“Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson plays while she “dances.” I say “dances” because, we all agree, she just walks—she doesn’t swing her hips to the beat, she doesn’t even strut—she just walks across the stage. Then she simply sits down. Again, she doesn’t put her own twist on sitting down, she doesn’t have any rhythm on her way down; she just plops on her bottom on the red-and-black tile.
Her eyes bulge wide and wild as she sits and smiles. Her eyes compete with her smile for wideness.
She spreads her legs, puts her hand on her thigh near her vagina, closes her legs, stands up, walks, sits down, spreads her legs, puts her hand on her thigh near her vagina, closes her legs, stands up, walks, sits down, and spreads her legs—that’s her entire routine.
The whole roster of strippers congregate in the basement dressing room as if we’re some kind of sex-workers tribunal. None of us dancers can figure out why Wild Eyes has a following and gets magazine ads so often. We all agree she’s beautiful, but she has no skill.
We do everything to make her uncomfortable so she leaves our club. We ignore her. We smoke weed in her face because she hates pot. Some of the meaner women even mock her stage routine right in front of her.
One day, she approaches me with tear-filled eyes.
“Why does everyone hate me so much?” she asks. Sits in the open tanning booth that looks like a purple futuristic isolation capsule. Barbie ready for outer space.
My stomach turns. I push the words out of my gut in ashamed squeaks.
“Because you don’t have to work as hard as everyone else,” I say.
“But everyone here is so talented,” she says. Tears cascade down her rosy cheeks. “I have two left feet.”
My own hatred for her reverses in my mind and crashes into the brick wall of compassion.
I stand up from my chair. My face boils with Catholic guilt. I sit next to her in the tanning capsule. I hug her.
“On behalf of every cruel stripper here, including myself, I’m sorry,” I say as I rub her back.
She sobs until she gets called to the stage. Fixes her mascara in the mirror before running off.
When she leaves, I lay inside the purple isolation capsule and close it without turning on its tanning beams.
Farmer Joe reaches out his dirt-stained hand for my bare breast.
I sense it in under the black lights in the table dance alcove. I thwack his arm away before he can grab me.
“What the fuck, man?”
“You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen,” he says. “I’ve been buying table dances all night. Don’t I get a bonus?”
“Grind on my face,” he says.
“The other girl did it for my friend.” He points at their table. They wave.
“You got a knife so I can slit my wrists? Because I’d rather kill myself.”
“C’mon. I spent more than a hundred dollars.”
“Not gonna happen.”
The song ends. I pick up my mini-dress from the leather love seat.
“Where are you going?”
I pull back the sheer curtain and step out of the private dance alcove, only wearing my stripper shoes.
I take my clothes to the dressing room. The DJ calls my name. I adjust my breasts in my mini-dress, then climb the stage stairs.
Farmer Joe sits at the rack, front and center. I dance up to him and lean over. I smile. I take off my dress.
“You’re ugly,” he says.
I kneel down. My face only inches from his. I spit. He doesn’t flinch. He sticks his tongue out, twists it and licks the spit from his face. He moans. His belly puffs and blows a baritone laugh.
The bartender hops the stage rail and pushes me from the rack toward the doorway near the side of the stage that descends to the dressing room.
“You’re 86’d for good this time, Lux,” he says and scuttles downstairs a step beside me. I’m naked in my giant stripper heels. I clench my mini-dress and purse. Black eyeliner and sweat stings my left eye. I squeeze it shut until it tears. The bartender won’t shut up behind me.
“Pack your shit. Cab’s on the way,” he says.
He follows me to my dressing-room station. He hovers over me while I get dressed. He gets too close for comfort. I spin around and spit at his feet.
I shake. My flamethrower eyes scorch his ego.
I corkscrew in a 180 and proceed to stuff my lipsticks, stripper outfits and fist-fulls of cash into my valise.
“You’re the sickest, most hateful bitch in this club, and you’re done.” Spit from his scream splats on the vanity mirror behind me.
“And you’re the dumbest fucking bartender in Portland,” I say in a calm tone, then blot the runny eyeliner around my left eye with a wet wipe.
“If you knew the story, you’d bitch out Ms. Face Grinder for jeopardizing our livelihoods.” I say to his reflection in the mirror, my back toward his actual body.
“Worry about yourself and find another job.”
“I will because I draw the line at grinding my pussy on any dude’s face for $20. I guess integrity has a price tag of I QUIT.”
I march up the stairs, out of the club, and into my cab.
These stories originally appeared in Exotic magazine, June 2017.