Dear Diary :
Today is my first day as a nude dancer -- a farewell to innocence, as it were. Am I on the threshold of losing my last vestiges of childhood? Can I cope with what I may be delving into . . . ?
No, it's only a job, not a lifestyle. As soon as I leave the club, it's all behind me, right? I'll show 'em. I can do it without becoming faded or jaded! I'll knock 'em dead and walk away from it laughing. -- Lenore, Nov . 9, 1979.
:THREE NIGHTS A WEEK, Lenore dances nude at King Arthur's, a small bar on M Street NW, where waitresses in skimpy costumes weave between crowded tables of men wearing three-piece suits and drinking Chivas Regal, and construction workers in blue jeans downing Miller Lite.
A 21-year-old blond with shimmering hair, Lenore (not her real name) works an eight-hour shift, performing 15 minutes each hour. She begins her act in a hot pink robe tied at the waist with a sky blue ribbon. She ends it wearing only her spiked heels and a gold garter.
By day, however, hers is another world -- that of a second-semester senior at George Washington University, majoring in broadcasting and French literature and French literature and getting As and Bs. Lenore's is a Washington version of the old story of the middleclass college girl from a small midwestern town who desperately needs money.
"My dog Tache -- French for Spot -- was hit by a car and I needed $800 to pay the vet," she says. "i already had borrowed $6,000 for student loans. I don't have any marketable skills and I wasn't going to wait on tables.
"A friend of mine suggested nude dancing and I figured why not. It souunded like an easy way to make a few bucks. I can make $100 a night in here in tips easy," says Lenore, whose gold garter usually is full of dollar bills by the end of her performance.
"Why the hell should I go to work in some office and have to be there at 8 o'clock in the morning five days a week and makke less than I can make here in a few hours?"
By the standards of official workaday Washington, Lenore could be considered a GS-12, with daily earnings nearly equal to the $26,000 ayear salary of a Justice Department auditor or an accountant at the Department of the Interior. She is middle-income Washington and more. The average white-collar civil servant in Washington makes $23,000 a year.
Lenore is one of the few college students dancing nude in District bars, according to a spot check of 10 such clubs. But she is among thousands of persons in the Washington area cashiing in on the lucrative other side of life in the "open city" atmosphere of the nation's capital -- from pimps, prostitutes and numbers runners to petty drugs peddlers and stolen goods merchants.
Lenore keeps her job a secret from her parents and classmates. "I live off campus so no one hassles me," she explains.
One of her professors came in once and recognized her, "but he was so embarrassed about being seen here that he never said anything." some schoolmates came in once too, but "all they said was that they liked my dancing," she said.
"Before I started dancing, I figured the only people who came to these places were old boozers and people who couldn't see naked girls any other way. Well, that's not true. We get mostly white-collar types, married men, a lot of fellows from the networks which have offices down the street."
Lenore acknowledges that doing well at her job amounts to finding a way to get bigger tips. "I tried to make a science out of it," she says of her dancing. "sometimes I think if I wear the fishnet stocking they tip more or if I bend over in such a way they tip more. But that really doesn't work. There's absolutely nothing you can do to make more money. They just want to see you naked.
"That might bother some people. Not me. I'm the one who is taking advantage of the situation. I mean, they come in here and look at my naked body and think nasty thoughts, but who's giving all the dollars away? It doesn't cost me a damn thing."
Sex and attention. For Lenore the two always have intertwined.
Ever since she was young, she recalls, she sought attention and sex was one way to gain the attention of men. She also was a grandchild of the '60s, she says. "I didn't realize at first the reason why older guys would pay attention to a 14-year-old girl. But no one else paid attention, so I would respond to older men.
"My older brother got into drugs and my sister went to Washington for peace marches and they were listening to rock-and-roll and getting high and all these magical things and I'm like waiting, you know -- oh, boy, I'm going to grow up and get to take part in all that, I figured.
"And then I grew up and there were no causes left and the war was over and everybody had been getting high so long that there was no mystique to it anymore. I think that's one reason I like dancing. It's something good girls don't do; well, I'm a good girl and I'm doing it."
Lenore was a problem child. Twice she was suspended from Catholic schools. At age 15, she decided to explore sex. While her high school classmates attended Friday night football games and Saturday school dancs, Lenore dated fraternity men andd, later, married men. They took her to dinner and she felt obligated, so the dates usually ended at motels, she says. Afterwards, she recalls, she felt empty and often cried. "Nothing was there," she said. "No mystery. No feeling."
Lenore fell in love, she says, shortly after enrolling at GWU which she chose because it was away from her family. Three months after she moved in with the man, she moved out. It didn't work.
She now lives with another man -- her 22nd affair in half a dozen years, she said -- who sometimes walks her home when she is finished dancing. "He knows I'm an artist," she says, "but sometimes when I come home from work at night, I am what I call asexual. I don't want to touch anyone or have anyone touch me. I don't want anyone to make advances because I'm so sick of being a sex symbol and I just want to be kind of an androgynous little creature who is curled up in a ball.
"In the morning though, I'm okay. Like I said, it hasn't made me jaded or faded."
After graduation she plans to continue dancing until she has raised enough money to go to France."I want to break away entirely from this lifestyle and get a fresh start," she says, "but sometimes I wonder whether I can.
"You realize in this job that maybe going out and having a career and making money isn't the only way to live. I could devote myself to having fun like I'm doing now instead of relying on my occupation to give me a sense of worth.
"I dunno, though, there is nothing more depressing than an old dancer. You see them. Usually they end up pretty bad. They've got lines around their eyes and their breast sag and they've got a gut and a cigarette-whiskey voice and it's just, well, you can't do this very long. You're not fresh anymore and they won't tip."
She pauses, looks down at the shag carpet and sits quietly watching the dancer onstage.
"I would never do tricks [prostitution] either. Sex is just an act, nothing. You have to care about someone to make it worthwhile. It's the caring that makes it special."
Sometimes, she says, her Catholic past haunts her. "I think about the sisters and the cross and I wonder if I'm doomed to hell, but then I guess for a lot of people, hell is right here on earth. Right? I ain't doing so bad. I've been paying off my loans and I'm self-supporting, you know."
Nov 9, 1980: "Dear Diary :
I've been dancing a year now. I'm glad I took the job. It's been fun and I've learned a lot about people and life. After you get up in front of a roomful of men and dance naked, your're not afraid to do anything .
Am I faded and jaded? No, sweet Lenore, no. I'm still knocking 'em dead. I'm gettiing more tips now than before and I can leave this job anytime. I've just grown up, that's all. You have to watch out for yourself in this world all the time .
Like I said, diary, I'm a big girl now ."