Monday, May 18, 2015
"Dirty Money: Memoirs of a Stripper," by Erin Louis
This is a huge departure for me; never thought I would be reviewing a book about strippers. Here's how it happened, starting from the beginning (The names have been changed to protect the innocent):
Thirteen years ago, long before we met, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, was a single mom and legal parapro, living with her four daughters in a house in East Point, GA. (A few years prior to this time, she had divorced their father, who was then promptly deported to Nigeria.) Next door to her lived Sylvia and her husband Arnold, and their two sons John And Leonard. Sylvia's teen-aged daughter Karen lived part-time with her, and part-time with Sylvia's mother, Esther, due to reasons unknown to me.
During the periods she lived with her mother, Karen spent a great deal of time at Vanessa's house, since she was close in age to two of Vanessa's four daughters. They ate meals together, had parties and sleep-overs together, and in general did all the fun stuff that teen-age girls can do that doesn't result in the police being called. After a few years, Vanessa and her girls moved, and their contact with Sylvia and Karen was reduced, although they kept in touch on social media. Karen became pregnant as a senior in high school, and delivered a beautiful baby girl, Katherine. She graduated with her high school class, and then started the process of finding a job that would support her and her daughter. She enrolled in college.
Here, the trail goes faint. No one seems to know precisely when it happened, because it was not accompanied by an announcement, but at some point, the pictures of Karen and Katherine she posted on Facebook had a plush, well-appointed background. Karen was living in an upscale apartment. At first, there was no hint as to the source of this prosperity. All of her pictures showed her with beautiful hair, nails, and clothes, and soon there was an additional feature that Karen bragged about: she had her body surgically enhanced.
I don't know if there was a direct, person to person reveal of her employment, or if someone just read between the lines and asked her about it, but the truth was that Karen was working as a stripper.
Vanessa dropped contact with Karen after she began to brag about how sexy her new rear end was. Her daughters kept her somewhat up-to-date on Karen's life, mostly mentioning the beautiful pictures Karen had posted of her and her growing daughter Katherine. When Katherine was diagnosed with diabetes, Vanessa reached out to both Karen and Sylvia, asking them to let her know if there was anything she could do. From time to time, she would mention Karen to me, usually to show me a picture of this beautiful young woman posed with her daughter.
In April, Karen began to report feeling ill on her Facebook page. After a couple of weeks of posts, describing a cold or flu that just would not go away, She made a final Facebook post: "I'm going to go to the hospital, to see if they can fix whatever is wrong with me. Lord, help me!"
Through Vanessa's daughters and Karen's mother, Vanessa kept track of her progress; or, to be more accurate, her lack of progress. After numerous tests, Karen was put to sleep for an examination of her lungs, and she never woke up from the anesthesia. She lingered for several days; the end came last week.
In the aftermath, Vanessa discovered some disturbing facts from Karen's mother. Karen had been known to use a drug called 'molly;' I wasn't familiar with that name, but discovered it's another name for ecstasy. What came as the biggest shock to me personally was the discovery that the cosmetic surgery and the fancy apartment were all paid for by the strip club where Karen worked.
Her funeral was attended to overflow capacity; the seats were packed by beautiful young women, with flawless hair, nails, and clothes. Vanessa and I drew our own conclusion that these were her co-workers; Vanessa commented that probably some of them would be leaving the service to go straight to the club to work their next shift.
That's what prompted me to read "Dirty Money." I needed to know if Karen's story was common, or the exception.
Erin Louis story is quite different, in many aspects, but brutally similar in others. Unlike Karen, Erin is married to a supportive husband, and has totally rejected the use of any drugs (other than pot) to help her get through the day. Erin also attempted to develop other skills, so that she would be able to leave the strip clubs forever. She became certified as a pastry chef, and obtained employment with restaurants and also had a brief home business making specialty 'exotic' cakes.
However, here's the point at which Erin's story and Karen's story are the same, and I suspect the same is true for every exotic dancer: the money they can make doing ANY conventional job can't begin to equal the money they can make taking their clothes off for money. The result is the same: when they contemplate change, they have to forfeit a paycheck, and it's just too hard to do.
Erin, at age 36, still has a place among the top dancers in her area. She knows that won't last; she has seen the women who have stayed past their prime, and vows not to become one of them. I hope she makes it. If she does, though, it will be without any sort of assistance, other than her very supportive husband, because there are no retirement programs for exotic dancers. No unions. No regulatory agencies. The only applicable laws are there to prevent stripping from crossing the line over into hooking, and Erin's experience is that line is crossed so regularly that it might as well not even exist. She has personally avoided that route, but from what she says, most don't.
Confession: going to a strip club makes zero sense to me, a belief that Erin echoes in her book. Why would anyone want to pay to get an erection, without the prospect of relief? I don't get it. Admittedly, my single experience in a strip club was in New Orleans, on my way home from medic training at Ft Sam for Christmas leave, 1972, and NOTHING I saw then was erotic in the least, but even under the best of circumstances, it seems that frustration is the only outcome for the customer.
I have a great deal of compassion for women like Erin and Karen who find a way to make money, and then can't find a way out again. I have zero compassion with the owners and operators of the clubs, and my rage upon hearing of Karen's death would like to find an outlet in burning every single club in Atlanta to the ground. I won't do it; in fact, I don't really know what to do. Perhaps reading the book, thereby providing Erin with a small amount of money, and publishing this on my blog, will help her to achieve success as a writer, and she can leave the stage for good. She is an adult, and can make her own choices; what I hate is that the next generation of strippers is on the way, and they DON'T have any good alternatives available.