There were numerous relatable entries in this recent Reddit thread where sex workers or their clients wrote about their most depressing experiences, but one in particular pulsed with the “terminal loneliness” that I’ve come to know well from working in strip clubs, massage parlors and filthy motels and Four Seasons alike. “My ex left me about 3 years ago,” a redditor relayed. “The break up was… unpleasant to say the least. It was horrible, but I had my cat to comfort me. I had to put her down last year, though. I had her for 22 years, I don’t ever remember not having her. I’ll put it this way, I am so lonely and starved for affection that I had a dream where I had a girlfriend, my alarm went off and I called in sick to work so I could continue to dream about having a girlfriend. God, that sounds so pathetic typing that out.”
Still, despite all that terminal loneliness, I don’t pity my clients. In fact, I’m fond of many of them. Feeling desired by a stranger and needing sex or a lap dance with a beautiful, attentive woman are wonderful things by themselves. But in more than 25 years of being a sex worker, I’ve found that other than those things, men want companionship, tenderness and solace just as much, if not more than, a clever, acrobatic stripper. Lemme the count the ways for you…
1) Three months ago, I worked later than usual on a Tuesday night because I was talking to another stripper about her problems. It was a slow day, but after a while, I looked up and suddenly the club was full of gangsters. There were two tables of four or more guys with neck tats and the teardrop under an eyeball that says, “I murdered someone.” One older guy was in a wheelchair with a bucket of happy-hour beer in front of him. Some girls I worked with joked that there must be a shuttle straight from prison into our club; other strippers waited in the dressing room for “the oxygen to change on the floor.”
I was at the end of my shift, so I sat with the gangsters. The youngest one, who was short with lots of neck tats, liked me. Jay told me he was “fresh out” of jail. I tried to congratulate him on his newfound freedom, but he told me he was happier on the inside. He told me he made lots of money on the inside. After lap dancing for him for a while, he asked for my number. I, though, didn’t want to give it to him.
I walked outside to an enclosed smoking area. He followed me. We talked. “You’re such a smart business person. You could take classes right here at College of the Desert for cheap,” I said. I’m a professor with a background in teaching literacy to incarcerated teen girls, so it seemed like a good idea.
But the more I tried to get him to go back to school, the more he tried to convince me to launder his dirty money. Finally, I gave Jay my number with the intention of deleting it immediately. Not long after, I left the club. A couple hours later, my phone buzzed. It was a text from Jay that read, “Come swoop me up.” Two hours later, a fatal shooting that began inside the club moved into the parking lot.
I never heard from Jay again.
2) Years ago, when I was a hand-job whore with Bella, we’d see her regular clients together for a “double.” One of them was Gary, a mixed-race bald guy in his mid-30s who lived alone in a generic apartment complex in West L.A. Gary’s space was clean and organized, but not sterile. I remember he poured me a glass of water from a Brita into a plastic Ikea glass, careful not to spill.
Gary also always dressed like he’d come from the gym. I asked about it once, and he said he loved to take dance classes. At some point, I even watched Bella and Gary bounce around to a routine at a gym. He’d convinced us to go with him — I don’t remember why. About a year after I’d stopped freelance hand-jobbing, I asked Bella about Gary and she said he killed himself. She found out on Facebook.
Our sessions were never sad, per se — Bella would hold Gary and pat his bald oily head while I jerked him off (or vice versa), and he’d stare into her eyes intensely — but Gary was sad and I sensed it. Every time Bella and I drove to his apartment, I’d doze off uncontrollably in the car. “He’s like your personal tranquilizer,” she’d say. Then she’d put out her cigarette on the lawn outside his apartment, and we’d step inside his building and ride up in an elevator that stunk of everyone’s Top Ramen. Once we got to the third floor, Gary would be awaiting us at his door in just his gym socks.
3) A fortysomething burner, Aaron became obsessed with me and came to the strip club every time I worked. He’d wait for me when I had other customers, sometimes for an hour or more. One time I even sent him to the store for gum and Tylenol because I knew I’d be a while and I had a migraine. Finally, I’d lap dance with Aaron, and he’d say, “I’ve been dying to see you.”
This went on for a month, probably longer. One time he told me about his cheating wife. He’d caught her in bed with another guy in their condo, but he still loved her. He was distraught about it. He said he wanted to meet me outside for a domme session and asked if we could discuss it. He wanted me to flog and kick him. I told him I’d only do it if he felt it would help his situation and not hurt it more. I didn’t want to meet him if it were a secret that he’d have to keep from her. I figured they’d hit a rough patch, and he wanted revenge. So I told him to consider all of that and come back so we could plan it out. He grabbed me, hugged me and sobbed in my arms. “You’re an amazing person,” he wept.
He never returned.
4) Two men stumbled into the strip club where I still dance, shit-faced. One had the other one by the arm and said to me, “Give that guy a dance. He needs it.” He handed me some cash and said, “His wife just died.” I chased down the grieving man who had the dazed look of sudden grief. I mostly just hugged him in an embrace and hoped that it soothed him, but it probably didn’t. He cried softly the whole time.
5) I’ve danced for a few sad bachelors and their pack of coked-up buddies who game-face it all night until one of them gets drunk enough to say during a lap dance, “His fiancée is awful. He deserves better.” I awkwardly sit on his lap and we ride out the song in a strange, disconcerting silent ritual.
6) There are always a couple of customers who come into the club for the sole purpose of being able to confidently reject a beautiful woman who’d never date them in the first place. The delight in their eyes as they do it is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.
7) The dick pills had stopped working, but Calvin still wanted to party. He fell smitten with me in the VIP room about twice a week for a month. Some loud young guys were rocking out to Danzig and tossing bills aggressively at the girl on stage. Calvin said, “Will you dance with me standing up?” I said, “Sure,” and walked up to the DJ to let him know so he wouldn’t get confused by my strange ballroom dancing. The DJ asked me if I wanted him to play some Sinatra. I grinned and nodded, thinking he was joking.
When Sinatra’s “Witchcraft” began, I put my hand on Calvin’s shoulder. His hand rested on my waist. He led me around the floor and sang all the words, and we swayed in a sweet Sinatra bubble. Calvin had the memory of sex, and I had enough red lingerie and glitter to trigger it, so we danced in his sex memory while the young guys at the stage threw their arms in the air angrily and exchanged looks of disgust.