This is an anecdote from way back — over ten years ago. But it’s something I still think about from time to time.
I had a friend whose wife, he discovered, was cheating on him. She moved out of the house and the two were separated for awhile before they finally divorced. My friend was a bit of a cocky guy; a bit of a loud mouth really. Kind of obnoxious, when you get right down to it. He behaved like an extremely extroverted individual, but I always thought there was something not quite right about his demeanor. Like it was a disguise, you know, and down deep he was really an introvert. He was a former army special forces. For the record, I’m more on the introvert end of the spectrum. Come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure why I hung out with him; we had nothing in common and he was kind of an ass. But that isn’t the story here.
When my friend’s wife moved out, he was all moody and depressed and he wanted to go to a strip club. Personally, I’m not into strip clubs. I just don’t feel relaxed in them, and they always seem seedy to me. But you know … fuck it. I’m not a stickler about it or anything, so I said “sure.”
As it turned out, when my friend had asked me to go to a strip club, I had just read, maybe a day or two before, an article on the internet about strip club scams. It was a well-written article about the various tricks that strip clubs and the strippers use to milk you for money. For example, the article described how, when the strippers come over and sit at your table, they’ll ask you to buy them a drink. Really, the waitress just brings them carbonated water or a coke or something: There’s no alcohol in it. You’re really just paying for a nonexistent drink. So anyway, I had all the information from this article rolling around in my head when we went to the strip club. I felt informed!
It was a pretty typical night at a strip club. We watched some girls dance, got some table dances, etcetera. At some point some of the strippers came and sat with us, and my friend took one of the strippers into the back for a private dance. That of course meant that I had to take the other stripper into the back for a private dance, or else I would look like a cheap dick. So I did that and paid twenty bucks to have the stripper shake her ass in my face for the duration of a song. Honestly, I don’t get what the attraction is to that sort of thing. I just felt so seedy and embarrassed. I suppose I was supposed to get a hard on or something, but I just felt the pain of losing twenty bucks for the sake of having some woman I didn’t know shake her ass in my face. Anyway, suffice it to say that I endured it and made it back to the table without dying of embarrassment.
All throughout the night, I had been watching for the various strip club scams that I had just read about in that article. I caught a couple, like when the stripper in the back room tried to get me to buy another dance. Not like I would have done it anyway: The embarrassment of one song’s worth of ass shaking in my face was about all I could take anyway. But anyway, I was feeling all smug and informed and knowledgeable. They weren’t fooling me!
After we returned to the table from the ass-in-the-face deal in the back room, we hung out with the strippers a bit more and talked about this and that. Before long, they were like “buy us some drinks!” I thought, “Ah hah! Gotcha!” So we called the waitress over and they ordered what they wanted, and after ordering, they left the table for a few minutes to go to the bathroom or do something else.
I was feeling smug and smart as fuck! With the strippers gone, I leaned over the table to my friend to alert him to the scam. “They’re not real drinks! They’re just cokes or something … no alcohol. It’s just to get us to spend more money! It’s a scam! I read an article about it!”
My friend just stared at me, his head tilting slightly, his eyes kind of furrowing together, his brow wrinkling a bit. And that was the moment of the epiphany. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to, because the look he gave me said it all. He lectured me with that look. He preached a nonverbal sermon that I still remember to this day. That unspoken sermon began:
Are you fucking stupid?
Do we even live on the same fucking planet?
Do you have any idea how fucking stupid you sound right now?
You had to read … a fucking article? To figure that out?
Are you … are you … fucking stupid?
You see — Sometimes, what you think matters — it doesn’t matter. And sometimes, what you think is important — It isn’t. It didn’t matter. It would have mattered if we were being bilked out of hundreds and hundreds of dollars. But we weren’t. We were just a couple of guys sitting with some strippers in a club. We spent a few dollars buying the strippers some nonexistent drinks. The club made a little money, the strippers (hopefully) made a little money, and in exchange we had some company and my friend could drown his sorrows and salivate over some nipples. Big deal. Perhaps the more important thing that night was that my friend, who’s cheating wife had just moved out on him, wasn’t alone. Was the cost of a couple of “drinks” in any way relevant that night? No.
I thought I had picked up some useful and empowering information from that article I had read, but really it was useless. What was my real reason for leaning over the table to let my friend in on the scam? Surely, my real reason wasn’t so that we could do something about it, because what the fuck could we have done? I suppose we could have said, “Fuck you bitches! We ain’t buying you no fucking drinks! Ha!” We could have saved ourselves ten dollars and sat alone or been kicked out of the club, but that doesn’t really sound like a viable plan. So what was my real reason for leaning over the table to tell my friend? My real reason, I think, was just to tell my friend that I was too smart; that even though we were getting fucked, I was hip to it and wasn’t being fooled. Can’t scam me! I’m too smart for that! I know what’s going on, man. I’m fucking informed! That’s embarrassing to admit, but I can’t think of any way out of it. My real reason was hubris.
I’m trying my best to avoid clichés here, but it really and truly is a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees. You read some trite crap on the internet, think you’ve discovered something useful, and it really is easy to forget that the world is a whole lot more complex than a bulleted list on how to not get scammed at a strip club, probably written by a person who has never even been in one. You have to check yourself, to remind yourself, that the world isn’t a list of talking points. Otherwise, you miss the things that really matter.
I try — to check myself; to remind myself. But sometimes, I forget.