In college, we only have time to get to know most of our acquaintances as archetypal characters. There’s the frat bro, the hipster, the identical twin-sister, the pothead, the creeper, the on-desk sleeper, the curve-setter, the wet-the-bedder, the midterm-fretter, the Asian girl you’ve never seen at a party, the Asian girl you’ve only seen at parties and the white guy who will only date Asian girls, just to name a few. These are what one of my literature professors might refer to as “flat characters.” Your relationship to them is underdeveloped; their role in your life’s story is simply to fill a necessary archetype.
I became familiar with these archetypes largely by meeting them here at UC Davis. However, as early as high school, I remember already being familiar with an archetype I’d never met: the girl who put herself through college by stripping.
She was the only one that my TV had already prepared me for even before orientation, and paradoxically she’s the only one I haven’t met.
Granted, Davis isn’t exactly a bastion of moral impropriety, comparatively speaking (I’m lookin’ at you, ASU), but I figured there had to be at least one girl with a risqué extracurricular. I imagined she’d already be an emotional cripple by the time I met her, psychologically trampled into a “flat” stereotype who’d sacrificed her sexual dignity for higher education years ago.
In the two weeks since my last column, I finally met her.
The thing is I already knew her. I’ve known her for years and she is certainly not a “flat character” in my life. She is a close friend, someone I care about a great deal whom I’ve watched struggle with the tribulations of college and identity like any of us. She started stripping less than two weeks ago, and because I knew her first as a peer and a remarkable intellectual, I refused to let her merely fill an archetype’s void. I know from experience she is not emotionally stunted or particularly strapped for cash. In fact, I wouldn’t put her into conversation with any of my imagination’s telltale stripper signs; she’s a recent UC Davis graduate with an impressive transcript and a new job, someone you’d have been lucky to sit next to in class.
So what gives? I sat down with her to find out.
After graduating and facing the prospect of moving back in with her parents, she began looking for work in her field of expertise. Unfortunately, without extensive internship experience, her field is no longer easy to break into and receive pay. Meanwhile, with years of student loans looming over her shoulder, she was running low on cash and the only excess resource she had was free time. She told me as a girl she’d admired a friend’s older sister in the way young girls admire Disney Princesses at a theme parks. She told me she remembers how beautiful and feminine she was and that the only other thing she knew about her is she did something called stripping so she could go to school. She admitted this had been in the back of her mind throughout college.
At the beginning of our conversation, the language she used to describe her new job was remarkably familiar. She auditioned at an amateur night and compared her nerves to being in a job interview where first impressions can be everything. She described receiving her first tip with an unexpected sense of accomplishment, like a new server at a restaurant might. She remarked how she has met as many sweethearts as she has jerks, not unlike every job I’ve worked at.
However, as she began to enumerate some of her experiences with the more unsavory jerks, I asked her if at any point she’d regretted her decision to go into this line of work. She told me that the only thing she regrets is that she didn’t start when she was eighteen. She told me how she could have paid her UC Davis tuition in full without burdening her parents, the government or private banks. She told me that she’s still actively pursuing work in her field, but that it’s hard to desire the job hunt when she’s making almost $5000 a month, tax free. I found myself envying her.
Afterward, I contemplated our conversation as I looked at her Facebook. There are pictures of her and her family, her and her boyfriend, even a couple of us. I never found myself thinking, “I’m Facebook friends with a stripper,” as I might have had this been our first conversation. I realized this and felt uneasy as I considered how much less humanity I granted the women whom I first met in Las Vegas.
Despite his efforts, JOSH ROTTMAN did not consult R. Kelly in preparation for this column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, but he doesn’t know how you can reach R. Kelly.