At about age 17 I made a pact with a friend that "when we grew up" we would both become strippers in a club in Kings Cross. We each had diaries made up with a picture of a crown and big 'X' in which to document our fantasy and its progress. We had a very clear image of our little apartment: mattresses on the floor and a clothes rack with all manner of feathers, sequins and slinky dresses hanging from it. We would work every night and sleep every day barely having enough time to eat (as we were both struggling with eating disorders at the time this seemed like the perfect life for us).
She turned 18 before me, but we decided to go for our interviews anyway. Together we called the ad in the paper that I had carefully cut out. To this day I am thankful that I had the sense to cut out an ad for Mens Gallery, not something like the Eros Theatre. In between HSC exams we went in to the innocuous office located above Mens. I lied about my age, looked sympathetic when my friend said she was still doing he HSC, and managed to get myself booked in for a shift at Dancers the next week (for those who don't know, Mens Gallery, Pure Platinum and Dancers Cabaret are all owned and run by the same people, who I believe also have a more rigorous age checking system in place nowadays!).
I showed up early. Too early; the club wasn't even open yet. I wandered the strip to kill time, fingering "barely there" outfits in sex shops, laughing at the assortment of dildos and other sex toys, staring at the working girls and just looking at the flashing neon lights and thinking "I'm part of this now".
By the time I got back the door was open a crack and I was shown into the pokey little changeroom. My blood froze as the electronic locker asked for my date of birth to use as a password. What if someone saw me enter my birthday and realised I wasn't quite old enough to be here? What if there was a live feed from the lockers to the police station to catch underage dancers? I carefully subtracted one year from my date of birth. After that it became force of habit, I ended up using that fictitious birthdate for the next five years.
Amid the clouds of hairspray and body glitter, I introduced myself to the other dancers and told them it was my first night and if they saw me doing anything stupid could they stop me please? They kind of nodded vaguely and I stared enviously at their towering stilettos and sexy spandex dresses. I was wearing my year ten formal shoes (knee high lace up Roc boots) and a tight black dress I had bought for $1 at a second hand store. My eyes were filled in with blue eyeshadow and my mouth was painted a garish shade of red. My girlfriend at the time was infinitely supportive and had bought me a proper stripping bra and g-string (clips for easy access) which were a black spiderweb mesh.
Thus garbed I made my way downstairs and began chatting with customers, I don't remember feeling particularly nervous, even when I made my way onstage for my first podium, the group of guys I had befriended were nice and seemed to be enjoying my "initiation". So much in fact, they took me for a private show all together, and then each individually.
I have always been prone to getting migraine headaches and it was about this time the familiar white dots started dancing in front of my eyes. "Not now" was all I could think. Hoping it was just the flickering lights I headed up to the changeroom, but they didn't disappear. I was called onstage just as those long icy fingers of pain started snaking their way up the back of my scull. I just made it through my 15 minute podium (the whole time thinking: "Oh my god, what if it's the lights here that set me off? What if I'm allergic to the lights? Maybe this is a sign? Maybe I'm not meant to be doing this?") before stumbling upstairs and emptying my guts into the toilet.
I explained myself to the receptionist who benevolently granted me an early mark. I was stunned when she slid a wadge of fifties into my hand. Despite only completing half a shift I had made $265. To my 17 year old self who had spent the earlier part of the day gift wrapping at David Jones, this was a small fortune! I decided then and there that, sign from above or not, this was definitely something worth pursuing.