Erotic Notion #20: Yes, I'm Beautiful Too
By Hapax Legomenon

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Yes, I used to be one of those dancers. You should have seen me. I had one routine so good I never bothered learning another. I used to go onstage in a stewardess outfit with gold buttons, pushing a pretend beverage cart down the aisles. While the music played at the club, I pretended to bump into people, excusing myself and offering blankets. I would bend over imaginary passengers to take their imaginary cups, treating them to a generous view of my bosom. I would motion gracefully to the club exits and take out an old orange seatbelt, demonstrating its use. At some point the blouse would come undone. I'd pretend embarrassment and giggle. Next I would pick up an oxygen mask, breathing into it, giving it a kiss and tossing it out into the crowd. At that point, the undressing would begin: first, the hat, then the blue top (loosened one button at a time), then the hose (which I teased down my legs). Then I began dancing; I could have danced to the Star Spangled Banner for all I cared. The slip came off next, and after a series of hesitations, off came the bra. Wearing nothing but a G-string and my cup, I'd motion once again to the exits By then a crowd of men would be standing near the stage, waiting for the privilege to tuck dollars beneath my G-string.

I used to be pretty good. For a while I was leading off at the Esquire, making five hundred on a Friday night. I danced at several clubs across town, quitting when the tips were bad or I felt like a change in scenery. Once I got fired for showing up drunk too many times. That was a phase. I used to stay at the club all night and let weirdos buy me drinks. Everyone said I was hysterical when I got drunk. One night after work I went out to wait for my ride without realizing I had nothing on. I stood outside for a good five minutes while customers walked by. And when my boyfriend arrived (I think it was Andy), he freaked.

"Where are your clothes?" he asked.

I looked strangely at him. "What do you mean?"

"Put on some clothes!"

I started laughing once I realized what I'd done and waltzed into the empty club. The dressing room was locked, so I went to Phil for the key. Phil was in the back room reconciling the night's receipts. He motioned for me to wait while he punched a few more numbers into the calculator. Finally, he looked up and said, "What do you need?"

It took a second to get my mouth going. "Uh, I forgot my clothes," I said. Phil liked to tease me about that later. When he walked by me during a performance, he'd say, "Don't forget your clothes!" It was our private joke.

What a dumb cluck I used to be! I tell you, I don't know how I did it. Thank god I never got in any serious trouble. Well except maybe for Frank. Forgot about that. I met him at a club, and he took me to six different bars in one night. By the time we got to the fourth, I was dead drunk. It didn't take a genius to figure out why he was getting me drunk, but I was only twenty and didn't have a chance to figure things out. Though I didn't really feel like it, we ended up doing it at my apartment. All I remember thinking was he better not puke on the sheets. The next day I was so mad at myself. Was I stupid? He could have gotten me pregnant or given me AIDS. From that point on, I laid off the hard stuff, though I still drink beer. The next day I told one of the dancers what happened. She looked at me with disgust and said, "You gotta be naive." "You're only naive once," I replied.

I danced at several clubs, but El Dorado was my favorite. I still work there now, not as a dancer, but a cocktail waitress. They know how to treat a girl right. They don't screw you out of tips. Phil's a great manager. I swear, when he was around, I'd do anything for him. If he asked me to paint the kitchen, I wouldn't have minded. The food there was actually decent, although a little expensive. The customers don't get too rowdy – most are damn near polite, the kind of men who go around wearing coat and ties. They say the med students come here a lot, but I never see any. The only two I ever saw were nerdy Indians who drank a lot and tipped very little. Gross! I'm not going to go gaga over somebody just because he says he's going to be a doctor. The club doesn't get many regulars, although we get a lot of bachelor parties. That's my favorite kind of crowd. The tips are great, and the men are fun too, unlike the zombies who just drink and stare at you all night long.

They say private parties are where the real money is. But I generally avoid them. It seems dangerous. You never know what's it going to be like or who's going to be there. What if the guys are a bunch of perverts? At least in a club, you're in a semi-public place with security guards and other dancers. I only did one private party – what a disaster! A good friend of mine got sick at the last minute and asked me to fill in. It was a bachelor party in the suburbs, so I said, what the hell. I owed her a few favors. I arrived at about nine, and – would you believe it? – the guy had the nerve to invite his fiance. I don't mind taking off my clothes, but I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. The man enjoyed my performance, but he seemed to enjoy his fiance's discomfort even more. At first, she was a good sport, but an hour later, she got real bitchy. He was drunk; god, they were both drunk. I should have left sooner. I'd never done a private party before, and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I started talking to the guys, and that was fun. It was like I was just another person at the party. They let me have a drink and help myself at the buffet table. After a while, everyone started getting rude, and I remember thinking, this is shit, people you don't even know are chatting with you because you don't have any clothes. I didn't need this shit, and the fiance started yelling at him that if he doesn't like her she should spend his life with "his other girlfriend" (pointing to me). Hey, I'm nobody's girlfriend, I'm just doing my job. I didn't care about their relationship bullshit; I just wanted to finish up and leave. If that wasn't bad enough, one guy took me aside and offered me $200 to give Billy a blowjob. I was shocked! Later I realized he was just giving me a hard time. How do I put up with that shit? Men are just so gross!

Now's not a good time to talk about men. I have the damnest luck with them these days. If Phil were still around, things might be different. We had quite a thing going. He used to be a basketball player, he said. He had gorgeous blonde hair and nice chiseled body, real easygoing type. He did me all sorts of favors not because he wanted something, but because he liked me. He gave me good shifts and didn't care if I showed up late. All the girls liked him, not just me. Too bad we never became something. Oh well. Phil was always going around with the younger crowd; that's how men are, aren't they? I'm only 27; I'm not ancient, but you can't compete with the nineteen year olds that come through the pipeline. Those are the facts of life, and I know it. Maybe if he knew me when I was younger, things would have been different. No, that's the past, and I shouldn't think about it. He had tons of girlfriends, but he never could talk to them like he talked to me. I think he kissed me once...maybe. He kissed everybody. When he wasn't busy, he used to stand in the back and applaud the girls onstage. Soon it became a joke. He was like our biggest fan. "Where are those twenties?" we'd say to him when we passed him during the show. One time on a slow night, we got to talking about the future. I told him I'd like to do something practical, like be a nurse or teacher. Phil told me he wanted to open his own club. "None of this men's club shit. I'd like it to be a romantic place where girls and guys can go together and eat and dance and do whatever the hell they want. Live music, but not too loud, and open until three or four." I looked at him and saw the restaurant dream in his eyes. Phil was the kind who could take an idea and make it work. I pictured myself in Phil's vision; I was helping out or managing the waitstaff. We were having lots of fun, making lots of money.

Men like Phil remind you that all men are not gross. I wish I knew what happened to him. One night he stopped coming to work, and when I asked Marty about it (Marty was the GM), he said Phil was on extended vacation. I didn't think anything of it until a month later. There was still no word from Phil. I asked around, but nobody knew what happened. One girl thought Phil got a better offer. Another thought he got arrested. Somebody else said he got in a big fight with the GM. I still wonder what he's doing. Later, I decided that if he didn't want to say goodbye to us, there must be a reason.

With Phil gone, I sometimes wonder why I stay. It's not as fun anymore. I keep meaning to get along with my life, go back to school or look for a real job. But something always comes up. I take a trip to Cancun, or my car needs a new transmission or I run a few more thousand on the credit card. So I say, just a few more months. Just until I get out of this hole. My big sister comes to the club sometimes. Usually she's trying to persuade me to get my life straightened out. She's pretty cool about it, but she thinks I can be just like her. Has it ever occurred to her I don't want to? I'm glad she's a lawyer, but not everyone can go to law school. I plan to move on when I'm good and ready. My mom's convinced I'm sort of an addict or hooker, but that's not it at all. I just want to enjoy myself and live the way I want. A person can't do that in a law firm.

My sister got me into detox when I was drinking too much. Thank god for her then. I still make it a point to introduce her to all my serious boyfriends. We go to matinee movies when we get the chance, Jurassic Park, Silence of the Lambs, those sorts of things. Once we saw Last Temptation of Christ. I remember the baby blue eyes that Jesus had, the scene where he goes into a woman's house and looks up at her, begging her to forgive him. It's one of my favorite scenes; I remember watching it several times on the VCR. I could watch Willem Dafoe's eyes for an eternity.

Of course, that's a dream, a movie dream. Things never happen like that in real life. The real Jesus probably would have a cow if he saw what I did onstage. He would have tried to give the same lecture my mom has been giving me for the last seven years. I don't have problems with religious types, as long as they don't try to tell me what to do. I'm just too laid back for them. Still, it's nice to go to church once in a while, just to sit and daydream, not having to be onstage all the time. I even put a little money in the basket. I know what it's like living off people's generosity.

My luck with guys hasn't been improving. They always start out nice, and once you start getting comfortable they burn you. Billy was my first boyfriend, the con artist. He said he owned a company, but actually he was just a salesman. I can put up with lots of shit, but when I discovered money missing and found him once ruffling through my purse, I said no way Jose and kicked him out. My next boyfriend was no better; he had an affair with another girl and didn't tell me for two months. After that I went with Rick. Rick wasn't bad, just boring; he treated me well and bought me gifts. If only he didn't drink so much, he'd be semi-decent. The drinking didn't bother me as much as the fact that he never wanted to do anything. It drove me crazy.

That was when I got involved with Chuck. What a case. Everybody said he should be a comedian. He clowned around so much you never knew when he was serious. He was the life of the party. Once when we were in Austin he put a live snake underneath my chair at a restaurant. Another time he went to a wedding dressed as Abe Lincoln. We traveled a lot, went to Acapulco. On one trip I forgot to give him the hotel key, only to find him waiting by the door when I returned. Once inside, he slapped me real hard and said in a low voice, "Don't ever do that again."

It shocked and embarrassed me. A few minutes later he was back to his usual clowning like nothing had happened. I thought it was a fluke, and he was too ashamed to apologize. But two weeks later he hit me again for interrupting him during a basketball game. A basketball game. At that point I had enough and said adios to him. That was a year and a half ago. I haven't been dating since then.

The guys at the club aren't bad; most are pretty nice and like to have intelligent conversations. What is an intelligent conversation anyway? That's what men in the club say they want, but I never could figure out what they mean. I like talking and could talk to anyone. When you've done a couple thousand table dances, you learn to make conversations last a really long time. And ever since I switched from dancing to waitressing, I do even more talking. The regular clients tell me about bad wives and girlfriends, and I tell them about wacko boyfriends. Everybody's friendly in the club, and the money just makes everyone friendlier. Guys are always asking me out, but that's because I'm easier to talk to than the girls onstage. They talk to me because I am more down-to-earth, less glamorous.

My tips as a waitress don't compare with my tips as a dancer. That's fine. I knew it was going to end someday. I've gotten fat over the years, and I wouldn't show off my tits to anyone now. I was a dancer for five years and a waitress for two. I stayed at El Dorado the longest, although that was mainly waitressing. I wanted to quit dancing before I started looking too shabby. The new girls are always beautiful and keep on coming. Men can tell when you've been doing it awhile. The girls can dance the same dances and show off the same tits, but men lose interest; it's only natural; they want a new face or notice all the makeup or the tough expression on the older girl's face. At Gigi's, I once saw a 21 year old with bloated artificial tits, loads of mascara and a body so thin she had to be starving herself. She looked hideously sexy. She danced all alone on the corner stage, keeping her eyes closed while dozens of men walked by just ignoring her. It was pathetic. Why would a human being continue when her body went to shot like that? I made it a point to quit before things got too bad.

People at the club thought I was crazy. But I stayed firm. I had my moment in the spotlight, and now was the time for me to scoot over for the new girls. Within six months, most of the dancers forgot I ever danced. That's okay. I don't mind. The new girls treat me nice, and I look after them, give them help on their routines. They're so immature. The six or seven years that separate us seem like decades. I tell the girls to take classes, put those tips in the bank and watch out on the number of drinks. But nobody listens. I guess those are things you have to learn the hard way.

Recently, one of my customers said he thought he'd seen me before. "Didn't you used to work at 'Fantasy Island?'"

"For a while."

"Were you the one who did the stewardess thing, the thing with the seatbelt?"

"The same," I said, chuckling.

"You were terrific! You used to be my favorite dancer. I could watch you dance forever."

"Thanks," I said, a little flattered and embarrassed.

"Do you remember me? I used to sit along the wall, right beside the TV screen."

I looked at him. I'd never seen this man before in my life. "Uhhhh..."

"You remember – I used to come in with Melvin. You remember him – the tall black guy with the cowboy hat. You used to give us table dances."

"I think I remember you now," I said, still searching for a memory. The lighting was terrible in that club; the man was almost a dark-haired shadow who looked a little younger than me. "Is this your first time here?"

"Yes," he said. "I usually hang out at Arabian Nights. Are you dancing tonight?"

I smiled. "It's been a long time since I've done that."

"You mean you don't dance anymore?"

I smiled.

"Why not? You could probably teach these girls a thing or two."

"What would you like to drink?"

"I'd give you a hundred dollars if you do me a table dance right now."

"Thanks, but no thanks."

"No? What about two hundred? I'll give you two hundred to do a table dance."

"You don't understand," I said. "I don't dance anymore."

I went to another table for a few minutes, and when I passed that guy's table again, I saw he had laid eight hundred dollar bills on the table. "These are yours if you come to my apartment for a private dance."

"No way," I said, getting a little pissed off.

"Listen to me," he said, grabbing my arm. I pulled away. "You are the most beautiful girl I've seen. I won't do any funny stuff. Just a dance for old time's sake. That's all. Nothing else. No funny stuff, I promise."

For a moment, I was tempted. One more table dance wouldn't do any harm. But you can't be everything to everybody. A man so desperate for a woman must have something wrong with him. I finally got a good look at the guy; he didn't look too sleazy, and his eyes were so serious it was hard to turn away. I might have gone ahead and done it if I had been attracted to him. But he was only average-looking, even a little fat.

The news of the $800 offer spread throughout the club; by the end of the night, the other dancers had a new respect for me. I enjoyed repeating the story, imitating how the man sighed and huffed out the club. The girls thought I was crazy. Maybe I was. That evening bugs me to this day. What if I had done the dance? Would it have been no big deal? The more I think about it, the more I think he was just a lonely, desperate guy. Not too many men would have paid that much for a dance; he had to be a little special. I didn't know if the man was just a pervert or an MD or both, but I never bothered to find out.

I did break my rule about dancing one time. El Dorado was having an amateur night, and on a lark I did my stewardess routine again. Amazingly enough, I still had the uniform and oxygen mask in my closet. I danced once and made only thirty dollars. But I didn't care; all the dancers cheered me on, and the club customers must have had no idea why I had a cheering section. But once was enough to get it out of my system.

Recently I've been unable to take my eyes off the girls dancing onstage. I can't explain. I look at them and try to imagine myself when I used to dance. I was never beautiful, but I never looked bad; I can still look decent sometimes. Beauty doesn't last forever, but at least it doesn't disappear; it just keeps fading away and flickering back for brief magical moments. I stared at my reflection behind the topless girl onstage and thought about the times when people's eyes were on me. I imagined doing the stewardess routine again. In that daydream, everybody watched while I puckered my lips on the mask. Phil would be in the back applauding loudly, the man with the $800 would be saying, "You're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen," and a kneeling Willem Dafoe would gaze with those baby blue eyes, saying, "Forgive me, please forgive me."

Written December, 1994.

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A stewardess disrobes. And dreams.
Degas, Orchestra Musicians 1870-1
Orchestra Musicians 1870-1 Edgar Degas.
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