Last Saturday I attended a lecture at Reed College on the economics of stripping. I've lived extremely close to Reed for the last few years, but this was the first time I'd had an excuse to check out the campus. Just like when I was in college six years ago, I ended up rushing to get out the door on time. I'd had a “business meeting” the night before that involved heavy drinking downtown, and I woke up a bit late and foggy-headed. I didn't have time to shower before I left, so I just threw on a ratty old Nine Inch Nails t-shirt and some jeans and headed out.
I got a bit lost on the way there and ended up entering the campus on the wrong side. I had to cross a pedestrian bridge over the canyon creek that runs through the middle of campus. It was a beautiful day out, and it was nice to walk around and have a look at the college grounds. Students were scattered about, having the same generic conversations about classes and credits I remember having when I was a student. I nodded to a kindly-looking old man who was out for a walk and approached an attractive girl who was smoking a cigarette. Feeling like a freshman, I asked her where the psychology building was, and she pointed me in the right direction.
Somehow I managed to make it to the thing on time. A sexy young woman in a tight red dress and heels stood at the front of the auditorium, remarking every now and then that there were way more people showing up than she'd expected. The place filled up pretty fast. Most of the attendees were women in their 20's. I was surrounded by them, and I found myself desperately wishing I'd had time to shower before I'd left and had worn something different. I resisted the urge to sniff my armpits, knowing my fears would only be confirmed.
When everyone had settled in, the girl in the tight dress introduced herself as “Poe” and said she was already starting to regret having worn the heels. The lecture would be strictly about economics, she said, so any feminists who'd come to bitch about the objectification of women should leave.
Poe had danced at a number of clubs around the country, including New Orleans, and she'd gathered information on other major cities, so she had some interesting insight into what makes the Portland scene different. For instance, she explained that many clubs charge the dancers mandatory house fees for every shift, regardless of how much they make in tips. The fees vary wildly from club to club and city to city. In Portland the fees tend to be lower, and some businesses don't charge fees at all, because the sheer number of clubs here creates competition, so if dancers think the fees are too high at a club, they can always find work at another place nearby with more reasonable rates.
Another thing that makes Portland different is the fact that so-called “alternative” girls (those with tattoos/piercings) make up the majority here, so it's often the untarnished dancers that stand out. In other cities, particularly in the south, alt-girls are often regarded as freaks, and clubs will limit how many they hire. Poe would take out her piercings and cover up her tattoos when she worked down there, but she was still considered alternative. “Somehow they knew,” she said. Dancers with unique traits that set them apart, like being a minority race or having hairy armpits, usually draw less overall attention from the customers, but the customers they do get will adore them and spend all of their money on them.
At the end of the lecture Poe took questions from the audience. I stuck my hand up and said, “It seems like many strippers are unsure what exactly the laws are in regards to touching and things like that when they take the stage. Do you know if there's a good source to find information on our local laws regarding strip clubs?”
Poe agreed that many strippers were unclear on the laws, and she didn't know of an easy way to look it up. “Don't just grab the dancers,” she said. “They'll let you know what they're comfortable with.”
I thought I'd asked a good question, and of course I was only asking because I'd like to compile a list of relevant laws for this website, but for some reason she'd made the assumption that I was trying to figure out how I could legally put my hands on the strippers, like I'm some kind of asshole. Before I could explain myself, she called on the next person. I nervously ran my fingers through my greasy hair and glanced around. Great, so now I was the guy who smelled bad and liked to touch girls.
After the lecture was over, there was supposed to be a “field trip” - a bike ride to a strip club with all these college kids. To me that sounded like a horrible nightmare, like you'd get halfway there and look down and realize you weren't wearing any pants, but I wanted to thank Poe for the lecture and let her know about Portland Erotisphere in case she ever wanted to submit a blog or something. While people were milling around I walked up to her and told her it was an interesting and informative lecture and that I enjoyed it. She gave me a curt “thank you,” and before I could mention the website, she cut me off and yelled at everyone who was going on the field trip to come to the front of the room. She refused to make eye-contact with me again, so I left to go home, the pathetic freshman who couldn't get the girl to talk to him.
In the end, my little trip to Reed only confirmed things I already knew: Portland is weird, strippers make a lot of money, and college is for jerks.