Bad At Small Talk

Pleasure To Serve You

 While living and working in the Arkansas delta shortly after college, I had a friend whose top choice for Saturday night fun was strip clubs. Now, I often had to work on Saturday nights, which also gave me something of an excuse to beg off these trips. Not that I had a problem with strip clubs per se – for a heterosexual 23-year old with a perfectly functioning endocrine system, I was pretty non-committal on the subject.

 What made me uncomfortable was that my friend operated under the assumption that there was always at least one stripper that liked him. As in, there was a real connection made beyond the usual strip club offerings. He had claimed, without verification of course, that he had slept with more than one stripper after hanging around after the strip club had closed (we’re talking around the 4:30, 5 a.m. range.)

 I realized the kind of spell he was under when I hit a rare Saturday with no work to do. It was the kind of Saturday that’s familiar to any single person in their 20s who is working in an unfamiliar environment – you’re not sure about where you’re at and where you’re heading, and you would do just about anything to leave your endearingly discombobulated one-bedroom apartment because you know that if you stay there throughout the night, all you’ll be doing is thinking about where you’re at and where you’re heading.

 So I rode with my friend to the strip club.

 By “the” strip club, I mean a place called The Wild Rose. It doesn’t exist anymore. And it’s when I realized just where my friend was coming from. Because a well-known and profitable strip club resided in a metro area that was about a 30-minute straight shot up the interstate. But that’s not where we were going.

 Sitting in the passenger seat of his silver pickup truck, I watched as the lights of our town faded and we boomed down empty delta highways. We passed soybean fields, tractor dealerships and Wal-Mart-less towns like Grady, Gould, Dumas and McGehee. After about an hour, we entered the bayou town of Lake Village and pulled over to the side of the highway. That was where The Wild Rose stood.

 I remember one of the strippers having thick glasses and fat rolls. Another had to be in her late 40s. One was pregnant. The strippers would go from table to table and visit with the men, visits that would end in offers for lap dances. This made me uncomfortable. The place didn’t serve beer, but allowed people to bring their own, so kids from a nearby agricultural college would come in with giant coolers, pound beers and heckle the strippers. This I found excruciating.

 We had come here because my friend “knew” the people there. He knew the DJ that introduced the strippers by their fake names. He knew some of the patrons. And, of course, he knew the strippers. They came by, said hi, asked him about his job and his dog. Then they offered lap dances for the standard issue price.

 I don’t remember how many lap dances my friend had…I do remember him once scurrying to the dusty ATM located in a corner, and wondering what the surcharge would be. I didn’t get any lap dances myself, not because I was above such behavior or any such thing,  just because the strippers really weren’t that attractive. We left after a few hours (I had subtly talked my friend down from his proclamation earlier in the evening to stay until closing time) and took another hourlong ride back home. My friend was glowing. I was exhausted.

 I think I’ve been to strip clubs twice since then. Even when the strippers are attractive, strip clubs just don’t do it for me. There’s a weird self-consciousness thing that sets in, coupled with the fact that I’m really not paying for anything.

 But I do go other places. I go to the Starbucks near the interstate on mornings that I’m in a rush to get somewhere. Or sometimes I go there to write, study or do a bit of off-site work. There is a bar right down the street from where I work, modeled after an Irish pub. I like it because it has a good beer selection, bartenders that know their craft and a distinct non-meat market atmosphere. I go sometimes with friends and sometimes with myself and sometimes with a book. It can be a fun place and an adult place and a quiet place. I like it.

 The barista at “my” Starbucks knows my name and I know hers. We chat as she gets my coffee or tea. If there isn’t a line, we chat longer. We know each other’s names and have a cursory idea of what the other is doing these days. I joke with my friends about having a Starbucks crush, but then am quick to also joke that I would know about as much to do with a young recent college grad as I would with a live rooster.

 Yes, but that’s not really the point, is it?

 I know the people at the bar a bit better. That happens when alcohol is involved and when you get a reputation for tipping fairly. I know the bartender who just graduated from college and hopes to move to Florida with his girlfriend while pursuing a masters degree for teaching English as a second language. I know the tattooed waitress who grew up outside of Mountain Home, who likes Mel Brooks movies and natural foods. She’s trying to get her shit together and she’d like to go to school someday because, really, she does like to learn on her own terms. She also doesn’t own a car, sometimes stays at the bar because she can’t get home, and she sleeps with many strange men. Looking back about a month ago, I realize I probably could have been in line to be one of those men had I stayed at the bar and kept drinking with her.

 At the time, and still even now, I also kept in mind that these were parts that were being played. I was paying for something, not just service but recognition. That sweet status as a “regular” that can feel so good, especially to those people who don’t fall into the groups that are presented to us as options in our normal day-to-day lives.

 Yes, but that’s not really the point, is it?

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June 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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