On Monday morning Maggie’s beaten up SUV pulled up to a Chase branch in West Los Angeles. She wore a blue midi dress and her hair up in a bun. As soon as the last customer stepped out she pulled $200 cash in $1 bills out of her purse and got cosy in front of the ATM. It was gonna take time.
As she started feeding her earnings into the ATM machine her thoughts trailed back to the yesterday’s night. To the inconspicuous grey box at the end of Hollywood blvd where Hollywood meets Vermont. Where leopard love seats mingle with red curtains and neon lamps to create a specific type of ambiance. The one of adult entertainment.
Sticking nipple petals on her breasts was difficult-ish. Her fingers shook as she peeled the backing off. She even ripped the silicon a little. Simultaneously she was looking for her name on a piece of paper pinned to the mirror. She found herself right after the recently divorced mother of two and right before the former cocaine addict, and then again, two more times, her name placed in between two names of other women pummeled by life in one way or another. Her throat was, for some reason, sore, like she’d just screamed for hours at a rock concert. “You got this,” her mind persisted, but her body seemed to disagree.
She finished adjusting her space-themed outfit and assessed her pasties job in the mirror. The outlines of petals were clearly seen through the foil. “They look awful”, she sighed. “They always do,” giggled the chatty blonde in blue, whose act was that massive twerking routine with samurai swords, hence her stage name — Katana. A lawyer by date, stripper in her younger years, she was sure Katana had some sort of early age trauma, because everyone here did, including herself.
She’d taken a selfie in the car when she’d parked. She did her best job to produce a genuine smile, and it kind of worked, but if scrutinized closely, the illusion vanished. Under a thick layer of foundation and massive false lashes, her dolled up face looked like a mask of terror. She pulled down her beanie, unbuckled herself and walked inside.
When she arrived the strip club was empty, echoey. A completely darkened lights out bar and empty red velvet booths, all lit by neon. The stage represented a narrow strip with the glossy floor. A pole on each of the ends and a platform in the back. It was surrounded by the rail and red stools for the “tipping customers”.
“You got that, you got that, you got that milk money / I got that, I got that, I got that MILF money”
The mother of two danced to M.I.L.F.$ by Fergie. The bar was full of patrons now. She told the other girls backstage that on that day one year ago her abusive husband had cheated on her. Today, she said, she would reclaim her love for herself. She finished in a drop split. The audience seemed to love her performance, showered her in applause, and hopefully, dollar bills.
Maggie imagined the familiar voice, “Stupid bitch, have you lost your mind?” Pops would’ve probably kept quiet, maybe would have said “Cover these up” before retreating to their bedroom. “She is in your head. She is still controlling you,” she reminded herself. Thinking that gave her courage to step onto the stage.
She felt the cool surface of the pole on her fingertips. Moments later, the unforgiving cold steel burned into the tender skin of her inner thigh. How many times did it scratch, bruise and burn her skin before? A lot. But pretty soon it didn’t matter anymore and she could only feel the rush of adrenaline as she moved between the poles on stage.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Her.
A gorgeous smiling creature. Radiant matte skin. Wow! The creature carried her long smooth leg over the rail. Her chrome stiletto heel landed right next to some guy’s wrist. He was clutching his drink. She bent over the rail. Her eyes glistened with hellish joy. Her long platinum hair swept over the side of his face. Good for him.
At this point she had to stop and brush her hair off her face. The gorgeous creature followed suit. That’s when she realized that it was her own reflection in the dirty mirrors across the stage. A sluggish girl in a knit beanie that hid her entire face, that would look down and mumble all the time if you asked her a question, that girl was gone.
She took time to glance over the clientele. Geez, now that’s pathetic. No wonder, she saw other girls do cocaine in the bathroom to get completely stoned and detached from reality in time for their set. To even see those drunk bloated faces in front of you, but also to put your half-exposed body on display at their mercy. To dance your heart out in order to collect a few cramped dollars bills from their greasy hands. A superficial narrative of a hip hop music video, there was much more to it for any of the human souls backstage. Everyone’s reason was different as she not stripped, but rather opened a can of worms into the dark pit of her past and psyche. Her eyes locked at an older couple in the far away booth. The woman had her lips pursed, as always. Her eyes were critical and unaccepting behind the glasses. The man was visibly aged and hunched over the table. Her folks. Other girls might need to do cocaine to be able to get through with it, but for her it was the image of the pursed lips that painted the whole experience into the rebellious joyful colors of self-liberation. Better than coke.
The familiar voice went on. As she twerked, “You are a disgrace.” As she straddled the pole high up under the ceiling, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Tumbling down the pole, making a gray-haired old man by the corner rail have a heart attack, “You are an embarrassment. You let me down. You are a shame. A disgrace. Is this my sweet little girl?” And as Maggie humped the floor she sort of replied in her head in the same manner, “Sweet little girl from years ago? The easily controlled 5 year old that you can brain fuck at your own will? No, she is not here anymore!”
At the end of her set she picked a crumpled dollar bill from the floor and stuffed it into her booty shorts. Classic! She whipped her hair. Gave the gray-haired man a booty shake. She could tell he liked it. He looked like he was about to have a stroke. Meanwhile, she glanced at the far corner. The booth was empty.
She heard a cough behind her back. The old her would be apologizing by now. Feeling guilty for taking up space in front of the ATM. Feeling guilty for taking someone’s time. Feeling guilty for making somebody wait on her. That’s what her old self would do. Be likable. Be cute. Be apologetic. Be quiet. Be nothing. Hurry up. Don’t take up space. Don’t exist. Her new self said ‘Not anymore’. And no more rushing. Never rushing ever again. The new Her was all about, “You can wait, amigo. Don’t you see all that cash? I’m going to take my sweet time sticking it into ATM bill after bill. If you don’t like it, sorry, but I am really not. There’s a handful of ATM’s in the City of Los Angeles. They are all yours, just not this one. Deal?”
It felt great to be that way. Finally.
She drove past her apartment complex, a very old brick church, always enveloped in a subtle weed smell these days (hey, Cali!), a fast food place where she ate lunch sometimes. She looked at all of it with an interesting sense of disassociation — from her old self, from her old perception of self, from her past. At work she answered the phone calls, “Sure, I will Fedex the documents by EOD” “What’s the ETA on this?” She placed the lunch order and had to go to McDonalds down the street to grab coffee for everyone. Only this time, methodically knocking things off of her to-do list, she couldn’t wipe the silly smile off her face:
“You guys have no idea I twerked in a split in the patent leather thigh high boots on the strip club stage last night!”
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XOXO, Marina ❤