Ivana Wall is not the author’s real name. She worked as a dancer at a Cleveland strip club last week, to take advantage of the Republican National Convention. This the second and last installment of News From the Poles. You can read part one here.
Wednesday, July 20
Adam—not his real name—the Uber driver taking me to the club tells me that his previous passenger proudly identified himself as a neo-Nazi and waited until they were were on the highway to call him “a nigger.” He’d asked how many baby mamas Adam had, how many felonies, and where he’d stolen the car from.
For days, I’ve been listening to the club staff’s coded fears about “something” happening, some war between the “hate people,” a phrase trying to couch the New Black Panthers as a hate group like the white supremacists in town for the RNC. But nothing ever happened. This is the only confrontation I’ve heard about in Cleveland this week. It didn’t happen in front of all the bored cops dressed up for battle, but in the confines of a quiet middle-aged Uber driver’s car, driving this “clean-cut looking” asshole from the airport while he explicated what others have gotten so comfortable signaling, resting on the knowledge that Adam wouldn’t throw him out of the car on the highway.
I watch Adam tear up in the rearview mirror. “Now I have to justify myself to this person through their hate,” he says. “Now I have to explain that I have two master’s degrees and I’m an adjunct professor, and this is just something to do over the summer. But I shouldn’t have to do that. That does something to you inside. It spreads the hate.” So Adam didn’t say anything to him. He didn’t want to engage at all, or dignify anything he said with a response. He just told him to “have a nice day.”
We pull up to the bar around the corner from the club. I don’t know what to else say. I wish Adam well.
Outside the club, a rinky-dink Christian hate group is picketing with a flame-accented sign that reads “JESUS SAVES US FROM HELL.” They try to snap photos of the girls who work at the club through the backyard gate, as the girls peek over the top and giggle. A cavalcade of bike cops seize the opportunity to mobilize, and form a three-man-thick barrier between the club and the Christians. The ratio of officers to protesters is about five to one.
The inside of the club strives to fashion itself as an old-timey party mansion fit for a king, like a prefab Valhalla. Half-nude girls lounge on leather sofas as the doors to private rooms swing open and shut, revealing glimpses of men with their shoes off and shirts unbuttoned.
The club has a party bus, too. Someone has finally sent it to the Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention is taking place, and it attracts a handful of men in suits with various credentials around their necks, including a groomed-for-TV man who claims to be a delegate from a Northeastern state. His suit is spotless, so when I give him a lap dance, I tip my face upwards when I get close to him, to avoid smudging foundation on his shoulder.
I dispense with all the strip club flirtation and cut straight to a series of questions about how one becomes a delegate. He looks exasperated. “Sorry, this is totally unsexy!” I laugh. He asks if I’m a journalist. “No… Okay, fine I admit it, I’m a journalist,” I laugh. “Just kidding, obviously,” he laughs. I tell him that I’m going back to school for journalism. “I can see it in you, you’ll be great,” he says. “I’ll see you on TV one day.” I say thank you, and change the topic back to why he likes Trump.
“Who wouldn’t want a billionaire for President?” he asks, rhetorically. “The problem with America is that you have first-world infrastructure but everybody has this attitude that they have to work minimum-wage jobs,” he says. Legal immigrants—like himself, albeit from a rich family—take full advantage of those offerings. Everybody can be rich, they just don’t work for it, he explains.
So yes, he’s pro-wall, to keep out the freeloaders who come over and don’t pay taxes.
“Isn’t the wall a waste of tax money?”
“Mexico will pay.”
Later he says, “if Trump doesn’t get it this year, he never will.”
Trump has a shot this year, he says. “Because he’s running against a woman.”
It’s Wednesday, and nobody has died. Last night, I met a riot tourist who’d come all the way from Vancouver, Washington to catch some of the action, and seems perturbed by the lack of it. “I saw the violence at the Trump rallies, and I wanted to see what that was all about,” he said. But for the most part, it was anticlimactic. He says he’d gone to a big protest with Black Lives Matter, New Black Panthers, and another that involved the Westboro Baptist Church earlier in the day, but found it disappointingly peaceful: “Not much really happened. It was pretty boring.”
Later, a slightly-over-frat-aged boy claims to be a fundraiser for Marco Rubio. He was raised in Indiana, which, he calls the “all-American upbringing.” It’s his first time in a strip club, and I run through our menu of services: A lap dance for $30 per song…
“$30 per song?” He’s astounded. “I could just take you out to dinner, we hook up afterwards, and all that costs me is $60!” He calculates how much I must make per night. “$300 an hour??”
No, actually. Most of my time is spent talking to men and building a rapport. I have about a twenty-five percent success rate, since most don’t actually want to buy dances—and then, when they do, a third of that money goes back to the club before tip-outs. Tuesday night was particularly dry. I made $120.
He offers the fiscally conservative criticism of lap-dance economics, and concludes that lap dances don’t offer a particularly strong ROI: “Even though I make $60 an hour, still…” He wastes about half an hour of my time. He says he plans to run for office someday.
Thursday, July 21
A Biker for Trump idly patrols the park. He and his buddies are here as a “deterrent” against large groups of “militant left-wingers,” and they’re prepared to assist the police “by any means necessary.” Those groups haven’t shown up in particularly large numbers, which he considers a Bikers-for-Trump success.
I make it to the area around the Quicken Loans Arena, where merchandise is for sale. One can buy a t-shirt with a graphic that shows Hillary Clinton falling off a motorcycle, screaming as she falls to her death, revealing the message on Donald Trump’s back: “IF YOU CAN READ THIS THE BITCH FELL OFF.” Another T-shirt simply reads “HILLARY SUCKS BUT NOT LIKE MONICA.”
Over a near-constant loudspeaker, Christians are yelling about “monkey fascists” and all the things God hates. I find myself crying spontaneously and uncontrollably. There is no escape from these fucking hate people.
Downtown businesses are not happy. Having been promised $200 million in direct spending by the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee, businesses overstaffed and extended their hours, only to find dead traffic from protest cages and blocked roadways manned by legions of all variety of police.
The security guard speculates the Republicans are all at private parties at the aquarium, which they’ve rented out for the week. “Kid Rock’s playing a concert down there right now, rubbing elbows with the high-end rich people,” he huffs through his cigarette. The strip club bus is empty and parked at the curb.
The shredded American flag I’m wearing around my boobs has felt nothing more than ironic, which makes me angry after a week of interacting with True-Patriots-who-know-what’s-best-for-America. Why does some stock-wholesome 20-year-old from Indiana with a Washington, DC internship get to be “all-American”? Why do gun owners get to be more hardcore flag people than gays and refugees and sex workers?
The other girls have chosen to be subtler with their American sexiness this week, playing archetypes which imply our nation’s values: The blowsy glamour of Marilyn Monroe and Dolly Parton; farm-girl stage names, and stage names after Christian values.
And then there’s Heresy—not her actual stage name. Her look is dominatrix Barbie, and tonight, she’s chosen me to be on her tag team. She’s been in this industry way too long to suffer through another life story or laugh at an unfunny joke for free, so she does what many attempt, but few execute successfully: Dispensing with smalltalk completely. She grabs my hand and takes a swift lap around the main room, scoping out her mark, an average-looking 30 something bearded guy in a flannel shirt.
“Do you have a belt?” Automatically, wordlessly, he touches it. She is now in complete control.
She wraps it around his neck, leans on their chest, and announces, “we’re gonna beat your ass.” He says okay. She calls him a putrid little worm, spanks him, we sway our asses in his direction, and within five minutes, she has extracted $60 from his pocket.
We try the same with a guy in a “Make America Great Again” hat, but he bolts in terror. “Build a wall, motherfucker!” she yells, and we make fun of him on the patio.
She’s my instant stripper idol.
She gives me some business advice—how to draw out endless no-contact strip teases, how to cut around all of the exhausting flattery, how to construct brief and impersonal customer relationships.
“You can’t present it as an invitation,” she says. “You can’t go into it like you’re asking a question because you give them the option to say no.”
To a row of customers, she calmly administers tittie twisters, rips off polo shirts, sits on heads, pours beer down an on-looker’s throat until he coughs it up. The new girls sit around the stage in awe. A green 19-year-old tries to demand a dance from the customer next to us, but she loses the sale with an awkward pause, opening up the floor for negotiation.
It’s 2:30, the club is nearly empty and the staff is angry.
Heresy tells me in the bathroom that sometimes she doesn’t even care about making money. She just wants to beat ass. “I hate people,” she says. “I just hate them so much.”
It’s that point in the night when the customers start blending together. I mix up their names and backstories and the details of their political rationalizations and don’t care. I start to feel as though I’ve seen everything there is to see from the RNC run-off and I hate them all.
Goodbye, Cleveland. It’s been hell.
Illustration: Jim Cooke for Gawker.