By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
DIRTY OLD MEN
Because I am a former hostess dancer, Evan Wright’s cover story "Dance With a Stranger" [January 22–28] struck a deep chord in me. I knew that sooner or later the hip set would catch on to this perverse underground phenomenon, previously reserved for "dirty old men" — and recent immigrants to this country, who are unable to score with women due to language and cultural barriers. The story reminds me of a similar article I read long before I ever set foot in a dance hall. I was misled to believe dance halls were the perfect places to gain insight into male-female relationships and earn easy money. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place where some wealthy Japanese businessman might give you a car the next day, just for being nice? When I actually became a "taxi dancer," the price I paid for each ride was much higher. Far beyond the tip and a pat on the ass at the pay counter, the emotional meter kept running long after the money exchanged sweaty hands.
The patrons of these modern eye-candy galleries may leave each rented romance lighter in the wallet, but at least they go home to their wives, their positions of power (real or imagined), their blue-collar monotony. They can share their conquis tador bravado with a captive audience of curious, panting males and go to sleep smiling. Meanwhile, the scantily clad baby dolls of their dreams hide their screw-me heels in a gym bag and go home to lie to their families, sexually spurn their lovers and cultivate a secret self-loathing, unable to express their deep feelings of horror and shame. But they return night after night, usually because they cannot earn that kind of money anywhere else.
Most of my experiences were nothing like the cute, deviant-yet-harmless encounters that have been described by male writers since the 1930s. Maybe in the ’30s there was more dancing cheek-to-cheek than "jerking off." Today, the only marker of success is how much money a dancer can swindle. Most of these women lie to others — and to themselves — about what "base" their customer got to, and the price paid. They boast among themselves about enormous payoffs for nothing. ("He didn’t even touch me.") The odds against such Pretty Woman moments, however — like the woman Wright met who hit the $1,000 jackpot — are more akin to those of winning the lottery. Everyone has nights without dances, without tips. This leads more and more women — even the most seemingly pristine — to perform sexual favors, both inside and outside the clubs, for supplementary income. As dance-hall girls become accustomed to carrying home large sums in cash (where else can they earn $20-plus an hour?), they can no longer hold down steady, respectable jobs. Their patrons become addicted or even violently obsessed with their favorite girls. I know of one man who spent his entire savings in a few months, hoping to garner true love from a girl who could care less if he dropped dead.
The women’s bathroom is a virtual mecca of despair and abuse. Under the garish lights, one notices purple bruises marking pretty legs and arms. It is not uncommon to see supermodel types cowering in front of the full-length bathroom mirror, saying how ugly they must be since no one has picked them, or their tips have been less than a windfall. Then there are rituals of fumigation: over spraying with strong perfume, overwashing in the attempt to eliminate the scent of the customers. Next time you go to a club, take a closer look at the women’s faces. Whether dancing on the floor or seated in a tacky love-booth, they range from teary sadness to violent anguish. Women eye one another on the sly, sticking their tongues out in disgust, rolling their eyes in utter boredom.
Often, after being selected for a dance, I was examined like a racehorse: toes, teeth, breast firmness and shape, length of gams, etc. Judgments of my beauty and my body would flow copiously from the callous lips of my benefactor —- usually an overweight, under endowed, balding, boring, disreputable creep. Paying a woman to be nice to you in this world becomes a license to demoralize and conquer.
Both women and men are transformed by these places. Men are sized up according to their wallet size. Hideous stereotypes are voiced openly: "Middle Easterners smell and are cheap." "Asians are rich and asexual." "Mexicans and blacks are perverse and poor tippers." And white males are the least popular.
On the other hand, many men — including, apparently, the illustrious Mr. Wright — prefer white, "clean-looking" women to darker, ethnic, presumably "sluttier" types. Others spend their filthy lucre exclusively on minority women, who are sure to succumb without a fight. Ay, Chihuahua!
Neither the cash-and-carry women nor the men who prowl these establishments walk away from the experience unscathed. The dance halls cater to the cult of beauty, wealth and materialism, which destroys an individual’s normal, healthy sense of what it means to be valued and accepted. In its place, the club makes human worth a commodity and gives approval a dollar value. This is postmodernity at its finest, each hostess club a perfect microcosm of the selfish, disconnected bestialities that plague our times.
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