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There’s a reason why seasoned strippers never say the words “I quit”, because when you try to make that move, the business has a way of pulling you back in like quicksand. Knowing better after twenty-one-years stripping, I didn’t utter the words when I left quietly in the night at my last club in December of 2013. But after my forty-sixth birthday passed, I never thought I would dance again. Apparently, akin to quicksand, it seems “Shannon the Cannon” has some kick left in her; as I found myself walking into a strip club yesterday with my bag of heels and stripper goodies. It was my first shift back in the saddle after three and a half years. A hopefully chill (or nil) version of an audition (as far as I understood it, I was already on the schedule). The club, a topless only place, has a good vibe. I visited the club a week ago to check it out. I haven’t worked at a topless place in forever. If I’m honest, I was excited to keep my puss under wraps. Although most of my career took place at all nude clubs, I’ve always felt sexier while topless wearing panties. I don’t have an hourglass figure so the bottoms give me shape.

It was 3:10 p.m. on a Thursday. I parked in the back this time and entered through the door the employees and regulars use. Par for the course, I was rendered partially blind due to the stark contrast in light. The first thing I noticed was how warm and stuffy the club was. I was nervous and had taken my heavy-duty time-released pain meds two hours previous in order for my foot to make it in heels for six hours. The little devils make me run hot, but I was hoping that with the deep valley location, they’d be blasting AC. I was wrong. The door to the manager’s office was shut, so I made my way through the L-shaped hallway to the small, semi triangle shaped bar in the main room. I felt seven pairs of eyes on me. There’s nothing like being the new gal. Fish out of water—the unknown element in the room. The tatted bartender informed me that the manager had gone to the bank but would be back soon. I set my bag down and stood there feeling out of place and in the way. The woman who told me about the club was supposed to be working, but wasn’t there. I’ve been in this position a hundred times, but after this long break, and my first time at a club like this in ages—topless only and more rules than I’m used to—I was hoping for a buddy. No big whoop. I’m a big girl.

The manager finally showed up and said he’d be with me in a minute. I instantly got a good feeling about him. It bears mentioning that this club, which is more like a local’s bar, has, like all strip clubs, a million managers. I had already met two and spoken to three on the phone. This was a new one. That’s five too many. He welcomed me into his minuscule office. I sat on a chair kitty corner to his. Although my back was against the wall, my knees touched his legs: that’s how small the room was. What’s-his-name sussed out in no time that I’ve done this a time or two. I liked him. A fellow veteran. We understood each other. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a certain type of person with the longevity in this industry, we’ve seen it all, and generally have a no bullshit approach. I filled out an extremely simply “application”, which was more reminiscent of a dive motel registration card minus the vehicle make/model section. He needed my ID. Otherwise known as my most hated part after I turned thirty-five. The other manager hadn’t asked for it when he put me on to work tonight, so I thought I had skipped that hurdle. Thankfully he didn’t pass out or make a face when he saw the year I was born. In fact, a few minutes later when asked if I wanted to work at their sister club and hearing my explanation of having heard the girls and crowd were much younger and that I was “old”, he said, “You’re not that old. I’m older than you.” I wanted to hug him. Not that I’m weird about my age, I love being in my forties, but in the stripping industry, I’m fucking Dracula!

Stapled to the registration card was a narrow piece of paper requiring my signature stating I take all responsibility if I were to use the pole without my feet on the ground. I told him I didn’t do pole tricks. He seemed happy to hear this. So far, I was loving the place. We chit-chatted. He asked about scheduling, begrudgingly nodding at my once a week, and explained all the rules. More than I expected, including a stiff “no drinking hard liquor”. The chick who told me about the club failed to mention about nine of the ten. The drinking one threw me, I mean, they sell alcohol. She did tell me girls snuck to the bar next door to do shots, I guess that made sense now. I know managers start with all the guidelines and then most girls break them to some degree or another, but as he was going through some other don’ts, I remembered that she also said some of the women tattled on other dancers—which is pretty foreign to me, and also a little shocking when I know most of the ladies are older. He was droning on about keeping my money safe and how to treat customers (and coworkers), all that echoed was the no drinking. I wanted to tell him he was wasting breath on how to conduct myself, but nodded and smiled instead. Done with his spiel, he told me to put an outfit on and get him when I was ready. He gave me a key to a locker and sweetly waved the ten-dollar fee. I already wanted ten shots of whiskey. The good news, the bar next door is a magical country western joint, the bad news, I’d only feel comfortable sneaking over there if my female connection had been working. The tragically bad news: the “dressing room”.

I’ve stripped in quite a few clubs over my more-than-two-decades career, including Japan, so I’ve seen a dressing room or five. They vary in look and size as much as the vaginas in them. But this was like none other I’ve ever seen. First off, it doubles as the woman’s bathroom for the bar, not uncommon for smaller clubs, but even as far as bathrooms go, it was dodgy as fuck. When entering the door from the hallway a toilet hunkered immediately to the left with a sink (sans soap I later discovered), and instead of paper towels it had one of those medieval blue towels on a loop…and it was stuck. That towel looked like patient zero. The only thing providing privacy: a black curtain. Six feet down the narrow hallway sat a red wall with dollhouse-sized corner shelves with just enough room to fit a beer or very small makeup bag. Pivot to the left, a narrow mirror on the wall and a folding chair that has seen better days and a lot of asses. One foot towards the chair and a quarter turn to the right, a five by five area had an open toilet, another wall mirror, and four wooden lockers. That’s it, ladies and gents. Easily the most bizarre and uncomfortable dressing room I’ve witnessed to date.

The woman who’s worked there for eleven years never mentioned any outfit rules, but I quickly found out that there were some. When I got manager number fifty-seven, he said my butt cheeks needed to be covered. I knew my puss did. My panties were covering my hoo haw, but had black mesh strings and a bow on the ass. He said it wouldn’t work. I changed into a pair of white stripper shorts. One of the tops I brought that I would feel the most confident in (hiding my midsection) also wouldn’t work due to the six-foot nipple rule. It covered my nips while standing, but if I moved a certain way, the opening in the front would expose said culprits. I thought it was sexy, but found out, also illegal. I was flustered and the dressing room situation wasn’t helping.

The key to the locker he gave me ground level, and I’m not sure if this is true, but the ceiling felt short. Or maybe that was my only-in-cases-like-this claustrophobia kicking in. Nothing about the area was convenient. I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she outgrows the house. Anyway, he approved of the shorts and we went to the main room. The club itself is pretty nice. Not huge. One room with two pool tables, a main stage with—thank the heavens—decent lighting, and stools lining a mirrored wall. The girls use an online jukebox. No DJ. Another dancer was set to go up next, but asked if I wanted to go ahead of her, I told her she could go. I was in no rush. I needed to sit still for a minute to gather myself. I could feel my makeup already disappearing from nerves and mugginess. Normally I reapply makeup in the dressing room throughout my shift, not to mention that I usually like to do it once I’m at the club, not an hour before I arrive, but there’s no decent spot to touch up in that ant farm. My makeup would have to learn how survive the shift. In lieu, my tits and smile would do the heavy-lifting to make up the difference. I noticed the three other women were dancing to long tunes. Not wanting to get off to a bad start with my coworkers, I chose two lengthy songs. Probably not the smartest for my first time back in the swing of it, but I knew long tracks would help with the rotation. I learned, unfortunately, that with only four dancers and no break songs, six minute tracks do very little to make a dent in the downtime.

Considering how long it’s been, I felt good up there. I was wearing wedge heels that were working like a charm for my bum foot, and had they not been open-toed, they would have been great through till the end. It was something I thought about—my toes getting fucked up—but I forgot just how much. Finding closed toed platform heels without too much of an arch is a tall order. They are the unicorn I’ve been chasing ever since the inception of my injured foot. The few guys who were there were nice and tipping decently. I tried very hard not to touch my private parts (laughing a few times when I forgot), and to keep my tits under fabric when outside the line on stage. The manager made it sound like the line was a foot from where the guys sat, but in reality, it was a one foot radius around the pole. I’ve only worked at two other booze-serving topless joints in Los Angeles. I remember hearing about the six-foot rule, but never having to obey it. Those clubs aren’t topless anymore, the girls keep it all covered. It was a lot to think about, but I survived. I had conquered the comeback and I was sweaty. Not smelly, I smelled good, but I looked like a squeegee. That sweat did not stop coming until I got into my car and blasted the AC.

Aside from being nervous, out of shape, the stale air, and the time-released methadone, I literally went on stage every eighteen to twenty-two minutes! Which is insane for any club. It gave me very little time to cool down. The manager let me stand with him in the beer cooler for a few minutes, it felt like heaven, but when I asked if I could go in there throughout the shift, he said no; dashing all hopes of maintaining my cool. Returning to the hallway felt like my ass crack. Nonetheless, I was proud of myself. I was doing it! Thankfully, he told me was hired before I went on stage, which helped ease my tension.

During my second to last turn on stage (a little after two hours logged), I could tell my toes were toast, and likewise, that the skin on my left knee was no longer a thing. I was fucked. That’s when I discovered the absence of soap in the bathroom and patient zero waiting to start the outbreak of 2017. This was no good. I needed to clean the open skin. Years ago, I got a staph infection from a similarly innocent-looking “rug burn” at a club. I had to go the ER at six in the morning that led to a PICC line and unable to work for two weeks. No way in hell was this little joint (or experiment) worth going through that again. Panicking and due on stage again, I pumped some of the sad, recycled-looking antibiotic hand goo on my toes/knee and covered them haphazardly with Band-Aids (that I always have in my purse). Within three minutes of being on stage and wincing from the pain, I looked down to see the Band-Aid on my knee flapping in the wind. Awesome. “Lucky” for me, a new man I hadn’t seen yet sat at my stage. He missed my good sets earlier and now lay witness to my not-so-sleuth removal and folding of the useless-as-fuck Band-Aid.

The following eight minutes were spent trying to (unsuccessfully) avoid being on that knee as well as hide the pain I was in. This is where the ten shots of hooch would have helped. Being a vet, I had vodka mixed with an energy drink in a black tin bottle in my bag, but since he kept chatting me up during my four minute breaks, I was afraid to drink too much in case he smelled it on my breath. I snuck two tiny sips before going on stage two sets ago, which meant I was basically sober. Being sober doesn’t help with pain. And being in pain isn’t alluring. I caught the guy looking off a couple times. I could tell he didn’t want to be a dick by getting up (poor guy was the only one sitting at the stage). I felt his pain. I almost wanted to tell him it was okay to get up, but mostly I just wanted Tina Turner to stop singing “rock me baby, rock me all night long”, making a mockery of my current performance.

I suffered through the set and hobbled off stage. No longer feeling like Nomi, I felt like Tara Reid. I had to call it quits. No way I could continue on stage like this. I found the manager outside in the back talking to a skinny chick I hadn’t seen. I explained in a flurry of words about my knee and the staph infection story. I’m sure he thought I was bonkers. “The stage was cleaned this morning and there’s only been you and three other women on it all day” he said “it should be fine.” I was filling my lungs with air to retort when his attention was thwarted and he disappeared inside. Shit. I didn’t even get a chance to explain that I wanted to leave and come back another time when I was better prepared and less injured. I was scrambling. I had to tell him ASAP. Leaving after two hours isn’t great, but neither is a visit to the ER, because let’s face it, I’m not sure if he meant “swept” when he said “cleaned” but it doesn’t matter, dancers walk around in their heels everywhere and it all ends up on stage. I needed to tell the chick who’d been going up after me, whom I hadn’t met or even said two words to, but I wanted to alert the manager first. I wasn’t sure what to do. He was in his office talking to the skinny girl. I didn’t want to interrupt them. I was befuddled. Cursing myself for being too nice. Finally, I said fuck it and got dressed. I told the bartender the deal. I tipped her. She was shocked. I had already given her extra money for the jukebox, which I suspected she pocketed, because not long after, the jukebox needed more dough in order for it to play my songs. No hard feelings, Tammy. Anyway, she gazed at me like I had antlers when I tipped her six bucks and explained my concern for the dancer after me not knowing that I left—therefore leaving the stage empty. Personally, I think they need break songs but I guess no one (club included) wants to pay for that. Fucking jukebox.

Half-dressed and ready to get the hell out of dodge, I finally got the manager’s attention. I apologized profusely. Tipped him and returned the locker key. I could tell he wasn’t thrilled, as expected, but he said today was “basically an audition” that “could last anywhere from two songs to however long the girl wants to work”, effectively letting me off the hook, even though I know it was a strike against me. But the fact that I wasn’t doing it for the money (extra yes, survival, no), I drove away feeling good about my decision to leave. I should have known my virgin skin would rub off immediately. I should have brought leg warmers or thigh-high socks as protection. How could I forget about stage burn?! I knew I’d be sore, but completely spaced about my skin. The funny thing is, I’m not sore at all but my left knee and toes are a hot mess. So much for my grand reentry. More like a soft-opening.

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