Books. Covers. Judges. Glass houses, etc.. But I took a stripper to lunch once and I didn’t know it.
When I was a PR intern in downtown Chicago–a sad personal finance year for me of approximately $8,000 of income before taxes–I reported to the director of public relations. Every now and then I’d be asked to hold down the front desk, answering phones, typing and printing documents for the president of the firm and whatnot. Perhaps because of my kind eyes I was also asked to entertain visitors when J Boogie, the office manager, couldn’t play host. One particular time, the guest of the hour was the “IT” guy’s daughter. I use the term “IT” loosely because this guy would take a PC that had virus-crashed, wipe it, and then set it up to be a back-up server for the director’s PC, which housed a virus but had too much important stuff on it to wipe and external hard drives weren’t a thing yet and, well, he was cheap and as unreliable as a out-of-date, virally-infected computer backing up another out-of-date, virally-infected computer.
End of digression.
The young lady sat in the small waiting area by the front desk looking at magazines. I’d been covering for J Boogie then, so the “IT” guy, who I’ll call Reggie, asked if I wouldn’t mind making sure his daughter, who I’ll call Constance, ate lunch while he “worked” on computer problems. Unfortunately, his proposition did not make me feel comfortable. I stalled. When J Boogie got back, I told him the deal figuring that I could pass the buck and continue to hold down the front while he hung with Constance. He slapped me on the back and flashed the wide grin of a cartoon cat–one that probably wore a hat or a vest or both. He was leaving this one to me. Of course.
I must admit, I don’t remember much of that day. I don’t remember what we ate–as I type this I do remember that we went to a small grocery store with a deli on he first level of a high-rise residential building in Gold Coast. What’s more, I don’t remember how we got to talking in an even flow of conversation. What I do remember is that Constance began to share. She was in her early twenties at the time (so was I back then) and her parents were divorced. She lived with her father but they were butting heads because she was technically an adult and didn’t like the rules under his roof. I asked if she would consider moving out, and while I don’t remember what she said about that, I remember that that question was what led to me asking about what she did for a living.
Constance told me she was a dancer. I thought, as one would, that she was a dancer like with a dance company or a career backup dancer. It wasn’t until she started telling me that she wanted to quit that I got curious. She’d been dancing for a few years, but she was getting tired of it. I didn’t understand. I had friends who were part of dance groups in high school and college. Surely they’d give anything to be a dancer for Janet Jackson, or Brittney Spears, or Usher, or Beyonce, right? How could Constance be fed up with the life that so many girls I knew wanted?
Dancing had lost its glamour. The allure had faded. Men touched her, grabbed her, said gross things to her, hungered for her in a way that no longer made her feel sexy; only naked. She hated how they looked at her. Gotta be honest again: I forgot what she said she’d rather do. Where she’d hoped to go from there. But what I remember most about this entire interaction is how young she was, and how normal she was. How human. Constance was nothing like what I’d envisioned strippers to be. The women in music videos on BET UnCut seemed two dimensional: money and sex. Willing to show their bodies and gyrate for bills floating to the ground like leaves in October. No other passions or goals except to get paid to be in the biggest rap star’s next video…and maybe bedroom.
But that was all me. I was walking the streets with a nine-month-old Saint Bernard named Naivete on a short leash. He was pulling me along and I could hardly keep my footing. I think Constance appreciated me not holding anything that she’d told me against her. I didn’t question her decisions as if I knew they were bad for her. I had no idea. Plus, she seemed to be doing just fine at doing what was best for her. Who was I to judge, either way? So I ate my sandwich (or whatever I got) and perhaps even made a friend, if only for a lunch break.