January 9: But It's Better If You Do

Letter: P
CD Number: 10
Track Number: 22

Song: “But It’s Better If You Do” by Panic! At the Disco (The “!” is essential) off the album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out

The place was dark, which, I assumed, was actually something of a blessing. Dark is preferable to dingy. The lack of light did detract from the abandoned bomb shelter aesthetic the building had going on, but that was really better appreciated from the outside anyway. I knew I should be ashamed to be in such a place but did it really have to look so distinctly ashamed of itself, too?
Although no one had smoked in the club in years, the smell of ash and old tobacco still hung everywhere. It was as if the permeated the cell structure of the place; as if it had collected so much smoke when cigarettes did not have to be hidden from the light of day for fear of offending someone that the walls themselves were still breathing it. What didn’t smell like smoke smelt, well, flat, I suppose. Not bad per se. But certainly not a smell one would seek out. The music was heavy, thumping, and just loud enough to make talking and hearing more trouble than they were worth.
I was 35. And I really shouldn’t have been there. But I was.
My friend was getting married for the second time. Having gone the clean, respectful bachelor party the first time out and still found himself getting divorced seven years later, he decided that he needed to shake things up. Thus our visit to The Hot House, a strip club, I was assured, that was both classy and sexy. And boasted a fabulous buffet. Oddly enough, I found myself unmoved by this expert testimony. Only the constant hectoring to “be a good groomsmen” got me in the door.
Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t have a moral objection to the Gentlemen’s Club field of entertainment. Or maybe I do.  If I do, it is not a big one, not a wedge issue, if you will. Strip clubs strike me as sad places where everyone is exploiting everyone, but the same can be said of Wal-Mart. You just happen to get a blue vest at Wal-Mart.
But, at 35, it was my first time ever in such a place and I was not equal to the task. The idea of looking at naked women while surrounded by friends and strangers was a difficult idea to embrace for me. Sex, in general, was something I had been raised to have a healthy disgust of. I had come around a bit on that, but not enough that exploring a new aspect of desire was something I wanted to do alongside several other men.
And if I’m honest about the moral objection thing, what I said before is true…in my head. In my guts, if you will, it is a little more complicated. Yes it is exploitation all around, but us men just get exploited for our cash. It’s important, but ultimately, it’s just paper. The girls and women are being exploited for their bodies and that makes me squirmy. On the other hand, they made a choice and from what I’ve heard, some of them enjoy dancing and appreciate the money and would prefer do-gooders like myself just shot our mouths and stop treating them children in capable of making informed choices.
With this debate swirling around my head, I tried to strike the right look that told everyone there, “I’m only here because my buddy wanted to be, but I can appreciate that you are all attractive women. Also, I think it is wrong a business that treats you like objects exists unless you feel, in a post-feminist kind of way, that you have all the power in which case I applaud it.” I suspect it translated more into a look of “I’ve eaten something bad recently.”
As I adjusted, I have to confess I did begin to look around and, well, ogle the women there. I found myself a bit disappointed to find them to be neither the improbable sex goddesses of many television shows and movies nor the burnt out husks of other television shows, movies, and comedy routines. They were normal, really. Glitter encrusted, tassel displaying, certainly, but normal. Some fell higher on the pretty continuum than others, but none of them were models and none of them were sporting bullet holes and stretch marks. Provided they wore different outfits at the grocery store, you probably not have paused to think, “Stripper” if you saw them out and about.
The buffet also proved to be a non-starter. Perhaps I just have a hard time getting an appetite up in such a setting though. I do not mean to disparage the efforts of the chefs at The Hot House. I understand they are just trying to earn a living like everybody else.
The most surprising thing about the club was though, the thing I was not the least bit prepared for, was how boring they were. With the volume making conversation impossible and, while I am not saying I wanted one, not nearly enough staff to give every patron a lap dance or private show at the same time, there was a lot of sitting in silence, making overly enthusiastic “damn, you see that” facing, and nursing 10 dollar bottles of water. Maybe there are gentlemen’s clubs out there where everyone sips brandy in leather back chairs while women writhe in sexy, but not overly intrusive manners around them while political and business deals are brought to conclusion. Or strip clubs were raucous groups of attractive men have the time of their life, but this certainly was not either of those.
I think some part of me, maybe most of me, wanted to be scandalized or horrified or titillated by the scene, but, instead, I was just…there. They were not places worth avoiding with as much vigor as many do, but they were not places to make much of an effort to go to either. It reminded me of the first time I snuck out after curfew. The excitement, the fear, the anxiety, the fun…all of that was in the act. Once I was out of the house, it was dark, kind of chilly, and there really was not anything to do.
I don’t expect I’ll ever go back to one. But if I do, I’ll definitely try the buffet this time. It was really rude of me not to.