By Kendra Holliday | July 11, 2021
Disclaimer: I wrote this a long time ago, and it never seemed to fit the vibe of this blog, so I’ve never published it here, or anywhere. It ALMOST made it in BUST magazine, but they chose an essay about male strippers instead.
I was in a very different place 20+ years ago, but since I mentioned it in the post yesterday about Jobs I Have Had, I decided to follow up with this.
Do you know, strippers in 2021 still make the same amount of money I made in 1991?!
I had this gig was when I was 19 (I’m 48 now). I was pretty much trapped in a bad spot – kicked out of my house, no money, no car, dead end job.
I didn’t know what to do. So one day, a girlfriend and I decided to check out the strip clubs on the East Side. I called a place at random, and asked if they hired girls who had no boobs and couldn’t dance. She said sure, gave me directions, and told me to come in for an “interview.”
So I saved up money for a down payment on the cheapest car I could find, and we drove over there.
It was SO frightening entering that place. It was like a haunted house, but it was in the afternoon, and the building sat on a gravel parking lot in Washington Park like an overgrown mobile home. It was called Mainstreet.
Quaking, my friend and I entered. It was really dark, and we had to go up some stairs. There was a bouncer at the door, a 6’6″ black man named Humphrey who directed us to the bartender, who was in charge. She was very tan, busty, and abrupt, and our “interview” consisted of us being taken back to the dressing room, and being told to lift our shirts. I guess she was checking for scars, or a hairy chest or something.
We filled out an application (the whole purpose being to get in writing that you’re 18), and we were hired.
I gave my employer two weeks notice, and soon it was my first day to report to the strip club. I was SOO nervous, because guess what?
I was on my own.
My friend chickened out. (It’s almost unheard of for a woman to just walk into a strip joint out of the blue and get a job there. Women usually wind up there because a friend they party with or relative works there.)
My first day was TERRIFYING. I was paired up with a sweet-n-stupid girl with bleach blond curls and pink lipstick named “Sassy,” who took one look at me and gave me the name “Glamour.” Can you believe that was my stage name?? Isn’t it SO Seven Dwarfs?
She lent me high heels, and for the first time in my life, I got up on a stage and took my clothes off in front of a bunch of strange men 20 years older than me. Can you imagine doing that right now? Can you imagine doing that as a teenager?
We hustled the guys all day, and I went home feeling very dirty and exhausted. And that’s the way I felt for next nine months. I was in my prime and desired by many, but absolutely LOATHED myself.
The strip club I worked at was owned by a nasty man in his 50’s named Tom Venezia, and his 25 yr old son, Milan Venezia. They were SLEAZY all right, and were involved in all kinds of illegal activity, and had loads of money. Milan thought he was hot stuff, so did his dad. They would pick the hardest, bitchiest princess girls and SHARE them, and of course the “chosen ones” thought they were something else, too. They’d run the bar, like the one who hired me.
Here are some stage names and strippers I worked with:
Pancake- skinny young thing that belonged to a biker gang (I mean, OWNED–she was even tattooed for identification) she was called Pancake because she was as flat as one.
Vicki- one of the few women who could actually dance. She did pole tricks and could put her legs behind her head! She sometimes wore a wig, and licked her pendulous breasts a lot. Her nickname was “Sticky Vicki.”
Party- a very cool woman from Jefferson County who was a hard worker and didn’t take any guff. She shaved off her pubic hair. Most had the mohawk style going on.
Lisa- a woman with a little girl, who often wore fake pearls and chewed gum all the time
Diane- this woman was a bitch! She’d been around for years, and looked like some dried out old witch, and was a MEAN drunk. One time she tried to turn the club against me, telling everyone I said I thought I was the best girl there, etc. I was afraid of her.
Chloe- this was my “special friend.” We partied together, and we enjoyed each other’s company quite a bit, if you know what I mean. She was quite wild, and always dated creeps (they all did) She did coke and was an alcoholic, and one time wrapped her car around a telephone pole on her way home, leaving chunks of her hair on the steering wheel. She was trashy, but so sweet. After I quit, we stayed in touch, and she never could get used to calling me by my real name.
Babbette- a woman who worked until her pregnancy began to show
Jo- a very cool 34 yr old woman, with long red hair, pale skin, and fake boobs. (there weren’t too many fake boobs at this place- strippers generally get boobs as a gift from rich “regulars,” and most were too cheap for that.) I danced with her a couple times, so I got to feel what fake boobs feel like. They were hard and cold. She was a “truckers” woman.
Destiny- a high energy skinny little black woman (most the women there were white trash druggies with tattoos, although there were plenty of exceptions. There were a couple sweet young innocent women that worked there for a month or two, just for curiosity, or to pay for college, but other than that, I was the only woman there that didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs or have tattoos. So the guys thought I was a blonde angel.)
Sabrina- a very pretty, dumb 18 yr old girl with long brown hair who could have been a normal college student, but instead, took the wrong turn, and messed up her life pretty bad. She ended up having a baby with some guy she met there.
Stormy- this was the MOM who worked there, and whose daughter did, too. They used to team up on guys – it was a family affair. Stormy had a big tattoo on her face that she covered with make up, and big butterfly wings tattooed across her fake boobs, so when she squished them together, they formed a complete insect. Man, was she rough.
There were many others, of course. The place was a revolving door.
Humphrey turned out to be a very sweet man who was dating a 4’6″ Filipini cocktail waitress who worked there. Nobody messed with HER, that’s for sure! There was also another bouncer there, an OLD widower named Doc, who was impotent and had a heart condition. He was nasty, but got sad on you every once in awhile, probably because he’d been drinking. He finally got fired for being worthless.
I worked the day shift, from noon-8 because I had trouble staying up past 10pm. I was supposed to be there five days a week. You had to “tip out”, aka pay to work there, $25 a day, and if you missed a day, you were fined $140 – they kept a big book of fines. If you were late getting to a stage, you were fined $10. If you were caught doing something wrong, you were fined $40, etc. They made a LOT of their money off the women. So you’d end up having to pay off your fine everyday, a minimum of $50 or something, so even though I made $200 a day, I often only took home $100.
The money was fed to me slowly, mostly one limp dollar at a time…I would stop “dancing” during certain points of the song, and hold my g-string out expectantly for the men to deposit their token of appreciation. Sometimes they would act like they didn’t understand body language, which was awkward… But if they did get the memo, I would toss the begrudging bill onstage and resume my “seduction.”
After the set ended, I would gather up the crumpled bills and scurry to the locker room to organize them. I stacked them in my shoe where they got all sweaty and wrinkly – it was too risky leaving money in your locker – people would steal your lipstick for lordsake. Working here taught me to ALWAYS wash your hands after handling money – it may have been in a stripper’s shoe, a butt crack, used for coke…
Of course I would skip days. It was unbearable to go there, (especially since I wasn’t under the influence of drugs) and if I couldn’t face it that day, I just wouldn’t go in, and accept the fine. So I’ll bet I only worked four days a week at most. A lot of the women would arrive, and immediately get drunk, just to get through the day. You were allowed to drink even if you were underage. You were encouraged to hit men up for jacked up drinks. I’d have Shirley Temples.
I remember one time, I was driving that horrible highway towards the east side, and it was a dreary grey day, and I was so bummed about having to go in. All of a sudden, I decided that I just couldn’t do it! so I turned around at the next exit, and spent the rainy day at the Art Museum instead. It was so lovely. To this day, the Art Museum is a sanctuary for me, like church.
Most of the women would cope by staring over the man’s shoulder off into space, chewing gum and mechanically gyrating. They tuned themselves out of the whole scene. I didn’t. I would look straight into the guys eyes, and act like I was enjoying myself. So I was pretty popular – I stood out for being young and fresh, with no tattoos or addictions.
They had a lunch buffet, so sometimes the place stunk of fried chicken or Salisbury steak, sweat and cheap perfume – gross! And of course everyone smoked. To this day, when I walk into a place that allows smoking, I get flashbacks to the strip club and feel like I’m about to get groped. And certain songs trigger me – the ones that played on the jukebox a lot – U2, Enigma, Rod Stewart, Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer…
Of course the worst part of the whole thing was the men. We did lap dances all the time, so I was often sitting in the laps of the grossest men wearing nothing but a g-string. Sometimes they would get semen you, and they would ALWAYS surreptitiously paw at your boobs (of course it was against the rules to touch boobs and other body parts). I got angry lap rash – bumps all over the backs of my tender little thighs from gyrating on the laps of men all day – jeans, suits, dress slacks…
There was this one creepy little Chinese man who was married and had a baby, and he would NOT give up trying to get me to run away with him. There was this one NASTY man named “Wink,” an old guy who drove a Corvette and smoked cigars so he smelled like farts, who would come in and give me moony eyes forever, and wouldn’t quit trying to accomplish the same thing. It seemed like they were ALL that way. They couldn’t just visit and enjoy themselves for an hour or two, oh no. They had to make you miserable, constantly trying to wear you down, pushing boundaries, wanting to know your real name, asking you out, asking you out, asking you out…it was exhausting. Sometimes they did wear me down, and I would go out with them. WHY?
There were lots of Rich’s, Richard, and Rick’s. One of them, a lawyer in his 40’s who looked like a chubby Bill Gates, finally talked me into going to a hotel with him, and I discovered with horror that he wore baggy white underwear with skid marks.
Other men would badger me into meeting them outside the club, and I would finally agree, but then not show up. I felt bad about it, and resented them for putting me in that situation. But the alternative situation was having unprotected anal sex with them on film, and I definitely didn’t want that. It took me until my 30’s to learn how to say NO.
This experience taught me how to hate men early on – I saw them as opportunistic predators, and I was the prey. It seemed like we were on different planets. We wanted such different things. Anyone over age 25 was perceived as OLD to me – so funny now!
We all had our regular customers, and only a few of mine were rich. Sometimes I would be glad to spend a couple hours with a broke nice guy, just to avoid having to deal with all the other creeps. It was tough when two of your regulars showed up at the same time. Then they had to share you, and they got jealous sometimes. Some women would be ruthless, and would come in the afternoon, and not go home until they made $500-1000. It blew my mind.
I clicked with a few regulars – one talked me into a threesome, but I felt bad afterward. He and Chloe did coke and I was like wtf I’m a virgin unicorn! I’ve only seen cocaine once, and it was at the strip club.
There was this other guy who came in, he smelled sooo good. He claimed he was trying to get his sperm count up because he and his wife were having infertility issues. I got really into him, and fucked him in the club one time omg it was so hot and nasty. It was discreet, but other men were watching, eyes all predatory and gleaming… after the song finished, I ran back to the locker room to wash up… hey he did end up having a boy and a girl with his wife, hooray! And not with me, double hooray!
There were so many men who reminded me of sad puppies, but there were also men who reminded me of serial killers! This one guy who came in often would stare at you so hatefully, you just knew he was imagining carving you up. You feel vulnerable enough, but to have that guy’s eyes on you would just be more than you could bear.
A lot of men came in EVERY DAY. Some would depress the hell out of you. Some wore special sweat pants with a hole in them and no underwear so their little wienie would stick out. One guy was a psychic for real. There was one amazingly sad guy who was in his 40’s, and still lived with his mom. He had a huge bald head, and always sat at the bar with this nervous grin on his face. Strippers would sit by him and he would buy them a drink, and just stroke their back gently until they moved on. Some guys were deformed, or burned. Lots of them had fetishes. One guy had an armpit fetish. I danced for a guy with a foot fetish one time, and it was a relief, because most men are after your other parts!
For years afterward, I couldn’t stand to have my boobs touched. It felt like being burned. They were always trying to grope you, put their spidery hands all over you. If you had your period, you just cut off your tampon string. The locker room where we changed was filthy. The carpet was moldy, and there was one toilet to use, with no door. You had to go in front of whoever was there. There was a disgusting shower that trickled out lukewarm water in case you needed to wash off something particularly nasty…
A lot of the women would say they were quitting for good, and pack up their shit and be on their way, and the rest of us would cheer them on, like they were running away from slavery, and were an example for the rest of us. But once the money ran out, they’d always come crawling back, and you’d see them back up on that stage again. Of course they were heavily fined for quitting.
So when I quit, I knew it HAD to be for good. You really turn into a slave for the money. Where else can you get that kind of pay? It was nice being able to drive home, and grab whatever you wanted for dinner, no problem. It was nice to just buy furniture if you wanted it. That Christmas, I was able to buy everyone in the family nice presents. (By the way, they knew what I was doing for a living, and didn’t care. I guess they were glad I wouldn’t need to borrow money from them, one less kid to worry about.)
So here’s how I quit after 9 months of hell. All this time, I had the loveliest girlfriend living down in Louisiana, a Korean violinist college student. She was adopted as an infant by an English couple, and named after an exotic flower. She was so heavenly, and romantic, and we used to write such love letters! I saved everything she ever sent me – I treasure it to this day.
We had never met face to face before (we met through a les/bi/gay pen pal service) and always talked about it. Well one day, I just called her up, and said, “Dear one, how about I just come down and see you. TODAY!”
She was shocked, but said ok, so I drove over to that strip club, emptied out my locker, said BI BI, and then drove 15 hours down to Louisiana with enough money for gas! We spent a few surreal days together, and then I drove back to St. Louis, not sure what I was going to do next. The whole thing was a shock to her system, and not long after that, she wrote me a break-up letter and joined the Navy.
Anyway, I have good news about the strip club thing. The owners ended up getting arrested, and went down HARD. The son testified against his father to get a reduced sentence, and a couple of their bitchy wenches went down, too. It was very satisfying to read about in the Post Dispatch. The Venezia trial was mentioned for weeks.
They went to jail, and lost all their land and such, and the strip joint was auctioned off, and I heard Washington Park bought it cheap, and turned it into a DAYCARE!! Can you believe it?? It was very satisfying to see they got what they deserved…
Epilogue: Strip club owner Tom Venezia went out with a bang, and took one of the errant beauties with him…