I walked into the back door of my father’s fully Americanized restaurant full of bulk canned and frozen foods passed off as fresh. It was late afternoon. I was wearing the new beige pant suit and matching peep toe high heels I had purchased the week before in Myrtle Beach. My heels clicked confidently across the sticky linoleum floor in the kitchen as I walked past the industrial sized refrigerators and the serving station with the hot red lights used to keep prepared burgers, french fries and gooey cheese sticks warm. I felt I looked professional and attractive without showing too much skin, a successful and self-assured woman older than my mere 18 years. The servers were arriving for their dinner shift, setting tables and filling salt shakers, placing them back onto the thick plastic checkerd table cloths beside the small oil lamps. They took double takes at me as I walked past them in search of my father. Most had known me since I had worn sundresses and pig tails asking for extra cherries in my Shirley Temples. Today, I should have been in my college dorm room unpacking from Spring Break, but I had made the 4 hour long trip home to speak with my father. I was leaving North Carolina and he was going to be the first to know.
A few of my college classmates and I huddled around the small fire we had built in the woods near the school to smoke pot and drink. We had to go deep down a trail to a secluded spot so that we wouldn’t get caught, a place no responsible adult would walk down that night on the cold dark wooden path. I didn’t like smoking pot. I had done it a few times in high school and it had always put me into a fit of bad coughing with black mascara tears flowing down my cheeks. I mostly avoided it to keep my make-up looking nice. I took a few swigs from the bottle of whiskey and passed it around the circle.
I was standing here on this chilly night because of Ann Marie, my college roommate. She was a cool and groovy chic. She helped me fit in with the other students and introduced me to The Doors, Violent Femmes and Jane’s Addiction. She put together a road trip to go see Motley Crue in Virginia. We were so close; Vince Neil had to look down at me from the stage. Once while tripping on acid she convinced someone to drive us to a beach…any beach. She was an intellectual wild child and I gleefully followed along on her crazy adventures.
Ann Marie took a toke from the community joint and said, “Hey Patience, I have an idea for Spring Break. Let’s go to Myrtle Beach and be GoGo dancers?!” I pictured Goldie Hawn on the show “Laugh In” wearing her white GoGo boots. “I have a friend who is a topless dancer. I’m sure I can look her up. We can work during the day and make money to party and pay for a hotel room” she said. This idea was brought about because lately all the other girls on our hall had begun bragging about new bikinis and ocean front hotels as they came back from their tanning bed appointments in preparation for an upcoming week at the beach during Spring Break.
“Ummm okay.” Not really understanding what I was agreeing too, I was totally one of those kids who would jump off the bridge if everyone else was doing it. Anyway, this idea was much better than the girl who had invited us to go with her to the beach and sleep in her Honda hatchback. I had about $150 saved up from my waitressing job at my father’s restaurant. We packed my car and we were Myrtle Beach bound for Spring Break 1990.
We knew we needed clothes to wear for dancing so we stopped at a store in Raleigh that was rumored to have g-strings, t-backs, thongs whatever you want to call buttless panties. I found a white and black pair with silver sequence on them. I figured it would pair well with my black high heels and bikini top my mother had bought me the summer before while still in high school with never the forethought of me using it for this purpose.
We got to the beach late in the evening. It was an old motel my high school boyfriend had stayed in during senior week at the beach 2 years prior. We had had fun there all sandy and sun burnt skin as his roommates slept. Staying at this run down hotel gave me comfort through its familiarity and I needed that especially right now. The rooms inside were out of date, mostly dark wood with red bedspreads, red carpet and red furniture. We were given a key after I paid the $45 in cash for the night. I unlocked the door, Ann Marie and I walked in from the cold beach wind. The beach had not yet gotten warm as it was mid March and we were not ready to shed our jean jackets just yet. I put my suitcase on the bed and we began to settle in while deciding which bed we would have and how to divide the drawers equally. I opened the top drawer and there was a plastic sandwich bag with hundreds of white squirming worms. I quickly shut it and called the front desk. The manager, a guy in his late 20’s came up to inspect what we had found, the smell now permeating the room.
“Ahhhh, someone forgot their sandwich last summer!” and with that, he picked up the revolting baggie and put it in a trashcan, in our room and began to walk toward the door.
“Excuse me” I said. “Can we have another room please?” I think I may have even added an exaggerated eye roll and a big “duh” to the end.
He gave us a new room and we checked all the drawers, no maggots….hoorah! Ann Marie and I put on our stripper outfits and stood upon the bed so we could see our full bodies in the dresser mirror. We did a few moves that we thought looked sexy and practiced walking in our high heels. Really how hard could this be?
The next day we woke up early and put on our most awesome tight sexy jeans and boots. We teased and sprayed our hair with Aqua-net and put on tons of blue eyeliner and pink sparkly lipstick. We headed to Thee Doll House, why they spell “The” “Thee”, I have no idea. The manager invited us to sit down, funny… I thought we would just walk in and we would be hired. I mean we were willing to show our boobs, but apparently there were lots of girls willing to do this; girls with huge fake boobs, dark tans, bleach blonde long hair, steel tipped stilettos, sequined gowns with matching bra and thong sets, manicured nails that held cigarettes that were put against red pouty mouths that sexily blew smoke into their noses and out again. They looked like the women who posed in Playboy magazines. My father kept a collection from the past 20 years in his office. I had been looking at these magazines since I was 14yrs old. I wanted to be one of these women. My father loved and admired them and I had always thought, if I were to become this beautiful, he would love me too.
The manager of club asked us if we had any experience. We both giggled and looked shyly away saying “Noooooooooooo, Oh my gaaaaaaaaaa! We are in college!” and lightly pushed him in the arm. He politely suggested we should come back when we had more experience and when we had more than just beach bikinis and high heels that looked as if we were going to cotillion. So we left and drove around looking for a less glamorous strip club and this is when we found The Showhouse.
The Showhouse was a bright neon pink cinderblock dive. We opened the tinted glass door, stopping for a minute to let our eyes adjust to the darkness of the small dimly lit club. We were met by a man, a bodybuilder type. He wore a black suit and had his black hair pulled into a low ponytail. I was scared and ready to run, but Ann Marie held me in my place. He introduced himself as the Jack Davenwood, the manager. We told him we wanted to work there. I really had NO idea what I was doing here; it was almost as if I was in some sort of weird dream. He took us to his office, we showed him our IDs to prove we were 18 and he asked when we wanted to start without even any audition.
“Tomorrow?” we questioned. He said “sure” with a kind grin and asked what we wanted to be called. We needed stage names…..stage names? Oh, my…pressure, think, think! I blurted out, “Ginger!” I had watched a Gilligan’s Island re-run in the motel room while Ann Marie was in the shower and I figured Ginger was pretty and sexy. So I became Ginger. Ann Marie picked some sort of crazy name like Triscuit or something to the like. She was a rebel, even in a strip club.
We showed up an hour early for our 4pm – 8pm shift. We wanted to work the day shift so that we could party at night. We were giddy with excitement and really nervous. We had put on our make-up and stripper clothes at the motel, but found out when we got to The Showhouse all the girls were wearing regular street clothes and were applying their make-up in the dressing room. Ann Marie and I just watched them from a corner, afraid to make eye contact. A few girls introduced themselves. Egypt was a pretty girl our age, really tall and had big cantaloupe fake boobs with the largest saucer sized areolas I had ever seen. I also met Brooke, her hair was so bleached blonde it was nearly white. She had the smallest breast I had ever seen, practically no breast tissue at all, just nipples. She wore a long gold chain with a round pendant between them that moved hypnotically across her bare chest. She had lots of bruises on her arms and legs and put panstick make-up on them. I asked her what had happened. She told me her boyfriend had thrown her out of a moving car on the way to work and she had had to hitchhike to get here. There was Starr, who gave me dirty looks; maybe because she was nearing 30, the guys liked the younger girls. Starr would sometimes pull the front of her red sequined panties over to the side to expose the light brown manicured tuft of pubic hair to get extra tips. This was against the rules. I looked on, wide eyed and shocked in disbelief she would break the rules. Joely was a girl that had a beautiful body. She danced only to county music while wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. She was girl next door pretty and could have been the identical twin sister of my mother’s new white maid.
I was able to watch a few girls on stage before the DJ called my name. I was sweating and felt like I was going to throw up. Finally, it was my turn. I got on the stage in one of my tight fitting dresses, the same one I had worn to the Motley Crue concert, which I’m sure was much too demure for this occasion. There would be 3 songs, the first all dressed, second, take off the dress and third take off the top. I moved in beat to the music removing my dress I’m sure much too quickly to be sexy while Ann Marie and Egypt clapped for me and cheered me on. Then the dreaded third song……oh god! I looked into the audience of about 10 men and slowly on purpose untied my bikini top. I held on to the material covering both my breasts for nearly half the song, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and just knew Jesus Christ was going to walk in at that moment and condemn me to hell as I let my top drop to the disco lit floor. I kept my eyes closed for a moment, waiting for the men to gasp….a naked woman was in front of them, my naked boobies! No gasping. I opened one eye and the men were just looking at me, the same way they had when I was fully dressed as they nursed their overpriced beers and lit another cigarette. The only one in shock at my bare breasts was me. I gathered a few dollars from the men and finished my set. Wow! This was liberating!
I made $60 in those 4 hours my first day. That week, I worked each day and one night shift. The night shift was where the girls made the big money I found out. I made enough money in 5 days to pay for my week at the beach, feed myself well, go shopping for new clothes and still have several hundred dollars left over. This is what I was meant to do. The most important thing that had been drilled into my head growing up was being successful and that meant making lots of money. I put a plan together. I would quit college and work as a stripper so that my father wouldn’t have to support me. I made a list of what I would buy my family. My father would get a Rolex. My mother, even though we weren’t on speaking terms because she had thrown me out of the house when the child support stopped coming in, would get a couple of nights at her favorite Disney resort. I would take my 14 yr old sister on a shopping spree and I would take my little brother to the arcade and go-kart riding. This would prove to them I loved them and in turn they would love me and be proud of me for taking care of myself and showering them with gifts. This was a solid plan.
I greeted my father as we always did with a wave and a smile but never any touching. I asked him for a moment of his time. My demeanor was serious and in charge. I wanted to share my plan with him. We sat down in one of the restaurant booths; the high dark wood hid us from the curious employees. I told him I wanted to quit school and move to Myrtle Beach.
“Dad, what do you think about me being a dancer? They make good money and I would be able to take care of myself? You won’t have to be responsible for my college anymore.”
My father, not knowing I had been dancing the previous week, cleared his voice, shook his head with a comical thought and authoritatively said, “Well, Patience, those girls are REALLY pretty”. Pretty, had never been a word my parents used to describe me. I was told; my forehead was too large, my nose too big, my hair too stringy, my facial expressions unflattering and I wasn’t photogenic because I crinkled my nose too much when I smiled. But today for the first time I knew I wasn’t ugly. I had the cash in my purse to prove it.
I got up and said, “Goodbye dad, I’m moving to Myrtle Beach.” He didn’t try to stop me, didn’t follow me out the door or wish me luck. I walked to my car and headed for I-95 and didn’t look back. I was going to a place where they thought I was beautiful.
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