Updated: Oct 31
Stripper Me stares sallow-faced from the mirror, unlit cigarette in hand. The dancer prepares. Isn’t this a Degas painting? Stripper Me’s portrait has little elegance. She is the choppy brushstrokes of a German expressionist.
Pounding on the door, Manager Billy calls. “You ready?” Then. “You okay?”
Her competitors have left the dressing room one by one, as if going to face a firing squad. The other girls went into the beer soaked furor, they still live, she assumes.
Stripper Me’s hands shake as she sets the cigarette down next to a tub of Noxema. Stripper Me in a strapless bustier and thong is plucked raw chicken in the musty air conditioning. She worries she’ll be judged as less than the girls who precede her. Slump-shouldered, big breasted Trish, doe-eyed Dawn, glamorous long legged Fran who wears an auburn wig for anonymity.
Stripper Me is last. Were they waiting until enough liquor had been drunk for her debut? Or had Jimmy, the pot-bellied owner with the wandering hands called the girls in the order his eyes fell upon them, each lump of female flesh the same as another?
Billy opens the door. “It’s time.”
Stripper Me bids the room adieu. The dressing room that hadn’t seemed safe until she had to leave it. Closet sized, with buzzing fluorescent lights, pudding-yellow cinder block walls, and sodden carpet.
Goodbye to the folding chairs, hers with the U-Mass sweatshirt cushioning the seat. Goodbye to the makeup strewn across the countertop. Goodbye to the bruised banana forlorn by her hairbrush. Goodbye to the sagging loveseat littered with wire hangers. Goodbye to the door, with the oversized penis drawn in sharpie, weeping heart-shaped tears. The graffiti reminding that though the dressing room door reads Women - the entirety of the club is for men.
Stripper Me follows Billy through the game room, the ping of the pinball machine contrasting the bar’s riotous throng.
“Stay close.” Billy seems this minute like a kind man. Stripper Me resists the urge to take his hand.
Stripper Me struggles to remember why she is doing this; beyond bragging rights? She needs the money. This is performance art. She murmurs names like a protective prayer; Vallee Export, Holly Hughes, Annie Sprinkle.
Fran is leaving the stage. She’s lit in jagged colored pieces, a stained glass girl. Stripper Me uses mental telepathy to ask, how are you? Fran grins, sweat-slick, uneven white teeth. She’s already holding a beer. She raises her glass to say she’s okay.
Seeing Stripper Me approach, the men exclaim.
“She’s got an ass.”
“I’m in love.”
Stripper Me hears all, close enough to feel the heat of the want. Billy glances behind making sure she’s in tow. Stripper Me offers a tight smile, still here. She thinks of Orpheus and Eurydice traveling toward earth’s surface, but she’s headed downtown to a scarlet underworld.
The crowd, testosterone thick, haloed in smoke, parts to allow for passage. A wide and holy path through burly Harley riders, tradesmen in Carhartts, suits with ties loosened, backward baseball cap boys.
Lynard Skynard sings, what’s your name, little girl?
Stripper Me is Angel, a name, which even she doesn’t believe could possibly be real. Inside her heart chants, my name is woman, daughter, sister. My name is student, feminist, performer. My name is witch, slut, queen. My name is eating disorder, depression, anxiety. My name is blonde, caucasian, middle class. My name is 5’8, 120 pounds, 32C .
Stripper Me summons her performance magic. She doubts the divine can be accessed in this place. Up the wooden steps like going to the gallows, onto the platform encircled by a knee-wall, barrier between dancer and audience and countertop for patron’s dollars, indicating they want a show.
Already bills line the ledge, silver-green paper triangles, sacred offerings.
Stripper Me kneels at the stereo, in stilettos, toes cracking, knees trembling, thong riding up her ass. She remembers her mother telling her she’d have more friends if she was thinner. No matter the deafening scream of her insecurity, the collective assembled maleness licks their chops.
Stripper Me stands. Lights flash purple, red, electric blue. The room spins. Madonna’s voice, tinny, cotton-candy balloons exhale bubblegum lyrics on virginity, I made it through the wilderness, somehow I made it through. She clutches a beaded bouquet in fear-damp gloves.
Stripper Me vows to blow their minds. She flings the flowers into bar. The room explodes. Lo and behold, the thing that happens when she’s onstage is underway. Hands wave bills, signaling, a semaphore of desire
“Me first!” Leather vest, demanding bass.
“Over here!” Paunchy in a button down.
“Please baby!” Barrel-chest in a muscle tee.
Jimmy said, don’t get naked in the first song. Sparkling, she bends toward the lean wolf, his long hair streaked grey, his face splitting with a slash of smile. She shows her skin where leg meets crotch. This cannot be enough. More money is placed on the ledge.
“Don’t hog the talent,” a voice yelps over the music.
Stripper Me remembers to tuck the bills into her garter, money petals on skin.
The next man has a Benjamin. She strokes her hand over her bra cup. There’s howling. She leans in, lets her hair touch his face. She smells spiced cologne.
Stripper Me has the upper hand. More money, more men. The men’s mouths open wide. She’s whipped cream from a can, puffy, sweet sliding over tongues.
No longer afraid, no longer sad, no longer alone.
I have ascended.
Tonight I own the room. My body is the power, the light and the glory. Clothes still on. I’m dancing, a high and holy angel. High with the pleasure of sensing that I’ll win. The air around me is thick, sweet, and delicious like honey. There’s no predicting how long this transcendence will last, but already I know I’ll need another taste.
Elissa Lash has published pieces in The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Memoir Monday, Cape Cod Life, Edible Vineyard, and the anthology, The Covid Monologues MV, and been featured on the podcast WrenCast. She has studied writing with Nick Flynn, Beth Kanter, poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and John Hough Jr, through Gotham Writer's Grub Street, Omega, Smith College, and the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center. Elissa is completing work on a memoir. about her years as a sex worker. She founded the theatre company Double Helix and produced, acted and directed during a previous life in an alternative space. She currently lives on an island with her partner in the chaos of two teens, a dog, six chickens, frantic vacationers, an improv comedy troupe and Nor'Easters.