Despite the smell, I had to admit I took an illicit pleasure in flattening my dollar bills under my textbooks. I’d pulled it off—and not only that, I was good at it. Everyone else might see me as the smart kid, the quiet and responsible one, but these men had seen me as a piece of ass, and I liked it. I was sexy and the wrinkled bills proved it. For the first time in my life, I’d been naughty. I’d been irresponsible and badly behaved, and, even though my stomach did flips at the prospect of round two, I knew I had to go back for more.

When I walked in the following Friday, Jeanie was at the bar.  There was no sign of Joanne.

“Are you dancing tonight?” she asked.

I nodded, gesturing to my bag of dancer supplies.

“I think you’re going to be the only dancer.  No one else has shown up.”

“What about Candy?” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that this would be a repeat of Tuesday night, and I really didn’t want to dance alone again.

“She’s definitely not coming tonight.  I don’t think she’s ever coming back.  Thinks she’s too good for this place.” She laughed, clearly not agreeing with Candy’s opinion.  “You might be the only dancer tonight.”  Noticing the look on my face, in a nicer tone she added, “You’ll get breaks, of course, but it will still be hard. Friday nights are busy. Are you up for it?”

I must have looked pretty panicky, because Jeanie hastened to reassure me that Joanne was at home right now, trying to get another dancer.  I must have still seemed nervous, because Jeanie asked if I wanted drugs or a drink.  I told her no—this night I would dance completely sober—but I wondered what drugs she had on supply.

She walked me to the women’s bathroom, which doubled as a dressing room, which made sense, since the only women to come to Valentino’s usually ended up on stage.  As we passed the handful of customers in attendance, I got a few cracks on the way about being the “new girl,” but I didn’t care.  I was the new girl, and you could tell they were excited about it while I was enjoying have any notoriety at all.

Sitting by the stage was an older guy with glasses who was nicknamed Al Bundy, Jeanne told me.  He did sort of look like Al Bundy from Married With Children, only with gray hair and a worn looking face.  He kept lapsing into Irish and British accents.  The other guy was called Marshall.  He was really ugly, with lots of wiry brown hair, green eyes that wouldn’t stop staring at me, and a pig nose.  I recognized him from the week before.

“You can call me Marshall, Mr. Marshall, or Mr. Mister.  Most people choose Mr. Mister,” he said, “as in Mr. MR, as in Mr. Marshall.”

This comment created a lot of amusement at the bar. I didn’t get the joke.

“I can’t wait to see you dance,” he told me, smiling.

“I’ll be up there as soon as I finish my water.”  I tried to remember to smile back. I wanted his tips.

After I changed into my stage outfit, I programmed several songs into the jukebox, using most of the same ones from the last time.  I took a deep breath, placed my red tip bag and glass of water on the stage, and climbed up.  I started to dance.  The men congregated around the stage.  Mr. MR did not sit down.  One of the guys was really old, and he stayed in the same seat all night, getting really drunk.  The fourth man sat on the other side of Al Bundy and told me I looked like a movie star.  He and Al kept arguing about which one I looked like.  There was also a good-looking black man who joined the group.  He said I looked like a Nikita.

I’d already decided to be a Karla.  Maybe I hadn’t kissed a boy until I was 16, but Karla had been fucking since before she was born.  She had legs for a mile, beautiful tits, a cute ass, and eyes that sparkled, especially when they saw those nice dollar bills.  She could shake her hips and flash her pussy for your spare change.  And she did it all with a smile, a wink, and sheer sex appeal, regardless of how scummy the bar, how tacky the lights, or how dismal the clientele.  At Valentino’s, I could be whomever who I wanted, and she’s what I chose.

Karla was everything I wished I could be—and on that stage, I wore her like an evening gown that fit snugly over my skin, elevating me to sex goddess status.  She stayed on all night, even while I wasn’t dancing.  She didn’t come off until I took her off, when I stepped out of the bar and into my shower.  Only then did I scrub her away.  But the distinctive smell of sex and cigarettes always lingered—on my clothes, in my hair, and on the one-dollar bills. It was my way of keeping Karla around.

The other dancer finally showed up.  A woman named Tina, she had to be at least thirty and looked ten years older.  She’d been dancing for fifteen years and had two kids.  An unruly mass of long, thick black hair kept falling over her face.  Tina was really skinny, in a wiry, wrinkled sort of way.  Her face looked tough, worn, and grim.  She wore the same pair of shoes all night – black leather boots with stiletto heels that came over her knees.  She also wore black lace thigh highs.  Every shirt she wore opened in the front but had sleeves, so her arms always stayed covered.  I wondered why someone who had to hide that much skin would choose to be a stripper.

Tina told me she usually waitressed at weddings or worked in a florist shop.

“I don’t dance very much anymore.  I’m just doing it tonight to buy a suit for my eleven year old to wear to a wedding.”  She sighed.  “He hates wearing suits.  Only wants to wear Tommy Hilfiger jeans.”

We both laughed.

“Are you new at dancing?” she asked.

I wondered if it was that obvious.  I knew I wasn’t very good, but neither was she.  She didn’t seem to like me very much.  She kept reminding me when it was time for me to replace her on the stage.  I think she hated it when the men looked at me.

Mr. MR would not leave me alone all night.  With complete seriousness, he told me he’d be my angel and my talent coach.  I would willingly have given up his tips if he’d pay some attention to Tina, but he only wanted to talk to me.  He wanted me to dance in front of him.  Every time I took a break, he insisted I sit with him so that he could talk with me and give me advice.

He started off with, “Take off your thigh highs and shoes and dance barefoot.”

“I thought men wanted heels,” I replied, confused.  “I thought dancers were supposed to wear heels—the higher and more uncomfortable the better.  I’ve never seen a dancer dance barefoot.”

Mr. MR looked at me blankly.  “Skin.  It’s about showing as much skin as possible.”  He paused, as if stunned by my naïveté.  “Or would you rather dance in heels?”

“I don’t really care. I’ve just never heard of a dancer without heels.”

“Natural is sexy.  Isn’t it more comfortable barefoot?”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“So that’s settled.  Do it.  Take them off.  Not during your first song, but maybe during your second or third.  Trust me.  I wouldn’t lie to you.”

I wasn’t so sure about that.

He ran his finger along my jaw.  I drew back a bit.  “What’s the matter, gorgeous?  I told you I’d help you.”  He looked straight into my eyes.  “I’ll make you a star.”

I blinked.  I didn’t know what to say.  I just wanted him to shut up and keep tipping.

“Take your clothes off really slowly, and let the men hold pieces of your clothing.  That’s a really big turn on.  Move even slower, always leaving them wanting more.”

He paused and asked what I was drinking.

“Just water,” I replied sheepishly, feeling amateur, but Mr. MR was impressed.

“Wow. I knew it.  You’ve done this before.  I can see you’ve done this before.  Only the crappy dancers,” he gestured at Tina, “drink alcohol.  Getting drunk means you can’t dance as well.  But you really should drink ginger ale instead of water, because it looks more like alcohol.  And then act a little drunk.  The customers like that.”

I nodded, trying to remember everything. Maybe he was on to something.

“Unzip your boots a little before you take them off.  Be more of a tease.  Show more skin, but show it slowly.”

I nodded again, and he ran his finger down my arm.  I tried not to grimace.  I tried not to think about how much his nose looked like a pig’s, how much his eyes were leering at me, or how bad his skin was.  I tried to think only about the tips I was going to get.

“Let me hold your dress after you take it off during your next dance.  There’ll be a surprise in it when you finish.”  He laughed, leaning close and showing his teeth.

I knew it would probably be a nice five-dollar bill.  I smiled cheerfully.  The things a girl will do for a fiver.  “Okay.”

“I want you to dance just in front of me.” His breath was heavy on my face.

“I don’t think I can do that.  I don’t think that’s fair,” I replied as sweetly as possible. I couldn’t think of anything more miserable.

“Is anyone giving you as much as I am?”

I shook my head.

He ran his finger down my arm again.  I hoped he didn’t see me cringe.

“Sugar, I told you I’d be your angel.  I want to lie in bed with you and wake up next to you and kiss you at sunset and sunrise, in the middle of the night and in the middle of the day.  Remember my face.  I’m an angel.”

I must have looked skeptical because he continued, “You can’t prove I’m not.”

He was right about that, but, of course, he couldn’t prove he was one, either.

He kept having me dance to Black Velvet.  “That’s your song.  No one else can do it like you can.  You’re a natural.”

I was relieved when he finally left to get another drink. He made me kiss him three times on the lips before he got up.  No tongue, thank god, but I still felt dirty.  I tried not to think and just to be Karla.  Eyes closed.  One.  Two.  Three.  And then he’d be gone.

“I know you’ll come back next week,” he told me, smiling.

“How do you know?” I asked.  If only he knew what was going through my head.  How ugly I thought he was, how much I hated his breath on my cheek and his hand on my arm, how much I never wanted to see him ever again.

“Because I asked you to.”

More than anything that happened that night, his desire for me made me never want to come back.

Luckily, though, there was this really nice guy there that made me feel better after Mr. MR left.  He was totally bald, glasses, 6’4, 240 pounds.  He kept paying me to listen to his jokes.  I didn’t even have to dance.  I certainly didn’t have to show him my pussy.  I just sort of swayed in front of him, and he kept giving me one-dollar bills in rapid succession.  I got them even faster when I started to tell him some of my jokes.  He told me he liked me better than Tina.  She must have seen how much money he was giving me because she wouldn’t leave him alone.

Another guy came in who looked more intellectual than anyone else.  That could just have been his glasses, but his face looked smarter somehow.  He seemed 26, maybe 27, and he was definitely cute.  I was into him, and he was clearly into me.  He made me feel more comfortable than any of the other men.  Maybe because he was most like the men I actually knew outside of the bar?

I paid him as much attention as I could without neglecting anyone else.  I gave him one of my thigh highs to hold.  I took my bra off in front of him.  Smart as he looked, though, it took just one shot of my pussy to make his eyes glaze over, and out came another dollar bill.  He kept making this annoying clicking sound with his mouth whenever I spread in front of him, sort of from the back of his throat, but he was cute, so I kept paying attention to him.  At least he was easy to look at.  He could tell I liked him more than anyone else around the stage, and he showed me his appreciation with a steady flow of cash.

Later in the night, a black guy came in with beautiful brown eyes.  He was also there alone.  My newest solitary admirer asked me to talk to him during one of my breaks.  I was more than happy to oblige.  With his sensitive manner and sweet eyes, he was definitely an improvement over my “angel.”

He told me he taught special education and coached high school sports.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked.

I used the same lie I’d used all night, making vague reference to a 250-pound boyfriend of two years.  I figured this might subtly discourage unwanted advances without giving away personal information. I was determined to keep the real me separate from Karla and her experiences.

“Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked, in return, partly making small talk but also curious.

“I’ve got ‘associates.’  No girlfriend.”  He grinned at me.  “You know, you’re too good to be dancing in a place like this.”

I felt like asking him why he was drinking “in a place like this,” but I didn’t.  That wouldn’t be professional, so I just smiled.

He kept giving me dollar bills for letting him blow on my pussy.  He also kept asking to let him touch it.  I let him do it twice, but I hated it and made him stop.  Physical contact crossed the line.  I needed to keep Karla in an airtight vacuum — less chance for contamination that way.

One reason why I felt comfortable enough to start dancing at Valentino’s was because there were no lap dances.  The girls didn’t do them and the men didn’t ask for them.  There were no shady back rooms.  Despite being a dive, Valentino’s wasn’t sketchy at all.  Not only was it run by women, but there were no blow jobs in the bathroom, either for clients or staff — unless, I suppose, the girls wanted to do it, but there was no managerial pressure to oblige.  If I didn’t want it, there was no physical contact.  No touching.  Karla had a shield, of sorts, to hide behind, and the men, with the very occasional exception, respected it.

Joanne and Jeanie were nice the whole night.  The idea of working for women definitely comforted me.  Somehow, it made everything seem less sleazy and helped me feel like I was part of a conspiracy to wheedle money out of the weaker sex.  Jeanie kept me supplied with a steady stream of water and ginger ale.  Joanne kept asking if I was doing okay.  She even offered me pizza and told me I was doing a good job.

Two guys came in near the end of the night.  Tim and Pete.  It was Pete’s birthday.  They were both jocky business types who were totally trashed, and they weren’t pleasant drunks.  They didn’t tip very much.  They kept making paper airplanes out of dollar bills and thinking that was pretty funny.  Pete even felt the need to tell me about his new washing machine.

“Here’s my phone number, baby doll.”

I slipped it into my bag, smiling seductively.

“If you come over, I’ll do your laundry for you…”

I just kept smiling and dancing.  I wanted more tips.  Not stupid paper airplanes I had to slip cunningly out from under their fingers.  They kept trying to convince me to hang out after the bar closed.

“Come on, baby.  It’ll be fun.  It’s my birthday…” Every statement trailed off, ending with a leer and a lean towards my crotch. I kept ignoring their implied requests.

(That would be quite a birthday, wouldn’t it?  To bag a stripper? You could tell all your friends you got to see her pussy, and then you got to fuck it.)

The night seemed to go on forever, and by the end, I was exhausted.  It was hard to perform constantly.  Even my “breaks” just meant that I got to get off my feet – I still had to chat it up with the clientele.  Karla was a tough act to maintain, even though it was sort of fun at the same time—a perverse take on the childhood game of “dress-up,” only here dressing up meant undressing.

I made $191 that night plus the $25 Joanne gave me when I left.  That was my official shift pay.  I got to keep all my tips. No cut for the bar or anything.  Not bad for a total dive with no windows, lights, or a proper sound system.

Tim and Pete were the last to go.  I was worried that they were waiting to head out when I did, planning to continue their plot to convince me to “party” with them once I was outside the bar, so I kept sipping my ginger ale until they finally left.  I asked Jeanie’s husband to walk me to the car in case anyone was looking for seconds.  Tim and Pete were hanging around outside, but they didn’t say anything, and I drove away.  No one followed me home.

I took a long shower, thoroughly soaping myself.  I fell asleep with my feet throbbing.  The next morning, totally exhausted, I found a huge inexplicable bruise on my thigh. It was a battle wound.