The Internal War

Here’s how broken I am: I’m deep in the middle of troubleshooting with another tech. We’re in the cabin of a City of Canby car, in tight quarters, when my phone chimes. I recognize it as a message from Instagram.

I don’t get many messages from Instagram, so I quickly look at my screen. Discreetly, because K., the other tech, is there. It’s a message from a stripper I follow.

The message has no preview. That means it’s a picture.

While I’m looking it chimes again and I get another message from her. “Thanks, babe!” followed by hearts and kissy face emoji.

So begins my battle of self-control. Because I want to see that picture. Now. It’s way more interesting (in the abstract) than anything I’m doing to or in that city car.

My brain starts a war with itself. An amusing war, but, y’know, still.

Anyway, the part of me that doesn’t want to be caught looking at porn with a co-worker while at work, with city workers all around me, finally won.

But it was close.

Epilogue: I saved it for my lunch break. It was a relatively tame picture. Still the right decision, of course, of course.

Outside, we talk

She and I walk outside, past the bouncer. Night has long since fallen. Once the door closes, I can no longer hear the beat of the music inside; all I can hear is the whoosh of traffic on the highway.

She pauses at the stairs, balanced on her 8″ heels. Her chestnut hair, long and wavy, frames her dark eyes. She’s dressed for work, in a black bikini top, lacy black and white panties, with a filmy black wrap tied in front covering her.

She holds out her hand. I don’t get it at first and she looks at me, expectantly, amused. I hold her hand and steady her as she steps down and gingerly, with small steps, walks to the wooden picnic table that is there for smokers. I realize that it must be difficult to walk in those shoes on such uneven asphalt.

She sits on the table, facing me. Lighter in her right hand, she ignites her cigarette and puffs.

I stand there, facing her, in my jacket, t-shirt, slacks. My fedora, short-brimmed and sweat stained, shields my eyes a little. My hands are fists in my jacket pocket. I shiver. I’m cold.

She’s not looking at me. She’s staring past me at something else.

“I’ve got a… weird birthday coming up,” she says into the night air.

“You’re going to be 29?” I ask, deadpan. I do deadpan well. I remember learning, many years ago, about the concept of vanity from my mom and my sisters and so many other women.

Her eyes flick towards me and a smile infinitesimally crinkles the corners of her lips. “I love you.” She has matched my deadpan.

My eyes smile. The moment lingers.

I push my fists deeper into my pockets.

Two strippers

Her head hung over the edge of the bar, dangling upside down between my friend and I, her long dark brown hair fanned out as a curtain towards the floor, while her naked body stretched away from us towards the stage. Her legs made a V that framed the far side of the stage.

Another night at the Acropolis.

The dancer, N., had been telling us how excited she was to be leaving Portland and going back to Las Vegas to do a photo shoot and enjoy the warmer weather.

“Are you going to work the Spearmint Rhino?1” my friend asked.

N. turned to look at me, her face expressing disbelief, then back at my friend. I laughed at her expression. N. gracefully lowered her legs and pivoted up and off the stage back to a standing position and moved towards the pole in the middle of the stage.

My friend looked confused. “What’d I say?”

I said to my friend, “You have to realize that the best clubs for guys are not necessarily the best clubs for dancers.”

N. heard my explanation and returned to us (we were the only guys at the rack; it was early in the evening). “See? Right? He gets it!” she pointed at me. “I don’t want to work at some place where you have to grind. I’m just not that into…” her voice trailed off.

N. was an older dancer, meaning she appeared to me to be in her mid to late 30s. She was tall (hard to tell exactly, because of her 8 inch clear plastic heels) and tanned and thin with a magnificent pair of well-done but enhanced breasts. Her face was plain, but lit up when she smiled in spite of needing some dental work. When I had first approached the stage I wasn’t sure how attractive I thought she might be; my philosophy in strip clubs is, if I don’t think the current dancer is my type, to just pass until the next one. But my friend had approached the stage as if drawn, and I went with him.

But the more we talked, the more interesting I thought she became. It was as clear a distinction between physical beauty and charisma as I could think of. I was impressed and now understood why N. was clearly a successful professional stripper.

The three of us continued to discuss various types of strip clubs and eventually segued into strippers who actually want to have sex with a celebrity and keep the baby (have you heard the story about the star of LOST and the exotic dancer from Bend?), while my friend and I tossed dollar bills on the bar.

And then N. finished her set, and K. took the stage.

Where K. was clearly younger than N., but just as thin. K. had not spent any money on medical upgrades that I could see. Where N.’s hair was long and straight, K’s hair was short and wavy.

And in spite of her newness to the “industry”, which I admit is pure speculation on my part, she had already done a photoshoot for Hustler.

She was dancing for us, when her attention was caught by something on the far side of the bar. She stopped, covered her naked breasts, and walked away from us. “This is a no-cellphone zone, sir,” she said, putting as much venom into the honorific as she could muster. Which was quite a bit. The guy she was talking to had an iPhone out, and was holding it up, camera lens towards the stage, while staring at the screen facing him. K. had a back and forth with him until he relented and put the camera away.

The pair of bouncers, stationed at the door, never looked up or moved from their seats.

When K. returned to us, she said, “You can’t take pictures in here.”

My friend laughed. “It’s been so long since I’ve been in a strip club, I didn’t even realize that you’d have to ban cell phones in here!”

K. nodded. “Yeah. Not that I care that much. I mean, I’ve got a spread in Hustler coming out. If someone wants to shoot a camera phone picture of me, that’s a hundred bucks. No sweat.” She laughed.

“Really? Hustler?” I asked. “How’d that happen?”

“A friend of mine set it up for me. She’s got connections in the porn industry.” I wondered at the euphemism once again; how “industrial” was dancing naked or having sex on camera?

Just another night at the Acropolis.

1 Careful – that site has auto-playing music.

The first time

I’ve written before about my first time at a strip club. Except it wasn’t my first time inside the club. Just my first visit to the club. And I’ll never know for sure if the girl I drove to work that day was a waitress… or a dancer.

A missed opportunity, to be sure. Life is full of those.

But the first time I ever stepped inside a strip club was a bit different.

My best friend in high school, Terry, had, after graduation, gone away. To Japan. To be with the woman he eventually married and had children with.

I had moved in with a couple of high school friends, three single guys sharing an apartment, while I kept a dead-end job as a sales clerk in a boutique game store. I spent way more money than I made, which was a recipe for disaster. But I didn’t really care.

And then Terry and his wife came back from Japan. This was before they had had any kids. Terry was going to help manage his mom’s business, which was a boutique clothing store.

The night Terry came back, or shortly thereafter, found the four of us guys hanging out. And Terry suggested we hit the Acropolis for a steak.

Even then, the idea of the Acrop as a steak house, rather than a titty bar, was the cover story. Don’t get me wrong; I like the steaks there. Locally grown beef, cheap and cooked simply.

But, c’mon. People go because of the naked women.

I was reluctant to go but gave in because, hey, my friend was back, just like in the song. We almost had to go to a strip club.

Sadly, my memories of that night are slim. I remember the discontinuity of being served a steak while a woman showed her naughty parts just inches from my face, in a dark smoky room. I remember being almost unable to eat, so distracted was I.

I’m almost positive I didn’t have a beer; hard to believe now, but back then I wasn’t much of a beer drinker. The question is – what did I drink? I can’t recall, but it was probably scotch. I was going through a scotch whiskey phase back then, single malts. Mmmmm.

And I can’t recall the dancers, except that they were busty. One of them was able to make her breasts move asymmetrically – first one bounced, then the other, back and forth. That was worth a dollar.

Terry introduced me to the ways of strip clubs – a dollar a dance if you were sitting at the rack. If you didn’t want to pay, go sit elsewhere. And talk to the dancers. Make them laugh and don’t treat them like servants or robots or animals. They’re entertainers, first, and foremost, and believe it or not, human beings with lives and thoughts outside of the club. They were working for many different reasons and each one had a story to tell. And if you were lucky, they’d tell you a story. Was it true? Who knows and who cares? That’s all outside the club.

Which is where I always wanted to find a dancer – in the mythical realm outside, where I wasn’t a customer and she wasn’t a stripper; we were friends. I chased that dream for many many years. I still sometimes catch myself thinking, mistaking the dream for the reality.

The reality is: you don’t meet strippers outside the club. You meet women. You meet people. Some of them may work as strippers; in Portland, which is known for having the highest per-capita number of strip clubs, there are so many girls who strip or used to, that it’s inevitable for a single man to eventually date one or two or more.

But that’s a lesson I did not learn my first night. The first night was just the taste, the hint, of what was to become my favorite hobby, my abiding eternal entertainment, the sinkhole into which my free time and spare thoughts would disappear for years to come.

It all started there. Dammit.


In just a few short hours, some friends and I will be having dinner, and then heading out to Devil’s Point to watch, and perhaps participate, in the unique combination of karaoke and strippers known as “Stripperoke”.

I don’t entirely know what to expect. Not sure what or how the strippers “help” the karaokers (Mac OS X does not recognize that as a word). Not sure just how many drinks I will need before taking the stage.

But I know one thing: I’m glad my friends will be there with me, and I’m glad I live in a city that welcomes and embraces the more underground forms of entertainment.

And there’s lots of strip clubs, too.

Skirt versus kilt

As soon as she saw me sitting at the table near the stage, Stormy walked over and leaned over from the waist, which put her face level with mine, and not-coincidentally showed off her tits. “Hi! You’re not usually in here so late.” It was close to 1:00 AM.

“Right. But here I am.” I’d started the night at a different bar but still wanted to hang out with Stormy.

I pointed at the tiny skirt she was wearing, which was little more than a four-inch wide ribbon of pleated plaid wrapped around her waist. “I have a kilt at home that’s the same tartan!”

“This skirt? A kilt?” She posed and held out the sides. “Is it this short?” She turned around and flounced the back up and bent over again from the waist, looking back at me. “Can people see your butt when you wear it, like this one?”

I laughed. “No. Oh, hell no. No one wants to see that.”

I was glad to be here. Stormy always makes me smile.


Sitting near the stage at Devil’s Point, Jenn was describing her bicycle accident, a run-in with a car that resulted in a trashed bike and seven staples in her scalp. Owie.

So engrossed in the story and its telling, we were ignoring the stage show.

Suddenly, Ivizia stopped twirling the flaming bolos which were on actual fire and called us out. “Hey,” she projected from the stage over the pounding music, “whatcha talking about?”

Startled, Jenn and I looked up, then, almost as one, we both pointed at the topic of conversation and shouted “Her/My head!”

Ivizia was enough of a showwoman to smile and go on with the fire dancing, having successfully restored the attention where it belonged.

Too much to drink

I was taking a break from watching the stage show at Devil’s Point. Monday night. Fun crowd. Firestrippers. But I have realized that parties and bars are more fun if I move around a bit, not staying in one place too long. So I made my way through the crowd to hang out near the video poker machines. There was still a crowd back there, whooping and cheering and drinking. Devil’s Point is a small club.

Seated on the chair, I pulled out my iPhone and started checking email.

Six foot tall blonde dude with shoulders nearly as broad as I am tall in a brown fancy leather coat, holding a bottle of Dead Guy Ale and a cigarette looks over at me. “That one’a those iPhones?” he asks.

“Yes. Yes, it is,” I confirm. There’s a pause. I stroke the face of the phone, glowing through the haze from my palm. “It’s sooooo… sexy” I intone.

Blonde dude’s friends laugh and tell me that’s great. Blonde dude smiles, but sheepishly, like he’s been embarrassed. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, I guess.” He’s deflated.

Feeling cocky, I ask him bluntly, “Oh, yeah? What’ve you got?”

His friends laugh again, and one of them holds up his hand for a high five. “You’re allright, man!”

Blonde dude is smiling and determined to salvage something out of the situation. “Oh, oh, OK, I’ll show you what I’ve got!” He digs in his pockets and pulls out a plastic LG or Samsung flip phone. He unfolds it.

“That’s great!” I say. I can’t believe how much of an asshole I’m being. “What’s it do? Make phone calls?”

His friends by now are busting up, doubled over in laughter. Blonde dude holds out his hand. “You’re alright, man. I’m Rod. What’s your name?”

“Of course you are!” I say. “I’m Brian.” I shake his hand.

“I’m gonna take a picture of you with my phone!” he decides.

“Yeah, remember this forever,” I tell him, and smile for his phone camera picture.

Ballerina, you must’ve seen her

Stormy was cute and flirty. She’d changed her hair – added some red tips to the blonde part. But I just didn’t feel at home at DP like I have been. I don’t know why. It felt like it was me. She asked me about my crash, which was nice. And she was as hot as always. Maybe hotter.

I left early, after only an hour or so. I said to myself, “Stormy rocks. But… Yeah. I’m a customer. Why can’t I meet girls like her out in the real world?”

I drove around for a bit, and then found myself at Everyday Music, the one on Sandy. I still had money to spend and wanted more music. I went in, wandered around, and noticed one of the sales clerks… yeah. She was my height, maybe a little shorter, wearing a black minidress over black leggings and knee-high black boots, and her black hair cut short and shaggy. Late 20s, maybe? You know how bad I am at guessing age, though.

Previous wish, meet reality.

I felt self-conscious and weird, still. I kept thinking I had traces of Stormy’s lipstick on my cheek from her kissing me goodnight. That might be a good thing, though… pre-selection. I rummaged around in the used CD bins and kept finding stuff I wanted but wasn’t exactly cool: ABBA “Gold”, for instance. Or a collection of Donna Summer 12″ dance versions. Eddie Money. Cheap Trick, The Cars. All used. Awesome. As the finds kept coming, I decided to go with it. It became a theme.

And, because I was still thinking of Stormy, I wandered over to the DVDs to look for “Almost Famous”. Pretty eyes. A pirate’s smile…

As I walked past the counter, the girl I’d noticed before was hunched over a computer monitor with the sales dude, and they were giggling conspiratorially. I stopped and looked at them, and peeked around. “Can I see what’s so funny?”

The dude grunted, but the girl smiled and turned the monitor so I could see it. It was some foreign-language video on YouTube, subtitled… strangely. I’ll never be able to find it now, but apparently this guy was demonstrating modern dance styles. It was funny… but not as funny to me as it was to this girl. I laughed, and left to look for the movie. The store was closing in 10 minutes.

I found a used copy of “Almost Famous”. Score.

I headed back to the registers, and now the girl was by herself, still watching stuff. This time it was some British comedy clip, an actor repeating “Hey!” over and over again… and this time, it was funny. It was funny because the joke is run into the ground. A very special kind of funny. A humor that slowly takes hold and builds up, the same way a good pad Thai builds up in spiciness. I smiled… then I chuckled… and then, suddenly, I was laughing out loud, right along with the girl.

“Nobody else here thinks that’s funny!” she said. I laughed, and thanked her, then looked around to see where I could buy my CDs and movie. “Oh, I will help you!” she said, and took my pile of goods.

She held up “Almost Famous” and said, “That’s an awesome movie.”

“I agree completely.”

She led me to the cash register.

Another tattooed, black-haired girl walked in and was promptly told that the store was closing soon.

The sales clerk girl looked at me, “Have you ever seen the director’s cut?” I shook my head. “Don’t!” she warned. “It will ruin the movie for you. It did for me.”

“Really? Ruined it? I have to say that I’m dying of curiosity now. But I want to trust you… complete stranger. And I love this movie. I don’t want it ruined for me.”

“I’m just saying that I like editors. Editors are a good thing.”

The other girl, with some kind of heart-and-rose tattoo peeking out from the top of her white t-shirt, returned to the counter and asked about some band I’ve never heard of. The sales girl told her that she should look in Hip-Hop… or Electronica… No, definitely Hip-Hop.

The tattooed girl noticed the movie I was buying. “That’s an awesome movie.”

“I agree completely,” I said.

“Have you seen the director’s cut?” the sales girl asked the tattooed girl.


“Did you like it?” the sales girl asked, incredulous.

“Yeah… It was OK.”


“Yeah. What parts didn’t you like?”

The sales girl looked at me, then back at the tattooed girl. “Well, maybe I’m wrong,” she said in a tone of voice that made it seem as if she wasn’t admitting she was wrong at all, “maybe it’s OK. I’m just saying that I didn’t like it.”

I felt like she was still protecting me, by specifically not talking about the scenes which were added in, scenes which had the potential to completely ruin this movie for me. “Thank you,” I said.

And wandered back out into the rain, with my purchases.

Oh, and later, Sharai invited me to a benefit at a lesbian bar.

Five questions and five answers

Saturday night I decided to hit my favorite strip club for some late-night drinkin’ and fun. Because I was feeling generous, and because I was feeling experimental, I decided to buy (at least) one private dance from each girl dancing.

Rocket was on stage when I got there. I watched her two-song set, tipping a couple bucks per song, and when she finished I asked, “Can I get a dance?”

“Sure!” She held up a finger. “Give me a minute.” She gathered up her money and disappeared backstage, and exactly one song later, she emerged, took me by the hand and led me back to the private dance booth.

Before she began, I noticed that she had the beginning of a new sleeve tattoo. It was outlined but not filled in yet. I asked her about it. “Here, feel,” she said, “It’s brand-new. It’s still raised up.” I felt. It was.

“You heal fast,” I said.

“I do!” She began dancing as the song started, lifting her arms up in the air and turning slowly around. “I’m an alien from another planet.”

“A very sexy planet,” I said, in my best Austin Powers voice.

Technically, I didn’t ask Stormy for a dance. I spotted Stormy out on the floor, returning from the DJ booth after picking the songs for her next set. I didn’t even have to ask; as soon as she saw me she just assumed I wanted one. “Hang on, I’ve got to give this other guy a dance first, he’s been waiting a while, I’m so sorry is that OK?” The words tumbled out of her mouth, and her hand brushed my cheek.

I was amused, and a little irritated at the presumption, and I told her it was OK. Since I planned on getting dances from everyone, I wasn’t going to find myself in the “waiting for Stormy” mode I’ve found myself in on previous nights. Get immediate attention from Rocket, or wait all night for Stormy? Not a tough choice… Stormy can take her time.

Stormy apologized and asked me to wait at least twice more, while I enjoyed the stage show and drank. I flirted with Lux, the model-thin Asian dancer. I watched the crowd, and watched a group of girls in their twenties flirting with each other and the dancers on the stage. Always a co-ed crowd at Devil’s Point.

In spite of Stormy’s flakiness in the club, she gives the best private dances. Bar none. I ended up buying two private dances from her. ‘Nuff said. I staggered out of the booth afterward and bought another drink. She said over her shoulder as she rushed back to the dressing room, “Don’t forget to say ‘bye’ before you leave!”

While waiting for a chance to ask Lux (dancers at Devil’s Point don’t spend a lot of time out on the floor hustling, surprisingly enough. At least not that I notice), I sat at the stage and watched Stormy. One of the three girls I had noticed before sat down next to me, turned to me and said, “Can I have a dollar?”

“But… you’re not naked and on the stage.” I said, mock-confused.

She pointed at Stormy. “I’m just going to give it to her. Please?”

Feeling a bit like a sucker, I handed the girl a dollar. She held on to it until Stormy came by, then waved it in the air like a flag, prompting some close, personal attention from Stormy. OK, watching that was worth a dollar. Still felt like a sucker, though. After that set, I wandered back to the bar for another drink and some more ones; I was running out.

When I returned, all the seats at the stage were full, so I took a table with a view of the stage. I’d get up and toss a couple bills per dancer, waiting to catch Lux off-stage. Finally she walked by.

“Hi!” I said. “Are you up next?”

She nodded.

“Can I get a dance after?”

She nodded again. “Sure!” She curtsied.

After her dance, in the booth, she asked me my name. She’s asked me before. I reminded her of that, smiling, and told her again. “I’m Brian.”

“I’ll remember this time!” she said. “It’ll be easy. You’re like Brian, the dog on ‘Family Guy’!

“Well,” I said, “I am incredibly intelligent. But I’m not covered in hair all over my body.”

Lux bent down, and carefully lifted the hem of my shirt just an inch or two exposing my stomach. She let it fall, stood back to up face me, smirking. “I don’t believe you.”

“Fine, dammit. You caught me!” We laughed.

Last girl working that night was Aris. I waited for the end of her stage set and asked her, as she was collecting her money, “Do you do dances?”

She shook her head. “No.” I’ve never seen her dance, though I have heard the DJ implore the crowd to ask her for one. “But the other girls do,” she said.

I laughed. “But I’ve already had dances with the other girls. I wanted one from you.”

She gave me a mysterious look and, saying nothing more, went backstage. Had I crossed a boundary by asking everyone? Had I acquired a reputation? If so… what kind? Or was it simply that Aris did not, in fact, give private dances?

I had done what I wanted. And closing time was approaching.

I waited a bit to say goodnight to Stormy, who ignored me the one time I saw her out on the floor again. Then I went home.