"Another says: Sign on Paradise Boulevard – 'Stopless and Topless.'"
-- Hunter S. Thompson, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
“Is this your girlfriend?” a voice asked. I looked down, where a woman’s French-manicured hand was gliding up my forearm. The other hand was gliding down Christian’s arm.
“No, no, no,” I laugh nervously.
“I just wanted to say ‘hi,’” she says, and shakes Christians hand. She’s in the “uniform”: sky-high lucite heels and a lace push-up bra. She leaves the table and I look over Christian’s shoulder, where a blonde is sitting in a rapper-esque gentleman’s lap. She leans back, puts her legs in the air at a 90 degree angle, and opens them like a pair of scissors.
I’m in a strip club. Let’s backtrack a bit…
The evening began innocently enough: Nicole and I made it back to Las Vegas proper from our trip to Zion National Park, where we called Christian up and invited him out for thai. My friends in LA recommended Lotus of Siam, so that was the plan.
Nicole pulled off the highway into a little strip mall.
“It’s really weird over here,” she says, and points to some of the nondescript night clubs known for being swingers bars. “But, I think they are going to turn this into a hub for Thai restaurants.”
She points to the little corner where more than one thai place now operates.
We put our name down at the restaurant, and since they are texting us when the table is ready, we decide to hit the pool hall a few doors down. It’s a massive spot, and the bar area isn’t crowded. Nicole and I slide onto stools at the bar. We each order a glass of wine, and the bartender gives us a look like, “Wine, in this place?” Two glasses of cabernet sauvignon materialize. We each put $5 in the slot machines. I lose fast.
Christian arrives and wants to play a round of pool.
“I just had a glass of wine without dinner, I’m too buzzed to play,” I say, but they insist. Christian tells me how to perfect my form — chin to the pole, bend the knees, look where you want to hit and get a grip on the table.
“OK, here we go,” I knock the ball and it hops off the table.
Nicole dies laughing.
“My father owned a pool hall, you’d think I could do better than this.”
Our table at Siam is ready by the time we are finished with the second game. We down our drinks and plunk down at a table. After the dim lights of the pool hall, Lotus of Siam feels like being awakened from a deep sleep. It’s bright.
Somehow, the conversation turns to my innocence. Christian sighs.
“I want to corrupt you,” he says.
“Join the club,” I want to say, but end up saying something much more polite like, “Everyone says that.”
“She’s never been to a strip club!” says Nicole. Christian’s eyes widen.
“No,” I say. “I don’t want to. Just like I haven’t seen ‘Titanic’ or smoked weed, I’m just not interested in it.”
I continue. “I’m one of those people that has always known that if I just did one or two bad thingsor dipped my toe in the pool I’d be really bad all the time. I feel like I’m inherently bad, so I just act extremely good to keep myself in check.”
Christian and Nicole both rear back a bit.
“This is interesting,” says Christian.
“She was a volunteer for the Pope and stuff,” says Nicole. I smile proudly.
We wrap dinner and Christian wants to go get a drink. We climb in the car and he starts driving us toward downtown Las Vegas.
“How about we go to a bar, get a drink?” he says.
“That would be fine,” I say. I look into the backseat, and Nicole is laughing maniacally.
“What’s so funny?” I ask. “We aren’t going to a bar at all, are we?”
Nicole and Christian continue to laugh.
“We’re going to The OG,” says Christian.
“The OG?” I say. “Is that a—?”
Nicole is still laughing in the backseat. She doesn’t even have to answer. I know we’re driving to a strip club.
“We’ll just go to the bar in front, we won’t even go where the girls are,” lies Christian. I’m naive enough to believe that there is a bar, a normal bar, in the place.
“Fine, whatever,” I say. We pull into the parking lot, and I’m kicking and screaming on the walk to the front door.
“What if I want to run for public office? I can’t be seen walking in here. I’m a Papal Volunteer for gods sake,” I say. “A PA-PAL VOL-un-TEER!” Anything sexual in this world repulses me. I don’t even like to look at myself naked in the mirror after a shower and I replace the word “sexy” in conversation with “vulgar.”
“We’ll go for five minutes and leave,” Nicole assures me.
We hand our IDs to a bouncer in a suit, who keeps listening to instructions on his earpiece.
“What do you do for a living?” he asks Christian.
“Does it matter?” Christian asks back.
“I just wanted to know if you were in the industry,” he says, he waves his hand to Nicole and I, asking if we’re strippers.
“Oh no,” we all laugh.
“Let me see if I can get you a discount?” the bouncer says. Apparently, there’s a cover charge. He narrows his eyes, someone is talking through the earpiece. Then he waves us in, no charge. “You’re good, go through on the left,” he says.
We walk in through a bright red hallway, and already I can see the strippers. A group of three women in lingerie and heels are crowding the front door.
“Okay, five minutes starting now,” I say to Christian and Nicole. “I’m serious. We got to get out of here.”
Christian nods toward the bar so we follow him in the darkness. There’s a stage in the center of the room with a silver, mirrored floor and three poles. There are chairs that pull right up to the stage, and little groupings of tables behind it, with three or four leather covered armchairs.
Christian pulls up to one of the little tables and we all take a seat. A waitress runs over.
“Drinks?” she asks.
“We’re waiting on a friend,” Christian says. She leaves, and we take a lay of the land. The aforementioned stripper comes over to offer Christian a lap dance, but he declines.
“These girls are way better than some of the other strip clubs,” says Nicole. “The women at those other places have c-section scars and saggy boobs.”
“These aren’t so bad, The OG is good,” says Christian. I look around. There are mostly men at each table, save for a group of women in cocktail dresses sitting right up at the stage. Looks like a bachelorette party.
“Do you like any of them?” Nicole asks, just to gauge Christian’s “type.” He points to the stage where a stripper has climbed up to start dancing.
“I like her,” he says.
The DJ gets on the mike.
“Everybody give it up for Ariel!” he says sing-songy, and the audience applauds. Nicole and Christian both whip around and look at me with a shocked face.
“Of course, of course the stripper’s name is Ariel,” I say shaking my head. Another Ariel, the second one on the trip.
She’s has long red hair that falls in ringlets to the small of her back, and a pale blue bow at the top of her hair.
“That’s probably her stage name, because she has red hair,” I note. Nicole nods.
She dances around a bit, and removes her bra and climbs to the top of her pole. Then she bike pedals all the way down it slowly, much to the audiences approval. At the end of her dance, Nicole calls her over to our table.
We introduce ourselves.
“Ohmigosh,” she says with a thick southern accent when they introduce me as Ariel.
“She’s my friend visiting from Alabama,” says Nicole.
“I’m from Tennessee!” she says.
I’m shocked at how warm she is, how delightfully nice. She keeps looking my way during the conversation but I keep my eyes on the ceiling, on the people moving around me. I’m barely paying her attention, arms crossed, ignoring her. Saying, “I’m better than you,” with my body language.
Then it hits me: Ariel Davis, you’re being a snob.
I begin to have a revelation, and time starts to slow down.
Ariel look at what you have become, I say to myself. You have built yourself a mountain of morals, and good deeds, and “all the things I haven’t done” and climb higher and higher only to look down on everyone else as “below you.” Look at what a hypocrite you have become, all your life saying that everyone is equal no matter what they do, and who they are, and then when confronted with a stripper, look how quickly your actions betray you. This was supposed to be your core, this is supposed to be your backbone. It folded and died and now you are ashamed. No, no, this isn’t you at all.
The other Ariel was teaching me a lesson that only meeting her could teach me. Time to fix this.
I gave myself a mental reprimand, then I look at her and smile.
“We just left Zion Canyon,” says Nicole.
“It was beautiful,” I say to Ariel, now committed to offering her my full attention, and now being humbled within those brief few seconds. I almost wanted to bow to her, to thank her.
I start to see value in her, and realize the value in everyone. I see my little hill shrinking in size; my feet closer to the ground. I can’t describe the feeling if I tried.
“I went camping there on Christmas Eve with my friends, with all the snow!” she says. Nicole and I both sigh at the thought.
“That’s so nice,” I say to her. She stands, puts her bra on, then leans back down to both of us to shake our hands.
“It was so nice meeting you both, you’re both awesome,” she says. Then she disappears.
A line of strippers then begins at our table.
“They saw how nice we were to her,” says Nicole, “and that we were cool with Christian talking to her. Now they’ll all want to line up and offer him a lap dance.”
They shake and wave at us, but we’re done downstairs.
Christian wants to go upstairs, apparently there’s male strippers upstairs. It’s a far cry from the first floor. The men are walking around in gym shorts, and the crowd is slim. A guy on stage is breakdancing.
“Why aren’t they naked like the girls downstairs? This is sexist,” says Nicole.
“Really cheesy,” I say. We don’t even sit down, and decide to leave.
We go to the parking lot and Nicole sighs.
“Now I feel bad for making you come,” she says.
“It’s OK, it wasn’t really that bad,” I say. “I thought it was going to be like ‘Eyes Wide Shut.’ I didn’t like seeing other guys get lap dances though, it’s too intimate. I have to figure out how I’m going to write about this on the blog. I can’t leave it out.”
I climb into bed that night, and consider something the son of a viscount once told me, when we were discussing my life. It was the conversation only he and I could ever have. He’s a self-proclaimed hedonist who likes to share his sexual exploits just to shock me. He doesn’t have a judgmental bone in his body, whereas I was a moralist-snot-prude, keen on being good to be above everyone else.
“Everything everyone else does doesn’t make sense to me,” I told him.
“You’re standing on a mountain top watching the ants, and not understanding what they do,” he said. “You just think your only goal is to stay on top.”
“I don’t get it?” I said.
It took five years for that conversation to become relevant, all because of a night in Vegas. I lay staring in the darkness, wondering how the hell I was going to write everything? There would be flowers sent to the viscount, that was for certain.
I fell asleep. The next day would be my last full day in Vegas. It would prove bittersweet.