Life is filled with unforeseen circumstances, which insists upon change forcing a path never fathomed; becoming a sinner before becoming a saint. I live on the Northside of Atlanta in a city called Sandy Springs. I drive a Porsche Cayenne S and attend Georgia State University studying post-baccalaureate work in International Economics and Modern Languages. I dream of traveling the world, starting my own business and elevating in society. I want to become a resolved woman of absolute instead of being this torn woman who struggles between the two personalities. A life of duality created Carmella, a name not born to me. It’s a life of unbalance and torment when I stand in six inch heels on a stage seeing my naked body shaking erotically in a club named “Shooter Alley.”
I didn’t always feel this way, I used to love being a stripper. It delved into my depths of insecurities making me feel complete and confident. It provided me with financial security and opened me to new opportunities. Making money was a party intertwined with an enriched circle of educated elites. However, it quickly turned into a monotonous, degrading job with sporadic amounts of money. The managers are insulting, the customers’ conversations have changed and the girls who enter the club from various institutions create inconsistency. There’s no longer any pride, respect nor ambition within the dancers that once existed. Maybe, it’s because I’m older but I see this new generation as being lost.
I’m an original gangster, (OG), a title earned after being in the game for at least ten years... more like fifteen. We live by the motto of Honor, Integrity and Respect governing the code of rules and ethics. We’re focused businesswomen: We don’t take any shit; we don’t start any shit but if necessary, we’ll finish it. Our perceived arrogance makes us hated by our peers as well as respected; however, we do possess one common fault. OG’s act like coke fiends chasing after their first hit. We reminiscence about monies from back in the days, which no longer exists.
November of 2010, it’s Thanksgiving and the busiest night of the year. As I enter into this modern day city of Sodom and Gomorrah at seven o’clock in the evening, it’s already packed and filled of darkness. First, my ears are pierced by the music, then my nose stings from the abrasive odor of nicotine fuming from lit cigars and cigarettes. I’m paralyzed until my eyes absorb the light in which human figures slowly appear. I walk past the bar heading to the back of the club when I’m stopped by a familiar laugh. A tall white man is sitting at the bar, drinking vodka and smoking a cigarette. He welcomes my arms to wrap around his waist. He places his forehead against mine and smiles.
“Hello, handsome,” I whisper. “It’s not Sunday; what are you doing here?”
He’s waiting for me to start my shift. As I enter the dressing room, which is filled with half-naked women artistically placing on their makeup, talking on their phones and eating their food. A raspy cheerful voice screams.
“What up ‘C’?” Her name is Special, the house mom who’s responsible for the dancers and locker room. She’s black mixed with Italian, petite standing about 5’1” and has long, thick, curly hair.
“Hey Special!” I respond, “I can’t talk right now, Leo’s at the bar and he’s already drunk.”
“I know that’s right!” She shouts, “Go head, get that early money.”
Although the dressing room is calm right now, it’s might blast into unnecessary drama. To avoid such situations, I head to the restroom. It’s vile but serine place for me to get ready. That is until a female customer enters. A female customer is any woman who doesn’t work in this industry; however, she wants to play the game but doesn’t know the rules. Strip clubs are a secret society for men; hence being known as a gentlemen’s club. The system isn’t set up to support women because we’re trained to entertain men. To a stripper, the female customer is the worst! A lot of times, these women are drunk staggering into occupied stalls unaware, strip club restrooms have no locks. Other times, they cause tension and incite violence by watching us wash and they’re equally intrigued and appalled by us.
“Is this the dressing room?” The female customer asks.
“No!” I reply, “This is the restroom.”
“They don’t have separate bathrooms for you?” She remarks outraged. “That’s so fucked up, no one wants to be in the restroom with nasty-ass dancers.”
Strip clubs are not their lifestyle nor their normal environment, which makes them insecure making the club into a place of competition; a lose-lose battle. Their behavior is malicious and disrespectful towards the dancers. They dehumanize and challenge us to justify their sense of entitlement. Mostly, to rationalize their man’s outside interest and being confused with their own sexuality. In truth, a female customer can never see a dancer through the eyes of a man because she doesn’t have a dick; thus, will never understand. We’re not all lesbians or prostitutes and we don’t all lack morality, self-respect or self-esteem. The female customer is the woman who can’t grasp why a man would even invite her to the strip club in the first place. *Hint…Hint…it’s not a date, it’s not entertainment nor does it make her look like a cool chick. * A man’s only interest in bringing a woman into a strip club is to break down her inhibitions with the hopes of her being so familiar around pussy that she’ll become attracted to a woman. Once this happens, then he can use her as bait to have a threesome and blatantly cheat in her face; he has more respect for the woman he’s paying.
After, I finish getting dressed and sign in, I head back to the bar. My customer, Leo is a forty-year-old bachelor, which can be a lonely at times. He comes for the challenge, the conversation, and the stability I provide. He’s a gentleman who pulls out my chair, lights my cigarette and orders my drink but most of the time, he just keeps me laughing. However, tonight our laughs are silenced by screams.
Across the room, sits two African-American men who, I don’t recognize. They’re throwing money in the air showering four dancers bodies. At the same time, Dj Daddy Randy, a pudgy white male in his forties, enters the club dressed in a black tuxedo suit, carrying a heavy black leather bag. His presence is the indication that night shift is beginning and day shift is ending; it’s eight o’clock. The shift change isn’t just about the time but the change in environment. This diverse club of the day, which is filled with businessmen turns into a predominately black club full of ballers, parties and players. As the parade of dayshift girl’s leaves the club, a parade of night shift girls enters; one, being my stage partner, Tygra. She’s about 5’ 6” with a pecan-complexion. She has a 29” waist with 40” hips. When she walks over to us flashing her pearly white teeth, Leo’s more fascinated by the shape of her body.
“I think she’s a little too dangerous for you,” I whisper to him.
“Are those diamonds?” He asks Tygra referring to the piercing on her abdomen.
“Yes,” she states. “They’re an arrow pointing to point where it is.” I introduce them.
“So, Tygra is it?” Leo ask while desirably looking her up and down. “Where are you from, the country; you’re body’s thick.”
“No,” she responds bashfully. “I’m from New Orleans, I fled here after Hurricane Katrina.”
After a short conversation and a drink, Tygra leaves. Leo and I relocate to the other end of the bar, which is unusual. As we settle in, our engrossed conversation is interrupted but instead of screams of happiness, the two men and four women exchanged screams of anger. The security guards shortly break it up, positive energy sets back in the club and I notice Leo beginning to slur into drunkenness.
“It’s time for my tips, Leo,” I insist.
He looks at me sideways before reaching into his back pocket then pops out a brown leather wallet as if he were a magician handing me roughly around $240. Usually, after he gives me my tips he leaves instead he sits back down constantly staring at the front door. A young woman walks in covered in tattoo’s. Her hair is red and pinned up into two perfectly poised ponytails. To me, she looks like sword-fighting avatar. As he waves her over, he looks at me as if caught in a love triangle.
“Sit, have a drink.” Leo states to the woman, “You don’t mind do you Carmella?”
Mary Beth is one of our bartenders and a phenomenal dancer in another club. We’re hustlers; there’s no need for an explanation and honestly, after four hours of listening to Leo talk, my tolerance has found its end; her presence is most welcoming.
“I can’t believe it’s almost midnight,” Mary Beth exclaims. “I can’t drink too much. I need to relieve my son’s babysitter.”
We embrace to say our good -byes when I realize the same two men who were arguing with the four girls are now arguing with the manager, Ray who’s about 50 years old, half Cuban and Italian, 5’ 10” and medium built. Behind him stand two security guards: Alex, who’s dark-skinned and stocky and Byrd who’s 6’5 and always wears a Burberry scarf around his neck. I instantly grab Mary Beth’s arm.
“It will be alright,” she says calmly. “Look, they have it under control.”
“No!” I sneer while pulling her arm once again, “Look at that man’s expression.”
She yanks her arm fiercely, which broke my hold. I reached out for it again but before I could grab it again… “BAP!” The crackling sound made from a fist pounding upon flesh. Ray, knees buckle causing him to lose his balance but he catches my eyes before he catching himself. Alex, pushes the customer back as the customer interacts. Byrd jumps in by smacking down the second customer’s long jabs. As the fight continues, a heavy set white man stood behind them yelling obscenities and acting as if he were going to jump in to help security but never does. The two customers stand about 5’6” and 150 pounds each. The manager and the two security guards were unable to stop them. Honestly, it was embarrassing. Then the floor quivered caused the weight of a 6’4,” 400-pound man. Chris the security guard is running out from behind the kitchen doors with his arms flung wide open and swoops them all into a bear hug. Everyone loses their balance giving leverage to the manager and security guards; thus, pushing the two customers out.
“Damn,” Mary Beth says in disbelief. “I guess I will stay.” My eyes roll in the back of my head.
“Well—I didn’t know Chris had it in him,” I declared.
Mary Beth leaves and later Leo sobers to drive home. He passes the security guards who walk back in the club as if nothing has happened. Their attitudes worry me, greatly because from my experience, thug niggas don’t take being jumped and embarrassed lightly. I’m not the only one who thinking this. When I walk into the locker room to freshen up, angry voices are dispersing within the room. Fantasia, an OG who’s light-skinned and built like Tygra is venting throughout the room.
“If this were the Gentlemen’s Club back in the days, they would’ve gotten their asses whooped,” she demands. “That shit would’ve never happened! Niggas would’ve never tried us like that! And dancer, a dancer would’ve never pushed a customer to that point. What the fuck are ya’ll thinking. This club can’t handle street niggas. That was just total disrespect.”
“It’s just not the best security,” I interjected shamelessly. “Especially for this type of crowd.”
“What do you mean?” Fantasia screams, “They fired real security!”
Shameful but it’s true. The clubs are more worried about customers and law suits then the girls. Back in the days, there weren’t law suits but then again. Back in the days, dancers didn’t play games and/or lie to place security in positions that threatened their lives. Back in the days, if a dancer called security, security was on the dancer’s side; no matter what.
I return to the bar to await my next customer when Dj Randy calls Tygra and I to the main stage over the speakers. The music starts making the building tremble. I walk onto the stage, grab the pole and pull myself upside down, effortlessly then become engulfed by the music until I see Byrd doing pushups on the front desk. I’m annoyed because no one is really watching the door and become scared because it’s only one of them. As I spin around the pole, the guards change posts. Chris is now standing at the front desk talking and laughing heavily with a dancer. Are they serious? The stress is making me anxious and the intoxication is making it hard to concentrate. This is when I see him. His body language is off, his shoulders are hunched and he’s swaying back and forth. Instinctively, I freeze in my tracks, my heart races and a chill starts running down my spine. A dark-skinned man is creeping through the line with his face hid beneath a black hoodie. I can only see the glaze of his eyes. Is he high? I brace myself and turn my head as the protruding object in being raised by his hand and with closed lips, I scream! But the scream is only heard in my mind. POP!
Chris starts running straight towards the kitchen door on my left. However, Tygra’s still dancing on my right. Is no one hearing this? POP, POP, POP, POP! Rapidly, the rounds go off behind me. It’s a semi-automatic and he has one bullet left. Silence resonates between the songs. Finally, it’s over. Chris’ feet slowly drag towards the kitchen. Good idea Chris! Crawl! The seconds feel like minutes then… POP, POP, POP! It’s an extended clip or another gun. The distinctive sound is heard throughout the club. The house lights come up and the music stop. I run to push Tygra off the stage but she’s already tippy toeing down the stairs.
“Everybody get the fuck out!” Dj Randy screams.
POP! POP, POP, POP! Two hundred people begin running in hysterics. I dive off the stage like a pro, landing on both my hands and knees in front of a drunk couple who’s laughing at me as if the jump was part of my act until my horror-stricken look directing their eyes towards the front door makes them realize shit’s not funny anymore. I crawl fast to the dressing room with intentions to grab my things and flee but the room is filled with chaos and mayhem. Twenty or more terrified men are piled on top of each other attempting to break down a door, which leads nowhere. When I acknowledge the fact, they run towards another door but it’s boarded and is only the connection to the restroom, which leads back to the main floor; the situation becomes clear. We’re trapped like rats in a room held at the mercy of an irrational angry man.
“I just gotta take my chances,” one man cries out.
As he runs out, we hear more shots and never hear from him again. So, we take a defensive stance by placing our backs against the wall. We eye each other with desperation then quietly nod knowing dying is not an option. Our breaths become heavy within the stillness. Each footstep approaching is a step of rebellion. Ready to take the shooter down as the door slowly opens a sigh of relief spawned followed by emotional cries when we see Ray walks in the locker room and the police marching behind him. The police instruct the customers to leave and the dancers to get dressed; all with the desires to go home but we can’t. The shooter has escaped, the club’s lock down and we’re all eyewitnesses.
The air is polluted with the disgusting odor of melted gunpowder and burnt flesh, which makes my stomach nauseated and I grasps the fact: I was almost killed today, at work. Sorrowed and enraged, I punch the door of my locker.
“Damn it!” I shout, “I knew they were coming back!”
Numerous eyes fall upon me. I calm myself then one by one, the eyes turn away except for one’s belonging to Lolli. She’s a 5’8”, caramel-complexed, thin dancer with not much of a shape. She’s stares as I get dressed folding her arms while coupling her breast. Then she can hold her tongue no longer.
“You knew?” She confronts me. “You knew; they were coming back? How did you know?” I glance up without saying a word. “How did you know they were coming back?”
“I just knew,” snubbing her off.
“But how?” She stresses, “How did you know?”
“I just did!” I exclaim rudely.
Now, I don’t make it habit of repeating myself and I don’t explain myself to “New Booty.” “New booty,” is a girl who’s been dancing for less than a year. She’s usually very young, naïve and ignorant with a high school mentality. She’s at that stage in her life where she’s transitioning from hall passes and curfews. It’s her first taste of being and adult and she thinks she knows everything. She’s confused about her new found freedom and thinks she’s equal to everyone else in this building; seniority means nothing because we’re doing the same job title with the same title not realizing there’s levels to this game. She prides herself on educating everyone on the principles of life, the paths we should take and pointing out our faults from her vast experience twenty-one years. Explaining yourself to new booty is like talking to a little kid and right now, my patience is thin. I cut my eyes, open the door and walk out. However, I collide into a police officer who’s standing on the other side of the door. He’s short and dark-skinned man holding a pile pencils and a stack of papers in his arms. He interrogated me about tonight’s details to the point it insulted my intelligence. I ended my statement with a quote.
Looking offended he asked me to write out my statement. I leave him and take the first seat at the first table by the back stage. I look around to see the majority of the main floor is seated by the majority of the dancers known as the (Gangsters) “G’s.” A “G” is a dancer who’s been in the business for more than five years. Typically, she’s what most people associate as a stripper. A female in her mid-twenties to mid-thirties who’s emotionally, mentally and physically transcending into women; augmented or naturally. These are the party girls who have earned the right to talk shit; it’s a plus and a hindrance. Nonetheless, they’re always on top of her game challenging limitations, dating the customers and always making money into opportunities. They’re models, actresses, side-chicks, co-eds and/or single mothers. This is the stage where they’re going to get caught up in the game or quit.
What I mean by this “caught up” many women start doing drugs, selling pussy and dating the customers. The man’s objective is to pull the dancer out the club by taking care of her. He pays her bills, gives her a credit card, buys her diamond, maybe a car and takes her on trips. She loves this life; he believes she’s his true girlfriend when in actuality, he’s really only a trick. I’m not saying every woman and that she doesn’t care or isn’t in love with this man but most of the time it’s not real. She usually always gets pregnant. Out of the sense of responsibility, he marries her but in the end, he holds resentment. It’s a rarity, a dancer marries her trick and they be happy but it does happen. She’s given up her financial independence, he controls the household and she can’t sustain without him. Many of these women get divorced, come back in the club to dance and become single mothers to a known trick. I too have fallen prey to the situation but it didn’t last long because I’m not willing to do what is needed to be kept.
As I looked towards the bar, waitresses and bartenders gather in a state of shock. The bullets flying past me were aimed in their direction. Sekoya, the bartender, overwhelmed stumbles into her chair. A look we exchanged is interrupted by two groups of women leaving the restroom talking amongst themselves.
“We’re not even from here,” one woman says. She dressed as if she’s been club hopping. “I thought this was a safe place! I even brought my grandmother.”
The elderly woman walks while shaking and I think to myself. Fucking idiots! It amazes me how the strip clubs have become normalized. We’ve appeared in music videos, international magazine, dated celebrities, which some have married and had their babies. Women see a glamourous life, which is an illusion to reality.
Tygra pulls out the chair next to me, places down her things down and we talk about the incident; however, we stop at the sight of Lolli walking out the dressing room surrounded by the police.
“Now, what the fuck could she possibly have to say?” Tygra sneers.
“Who knows,” I say disconnected. “She’s a dumb-bitch and look how she’s acting as if the poster girl for the angry black women.”
They halt in the middle of the room and look around. Lolli lifts a pointed finger, which a police officer is quickly pushes down. After he whispers in her ear, she slowly turns her head as the police follows her entangled look upon me, which is then broken by the presence of the six or seven paramedics who just walked in the building rolling a gurney.
“It’s going to take all of them, to lift him,” I point out.
“Well, I just hope he’s alright,” Tygra replies.
“People say he’s dead,” an unknown dancer cries.
“Everyone stay towards the back,” Ray instructs. “The Crime Scene Investigators need to do their job.”
Then the cell phones cause a mass vibration as they rattle on the tables tops. The news is spreading from person to person and from club to club.
“I thought the speakers crackling,” Tygra laughs.
“That’s why you didn’t move?” I shout, “I was wondering. It’s time to leave; I’m too old for this shit and I’m not going to another club. I’m not starting over. I’m going to ask my mom if I can stay with her and enter my study abroad program. I’m done.”
As Tygra clears her throat to quiet me, I notice Lolli standing directly in front of me.
“They want to talk to you,” she mutters nervously.
“Who?” I ask defensively.
She tilts her head in the stocky white man’s direction. He’s writing on a yellow legal pad in his trench coat. He looks up at me.
“Why?” I say indignant, “Why does he want to talk to me?”
“Stop!” Tygra shouts as she throws her hand in my face. “Just stop! Go find out what they want; this is a serious matter.” I stand up and Lolli skittishly moves back.
“You want to speak with me,” I as the man who remains silent. He pushes the chair out with his foot for me to sit but he still remains silent. “I was told you wanted to speak to me.” We then both remain in tactical silence.
“I was told,” he speaks with a Boston accent. “You knew something about the incident?”
“You’re confused,” I say confidently.
“What?” He responds insulted, “I am; am I? So, what happened?” I explain my position. “But how did ‘you’ know! How is it, you knew, they were coming back?”
“If you’re asking me, who’s the shooter,” I say seriously. “Then I don’t know but obviously, it’s the same guys who were fighting earlier.” He gives me a rejected look. “Sir,” I say poised. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I know when money’s about to come in the club, I know when a fight’s about to happen and know after a fight that bad, someone is going to come back…”
“Ok, ok, ok!” He bellows as he blows me off. I walk back to my seat, pissed but embarrassed.
“If these cops weren’t here, I’d beat that bitch to the ground,” I whisper wrathfully to Tygra. “This uneducated snitch is trying to set me up; people go to jail for shit like that!”
It took an hour for CSI to retrieve their information and allow customers to leave the club. However, one man left with a limp, he was shot in the butt. Suddenly, Ray directs all the dancers to the dressing room with no explanation. As I head back, I see the paramedics. I stand on the back stage, Ray gives me a stern look and I give him one back. The paramedics attempt to lift Chris repeatedly before the gurney snaps in place. I expect to see a sedated man but Chris, lies still with white bandages wrapped around his entire head. Then I notice the blood excreting from his nose and ears. My heart clenches when I realize there’s no oxygen mask, there’s no IV’s and the paramedics have no sense of urgency. It didn’t hit me until the ambulance drove off without the use of sirens; five bullet wounds to the chest. Chris is dead.
My hardened heart softens causing the salty streams of tears to run down my face. Though, it’s been many years, I pray onto the lord for his forgiveness. Never before, have I lived in a life of shame. My ambition has never left me content; always being scared of hitting rock bottom but almost being killed tonight unravels realities shadows. Quickly, I scan my memories for a new strategic plan but remain in silence because I can’t. I’ve been caught up in the game so long; I’ve become lost and have forgotten what the game’s about.