BAR STORIES, PART II

Tits To Top It All Off

“I am never going back. I have never experienced something so depressing before. Suicidal even.” 

This is not exactly what I said. It is a paraphrase, but it gets more than just the gist. These, my little innocuous words, came tumbling out of my lips after visiting my first strip club. Safe to say that it did not go well. I did not experience a “turn on,” nor did I leave wanting more. And yet, more than a decade later, I am on my way back. Like a boozehound (or a horn dog?) I am crawling back to the bar for one more hit – a hit that is hopefully better than the first bite. Here I am now; entertain me.

But first, let me talk about my first time.

It had not been my best week. Identity theft does not leave behind visible scars like assault, battery, or assault and battery. Still, the psychic wound of knowing some random stranger dipped their filthy fingers into your bank account and made off hurts and it hurts for a while. I am not a rich man, nor have I ever been one. I have had flush weeks and barren months. Usually, I am just getting by. Welcome to the working week, stiff! The loss of my admittedly paltry bank account put me in the depths of a serious funk. I wanted, hell, I needed to drown my sorrows in something from an amber bottle. But no lucre meant no liquor. I didn’t even have enough money to fill up my gas tank.

Then, like a beer-soaked angel from Heaven, a pal of mine called me up and invited me to the strip club. I said to him, “No dice, bud. Can’t drive on an empty tank.” My friend, bless him, said that that was not an issue. He had wheels and saw no problem with driving an hour-plus to come and get me. I was a victim, after all, and deserved a little TLC. I swallowed my pride and agreed. 

Several hours later, after hitting the highway and stopping for a cheap meal at a diner like a pair of toughs in a noir movie, we arrived at the strip club. Now comes the first and most important piece of information in this tale: the strip club was located inside of a strip mall. Serendipitous, I’d say. Others would argue for clever marketing. Possibly low rent. Either way, to enter the strip club, one had to first pass through the double doors of a poolhall. We stopped there for a few pints first. My friend suggested that it was best to be a little buzzed before ogling at nude breasts. I did not know enough to suggest otherwise, so down the hatch went many Millers. We even managed to play a game, which I of course lost. 

Next, after leaving the poolhall, we had to cross over into the bowling alley. Yes, the strip club’s main entrance could only be accessed after entering and leaving a poolhall and a bowling alley. Some lingering remnants of Puritanism dictated that strip club goers had to show their faces first to ordinary drunks, then to families out for a fun Friday night. And we saw both, including one family cheering loudly every time some towhead got a strike. At the door, barring our way, stood a white ape in a black bomber jacket. He mumbled for IDs. We dutifully showed them. He then opened his palm. 

“Cover charge is ten bucks,” he grumbled. 

“Since when is there a cover charge?” my friend asked. 

“Since always on Friday nights.” 

My friend exhaled to show his displeasure. He handed the doorman a twenty. I thanked him for covering me. He waved my kindness away. “Let’s get drunk,” he said. No more words were necessary. We saddled up to the bar and ordered Bud Lights. The bar was shaped like a question mark. It had a Formica surface that once had been as smooth as glass. Years of spilled beer had dulled the sheen and rendered the surface as crusty as unwashed underwear. The interior of the bar was gloomy. It did not feel sensual at all, as the deep blue and purple lights felt more funereal than festive. It proved apropos because nobody, from the strippers to the patrons, appeared to be having fun. One chubby lass did an uninspiring strip tease while a thin, waifish single mom pestered each individual client. The expected “Want a lap dance?” never arrived. Instead, the girl put on her best bedroom eyes and whispered, “Want something more private?” It did not work. All her put-on cuteness, all her fake shyness failed. Nobody took her up on anything, including us. We sat and watched and nursed our beer. 

The sadness of it all weighed on me. Every crevice and every inch of the small strip club seemed more pathetic than the next. The man up front who ritualistically kept his arms pinned behind his back like a captive was probably a middle school football coach. The man throwing ones at the stripper, despite her lousy effort, likely belonged to a church. All of the men in the room, including myself, once had girlfriends or wives. None of us looked like scum—like peeping perverts bedecked in dirty raincoats. The strip club that night was full of normal men desperately searching for something. Most wanted a good time. Others wanted to see naked flesh for the first time in eons. Some simply wanted the delusion of being wanted, of being desired by someone younger or better looking. All, including the strippers, had the sad eyes of a defeated race. 

After an hour we left and went back to the poolhall. The bright lights hurt our eyes at first, but we muscled through it and started pounding back beer. We only left when the bar forced us out. There, in the parking lot, seated on their concrete thrones were the two strippers. Both had their lips wrapped around white cigarettes. One swapped small talk with a portly guy in a soiled T-shirt. What bits of the conversation I could hear sounded like typical drunk talk: slurred, with an irregular rhythm, and utterly inane. As we made to leave, one of the strippers said to us, “Have a good night.” I turned at the waist and waved. I recognized her as the lap dance merchant from earlier, and her genuine niceness made me feel rotten for turning her down. 

The next morning, with a head full of hangover, I made a note to never bother with strip clubs again. Sure, a strip club within view of the highway is liable to appeal to a certain clientele. Think truck drivers and their swampy, unwashed balls. Another factor working against the club was its location inside of a strip mall. Such a déclassé setting, to say nothing of the poor towns all around, meant that my friend and I spent a night at a Z-grade joint. Despite knowing this, I still felt slimy after my first romp. I felt like I had descended down some kind of moral ladder. Worse, I felt the miasma of the whole club and how its sickness had infected me a little. Now I can’t have a normal relationship, I thought. Now I can only hunt after “dirty girls” and full-blown skanks. It was irrational, but homo stripclubus is a type of man, and it is the type of man you do not want to be. I know one such man. He is fine in most aspects of his life. He is married with a child. He has a decent job. He drives a clean, well-maintained car. And besides his fondness of potato chips, he appears to be in good health. 

Yet, whenever there is a birthday or occasion worth celebrating, he needs to go to the strip club. He keeps the fact secret from his wife via multiple deceptions (most of which involve his immediate circle of friends). He makes calls and plans and always has a fistful of cash to spend. I have never tagged along, but I have heard the stories. He gets blind drunk and pisses himself. He forgets to order an Uber, so has to hoof it to a 7-11 and ask the nicest looking lady for a ride. He buys multiple lap dances, and one time offered to eat one of the girls out. It worked, apparently. 

I have watched all of this from afar. Apathy has been my opinion about strip clubs since my lone experience. Never once have I felt any kind of pull to visit one. 

That is until last night. 

A combination of boredom, a friend’s temporary abstinence from alcohol, and a year-long dry spell with absolutely no signs of ending compelled me to visit my first strip club in over ten years. At 10pm, fresh from work, I jumped into my nondescript sedan and followed the GPS to the titty bar. Blood pumping and radio rocking, I found the parking lot. The gravel path led to a barn-like structure. The club proved to be the antithesis of gaudy, with just a single symbol above the door letting patrons know that yes, they have come to the right place. The taped sign on the door demanding ten dollars for cover felt more threat than request. I did not feel welcomed. Also, another factor leaving me cold was the darkness behind the windows. The lack of light inside and the lack of cars outside made it obvious that the place was closed. No dice. My hankering had to be tamed another way.

But wait! I am fortunate enough to live in a county with multiple strip joints. If one is closed, then why not try the other? So, back into the sedan I went. The GPS informed me that I had a twenty-minute drive ahead of me. Said drive took me out of town and put me on desolate country roads. The type of roads where prowlers, both human and animal, hunt for the wayward. “Serial killer country,” I mumbled to myself as the inky blackness all around me seemed to close in with menace. The ghost of Wayne Nance, the Missoula Mauler, stuck up his thumb for a ride. David Meirhofer tapped on my window and asked me if I wanted to go to the park. All these dark winter dreams assailed me until, like an oasis, the bright lights of the bar cut through the mist. Here, at last, was an open bar. I smiled as I saw the other cars in the gravel lot. I even saw people, as a middle-aged couple strolled quietly out of the front doors and into their waiting and white Ford Escape. Signs of life. “This is good,” I thought. 

The front door led to a waiting area. A locked door faced me. To my left stood a plexiglass security box with a slit for exchanging licenses and cash. The bartender asked for my ID. Satisfied that I was old enough to drink and look at naked women, he asked for ten dollars. Ten dollars. Ten freaking dollars. Is this the uniform cover charge for topless bars? Is there some kind of boobie bar code that all johns need to fork over a ten spot in order to just enter the establishment? Miffed, I gave the faceless man my hard-earned money. He buzzed me in. 

My heart sank as soon as I entered the bar. It was completely empty. No patrons lounging in chairs, no elbows on the bars, and no girls on the stage. “Slow night in boobie-ville,” the bartender said to me with a crooked smile. He informed me that all of the girls save one had taken the night off. Couldn’t blame them, really; why bother exposing your private parts to air? Why work and sweat and toil just to get nothing in return? Still, my second strikeout of the night, to say nothing of losing more money being nice (I felt obligated to have at least one beer), put me in a foul mood. I made my escape after ten minutes. 

Unsatisfied all the way through, but still wanting some suds, I drove back into town and hit up my usual watering hole. I found it semi-full, with a bunch of young pups and their girlfriends swapping tales over bottles and cans. I took my seat. I ordered three local lagers and tipped the bartender two bucks on each occasion. The lack of food in my stomach meant that I got buzzed real quick. It was fine. It feels good to get buzzed in a familiar bar, even if you are alone. I let the booze, the soft lighting, and the Alice in Chains songs coming from the jukebox comfort me.  I logged into Twitter and posted maudlin and saccharine verses. I felt so full of love and good cheer towards my fellow man. I smiled even after I left the bar and wound up at the downtown pizza place. I ordered three slices, took them home, and passed out in my own bed with a half-finished Hamm’s next to me. 

I felt like fingernail dirt in the morning—pressed up and in need of a cleaning. The beer and greasy food made my guts gurgle, but more importantly it made me regretful. I am a man approaching his forties; I cannot be doing the beer and pizza dance for much longer. I frankly should not be doing it now. Another thought saddened me, as well. The night started out with me attempting to do something unique vis-à-vis my own life, but, in the end, I fell back on routine. I went to the same bar that I always go to and ate the same slices that I always eat. It was like a million Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights before it, except I did it alone. How pathetic. How loathsome. How humbling. Self-hate jumped up from below the floorboards and covered me in sores. The blues got me and kept me company until work. I then got lost in the sauce of mini-tasks and repetition for eight hours. That’s it, the angels sing. That is life—you work all the time for a little bit of entertainment, and then the entertainment disappoints you. 

That night, as I laid me down to sleep, I promised myself healthier food and less beer. It was a late-night lie, of course, or at least a partial one. Beer is the best and most accessible escape mechanism in my neck of the woods. Plus, without the occasional bar crawl, I would sink into total hermitage. A non-entity. Another anti-social creep. And given that that is what the lizard people seem to want, I say to hell with them. 

Get soused. 

— Arbogast is a poet with a blog. You can purchase his new poetry collection, “Nocturnes”, here