Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tiny Dancer

She just lets it slip one day after class. “You know, I dance,” says Lorilei. “Like, in clubs and stuff.”

I had figured that out some time ago. Don’t ask me how.

“Yeah, I thought you knew,” she says, twirling a sprig of curly black hair. “I just don’t, like, like everyone to know. It’s none of their fuckin’ business. I’m not a whore but they’d think I was.”

As usual, as she talks, she works a wad of gum in her mouth fat as a baby’s fist. She can snap that gum and make a clang like a Zildjian cymbal.

Lorilei is a senior. She has been in a couple of my writing classes and she’s a sharp little cookie. Gets her work done early, makes A’s with seemingly much less effort than it should take to get those A’s. Her writing is clean and original. That much puts her in the top 5 percent of the students I know. She has a hard little face—black eyeliner under and over, eyebrows waxed into dramatic peaked arches. Her mouth is always scrunched into a tight little grimace of determination. She squints out of the corner of her eyes whenever one of the bottle-blonds starts in on The Real World’s latest cast changes or the cliffhangers on The O.C.

Line her up with the Ashleys and Laurens and Megans and you’d see real quick which of these things is not like the other. Lorilei’s denim skirtlets are microscopically short, revealing bare thin but muscled gams and slightly knobby knees. She wears clattery high-heeled sandals from Payless’ Star Jones line and carries designer lookalike Louis bags. She frequently wears several thin gold ankle chains, trash jewelry I hadn’t seen on a Southern girl since the slutty roommate I lived with in the Carter years.

You’d probably notice those wardrobe details last on Lorilei. First your eyes would go to her pectoral area. At least a third of Lorilei’s body weight sits on her chest in the form of two enormous, globular implants. They are as round as Texas cantaloupes and are usually straining the fabric of thin baby tees or strapless tops that defy Newtonian laws. And probably break a few local statutes for decency.

I find Lorilei deliberately confrontational and endlessly amusing. She’ll snap back at some comment by an Ashley with a take-no-shee-it attitude. More than once I’ve heard her tell another student, “That’s crap. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” You only get that kind of confidence two ways—selling used cars or taking your clothes off for money.

Lorilei works at a place I’ll call the Tycoon Saloon. It’s just up the road apiece from campus and caters to flabby bidnessmen who take three-hour lunches there on Fridays—and not just for the $5.95 pitch-till-ya-win buffet spread.

As topless clubs go, it’s neither the nicest nor the sleaziest in town. I went there once for a story about strippers when Demi Moore's movie Striptease came out. After a pretty decent lobster tail salad, I watched the entrees shake their tailfeathers in G-strings with pube-patches the size of Cheez-Its. The girls were young and pretty—some with fake ones, some real. None looked older than 25. The girls, that is. Few of the men in the club looked younger than 40. And is there anything sadder than an old dude with a greasy comb-over getting a lapdance from a bored 21-year-old at 2 in the afternoon?

Lorilei, popping her gum and shifting from heel to heel, seems eager to spill, so I let her. We mosey down the hall to my office, where she flings her fake Louis onto the floor and freshens her chaw with a few new pieces.

“Yeah, I started dancing when I was 17 but don’t tell anybody. They’d croak in this school if they knew about it. I don’t know--I’m from, like, this total Church o’ Christer family and when they found out I was dancing, they kicked my butt out. I moved in with my Meemaw till I finished high school. I didn’t tell her what I was doing either, but she probably knew. I paid for everything when I lived with her. Did I tell you it was in a trailer kinda place? Like, it was one of those gigantic double-wides that’s cemented down. Just butt-fuckin’-ugly. But Meemaw was so proud of that thing. It was just me and her and her two rat terriers. I think we were the only people out there who weren’t running a meth lab in our bathroom. So anyway my junior year of high school I got real good SATs—like, 15oo or something--and I took AP tests and did so good that I started getting scholarship offers from all these Texas schools. So that’s how I came here. Except my junior year they cut my scholarship down to almost nothing—I tried to fight them about it, but you can’t get anywhere with those people. I had been good for my first and second years. I even lived in the dorm—how funny is that? So right before my junior year, my Meemaw died and left me her dogs and a little bit of money, like, $1,000—and that wadn’t gonna be enough to keep me here. So I had to go back to dancin’—you can’t earn enough waitin’ tables to get through here by yourself. Dancin’ I can make $1,000, $2,000 a weekend, cash. Cash. And I never did drugs—oh, I tried stuff, who doesn’t?—but I needed tuition money, so I couldn’t, like, do that. So I’ve been dancing since last year over there. It’s really not bad. I wear a wig and stuff when I’m onstage because a lot of boys from here go there after the games. Shee-it, they go there Thursdays, Sundays, you name it and they're in there watchin’ the titties. I don’t know if they know it’s me or not. I keep a pretty low profile around this place.”

That’s what she thinks.

“But I’m getting’ out in four years and that was my goal. Actually I’m graduating in December because I did summer school twice to get ahead. My internship was with an ad agency and they’ve offered me a job at their Houston office. (pause) I know some girls who dance in Houston and they make crazy money down there.”

But you’ll stop dancing when you move there, right?

“Oh, yeah. I plan to. But you never know. I mean, if I just danced on weekends, I could buy a house in a year with what I earn. It’s like, four hours a night.”

She works at her gum for a few seconds.

Well, you’ve done fine work in my classes, I tell her. You certainly never let your extracurriculars interfere with your studies.

“Ha! Sometimes I’m so tired I drink three espressos before I come here.”

You, too?

“Anywaaaaay. I just wanted to tell you I enjoyed your classes. And thanks, you know, for not ever saying anything about, you know….”

It’s one of the last times I get to talk to Lorilei. She earns a well-deserved A in my class. She graduates. Moves to Houston, I guess.

I admire the girl's grit and her work ethic. Paying for college on the pole. Man o’ live, a’livin’. You hear those stories of strippers shaking their moneymakers to pay their way through school, but you also hear that they usually end dropping out, snorting the profits up their noses and falling into porn or bad marriages with pock-marked guys named Diesel or Larry Earl.

But little Lorilei made it. She did it her way, the only way she knew how, dance by dance, semester by semester.

Crumpled bill by crumpled dollar bill.

28 Comments:

Blogger beche-la-mer said...

A company I worked for was located on a wharf on Sydney Harbour, and in summer we could watch out of our office windows as luxury boats full of businessmen (in suits or sometimes open-necked shirts) would pull up at the little landing stage nearby to pick up the waitresses. These gorgeous, well-dressed girls would leave their luxury cars at the wharf-side and disappear below deck, then reemerge with trays of drinks or snacks and only a tiny scrap of lace or satin on their bodies. My (mostly female) coworkers and I would watch as the girls mingled with the fully-dressed men on the crowded deck, laughing dutifully at their jokes and pretending not to notice that their gazes never lifted above chest height.
We would discuss putting signs in our office windows that said things like: "Does your wife know where you are?".
The men on the boats seemed oblivious to the ridiculousness of the situation, and it really made me sick to think of them going home to their wives, girlfriends or daughters at the end of the day and acting as if they hadn't paid a woman (sonmeone's wife, girlfriend or daughter) to gratify their ego in such a blatantly exploitative way all afternoon.
But those girls seemed to have it all. They were pretty, well-dressed, had nice cars and at the end of the day they didn't have to go home to any of the suits from the boat.

3:09 AM  
Blogger PCS said...

I've been reading your blog for several months now. I really enjoy your stories about your students. You could write and academy award winning movie I bet.

8:11 AM  
Anonymous Retired Professor said...

By far the brightest grad student I ever taught at my Ivy League university had a similar story. She had paid for her BA -- and for a conservatory degree as well -- by dancing and working in the old combat zone in Boston. She's married with a child now (her partner knows her story), teaching at another university in a science department, having become bored with the humanities in which she took her first PhD, and she's happier than most of her colleagues. She never had as hard a look as your Lorelei, and never had implants, so I might not have known what she did had she not told me. I'm enormously proud of her successes and also her grit.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous creak_y said...

terrific piece.....thanks for sharing, Prof.

1:22 PM  
Blogger Cold Potato said...

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
If life gives you a body that pleases men, there is no reason not to use it if you have to.

2:06 PM  
Blogger still life said...

Doesn't it make you appreciate her talent even more? Thank you for humanizing that much judged profession.

2:47 PM  
Blogger Red River said...

Well, Prof, you took my dare.

As the old prospector says, diamonds are where you find them.

Now I am waiting for the other two stories.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your a good writter. good fiction story.

5:58 PM  
Anonymous leslie in ca said...

Good for Lorilei, and all the other Lorileis who do what they have to to get by.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous handworn said...

I just hope she is or becomes as wise as she is smart and sexy. I went to one of those clubs exactly once, with a group of friends senior year in college, and even had a lap dance. I'm glad I went once, but it just didn't amount to much, y'know?

But what strikes me is that everyone wants to continue to feel what they've always felt. Everyone wants to feel like themselves. This is no more or less pathetic than dowagers continuing to wear makeup and pantyhose, even though it usually looks ridiculous. Cracked pavement showing, is what it is, for both men and women.

7:36 PM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

Not picking, making assumptions, or insinuating anything... But I do notice a fair amount of stories about the ladies.

They are all good, but I wonder, "What's Up?"

Does the prof hate men? Have a thing for the ladies? Just no interesting stories invoving guys? Most of us are pretty 2 dimensional and transparent so it might not make good material, but I was just curious about the subject matter.

10:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the prof simply connects to women more easily, and it is probably the case that they discuss things more readily with her than do guys.

I'm a female prof and I've never had a man share stories with me like women do. Sometimes they make me sad, others just puzzled. Last week a student told me she needed to make-up an exam because she needed to get an abortion the day of the exam. She didn't quite understand why I told her she should take it before, not the day after... until the day after.

I've never had men tell me the equivalent of their rape stories, or their drug addiction stories -- etc..

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, yeah, I lap-danced my way through a dissertation, and there are things to say about the men too. Not all of them are bad. Some are just lonely, and some are people who are too ugly or deformed or whatever to be touched any other way. Some just don't want any emotional strings, some are married to women for reasons other than sex but still want it. Some just want to talk. Some want their daughters but know it's better to pretend with a paid girl. Not that the Prof would or should know this, since men don't write or talk much about being customers, but I just thought I'd chime in.

11:10 PM  
Blogger beche-la-mer said...

Hey anonymous,
I always like it when someone expands my world view, and I like your description of the different reasons men might enjoy the attention of a lap-dancer -- it certainly humanises them more than my perception of them as faceless "suits".
But really, isn't it all about power and money? For their own reasons, they either resort to, rely on or simply take for granted their power to pay for something that fills a gap in their personal lives. We don't all have that resource.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous SJ said...

As an undergrad, I was friends with a woman who saved up enough money stripping to put herself through college. She met a scrap-metal millionaire at her workplace who gently wooed her and they married after she graduated. She was the only stripper I had ever met who got in and out of that business, meeting her financial goal and with minimal mental dents. I admired that.

Thanks for this story.

12:50 AM  
Blogger Jacob said...

I'd join in with the first anonymous. As a professor, I find that my femle students are much more likely to disclose personal details/stories. I have not yet had something so dramatic/tragic/severe as a rape or abuse, but I am also not naive enough to think women with those stories aren't sitting in my classes or that I will never hear those stories from someone, but when I do, I will almost surely hear them from a female student.

I also had an acquaintance who worked her way through undergrad as a stripper. She went to school in one state and danced at a club in her much larger hometown. She graduated with honors, was very active in student government, and spent one summer interning for a US House Rep. She is now in law school, and doing quite well, no nudity required.

Based on my limited experience with stripper friends and my grand total of three nights as a patron at strip clubs, women who strip are not hard-boiled, addicted, lonely, abused, beaten down, unambitious, etc., etc. They know what they do and why they do it. Compare that to a student I have in class who is a waitress at a BBQ place. She is an attractive young woman, and the restaurant has her compete with other waitresses in a short-shorts contest. She gets no additional money from this contest, by the way. She is expected to exploit her sexuality without acknowledging that she's doing so and without getting any of the attendant financial rewards. Now I'm not necessarily advocating stripping, but there's something to be said for at least being upfront about what's going on.

And since I'm now lonely on the soapbox...

10:40 AM  
Blogger Miladysa said...

Lorilei - thankfully you did not circle her name when it first appeared on the register.

I enjoyed your post to a degree that I am wondering how Lorilei is getting along today :)

10:58 AM  
Blogger The Satan "Believes" said...

I do admire her courage to do what she did and that she got through college with that. It just puts a question in my mind, is all valid to get what you want, as long as you remain anonymous or elude the ones who might have an idea and hope the word doesn’t get out. Does that nourish a healthy way of thinking? How far can this go?

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may not be completely OK, but there is something to be said for a woman who looks at the world and sees that she can take advantage of the social disaster that is a "woman's place". I'm sure that if the world had really been fair for her, she'd not have to dance to pay tuition -- so, what is so bad about making lemonaide from the lemons society hands out?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It may not be completely OK, but there is something to be said for a woman who looks at the world and sees that she can take advantage of the social disaster that is a "woman's place". I'm sure that if the world had really been fair for her, she'd not have to dance to pay tuition -- so, what is so bad about making lemonaide from the lemons society hands out?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an unbelievable story. I certainly can't see myself ever doing anything like that, but I can admire her work ethic too. Poor girl - just trying to make her way in a crazy world.

Why is it that the only way to "make it" is to sell yourself - how can you sell youself to buy your dreams? It just seems so unfair.

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about the US, but the situation is much different in Australia at least when it comes to sex workers. Many of the women work for themselves in their own business (they even have to do taxes) and I have met a few that have been doing university study at the same time. Even though it is legal in Australia, there are still hang-ups generated by the right wing conservative media. For some reason there is also emnity between strippers and sex workers.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not the first and certainly not the last to say this - but what a sad commentary on our evolved culture that the professions in which women can still earn the most cash involve, at best, utter objectification, if not, as in many instances of the sex trade , outright abuse and violence. Whether it's viewed as liberation or as oppression - it's still objectification by self and others (again AT BEST). What a way to "get by".

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, the comment above mine, posted at 9:33 pm, is unconscionable and I hope that the Prof. deletes it. Any post-er who calls a woman a c*nt doesn't deserve his words getting the light of day.

So, back to my brief life as a dissertating lap-dancer. All women who do this are not X or Y, any more than all men. My heart broke for the junkies, the teenagers, and the ones who did it so they had a warm place to sleep during the day (you didn't have to dance, you just paid in and paid out, and the rest of the $$ was yours to keep). I admired the amazing sex priestesses whose lap-dancing was all tied up with spirituality and power over their bodies, and the pros who went from city to city, lap-dancing to pay for their hotels and meals and having a great time. My feeling was, it's not so bad that buying and selling sex is an option for people (why not? when you buy therapy or knowledge or a new face? ). It's just bad that women can't buy sex as easily as men if they need to. And that some men consider bought sex to be the only or best kind. And it's bad that because it's illegal, it's controlled by really scary people. The people I feared the most weren't the tough girls or the men but the (female) owners who cut girls up if they didn't pay what they owed, and the dealers and robbers who held the place up one night. I quit when the risks outweighed the money, which I had the privilege of doing. I hope Lorelei does too, if she needs to.

11:14 PM  
Blogger Beltane said...

You don't only get confidence like that from selling used-cars or stripping. Slight pigeonhole there. Otherwise, good story.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

11:14 PM Anonymous said, "It's just bad that women can't buy sex as easily as men if they need to."

They don't have to. It's freeEEEeee!

6:27 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Some comments on the comments:
The story is true. I don't have a good enough imagination to write fiction. So I report, with some changes in detail to protect identities.

I write about girls a lot because in my classes, out of a class of 21 students, 19 or 20 would be women. Men are in short supply in journalism and PR classes.

And bring it on, kids. I have a tough hide. Much tougher than yours.

2:21 PM  
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8:56 PM  

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