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.”
“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.