“It’s like therapy to me” I explain to yet another young woman who has fallen into the trap of talking to me about strip clubs. “It’s a place where I know the women don’t feel threatened by me or my sexuality, where I’m not a blunt weapon, where I can simply be okay with being one more piece-of-shit man on the planet and not worry about it.”
It’s not my best delivery of the argument, but because this girl is thinking of maybe mashing face with me after we leave the bar, she seems willing to listen to a little more of it.
Maybe therapy isn’t the right word. Maybe it should be called something less lofty, even though I hold a much lesser opinion of therapists than of sex workers. It’s just that sensation I get when I go to Portland’s downtown clubs is so close to ecstasy that sometimes I wonder if one of the junk enthusiasts by the entrance stuck me with something when I wasn’t looking.
In downtown Portland I’ve seen a drunk man beat his fists against the stage, shaking its foundations and shifting my whiskey glass an inch or two. He was trying to get attention from a dancer (or maybe just to help himself focus on not puking his guts out). I watched the MC go up to him to tell him to stop fucking around, then the bouncer, twice. He must have been dropping a good deal of cash to be given that many chances. Usually it’s one and done. So when the prick started up again, everybody around the stage watched eagerly to see him to get a sound smack and a boot out the door. But it wasn’t going to come from the bouncer.
The woman on the pole, beautiful and tatted-up with all the mythological symbols of the Pacific Northwest (a Doug Fir, a burning cigarette, a belching volcano and David Lynch’s hairdo), dismounted and approached the male garbage. She did this with a level of calm that only comes after having dealt with this kind of bullshit countless times. She whispered in his ear and he grimaced back: he wasn’t going to leave without special attention. With elegance, pride and certainty that this man was no threat to herself, she turned her back on him, dropped to the floor, lifted her ankles to rest on his shoulders, spread her legs and gave him a quick flash of her pussy. It seemed like an odd response- until she locked her ankles behind his head and began ramming the jackass’ smug face so hard with her butthole that he nearly fell off the chair. He was shocked. He looked frightened. There was an applause break. Then it was time for the manager to get the villain to his feet and show him the door.
Another night, closer to the edge of town, at a club that keeps a questionable open salad bar a few yards from the center stage and near the bathrooms, I watched a woman entice a group of men into building her a cabin of singles. When their altar reached a height that satisfied her, she dropped her ass on it hard enough to cause a crack in the wooden bar. When she stood up she had the dough tucked into her neither-regions, utilizing a space that is hard for a testicle-wielding person to imaging as being so muscular. She sashed away from her benefactors, pooping out the little prints of our first president with every step in mystifying skill. It was surely the most alluring way to see a slave owner’s face getting shat out on to a floor at such a cheap price…
I once saw a stripper with a Ghostbusters tattoo and felt ill in fear that corporate America finally found a way to paste some native advertising into our very skin. Turns out she was just a very talented fan.
“Whenever I find myself in front of an impeccable pole dancer, I think of the folks at Pompeii.”
That isn’t a lie, despite the certainty of the expression my date is making. Because what are those corpses and why are we so fascinated by them? They are death in an instant; suffocating fear preserved for millennia in pristine condition. They are frozen in their beds, in their markets, in their baths and it is impossible to not imagine the sounds that last reached their doomed ears, the final words they spoke or the last movements they made before the engulfment of their entire world, culture and all. It is impossible to not imagine the last time they fucked. Well, for me it is. What they are is the precise antithesis to the women who work the pole late at night.
Like the corpses of Pompeii, these women are stripped naked- down to the vestiges of pumping organs and strained muscles- except that the women before me are vibrantly alive. Like the stop-motion skeletons from those old Ray Harryhausen movies, they are almost miraculously moving to the music- the music of the Stones, Korn, Hall & Oates and Lil Troy- and their movement represents a culture that is not yet frozen in death. They are young like me and like the children asleep in nearby bungalows, and young like the grandparents being nursed to a much quieter, peaceful death than Pompeii at St. Vincent’s down the road. So long as my eyes are flitting across the soft, flaming skin that wraps around the fluttering limbs of these living people, I know that I am also still alive. This, as I explain to the girl before a kiss between cigarettes next to a dumpster behind Joe’s Cellar, is why I would rather have St. Helens douse me with ash in a strip club than at any other venue in the city.
Photo credit: @julianabeasly