Artemis shoots cocaine and heroin in the crevices of her fingers, which are now ballooned and swollen like over-cooked hotdogs. Each finger bulges with brown scabs. They touch the pole, the rail, every piece of furniture in the club, including the ones made of bald heads and oily flesh.
We’re in the dressing room’s bathroom. I squat in a blue and green bikini. My white eight-inch heels hold me up like stilts as I balance my weight. I pass Artemis the joint but she waves it off with a needle in her hand. She sticks the metal in between her index and middle fingers. She exhales, and her body shrinks into the toilet. My stomach turns. I jolt upright, turn on the vent and blow weed smoke into it.
“You should trade it in. Quit the hard stuff and just get stoned,” I say, but she laughs. I shut the door behind me.
“Put your hands together for Artemis,” the DJ says over the PA. He calls her name two more times and she finally stumbles out of the bathroom. Her dope-pricked finger drizzles a tiny speck of blood onto the doorknob, the couch she holds onto as she passes through the dressing room, the railing up the basement stairs and the pole in the center of the stage.
She’s Hep-C positive. She told me. Hep-C can live for several days in encrusted blood.
After months of her blatant disregard, I beg the owner and the manager to fire her even though I like her. And so do other strippers. But the club won’t.
We scrub the rails, the pole and the stage floor ourselves with ripped bar rags and bleach because management doesn’t, even though we pay a stage fee.
But this is glamour, and we’re empowered.
Foot Freak’s cabana hat and Jesus sandals epitomize his laisser faire attitude.
He leans back at the rack, with a five-dollar bill in front of him. I see him prop his 70-year-old feet on the edge of the small, secondary stage.
He slips his left foot from the two worn leather straps that separate his hardened hooves from the Plexiglas.
He rubs his hammer toe on the edge, thinking I can’t see it. I hold back the urge to gag.
His eyes flutter and he takes a deep breath. Upon exhale, he shutters.
I continue to dance at the opposite side of the stage. I laugh to myself.
The lone sandal rests on the stage. A sour odor hits my nostrils when I dance a foot too close. I gag.
He dangles the sandal from his right foot, with less reservation this time. He lets it plop onto the stage next to its crusty counterpart. Black stains dip where the toes and heel fit.
He sips his drink and rubs both feet on the stage. Stares me right in the eye.
“Take off your shoes,” he says as he slaps down a twenty-dollar bill in front of him.
I hesitate in disgust.
I walk over, hold my breath and pick up the twenty.
I dance to the opposite corner and debate myself in my mind, calculating how long I have left on stage. By now, the song is almost over and there’s only one more left. That’s about three to three-and-a-half minutes of fantasy-made-flesh for Foot Freak.
A kid with helmet hair stands at the edge of the stage opposite of Foot Freak’s side. He tips $5, so I give him a little show. It buys me 30 more seconds to decide. The song ends.
Foot Freak sighs, stirs and taps his toes on the stage again and again.
My ass feels cold against the Plexiglas. My hand reaches for the ankle straps on my black stripper shoes.
“Here we go,” Foot Freak says as he kicks back in his chair with arms crossed behind his floppy hat.
I shake my head. I can’t help it.
The musky stench of his rotten sandals is too strong for me to get too close. I opt out for floor work. In the middle of the stage, I lie on my back, spread my legs and twirl them one at a time in sync with the music, barefoot.
Foot Freak lays another Jackson on the stage. I turn around, lie on my back and go into the halasana—or plow—pose.
This sends Foot Freak into a frenzy. His eyes widen. He trembles. He reaches for his wallet and throws down a ten-dollar bill.
I flip over into a kneel, I hold my breath and crawl to the cash. Smile.
The song ends. I grab my clothes, shoes and purse and walk down the stage stairs. I stop at a bar stool, throw on my dress and put my shoes on, satisfied that Foot Freak gave me a total of $55 to dance, and I only had to go barefoot for one three-minute song.
I sit on the vanity counter in the dressing room and spray my face with perfume to overpower the memory of his stench. But I can’t get rid of his stank ghost. It haunts my nostrils, and the club, for the rest of the night.
These stories appeared in Exotic Magazine, February 2017.