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I used to have some pretty strong opinions on strip clubs, back when I was dating a stripper. Most of them involved the sleaziness of the average testosterone-fueled, drunken frat boys and beer-bellied mid-life crisis sufferers that made up the bulk of the patrons. I still hold those opinions about the clientele, but strip clubs themselves no longer make me uncomfortable.

After spending all my previous ventures in strip clubs picking up my then-girlfriend, I can't imagine what made me want to enter one as a customer instead of just an impatient boyfriend, seething with jealousy as I watched my significant other sit on old mens' laps and feign politeness and flirtiness at them. Perhaps there is a deeper reason for my wanting to see a strip club from a customer's perspective, but most likely the culprit was loneliness, an incurable case of girl-craziness, and the desire to see pretty girls up close after a year of seclusion.

Yesterday was my last day as a resident of the city of New Orleans. The day before, I could think of nothing I wanted to do more than go to a strip club and have pretty girls writhe nakedly on me, near me, and in my field of vision. So, I headed to Scarlett's Cabaret on Bourbon Street. I figured, if I was going to do this, I may as well do it right. Normally I wouldn't venture within half a block of Bourbon Street (it's sort of an unavoidable part of the French Quarter), but this was a special occasion. Scarlett's is a relatively new place, having opened only about six months ago. They've erected a number of billboards along I-10 in the suburbs, which feature a girl that looks like a porn star, complete with false eyelashes and thick eyeliner, which read "IN THE MOOD?"

On my way to the French Quarter, I stopped at an ATM and withdrew $300 cash. As the ATM spat $20 bills at me, I found that I was, in fact, IN THE MOOD.

Parking in the Quarter on a Thursday night was a breeze, and after finding a gem of a parking spot at Dauphine and Toulouse, I carefully picked my way through three blocks of Bourbon Street madness until I found myself standing in front of Scarlett's chrome-trimmed doors, flung open into the night. After having my driver's license checked and paying a $10 cover charge, I ventured into the main room.

The main room (also trimmed in no small amount of chrome) contains three bars, a two-pole main stage, a single-pole second stage, and several corridors to rooms which offer a greater degree of privacy. The place was packed with furtive security guards, almost cartoonishly cute cocktail waitresses, some astonishingly gorgeous strippers, and of course the requisite frat boys and middle-aged men, about half of whom were fully decked out in Mardi Gras beads, mumbling in the general direction of the stage in slurred, drunken speech. In New Orleans, Mardi Gras beads are a dead-on tourist indicator if it isn't Carnival season (which it isn't), so I chose a table toward the fringes of the room as most of the tourists seemed to be near the stage. Oddly, I didn't see a single woman in the place that didn't work there. There are usually at least a few, if memory serves.

Shortly thereafter, I was seated, halfway through my first clove cigarette of the night, and waiting for the bottle of Smirnoff Ice I'd ordered to arrive. When the waitress came back with it, a dancer came along with her and sat down next to me. This is standard operating procedure in most mid-upscale strip clubs.

"You look familiar; do I know you from somewhere?" asks the dancer, with a bright, pretty smile. I can tell by the way she talks that she was a heavy metal chick in high school.

The dancer, whose name turns out to be Evie, has an auburn crop-top, full pouty lips, and an extremely flirty nature, even for a dancer. She's about five foot four, and slightly waifish, though her mildly tanned curves are pleasing to say the least. She's wearing a sheer black minidress, which covers approximately half of her round, jovial-looking ass, and a seriously miniscule pink thong. No bra, and typical standard stripper issue platform pump shoes. Her pink, unpierced nipples poke at the sheer fabric of her dress and seem to stare at me, as if imploring me to set them free.

"I'm not sure. Have you been to The Whirling Dervish and/or Mythique at all?" I ask, naming the only places I'd been bothered to go during the past few months. In spite of my introverted nature, I make no secret of checking her out as I speak. I came here to see naked girls, after all. Why pretend otherwise?

"So what's a cute guy like you doing here? You really don't look like a frat boy, and you can't be older than 25, at the most..."

The small talk continues in this vein for 10 minutes or so, as we smoke and drink. I buy her a gin and tonic.

Eventually she asks if she can dance for me, and I say yes, so she gathers up her drink and takes me by the hand to one of the private rooms near the rear of the club. A bouncer sets her up with a pedestal, and while we wait for the next song to begin, I pay her $30, and at her request, remove my belt and wallet chain.

The song begins. I can't place its name or who performs it, but it's a strip club staple. Within the first few beats of the song, Evie has got her top off and is straddling my thighs, rubbing her breasts in my face. She leans in close and nibbles on my left ear, then brushes my hairless, glittering cheek with her lips. Her lips continue to slide across my face and stop at my mouth, where they linger for a moment and our pierced tongues briefly meet. She straightens out, and starts the inevitable crotch-grinding that's a part of every lap dance any guy has ever had. She pauses briefly, turns around, and starts grinding me again, this time making it look like I'm fucking her from behind. Still facing forward, she stands up and bends over, slowly pushing her center into my face, only a thin layer of lycra and spandex separating my facial features from her pink bits. The smell of her sex, while she was undoubtedly not into it (few dancers actually glean any satisfaction from dancing), filled my head as I inhaled. Still from behind, she started rubbing herself through her thong, which outlined every vaginal crease and fold, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. She climbs down and faces me, and slides the fingers she'd just used into my mouth. The song ends at this point. She quickly and fluidly puts her dress back on, gives me another full-on-the-mouth kiss, and tells me that it'll be more intense if I get another dance from her later. (Later on I did end up getting another dance from Evie and one of her friends, simultaneously, which was fun, but describing it would be overkill, I think.)

After the dance with Evie I'm feeling somewhat invigorated, but lap dances have never turned me on much and I appreciate their purpose more for the admiration of feminine beauty than the porn-like simulations most people seek them out for. With that in mind, I head back into the main room and find another isolated table. I order another drink and watch the stage show for a bit.

My interest in the stage show was perfunctory at best, until one dancer in particular took the stage. The DJ announced her as Sonja. She was probably about five foot eight, very healthy-looking, perhaps as a result of working out regularly, and she didn't consist of the mostly stereotypical waif-like figure that most dancers seem to possess. The first thing I noticed about her was her hair, which was jet black and short. Not so short as to be boyish, but short (and styled) like a European model might have her hair. Her bright, achingly beautiful face seemed to light up the already bright stage area, and her skin was a smooth, but not sickly, alabaster white. Continuing down, her breasts were ample but not large, and very, very obviously natural; breasts that lovely simply cannot be purchased from even the best plastic surgeons. Her taut belly meandered down to her round but not too wide hips, which birthed her muscular but soft-looking legs, clad in thigh-high stockings. I watched her two-song set with the rapt interest of a deer caught in headlights. She noticed me as I followed her around the stage with my eyes, and turned her attention towards me for the remainder of her set, a sweet smile playing across her lips.

After Sonja's set ended, she put her clothes back on, came over to my table and sat down. We immediately began talking, with my shyly complimenting her performance at first, and then about how disgusted we both were with the average strip club customer. She told me that her stage name was Sonja, and that I should call her by her real name -- Sarah.

The club got less and less busy as the night grew later, and Sarah and I kept talking. Feeling confident, I had told her that part of my dislike of average strip club patrons comes from the fact that I would rather be female, and that for a time, I took estrogen pills. So trusting, she seemed, and I told her the whole story of my wanting to try out gender-switching. She told me she was glad I'd decided not to go through with it, because she thought I was cute as a boy. (I try to pull off the frilly/girly stuff now and then, like the glitter on my face, for example.) The next natural progression in the conversation was on the topic of her dancing for me. We actually planned it out for a while, working out what I wanted and what she didn't have to do that she probably would have to otherwise (i.e. crotch-grinding). Finally I put it bluntly, and I asked her to dance for me as though she were dancing for a girl.

"You want me to dance for you like you were a girl? That would be so strange. I've never had such a request before. I'd be happy to do it for you." Her smile broadened as she spoke these words.

"I was hoping you'd say that," I laughed, positively beaming with happiness.

If you've never been to a strip club and seen a dancer dance for a woman, I will now describe it. The normal grinding of the middles is removed, there's more neck/ear nuzzling, some dirty talk, and generally a greater sense of closeness and far less of the detachment that usually comes with a man getting a lap dance. A lot of dancers seem to prefer dancing for women because they're less greedy, for lack of a better term, and aren't so eager to say crude things to her during or after the dance. Because of this, the dancer will usually give a female recipient a greater degree of freedom than she would a man -- light touches and so forth are allowed by the dancer and indeed even seem encouraged, and I've even seen many dancers gently pull down tank tops and bra cups to lick their customers' nipples.

For me, the boy that would rather be a girl, it was pure bliss. It was like a 10-minute long hug and guided tour of the front of Sarah's body -- the scenic route.

She sat me down and had a bouncer bring her a pedestal. She didn't even wait for the next song to start before she climbed the pedestal and began. She slowly, sensually removed her sheer pink minidress, revealing the adorable breasts I'd seen during her stage show. She slid it down the length of her body and then stepped out of it. She dangled it over my head for a bit, allowing me to take in its heady scent, and then she threw it back over her shoulder and gently lowered herself onto my lap. She picked up my hands and put them around her waist. Her soft, smooth skin seemed electrifying to me. She pushed my face between her breasts and I smelled the garden of Eden. Lingering in that position for a moment, she leaned down and kissed my neck, then guided my mouth to her left breast, which I gently kissed and poked with my tongue barbell. This was repeated with the right breast, then she rose up a bit and pushed my face into her belly, which I woozily nuzzled and covered with tiny kisses until she rose a bit more and allowed me to tug a bit at her thong with my teeth. This position also afforded me the slighest hint and distant reminder of the scent that I take in right in the second before I perform oral sex on a girl, which threw my brain into overdrive and made me lightheaded, in its sweetness.

Throughout the whole dance, she didn't turn around once, as most all other dancers do for whatever reason. She seemed to be focused entirely on me; whenever my face wasn't obscured by her belly or breasts, her eyes were locked into mine and her smile was as bright as a Tesla coil. My smile didn't falter, either. I was having the time of my life and I daresay it was just as good as really good sex can be. Sure, it was in a strip club and is by its very definition impersonal, but this was different. This was a version of that feeling you sometimes get when you inadvertedly look a passing stranger in the eye; it was akin to that pitlike feeling in your chest when you get near someone you're extremely interested in but can't quite convince yourself of trying to talk to. It was all these things, with the added bonus of a heartbreakingly beautiful, mostly nude girl that I met while she was working in a strip club, who asked me to call her by her real name.

The song ended. Without bothering to put her dress back on, she shifted around and sat on my lap. She said to me:

"That was the only dance I've ever given that's excited me sexually. I'm in awe of how wonderful and different that felt; thank you." She kissed my forehead as she finished saying this.

Dances at Scarlett's cost $30 apiece, and you can tip at your discretion. From my wallet I drew $100 in twenty dollar bills and handed them to her. I am by no means financially stable, but to me, at that moment, now and forever, that was some of the best money I'd ever spent. I'd have given her my soul if I'd been able.

"You made me feel as good as I've felt in a long, long time, Sarah. I'd give you more money if I could," I said, and she blushed a deep red as she accepted the wad of bills from me.

We exchanged email addresses after she got dressed. We wrote them on matchbooks emblazoned with the club's logo. The following day, my last in New Orleans, I caught up with her on Yahoo Messenger, and we talked for a bit more. And though I should've spent that afternoon packing up my belongings in preparation for my move that was only one day away, Sarah and I made arrangements to meet for coffee that afternoon. I picked her up at her dorm on the Tulane campus, and we went to Rue de la Course. We drank chai, smoked cigarettes, and talked each other's ears off. I found out that she'd been dancing for only three weeks, and that she was just 20 years old, and that she'd just moved to New Orleans about six weeks previously from Chicago.

After dating a stripper before and having it end in disaster, I was very surprised that I was able to connect so nicely with Sarah. Since the end of my relationship with my stripper ex-girlfriend, I'd been more or less afraid of strippers; and here I was getting proved wrong about them by this sweet, sweet girl, who succeeded at making me feel very good when I needed it most, on a moment's notice, just by doing her job (albeit with a slight twist).

Sarah and I are becoming fast friends. Though I never thought I'd want to after moving away, I can't wait to return to New Orleans (on a visit, anyway) and see her again, hopefully not in the confines of a strip club.

There are good people everywhere, sometimes in the most unlikely places and situations. Finding a way to decipher the signal-to-noise ratio, well... if I could explain the mechanics of doing that, I'd probably have more lucrative things to be doing than noding.

Believe it or not, this isn't fiction.