Zombie Strippers

In every strip club there are time wasters.

These guys are often regulars who come day after day or night after night, but rarely tip and never buy dances. They survive on a diet of cheap alcohol, the attentions of new girls who don’t know any better, and baleful glances from the women who have established themselves at the club and know their M.O.

I keep mentioning the strangeness of the strip club world where women pursue men who sit back and wait to be courted, but it cannot be overstated. Unfortunately it’s exactly this role reversal that brings out the time wasters. They don’t have to worry about impressing anyone. In fact, the less impressive they appear, the more likely they are to be approached by the beautiful, scantily-clad women who wander the club.

Everyone who’s ever gone to a strip club hoping to learn about the dynamic between customers and strippers feels the need to point out the obvious: strip clubs exist mainly so their patrons can feel really special. Thanks. A lot of intrepid observers go a step further and point out that ha ha, the customers aren’t really that special because they are paying the dancers! Anyone with an equal amount of money could achieve the same result! Every time I read an article that gloats over the fact that customers pay strippers, I suspect the writer is a time-waster.

Time wasters, you see, are better than the average strip club patron.

They don’t want to degrade their favorite dancers by making them perform lapdances for money. They would much rather take a girl out for a nice dinner or give her a poor- to-middling back rub. They love to tell girls how much better they are than the industry–the same industry time wasters themselves are profiting off, if not in dollars then certainly in ego size.

Strip clubs, like all other clubs, have regulars. Many of these men are perfectly nice customers who just enjoy lapdances. They spend hundreds of dollars on their favorite strippers and manage to actually forge relationships with these girls. Sure, we tend to view them askance (why do they throw their money at us rather than getting an actual girlfriend or even a prostitute?) but the thing I’ve learned about sex work is that affection, if not love, can be bought. If a customer spends enough money on you, you will start to have fond, though probably not romantic, feelings for him. A stuffed wallet is a nice feeling, after all.

A lot of regulars, though, are time wasters. They are always planning to buy a dance in a little while or after this drink. They don’t tip, even when they’re sitting up against the stage, and they all seem to think compliments will pay rent. Much as I’d like to pay my landlord in recordings of men telling me I’m the most beautiful girl in the club and so classy, I don’t even belong here, I doubt he’d know where to spend such currency.

I am, I hate to admit, somewhat susceptible to time-wasters. One of the things I love most about sex work, particularly stripping, is that it puts me in contact with people from all different walks of life, many of whom I would probably never speak to in real life. I love talking to people. While I’m incredibly shy when it come to people I actually want to forge relationships with, I have no fear when it comes to strangers I expect never to see again. I ask questions, quietly armchair analyze their responses, and am generally a huge creep.

Because of this, time wasters fascinate me and I have to keep reminding myself that I am at work and this is not the time to examine the depths of human abjection and loneliness.

Most of these men are lonely. They almost all seem to be either unmarried or divorced. Their children, if they have any, have grown up and gone away. They always sit alone, never with friends. This isn’t uncommon in strip clubs, but what is uncommon is the aura of loneliness that surrounds the time wasters. They are like the Groke in Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books: the pure intensity of their loneliness could kill flowers.

A lot of strippers really, really hate the time wasters. They are never referred to by name, just ‘that fucking time waster at the table by the DJ booth’ or ‘that time-wasting asshole at the bar.’ It doesn’t matter if they’ve been coming to the club for years: if they don’t buy dances they are not worthy of a name, even if everyone knows what’s on their birth certificate. Because of this I’m not entirely sure why they continue to frequent the same club over and over again. They crave human connection, it’s obvious, but by never buying a dance or even tipping, they put themselves in a situation where the humans in charge will ignore or even insult them.

I have to wonder if perhaps they simply are so used to being ignored and sneered at by women, that even when they’re put in a situation where they can literally have any woman they want (for a price), they don’t know what to do with themselves and so revert to old patterns. Mainly awkward conversation attempts that ultimately lead to their being rebuffed and possibly sworn at. This is, I think, the kindest explanation for their behavior. The favorite explanation among strippers is that they’re just assholes, or possibly so caught up in the fantasy and artifice of the strip club that they forget they have to pay and start to truly believe they can have any woman in the club, they can even take her outside of it. They either forget or simply don’t realize that Rosalie is just a character played by an actual girl who isn’t nearly as bubbly and stupid as she seems when she’s working.

A lot of times when I write essays about the customers I do not understand, I find myself gaining if not empathy for them, then at least some sort of insight into why they are the way they are. But that never happened with the time wasters. I continue to be confused by them, and until I figure out why they hang out at strip clubs without availing themselves of any of the services that make strip clubs different from bars, I will probably also continue to be fascinated by and therefore susceptible to them.

Cathryn Berarovich is something of a renaissance sex worker; she’s currently employed as a stripper (and writer) but has held numerous interesting jobs in the industry. Each week, she shares her stories in Harlotry.