I was unemployed for a month after Club Paradox closed. The first week was fun, I still had the remains of my stripper money, and the leisure to truly enjoy it, but I became very bored very quickly. I assumed there must be other peep shows around the city–as seedy and unknown as Paradox–but I was wrong. There was the sister club, Bare Assets, in Cicero, the sex shop/peep show hybrid, but all the girls who had come from there were crazy, the money wasn’t as good, and there were rumors of girls being attacked in the video arcade. When they called to offer me a position, I turned it down and tried not to regret it. The suspicion that I would never again find anything even somewhat comparable to the odd little community began to nag at me.
Destiny, Victoria, and I discussed other clubs. The Admiral was out, they offered lapdances and Stanley, my boyfriend, was not enthusiastic about the prospect of me writhing in some strange man’s lap for money; besides that, plenty of people from Victoria’s school went there. She didn’t want her classmates to know exactly how she got her money. Heavenly Bodies was suggested, but Destiny used to work there and said it wasn’t great. There were a few other names thrown out, but there were problems with all of them. We were at a standstill. There simply was no club in the Chicago area that was not only accessible to all of us, but also friendly to all three of our different body types.
And so I did nothing.
I cleaned my house, I toyed with the idea of enrolling in school, but mostly I sat on my couch, staring into space, pining for Paradox and chain smoking. I think that was when my relationship with Stanley really took a nosedive and started out on its protracted course towards death. Without my work, there was a chunk of empty space in my heart, my head, something, and he couldn’t fill it. I had been trying to unsuccessfully squelch the whispers of fear that clamored at the back of my head when we discussed our eventual marriage for some time… now though, I welcomed the idea.
It wasn’t so much that I suddenly felt differently about marriage in general, or that things between us were better now that I wasn’t working at all hours, it was that I was certain I would have better luck finding somewhere to dance naked if I lived on an army base. I tried to tell myself, and I certainly told him, that I’d be a good housewife, that I’d have the house neat and dinner on the table when he came home, but always, screeching with joy over the boring suggestions of housewifery and family associations was the voice that promised me a nice club with plenty of friends and the luxury of spending my money on pretty things for myself.
I’m not sure why I mourned Paradox so deeply, whether it was simply because Paradox left me before I could leave it, or if it was something more, something deeper, but even now I experience a little twinge when I look out the window of the train and see the ragged storefront where it used to be. Writing about the place over the past few weeks has been, in some ways, difficult. I still miss the place, we all do. I texted Destiny and Victoria when I wrote about going to work with them and it brought forth a flood of nostalgia and excited ‘remember when’s.
“Remember the monkey man?” We asked each other, referring to a regular customer who, rather than jerking off, would simply jump around the booth, waving his arms at us.
“Remember the Masturbator?”
“I wonder how Patty’s doing.”
“Remember how bad Cherry smelled?” Cherry’s body odor was truly appalling. Sometimes I was sure it would achieve sentience. None of us were entirely sure what was wrong, she swore she showered daily, but whatever it was, it was bad enough to eventually lead to her getting fired.
Just after the place closed, we talked about buying it, taking out loans, fixing it up, making it really nice, maybe putting up an old style marquee, advertising our names, complete with alliterative adjectives, ‘Lemon the Lovely,’ ‘Destiny the Dazzling,’ ‘Sexy Sandra,’ ‘Vivacious Victoria’ (we obviously should have taken alliteration lessons from Courtney Stodden, as our skills were somewhat lacking) and improving the long-running advertisement in the Red Eye. I think we all knew it was a pipe dream. No-one would be willing to give a passle of teenage strippers a loan, let alone one to open their own club. None of us owned property, none of us had anything much to put up as collateral.
But there is another layer to the difficulty of writing about Paradox, especially the end of it: I can pinpoint the beginning of the drawn-out ending of my relationship with Stanley and the day Paradox closed. It wasn’t that he was unsympathetic, though he didn’t seem to understand how empty I felt all of a sudden, it was just that without Paradox, I had no career. I hung around the house moping, while he played video games and ignored me. My depression at the loss of the job I loved so much crept out from me, infecting my feelings about everything. My dissatisfaction with my lot in life grew, poverty grated on me more than before, our tiny, cluttered apartment started to feel like a prison. We still expected to get married, we expected him to go back to active duty service, and I was marking time, waiting for him to save me, to spirit me off to some Army base town where I could either be a happy housewife or find another Paradox. It was almost an obsession for me, the prospect of finding another club as wonderful as Paradox had been. I didn’t yet realize how unusual the whole place was, how magical the squat little building on Halsted really was. I searched everywhere, but found nothing.
Expecting a man to save you at all, however, is completely unrealistic, not to mention dangerous. It is, of course, tempting to look to someone else to give you a reason to live. It’s easy to be sucked into the comfortable fiction that you don’t have to take care of yourself, that everything will be fine if you just lean back and let yourself be caught. I wanted so badly to be taken care of. At this point, Stanley had been living with me in Chicago for a year without finding work. Yes, it was 2010, and yes, the economy was in the toilet, but his inability to find employment had begun to nag at me. Most of my attached co-workers at Paradox provided the sole income for their households, supporting deadbeat girlfriends and boyfriends who didn’t appreciate them, and the suspicion that I was becoming like them was always lurking in the back of my mind.
Yes, Stanley collected unemployment, but that was all he did. He didn’t seem to be looking for work to speak of, and he managed to blow the few interviews he did get. Every time Stanley applied for a renewal of his unemployment it was less certain he would receive it and the day he stopped receiving unemployment benefits would be the day it fell squarely on my shoulders to make ends meet.
I didn’t want to be responsible for our livelihoods. As it was, I was beginning to feel more like a mother than a wife to him, but my solution to this uncomfortable feeling was to retreat more and more into the role of a house cat, curled on the couch, napping or chain smoking and staring into space while he played endless video games. In hindsight, I realize my behavior must have been so creepy; I really have to wonder how he never noticed something was wrong. I didn’t stop writing, but my journals from that time consist of very little more than a stream of excuses and rationalizations, a list of Reasons Why This Relationship Is Actually Healthy Despite All Evidence to the Contrary. I stupidly hoped that if I made myself as defenseless as possible, perhaps it would encourage Stanley to man up and take some of the burden of responsibility off me. Of course this was not what happened at all.
By the end of June, Stanley had decided he didn’t want to go back to the Army after all, and his unemployment checks were proving insufficient to support us both at a level that I found acceptable. I had recently started following TeleEroticist on Twitter, and I decided I could settle for sex work. It wasn’t stripping, it wasn’t Paradox, but maybe I would be able to find a nice call center somewhere. Maybe it would be like Girl 6! Despite my extreme discomfort with talking to anyone on the phone, I started looking for positions.
I wasn’t really very interested in being a phone sex operator, but it seemed better than nothing, and nothing was killing me. I didn’t realize, then, that the call centers had died with the nineties, that I would be sitting in my apartment, trapped at home even more than I already was. Besides, I rationalized, even if I can’t find a call center I would at least be occupied. I could spend the rest of my time cooking, cleaning, and doing other household tasks. Maybe phone sex was the path to both a career in sex work and a little domestic idyll.
Everything would be fine!
Cathryn Berarovich is a bit 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.