They Hate Me in Vegas

By Antonia Crane

Vegas reminds me of my mother’s cancer. A few years ago I went there with my mom to see Celine Dion, whom I despise, but my mom was crazy about her and therefore we went together. Miss Dion cancelled the show. On the way there, my mom acted forgetful, disoriented and hysterical. When we arrived at Harrah’s, she got lost in the parking lot and started to cry. This was unusual for her. She was sharp and impatient with the world. She was terribly organized and meticulous. Something was strange. It turned out she had bile duct cancer and we didn’t know it. So Vegas, for me, has always been associated with horribleness, like the time in 1998, when I went there to dance.

I don’t remember being fat, but evidently I was, because that was the reason no one would hire me in Vegas. I was there with my friend, a beautiful, shredded redhead with slim thighs and a twenty-six inch waist to my thirty-two. We went for the same reason that all strippers go to Vegas: to make ten grand, pay off our student loans and credit cards. It was 1998 and I had just completed the AIDS ride, a fundraiser bike ride from SF to LA. I raised $1800 and went straight to Vegas afterwards. So, I was in great shape, which doesn’t explain why my friend Jessie got hired at each club that allowed us an audition, but I didn’t. In the cramped black office, they handed Jessie the legal contract allowing her to work at the club, but when they refused to hire me, we walked out together.

“Why won’t they hire me?” I asked her, flabbergasted and pissed off. We sat at a bar that we had wandered into and ordered diet cokes. I bought a pack of Dunhill Blue cigarettes from the bartender and started smoking for the first time. We sat at the bar and smoked inside the thick silence that happens when close friends don’t want to hurt each other with the truths they have to tell.  I exhaled.

“Is my hair too short? My tattoos too noticeable?” I asked her. She looked down at the counter and moved the ashtray that was in the shape of a horseshoe.

“You’re too curvy,” she said. They basically told her I was fat, but they couldn’t tell me that because it’s discrimination. The only place that would hire both of us together was a tiny hole called Wild Jay’s off of Sunset Strip where the manager brought us into his office den and referred to black women as “spooks” while he chewed on a cigar.

He had a framed picture of himself sandwiched between three blonde strippers on his desk and a Magnum P.I. moustache-the kind that’s curved and waxed on the tips like Yosemite Sam. He was a car crash version of Dennis Hopper.

At Wild Jay’s there was a small stage and guys sat in chairs around it, smoking cigarettes. We worked that night for eight hours. We weren’t allowed to dance to hip hop and we weren’t allowed to let customers touch us.

The girls hated us at Wild Jay’s. We were dirty dancers from San Francisco who straddled guys. The bulky Armenian bouncer tapped us on the arm to scold us.

“One leg on the floor at all times,” he said.  I didn’t get that “dirty dancer” stigma until we started working in other cities like Oahu and Vegas that SF was so much more intense with their full contact nude dances. All the other dancers from other places thought we were gross, dirty pariahs. They sneered at us when we walked past them. But that was way before we were dirty. It was a couple of years before lap dancing got more intense because the stage fees shot up every night, randomly. Management got greedy and charged us $180 for four hours at one point, which we knew was illegal, but there was nothing we could do about it. We all started to give hand jobs in order to pay the astronomical stage fees.

I made more money at Wild Jay’s that night than Jessie and she was unhappy and resentful about it.  After all, she could have gone to the nicer clubs, like Little Darlings, and probably could have made a killing. We stayed in some shitty hotel that was under construction, but at least our room had a hot tub. After our debut at Wild Jay’s, we were so disheartened that we decided to go get a steak dinner instead of going back to the club. People treated us like prostitutes in Vegas everywhere we went, because we were two girls together in vintage slips and platform shoes. They still do today.  At that time, I was dating a very hot tattooed butch girl named Cross, who happened to live in LA.  We had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” open relationship. I decided to leave Vegas and visit LA for a couple of days to shake off the Vegas scum and visit Cross. Jessie decided to stay and make some money, so we parted ways and I flew to LA.

Los Angeles was hot and sticky and Cross didn’t have an air conditioner. I needed to find something to wear that was slinky and cool so, while Cross was at work, I strolled Sunset Boulevard near Sunset Junction in Silver Lake to shop for a dress in a vintage clothing shop called Come to Mama, and that’s when a guy sprinted up to me and asked me, “Will you dance at a bachelor party around the corner tonight?”

“Sure,” I agreed. A popular Asian contortionist stripper from San Francisco, Mindy, happened to be in town so we did the bachelor party together and made $500 each that night. The guys did a lot of coke and Mindy rode on their shoulders. We brought our own music and did a standard girl-girl routine with whipped cream and handcuffs, and spanked the bachelor with his belt. I felt lucky and the job was actually easy and the guys were high and harmless. They listened to Huey Lewis and the News after our CD finished and tried to get us to do tequila shots with them.
The next night I surprised Cross. I hid rope under her mattress then I hog tied her and fisted her to lift my spirits and forget about Vegas.  I was having a great time in Los Angeles and considered moving there until I found out Cross was dating a skinny pale snob who used to date Linda Perry, a girl I never liked because she always snubbed me.

I was devastated.  So I got on the next plane home with my easy $500 and my heart ripped out of my chest, ready to fuck my way into a different feeling. I placed an ad in the paper (this was before websites like eHarmony and for a one-night stand, no strings attached.
A butch girl named Mel saw my ad and came into the Market Street Cinema to see me dance. She handed me a hundred dollar bill and said, “Don’t take your clothes off and don’t touch me. Just dance for me.” She wanted to know my favorite restaurant and offered to take me there and show me a good time.  Just what I needed.

“Perfect,” I said. Mel showed up the night of our date with a dozen red roses, punctual to the minute, in a primer grey 1965 Chevy. She took me to Boulevard, downtown, an art-deco restaurant where we ate rare filet mignon.  The conversation was stunted, because Mel was far from the brightest star in the galaxy, but she liked curvy girls and I fit the bill, and I needed a spell breaker after Cross, so I kept the conversation around her sexy truck and her freshly buzzed haircut. When we got to my apartment, she showed me the tattoo of the devil girl with a strap-on cock on her calf. My ad specifically asked for someone to fuck me and to leave, not the other way around. We argued about who was going to get fucked. She whined about the parking ticket in front of my building. I handed her forty bucks to pay for the ticket and threw her out.

Antonia Crane was raised in Humboldt where gun-toting Republicans rub up against spotted owl enthusiasts in a hostile embrace. She escaped to India as an exchange student at fifteen and wandered the streets of Bombay during her junior year in high school, where she appeared in a cheesy movie with actor Sunil Dut and climbed the Himalayas with Sir Edmond Hillary. After burning bridges as a precocious artist’s model in Humboldt, she moved to the Bay area with a married man and found queers, crystal meth and strip clubs where she spent the next several years in a jittery daze.

She attended Mills College in Oakland and cross-registered at Berkeley and at The Art Institute where she worked with the ever-chic Kathy Acker and Avital Ronell. In the mid 90’s, she was a union organizer for SEIU local 790: The Exotic Dancers Alliance, spear-headed by a handful of dancers at the Lusty Lady Theatre in north beach. She enjoyed gutter stardom as a lead singer for Dirt Box, a country-punk band in San Francisco that played in classy venues both in Los Angeles and San Francisco. She moved to Los Angeles in 2002 to escape the stripper lifestyle and to pursue counseling, none of which happened. She can be spotted dangling from stripper poles in Los Angeles. She is currently in the MFA program at Antioch University. Works in progress include her first fiction novel titled Kill The Day. She has received scholarships from College of The Redwoods, Antioch University and The Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

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