February 2008, my fourth Whispers trip, was my most lucrative yet. (No wonder dancers canceled in the winter — roads would get closed coming in and trains would get delayed. But there was an upside: If the weather got too bad for the drills to be running, the guys would have nothing to do but come spend money in the club.) By then, the boom was just beginning to kick in, and housing was becoming an issue. I stayed in the basement of the club's blackjack dealer — it was much too cold for the trailer, so I flew, and hotels were booked solid.
Much of what I made that week came not from oil field workers but from a Saskatchewan recreational hockey league playing a tournament in town. The guys could not have been more Canadian or more hockey. One was missing a front tooth and would roll up dollar bills and stick them in there when the girls would come around to take titty tips. That Thursday, one of them asked me if I would be willing to come dance in their locker room for a half hour for $300 the next morning before their final game — and, look, if you like Slap Shot
or minor league hockey, how are you going to say no to that?
By the time Saturday rolled around, I was exhausted and looking forward to going home, taking a long bath, and sleeping in my own bed. But Brandy asked me if I wanted to stay on the next week, because another dancer had canceled. With the sunk costs of the plane ticket and travel time, and the knowledge that even with a worst-case scenario I'd make much more than I would at home, I reluctantly agreed to stay. Whispers was closed on Sundays, so I had a day off between my two 54-hour work weeks. All I did, aside from enjoy dinner at the nicest place in town, the El Rancho Motel's steakhouse, was catch up on the internet and watch the Oscars.
Diablo Cody was up for Best Original Screenplay for Juno
, so I watched with particular interest; we'd exchanged a few emails in the early days of stripper blogging. When she won, I thought, Wow, this might be a game changer. It's really awesome to see an out former stripper winning an award for writing.
My next thought was — oh, let's be honest, I thought it simultaneously — There's Diablo Cody winning an Oscar, and here I am in Williston, 31 years old and shaking my ass for guys with dollar bills in their mouths. What the fuck am I doing with my life?
Bozeman, Montana, roughly marks where the plains turn into the mountains. It precisely marks the geographic spot where I return to myself on drives back from North Dakota. It's seven hours from Williston, and that's as much driving as I want to do in a day after a week of nine-hour shifts. So I would stop there and go through this routine after every trip to North Dakota: Check into a hotel or a sweet little vacation rental. Take two hours to put a mud mask on my face and my ass (those long hours of lap dancing on Carhartts are MURDER on it), scrub myself in a hot bath until my skin is red (Williston is the dustiest place I've ever been, and you feel like the dirt will be with you forever), wash my hair, moisturize, and go to one of the nice restaurants that live off of Big Sky vacationers and seasonal residents. They'll have real glassware, attractive waitstaff, and good food. It makes me feel like I'm back in civilization, and I smile all through dinner thinking about how I'm here and not in Williston. Bozeman feels like the best place I could possibly be on those nights, and I think I might have taken my last couple of work trips in part to enjoy its good company.
In February 2009, the year after Diablo Cody won her Oscar, Marisa Tomei was up for one for her role as a stripper in The Wrestler
. I was in my Bozeman hotel room looking at Twitter and thought, I should have a Twitter account to comment on this stuff. I wonder if @StripperTweets is taken?
It wasn't. That new online identity lead to nearly all of the writing I do now, from Tits and Sass
, the sex workers' site I helped found, to this piece. It was also semi-anonymous for the better part of three years; I wouldn't say where I worked or name the clubs, allowing me to vent freely.