Casinos of the Flesh

There is something utterly surreal about being in a strip club. I’m not a stranger to them, but I realized very recently that I should be. A belated birthday celebration saw an evening out with the boys at a local — and not disreputable — strip joint on this last Sunday, the first one of September. Nights past in such establishments have usually proved fruitful, so to speak, but this one wasn’t. And it is precisely because I finally began to notice all of the myriad eccentricities that make a strip club just so….well, you know.

Among these are the following: The cliché of walking onto the floor and feeling your shoe actually stick to it. The sheer horror of being told by a dancer that her stage name is your sister’s. The sickly glazed look worn by those who frequent casinos or strip clubs, filled both with a vain desperation and longing never to be fulfilled. The intense creepiness of being called “Daddy” by a girl who is, in fact, another man’s daughter. The honed look of complete, professional boredom and scintillated interest in anything and everything you have to say. The perverse sense of entitlement and ownership you feel after purchasing a dance, and the absurd one of betrayal sometimes felt after seeing you’re not her only client.

Too, there are: The totally bizarre fixation on certain girls for fetishistic reasons you daren’t delve into at this level of intoxication. The VIP room, along with the lavish disappointment that awaits you in it. The absolutely staggering Amazonian athleticism it takes to move the way they move (despite the fact that many dancers are properly fucked-up on the job, and have a tolerance for drugs and alcohol typically reserved for British rock stars and Irish dock workers, respectively). The immediate satisfaction of seeing as much as you want to, and dissatisfaction of seeing just a little bit more than that. The heartbreaking moment of sincerity when she accidentally looks you in the eye and you feel for her; and she sees it.

The club’s patrons are predominantly Mexican; their median age is 40-something. Average hair length is six inches plus (the exceptions to this sport a gentleman’s Cholo buzz cut). Mustaches appear to be resoundingly fashionable within the confines of this establishment. Some men wear football jerseys. Others, Harley cut-offs. An inexcusable number have on sunglasses. One man wears an oversized T-shirt bearing the words “I’m in love (with a stripper)”; his spending habits are less than frugal. My friends and I are well-dressed; it draws attention, and is frowned upon. The dancers gravitate towards us with cartoonish dollar signs in their eyes. They are destined for disappointment. We are not wealthy, but we lie to them, as they do to us. The anonymity is entertaining, but my friends ask the girls their real names. I do not share their curiosity.

No one is making it rain. One particularly curvaceous woman is dubbed “the Thickness” by my friend; the epithet suits her. A portly Mexican man is paying her handsomely to ram him in the face with her buttocks, repeatedly. I am put off by this. It’s my birthday, so a faux redhead with unfortunate skin approaches me and asks, in a cutesy childish voice, if [sic] “you want me to be your strawberry cupcake?”; it gives me the creeps. I tell her I’m not quite drunk enough, but thank you. She storms off — clearly not used to being spurned in this manner — but continues to eye me the rest of the night. Self-infantilization appears to be a trend, and a profitable one, at that. Pubic hair is ostensibly less fashionable than the mustache.

I brought my own cigarettes, but I’m burning through them at a coke-head’s pace. Marlboros cost $10 a pack here; this personally offends me. In fact, everything is outrageously overpriced. Ice goes for $9; cups will run you $4, and drinks….I’d rather not know. We brought a bottle of Jameson with us, but its existence is short-lived. My friends are more than generous in buying me dances, which dances leave something to be desired. One of the girls reportedly clears something in excess of nine grand a week turning tricks in the VIP room (apparently gossip is to strip clubs what small-talk is to bars). She is, to be kind, unsightly. Her bust is robustly fake; it frightens me. But the average Mexican would beg to differ.

I’m still waiting for someone to make it rain….best not to hold my breath. I am itchy — not for the reasons you think — but I’d rather not get into why. My friend is smoking a cigar that is exactly decent and reeks in the special way that’s only really acceptable in strip clubs and tobacco shops. The air is a Los Angelean thick smog of Journey-grade perfume, smoke and sadness. No one is smiling. Everyone has a look on their face that can only be described as deeply vacant. It’s getting late, and the dancers are bored. They contort themselves absentmindedly to pass the time; the mind wanders. I can’t stop scratching my legs (OK, fuck it, I sat on a mound of fire ants the day before yesterday and my calves are practically bubonic).

The redhead gets back on stage and eyes me furiously the whole time, but fails to arouse me. A perilously thin blonde whose nom de strip is Bentley — or Bambi, we never quite managed to make it out — is clearing some serious cash. She looks seventeen at oldest, 90 pounds soaking wet, and would make a compelling PSA for eating disorders. It randomly crosses my mind that today is widely considered to be the Lord’s day, and it makes me sort of chuckle with head in hands. I’m sobering up in more ways than one. My personal favorite strip song comes on, so I stand up and ask if anyone wants a dance….Fine, I wouldn’t have given you one anyway. Thickness has now been sitting on my friend’s lap for the better part of an hour and a half. Apparently they’re talking business (I heard something about opening up a new club called [sic] “The Bald Eagle”). My other friend has a new and statutorily cute girl sitting on his lap; her intentions are shall we say transparent. Cupcake approaches me stark naked and offers me [sic] “party favors”. I’m ready to leave.

I realize that this is something I could write about, so I start making mental notes of everything. When I get in this mode, I become Holmesianly observant; it does not bode well for the morning after. I sense an impending shameover of ill magnitude. I go to use the bathroom before we leave. There is a sizeable black man watching Honey Boo Boo with the rapt enthusiasm of an eight year old on a sick day. I am powerless to articulate my incredulity. As I wash my hands, he asks — robotically, and without looking away from the television — if I’d like to buy some Armani, KY Her-Pleasure or Trojan Fire & Ice. I simply do not have it in me to respond, so I just walk out. I need to leave. We’re in a cab on the way home, and I’m trying to think of the best name for these establishments of decadence and despair, when it hits me: they are Casinos of the Flesh.

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