This past weekend Jen and I went
to Colorado to see two of my college-era friends get married in
a co-ceremony. It was great to see old friends, great to witness
a wedding, great to remember that some people are a reliable presence
in my life, no matter what else changes.
The weirdest thing, though, is
that I went to a strip club.
It was my first time, and that
fact alone was a source of faint embarassment. I’m not normally
one to give a damn what red-blooded American men are supposed
to do–I’m unabashed, for instance, about crying in movies, or
hating football. However, something about the strip club thing…
The bachelors this party was intended
to honor are two of the least likely strip club visitors I can
imagine–mellow, sensitive, thoughtful, kind guys, if anything
even less traditionally "masculine" than I am. I couldn’t
believe they were actually going to do it. I kept waiting for
someone to wink, to call the bluff.
I felt nervous driving there,
like I was inching out on a high dive to take my first plunge.
My mental image of strip clubs was hazy, but I couldn’t imagine
that it would be a comfortable place, much less stimulating.
You ever been to a big party
with loud music and people acting all boistrous, and felt uncomfortable
half because you didn’t like it and half because you felt like
you were supposed to like it? That was me. My very first thought
was: ‘I wish I was invisible.’
My instinct, just like at the
aforementioned loud party, is to find an out-of-the-way place
to huddle with a similarly geeky friend, where we can dissect
and analyze and mock and get some sense of control or at least
emotional distance from it all, from our own intolerable mix of
self-consciousness, inadequacy, and alienation. But here, at this
strip club, I had no such friend. I wondered how much the strippers
were paid aside from tips. I wondered whether any of them were
prostitutes, or had kids, or drug habits. I wondered if they were
bored. I wondered why the other guys in the bar were there, whether
they were dissatisfied with their love lives, or lonely, or desperate,
or whether maybe they just enjoyed watching naked women gyrate.
I wondered why so many beautiful women were there… were they
strippers too, from some other bar? But the more I attempted to
discuss these kinds of questions, the more my friends avoided
me, and the more I felt like an alien life form.
These are guys I know very well,
guys every bit as smart and perceptive as I am. It can’t be that
they didn’t see the things I was seeing. I kept coming around
to a terrible possibility: perhaps they saw everything I saw,
but they chose not to think about it. They chose to _be_
there, to be in the moment and enjoy it for whatever transitory
pleasure its illusions provided.
Maybe, I thought, the problem
is that I’m simply not capable of shutting down the running commentary
in my head, and consequently I’m unable to enjoy the spontaneous,
gut-level thrills for which people come to places like strip clubs.
Maybe I can’t shut off my head, and worse yet, maybe everybody
else, even people similar to me in mind and temperament, can.
Maybe I’m the geek in the corner for life.
So I sat, alone, at a table away
from direct contact with the strippers. I didn’t want to talk
to anyone, because I could sense I was bringing them down. Every
few minutes I came to and realized that my legs were drawn up
in front of me, I was clutching my drink like a life raft, and
every muscle in my body was tensed. I knew, at some level, that
strip-club-type pleasures only work because everybody gets into
it. It only takes one person all tensed up in the corner to bring
people back into their own heads. Everybody in a place like a
strip club hates a guy like me.
_Especially_, it occurred
to me, at a strip club. Sex is situated deep down in the human
psyche, near the core, near all sorts of animal, powerful, inarticulate
desires and instincts. A strip club brings that mess up near the
surface, in a public place, so of course there has developed a
kind of protocol governing what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable.
One thing that’s verbotin is thinking too damn much about what
you’re doing, how absurd it is from an objective point of view.
If you think all the time about the core, motivating gut instincts
at work, you can’t _feel_ them. Right?