Column: Favors

by flaunt

moulinrouge.jpg
We sent our writer to compare the burlesque identity of Paris’ Crazy Horse with L.A.’s Jumbo’s Clown Room and all we got was a lousy lapdance.
CHEETAHS CLUB: LOS FELIZ, LOS ANGELES: 7 PM—a slow Monday

“Hey!” She’s brunette, her smile pure and penetrative, so pure that her cheeks must redden and round to carry it, as if she’s clenching small marbles between her molars and the sides of her mouth. As she approaches my position against the back wall, at a small cocktail table—on it soda water and lime, a notebook and pen—she pushes through the purple strobe lights: blooming behind a sheet of shadow, erect and fragrant, the scent of lavender and the look of patchouli, sparkles on her nails, miniscule stars cascading from the inlet of her breasts: she bristles with glitter, and suddenly, she’s arriving, at once upon me, and over me, cresting, a wave, a wave of delight? The potential of delight? The terror of its abandonment? Or maybe a fallacy? The feminine charlatan? A mix of it all? And now, all this comes to rest, here, in the booth, beside me, a muted crashing: she’s young and I’m verging on the truth: I’m a creep, ten years her senior: I say it to myself to make it okay: I’m a creep, and she’s complete and full and too much and not enough, and that is a private dilemma for her to solve, and, since I am only me because I think, foolishly, that she thinks like me, I return to my youth, to the moment my first best friend asked, “Want to be friends?” And we became the keeper of each other’s miniature secrets, even that time he bent over to show me his butthole, unannounced and unrequested, and a thin green drop of turd clung to his tiny orifice like the daintiest of diced green peppers: I’ve never told anyone, even him, about this: back then his parents had AOL, and we shared an ignorant screen-name, we a/s/l’ed anything that sent letters flying through chat room windows, we believed in the brightness of our future, and that friends are forever, which is a truth we invent so that it can shatter, prick us, slice through the thumb print and drip a crimson demarcation onto a folded page, onto a street sign that we recall because it bore our name, confirmation, proof, that we have, in fact, been here before: we believed that the impossible, momentarily, was not impossible. “What are you doing?” She inquires.

Pert and eager, she gazes at me: I can scarcely return her look: from a falsified confidence, I will come to tell her: “I’m working:” our words fit in each other’s mouths, we could have traded dialogue: one of us will ask: “Do you like it?” Or “Do you take pleasure in the work you do?” Instead I ask, “Can I ask you some questions?”

“One condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You have to tell the truth.”

“Always.” In less than an hour we’ll both have deceived ourselves.

“I’m Anise, what’s your name?” Access to the truth, interior truth, requires the obliteration of walls: truthfully, I don’t want to be talking to the dancer, I want the terrifying woman underneath her, and I want the conversation to lead to her being underneath me, later, even though it is terrible and inconsequential, a way to hide me from myself: I want a horrific threesome where I have to throw the black-veiled dancer off the bed, have to escort her and lock her into a hotel bathroom, politely, until I find myself unaroused by the real woman she left behind, then I will have the two women trade places: because I am a bad feminist, the male kind, the worst kind, I just want her to know that I know she exists in plural and that the governance of a fantasy is but one shape of her power: sublimating and lethal, and given, it’s a terrifying time to be a woman: but was there a better time?

The DJ puts on a deep cut from The Cure, pitiful and bemoaning, a gothic rapture, the third Robert Smith track in a row: past and future collide, we’re discussing discipline and power: on her off days, Anise takes ballet and circus classes: “It gives me a paying audience:” She already has an exit strategy, the key to getting anywhere you want: I relate: I used to look for my next job before I landed the first one: now I’m being paid to, hypothetically, receive a lap dance: I don’t want one, not under these conditions: but in the end we arrive where we are driven toward: our veracities vary: “Tell me about transformation: “Here, I can channel my alter ego, what I consider my highest self:” “What about love? What type of person draws you in?” “People who fix things, not people who throw money at things:” I knew this person she spoke of, he was who I was not.

Cheerful, pleasant, Anise projects an unwavering confidence: is this a meta-performance? “I chose my name because I’m a witch:” “Really?” I spit out my soda water and lime: she must know, she has to: here, in the sticky wisps of psychological time, Anise is still rushing at me, the quixotic wave: she is beautiful: beautiful women are beautiful women because they distort the flow of time around them.

I will find that Anise, a college graduate, arrived in L.A., recently, by way of three American cities and a well regarded college in Louisiana: is already profiting from this routine: “I make twice as much what I did in retail, I’ll have paid my rent by the end of the week.”

Anise is performing, true, I know it, so anything she says might not be true, and that makes me the object, because as soon as I confess this self-realization, the game is over, I’d have broken a rule, I’d have sinned, I’d have deigned bikini bar (and Western) morality, so it’s best I say nothing, no reveals, for as soon as she even thinks that I think I know this, the game is, again, over, it ends when she decides, whether or not I’ve said anything at all, and so she rests, here, beside me, like a still glass of water pushed to the absolute edge of a counter, about to fall, but at a safe enough distance, and she’s close enough to interest me, to need me to need to drink her. I say nothing as two parts of her arrive, the real her that might be curious about the real me, and the performance that she is definitely carrying, all this comes, this split package, this je me deux, a verb that doesn’t translate to English well, something like “I am split in two:” language, silently, precedes and proceeds from her, and deep, deep, in her darkest recesses, in this gap between what came before and what will come after.

She is equally younger and wiser, and older and more lithe, and she perches now, a black hawk in the thrill of inferior prey, lighter than a hint: here, the bouncing bangles and jangling jewels, the ones wrapping around her black wrap that obscures her otherwise bare buttocks, they clink, and rest: drowning in the softness of her hazel eyes, for a moment, I believe in the miracle of love, just not here, not now, not like this, not with her asking, this time, “Are you writing something?” For a moment, we are present, I think.

I mean to say, kill me now, but, in truth, I won’t figure out how to for two weeks, and, even if I woo her with something I erect, the facade of the artist, the paid writer, the streetside philosopher, I will have racked up a year’s worth of rent in dances, things well beyond my grasp, so I blush, and say, “I am:” Then, “So, how are you going?”

Anise: “Well, I look like a sparkly little butterfly, all my personal shit is on hold.” “You like it here?” “I can be a fantasy goddess and put men in a fantasy realm.” “Do you take pleasure here?” “Yes. I do.” “Are you dating?” “I have a primary partner,” she says, adding, “He’s 85% okay with it, the only problem is the private dances.” “Would you say you have a discipline?” “This is my outlet for not going out, I’m totally sober, this is the next level of my party life.”

I’ve been drinking, heavily, all afternoon, productively so, a brainstorming meeting at Figaro with an actress/DJ/personality: it was nourishing, mentally and physically, and that’s why I’m talking to Anise right now: I wandered to El Chavito to sober up and they were closed Mondays: chance encounter, I had an interview lined up for me with a French burlesque performer, I thought introducing a few L.A. subjects could give the story more scope and meaning: I was here to objectify women, creatively, as if that excuses it: but I say none of this, lift my soda water to my lips, let the squished lime float against my upper lip: I finish my drink that isn’t even a drink.

The ultimate pleasure, for me, comes from a notion of control of the self dispensing of vices: it’s not about drinking or not drinking, it’s about drinking on my own terms, only when I want to, not when it wants me to: I keep this to myself though, and don’t pry into the matter with Anise: I imitate the mysterious narrator Jacques Hold: in the opening chapter of Marguerite Duras’ The Ravishing of Lol Stein, he consciously glosses over his subject’s past, saying: “the presence of her adolescence in this story might somehow tend to detract.” Anise might have been un-sober before, but the knowledge serves only those seeking to paint her in a certain light: facts take nothing away and add nothing: truth exceeds facts, and truthfully, she is a stranger, a fact that factors into a momentary feeling of security: in reality, I am hiding: we’re talking, though: she is sober: I am, in a way, sober: I’m sober about my intention: I just want to ask her questions about discipline, pleasure, and this leads to questions about the nature of fantasy and commodity: how does she find pleasure in it, aside from it, in light of it, so, yes, in a way, I’m still objectifying her, but in a surprising way, in a narrative capacity, which is rife with exploitation, yet retains, at a distance, humanity: Anise is a person, and I’m aware, and enjoying, the fact that behind the veil of confession, she, too, is objectifying me, in an understandable manner, by opening up to me, so she might later convince me, against journalistic standards, to purchase “just one dance,” in order to “report on it:” and, theoretically, this amounts to an analogy of the miracle of love, something I swore to refuse, and yet it found me, for a split second: she asks again, “Are you sure you don’t want a dance?” and I will refuse, at least two more times, before deciding: it’s just one dance, right? and I will ask, “Where’s the ATM?” as if I hadn’t already done this many times before.

I finish another soda water and set it down: We enjoy the silence, eye a few dances, let the time wash over us, we are strangers, then she opens up: “I want to sell handmade apparel and jewelry on the Venice Boardwalk: I’m working on new pieces, all the time, it’s so much work, though, to make everything by hand:” I tell her she should: I have no idea how to help her exactly, I’d as soon throw money at it, perhaps even antagonizing her: Sartre strikes: I breathe her in: she’s merging into the dangerous image, the one which might be supplied at a price, no, a rate, and once more she’s not objectified but subjected by power, contorted and folded into proportions: twenty dollars per song, those are her proportions: Anise points out another dancer, long flowing hair, bleach blonde, and a black vinyl Bond Girl meets Barbarella outfit, a fishnet covertop thrown in for flair: Anise tells me that her nickname is Hot Wheels and that she rollerskates and breathes fire: “That’s hot:” “She’s pretty hot:” “I attract fairies:” From afar, Hot Wheels laughs with a portly security guard and a fellow dancer: silently, we admire her, we don’t care to share our own ideas of her: it’s this moment that Anise chooses, as though she could smell something different in me, the scent of my memories, as if she could interpret a map of my victories and catastrophes, my achievements and mysteries, where she could see and know to then ask me, “Do you want a dance?” and I do, but I say no, “I can’t:” “How come?” “It delegitimizes the work:” “What is your work?” “Writing about work and pleasure:” “And they pay you?” “Yes, that’s part of the pleasure in this work:” “Then you have to get a dance, what else will you write about?” and Anise takes my hand, massaging it, firmly, ironing out my perception of time.

“Let me transform you.”

“I shouldn’t.”

“But I like to.”

“Okay.”

Two weeks from now, I’m somewhere behind the wrap that wraps her black thong, and I will die, because I will be thinking about the real woman, horrendous, hideous, profane, the ruiner of sublimating triads, and here, in a joyous suicide, I come to the image of the whole woman, she who wears the costume, and I will have imagined her black bikini top, being divested, divested at the hands of her real, 85%-supportive lover, in a space where sex is indifferent to the roles we play to affect a desire, and her bikini top is black, more than black, and it’s gone, and in my mind, they will have divested it, and I will have divested myself, or, invented something that is purely word, a word I bury in an eternity of sand.

I’ve separated myself from this interaction which has already broken itself: the one where she approaches the male customer, and uses her charm and intuition and begins to lure with revelations so she might convince him to purchase a lap dance, a dance that will take place in a separate room with mirrors and contoured walls and long, low, vinyl sofas, enough space for twenty-one one-on-one dances to ensue, and where she will keep her black top on and I will keep my hands pressed firmly to the booth at my side, which the United States has deemed “necessary” for maintaining the “morality” of our social body, meaning that were Anise to divest her actual top in this “bikini bar” called Cheetah’s, she would be breaking the law, and I would be an accomplice.

In this private room, we are ourselves, and ourselves regarding each other, so we are especially alone.

Alone, none will bear witness to her saying, unprompted, as she kneels before me, her hands on both my bent knees, into my eyes: “You’re hot.” I will keep my hands to my side, and I will smile, for a moment, I am the me that was not traumatized before I could speak, and I feel something tingling that is horror and ecstasy mixed into a feeling that exceeds any noise to articulate it, it was communicated without language, without gesture, no semiotics, no sociology, yet so Foucauldian, in defiance and recognition of the structure of things, her assumption, in its danger, its occurrence between strangers, what a dangerous thing! Where then is this God if not at the apex, or upon a high plateau, known solely to the sublimated man, the man who will then say to Anise, as she withdraws her grip: “That’s hot:” I fear there’s a camera lens, glowering and rotating: I look up but can’t find it: even if I could, would it see what I saw, or would it just see me seeing what wasn’t?

“You’re in control now, do you enjoy it?” Anise will have, at one point, told me she is roleplaying, that her character is a witch, that’s why she goes by the stage name Anise, anise being a plant leaf, an ingredient, something which, combined with other bits, might affect, or cause a change in the recipient: she’ll press her thumb and forefinger into the space between my thumb and forefinger and draw her visegrip outward, steadily, pressing, fulfilling a Kundalini prophecy, and a wellspring of negative energy, dark energy, will plume up and away from me, leaving me in her proximity, renewed, but voided, too, lost and found, simultaneously, devoid of sense and yet impossibly aware of a moment of deep and incredible pleasure, no, it’s pain, but not pain to which one assigns a number, it’s pain in excess of explanation, it is excruciating because it cannot be explained, my chest will tingle and my arms will be numb: I am breathless, and I will wonder, what did I just pay twenty dollars for? Who exactly did I pay? A portion goes to the venue, to the bartender, to security, to the DJ, to the landlord, to the property owners, so they were all complicit in this mutual pleasure? Does that make them cons, or priests of the obscene? I am me because I think you’re thinking what I’m thinking, that my pleasure is pitiful, lesser, un-evolved, embarrassing, but that, simultaneously, it comes back to money, to influence, it is the sacred commitment to the social cohesion that enabled this situation, and, from a height of magnitude, a lapdance appears suddenly magical, precisely because I can ascribe a number to it: but, does knowing what “it” costs make me truly want it again, discre(e)tly, again and again? Her brow to my brow, her mouth to my mouth, an angstrom-thin plane between us, electrons, the gap between us, and on the verge of fantasmic realization, she says, “Yes, I like it,” and, suddenly, she retreats: time’s river flows.

“Thank you,” I’ll say, relieved, split in two: she looks relieved, too, she smiles, and ruined by her performance, devastated, spent, in more than one sense of the word, I tell her, “That was magic.”

“Do you want another dance?” I shake my head, no, I want a motorcycle, a leather jacket: I want to be Foucault: I want to steal her: but I am not these things, and the part I want to take cannot be taken, it’s a character in a game within a game, the board is our bodies, I play customer, she plays self-aware dancer in choreography with her many bodies: one of her is reserved, guarded, accessible by only the rarest and most deserving: another her is aware that I know she has a real unknowable body, and this is special, but it obliterates a normative social relation: I want her, just not under these overwhelming conditions: I don’t want to pay $20 for an experience that I already know to begin and end on fraudulent terms: I am basic: but I refuse to cooperate with routine: the rules are as follows: we stay within these walls, these purple strobe lights, these too wide and tall mirrors, where little versions of ourselves warble in virtual distances, and the game goes on so long as I pay, but, counter-intuitively, I am not the sole objectifier, it is I who is also objectified, and in fathoming it, I commit a craven maneuver: immoral, I’m perverted, in enacting and then revealing it, this perversion of what Lacan calls the miracle of love: yes, Anise governs the fantasy, it’s hers to deal and rescind at will, but I refused to be an abiding customer, and she was made to grab me from her personal space, something infinitely deeper than she was supposed to reach from, in the private publicity of a lap dance parlor: I could be qualified as worse than the common sex offender: I violated the sacred space behind the her that is expectedly, routinely objectified: I am the worst because I caused her to act from this space: I am too affected by Duras and Lacan: and how would I tell her, I was only turned on by her because she won’t be here forever: it was her exit strategy that led me to the private room, and a new way of conceiving the freelancer: as if an ether, I pass through the rigid platforms, the clubs, the schools, the startups, the corporations, palais où je me deux, or “palaces of transaction,” where I play increasingly complex games, where the pursuit of higher self is at odds with the pursuit of higher salaries, where money funds my personal actualizations, while tending to contradict the personal elevation I seek, so I continually break off, again, again, wondering: is this progress?

She doesn’t take my hand as she leads me from the private room, back into the club, there’s maybe ten customers now, we pass by, unannounced, en-sphered in indifference, something like “I got mine, you all don’t matter for the time being:” later I find Anise at the bar, I go to hug her, but before: “Seriously,” and I look in her eyes, pools reflecting a sorrow I confuse for hers, but that is all mine, “pleasure to meet you, Anise,” and she wraps me up: she is soft and strong, petite and expansive: we separate, our arms out before us, “You too,” she says: it meant more, now that we weren’t working: tonight was good, my exit strategy intertwined hers, and for a moment, from a distance, we took pleasure in each other’s pleasure: in time, I’ll become he who isn’t her customer: she’ll become she who dances on her terms, not the Other’s: through discipline and poverty, we refuse ourselves.

*

“Maybe the most certain of all philosophical problems is the problem of the present time and of what we are in this very moment. Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are.” — Michel Foucault1

1“The Subject and Power.” Critical Inquiry, Summer 1982.

Written by Daniel Warren

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