It's snowing. the strip bar I work in is empty. I don't know how long I've been staring at the TV behind the bar, watching sports scores, stock quotes, boxes of numbers and moving bits of information that I don't need. I swivel around on my barstool and scan the empty tables. One customer, a grey-haired man, sits at a table near the stage holding a Heineken, looking at the empty space in front of him.
I haven't made any money since I got here three hours ago. I approach him.
"May I join you?"
"Yes - of course - please."
"I'm Jodi." I extend my hand.
"Hello, Jodi. I'm Bill. Nice to meet you."
We shake hands. His hand is cold from the beer.
Bill is 70, a retired architect. He's been married for 40 years to the same woman, a psychologist who's still practicing. They live an hour north of the city, have two children, a lawyer son who just married last summer and a pediatric neuro-radiologist daughter who lives in Dallas.
His description of his family annoys me. They all sound so decent and productive. I change the subject.
"So what are you doing here, Bill?"
"I like the girls."
"You came all the way down here in the snow for this?"
I look over my shoulder at the empty room. A couple of girls sit up at the bar playing video poker, another girl is in the DJ booth looking at CDs. The rest are upstairs in the dressing room smoking.
"Well, yes," Bill smiles.
He asks me for a lap dance. I lead him to the VIP lounge, where I end up doing five lap dances. In between, we talk about books and movies and share travel stories. He tells me some really lame jokes; I tell him some really dirty ones. He orders me a Diet Coke and I sit next to him on the love seat.
He's very respectful. He doesn't touch me. I like him. We rest our feet on the mirrored cube that acts as a drinks table. He wears soft khakis and brown hiking boots. My legs are white except for where my knees are bruised from the pole, and I wear 4-inch clear plastic platforms.
"Jodi, is there any way to see you outside of this place?" Bill asks
Normally I tell people I have a boyfriend and I just can't, but I really like Bill and wouldn't mind seeing him again, so I say, "Sure. We could meet for a coffee sometime."
"I was thinking about seeing you privately, alone somewhere. Are you interested in that?" Bill asks.
Well, that's different. I know girls do extras inside the club and go on dates with customers, and I don't have a problem with that. It only bothers me when I see it.
If a girl's dancing next to me and a guy's got his fingers inside her or she's got his dick out, I don't want to do it, I don't want to see it and I don't want to be around it.
I always turn down the guys at the club who ask me out. I have to like somebody to have sex with him, and to like him I have to know him for more than a couple of hours. Even the one-night stands I've had were with men I'd known for a while, guys I'd met at school or work or through friends.
"So are you asking me if I'll go on a date with you?" I ask Bill.
"Yes, I am. I'd pay you for your time, of course."
I sit in silence for a moment. I don't say no.
"Let me think about it. I've never done anything like that before."
"Jodi, please forgive me if I've offended you. I'll understand ."
"No, it's OK. I'm, like, strangely not offended, and I'll think about it."
I sip my soda and wonder, if I do this, what will it do to me? Will it leave an indelible black mark on my soul, will it make me want to get loaded and high and just give up? Will it be one of those invisible lines that once people cross, that's it, life can never be the same again? Will I go insane? Will I feel dirty?
I look at Bill. "Yes, I think I can do it. I like you. Yes," I tell him.
"Well, that's great, Jodi, but are you sure?" he asks.
I'm not sure, but I figure I can back out at any moment. I ask him, "Is this something you do all the time or ?" I'm not really sure what I'm asking or why.
"You know I'm married and love my wife, but she doesn't enjoy sex any more, and, well, I still do."
"So you hire prostitutes?"
"I use the services of an escort agency, yes."
"Oh. I guess that makes sense."
"The going rate is $240 for an hour of your time. Does that sound fair to you?" Bill asks.
In the past I've said that no amount of money could make me a whore. A friend of mine has an arrangement with a wealthy Saudi that involves making herself available to him whenever he's in town for a night, a couple of days, sometimes a week.
Physically, he disgusts her, but he plops $10,000 into her bank account each time. I have mixed feelings about it. I don't like the idea of somebody I find repulsive inside my body, but $10,000 is not spare change.
The money is kind of irrelevant. Would I feel different if it were $50 or $500? I don't know. Would I have sex with Bill if he were not offering money? Not today. I like Bill. I think I'd have sex with him for nothing - in time.
"My parking is probably up. I don't want to get towed, so I'll say so long, Jodi. Oh, you'd better give me your phone number."
I write my cellphone number on a piece of envelope. He'll have to remember my name.
Upstairs in the pink dressing room, I sit in front of the makeup mirror. I feel restless, uneasy. I yank open the combination lock on my locker and my street clothes tumble out. I can't work any more today. I want to go home.