"The vice presidency is sort of like the last cookie on the plate. Everybody insists he won't take it, but somebody always does."—Bill Vaughan
Ruth Cole* gets paid $25 a night for her work at a local strip club. "On a good night, I can earn hundreds in tips," she says. "I get to keep what I make on the stage. Private dances are $25, and I keep $20 of that. So when it's busy, I can make a lot of money real quick, tax free."
Cole took her job solely to get some serious bucks in the bank. "I'd racked up quite a debt on my credit and store cards," she says, "and I paid them off in a few months. I bought a car with my earnings and put some into a new house, too."
Cole has a supportive husband and a couple of kids. She doesn't plan on dancing for much longer. "I'll finish up long before my kids are old enough to ask awkward questions about what I do nights. But I feel safe, the customers are polite and I'm doing what a lot of girls can't -- doing the job well, earning good tips, and saving up for the stuff my family needs. What I do is a lot more honest than someone with an office job who uses her looks to get ahead."
Harry Miley dated a stripper for two years. Marie, a College of Charleston student, was looking for a way to make some fast summer cash. "She was horrendous at waiting tables," says Miley, "so I went with her and two friends to [a local strip club]." Marie was fascinated with the way the women presented themselves, and she got a job dancing there.
"I didn't have a conflict with it," Miley shrugs. "I wasn't all that insecure. I knew that if Marie treated the job as just that a job and didn't mess around with the customers, she'd be okay. I watched her dance a couple of times and it was exciting to see whether she getting more tips than the other girls."
There was just one problem. Marie needed a few belts of booze before she could get up on stage. "She became very chemically dependent," Miley recalls. "She broke up with me because she didn't think she could date me and strip. But we stayed in touch, and she called me one time crying, saying she'd been raped."
Miley had to draw his own conclusions from the conflicting accounts that he heard. "She'd got really drunk, gone out with some girls from the club and a bunch of men. She passed out in a hotel room and one of the guys took advantage of her."
After getting fired from the club "for doing something with a customer that she shouldn't have," Marie worked nights at another, more seedy establishment. "I was getting calls at 2 a.m.," says Miley, "and I had to pick her up a lot. She was too drunk to stand up."
Now school's out of the question for Marie, but she's swapped stripping for work with a New York jewelry company. Miley hasn't visited a club since. "When Marie was moderately sober, she was able to handle any situation. But when she drank she became self-destructive. It's like modeling or being in a rock band -- you're expected to lead that kind of hedonistic lifestyle."
When Columbia native Martin Ward visited a strip club for the first time, he was there strictly to observe. His friend was dating a girl who worked there, and he was offered a free dance. He describes the experience as "an anthropological study," which obviously required more in-depth research, because he kept going back to the club.
"I felt comfortable in that environment," says Ward. "It became a hangout at the end of the day, somewhere I could go drink some beer and see some titties in the background."
After graduating from USC, Ward moved to Charleston. "Out of sheer boredom, I flipped open a phone book and looked for a club. I discovered a more professional establishment than I was used to. I could go there to avoid the college crowds and tourists, and there was interactive entertainment if I wanted it. It became a weekly treat, a Saturday ritual." Ward got to know the girls there, "as real people, not just entertainers that gave me an incentive to go back. It broke down the fourth wall."
Accepted as a regular, he now goes two or three times a week, enjoying the underground atmosphere. "The subcultural side is attractive to me. The people who go there and work there are either rejected by society or rejecting it. A strip club can be so many different things, and it's up to the customer what it is to them: you can go with a sexual motivation, for entertainment, for company in a Cheers-type bar environment, or just for fun. There's this great option of making it whatever the hell you want."
Nick Smith would like his wife to know that he did not visit any strip clubs while preparing this article.