screens that pretty much stayed on ESPN at all times. On Sundays, men would come in and they would watch the game, only giving their attention to the naked woman on the stage during the two-minute commercials.
Girlfriends, fiancÃ©es and wives all over this land -- fret not if your husband ignores you when the game is on. Don’t be offended if when you block his view, standing there half-naked wearing lingerie or whipped cream, he asks you to move over a little bit. It’s nothing against you. He would do it with strippers, too.
2. Men can be some nasty MFers.
They are even more frightening when they are in large groups, rowdy and drunk and there is a naked woman just a few feet from them.
As a waitress, fully clothed and whatnot, it was easy to be ignored while I watched men settle in and show their true selves. There were times when it was unsettling and uncomfortable to see men just doing men stuff without regard or care, to watch seemingly decent men lose it at the sight of some ass and tits.
It is their sense of entitlement to a woman’s body because they are “paying” for her to entertain them. It is the crude jokes they tell when they think no one is listening. It is the after-work business meetings they have which might exclude a fellow female employee from joining and being privy to the real business, the actual plan. It is the married men who come in daily and fall in “love” with a stripper. Buying her gifts and drugs and spending hundreds of dollars on her in one evening while the wife waits at home.
3. Stay high.
The amount of drug usage was astonishing to a newbie. Alcohol was in abundance as you could get almost any customer to buy you a drink. And dancers and waitresses alike got high all the time. Smoked weed in the dressing room. Did a line of coke in the bathroom. X, pills, and everything in between.
I very rarely saw a dancer get on the stage stone cold sober. Even if she was a veteran, most women needed a “shot” of courage, a taste of something before she took their clothes off and danced in front of strange men for money. And who could blame them?
In any industry where you can make quick cash, you tend to spend it quickly, knowing you can just get the same amount (or maybe even double) the next day. Addiction became a real problem for a lot of dancers (and some waitresses). But what did the customers care about these potentially dangerous addictions? They were just there for the drinks, the naked women and the experience.
4. Sexy comes in a thousand different ways.
I’m a plus sized girl and I was a solid size 14 back then. I was also a black girl in a mainly white strip club. Waitresses would dress slightly provocatively to get tips and I rocked the hell out of some outfits. I felt I had to compete with the naked girls on stage. But what I learned was there was no competition. I didn’t have to be naked to be sexy.
So big thighs be damned. A little jiggle here or there didn’t matter. What I thought men would care about wasn’t even a concern; the things I nitpicked about a woman’s body went unnoticed. I began to feel a sense of power and confidence. And then I began to look at the woman on stage, truly admire the female form and find my own sexy. Define my own sexy. It was powerful.
5. It’s a trap.
For so many dancers, this was going to be their last year of dancing. They just had to save a certain amount of money and then they would quit. Then they would go back to school Or get a real job. Or start a business. It was always something, but the next year they were still there.
Because the money was too good. And where else would they go? Many had started dancing right out of high school, and years had passed with them never working any other job, never gaining any other skills. Three years later when I was leaving for good, they were still there.
I went in knowing that it was going to be temporary. But how quickly temporary became three years and it could have turned into four. Maybe five. However, once I got a real, full time job where things might go badly if they found out I worked at a strip club, I walked away and never looked back.
But I understood the dancers’ plight because I had taken a waitressing job at a strip club out of sheer desperation. I needed some money. Fast. And once I found out I could make great tips, I stayed. Until it was time for me to go.
I had a college degree I could use. A skill set. A mama who kept giving me the side eye and calling it the den of iniquity. I could walk away because I had the option to do so.
Unfortunately there are too many who can’t, who have to make a choice to survive at any cost and then who remain trapped. It’s been ten years since I walked into a strip club for a waitressing job and even though I finally walked out, I am forever changed.