I ended my Friday night by talking to a stripper.
That should get your attention.
Friday was a great night. For the first time in…you know…forever…the temperature was above freezing. So we went to the First Friday events in our neighborhood. There was glass blowing. There was music. There was a bike collective and a community garden and my favorite neighborhood bar and a feeling of Spring.
And then, we headed out to Morton for a birthday gathering at a bar doing karaoke.
I feel the need to defend myself. I did not do any karaoke myself. Not because I’m snobbish, mind you, because it’s actually not that. If anything, I found the karaoke oddly beautiful–another form of artistic expression among my fellow humans, songs belted out as the liquor flowed and, in that moment, we were all brothers and sisters.
No, I didn’t do karaoke because I’m chickenshit and pretty sure that I’d sound terrible. Also, it sounds horribly embarrassing.
But, you know, it was a party. Therefore, despite my previous visit to Blue (my favorite bar in the whole wide world), I got a shot of Jager and a beer to further find the mood.
And somewhere towards the front, two women were belting out “Love Shack” by the B-52s.
Okay, okay, I’ll be honest. I was also at the front. The birthday girl wanted to see the lyrics, and it was her birthday, and so I got to witness karaoke up close and personal.
They were killing it. They really were. Were there errors? Sure. But they had the house rocking. People were dancing on an improvised dance floor or singing along at the top of their lungs. The party was on!
After the song, I decided to pop outside for a bit. It would be quieter and I thought a couple of my friends were outside. It turns out I followed out one of the women who had just been singing. She needed a smoke break after her public performance.
We started talking. She was sure that she had been terrible. She confided to me that she’d been so nervous.
Which was weird to her. After all, she takes her clothes off in front of people, and that doesn’t make her nervous, but singing in front of people does.
So, yeah, that’s when I realized I was talking to a stripper who also sang karaoke.
And so many thoughts flooded through my mind. They followed two broad paths.
The first was that I refused to identify this woman as a stripper. We often identify ourselves by our jobs. She’s a stripper. I’m a IT professional. But does that really tell who we are?
Is it not better to say that we are both parts of the imago Dei? That she and I are both deeply loved by the God Who made us? That she is more than the fact that she takes off her clothes for money?
And so I decided not to even acknowledge her comment to her. Not because I was embarrassed, because I wasn’t. Instead, because I wanted to engage her as an artist and creator. She just got up in front of a crowd and sang. That matters. And, as I said, I thought that she did a fine job. And that’s what I told her.
Of course, she didn’t believe me. But what artist does? And so I persisted. She had rocked the house, and I could tell. She demurred; her fellow vocalist was so much better than she had been. I disagreed, insisting that the other woman was probably just as nervous.
And I told her that we are often most embarrassed by the things that are the closest to who we truly are.
And here’s the second path my thoughts took.
I’ve lived the working class life. I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I know what it’s like to run the moral calculus and decide what you can accept to make enough to make ends meet. There was the time we had to work through the possibility that maybe this massage parlor wasn’t really about providing sexual services, because that might mean I could maybe chase that job. Because we really needed the money.
And I don’t know this woman’s story, but still I felt like I knew her. Just another woman, passed over by life, just trying to make it work somehow.
And still, within, the spark to sing.
I wanted to save her, to rescue her, to tell her that she is so much more than the body that she displays to make ends meet. And I hope that I was able to show her respect and dignity in that moment, treating her like the artist that she is instead of the sex object that she has to be.
In the comic Fell, Detective Richard Fell finds himself investigating a murder outside his girlfriend’s bar. It turns out that the murderer is the victim’s long-estranged son, who had gone looking for his father and found a callous drunk. As the murderer weeps out his confession, he gasps out:
He, he, he, he was my daddy. And I hadn’t seen him since I was a little kind and I, I, I, I just wanted to talk awhile, you know? I just wanted to, to hear his voice awhile. It wasn’t much. Just to hear my daddy’s voice. And he said I was nothing.
And the final panel is Fell, on the roof of his apartment, overlooking Snowtown where he lives. The narration says:
This is where I live now.
None of you are nothing to me.
My supervisor at work has figured me out. He says, “Seth loves people.”
None of you are nothing to me. Because none of us are nothing to God.
And Lord, have mercy on a weary stripper in Morton. May she find her way into Your immortal arms.