By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Kelly started stripping while attending a small, well-regarded liberal arts college in New England. Her job at the campus milkshake bar just wasn't cutting it. "I got sick of my parents yelling at me about money, but with six classes plus sports, I hardly had time to work. One night after my gold fake fingernail fell off in the ice cream I was scooping, I decided I'd had enough of working for nothing. So I replied to an ad that said 'GIRLS WANTEDNo experience necessary.' I'd never been to a strip club before, but I figured, I can do this, and I don't have to tell anybody."
The audition was surprisingly easy. "It's sort of nice to be unburdened of who you are. Just to have this different name and not even look like yourself. The stage was lit with black lights, so my fears of men examining every dimple of my cellulite were unfounded. There was something so stereotypical about ita bunch of men looking at you, going, 'Oh yeah,' while nodding their heads or sucking their breath over their cheeksthat it was funny and satisfying. That night, I danced to four songs and made $60. Not bad for 12 minutes of work, especially considering I got $6.35 an hour on campus."
Kelly worked at two different clubs that semester. Though bouncers always walked her to her car, she still had scary moments. "Sometimes I knew I was definitely in over my head, like when 30 bikers came in and started making repulsive, in-depth comments about what my pussy would taste like. Or the time a strung-out guy asked me five times in a row where he could score some blow. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about."
Most frightening of all, "My idea of anonymity was shattered one night when I was literally crawling down the stage on my hands and knees and somebody put down a five. I stopped in front of him, raised my breast to my mouth, and was licking my nipple when he asked, 'Don't you go to Yale?' I said 'Certainly not'I didn't. 'But you look so familiar. I know I recognize you from somewhere.' I lied through my teeth, saying 'Honey, I don't go to college. Are you a college boy?' He said yes, he was a juniorat my school! The blood drained out of my whole face."
After that, she was paranoid whenever she "saw jocks staring at me in class," but thrilled about the stack of bills accumulating in her dorm room. "I paid a credit card bill and mailed my parents a big check for tuition." Kelly's academics didn't suffer, either. "I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of my two identities within the space of a single day. I got to have a liberating secret identitydressing up as 'René' at night helped relieve stress after a hard day of classes. I got straight A's that semester."
When she moved to New York after graduation, Kelly investigated other jobs, such as those in the "dungeons" advertised in the Voice. "Beating up a bunch of businessmen when I had no money and no apartment sounded like just what the doctor ordered." At her first interview, "The lady asked if I would be willing to piss or shit on a customer. When I told her yes, she looked at me with renewed interest. I really would have. I didn't care; I was so broke. There would be 'nurse' and 'mommy' sessions; nothing sounded that bad, until she said that to make any money at all, I'd have to give the customers enemas and anal 'dildo training.' " When Kelly wondered aloud whether these services were legal, her interviewer snapped, "We can discuss details later. But I hope you aren't averse to providing manual gratification." Offered the job on the spot, Kelly asked for more time to consider, but never returned.
Dungeons also require an initial investment in costumes. "I'd need some 'innocent' outfitsshort dresses and frilly white underwearfor sub sessions, as well as leather and latex for the dom sessions. I'd also have to get professional photos taken for the book they showed their clients. It was expensive, and I didn't trust them to keep it private. What if you opened the Voice one day and there's your picture?"
Stripping seemed best for quick money. "I didn't know where to audition, so I bought a book at Ricky's [on 8th Street] called Sexy New York. I read it that afternoon and then returned it, because I couldn't afford the $8.95." Kelly's tryout at Ten's, an upscale club that requires dancers to wear evening gowns before stripping down to G-strings, only took a minute ("I basically always remember to fuck the pole," she smirks).
On good nights, working from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., Kelly made up to $1000. She spent hours applying makeup before each shiftfrom concealer on her heels to lipstick on her nipples to powder on her assand she went back to Ricky's for a wig. "It only cost $12. It was disgusting, but I gave it a stylish haircut. Most girls had wigs that cost $200. The management wasn't into short hair."
Despite the money, Kelly soon found the club depressing. Since up to a hundred girls hustled lap dances at once, the atmosphere was often exhaustingly competitive. Kelly was "really happy when I met a girl who revealed that she was an economics undergrad at Columbia. She was pretty in an all-American kind of way, and she was one of the kinder faces in the crowd."
Hardest of all was pushing lap dances on customers for eight hours straight. "You have to have a thick skin. Like going up to a group of middle-aged businessmen who are at the point in their conversation where they're talking business. You're just doing your job, but they look up at you like you're this stupid bimbo to be interrupting them. And they always thought I was lying when I said I had a college degree."
On one of her last nights, Ice-T came in, surrounded by an entourage. "He didn't get any lap dances. He sat there for a long time, just watching. I would have thought it was hilarious to do a dance for him. At least he's actually interesting!"
Though she's still scarred by the "interminable remixes" of Madonna's "Music," Kelly advises that "stripping is definitely worth it if you need some quick cash. If you're willing to be aggressive and shameless, and you're a night person who can be in a smoky club for hourswith bad musicthen go for it. And," she adds, laughing, "if you're comfortable having your ass two inches from a guy's nose."