"Look at them," says one of the dancers, who right now is wearing a dress like an Ace bandage made out of satin. She is sitting at a table with a dry cleaner and a real estate salesman, and she lets her leg bump into yours not because she thinks you'll care but because she knows that you won't care.
"Look at them," she says. "They aren't even looking at her."
She points to the men at the bar. It is mid-afternoon at Archibald's on K Street NW, and a girl is dancing naked in front of a mirror.
They are big guys, with hair like they go to the same barber who does Tom Selleck or John Gotti. Mustaches and shirts open a few buttons. There are also a couple of weasels with tricky haircuts and fake Rolex watches, and a bureaucrat with his ID card on a little bead chain that leads into the pocket of his white, short-sleeved shirt, but mostly it's big guys who missed the Alan Alda phase of sensitive American manhood.
And she's right, they're hardly looking at the dancer who's "up" right now, as they say, gliding around to a George Michael record, rubbing up against the mirror and naked except for a pair of high heels and a garter stuffed with dollar bills, the kind of naked that the Supreme Court said yesterday can be outlawed.
The dancer at the table says: "A woman came in here and said, 'Don't you feel degraded?' I said, 'No.' She said, 'Don't you feel like you're exploiting yourself?' I said, 'Not at the money I'm making.' She said, 'How much do you make?' I said, 'More than you.' Where am I going to make this kind of money? I have a daughter. I pay $150 for the baby sitter, $318 for the car payment, $700 rent and $100 car insurance. I just took my car in, they said it needs a new transmission, I said get out of here, it's a year old. There are people out there who are robbing people blind, people selling you a $500 computer for $2,000. Why do they pick on us? It's the bureaucrats who get mad because we're making money off our youth."
Another dancer at the table, the one sitting next to the dry cleaner, says: "The same people who come in here, they're the ones who want to outlaw it."
These girls may not know everything about men, but they know everything they need to know.
"This is a nice girl," says the dry cleaner. "You wouldn't be ashamed to take her anywhere."
"Thanks," says the girl, who says she is working her way through college.
"You go to Paris, they think nudity is beautiful," the dry cleaner says. "The French have been doing it for years."
"We pay taxes," says the nice girl you could take anywhere.
Up on the little stage, the dancer finishes her set. She steps back into something that looks like cowgirl underwear, silk and fringe. She picks up a bottle of Windex. She sprays it on the mirror, and wipes off the smudges she put there. You can smell the Windex.
Then the jukebox starts again, a generic midnight city sound.
The next girl gets out of a dress that does not quite reach down to her legs. She undulates like a slow flag, running her fingers through her hair, looking at herself in the mirror like she just bought a new body and she's trying it on, a tidy, athletic body as it happens -- when the courts started letting girls dance naked about 20 years ago, they couldn't hide behind the chiffon and fancy little bras anymore, they just had to get naked and dance, and all those cubic inches that looked so good inside clothes didn't look so good anymore. Now the Supreme Court may take us back to the good old days of pasties, of strippers who gave themselves stage names like Cashmere Bouquet and Francine Natra, and had followings. Cashmere Bouquet used to take a little shower on stage.
The guys at the tables watch more than the guys at the bar. They have that lonely but purposeful look you see in strip bars. They fold dollar bills lengthways, and they do it slowly, the way they smoke cigarettes. They get up and stand in front of the dancer. She lifts her thigh. They tuck the bill under her garter, say a few words and sit down again. This is the class thing to do, like tipping.
"It's just a job," says the girl with the car that needs transmission work.
"How do you compare freedom of expression with burning the flag?" says the dry cleaner.
"You watch television? You see R-rated movies on it? You don't see anything here you don't see there," says the transmission girl.
"Smart," says the dry cleaner. He taps his temple.
"Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars," sings Frank Sinatra, a little nostalgia from the old days of Cashmere Bouquet.
"Show him the pictures," says the dry cleaner.
She takes some snapshots out of an envelope, all of her. Her in a kind of big silk pirate hat, her in lace, her in soft focus that shows off her cheekbones.
"You model?" somebody asks.
"She's trying to break in," the dry cleaner says.
On the stage, another dancer finishes her set, and climbs back into a little crocus yellow outfit. She bends down and finds the bottle of Windex.