My brother drops me off at the apartment of the cousin of bride-to-be at 2:30 pm on the dot. It is on Armitage, not far from where I used to live in Logan Square. I like being back in the neighborhood. The feeling of familiarity is nice. The building is nice, too. It’s the kind with a buzzer and intercom and elevator, which is unusual for the area.
I call the maid of honor who is also the friend that invited me. She says I’m the first one to arrive. I’m surprised because I was given strict instructions not to be late–we have a party bus coming and apparently they charge for every minute they sit waiting. She admonishes me. “You’re dealing with brown people, Jessica. Did you really think any of us would be on time?”
After scrolling through the buzzer’s options and realizing I don’t know the apartment number or the bride’s cousin’s name, I stand on the sidewalk in the sun and relax. The bachelorette party is 80s-themed and my Sixteen Candles t-shirt is appropriately ripped in lines across the back to reflect that. I can feel the sun hitting my skin through the holes in the shirt. I close my eyes and enjoy the sensation, marveling at how good it feels to be warm and sans bra. I am wearing little gel stickies on my nipples, but that’s it. I contemplate donating all of my bras to Goodwill and wearing the gel stickies everyday, forever. My breasts aren’t very large and don’t sag so the only reason I wear a bra is to hide my nipples from a world that apparently finds them offensive. The gel stickies are so light and comfortable, I can’t even feel that they’re on.
The maid of honor arrives about 15 minutes later. In a flurry, we move boxes and bags of bachelorette party stuff from her car up to the apartment. During this I meet the host, her sister, and one of their friends. I arrange oversized wine glasses with red, pink, and silver glittered bottoms on the granite countertop–one for each woman attending. We stuff them with goodies: neon mesh 80s-style gloves, a mini bottle of either Fireball Whiskey or Rumchata, jelly bracelets, one Reese’s peanut butter cup, a button that says something about being part of a bachelorette party, and a package of Pop Rocks.
We put on bright pink lipstick and kiss a photo mat that will later frame a photo from the evening and be given as a gift to the bachelorette. We write messages next to our kiss prints. I write, “Congrats! xoxo, Jessica” and draw a heart. I instantly think this is idiotic and wish that I, a writer, had stopped to think of a more thoughtful or interesting message.
The host’s husband appears, introduces himself, and says he’s leaving for the night. He’s tall and handsome and well-dressed. Once he’s out, the host, who is as gorgeous as her man, pours me and the other girls rosé in a stemless wine glass. We toast and the drinking officially begins. I set up a “hangover station” for tomorrow morning. It consists of pretzels, bottled water, ibuprofen, and a framed sign that says “hangover station” and thanks people for attending the party.
The bride and three more friends arrive. We are all accounted for now as a group of nine. Someone jokes about the diversity of our group. We are Arab, Lao, Pakistani, Puerto Rican, and White. We put on our gloves and bracelets and quickly gobble down grape tomatoes and hummus, and grapes, fancy cheeses, and those paper-white, paper-thin crackers I can never remember the name of. We compliment each others’ outfits. Everyone looks awesome. Earlier I worried I’d be embarrassed to go out in a group like this, that it’d feel too corny. My worries were in vain. I am nothing but excited.
We grab some snacks, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Patron and head out to the party bus. The bus driver is young. He resembles a comedian I once crushed on from afar and, as a result, I instantly like him. I know it’s not fair or logical, but I will give a chance to any man who resembles a man I’ve liked before. This man is tall and thin with dark hair and dark eyes. He looks nice in his black pants and white, button-down shirt. He has a thick Eastern European accent and a worried expression on his face. We are leaving later than scheduled.
The bus takes off, but we yell for the driver to pull over after he travels about half a mile because we can’t figure out how to get our music connected to the bus’s sound system. Once the music is playing we all begin dancing immediately. The driver pleads with us not to dance on the seats. We’re offended because we hadn’t planned on dancing on the seats. Someone indignantly points out that we’re in our 30s. He explains that the seats are brand new and he’s worried a girl will dance on them and poke holes in them with her high heels. Suddenly we all notice that the entire bus smells like new seats. We decide we like that.
The driver looks really nervous before turning around in his seat and pulling the bus away from the curb. I’m pretty sure he’s convinced we’re going to destroy the bus and get him fired. I wonder if he’s new to the job. I want to hug him.
Someone uncorks the champagne with a big pop and it bubbles over. That combined with the music and the bus’s flashy lights makes me feel like I’m in a rap video. I realize that bachelorette parties and weddings are the times regular people get to live like the wealthy. We toast to the bride and quickly down the champagne. There’s a stripper pole on the bus and the bride dances around it and does spins and other things I don’t know the name of. She holds herself up by her legs, and then does that again except upside-down, so her skirt flips up and exposes her underwear. I’m impressed. We all are.
The bride’s hobby is teaching pole dance and she’s great at it. As I watch her, I wonder if I should start pole dancing. Not now, but in general. I’ve been doing Zumba lately, but I worry that it’s not challenging enough to give me the type of body I want. I think about the bride’s abs and worry that I’m doing the wrong kind of exercise, that Zumba will never give me abs like hers. I shake off the thought and refocus on having fun.
Next, we take shots of Patron. A bag of already-cut-up limes appears and we each take one and pass it around along with a salt shaker. Taking shots of tequila makes me feel cool, like the type of person who is up for anything. I don’t do it often, and accidentally lick the salt off my hand after instead of before taking the shot.
Next, we take shots of Fireball Whiskey mixed 50/50 with Rumchata. It makes a drink called “Cinnamon Toast Crunch” that I’ve never heard of before. It really does taste like the cereal, which surprises me. I’ve always thought of the “red” or “hot” cinnamon as being different from “brown” or “spice” cinnamon. I guess I have a lot to learn about seasonings.
The party bus drops us off at Museum Campus, a grassy area near the Field Museum that has a great view of downtown. The drive that loops around in front of Adler Planetarium is backed up with traffic so we hop out and tell the driver we’ll get back on when he gets through the loop. We cross the street and take photos of ourselves and each other in front of the lake and the skyline. We ask some passersby to take photos of our entire group.
I see a group of three twenty-somethings smoking cigarettes. I walk over to them and say, “I have a unique proposition for you.” They look nervous. I pull several packs of Pop Rocks out of my purse and fan them out like a poker hand. “How about we make a trade? One cigarette for one pack of Pop Rocks–you choose the flavor.” They all laugh. The lone guy in the group pulls out two packs of cigarettes and lets me pick between Camel and Marlboro. I pick Camel. He tells the girls they can have the Pop Rocks and they choose strawberry flavor. He asks if I need a lighter and I say no, this is for after dinner, and put the cigarette in my wallet. I realize I’m already drunk. I give the two girls jelly bracelets.
The bus arrives and I wrangle the girls to get back on it because even from a distance I can tell our driver is worried by the way he is craning his head and looking around. A friend and I are the first ones back on the bus. I want to ask his name, but I get nervous, so she asks. He says Marios. She asks where he’s from and he says Romania.
I instantly daydream about vacationing in Romania with Marios. The daydream details are fuzzy since I know nothing about the country. I vow to look it up on a map later, and learn its capitol (Bucharest). I wonder what the food is like, and if they have nice beaches. I wonder if all the men look like Marios. I wonder if the comedian I used to crush on is part Romanian. I think that Marios also kind of looks like a younger, clean-shaven version of Adam Goldberg, an actor on Fargo, a TV show I enjoy. I’ve never been attracted to Adam Goldberg before, but now that I’m realizing he looks like a man I already like, he’s my new celebrity crush.
Once everyone is on the bus, we take more shots of Patron. Once the bottle is killed, we take another shot of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I whisper to everyone that I have an announcement. I preface it with a plea that they not make fun of what I’m about to say, even though it is clear they all think the bus driver is dorky. I announce that I am completely and utterly in love with him. “Aw, that’s cute!” they say. When I look away, I hear one person whisper to another, “Really?!”
A cousin of the bride passes “dare” cards out to everyone. Each card lists something we must do later tonight while at the bar. I get one that says to take my underwear off, get a guy to take his off, and then trade. I say I can’t because I have my period and my underwear has a panty liner in it. One with wings, even. Everyone laughs. I wonder how I can get in touch with the Bridesmaids movie franchise folks, knowing a drunk woman pulling off panty liner-lined panties in a bar as part of a bachelorette party dare would make a great scene if they come out with a sequel.
One girl reads her dare card and instantly says, “I can’t do this; I’m married.” I joke that I’m single and will gladly take any cards that require giving a blow job. I say the married women can stick to the cards that call for pinching guys’ butts, but if they want, we can act out our dares concurrently, on the same lucky guy–they pinch while I suck. We all laugh. It’s a joke that both embraces the spirit of the American bachelorette party while mocking it. I find out that some girls knew about the dare cards in advance and are wearing two pairs of underwear, so if they have to take off a pair, they’ll still be covered. Smart.
We arrive at the tapas restaurant. I casually suggest we have our photo taken with the bus driver before he leaves–earlier he’d mentioned a different driver will pick us up later and I want a memento since I’ll probably never see him again. I stand next to him as we arrange into a line. My friend asks if he’s married and he says no. She asks if he has a girlfriend and he says no. As we pose for the photo, she blurts out, “She totally likes you, by the way.” I instantly deny it, saying I don’t even know him, then say, “Not that I wouldn’t exchange numbers if you asked.” Everyone laughs. He says, “Okay, I want your number.” Everyone laughs more. It is probably the most public pick-up-type exchange I’ve ever had. I feel both happy and embarrassed.
After the photo is taken, our huddled group breaks apart. I look at the bus driver and wonder if he was kidding around. He pulls out his phone. I tell him that I don’t always dress like this, and I don’t always act like this. He says he already knows. He has me type my number into his phone, then he calls it. He looks at me. I realize he’s testing to see if I gave a real number. I pull out my silenced phone and show him that the call when through. We smile shyly and say goodbye.
At the restaurant we eat and eat and eat tapas. My favorites are the beef sirloin with blue cheese and the bacon-wrapped dates. We drink sangria, trying both the mango and red flavors. We finish up with dessert. The coconut flan is heavenly. I espouse my theory about eating while drunk–it isn’t something you want to do regularly, but once in a while, it can be really fun. You can’t eat as much as you normally would, but if you remember to focus, the food will taste better and you’ll notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.
We walk a few blocks through Lincoln Park to the bar for the evening’s main event, “Men the Show,” a male “revue” aka strip show. (Well, down to a g-string, that is.) We’re early and the first ones in line. We tease Lincoln Park bros walking down the street and I do my first dare–to “pet” a guy’s chest hair. It ends up being the only dare anyone does all night. A friend photographs it and dubs the guy “shark week” because he’s wearing shorts and a shirt covered in shark print.
The bar bouncer lets us in and we giddily walk up the stairs to the second floor and wait for the show to start. Four of the girls in the group have never been to anything like this before. I buy drink tickets to save money–6 drinks for $20–and split it with someone so we get 3 drinks each.
When the show starts, I recognize all three of the performers in the opening song. One is the guy who runs and announces the show. One is Corey. He is presumably Jewish and has a tattoo of the Star of David on his chest. Every time we come here, my Palestinian friend and I joke that her getting a lap dance from him helps foster peace in the Middle East. The third performer is Christian, my favorite. He has wavy, brown, 1970s-style hair and perfect teeth, a deadly combination. The three of them do a boy band-style dance then the announcer pumps up the crowd.
Christian is the first solo performer. He does a police man act with a woman he pulls from the audience. A recording plays and says things like, “Assume the position.” He mouths along with the recording as if he’s the one talking, and acts out what’s being said. He holds a flashlight, which is of course used to mime intercourse.
I’m happy. I was here a month prior for a different bachelorette party, and at that show Christian dressed up like Bret Michaels and sang “Every rose has its thorns” while playing an acoustic guitar. It was endearing because I knew he was letting his interests and personality show through, but it wasn’t sexy and seemed to bore the audience.
When his performance ends and it’s time for lap dances, I pull $5 out of my purse and go up to the stage. I thoroughly enjoy my lap dance from Christian. It is sweet. Some strippers are rough and pick women up and throw them around. Once I had one force me to stand and then bend me over and mime hitting it from behind. It wasn’t a turn-on at all. Christian, however, kisses my neck and runs his hands through my hair while giving me a dance. It feels clear that he does the dance for my enjoyment, not for the spectacle. Aside from the fact that we never kiss on the lips, it feels like we’re genuinely making out. He gives the impression that he’s the type of man who “makes love.”
Christian smells like a rich vanilla and I keep sniffing his neck. His hair is shiny enough to be in a Pantene commercial and I keep touching it. His skin is very moisturized and also feels great to touch. Being near his body is pure pleasure. The idea of a very expensive hotel bedroom pops into my mind–the kind with a fluffy, white down comforter and 2,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets. I realize what the two have in common–luxury. This man’s body is luxurious.
After my lap dance ends, Christian’s performance is done and we’re onto Corey’s solo show. The women go wild for him. I like him, but am a little confused as to why women like him that much. He chews gum the entire time, which I find to be weird. He is in excellent shape, however. I ask my friend why women, including her, like Corey better than Christian. She says it’s simple–Corey is taller and stronger and therefore more manly and more in line with most women’s fantasies. She says Christian looks like a little boy.
I become indignant and defend him righteously. He isn’t a “boy.” He’s a god. Also, he’s 22, I say. Or maybe even 23 by now. I know this because I first saw him perform at yet another bachelorette party last November. After that show, he and I drank and talked for nearly an hour. He was brand new then, and still using his real name. Even though I doubt he even knows who I am, I won’t type his real name here because I still feel a connection to him. Maybe it’s an imaginary connection, but I want to honor it nonetheless.
After the show in November, Christian opened up to me about how he never imagined he’d work as a stripper. It had just sort of happened, but he was one month in and loving it. He was a college student who had grown up in Europe. (I forget where. Germany, maybe?) His parents were divorced. He’d just recently “come out” about his job to his mom and some classmates. Everyone accepted it better than he’d imagined. He said it was the most fun job he’d ever had, and that it really boosted his confidence with women. He also asked all about me, my life, and my writing. Our conversation ended abruptly when I offended him by drunkenly asking if a lot of women get roofied and date raped at that bar. Thankfully, he didn’t seem to remember me the next time I was there.
My “history” with Christian makes me illogically loyal to him, and I watch the rest of the performers from my seat. The other girls in our group take turns getting lap dances with each one. I think there are two more performers after Christian, but I lose track. I notice flash bulbs going off and decide that for the first time I, too, will break the rules and take photos as Christian, Corey, and the announcer come on stage and end with another boy band-style dance.
When the show is over, we stick around to dance. “All I do is win” comes on and I do what I always do when I hear that song–punch the air repeatedly, dance like a maniac, and run around telling people that my friend is cousins with DJ Khaled. (She really is. I have a fantasy that once I move to Florida she will come visit and somehow arrange a meeting.) There aren’t many guys at the bar this time around so my friends and I mostly dance with each other.
At one point I feel a hand on my shoulder–it’s Christian! He tucks my hair behind my ear and leans in to whisper that he’s going downstairs for a drink, but he wants me to know he isn’t leaving. I look at him, stunned, wondering if his interest in me wasn’t just part of an act. I ask what he means, and he says he wants to hang out with me, and didn’t want me to leave thinking he had left. Then he walks downstairs. My friends go wild, asking what he said. When I tell them, they shout,” Go downstairs after him! Obviously that’s what he wants! Go! Go! Go!”
When I get downstairs, I see Christian standing at the bar talking to a girl. He isn’t touching her or flirting with her or anything, but they seem to be in a real conversation and more than just strangers making small talk as they wait for their drinks. I watch, wondering if they’ll go separate ways and give me a chance to approach him. I try to determine if she’s prettier than I am. Younger, yes, but prettier, I don’t think so. I feel like a bad feminist for sizing her up in this way, and generally feel creepy for watching them. I turn and run back upstairs, happy Christian didn’t seem to notice me standing against the wall like a loner, staring.
“Did you talk to your stripper?” my friend asks, with a big smile on her face. She wasn’t around when he approached me. I tell her what he whispered to me and how I followed him downstairs only to find him talking to someone else and she yells out, “What a dick! Fuck that guy! Seriously!” She explains that she’d bumped into him at the upstairs bar and told him that I genuinely like him. He’d acted interested and immediately approached me as she happily watched from the bar, feeling proud for helping me out with a guy for the second time today. She said she never would’ve made a comment to him if she’d known he’d lead me on like that.
I feel confused. Did Christian only talk to me because my friend put him up to it? If he wasn’t interested, why did he bother approaching me at all? The strip show was over so it’s not as if he was trying to get lap dances out of me. Had he wanted me to follow him downstairs? Or had he wanted to meet the other girl, and genuinely planned on coming back upstairs to hang out with me after? I don’t know, and I decide not to think about it further. I note that I’ve gotten much better at handling these types of minor rejections and disappointments, and instead of being upset, feel good about that. A few years ago even something small like this would’ve really gotten me down.
I also think about what I consider to be sad fact of life: the men who blow me away with their beauty are most often not the same men who feel blown away by mine. Even if Christian thinks I am cute or has an interest in me, clearly it is a mild interest. He does not view me with the same reverence I have for him. He is not going to wake up tomorrow and feel inspired to write a long blog post with favorable descriptions of me. Our interest is unequal.
I resolve to make my body luxurious. I want my skin to be as soft as his, my hair as shiny, my muscles as strong, and my smell as sweet. I want to walk around in the world feeling like I’m in an expensive hotel with 2,000 thread count sheets simply because I’m inside of me. I vow to treat my body like it’s sacred.
We leave to get on the bus. I take a look at my phone for the first time in hours and have a text from a number I don’t recognize, asking how the party is going. I respond, “Who is this?” It is Marius, our bus driver from earlier. I’d been spelling his name wrong in my mind all along. The parked party bus is stacked with beers, but I turn them down. The girls dance and one person walks off to order pizzas. I’m feeling worn out so I kick back, look through photos from the night, and text Marius.
When we get back to the apartment, my friend yells, “Jessica, you have to have sex with that bus driver from earlier because I forgot to tip him!” I look at her and solemnly nod. I say, “I will. You don’t know how long it’s been. I really will.” (Note: I probably won’t.) Someone says that because he’s a recent immigrant he probably lives with his parents, so we’ll have to find somewhere else to “do it.” Someone else says they hope he doesn’t have a wife and kids back in Romania. I say I can’t believe she didn’t tip him.
In the morning, I wake up lying on a couch I do not remember falling asleep on. I have a blanket on me and feel happy knowing that someone who cares about me put it there while I was sleeping. I think about how girlfriends are the best.
Our plans for an elegant brunch fall through when everyone wakes up hungover and wanting to get home. My friend gives me and the bride a ride and we go through a McDonald’s drive-thru to get breakfast sandwiches before hopping on the Kennedy to head back to the suburbs. Marius texts me, asking me on a date for tonight. I let him know that I’d love to go on a date, but I live in the suburbs so it will require advance planning. Tonight will not work. I do not mention that I’m probably still drunk.
The maid of honor and bride discuss the night before while I sit in the backseat eating my breakfast. Apparently Corey hit on the bride while she was getting a lap dance. He told her to take off his shirt and said that, if she wanted, she could take off his pants later at his house. I am instantly envious and think that maybe if I did pole dancing instead of Zumba I’d have a body that is closer to the societal ideal and that then Christian would’ve made a similar proposition to me. I let go of the thought and drink my McDonald’s orange juice. It is much too sweet.
The maid of honor comments that Corey has been stripping for a decade. I ask how she knows that and she says that he was there the very first time we went to the strip club. At first I don’t understand–I was with her the first time we went and I don’t know how that would connect her with this piece of information. Then it sinks in. We’ve been going to this strip show for birthdays and bachelorette parties for ten years.
My friend says that Corey looked a lot different ten years ago. I can’t remember him. When we first started going to the strip show, I viewed it as no more than a spectacle. It wasn’t until a few years in that I got over the cheesy aspects and began to genuinely enjoy it and feel physical attraction toward the men. I think that is partially a result of me becoming more comfortable in that setting, and partially a result of the show evolving and become sexier and featuring a wider variety of higher-quality men. The first time we went I remember thinking that everyone looked the same–buff, tan, hairless, and covered in oil. It isn’t like that any more.
My friend says she still has our group photo from our first night there, ten years ago, and that Corey was skinnier and scrawny. She says she remembers him from that night, and that he wasn’t nearly as hot or as popular with the ladies as he is now. I wonder if Christian will still be stripping in a decade. I wonder if he’ll bulk up like Corey did and become a crowd favorite. I know he lifts weights. I wonder if he’ll figure out a way to successfully incorporate 80s rock (his favorite music) into his act. I take a bite of my hash brown and smile, knowing that in a year or two someone will be getting married again. I’ll end up at the place again, drunk, with a purse full of dollar bills again, able to find out.