Stripper’s Carnival

Kay Kinghammer

I never thought about strippers in my town.
I was a woman child, seventeen
Running away from the baby,
Running away from sadistic sailors,
Running away from welfare workers –

No good
No good
No good

No job, no school, no money, no chance,
I dreamed and I ran.
I ran and I dreamed.
I hitchhiked to Hollywood.

Why not?

I had sweaters.
I knew about Lana Turner.
(In 7th grade, twelve years old, blond hair – bleached by accident
It was Maria’s idea, but my mistake:
She wanted my chest.
I wanted her hair.
She bought falsies.
I bought black hair dye.
She looked pointy –
Had pouty lips and curly black hair.
I looked like Dracula’s adolescent concubine,
Skin too white for black hair,
Hair too straight.
We tried red lipstick.
Dracula would have loved me,
Built but ugly.
I decided I’d rather be blond
Like Marilyn Monroe.
I already had her body
36 – 24 – 36.)
At seventeen, I still had blond hair and her body,

Why not Hollywood?

So there I was
No job
No school
No money

They weren’t looking for Lana
At that drugstore anymore.
The want-ad read “wanted –
Dancers and models –
No experience necessary”
I had a choice
How to earn a living –
Lying down
Or standing up.
I made my choice,
Put my bathing suit on under my sweater
(they might want to see my figure
I wanted to be prepared.)

“Take your clothes off,” he said
And stared.
“Ha, Ha,” he said.
“Ha, Ha, Ha,
Take that off too.”

I did.

He sent me to
San Francisco’s
Mission District
Neighborhood
Burlesque house.
(The carnival came later.)

I got drunk the first time
On Pink Ladies and Grasshoppers.
(I was a sweet kid.)
I walked around the stage
Took it off, down to panties and pasties.

Cops were backstage every show.
They were young and horny.
I was young and scared of jail –
They liked my show, they said.
Afterwards, we all went out
And got drunker.
Still drunk, much later,
No school, no chance,
Why not a carnival?
I was still standing up.

The barker is an asshole.
“Balley, Balley, Balley,”
He screams. Every twenty minutes,
He screams.

Six of us in a one room trailer
Behind the tent, no toilet,
Twelve hours a day.
Put it on, take it off,
An ugly dwarf plays records.
For this they pay us
$150.00 a week.

People bring their kids in the tent.
The cops don’t like us.
The food is rotten.
And the goddam barker screams,
“Balley, Balley, Balley!”

What you saw, Mr. Critic,
Was a stag show.
That happens after carnivals,
At respectable, traditional
Bachelors’ parties,
At the Elks, the Eagles, the Moose –
Old strippers do that.
Tired, slow moving strippers.

No job
No school
No money
No chance
Nothing
To do but
Lay down.