Holly and I notice a small crowd gathered in front of a yoga store on Bloor Street. A shiny brass pole has been set up in the display window and women are taking turns spinning around it. Someone is handing out pretty pink-and-white flyers advertising a pole-dancing workout, with a picture of a woman in sweats halfway up a brass pole. Single classes are 20 bucks.
"Would you ladies like to try?" A fresh-faced store clerk asks us.
"No thanks," I tell her.
Holly rolls her eyes.
This is Bloor Street on Saturday afternoon. You really don't want to see me work that pole. I don't aspire to be a stripper. I don't pretend to be a stripper. I am a stripper.
"What's the deal with that?" Holly says as we break away from the crowd and head to Starbucks.
"I don't know, but I find it disturbing," I say.
I read from the pole-dancing ad and laugh.
"Check this out. It says: 'Are you fit to strip?' Hell, yeah! I'm an alcoholic and a drug addict with a history of sexual abuse. Strip bars are home to me. I was custom-made to strip.
"It reminds me of that ex-peeler who does some kind of lap-dancing workshop, a 'dance for your man' kind of thing. She teaches you how to uncover your inner stripper," I tell Holly.
"Does she teach you how to uncover your inner coke habit or your inner low self-esteem?" she spits.
Holly's an ex-stripper. She knows all about snorting lines off the back of a tittie-bar toilet and feeling like shit.
"Yeah, I know. Maybe she can teach you how to unearth memories of the cock jammed in your five-year-old mouth. Inner stripper? Fuck off. Dancing for your man? Give me a break! Men don't want to see their wives and girlfriends strip. They want unfamiliar pussy, unfamiliar flesh. They want a 22-year-old with a cocksucking face named Chanel," I say.
We sip our coffees in silence. Holly is the first to speak.
"It says here, 'The benefits of the pole workout are: a strong upper body, core muscles, and increasing sexuality while learning the sensuous movements of striptease.' What? Dangling from one leg upside-down from a pole with your twat spread - you call that sensual? Because that's stripping, not this." She laughs.
I think about stripping as she reads the flyer. I am light years away from any true sexuality when I strip, and you can never know that unless you do it. It is a facade. It's manipulation and, depending on the guy I'm dancing for, a game of domination and submission. It is a good workout, though - they're right about that.
"I don't know why it bothers me so much, this fascination people have with stripping these days," I say.
"Because it's a fucking lie. Do you know a single peeler who isn't fucked up?" she says. "Even the ones who say they are only doing it for school fees or whatever other excuse they need the money for."
"You're right, it's rarely about the money." I say.
"You have it in you or you don't." Holly says. She finishes her coffee and jams the lid in the empty cup.
It's true we have a piece missing. You just can't be whole and strip. I know if the pole-dancing ladies were to come to where I work, they'd be horrified.
Some guy would want to touch their pussies or suck their tits, or he'd whip out his dick and start whacking off. They'd be out the door screaming, and that would probably be the healthy response.
"Why not just call it the pole workout and leave it at that? Don't bring in striptease. Don't sanitize peeling. It's a dirty, sleazy, fucked-up thing to do - and I love it."
"Yeah, me too. I miss it." Holly says.