Q: When did you work in a strip club?
A: It was 1987. I was 18, and had enlisted in the Air Force. Due to a large influx in recruitment, it was October before I would leave for basic training. I needed a screw-off job to keep me in party money over the summer. It was serendipity—my mother, who tended bar there, helped me land a job at the cover-charge table.
Q: What was the name of the club?
A: Tuna’s. Not for the obvious reasons, but because that was the nickname of the original owner. He was a man of ample girth who was renowned for ordering a large pizza to be delivered to him uncut. Then he would fold it in half and eat it like a sandwich.
The bar’s logo at the time was an unlicensed Charlie the Tuna holding a bikini top.
Q: Did you like the job?
A: It was everything I hoped it would be. In addition to having a view of the stage, albeit a distant one, there was plenty of slack-off time. Most of the time I would sit there and read. In retrospect, I wish GameBoy would’ve been around at the time.
The cover-charge table was between the stage and the dancers’ dressing room, so I’d get a good look as the dancers would change between sets. However, at the time, I was terribly shy, so I tended just to sneak glances. Plus, having Mom working at the bar, I tried to keep in line.
Q: Could you see your mom from where you stood?
A: Yep, and, more importantly, she could see me.
Q: Did you and your mom carpool?
A: The bar wasn’t too far from the house, so I would just walk. She started work a few hours before I did. The club opened at 6 o’clock, but the dancers didn’t start until 9 o’clock.
Q: Did you ever see anyone hit on your mom?
A: No, I was spared the gruesome details of that. It probably happened, but I didn’t pay attention to the goings-on at the bar. There was one guy, though, known throughout town as “Bert the Pervert,” who would buy my mom lingerie.
Q: Please don’t kill me: Was your mom good-looking?
A: Stop it. I can’t afford therapy.
Q: Where was this place?
A: The bar was in a northern Minnesota iron-ore-mining community. For an idea of the clientele, watch the movie North Country—it was filmed in the same town as Tuna’s. There were also a lot of bikers, but they tended to be self-regulating and the best behaved. Any time one of the bikers would start causing trouble, his buddies would haul him out.
Q: Were the girls completely naked?
A: They had to wear G-strings—I think that was state law. Toward the end of the summer, a new city ordinance was passed that required that their nipples be covered as well. That caused a huge uproar in the club. I thought some of the guys were going to cry. Usually the dancers wore sequined pasties, but some of the skankier ones just put Band-Aids over their nipples.
Q: Did they serve alcohol?
A: Oh yes. In northern Minnesota, even the elementary schools serve alcohol.
Q: Did you tell any of your friends about this job?
A: Yeah, they knew about it. I told my best friend that I could get him in any time he wanted, but he never took me up on it. I later found out that he was gay, so that explained that.
Q: Did you ever have problems with the clientele?
A: The biggest problem was that a lot of the dancers were also hookers, so there’d be guys trying to get into the dressing rooms to solicit services. At least once a night the owner would have to kick out someone trying to catch a hummer in the dressing room. They’d usually just go outside and do it in the alley instead, or in a car in the parking lot.
The dancers were all “free agents” that came, for the most part, from Minneapolis. They didn’t actually work for the club. There were different dancers every week.
The second-biggest problem was that the stairwell was separate from the main club, and invariably, toward the end of the night, someone would piss down the stairs. I think that rankled the club owner worse than anything. Eventually he installed a hidden camera at the top of the stairs and recorded the last couple hours each night. I recall him being very surprised with the results—it was people that he least expected that were doing it. Of course, this was well before the term “passive-aggressive” was bandied about.
Q: So who were the people who peed on the stairs? Were they people who worked there?
A: No, but at least one of the guys was one of the very well-behaved regulars.
Q: How long did you and your mom end up working there?
A: I took a couple of weeks off before leaving for basic training in mid-October. Mom wasn’t there for much longer beyond that, either—she started working in a nursing home after she’d had enough of the drunks and the cigarette smoke.
Q: Are you proud that you had this job?
A: The only thing that appalls me about the experience is that I actually ate bar food. In a strip club. Almost every night. Yeesh.
Q: What kind of food is “bar food at a strip club”?
A: I used to order chicken strips a lot. But they had the usual range of nasty bar food: bad hamburgers, deep-fried mushrooms, pickled eggs, and the like.
Q: But overall, it was a good job?
A: Overall, it was a good experience—the owner was a great guy, and I was a night owl back then, so the hours worked out great. Most guys would think that it would be their dream job, but really, you get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. Plus, the music was pretty much always the same. It got so that if I heard ZZ Top’s “Legs” one more time, I think I would’ve lost it.