When I talk about stripping I sometimes find I’m forced into a defensive position. People outside the industry who are very vocal about the job tend to have a low opinion of the work. We are exploited, they say, and the men are depraved. Not so, I argue, we’re in charge, we do well out of it and the clubs attract a wide spectrum of customers whose depravity level wouldn’t trouble the national average. Most nights of the year I could take you to a club (a good, well run one, like the ones where I’ve been lucky enough to work) and you could see the evidence for yourself. If you think the stripping game is played by the bored at the expense of the lonely then come to a strip joint on the evening of February the 14th and for once you could be right.
It’s not a cheerful night on either side of the equation. Men in relationships are busy elsewhere, and it takes a certain kind of single bloke to think, ‘It’s Valentine’s - I’ll head off down the strip club!’ You might think there’d be a surge in numbers, a defiant rush of singleton pride – but it doesn’t happen. The place is quiet, only the die hard punters will be in, mostly the ones whose relationship status would be fairly obvious as soon as you clap eyes on them any other night of the year.
There are occasions when couples come in on dates, but I’ve never seen this happen on Valentine’s – which you might say is strictly for the specialists. Generally speaking the hardcore are not big spenders, they’ve figured out to how to get the most bang from the least buck, so above and beyond the creeping subtext of isolation, the night is not a good earner, and this is what makes it an unpopular shift with the girls.
It isn’t just that of course. Most of the girls are in relationships and would rather be out celebrating that fact. Even the most clichéd Valentine’s outing has currency when you spend your working life in strip clubs. Sometimes though, you just forget. You say ‘I’ll do Tuesday fortnight,’ and then when you realise what day it is, it’s too late to do anything about it, and of course no one will swap with you. In my experience, most men regard Valentine’s Day as a schlep anyway. I’ve seen them struggle to hide relief on their faces when you say you have to work (but that could just be me of course). And it’s always easier to get a table somewhere decent the day before or the day after anyway, if that’s your thing.
What is worth mentioning though is that at lunchtime on February 14th the reverse is true. The early shift is sought after as it can get rammed. A lot of guys it seems can’t resist a visit before the romantic gesture to the wife later on. Either way, by nightfall, if you’re working, your hopes aren’t high.
You can tell it’s an odd night as soon as you walk in. The music seems quieter, the club manifestly is. The place feels low key and you can see a lot of the girls have written the night off before they even start. Once you’re out on the floor you do your best to drum up some interest for a private dance. Whether you succeed or not there’ll be a lot of talking and you would never try and play the tragedy for laughs ‘look at us two, eh?’ – that would be a mistake. It hurts them and it hurts you, if only in the purse.
I think on balance I’m probably a bit over sensitive to how the customers feel. Since qualifying in my other job – psychotherapy (all training funded by money made from stripping) I think my instinct to empathise is even stronger. Beyond the suspenders and the psychology, some people come to strip clubs for the same reason they come to therapy – because they need someone to talk to. Nevertheless, feeling sorry for the punters is bad for business and the 14th is a sorry night.
To really earn in the clubs you need to toughen up and get on, my colleague and good friend Nina has done her share of Valentine’s nights over the years and knows exactly where the margins lie. “Your best target – the ones who can turn it into a worthwhile night,” she says, “are the ones who are recently broken up and have come to drown their sorrows and hang out with strippers to help them get over their loss. If you’re lucky you pick out one of those guys and make them feel really special – at a cost.
You might think that finding yourself in strip club on Valentine’s was dubious enough but there are, it turns out, levels of iniquity within that. I didn’t work last year but the girls that did have a story about a particular punter whose disgrace undoubtedly takes him to the highest levels of behavioural shame. He seemed, as they mostly do, a decent bloke and he had admitted he was married (which happens all the time) and kept saying that he had to go home. But he didn’t leave, he just kept getting up to go to the toilet (which usually means drugs), and drinking until he eventually and very noticeably loses control of his bowels.
Now the back room is not that big so the effect was pretty dramatic, people knew. And whereas most people you might think would make themselves scarce, this chap just sat there and refused to move. More pressing than that though in these harsh economic times was his unpaid bill – which after several hours was in the neighbourhood of £500 – a big deal on the slowest night of the year. He says he’s skint but the boss is not one to be outdone and took his phone off him, called his wife and said, ‘your husband’s in a strip club, he’s shit himself and he owes us five hundred quid.’ Happy Valentine’s Day. She paid up but, understandably, wouldn’t come and get him. In the end the bouncers had to take him to the bathroom and clean him up, washed his trousers in the sink and he went off wearing them. Like I say – it’s mostly a quiet night and a poor earner – but there’s always the exception that proves the rule. Have a good one, whatever you do.
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