They arrive at 2:00 in the morning, already intoxicated. The cartoonist checks his messenger bag at the door, follows the doctor and the lawyer to the bar.
There’s a woman on stage, topless, gyrating around a shiny pole, and there are women throughout the room, topless, gyrating on the laps of men. Some of the men look like stockbrokers. Some look like thugs. It’s hard to tell the difference.
Classic hip-hop thumps the walls and everybody’s eardrums. The music’s like sex, but better. It’s like porn: never ending, never limp, never falling sleep.
An aura of menace permeates the room, created by the ogres at the door, the dark red decor, the sneering lyrics booming from the speakers. The cartoonist imagines mob bosses hidden in backroom offices, fondling handguns and snorting coke through rolled up hundreds.
At the bar are women waiting. They smile at the men, press their breasts against their arms, ask if they’d like lap dances. The men say not just yet, they want to get drinks first. The women are predatory, hungry. One of them asks the cartoonist what they’re celebrating. Is one of them getting married? “No,” the cartoonist says. “We’re not celebrating anything. Just Thursday night.” The stripper’s smile flickers.
The men order a round of gin and tonics, which cost them $15 each.
They each choose a woman.
The doctor chooses a freckled redhead from Kentucky. When she asks the doctor what he does, he says he’s a gastroenterologist. She says that’s cool, that she once considered going to medical school, too. The doctor nods, imagining this other life for this pretty woman. In another world, she might have been his coworker. In this world, he’ll soon pay $250 for 20 minutes of her time in a semiprivate room.
The lawyer chooses a Korean woman with curly black hair and enormous tits. When she asks what he does, he says he’s an intellectual property attorney. She asks if he likes his job. He says he likes the money. The stripper giggles.
The cartoonist chooses a petite brunette woman who resembles his ex. She says her name’s Marissa.
“Oh. I thought you said Larissa.” He assumes it’s a stage name, but get’s freaked out all the same.
“So what do you do?”
“I’m a cartoonist.”
“Oh. Like Saturday morning cartoons?”
“No. Like graphic novels. Comic books.”
“Cool. Like superheroes?”
“No. Like robots, and monsters. And ghosts.”
The lawyer shoots the cartoonist a dirty look. The cartoonist looks down at the carpet.
Two by two by two, the three pairs head upstairs, where an ogre in a suit tells the men that 20 minutes with their girls will cost them each a quarter grand. The doctor hands the ogre his AmEx.
The cartoonist asks Marissa if she could spit her gum out. She asks why. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. She shrugs, chews her gum. He asks her once again to spit it out. She rolls her eyes and spits the slim pink crescent into a trashcan.
Their booth reminds the cartoonist of a confessional. He’s never been in a confessional. His parents were raised Catholic, but he wasn’t raised anything. He wasn’t even baptized.
The cartoonist sits. Marissa stands over him, gyrating her hips. She asks why he didn’t want her chewing gum. He says he doesn’t know. She says her ex-boyfriend, who was also an artist, used to tell her when she chewed gum she looked like a cow chewing cud. She says it as a joke, but it makes the cartoonist feel bad. He says, “I didn’t want you chewing gum because it made you look like you didn’t want to be here.”
Marissa dances, although the music seems far away. He tells her she smells good. She throws her head back, exposing her neck. He asks if he can kiss her. She says no. Kissing’s too intimate, and they just met. She says this after taking off her top.
He says she has a great body, something she hears from customers every night. She sticks her ass in his lap, says nothing. He runs his fingers over the octopus tattoo on her back and kisses her shoulder. He wonders if that’s bad, if he’s doing it wrong, if he’ll get kicked out for kissing the stripper on her bare shoulder. He imagines there’s a hidden camera somewhere, watching. Guilt gnaws at him. When the cartoonist said he couldn’t afford a trip to the strip club, the lawyer said not to worry about it, the doctor was buying, but now, in the private room that resembles a confessional, with the stripper that resembles his ex-girlfriend rubbing her ass on his lifeless crotch, he wonders if the doctor’s getting his money’s worth.
Time passes slowly. Marissa asks the cartoonist what his favorite sexual position is. He hesitates, then says reverse cowgirl. Marissa pumps her ass in his face. Five minutes ago, she asked the same question, and he said doggystyle. She said that was her favorite sexual position, too. He feels confused. Did she forget she already asked him that? Is she having a good time? And why won’t his dick get hard? Sometimes his dick can be such a pussy.
He asks if she has a boyfriend. She says no. He sighs and says he just got out of a four year relationship, and now he lives in a haunted apartment. He feels his thoughts turning dark and tries to focus his attention on Marissa. He asks what she does for fun. She responds by yawning. He mock-apologizes, “I’m sorry, am I boring you?” She says she’s just tired. He says he hates when people yawn. It makes him feel like he’s not being entertaining enough. She says he shouldn’t worry so much.
Marissa arches her back and pinches her nipples. Somehow they start talking about the internet. He mentions craigslist, how he likes the casual encounters section.
“So you do a lot of online dating?”
“No, I just go on there and look at the ones with pictures, before they get flagged as inappropriate and taken down.”
“Well, do you like to meet people online, like on Facebook?”
“No,” he says. “I’m not on Facebook.”
“I don’t know. I don’t like it. I don’t like social networking.”
“You should get on Facebook! Everybody’s on Facebook. You’ve got to get on Facebook.”
“OK,” he says in a defeated tone.
Marissa dances a little more. He admires her body’s elegant curves and imagines drawing her. They make eye contact. She smiles. She’s beautiful. He stares. He’s ugly. He calls her Larissa. She continues dancing. He tells her he misses her. She tells him his time’s up.
As they leave their booth, she says he doesn’t have to tip her, but he can if he wants to. He nods absently. She whips her hair over her shoulder and walks away.
He walks downstairs, where the strip club’s still in full swing, with half naked women gyrating on the laps of fully clothed men. Men with rings on their fingers, with pictures of kids in their wallets, with love like a heartworm in their chests. The men leer, and grin, and beckon the women with their fat hairy hands.
The cartoonist calls the lawyer, but there’s no answer, so he sits and watches the dancer onstage, working the pole. Almost immediately, a blonde Ukrainian sits on his lap, and a blonde Haitian starts rubbing his shoulders. They both ask if he wants to go upstairs. Across the room, he sees Marissa, talking to a silverhaired man in a suit. He smiles at her. She smiles back.
His phone rings. The lawyer says he’s at the bar, drinking another $15 gin and tonic. Reunited, the cartoonist asks where the doctor is. The lawyer says he threw up and went home, then regales him with a story about snapping the Korean woman’s thong.
“Awesome,” the cartoonist says with uncertainty.
As the men leave, the cartoonist sees Marissa, and tells the lawyer to give him a minute. He tells Marissa he had a great time, then digs in his pocket for his thin fold of cash, which takes him a moment to find. He smiles with embarrassment. She says, “You’re so smiley,” to which he replies, “I’m a happy guy,” then hands her a ten dollar bill. They thank each other, and the stripper tells the cartoonist to take care.
Marissa watches as he retrieves his messenger bag from the coat check, shaking her head slightly. She’s encountered many men at her job, plenty of perverts and assholes and creeps, but the cartoonist is the type of guy she worries about the most. She can’t imagine things will end well for him. He just seems so weak. She watches him and his friend exit the strip club, then she gets back to work.
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Read more about Ethan here.
Read more about Johannes here.