Yes, she told herself, staring into the lights, I am naked, dancing for loud, crude men, but I’m making money for college. I’m not a puta, I’m a good churchgoing girl. I was even named for the Blessed Virgin Mary (a.k.a. Our Lady of Guadalupe). She set her little jaw in determination as she finished her set, hands behind her head, bouncing breasts thrust out, with two bumps of her hips, and a cute, semi-forced smile. She gathered the money in her pouch, waved to acknowledge the hoots and cowboy calls, went into the dressing room to put everything in her locker, then came out again.
This was the part she most dreaded. Dancing on stage, being on display, was in a way solitary. She could pretend she was somewhere else. But to mingle, all naked, with clothed men! She felt like a sinful, bad girl. Talking with them at the tables, pretending to be interested in what they were saying, and being sure to keep straight in her mind the details of her life, fabricated along the lines Rosa recommended. Her real name was Gloria, she was 22, divorced, with a little boy at home being watched by her mother. The girls said this type of life story got you bigger tips. Not that Guadalupe was all that convincing. She still came off young and innocent, like she did when she first applied here. At first Enrique wouldn’t hire her, but then she showed him her Green Card which proved that she had turned 18 the month before.
As she sat with Hank, a lanky man in boots, jeans, jacket and cowboy hat, and her completely naked but for her shoes, with him sneaking little pinches to her nipples as they talked -- strictly speaking not permitted, but to get the big tips you had to put up with things like that, and pretend to be turned on -- she kept pushing back feelings of shame. No nice girl should be naked. Last night she dreamed that she had to go to school like that. She would die! What got her through was thinking of people who had it worse. Like that sweet boy Rodrigo, who lived down the block. A few months ago he had to stand up in English class to give a recitation and the kids giggled -- his penis stiffened at inconvenient times and was very noticeable. It was enorme, like a very big yuca, stretching his pants and running halfway down to his knee. Guadalupe didn’t giggle. She felt bad for him as the poor boy, blushing, almost in tears, had to recite for five minutes. Mrs. Stanton, clueless, did not know what was going on. Maybe because her desk was behind him she didn’t see it. This was not the first time Rodrigo had “popped a rod” (as the White boys put it) in public. Guadalupe hated hearing all the cruel chatter. He had been suffering these incidents since sixth grade. The Mexican boys teased him by calling him “Ariete” (battering ram).
Thinking of Ariete -- or rather, Rodrigo -- and his ongoing personal Hell, Guadalupe didn’t feel so bad as she listened to Hank talk and talk and talk (this time it was about baseball). There was no danger of anyone she knew walking in to this place. Unlike Rodrigo, her shame was anonymous. After Hank there was Jeff, another regular. Then the silk-shirted Tomás, who at least she could talk Spanish with, though he all but boasted about making huge amounts of money selling drugs, and kept wanting her to go out with him.
Finally, at last, 3 o’clock rolled around. Enrique shooed the men out and the girls, Rosa and Harriet and Carla and Guadalupe, went to their lockers and changed into their clothes. They had all done three sets nude. Guadalupe supposed it was rude to count money in front of the other girls but she guessed her pouch held about two hundred dollars!
Rosa brought Guadalupe out the back door which opened up to a rickety little porch. The club was outside of town, basically a big old cabin perched on the edge of a huge sand pit surrounded by weeds. There was a rock to prop the door open with. After Rosa kicked it into place she said, “How was it?”
Guadalupe, by now overdressed in her blouse and jacket, covered her breasts as if she were naked again. “I - I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”
The two young women, ages 27 and 18, looked out onto the darkness, the lights of town on the other side of the pit, maybe three miles away, shimmering and blinking in the warm air. On a desert night one can see great distances. Guadalupe had never been out on the porch before and was struck by the sight.
Rosa lit a cigarette and looked down at her little teenaged friend. “You have to get used to being naked. Did you ever walk around with no clothes on before?”
“Well try it. Someplace where no one can see you.” After a drag on her cigarette, Rosa said, “You can make really big bucks, with that face and those tits.”
“Oh Rosa -- don’t -- ”
“Sorry for being so crude.” Another puff. “I gotta go. Want a ride?” Guadalupe didn’t have a car, and didn’t drive. She always got a ride with one of the girls, who dropped her off a few blocks from her house.
She didn’t want to leave yet. She had an idea. “No, I’ll ask Harriet. Or Maria.” (Stage names “Delicious Dara!” and “Curvy Carla!”) Harriet and Maria always stayed a little late, cleaning out the bar, for which they got paid extra. Rosa and Guadalupe came back inside, and now the girl found herself alone in the dressing room. Her older friend was right. She had to get used to being naked.
What was really wrong with nudity anyway? It’s the way God made me. Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. She decided to be naked for two minutes, out on that porch. She got to it fast, before she could talk herself out of it. When would she get another chance? She took off all her clothes, even her sneakers, and stuffed them into her locker. Then she stepped outside.
No one could see her here. It was just her and God, her and creation. It felt good, the warm desert air wafting over every inch of her body. No gross cigarette smoke, or loud music, or dirty old men. She shut the door behind her and raised her arms up and prayed. Please God, help me through this.
She walked to one end of the little porch, then to the other, making sure not to catch any splinters on her bare feet. Then she prayed again. God, I am doing this for good things. I am not being a puta.
Guadalupe exhaled. Yes, Rosa was right. This did help. Now back into the dressing room to get into clothes.
The door was locked.