LOVED STRIPPING: She’s blonde, 35 (looks 25), went to all-girls boarding schools and USC, spent a decade working at strip clubs, and looks back on her sans-clothes career without regret. And with a certain fondness. “I worked at about 20 clubs in California and New York State. I loved it.”
Nancy, I’ll call her (not her real name), has cheerleader looks and comes off as a girl you could take home to mother. She wouldn’t mind going back into the business, but for now she’s back in school, at Santa Barbara City College. As for stripping, “It’s a skill, something you can go back to if you need the money,” she said. She’s a vegan and does marketing for a national company.
How, I wondered while talking to Nancy at a local coffee shop, did someone with that kind of background feel about getting naked onstage in front of strangers, to say nothing of what goes on in the darkened back rooms? “It was a little weird at first,” she admitted.
“I dropped out of USC after two years” after majoring in environmental studies, she told me. “I hated every second of it. My parents were very upset.” While she was still enrolled, her boyfriend died of a brain hemorrhage after a night of partying. “It was horrible. I really loved him. I was so sad. I felt guilt. It was traumatic. That changed me.”
Back home on the East Coast, “I happened to meet a high school friend,” she said. “She pulled out a huge wad of cash” earned at a strip club. “I would never have considered it before. So I went to a club with her in upstate New York. It was great. I was 19, topless dancing.” While sitting with customers, “All I had to do was tell people about my life and problems, and they gave me money. Half the time, you’re a therapist.”
“The club paid me nothing. I paid the club $20 a night and got tips. Oh my God, I could easily make $400 a night for doing nothing except going up onstage,” while the customers bought drinks and paid for dances. The dancers, she found, “were all damaged” in one way or another, sometimes from childhood abuse. “But they didn’t always realize it.”
Back on the West Coast and looking for club work, Nancy found the clubs “totally different from the East Coast strip clubs. The classy, nice places here are the nude clubs.” She started working the chain of Spearmint Rhino “Gentlemen’s” clubs, paying an $80 fee per night to dance, plus half the tips from lap dances. On good nights, she’d take in $1,800 and bring home about $900 of it. You had to tip the bouncers and other staffers, “or they’d make your life miserable or not help you. It was one of the things I hated.”
And although Nancy enjoyed the life, “It’s exhausting. It drains you. It’s the life of a vampire, working at night. It’s your social life.” She told of finding three boyfriends at the clubs over the years, but losing them when they became jealous over how she was making her money.
Her fellow dancers included “lots of college girls, professionals, accountants, real smart women, and some real dummies.” The real money-makers, she said, “are the mothers, maybe working to get the kids into a private school or just to buy costly Christmas presents.” One negative about the work was guilt from seeing older men throwing away their Social Security checks or the look on a guy’s face when he realizes he’d just dropped $800.
Nancy’s career included the Santa Barbara Spearmint Rhino, where “the people were really nice to work for. It was like a family, and I still have friends there.” But she left the stripping life five years ago. She’s among claimants in a class-action suit filed by Spearmint Rhino chain dancers who will be sharing a recent $12.9-million settlement requiring that they be declared employees rather than independent contractors, be paid minimum wage, and be able to keep their tips.
Since several hundred present and past dancers will divvy up the award, minus attorney fees, and their share will depend on the number of shifts each worked, Nancy isn’t sure how much she’ll receive. But she doesn’t expect to get rich.
KUSTER OUSTED: After 41 years at the Santa Barbara News-Press, circulation manager Steve Kuster just got a shock: You’re outta here. A hard-working guy I’ve known for years who’s handled many tasks at the newspaper’s printing plant in Goleta, Kuster is an apparent victim of the struggling paper’s belt-tightening. His job is being combined with that of another manager, sources tell me. Kuster kept a low profile during the recent chaotic years there of plummeting circulation amid a lean advertising climate, but that didn’t help. Veteran employees seem to be an endangered species. Meanwhile, fired News-Press newsroom union members are awaiting a decision from a Washington, D.C., circuit appeals court. (Do not expect a Christmas miracle, folks.)