Guest Post by Dave Wheeler
The guy at the next table looks ready to throw in the towel. He moves a straw through the ice in his glass, keeping his gaze low. In fact, his eyes move between precisely two locations: his drink, practically empty, and the woman next to him, presumably his date. She’s having a grand old time, thoroughly engaged with the evening’s entertainment. He, however, seems beyond uncomfortable. To be honest, my friends and I are as confused as he must be as to why he’s here.
Here being Portland’s Silverado. A gay nightclub known for its male dancers.
Okay, dancers may be overstating the talent. None of these guys studied with Bob Fosse. Each shuffles onstage where there is a metal pole for them to use however they wish. One emerges wearing tearaway pants, another in booty shorts. Several cut to the chase and arrive in nothing but thongs, pouches strained from tumescence mustering all the erotic charge of cow udders.
They commence with a five to ten minute routine that reveals more and more of their physiques, during which the audience is encouraged—sensually—to tip. You know: strippers. And every last one has a chiseled body that gleams under the stage lights. It’s just a pity so few have learned how to move.
The one in tearaways bobs around without moving his feet. Booty shorts makes himself useful by climbing the pole, but there’s no sense of rhythm. One thong-wearer wags his engorged pouch in an unnerving interpretation of The Twist, while another practically stomps around the stage wearing a scowl that, I have to assume, is supposed to inspire our inner subs.
Between sets, they mingle, but few exhibit strong conversational skills. (Studied with Fosse? I doubt half of them could spell Fosse.) So it’s not really dancing, and they’re not getting by on winning personalities. This is really all about gratuitous nudity, much to the chagrin of the guy at the next table. It’s not fair of me to assume he’s straight.
But I’m going to.
The thing about stripclubs, though, is that the suggestion is often more titillating than the reality. I enjoy naked men just as much as the next guy (er—you know what I mean), but after about fifteen minutes, the novelty wears off and you realize you’re just seeing the same ass again and again. This isn’t a well-choreographed Kazaky video; it’s dudes doing what we’ve all done in the mirror since we were old enough to lock the bathroom door: the helicopter. Give me an hour and I’m about as disinterested as our straight friend over here.
Not because I’m prudish, but because I’m stingy! As a working artist myself, I appreciate when I can get paid, so I try to extend that courtesy to performers. Nobody likes getting stiffed—so to speak.
Nevertheless, I should tell you that the suggestion this time was mine. My boyfriend and I had come to Portland from Seattle for MLK weekend and met up with a couple friends for a night out. Only, the city had just been pummeled by an ice storm. The mood had been souring with every slip on the sidewalk, every gust of freezing wind. We all wanted to be at home under blankets, but we’d had these plans for weeks.
You know what would keep us warm? I said at dinner. Strippers. Little did I know that that side of Silverado doesn’t open until 10pm. This we discovered while sipping drinks in the quiet, empty bar side of said establishment immediately after our meal. Fortunately for us, the bartenders remove their shirts, and go-go boys start grinding nearby, around nine.
This is when I met Steel.
Do you remember when you first saw Channing Tatum, as a young bi-curious soccer player in She’s the Man, the teen comedy adaptation of Twelfth Night? (The only way to see Shakespeare in my opinion.) Or perhaps you recall the scene in the WB’s Everwood when Chris Pratt was a shirtless lifeguard.
What I’m saying is that I have an occasional weakness for dopey all-American jocks and Steel could have been a teen heartthrob in the early 2000s. But like Duke and Bright were then, he feels now like my little secret.
He made small talk as I fed dollars to his waistband. “It’s so cold outside,” he said as he gyrated in pink briefs to the music with a grace that far outperformed his colleagues. He cupped his crotch, playfully wincing. “I’m waiting for my balls to come back down.” He grinned, kept dancing. “Gotta warm up.”
This guy knows what he’s doing.
I surely had that look on my face: a smile with jaw dangling, eyes sparkling but not blinking. I couldn’t seem to remember what words were or how to form them. I didn’t want to leave, but didn’t think it wise to spend all my limited cash in one place. Before I returned to my friends, Steel wanted to make sure he’d see me on the other side.
And when he finds me there, I’ve managed to return to my senses enough to flirt a little. I forget now most details of our conversation, just that he’s a metalworker during the warmer months. (Steel apparently nods to more than just his buns!) He strips during the winter, when construction gigs are scarce.
By the time he asks if I want to see what he does up in his office—flashing that wide, inviting grin—I’d half forgotten he was at work. I throw a wave to my friends as Steel wraps his big naked biceps around my arm and leads me away.
What’s happening between us only dawns on me when we reach the top of the staircase and I see four stalls and four wooden chairs behind four curtains. These could easily be converted into voting booths should middle school gymnasia and local libraries need overflow come Election Day. But that dark hour in November is behind us now. There is only Steel and the music.
“How much?” I ask, but it is especially loud up here.
"Forty or ten?” he replies.
A forty-minute lap dance sounds excessive, but the look he gives me has me considering it. Seriously. I catch myself, though, and go for ten.
He sits me down and climbs onto my lap. Leaning in, he lays down the rules: “I can touch you, but you can only touch my arms, legs and chest. You can’t touch my dick. No fingering or anything. OK?”
He smells like sandalwood and laundry. His skin is warm, his muscles taut, his grip on my shoulders firm. He has brown eyes; if I had my guess, he’s a Cancer. (Another weakness of mine.) I melt. Agreed.
How he moves over me, without ever seeming to break contact, is nothing short of a miracle. He’d make Fosse proud. A tiger is a tiger, not a lamb, mein Herr! Steel writhes, shifts and twists, bringing his chest to my face before cocking his shoulders and rolling his torso backward, grinding against my hips.
After slipping my belt off, he loops it around my neck and cinches it as if it were a leash, and I his new pet. My hand lingers too low and he slaps it away, then wags an index finger. Naughty, naughty. Without missing a beat, he twists again, placing black booted feet against the wall behind me, his palms on the floor. His hot pink derriere undulates in the air before me.
God, ten minutes is not enough. And I still don’t know how much this is gonna cost. The thought crosses my mind that this guy likes me enough that the first one might be on the house. But even in the moment I know how ridiculous that is. Besides: He. Is. Earning. It.
Before he’s through, Steel reaches behind me, and slides his left thumb below the waist of my jeans. He digs it right between my medius and maximus glutes. Suddenly there are waves of warm energy pulsing up my back and down my right leg. Whoa!
“Do you like that?” he asks, eyes flashing with mischief. “There’s one on each side.” He drives his other thumb in and I writhe beneath him, nearly sliding out of the chair.
When it’s over, my hair is a mess and my body is exhausted, the way a good workout feels. “That was amazing,” I understate. “What do I owe you?”
Even though I know better, I expect to hear some grand generous declaration like, It’s up to you or Don’t worry about it. So when he says, “Forty,” I start to sweat. Forty for ten. Obviously, Dave. Get over yourself.
That is about twice what I would have agreed to, had I not been positively moony. Stingy as I am, however, I owe him compensation for the goods and services he has provided me. They were good, and I am more than adequately serviced: fair’s fair.
I grab my wallet and search my pockets, coming up with thirty-nine and a weak, guilty smile. As I sputter about not having heard him correctly, he snatches the bills from my hand and tousles my hair again.
Now comes the generous don’t worry about it, but I feel cheap anyway. The stiff I never want to be. Still, he helps return my appearance to some semblance of respectability—all with a smile no less—and escorts me back to the main floor.
There I find my friends in talks with another dancer, the dom in the thong. Still with the scowl, he’s offering them a two-fer, but they decline. Not enough cash. Seems to be going around. So I think it’s best we make our exit (as it appears our poor straight compatriot already has, without his date).
But before we do, I ask my boyfriend for a dollar. I want to square up with Steel, but he’s already got a new guy on his arm, headed for the stairs, laughing, flirting. The man knows what he’s doing. He’s the best dancer in the house, has totally changed my outlook on stripclubs, and my glutes are going to be sore in the exact shape of his thumbprints for the next thirty-six hours. He could get upset over a buck, but you get farther on a smile than a scowl.
Dave Wheeler is the author of the poetry collection Contingency Plans, and his essays have been published by Catapult, The Stranger, and The Morning News. Follow him on Instagram.
Published by The Bare InkSlinger, Courtesy of David Wheeler.
Copyright © 2017 David Wheeler, All rights reserved.