when in Rome

I’ve been having a weird year–all two-ish months of it–although it’s only partially to do with my club (full disclosure, I work at the ‘weird club’ Kat’s been referencing.  And it’s weirder than she even says). I quit dancing for almost two years and just started again last summer,  working in dive bars as a way to acclimate–I was so burned out and angry when I quit that going back scared the hell out of me.  If I had a meltdown at the places I was working at and just walked out, I wouldn’t be burning any real bridges.

That didn’t happen though; I was making such shitty money and feeling so exploited at my legit job that the idea of stage fees and tipouts felt like no big deal at all.  It felt like going home. It’s a testimony to my musical-chairs living situations of the past year that it actually felt better than going home.  And the money!  I was making pocket change compared to what I’m making now–for the first time in my life I have disposable income and I can start paying off the hospital bills the department of revenue keeps calling about, as well as maybe making a dent in my student loans before they stay with me for the next fifty years–it was small peanuts but it was still so much more than the minimum wage I was making at the daycare/preschool: minimum wage to take care of rich people’s children.  I would watch parents arrive in beemers and benzs, drop their horrible offspring off for me to coddle and discipline, feed, change, wipe their bottoms[1] for the next 8-ish hours, without health insurance or anything, and I barely made my bills.  I had genuine affection for two of the kids, and I actually still miss them, but it was exhausting.  There’s no time to think in a daycare.  Space out for a minute and Lucas has gone and hit Kai, again, or swallowed a lego, again.

I was grateful to be back dancing.  Even an eighty dollar shift was more than I made at work before taxes.  I quit the daycare. I’m not sick as much and I pay my bills on time.

I’m happy to be dancing, but it’s not great. I get so irritated with new girls and the perky cheerleaders. I understand the impulse to keep defending it–it’s not bad for the reasons I hear all the time, being naked is degrading, sitting on laps is disgusting. whatever. So was Olivia’s diarrhea that clogged the toilet in the preschool.

I don’t get a wage, I pay to work.  It’s by the dance at my club, which is another thing I really appreciate about the place, whatever its drawbacks.  I will never leave in the negative, although on the days when my regular comes in I pay close to a third of what he gives me to the club, and another 10% to the dj. The club’s cut goes up incrementally with how much you make, the dj always gets 10%.  They keep track.  I once under-tipped a dj by five dollars; on my next shift with him he followed me when I walked in the door and called me into the office.  They gave me a math lesson and a lecture (if I’m not good at math, someone can help me) and made me give him 20$ more. I pay bouncers who do little but keep track of how much I make to report it to the club. 10% to djs who rarely take requests kills me. Unless I’m on rotation with the one black girl at my club, I’m stuck with nu metal (Wed-Thurs) or dubstep (Fri-Sat).  The best part about working Tuesdays is that the old hippie does his best to make me happy.  This means I get to dance to Crazy On You or Magic Man.[2] Otherwise he’s stuck in the 90s with the numetal dj.

I think that the dj percent is unique[3] to my club, but the rest is standard.  Clubs defray the expense of paying workers a living wage by having dancers pay stage fees and tip out employees.  Stage fees and tipouts are actually cheaper in my city than almost any place else I can think of.

I got a lot better at taking everything in stride; I smile so much that some nights my face hurts more than my feet. If I don’t smile, I don’t make money; I think this is true for all of us but irritatingly, slightly more true for me: I have to overcompensate for the threatening woman with guns on my chest. And I have bitchface.  If I’m not smiling, people think I’m angry.  Actually, I think that part is true for all women.  I was reading Kat’s post about pet peeves and nodding furiously to my laptop:

    I smile more than the average person. I smile so much that it’s not even voluntary. All night, customers compliment me on my smile and my teeth and I think, “I’m smiling?” I smile so much that people call me Smiley. They call it a “shit-eating grin” and ask what I’m smiling at, but there’s nothing to be let in on. I have smile creases and crow’s feet from excessive use that I sometimes study in the mirror, adding frown lines to the mix.

The few times that I don’t smile at work include when I’m walking to a specific destination, because I’m not mentally handicapped or on MDMA. Or, say, when I’m mid-speech and I can’t just flex the muscles at the ends of my mouth and hold them there because they are in use moving my lips to create sounds.

It’s hard because it’s still the service industry. On the nights when I can’t fake it til I make it, forget to keep that inane smile pasted on, laugh at everything and call them sugar, I don’t make money.  And then I have to pay to leave early on top of the tip outs and stage fee. I could stay and try to make it work, but it’s usually worth it to just fork over 20$ and go home and finish my homework.

I don’t know where I was going with this, I’m just trying to write more stuff that’s not academic.  I like a lot of the girls at my club, even though most of them are young and inexperienced and have no idea that they don’t need to do the things they do.  I have some good friends who do know that the club is weird, and the brief headshakes and grimaces we share keep me going. When in Rome, right? It’s all in what you can deal with.  I can take in stride the girl who fingers herself and other girl customers for a pittance: I hustle extra dances and try not to touch anything she’s touched. I hum Little Red Riding Hood in my head and try to block out the dismal beats of the dubstep. When it gets hard I go in back and shoot the shit with the cook, who gives me tiny dishes of jalapenos to eat, then I go back out and inflict my now-toxic breath on customers.


[1] I had to rethink my use of the word ‘bottom’. daycares and strip clubs are about the only places I hear ‘bottoms’ used, ever.  it’s a really weird word.

[2] I think kind of longingly of two clubs whose management I hated where we got to use our own cds and ipods.

[3] and hold on, do the math on that.  20 + girls a night, paying 20$ or more to a guy who says our names and then plays the music he likes.  That means that at least half the time he’s making more than most of us, the girls who are actually naked and giving lapdances.

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