Thanks to Chris Rock, I know that it is the goal of every father to keep his daughter off the pole. But I have never been so convinced that I shoulda been a stripper in all my life.
It started out as a joke among me and the girls, slowly escalating to various levels of ridiculousness. First, it was just the idea that maybe instead of looking for partnership and love, we should have just leveraged our looks into financial arrangements with wealthy men. Then we figured we should’ve married our love of ignorant music and twirking into a lucrative career as a stripper/video girl/jewelry designer. And now, some days QQ and I toy with the idea of moving to Amsterdam to become high end call girls to well-to-do politicians, celebrities and financiers.
To be clear; I never dreamed I would consider, even jokingly, accumulating wealth flat on my back with my toes pointed at the ceiling. And I never would actually do it. But if, like me, you have resigned yourself to a lifetime of indentured servitude to student loans, you have to understand the allure of obtaining financial freedom through something I already like to do anyway.
But I have never been surer that I should have set my sights on climbing the ranks by climbing the pole when I was younger, thinner and infinitely dumber than when I met a stripper at my local Starbucks.
Many of us have an idea of what a stripper looks like. She looks like a porn star but with better costumes; the stringy bleached hair, drag queen makeup, flammable nails and flotation device boobs are all par for the course. But this girl, Mandy, looked nothing like that. She was pretty in that southern belle kinda way; long, thick blond hair the color of honey framing a heart shaped baby face with big ocean blue eyes. No painted on makeup or triple letter implants to be found. I noticed her as we both walked in at the same time, and she flashed me a warm, friendly smile as she held the door open for me to pass. It wasn’t until the barista called out an order for Mandy and we both reached for it that we actually had a chance to talk.
“Your name is Mandy?” she asked me, looking at me skeptically.
“Sure. In Starbucks sometimes it is.” She laughs at me.
“Why do you give a fake name?”
“I’m not entirely sure. In theory it is because I am always convinced that my life is an episode of SVU and that there is some person stalking me and trying to find out all my personal information. This is my way of protecting myself?” I turn up my inflection at the end of the sentence like a question because I realize how ridiculous I sound.
“OhmiGod,” she says running all her words together, “do you know what I do? I unlock my front door facing out. It’s awkward but I am always convinced someone is gonna come up behind me and push their way in since I live alone.”
“You totally shouldn’t have said that you live alone,” I reply, casting a fake furtive glance around the Starbucks. We giggle like high schoolers.
We sort out which drink is for the real Mandy and which is for girls who have considered stereotypical white girl names when my own was enough, and grab a table near the window. I realize, all of a minute into our convo that Mandy is much like me; she loves to talk to strangers. And she has an easy way about her that endears her to you almost immediately. On top of that, about five minutes after that, I realize that she is REALLY smart. If she weren’t so damn nice, I would hate her.
We chat for a while about nothing, giggling and trading stories about the dates we both went on the night before, mine very good, hers notsomuch.
“Well, it was all going really well until he found out what I do for a living.”
“Oh, what do you do?”
She paused, her face screwed up with uncertainty, weighing whether or not she wanted to say.
“Come on,” I told her. “It can’t be so bad. What is it? You sell drugs to elementary school kids? Spray water in the faces of kittens? Oh my God do you work on Wall Street?!”
She is laughing at me, her orthodontia assisted smile on full blast.
“No. No, none of that. I… dance.”
“Well what’s so wrong with that? I used to dance in high school. I never could have made a career of it, especially after I hurt my knee but-“
“No, La. Dance. Like, strip.”
Usually, as I frequent strip clubs and grew up in the ass clapping capital of the country, I can spot a stripper at ten paces. But this is exactly what I get for judging people.
“I never would have guessed!”
“’Cause I don’t have Pamela Anderson boobs?”
“And because your hair doesn’t look like you color it with Clorox.”
We laugh again, and I can feel the tension leaving her, thankful to have not been judged. I ask her a few questions, and find out she dances at a swanky club in a well-to-do part of town that I have (of course) been to before. The more we talk and she opens up, the more I realize that this is not your typical tale of stripper woe; her parents are still together and still desperately in love. She’s close to them both, and neither have an issue with her profession. She was a smart kid who grew up to be a smart woman with nary a daddy issue or drug addiction to speak of.
“So, what made you start stripping?”
“It was my big brother actually.”
“Say what now?”
“Well, no, not like that. He didn’t actually make me. But it was his issues that even made me consider it.”
She goes on to tell me about how her brother, a doctor, is so up to his eyeballs in debt from undergrad and medical school that he can’t even do what he really wants to do, which is move to Mexico and volunteer in clinics in towns without hospitals. He got to achieve his goal of becoming a doctor, but his dream of helping people in the manner he wants is henceforth and likely forevermore blocked by the debt he had to go into to get the degree he needed that he didn’t have well off parents to foot the bill for.
It sounds vaguely familiar to me.
“After I saw what stress he went through, how heartbroken he’s been about not being able to do what he really wants to do, I knew if I didn’t do something different to get through undergrad and veterinary school, I’d likely be in the same boat. Because my parents couldn’t pay for me either. I met a girl my sophomore year who was a cocktail waitress. That’s where I started. And just went on from there.”
“But you’re done now. So why still do it?”
“Because I didn’t start until sophomore year. And I still had loans to pay because I wasn’t yet making enough money to pay for it outta pocket. And then after I graduated, I bought my condo and my car,” she says holding up a BMW key ring. “All of that will be paid off by the end of this year.”
As I glance out of the window to my lovely truck that wasn’t even what I wanted and has the interest rate hand delivered from the devil that I still have not yet managed to pay off, I start to realize that I have been living my life all wrong.
Sure, my daddy can rest assured knowing that his only daughter is not dancing with other people’s daughters for sons on the eves of their weddings. But he can also be assured that I will not be sending him and my step mama to Mexico for their 35th anniversary, as Mandy is doing for her parents next May.
“I have to admit,” I tell her, “I am a little jealous that I didn’t have the balls to do it myself.”
“Don’t be. It’s not all great. But I am really glad that I am almost 30 years old with almost no debt to speak of. I feel like I can be free to live my life.”
“And THAT is what I’m jealous of. The good news is though, if my career doesn’t work itself out, I can always sell this unbelievable story.”
“A stripper who stripped to put herself through school that actually got a degree and quit? Unheard of.”
She laughs at me, her blue eyes twinkling, as we scoop up our trash to go our separate ways. I try very hard not to hate her for being pretty, young, and debt free. It’s a struggle.
Damn my daddy for keeping me off the pole.