The last person to ask me that question was a twenty-four year old woman sitting on my lap with only a bikini on (the least amount of clothing allowable in that sort of club in the State where I lived). I had gone to strip clubs for years, beginning with an office sponsored event and then during a mostly drunken auto racing weekend with neighborhood friends. Curiosity and the desire for sexual arousal or even satisfaction (as much as that is possible while staying clothed) had led me on a veritable tour of practically every strip club in my area over the course of nearly 10 years. So I had had many excuses and reasons, but the woman who was sitting on my lap was the only reason that I had at that moment.
I first met her on a football Sunday when dances are relatively easy to get because the clubs are typically filled with men more interested in football than dances--perhaps because the financial implications of the games might impact their ability to finance a dance. She could have done body double work for Gwyneth Paltrow but while I was first attracted to her beauty it was her intelligence and sophistication that intensified our relationship. Over about a year we saw each other at least once and often twice a week for an hour or more, and though we never met outside the club we often called each other and texted. The dances I paid for were not really dances: the club she was at had remarkably private rooms in the back of an upstairs smoking lounge, with no camera monitors and only a small glass window on the door. Over time our sessions were more cuddling than anything else. She would often fall asleep as I massaged her back. We talked about everything. She looked at pictures of my wife, daughters and pets. I commiserated with her when her sister was sick; coached her on training a dog she adopted; and listened as she told me about her boyfriend, her pets and about how she eventually wanted to go to medical school. When I joked that her intolerance of the sight of blood did not seem to bode well for her in that role, she quickly responded: “I am going to be a radiologist.” Obviously she had thought things out. She loved poetry and would save my voicemails when I would recite poems to her--not sappy stuff: she preferred Greek, Latin and Russian poetry, especially Anna Akhmatova, whether in the original or translated.
But back to the question: my answer to her was not so much dishonest as incomplete. Even so my answer to her did not come quickly or easily. I told her that after more than 20 years of marriage I had become bored and that I enjoyed being able to have a relationship, even if not fully consummated, with another woman. She was bothered by that answer in part because she could imagine what it would be like for her in another 20 years when her future husband would make excuses for being out. She had never been as comfortable with the club as the other dancers. When I once referred to her as an angel she quietly said “then why am I here?” Not long afterwards she told me she was taking herself off the schedule and a few days later I got a “leave me alone” text. It has been years since that happened and only gradually have I come to appreciate that the question as to why I went to strip clubs related to a desire to escape not any one person or any one thing, but rather everything. What a strip club had come to mean for me was a sort of false eternity where a game was always on, the beer was always cold and the women were always young. So behind it all was not so much desire as fear, the fear of change and ultimately dying. The future radiologist may not have appreciated all of that then but with her question and how I answered it seems she saw through our relationship and saw something irreparable in it and the place it existed in. I had lots of reasons to go to strip clubs. She left me with a very good reason not to: she would not be there.