- Hannah Palmer-Egan
It's below zero outside and the club is deserted except for three women wearing G-string panties and barely there bikini tops. They teeter over a stained old pool table in strappy, four-inch platform shoes with towering spike heels. The bartender (also female, but in jeans and a flannel shirt) and two dudes — bouncers, I assume — round out the house crowd.
A glowing board advertises "Orgasms" for $6, scrawled in paint marker that shifts from green to white to pink as the backlight changes color. Tempting as they sound, we eschew the cocktails — creamy concoctions resembling white Russians — and opt for beers instead.
It's Valentine's Day, and my husband, Dan, and I don't want to climax too quickly.
We've made the snowy trek to Planet Rock in Barre in search of something ... different. I'm curious to see what our state's lone strip club has to offer on the "most romantic night of the year." Though I've driven by it hundreds of times since it opened in the mid-1990s, I've never been in. But since we were of clubbing age, friends have regaled me with stories of amputee strippers and other sideshow-esque oddities.
I imagine the best-case scenario could be something weirdly sexy, and weirdly sexy seems like an OK goal for this mission.
The room is dimly lit with colored lights and arranged sort of like a black-box theater: entrance at the front, bar off to one side, stage at the back. At center stage stands a gleaming metal pole, surrounded on three sides by a wide, wooden counter. Dan and I grab seats here. As the sole patrons, it seems rude to sit anywhere else. The music is deafening.
A girl — "Angel," someone announces over the speakers — takes the stage and turns around to show us her assets. Two large, red cat eyes gaze at us from the small of her back.
Angel approaches the counter and stretches out in front of us, thumbs hooked into her panties. She gyrates her hips, inching forward until she's kneeling in front of me. Then she wraps her arms around me, shimmying her boobs into my face and swaying to Akon and Kardinal Offishall's "Dangerous."
As she pulls away, she brushes the hair from my neck and runs her Miley Cyrus-size tongue — warm and wet — from my collarbone to my ear. Then she takes her leave.
Another girl walks up behind us. She leans on the bar, holding a tiny, honey-hued Chihuahua.
"Hi!" I say, looking at the dog.
"Have you met the stripper puppy?"
I giggle, awaiting an introduction. "Noooo, I haven't!"
"She got up on the pole, with a little help from her mom."
"Ah?" I say, sipping my beer. Really?
"She really did!"
"Wow!" Peering at the Chihuahua with my biggest V-Day grin, I ask. "What's your name?"
"Her name is Callie," answers her "mom," who doesn't volunteer her own name. She lifts Callie's collar, pushes the dog toward me and glances at our stack of ones on the bar.
"Oh, Callie," I croon at the dog, as a politician might to a baby, and slip a buck under her collar.
You can't make this shit up.
A third girl, wearing a ruffly, leopard-print getup, takes the stage. "Onstage right now we have ... Serenity!" calls the MC, who I realize is the bouncer at the door. We clap and laugh and turn to watch.
The music changes to a swinging beat — Rihanna's "Pon de Replay." Serenity grabs the pole, jumps on and spins around, sliding to the bottom and onto the floor, where she rolls onto her back, kicks her legs in the air, turns over again and rises to her hands and knees. Like a cat, she points her ass to the stars, then shakes it ferociously, backing toward us.
"Graceful" isn't the word, but the girl has skill.
After a few booty-shaking minutes, Serenity comes back to say hi. "I like your thing," she says, stroking my back. She's referring to my pink rabbit-fur vest — my pink bunny, I call it jokingly — and pets it.
"Thank you! It's super warm—"
"So what brought you guys down here on Valentine's Day?"
"Oh, you know, just looking for something different," I say uncertainly.
"This place definitely is different," she agrees. "So what's your name?"
"Hannah," I answer, then wonder, Should I be giving her my real name?
"Hannah, hi. I'm Serenity. You're a very good girl. Not a lot of girls would bring their men down here, not at all. Oh wait, wait—" She straightens out her top to cover a nipple. "Have to be respectful, keep covered."
We all laugh at the gesture. "So modest!" I tease.
"Right? You have to be, working down here!" With that, she slithers onto the counter and twerks her bum, scant inches from our faces. She rolls over and lifts a panty-string, offering a full view of the goods. I wonder if she's posturing to take her bottoms off, but she doesn't. Instead, she spins around, dismounts the bar and struts back to the pole.
Dan turns to me. "Jeez, baby, you're a real stickler."
"Uh — huh?" I'm confused.
"Every time she does that, you're supposed to put a dollar underneath." "Oh, uh, OK — cool." I say, glad he's coaching me along.
Serenity grabs the pole and bends over, flashing us a rear view of her lady parts. As she willies her pelvis, her butt bounces like a molded jelly. After a few twirls, she walks back to us. She hops up on the counter and slides my beer out of her way. "How do you feel about boobs?"
"I like boobs," I say. Who doesn't like boobs?
"OK." She leans into my head, burying my face in her breasts. They're big, D cups at least, and her skin is warm and soft against my cheeks. My instinct is to snuggle in, but I refrain because even I know that the strippers can touch you, but you can't touch the strippers. She smacks my face around with her tits a bit and, after five or 10 seconds, steps away and smiles at me. "My boobs like your face," she says.
"Ah ha ha ha!" I'm giggling again, but I can't tell if it's because of the general awkwardness or because getting boob-slapped by a Barre stripper — alongside my husband on Valentine's Day — isn't quite as awkward as one might expect. But it is funny. "My face likes your boobs, too," I say, slipping a dollar into her cleavage. I down about a quarter of my PBR in a single gulp.
Serenity looks at Dan, then at me: "Do you ... mind?" she asks me.
I shake my head, giggle and sip my beer again.
"Are you sure?"
"Please! Do your thing, girl, do your thing!"
"I just want to make sure!"
To me, the bigger question seems to be, Is permission to tittie-fuck Dan's face mine to give?
Go-ahead granted, Serenity squats in front of my husband, cups his chin in her hand and tilts his head toward her chest. She lowers her boobs onto his face, massaging him with her flesh and swirling her body to the music. When she's finished, he obliges with another dollar, and she moves on to another couple that's just arrived. Dan looks at me with a smirk. He's bemused, but not offended.
Dan goes to get another beer, and to change another $20. In the black light, every speck of lint on my dress is glowing.
Chihuahua girl returns.
"Does Callie come to work with you all the time?" I ask.
"No, it's her first night down here, and it's my last night." She's moving to Jacksonville, Fla., she says, to work at a place called Bare Assets.
She hands the pooch to one of the bouncer dudes, who is sitting next to us. They decide the dog should sit at the counter, rather than over at the bar, so she doesn't bark for mom from across the room.
The girl walks to the stage. The MC announces her name, but it's garbled. Kendall? Her ass is emblazoned with the words "PLANET ROCK" in capital letters. ("I wrote 'Planet Rock' on my butt in Sharpie last night," she explains later, "and it still hasn't come off.")
She jumps on the pole and hangs upside down from the top, gripping the metal with her thighs. Mötley Crüe's "Girls, Girls, Girls," pounds overhead. Callie the Chihuahua, perched on bouncer-dude's forearm, looks on, wide-eyed, tail tucked. After a minute or two, the girl saunters back, whisks up the pup and returns to the stage.
She grabs the pole with one hand, flops over and gives us a little booty show. The dog clings helplessly to her other arm. Then the stripper lifts her pet to the bar. Callie looks back at her mama, trying to climb down her arms, but the girl gently pushes her toward the metal, cooing encouragement. The pup relents, grabbing on with her four legs, seeming bewildered. The girl looks back at us with a wide grin: See? Stripper dog!
We leave after an hour or so, climbing the stairs to street level. It's Saturday night and still early, but Barre's main drag is deserted. Bathed in the salmon-pink glow of the streetlights, snowflakes silently float down from the heavens. As we wander to our car, all is peaceful save for the muffled, thumping bass drifting up from the strange but friendly "planet" we've just left behind.