Hamilton: The Experience

We took our velvet-covered, straight-backed seats and looked around the auditorium. People streamed in the doorways, ribbons of colour; no narrow demographic here. They were young, old, white, black, businessmen in suits and ties, and purple-haired teenagers in leggings and grimy converse runners.

A lady in her mid-fifties took the seat next to mine. A woman with an asymmetric pixie cut and severe black glasses sat in the row in front. I leaned back and enjoyed the slow wooden percussion of seats being pulled down, the rustle of people settling in, ready for the show. Behind us, a girl in her twenties bounced into her seat clutching a bag of merchandise, her parents behind her beaming with joy. The lights dimmed. The theatre quietened. The music kicked in.

As the opening song came to an end, I was already twitching in my seat. The girl behind us had turned into a musical echo, muttering every lyric just slightly out of time. Her words, breathed out in an awed whisper just loud enough to be heard over the music from the stage, were distracting to the point of physical discomfort. When the closing line of “ALEXANDER HAMILTON!” was parroted behind us in a hissed, urgent whisper, my shoulders snapped up into a defensive posture of displeasure.

There was a blessed millisecond of silence.

I rolled my shoulders, trying to coax them back down from my earlobes.

The auditorium erupted into ecstatic applause. The girl, unfettered by the roar of noise around her, leapt to her feet and proceeded to give a standing ovation of rapturous enthusiasm.

“WHOOOOOOOOO!” She bellowed. “WHOOOOOOO! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

My fingernails dug into the velvet pile. I resisted the urge to grab her plastic bag of merchandise and pull it over her head.

The next song started and she sat back down, leaning all the way forward until her face came to a stop unsettlingly close to Scrubs’ ear. She whispered her way through the next song, pausing at:

“I was seeking an accelerated course of study
When I got sort of out of sorts with a buddy of yours;
I may have punched him… it’s a blur, sir.
He handles the financials?”
“You punched the bursar?”
“Yes!”
It’s no exaggeration to say she almost choked with laughter.
The rest of the song alternated between whispered rapping and hysterical laughter at every mildly amusing line. At one point, unable to restrain myself any longer, I turned in my seat to stare at this Hamiloonie. Her lips were parted and her eyes were shining – shining! – with euphoria. She looked for all the world like one of those children you see in the Disneyworld ads, with the slow-motion fireworks reflected in their eyeballs as their mouths form tiny Os of wonder.
 
Giving her up as a lost cause, I turned my gaze to her parents, who were smiling adoringly at their (presumably only) child as she clutched her bag of Hamilton t-shirts and pins and phone covers and booklets and muttered along in hushed tones that were not nearly hushed enough for anybody in a five seat radius. I narrowed my eyes. I tried to glare daggers. I tried to glare daggers with inscriptions on them that read, ‘CONTROL YOUR CHILD. CONTROL YOUR ADULT CHILD BEFORE I STRANGLE HER WITH A HAMILTON LANYARD.”
 
They didn’t blink. They deflected my eyeball daggers with a strong force-field of love for their daughter, ignorance of my plight and stratospheric levels of self-absorption.
 
By ‘You’ll Be Back,’ my boiling rage had turned to a simmer. Her delirious laughter had dulled my senses and a small and uncharitable part of me had started to believe she wasn’t all there. ‘Poor thing,’ I thought, tilting my head away from the mumbling so that I looked like a King Charles Spaniel with a neck deformity. ‘This is probably her one supervised day out from the musical addiction rehab facility.
 
Her enthusiasm for each and every line of the performance was both commendable and impressive, but it was (unfortunately) definitely not infectious.
 
As somebody who had purchased tickets for this show over a year in advance, and who had listened to the soundtrack multiple times, I considered myself, you know, a fan. I think Hamilton is an extremely well-crafted musical! The lyrics are sharp, the melodies are catchy, and the characters are memorable. All of this to say, I didn’t enter the Victoria Palace Theatre with an indifferent attitude. I arrived ready to enjoy myself.
 
I was not ready, however, for the back of my head to be pummeled by the waves of exhilaration coming off this girl in the seat behind us. I was not ready to simultaneously experience Hamilton: The Musical and also Hamilton: The Breathily-Whispered Performance From a Seated Position in the Upper Balcony. I was not ready to have the amusement of every mildly funny line cut through with screaming, manic laughter, or to have every tender scene building up to a moment of sorrow hijacked by loud, hacking sobs.
 
When we reached the interval, Scrubs and I practically sprinted to the relative tranquility of the corridor – the only place we could find blissful silence – to shakily recover from the assault on our senses.
 
I started the second half of the musical in a dull, numb stage of acceptance. Clearly there was no saving this experience. I thought about asking her to be quiet, but one look at her face told me I couldn’t bring myself to be the one to pull her down from her personal Nirvana. From the looks I shared with the middle-aged lady beside me, I obviously wasn’t the only one with the same thought. During particularly enthusiastic mumbling from the back, she glanced at the girl, raised her eyebrows at me and shrugged her shoulders. ‘At least she’s enjoying herself,‘ I could hear her thinking.
 
I shrugged back, a silent gesture encompassing a multitude of emotions.
Towards the end of the play, (SPOILER ALERT) Alexander’s life comes to its inevitable end. You know it’s coming from the moment the play begins and still, it’s sad. It gets pretty emotional. When I listen to the soundtrack, I often skip over the ending because I don’t want to feel heartbroken for Eliza Hamilton.
 
On this occasion skipping the ending wasn’t really an option.
 
This time the sniffles started long before the sad notes kicked in. Our friend from the row behind was suffering well before anything tragic had taken place. As the music slowed and things started to take a dark turn, the sniffles grew to whimpers, and by the time an emotional blow had actually been dealt, the whimpers had become full, seat-clutching, body-wracking sobs. Her howls of sadness were punctured only by gasps as she desperately inhaled so as not to drown on her own tears.
 
I tried – I swear to God I tried – to stop myself, but I couldn’t help it.
 
I started to giggle.
 
And then I couldn’t stop.
 
My shoulders shook as I bit down on my lip in an attempt to stifle the laughter. I covered half my face with my hand, stealing a glance at the lovely woman beside me to see how she was faring. To my relief, she was just far enough away from the girl to have escaped this latest explosion of emotion. She was absorbed in the musical, her eyes wide and glinting with tears.
 
A keening wail erupted behind me. I snorted with laughter, then swallowed it down awkwardly in an attempt to make it sound like a choking sob. I was desperate to hide my laughter because it felt disrespectful, like giggling at a wake.
 
Unfortunately, it was a relentless assault; the girl was inconsolable.
 
If she had been Eliza Hamilton herself, she could not have been more earnestly devastated by Alexander’s death. Each sound, each distraught utterance from behind us sent me into a fresh wave of convulsions. I hunched over, hiding my face, hoping my shaking shoulders just made me look like any other member of the audience overcome with emotion, weeping into my hands.
 
Honestly I think my hysteria was partly fueled by the relief of knowing that our ordeal was almost over.
 
I turned away from the lady beside me – hoping to spare her the realisation that I was in fits of giggles – only to bump shaking shoulders with Scrubs, who by now was himself silently laughing into a tightly clenched fist. I looked up at him, he looked down at me, and that was a mistake of course, like throwing petrol on a fire. It only made things that much worse. I started crying with laughter from the effort of hiding it. There we were, both of us in tears, surrounded by people crying from actual emotion.
 
I felt like a terrible person.
 
By the time the cast had taken their bows and left the stage (to a standing ovation – they really were amazing), Scrubs and I were desperate to escape. We left the building in a sort of traumatised silence, breathing the night air in with gulping breaths, afraid to say a word until we’d left the theatre far behind us.
We decompressed with some wine and late-night pizza in the only place we found open. There was less discussion about the musical itself than there was about that girl’s slow but relentless goal to drive us all the way around the bend and back again. The show was great, but it just could not compete with the drama taking place in the row behind us.
Now that some time has passed, what did I think of Hamilton the Musical?
It was an experience.

Without You

I am not cool.

I don’t have a cool accent, I don’t wear cool clothes, I don’t know how to order cool drinks at Starbucks and I don’t listen to cool music. If I ever decide to hop onto a trend-driven bandwagon, it’s usually not until long after it’s departed, around the time that it starts to disappear over the horizon.

I love miming the high notes in The Tracks of My Tears (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), and repeating the relentless rhymes of Best of All Possible Worlds (Kris Kristofferson). I bounce around the house to the staccato energy of Crocodile Rock (Elton John), and sway to the slow sadness of Vienna (Billy Joel). I care more about lyrics than melodies, but will unironically enjoy the hell out of Uncle John From Jamaica (Vengaboys) or If You Want It To Be Good Girl (Backstreet Boys) on the same day that I listen to Curse Me Good (The Heavy) or Julie London’s smoky version of Cry Me a River.

My musical palate is completely uncomplicated by coolness. If it suits my mood I like it, and if I like it I learn it, and it’s about as simple as that. Years and years later, hearing the opening strains of a song will still cause me to regurgitate the words like some strange form of musical muscle memory. Without knowing that I know them, the words will pour out of my mouth. Songs are so strongly tied to feelings for me that familiar tunes are like disembodied time travel.

Scrubs is not of the same musical persuasion. Scrubs likes music that I don’t understand, that barely has lyrics, that runs into the next tune with no warning. He likes music with psychedelic background graphics that remind me of early Windows screensavers. He likes the kind of music that was made for dark places with neon lights and people who don’t like to dance or sing karaoke. 

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In 2015, Scrubs and I linked up with a few of our friends to go to Vegas. We spent a week there, lying by the pool and running between air conditioned buildings in choked sprints, spending money on blackjack and laughing at superstitious craps players. Our first weekend there we had bought passes for Electric Daisy Carnival, a dance music festival that takes over the Las Vegas Speedway and turns it into an awesome, heart-bursting multi-coloured wonderland. I had stumbled on a trailer for it a year before and thought it was something both of us might enjoy; Scrubs would like the music and I would like… everything else. 

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Walking into EDC was mind-blowing. It was a sprawling, glittering fairground full of smiling, beautiful people. I left Scrubs in a tent called Neon Garden full of sombre-looking people bobbing their heads to moody tunes and went exploring. I visited the giant dandelion seeds and the colour-changing caterpillar. I cheered for two strangers getting married in the chapel. I watched a girl hula-hoop for what seemed like hours and exchanged kandi (plastic bracelets) with a bouncing girl in a turquoise tutu.

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I loved it. I loved the people who were so obviously having the time of their lives. I loved the vibe of pure happiness around the place. I loved the costumes and the crazy installations and the art cars. I loved exploring the different sections and getting lost and somehow finding people again among the multitudes.

And I even loved some of the music.

On the first night, I dragged Scrubs to Circuit Grounds to watch Fatboy Slim. I love Fatboy Slim. Something about him makes me happy deep in my bones. I’m not sure if it’s the unabashedly awful shirts he wears, or the fact that he doesn’t try to be anybody other than who he is, or the fact that he’s a bit older than the average headliner, or the fact that he just seems to enjoy what he does so damn much… My glittery rainbow hi-tops barely touched the ground for his entire set. 

The next night I made a beeline for the main stage, Kinetic Fields, to listen to Avicii.

For someone who largely doesn’t understand (or even really like) EDM, Avicii was my happy place. For once my tonally deaf ears could differentiate between songs. That set made me so happy. The wholesome lyrics that made me want to hug the stranger next to me, the crowd thousands strong calling them out at the top of their lungs, and the drops that made the mass of people move as one made me understand why people loved EDM. The voice of Etta James boomed out over the speakers, led into Levels, and I was in a blur of bouncing, kaleidoscopic colour.

He finished his set with a song that I had listened to on repeat for the year that I spent living in Germany.

I tried to carry the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.
I hope I get a chance to travel the world, but I don’t have any plans.
I wish that I could stay forever this young, not afraid to close my eyes,
Life’s a game made for everyone, and love is the prize.

So wake me up when it’s all over,
When I’m wiser and I’m older,
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn’t know I was lost.

That song and The Nights (He said “One day you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember”) are such bittersweet songs. The lyrics are enough to bring on a minor existential crisis, but the tune is so thumpingly upbeat there’s no time to wallow, so instead you’re left with a distilled reminder to focus and hold on to the important things in life. That night I got such a buzz from just being there and bouncing along to the beat. I didn’t know anything about Avicii other than the lyrics of his songs and that was enough.

Three years later, when I heard that he had died this week it really knocked me. That happens to me sometimes; I feel pummeled by seemingly random events. I blame my mood. Or what I ate that day. Or the weather.

Really it could be anything.

Regardless, it made me truly sad to think that the world is minus one talented and introverted Tim Bergling. I thought about the fact that, waving away all the touring and the music, he was just a 28 year old guy. I clicked on his instagram, where there’s a photo of him and his dad, and another of his dog, Liam. I thought about how upset his family must be. I thought about how confused his dog must be. I just felt… deeply sad.

And so despite not being a fan of dance music, or even really of Avicii, I find myself writing this blog post about a person I have never met or had any connection to outside of listening to a few of his songs on Spotify and seeing him at EDC. I find myself thinking how strange – but also how powerful – music is to link people up like this, forging gossamer-thin strands of connection between strangers at festivals who might never speak to each other, and between audiences and headliners who never see individual faces but instead just one giant, constantly moving wave of people. I think of all the people who have their own important memories associated with certain songs, and how songs create webs of thoughts and feelings and remembrances that span across the globe, and how the people who created those songs will only ever know about the smallest sliver of a fraction of them.

It’s sort of… sad?

Amazing, but sad.

I hope Tim found some peace for himself in the last two years without the constant touring. Avicii, thanks for bridging the musical gap between me and Scrubs. Thanks for bringing so many people together to bellow along with the powerful voice of Etta James. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for making EDM accessible to everyone, including those of us who don’t know a bass from a treble.

Life Skills Unlocked: Surviving the Strip Club

 

What immediately springs to mind when you think of strip clubs?

I’m not asking those of you who have frequented these places. I’m asking those of you who have always wondered about what goes on behind the black door.

Before I’d ever gone to a strip club, here’s what I pictured: Sticky floors. Girls with blank faces and bad posture. Terrible music and worse clientele. Large groups of men gee-eyed with drink, laughing and roaring unfunny jokes at each over the music.

Which is all to say that I wasn’t expecting a whole lot.

A few years ago, one Monday after work, I sat having a drink with colleagues at 4am. Having decided to try my hand at working in a bar, I had just spent a long night delivering shots of tequila and glasses of whisky with complicated names. One of the regulars had stayed behind with us as we cashed out, and somehow the conversation had turned to Frankfurt’s wealth of strip clubs.

“I’ve heard there’s a whole red light district,” breathed one of my friends, eyes wide and twinkling with mischief.

Our regular drained the end of his pint and leaned back in his chair.

“It’s true,” He said. “I’ve been.”

The whole table leaned towards him, as if he’d just disclosed he’d found hidden treasure.

“What’s it like?”

“Where did you go?”

“Are there really red lights?”

“Is it as seedy as it sounds?”

“Are women allowed?”

The questions came from all angles, and he smiled benevolently at our rapt attention before spreading his palms out on the wooden table.

“Alright then. One at a time. What do you want to know?”

It turned out our regular was quite the connoisseur. Tipsy from post-work alcohol and energised by his unexpected wealth of knowledge, we peppered him with questions. He answered them all competently, as if every visit to a strip-club had been a reconnaisance mission leading up to this precise moment. Eventually, the interrogation died down until the only other girl at the table and I were the only ones still talking. We sat with our feet up on the chairs beside us, running our fingers around the rims of our glasses, staring into space.

“I’ve always wondered what they’re like,” I said, thinking out loud.

My friend leaned over the table, her eyes half-focused.

“We should go sometime!”

I nodded in the international language for, ‘Yeah, sure, sometime, maybe, probably never…’

The strip club specialist leaned back in his chair. Very casually – deceptively casually – as if he were suggesting we all go for a coffee, he said, “We could go now…?”

The table erupted into laughter followed by a fast and furious discussion about how ridiculous it would be to visit a strip club on a Monday night after work.

“With no money!”

“Delirious from lack of sleep!”

“Not even nearly drunk enough!”

“On a MONDAY!”

We howled. As our giggles died away, our strip club guru looked around the table at each of us, gasping from laughter.

“I’ll pay. I’ll pay your entry fee,” he said.

We snorted with derision. As if! No need to be ridiculous. We started to get up, ready to disband.

“Seriously.” He said. “I’ll pay if we go now.”

There was a momentary stillness. I looked around the table. I could feel the zip of sudden energy that sparked around the room; that tiny spark that often leads to spontaneous – and not always wise – decisions to embark on adventure.

Which is exactly what happened.

I asked them to wait while I ran home to change my shoes, and rang Scrubs as I kicked off my runners and pulled on a pair of UGGs.

“I’m going to go to a strip club,” I said. “Is that alright? The curiosity is killing me and there’s a nice man here who is offering to pay for all of us. Realistically if I don’t go now I never will, because there’s not a hope I would spend my own money to go to one, and when is this likely to ever happen again? Someone is basically going to pay for me to go to a strip club. So I think I’m going to go.”

“Right now?” Scrubs asked in alarm.

“Yeah. Is that okay with you?”

There was a pause – which I interpreted as a shocked silence – while Scrubs considered this 4am excursion.

“I don’t know if you should…” He said slowly.

My face fell. Obviously I would never go if Scrubs felt uncomfortable with the idea.

“… I mean, they’re hardly going to have their best looking strippers working on a Monday. Why don’t you go at the weekend?”

Thus it came to pass that at half four in the morning, hyped up on post-work drinks and sleep deprivation, my friends and I grabbed orange juice and a bottle of vodka for the road and piled into the strip club guru’s car. I didn’t drink, but watched as my friends passed around the bottle and wondered whether I should have changed out of my round-necked white knit jumper and jeans*.

When we reached the club, our guru paid a not insubstantial amount of money and handed us each our tokens, which came in the form of strip club dollars. They looked like board game money, with the silhouette of a stripper on them instead of the round, jovial face of Mr. Monopoly. They came in denominations of ones and fives. He then paid our entry fee and the large imposing bouncer waved us into the club.

I’m not sure what I was expecting really but this… wasn’t it. It looked like a nightclub. A long bar ran down the right side of the room, with a man polishing glasses under the pink and blue club lights. It was dark, with loud music and plush velvet booths. Sure there was a stage with a pole, but other than that it didn’t look too different from a nightclub when you’re there too early. It wasn’t wall-to-wall sleaze. I couldn’t see a single pair of breasts. All it was missing from the usual nightclub experience was the tight scrum of bodies pressing up against me from all sides, and the floors that stick to your shoes from the thick lacquer of stale beer that has built up over the years.

So really, for the most part, the experience was proving to be more pleasant than a typical nightclub.

I sat with my friends in a booth near the stage and ordered drinks. Or rather, they did. I asked for water. I wanted all my faculties intact for this experience. This was likely to be my one and only visit to a strip club. I wanted my eyes wide on the night and my memories intact the next day. A girl walked past our table and I frowned; she was astonishingly beautiful. She looked as if she had stepped off the pages of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue to join us for the night. So much for Scrubs’ theory about Monday’s girls.

Another girl made her way over and asked to sit next to us. She was petite and blonde and made charming small talk with us until the boys asked for private dances. Two brunettes appeared to lead them away, and the only other girl and I were left with the pretty, pixie-like blonde. We talked a bit about college life, and then she called over her Amazon angel of a friend to join us. I was almost starstruck by the two of them. I had been expecting regular girls like me, not these glittery bombshells.

Just then, our kindly patron returned from his (second) private dance of the evening. He watched the four of us chat for a moment and then leaned towards us.

“You guys should get one,” he said.

I side-eyed him in warning. I didn’t want to get the girls’ hopes up and there was no way I was paying for a private dance.

“No seriously,” he insisted. “How much is it for a double private dance for these two?”

The corner of the pixie’s mouth turned up and she looked us up and down. She named a price and he nodded encouragingly.

“Go for it!” He said, shuffling over in his seat and stuffing money in my hand. “Go on!”

Guys, I tried to say no. I honestly did.

I balked. I tried to hand it back. I told him to keep it, but he just got up and called his girl over for a third dance. As she led him away by the hand he yelled that he didn’t care what I did with it but it was meant for a dance so I might as well get one.

I turned back to face the two blonde babes and looked at my friend, who was riding both the buzz from the vodka and the sugar high from the soft drinks she was mixing it with. I shrugged, and the two girls laughed and clapped delightedly before leading us to the private room.

The private dances took place in a U-shaped booth with velvet curtains that were pulled closed behind us. My friend and I sat on opposite sides of the room. I pulled at the edge of my sleeve nervously, trying to remind myself of the only thing I know about stripclubs, which is that you should never touch the dancers**.

A song started – I couldn’t tell you which one – and the pixie stepped in front of me started to writhe and take off her clothes. She straddled my thigh and ground against my leg. I chewed the inside of my cheek and wished I’d worn something less chafing for her than denim.

My palms were splayed flat against the velvet couch. She was so close to me. Her body glitter sparkled under the lights and she smelled of something outrageously sweet and fruity. Her hands roamed over my knit jumper, making me feel slightly ridiculous. I wondered how many people had worn white loose-knit jumpers to this booth.

She unhooked her bra and dropped it, revealing a perfect pair of gravity-defying breasts. She leaned in for a kiss and I awkwardly turned my face away. I was pretty sure Scrubs might have something to say about me making out with an anonymous Nordic stripper.

She kissed her way down my neck, and I started to feel slightly rude.

Should I touch her? Seems almost offensive to keep my hands on the couch. Should I awkwardly place my hands on her hips? Is she going to think I’m not enjoying it?

She expertly slid her thong down her legs and kicked it off.

No, no. Better to just stay as I am, I thought, mentally nodding to myself.

The pixie pulled my knees apart and turned to grind against my lap. I distractedly examined her tattoos. I had never (and still to this day have never) had somebody’s tattoos quite so close to my eyeballs before. She bent over at the waist, giving me an unexpectedly detailed look at her clitoral piercing. I eyed it and wondered how much it had hurt. I felt strangely detached from my body. Not a single part of me felt aroused. Instead, my brain was busy clinically observing everything as if I were a scientist running some bizarre experiment with a very attractive and very naked subject. I kept waiting to feel something, some tingle or particle of pleasure that I could grab onto that would explain why people found these places so alluring. Instead I just felt… bemused.

I marvelled at the way every inch of the pixie’s now-entirely-naked body was coated in this sheen of fruity body glitter. That can’t be hygienic, I mused sympathetically. I idly speculated whether or not it was likely to be compulsory for strippers to walk through some sort of spray mist before starting their shift.

The pixie knelt on the couch beside me and stuck her tongue in my ear. She sucked on my earlobe and I sat, stiff as a board, suppressing a shudder. There is something almost overwhelmingly odd about a complete stranger sucking on your earlobe for payment. She leaned towards me slowly in a second attempt to kiss me, and I turned my head to the left to dodge her lips a second time. Across the room I saw the Amazon straddling my friend, kissing her with her hands tangled in her hair. I looked back at the pixie and smiled nervously, anxious not to offend. Was I supposed to be okay with this? Was this normal? She smiled back, lifted a perfectly drawn eyebrow and bent across my lap. She arched her back and tossed her fringe out of her eyes as she wiggled her butt playfully.

Am I supposed to spank her? What are the rules here? Are there rules? What is happening?

She pulled one leg to the other side of me and bent over, sliding her upper body to the floor, leaving her bottom half spread-eagled in my lap. I felt like I was in an extremely graphic Sex Ed class. If I had leaned forward I could have touched her clit with my nose, she was that close. The jewel in her piercing twinkled at me.

She switched out with the Amazon for a bit and I enjoyed the novelty of watching legs as long as my entire body bend and flex in front of me. The Amazon ran her fingertips under the hem of my jumper, stroking my skin, making me flinch. My palms were pressed so hard into the seat that I was half afraid my handprints would be forever immortalised in the deep pile velvet.

They switched back and the pixie grinned at me before pulling me forward. She straddled me and rolled my jumper up, kissing her way up my torso. I sat, stone-faced with confusion, as she pulled it all the way up to my neck.

Thoughts ping-ponged around in my head.

Do I still not touch her? She’s undressing me! Should I say something? This is unexpected. If I object will she be offended? What if she tries to kiss me again? Is it rude to say no thank you? Why is there no manual when you first walk in? Why are there no notices with Dos and Don’ts? 

She kissed my collarbone and I felt my knuckles whiten from digging my fingers into the couch. I fixed my gaze on the brass curtain rings as I felt her drag her fingernails up my torso, and then, with startling abruptness, pull off my bra.

I was caught completely off guard.

The cool air hit my chest and gave me a momentary form of brain freeze. For a moment I felt as if my the top of my head had been opened and a steady stream of exclamation marks had been poured in. As I opened my mouth to make a joke about not having applied for a job, I felt her climb off me. She took a couple of steps back, stood in front of me, and tilted her head.

“Are they your own breasts?”

My brow furrowed. What part of the dance was this?

“Yes?” I said, confused.

“They are real?” She was still standing in front of me, no longer on her tiptoes arching every muscle in her body. Now she was simply studying my body. The cool air passed over me and I wondered if a private dance had ever been less enjoyable. I nodded.

“You have really great breasts,” the pixie said, appraisingly.

I blinked and wondered whether somebody had spiked my drink earlier.

“Your breasts, they are really beautiful!” She was eyeing my chest as if it were a painting. She leaned forward and ran her finger along the outside curve of one of my breasts. The sultry, sexy-dancer act had been completely switched off. We seeemed to have reached an interval. I willed my face to stay passive.

“Thanks,” I said, after a stunned pause.

There was silence as she continued to eyeball my breasts admiringly. I cleared my throat.

“Yours too.”

She met my gaze.

“I mean, your breasts are also…” I paused, searching my blank brain for an adjective. “…Lovely,” I finished lamely.

She made a face and looked down at her breasts, cupping them in her hands.

“Yes,” she said, as if contemplating them for the first time in a long time. “They are nice too.” She looked at me and the corner of her mouth twisted downward.

“These are not real though,” she sighed sorrowfully.

I looked around the room, fingernails still digging into the seat. It felt truly surreal to have been stripped by a stripper who now stood holding her breasts and reflecting upon her implants.

Can I pull my jumper back down? Would that be rude?

The pixie crossed the room to tug on the Amazon’s arm.

“Look, look at her breasts,” she said, gesturing towards me.

I closed my eyes briefly. Maybe I could pretend this wasn’t happening.

The Amazon came over and both of them – one gigantuan, one tiny – stood side-by-side, cocked their heads and stared at my chest.

“Are they real?” The Amazon asked.

“Y-yes,” I stuttered, feeling like a watermelon being weighed up at Whole Foods.

The Amazon nodded curtly. “They are beautiful,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“Thank you…?” My voice rose at the end in tandem with my level of anxiety. The Amazon returned to her dance with my friend. I wished I’d had some vodka in the car. I wished I’d had some vodka twenty minutes before to soften the edges of this experience and make it less mind-bendingly weird.

Stone cold sober probably hadn’t been the best way to approach this, in hindsight…

I crossed my UGG-encased ankles, still exposed. I felt my eyebrows rise as I let out a deep breath and considered the fact that this precise moment (in a strip club, in front of two very pretty, very naked women) was easily one of the least sexy experiences of my entire life.

The pixie gave me a giddy smile, as if we had just had a bonding session about our awful ex-boyfriends. She leaned forward, kissed the arch of my breast, and stood up on her tiptoes before resuming her dancing. No more was said between us. At the end, unsure of the correct procedure, I clapped and somewhat hysterically thrust the money as well as a hefty tip into her hand.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, that was so nice!” I gushed, desperate to leave.

She rubbed my back as I tugged at the hem of my jumper. She had pulled a black figure-hugging minidress with strategic slits over her head as soon as the dance had ended.

“Really, it was so lovely. You’re a great dancer.” I was babbling now. She grinned shyly and looked up at me from under her fringe. Impulsively she gave me a quick hug. I looked her in the eye and smiled.

You have a clitoral piercing, I thought. I’ve seen it. In extreme close-up.

I awkwardly patted her on the shoulder.

Once we escaped the private dance booth I grabbed my friend by the wrist and made a beeline for our table, where the rest of the gang whooped as we sat down. Our guru smiled at us. “How was it?”

“It was good!” I smiled. “So now that’s done and we should go.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

I waved at the pixie and the Amazon as we left the club, and spent the car ride home looking out the window trying to process the experience.

Pros:

  • I had been to a strip club and now my curiosity was well and truly assuaged and I never had to do it again.
  • I’d had my breasts complimented by two girls who should know their good breasts from their bad.
  • I hadn’t had to spend a cent of my own money.

Cons:

  • I had to have a shower when I got home to get the sickly scent of fruity body glitter off me.
  • I had realised that as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing actually sexy about strippers.
  • I can never again watch a movie or tv show featuring a strip club without feeling my fingers unwittingly dig into the seat in raw discomfort.

Overall, a perplexing but illuminating experience.

 Would you call having done this trial by private dance a life skill? Probably not, but after having survived the bone-deep awkwardness of the whole ordeal without mortally offending any strippers, I think it qualifies.

 

 

*But what is appropriate clothing for a strip club? You don’t want to be mistaken for one of the staff, after all… A complicated-to-take-off romper? Apple-bottom jeans and boots with the fur? I’m still unclear.

**Thank you Closer for your lessons on strip-club etiquette.

 

At Home on Sandymount Strand

 

 

 

 

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I grew up next to the sea, near Sandymount Strand.

Sandymount Strand is a strip of coastline which used to just consist of a tarmac path and jagged  boulders leading down to the beach. A few years ago someone official got serious notions and put in streetlamps for the dog walkers and exercise machines for those who 1.) use the strand as a running track and 2.) have no shame*, which has actually improved the area quite a bit. When the tide comes all the way in, the sand disappears entirely, and the water crashes up against the rocks, flooding the gaps and trapping sea-borne debris. When the tide goes out, the sea is almost in line with the horizon; it retreats so far out that the beach looks like a desert.

It’s a very recognisable stretch of coastline, largely due to the 680ft Poolbeg chimney stacks** on the left, which rise up from behind the Dublin Bay Nature Reserve. Their jaunty red and white rings make them look like they were painted by a rabid Where’s Wally? fanatic, and I’m glad that they’re now protected structures because the skyline wouldn’t be the same without them.

The strand features in ‘Ulysses,’ if you’re ever brave enough to read it, and it’s a nice place to stare out at the edge of the world for a while and gather your thoughts. Although I’ve never been one of those people who pound the sand in brightly-coloured running shoes and would have to be dragged bodily into the water – since willingly setting foot in the sea around Ireland is not something I will ever do again*** (I only willingly venture into the sea when I’m abroad) – I’ve always loved it. I love how the landscape changes so radically with the weather.

I’ve seen a swathe of cloudless blue so bright it would hurt your eyes. I’ve seen rainbows. I’ve seen purple evening skies and clouds slung so low you could touch them if you stretched. I’ve seen flat, sneaking tides and wild waves that crash over the granite sea wall, ignoring the sandbags hurriedly placed to keep them at bay. I’ve sat on the sand, and on the rocks, and on the grass, and on the benches, and on the wall of what remains of the old sea baths. I’ve been caught out by the tide and had to wade shoeless back to land more than once.

Sandymount Strand has always been a part of my life. It’s played a million different roles as I’ve grown, and I’ve felt every possible emotion on that beach. At times it was an escape, and at other times a refuge. I have so many snapshots of memory and feeling that feature the strand, it’s almost an extension of my home. On that strand I shivered with friends while trying to light disposable barbecues. I prodded at dead jellyfish with pieces of driftwood, and picked through mounds of seashells for seaglass. I walked the dog so many times, in so many different kinds of weather, that I’m sure there isn’t a grain of sand she hasn’t sniffed.

I’ve walked down there to pick blackberries with only blank happiness on my mind, and I’ve run down there to cry until I thought my heart would burst. I’ve been kissed in a parked car there, looking out at the stars, drunk on love, and (on a different occasion, thankfully) puked out the passenger side of a car, just plain drunk, in more or less the same spot.

Dublin has a lot of beautiful areas, and honestly, Sandymount Strand probably isn’t on anybody’s Top Ten of things to see in the city. Places like Killiney Hill, the Phoenix Park, St. Stephen’s Green and Temple Bar would be more highly recommended than this capricious bit of coastline. Still, I love it. It has character.

Now that I live away from the strand, I miss it from time to time. I miss the wind whipping my hair into one mad scribble, and I miss coming home from a winter walk by the sea with my nose and cheeks red from the cold. I’ll have to make an effort to get back there more often.

In the meantime, one of my best friends gave me a print of it for our home, where it has pride of place in the living room. It reminds me that homes don’t always have to be houses.

Sometimes they’re simply a strip of shoreline with sand and saltwater spray.

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*I have yet to see a single person use these. I think most locals would rather die than be spotted using them in any kind of unironic manner.

**You can actually see them in the U2 video for In The Name of Love, although the video is black and white so you don’t get to see them in all their loony glory. You do get to see Bono with a mullet though, so that’s something.

***When I was about ten my parents entered me in a Sea Swim. Safe to say the traumatic memories still linger. I thought I was going to pass out and drown from the cold, and I emerged from the water a changed child, blue-tinged and with a thousand-yard gaze.

Still in Mexico, Now with Added Sunburn

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Since I am still away and have limited access to the internet, I first want to say thank you to everybody who commented on my Discover post, I will be replying to all of them when I get back. I got such thoughtful messages and honestly it’s made this holiday even lovelier than it is already. Given that I am currently typing this in my bikini from a beach bed in front of an astonishingly blue sea, with a palm tree overhead with ACTUAL COCONUTS, that’s saying a lot.

I haven’t had any odd stranger interactions here (yet), although yesterday I did take a colectivo*, and the driver had four sets of rosary beads wrapped around his rear view mirror, a virgin mary statuette glued to the dashboard and a rabbit’s foot dangling from the windscreen, which honestly did not instill much confidence in his driving abilities.

Scrubs and I arrived on Sunday and laughed smugly at the amount of people walking around sunburned. Almost everyone we saw had a rosy tint to their skin, as if they’d been passed through instagram and coloured ‘red’ in the edit. “We have factor 30” we reassured each other. “We’ll be fine!” Factor 30 is already at least 15 more than I usually use, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Pride goeth,’ as the text says, ‘before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Well this haughty spirit was very wrong. This haughty spirit should have bathed in factor 50 before inching so much as a toe out into the midday sun.

It turns out the sun over Mexico is not like the sun over Spain. Or India. Or Egypt. Or Miami. The sun over Mexico is not playing games. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the sun over Mexico is being focused through an enormous magnifying glass with the explicit intention of burning us like little ants. Today, Scrubs and I have joined the ranks of the rosy-hued. Hence the beach bed, with the shade, and the coconut trees.

That will teach us.

The coconuts here are huge by the way; I avoid walking directly underneath the trees because I am convinced that one innocently falling coconut could conceivably end my life. Death by coconut. That would be embarrassing.

“Oh, that’s so tragic” they’d say. “How did she die?”

“Her skull was crushed by a falling coconut.”

Cue at best an awkward silence, and at worst a hastily-stifled horrified laugh.

So lately I’ve been wandering around with one eye turned to the palm trees overhead, reminding myself of a stray cat who, years ago, showed up uninvited at my family home. At the time I named him Twisty because he walked sideways with his head tilted at an awkward angle as if he were listening for something the rest of us could never hear. Later it turned out he had Feline AIDS and had to be put to sleep, but for the short time he was with us he would zig-zag around the place looking perfectly content to have one eye on the sky the whole time.

Maybe he was keeping an eye out for invisible falling coconuts.

*A colectivo is sort of like a bus but not quite, and sort of like a taxi but also not quite. You simply stick your hand out and it either stops for you or it doesn’t, and when you hop on you tell them where you want to go and sit down with about seven other sombre faced individuals. When the colectivo reaches where your destination, you pay and hop off. My colectivo was full of Mexican locals with their packed lunches on their laps, getting dropped off to work for the day.