Goodbye Deja Vu you SONS OF BITCHES. Part Deux.
Almost one year ago, the beginning of the end began.
I was too fucked up at work, crying and violent and frustrated all the time. I knew I was hitting some kind of wall and needed to take a break. I can’t really describe the feeling of being HUMAN and dancing, you’re too smart to be blind to it, but too smart to quit. It’s this kind of delicate balance, a thin line you walk with one foot slowly and strategically placed in front of the other. You can keep your chin up, you can numb yourself to the rejection of fat ugly douches you wouldn’t look once at in public, but there is nothing more sacred than your body. Your body is YOU, you will never become accustomed to being judged on it, but you will fiercely defend it. One side of the line is the exhaustion of being defensive, the aggressive, emotionally abusive, annoying GUYS and the other side is money. The other side is your future, your children, your chance for something better. They will balance each other out, until they don’t.
I was so tired of it, so tired of hearing people talk about my body 2 feet from my face, tired of having a clenched jaw and chin up and retorts ready at anytime. I was tired of knowing a high heel shoe was my weapon. I was just sick of it. I cried even when so high I should have felt amazing, and that’s when it needed to end. I was walking out at night poor and tired and beat down and finally I walked into my then-managers office. I told him I needed a break. He told me he understood and asked if I could do 2 days per week and I said yes, but I’d never know which days so I’d need an open schedule or to be termed and rehired when I was ready. He nodded and assured me he’d take care of it, and I left flooded with relief.
I spent the next two months folding sweaters and engaging in retail store gossip. I found a boyfriend, I ignored my bills. I wanted to find that girl I’d lost. The one with a kind heart and a funny sort of ignorance. I didn’t find her, I did however find that you are a slave no matter what you do, and the stigma of “stripper” will follow you no matter what. I found that the people and the life I was trying to run from, were indeed my family. They knew, they UNDERSTOOD the way no one else did. Amidst a sort of cultish draw I was back in the club, this time back to feeling free. No one ordered ME around for 10$ an hour. I was too good for that (everyone EVERYONE is too good for that). After that particular boss had been moved (times were tough people, the key was to keep them flailing and grasping for their jobs out of fear) I was beginning to be asked to pay on my “back rent” when I’d go to pay the club it’s money at night.
There are two tools of the corporate strip club that are used as holds over their contracted girls heads… short-pay and back rent, which are technically legal as we sign bogus unfair contracts when we sign onto a club. Back rent is the fine we pay when we miss a scheduled shift, it’s a “no call no show”. Years ago, calling in to let the club know you wouldn’t be there for your shift was how you missed work. ”I;m sick, my baby is sick, my mom is sick, I’m too drunk, too high, having too much fun, I have homework”, they were all adequate excuses, but as the times grew tougher, and the belt tightened, there was no longer A N Y acceptable reason to not be at work. Short pay is the left over money you owe the club when you DO work, but cannot make enough money to pay them their $130 per night…once ignored was now becoming one of the biggest tools used to take money from us.
For 6 months I brushed it off, I had only been at that particular club for 8 months, I rarely called out, and had no problem paying out at night. Soon the demands became more serious and I went to our head manager and asked for proof for the EXTRAORDINARY amount of money I supposedly owed them. $4000 in no show no call back rent and $400 in shortpay. I was never provided proof, but told that the corporate slave “Rom” was working on backrent investigations right now and they’d deal with my case soon enough. Soon, my refusals to pay on it were met with “refuse to pay and it will be considered a ‘walk-out’ (when a girl leaves without paying her money at night and is immediately termed) and GOOD LUCK working again in Seattle (all strip clubs are owned by Deja Vu…any other clubs are ~somehow~ shut down thanks to our seedy characters in city council). My theory is that when I’d left to fold those sweaters, that particular manager hadn’t changed my schedule, hadn’t filled out the paper work. It looked like I was just M.I.A. for 2 months, and it was becoming a problem. I can’t be sure if that’s where my debt came from, because there isn’t any proof, but it’s my best guess. The short pay portion though? It apparently came from my original club, where the conditions I had been allowed to transfer to Dreamgirls under was that I have NO short pay or back rent…so I know that that magic debt was a complete fabrication…but that is all I really can piece together.
SO let’s get this straight. I now mysteriously owed the club $4500 and was expected to pay cash on it. No proof of where this debt came from was provided and I was told I’d lose my job and any subsequent jobs if I didn’t pay…. oh and also? If I tried to find some legal council I’d be met with a gigantic corporate legal team and also banned from ever seeing the inside of a Deja Vu again. So my only option was to start paying on it. I paid hundreds of dollars extra a week, for 6 months until I was paying out $250-$300 a night and leaving with barely anything. I ran into Rom, and asked about my case. He told me he was told that our backrent was now his lowest priority. He didn’t meet my eyes once, and I just walked away, defeatd.
When I started dancing, I defended Deja Vu. I saw tired management, underpaid and ostracized over the stigma. They were funny, they’d seen years of incredible behavior, they knew we paid the bills and were happy to be close with us. When I put on those heels, I lost friends, lost credibility, lost any kind of respect from “normal” people, but gained insight. I met humanity in losing my humanity…if that makes sense? I came face to face with myself every night, there is no hiding there. We had been so poor you could count my ribs in the bright, colored lights of the stage; but dancing put meat on my bones and my child in the best school I could find. Now, years later, they began to show their corporate evil. The evil I had defended, calling them the “McDonalds of strip clubs”- saying they took care of us instead of exploiting us, had now turned it’s back. I was getting the cold shoulder from the people I identified with, and called family. It was just over.
There are smaller details. There are specific arguments and hurtful statements and my contract held over my head more times than I can count. I struggled with understanding who I was in the turmoil of walking the thin line of morality…and I genuinely feel like walking out of that club, hurried goodbyes and a quivering lip, was the best decision I’ve made. Ever. I’ll find a way to feel the way I used to, I’ll find myself again. I have a beautiful son and hope for my future and I’ll get there one way or another.
i would like to go home now please.
and take all the good things I’ve learned from Seattle and get back to my home. I feel so dead here. ugh. help. :(
Goodbye Deja Vu you SONS OF BITCHES.
When I think about the last three years of my life, the places I’ve been, the money I’ve made, I don’t think about being “a stripper”. I think about being a nomad, living off the grid, feeling alone, ignored, taken advantage of, abused, hated, glamourous, being exciting, being proud. I don’t look at it like I was labeled, or given the label that most people would give us. I felt FREE. Dancing was my ticket, or so I thought.
When I began dancing, I chose to do so after being fired from my waitressing job at a huge, oppressive corporation for being late too many times, we’ll just call them THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY. There was honestly nothing, no work. It was January and things looked bleak. I took the only waitressing job I could find, serving soda to customers at the 1st and Pike Deja Vu club, Showgirls…and then moved almost immediately to the smaller less intense version on 7th and Westlake- Little Darlings. I was thin, fragile, nervous, with long shaggy brown hair and no experience with makeup. I was human. I had felt so screwed by working for the CCF, I began stripping almost immediately. It took a little confidence work up and a glass of wine before my first stage but soon enough, it was easy. It was the same customer service, but in my undies…with way more money and way more freedom. We came and went as we pleased, we would duck out down the street to the bar or smoke a joint in our cars. We stole outfits and eyelashes from the store above us. We snuck up into the ‘theater’ and spied on guys jerking off in booths just enough to see an inch of something, sending us screaming down the stairs, 3 floors down, out of breath to our little batcave where someone was undoubtedly late for stage. We flirted and joked our ways out of paying the club too much money, our bosses were our friends and allies. I tried drugs, I feared cops, I made the best friends I’ve ever had.
When the economy shit hit the fan in 2008 Matt, Parker and I left the east coast to pursue ~something~ out west. We had feelings of uncertainty - as Matt had worked on Wall St first hand, and never felt quite right about it; a liberal humanist at heart, he never really had the stomach for that shit anyway. By the time I’d finished my first year dancing, the pains of being faux rich came crashing west. Construction stopped, no longer did we see our steel workers, our construction foremen, our Mexican laborers. Microsoft laid off 20,000 people that year. There was no loans, thus no progress, thus no money, thus no PATRONS. Our nerds and our blue collar boys were lost, never to be seen again, as was their trickle down money that took care of us and our children and paid our rents and our tuitions. As money dwindled, managers were moved around, lips were tight and conversations with staff terse. We hadn’t seen this before. In response, Deja Vu opened a 3 million dollar club, Dreamgirls, after winning an expensive lawsuit against the city to open it.
Desperate to find the money that was now missing from our spot in Belltown, my friends and I moved to Dreamgirls. Oh what a temporary wonder that was. The summer of 2010 was PACKED with guys trying to get a glimpse at the new place, and the apparently hand picked girls. 80 girls worked every night but none of us cared about the competition, everyone was making money. We were those funny girls again, excited and making it. We had our cars, put our kids into good schools, we were getting back to where we had once been! But in the blink of an eye, the place was deserted. Baseball and soccer were over, and football season only brought drunk, rowdy fans - and we had none of the security to deal with it. The managers we’d become close with were of course moved as soon as the club slowed. New people were consistently brought in and trained, with a new attitude. The economy had suddenly made jobs so scarce, that the positions that were once hard to fill due to stigma, were now flooded with resumes. I heard it once from our city wide boss- a tall, thin, black bobbed woman aptly named “Winter” - when I suggested staff incentives for the better work they wanted - that “keeping their job is their incentive”. The whole country had suffered for 2 years, and our industry had put it off, finding ways to distract and attract new customers and now their infrastructure was about to change. Little soldier-like trainees took over where our friendly bosses once were, so desperate not to fuck up, we began to feel the weight of their heavier hands as the money once again dried up.
To be continued- so tired. <3