Some things I learned about myself at the Spearmint Rhino
A few years ago, I got incredible news: I was being hired as a staff writer on a network sit-com and could officially leave my part-time job teaching at a private Orthodox Yeshiva. A week into the new job, a co-worker suggested, “Hey, why don’t we go to Vegas this Thursday?” Why? Just for fun. And because that’s what rich people do. It’s also what people who like strippers do. And my boss happened to be both.
This never happened at the Yeshiva.
On this trip to Vegas, we were treated to a night at the Spearmint Rhino. This is where my life changed, and I learned things about myself that never would have come up in therapy. And still don’t.
I was pulled aside several times by co-workers who told me that I need to understand, our Boss, who I’ll just call ‘Boss,’ really has a thing for strippers. And I did not have to go. “But I want to go.” Okay, just so you know, Boss, has a thing for strippers. “Got it.” You really don’t have to--
Eff that. I was in. I knew what it was like to sit home on a Thursday night. What I didn’t know was what it was being with stripper-loving co-workers on a Thursday night. I was so, so in.
I had very little experience with strippers. As a comic in Austin, I’d seen guys date them. And there was always one hanging around the comedy club because she thought she was funny. I’d been to ‘Sugar’s,’ a mid-level club where girls danced while guys ate. It didn’t seem sexy, as much as it felt like a weirdly themed McDonald’s. Like, usually there’s a playground with a fun slide, but at this one there are semi-naked ladies dancing on a pole. Either way, enjoy the fries.
We had a great dinner, gambled a little, and then limos picked us up for strip town. At this point, a friend of a co-worker showed up. Let’s call her Isabella, since I don’t remember her name. She lived in Vegas and knew the lay of the land. She was sweet, and really high-energy. I don’t want give an arm-chair diagnosis, but I’d say she was tweaking on coke. But what do I know? It could have been meth. Regardless, I was glad she was there. She turned out to be my stripper Sherpa.
I figured the strip club would be, to put it delicately, “gross.” I’d only had low to mid-level strip exposure. But when we arrived at the Spearmint Rhino, it was actually a really nice. We walked in to a warm welcome. My Boss was called by name and each of us were met by our very own stripper! A beautiful woman approached me with excitement and sincerity, “Hi, welcome, how are you?” Not like a skeezy stripper, but like an old friend. As if she’d been waiting for me to show up.
She wrapped her arm in mine and led me through the club. And, I swear, I’ve never had this feeling before or since, but I just wanted to hand her cash. I felt welcomed by this woman. I felt attractive. I felt wanted. She may have even complimented my shoes. I was even more in!
My heart opened up. I felt compassion and forgiveness for all the guys-formerly-losers I’d known through the years who loved to go to strip bars. I felt UNDERSTANDING. What I once thought of only as disgusting, I now saw as incredibly fucking pleasant. God bless strippers. They’re GREAT!
Then it got weird. We were led to a dark, semi-private room. Me, all the people I work with, and a bunch of strippers. Just standing there. Martha, the other woman writer and Vegas-trip veteran, explained to me that she didn’t want to stay in this room, because our co-workers were about to get private lap dances. And watching your co-workers dry hump strangers and come in their pants is just not conducive to a healthy work environment.
And I didn’t want to stay there because I couldn’t see the pole dancers.
This was news to me, and the second thing I realized at the Rhino. I had no idea that I had this desire. I’ve never walked down the street and thought, “You know what these telephone poles need? Dancers.” But here I was in a strip club, all I wanted to do was watch these ladies go rhythmically up and down on poles, like human lava lamps.
But I didn’t want lap dances. I guess that’s where I drew my flimsy gay boundary.
And that’s when my Sherpa stepped up. Isabella announced, “You don’t have to get a lap dance! Just tell the girls you want a massage! They can’t legally call it that, they’re not licensed, but they can rub your shoulders and stuff. Just say you want a back rub.”
Seriously??!! I LOVE massages! This is perfect. I’ll just have a lady rub my back as I watch women pole dance! Totally normal, right?
Then, my boss pulled me aside and told me that he’ll pay for everything—dances, champagne, strawberries, whatever, it’s all on him. Move over Disneyland, The Spearmint Rhino is the happiest place on earth.
Isabella led us out into the crowded main room and into a private booth with a Ving Rhames-looking guy standing watch. She gave a nod in secret stripper speak and he opened the curtain for us. Isabella knew all the ins and outs of this place, even some of the dancers. I think she used to work there. I also think she might currently work there. Regardless, I was glad to have a friend on the inside.
Our booth was our own little oasis. I looked out at the throng of dancers and guys with cash. It was fucking crowded. Women were grinding up and down on poles. Others danced in front of seated guys. The lights were dim and nearly everything was red.
Then, Isabella said, “Pick a girl.”
Excuse me? No. I couldn’t. I’m a woman. A smart, straight woman. A feminist. I’m not—What do you mean, pick a girl? No. These are people. You can’t just choose one. I wouldn’t know how.
“Okay. No problem,” Isabella said, then took a swig of champagne, sniffed and added, “Don’t tell your boss I’m drinking! He paid for my rehab!” Then she was off.
Ving closed the curtain. Wait! Now I can’t see the dancers! Plus, I don’t want to have sex with Martha, we’re just friends. I opened the curtain. He shook his head, like, “You’re gonna regret that.” He was right.
A nanosecond later, a stripper ran inside. Like a bug, she just scampered into our booth. She sat down and started talking like she knew us, so for a minute I thought she did.
She started rubbing Martha’s hand and telling her about her ‘crazy’ life and her boyfriend’s stupid truck. And that’s how Martha found her stripper.
A few minutes later, Isabella showed up with five girls. Understanding my overwhelm, she had narrowed down the choices for me into, basically, one of each. There was Tall-Skinny-Black, Harsh Bangs/Catholic-School-Girl, Short And Curvy with Jessica Alba Lips, Big Boob Blonde, and Asian.
Isabella repeated the directive: pick one.
No way. I’m not someone who can just… HER!
And just like that, I had a type. My third Rhino realization.
In came the cutie curvy one with pouty Jessica Alba lips. Isabella and the rejects scattered. I told her I’d like a back rub. Turns out, she studied massage therapy. She put my legs up on the seat, moved me sideways, and DUG her fingers into my tense shoulders (I had been a writer for a full week and a half!). Heaven.
I leaned back, listened to the music, watched the dancers, drank my Diet Coke, while this hot Albanian stripper rubbed my shoulders. My lesbo fantasy was coming true and I didn’t even know I had one. This was so much better than working at the Yeshiva (though, to be fair, Purim Carnival is a hoot).
Eventually, I looked over at Martha, miserable, having her hand rubbed by her chatty-ass stripper. She made a pleading, hopeful face with her eyes and a switch sign with her hands. Can we? You know? Can I have your stripper for a while?
I didn’t want to lend my stripper out to anyone, she was mine after all, but I felt bad. So, we switched.
Her bony stripper lanked over to me, as my beautiful, fit, curvy Alba-type headed over to Martha. I missed her already.
Martha’s stripper talked and talked and talked, all while giving me a rub down with all the oomph of a wet noodle. And I had a thought I’d never had before. I wanted to stand and shout, “Zip it, Stripper!! I’m not paying you to run your trap!” Realization Four: I am sexist and have the anger of a movie mobster. I was suddenly James Caan about to backhand a working girl. I didn’t but I felt the impulse and it was a first. And scary. But also kinda hot! Is there no end to what I will learn about myself at the Rhino?
I looked over at Martha, melting under the firm grip of my sweet stripper. Now I had sad face and switch hands.
After a couple of hours, Isabella came over and rounded us up, sniffing, rubbing her nose on her sleeve and downing our undrunk champagne, “You guys ready to go? I think we’re clearing out.”
We took off and instantly the booth was snatched up (pardon the pun). As the curtain opened, people shuffled in. I asked Isabella about it, and that’s when she told me that we’d been enjoying a thousand-dollar-an-hour booth. Holy shit. I just cost my new boss two grand.
I was terrified walking back to him. What would he say? Would I get fired and sent back to the Yeshiva? Or worse, have to pay?
We made out way back to the dark room to meet the guys. Most seemed ready to leave, like it was fun for a bit, but they’re nice married guys who don’t need a two-hour unrequited boner. But a couple of them were definitely going to order hookers later.
My boss came over to settle up the tab with my strippers (The James Caan in me had mentally taken possession of them). I braced to get yelled at, derided, charged. But he just smiled, paid them two grand, then tipped them another grand.
I’d never seen anything like it. The biggest perk we got at Yeshiva was, every now and then, there’d be a dried old piece of rugelach in the teacher’s lounge. Now, he’s peeling off thousands. I estimate he spent about twenty grand that night. Exactly what my salary was the year before.
I learned a lot that night: that I had an awesome job, that money does buy some degree of happiness. And that I’m just gay enough to thoroughly enjoy strippers.