“Where are you going Ma’am? the driver almost yells at me?”
“4000 Downman Road, East N’Yoleans,” I yell back.
He turns to the mirror and stares at me pensively and gives me a judgmental smirk.
Miss, are you out of your mind? He says noticing my backpack, “What’s there?”
“There’s a bar, down there, girls tell me they make good money…”
He rolls his eyes again, “Miss, do you know that a white gal like you should not go there. Do you know that after Katrina most people vacated their homes, it’s very deserted there except thugs and criminals. There’s shootings there every other week…”
It’s okay, it’s everywhere, it’s modern pandemic. I used to live in the South Bronx for 9 months. I’ll be fine.” I say, trying to sound confident but my voice is cracking.
“There are so many service jobs in the French Quarter the driver continues to patronize me.
“I’ve done that. Too much of Bourbon street. Tourists and Tourists. Plus the tourist season is almost over.” I say.
I pause and hold my breath. “Plus the only service job I can tolerate is exotic dancing. I have a strong attitude, a shitty attitude and I simply can’t smile all the time.” I look outside as we are speeding on Claiborne Expressway passing by naked broken houses, houses without roofs and shattered remnants of infrastructure. The view is dull, unpromising. Maybe he is right. Maybe I should turn around before I get into… No! Cut it off. It’s too late, I convince myself. I always want to turn around. I remember how I once almost turned around on the ski slope. It was high. I hadn’t skied in years. I was right on the edge and there was no turning back … Too late now too. The cab meter showing $20 dollar fare.
When he pulls over, next to the club, chills run all over my skin. The surroundings look sketchy, sketchier than on the Fordham Road area. I ask the driver to wait for me in case I’m turned away. A friendly bouncer with a manly bun greets me by the entrance.
“The manager is not auditioning today. It’s Tuesday. It’s going to be slow.”
“Can I at least talk to him? I came all the way down here from the city.” I beg
“He is cranky today but if you you have a friend who works here you’d better off coming in with her.”
“I know Candy with fucked up teeth but we are not friends. A stripper has no friends, don’t you know that?”
He shrugs in silence. I walk back towards the cab. Frustration is my nation. But as soon as I get into the cab and close the door, a man with salt-and-pepper hair runs outta the club and runs toward the cab, “Hay, you?”
I jump outta the car again. He looks at me from head to toe. “You have a nice body?”
“I do” I reply swiftly, smiling at him.
“Wanna start working today?”
“I do!” I nod.
Do you have tattoos? stretch marks?
“Nada, not a single tattoo, and I’ve never been prego.” I lift my white shirt and turn around.
He leads me through the back door, an entrance for staff, and girls only. Deja vu. Half-lit locker room, a line of rusty lockers, plastic glasses scattered around, a bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol. Half naked girls. Booties. Sweaty juicy pussies, young and mature. Drunk eyes. Sober eyes. Tired eyes. Makeup bags, eye concealers. Victoria Secrets pants and shorts. Boobs. Fake boobs, natural boobs, saggy boobs, all kinds of boobs. Cheap body sprays. I face my reflection and my hallmark, dark circles. I half-smile in disbelief – huh, I made it that far, New Orleans East.
Southern girls are friendly just like in Scores on Bourbon. They find my accent exotic. “Where are you from?” Wow, UK?
“No, Ukraine!” I say politely.
“Is the Ukraine part of the United Nations or is it part of the UK, one girl inquires?”
Another girl rolls her eyes at her and almost wants to slap her in the face. “Bitch, what’s up with your geography? The Ukraine is in Yugoslavia. Or near it.” she concludes.
I smile, and explain that Ukraine is the country which borders with Count Dracula’s home country. Whoa, I must be the first Eastern European chick to ever step a foot in the Louisiana strip club. I am so accomplished. I put on red bikini top, black g-string bottom and a short poly dress and walk outside. Rick is there, looking out for me paternally,
“Walk around the club, have some coffee. Do you drink tea, green tea? Do you smoke? I’ll show you around.” he replies.
Rick is half Sicilian, half Spanish, big brown eyes, prominent forehead. Most strip club managers are blunt and cold and harsh, talking tawkin’ like Joe Pesci. But Rick emanates fatherly warmth and charisma and wit.
“I’ve been in this industry since after Katrina. The other day I ran into a pshyciatrist’s office all naked and screaming. He said I was crazy. Capisci? Hey Bella! “, he turns to a stripper with a big stitch on her forehead. “Bella has been in a fight with another gal. So she’s on probation. She’s behaving, right?” He slaps her butt gently and takes her hand. “Don’t you know that gel nail polish is not good for ya?”
I smile. I nod. It’s refreshing to meet such a simpatico manager, really.
I walk in the main floor which seems darker than the usual strip club joint. It’s almost empty, but it’s still very early, right before lunch time.
“Hi, my name is Big Freddy.” A big guy, another man-bun comes up to me. “I am a floor manager and I also cook for da girls. Are you hungry? I made pork chops. It’s there in the corner, all hot n’ fresh, and there’s some macaroni and bread and gravy.
I roll my eyes in disbelief. “Thank you, Big Freddy, I am almost always hungry. And when I am really hungry I get so hAngry that my shitty attitude gets out of my control and I start spitting on customers. So, you can’t do this kind of job on an empty stomach.” I say. I get myself a nice portion of pork chops with rice and gravy. It’s salty, it tastes good and special. You can’t survive on nuts and veggies if you are a dancer. Being a vegetarian is suicidal. I don’t think I’ve ever met a vegetarian stripper. Every bite of pork tenderloin is replenishing my vital energy and healing my frazzled nerves.
When I pour myself a cup of coffee, I notice a thick black door. I push it – streams of sunlight hit my eyes, blinding me for a moment. Whoa, they even have a terrace for smoking and chilln’. There’s a few palm trees and plants in big heavy pots. Girls are sitting on the bench drinking and smoking and chatting so nonchalantly, as if they are on vacation or something. Their Baton Rouge accents, a southern twang, lilts and drawl are making me high “Hey Y’all, I am using my vagina for recreational purposes only. Iddenit right?” A blonde chick with D size asks her mates. I look up, the sky, that sky, the Southern sky, dressed up in colors so luminescent, like a stranger in town. Everything feels so different than the East Coast.
The day is going alright. When I get outta the club at seven pm I have almost $450 on me.