So some evangelical middle-aged church ladies in righteous pastel polyester show up at a local strip joint bright and early this past Sunday morning. They are there to offer consolation prizes to the 20 or so exotic dancers who’ve been told at 2:00 AM (after working a long and tedious shift) that the club has been sold to a church. Makes sense, really – it’s long been a place of worship, and will be again.
This is the sort of thing that gladdens God’s heart – a small sleazy seedy bar in the lonesome industrial outskirts of some two-horse town, vanquished by Jesus! I can sleep tonight knowing that His will has been done here. What matter death and famine and flood and war and atrocity and pestilence and cruelty around the globe? What matter the real and pressing social problems of the town itself? The Hunt Club has been hunted down and exterminated, and a mighty fortress will be built upon its ruins. This, God cares about.
Is this a god I care about?
The strippers have returned in the harsh light of the morning of the seventh day to empty their lockers, take one last spin on the pole, and say goodbye. The press is there to cover the clash of cultures, zeroing in on the tattoos and the cleavage and the bad grammar and the body piercings (not displayed by the church ladies, mind you, although we may imagine some discreet ink on hidden sexless body parts – a cross, perhaps, with a piercing in lieu of a nail).
The press cannot get the strippers to pose with the church ladies for a shot at digital redemption and grateful public deliverance from debauchery. The press cannot get the strippers to take the gift bags. The strippers have just been summarily fired; they don’t give a rat’s ass about frilly little gift bags carried by nervous do-gooders who are holding their collective breath for fear of contracting herpes or lust.
And, oh — what gift bags! They contain an invitation to attend a religious training seminar, information on venereal disease testing, and assorted beauty products.
Way to reach out, good Christians! Perhaps the gifts are in numbered order: First, you must prove you don’t have warts or wildlife in private personal places. Then, you’re allowed past the bouncer so you can belly up to the bar in the salvation saloon, wearing some stale lipstick the Lord likes (stock from years ago that the church’s Mary Kay rep can no longer sell but can still claim as a charitable donation tax write-off).
“Gosh, you sure are cynical,” says an old acquaintance recently. He does not say this in a flattering way. He is offering corrective criticism, alerting me to shortcomings I no doubt have overlooked. He does not realize that I am painfully self-aware and rather intimately acquainted with my shortcomings. My shortcomings dance naked in front of me. They twirl around poles and flaunt their charms. I wear them like tattoos.
Old Acquaintance (who most definitely should be forgot) likes his women sugar-sweet and prettied up. He pretends to like church lady types, but I suspect in his heart of hearts that he longs for a reckless night with a hussy.
I suspect this because I am cynical. “Thank you!” I say, brightly. “Being cynical means being brave enough to face things as they really are.”
“ . . . and love means never having to say you’re sorry,” says he.
Hmmm. What does a vapid quote from a vacant 1970 melodrama have to do with anything? Is he being cynical, sarcastic, silly, or simply stupid? Before I decide upon the latter, he asks if I love my husband. He blushes when I ask if he’s gauging my fidelity.
He isn’t (trust that I am not hurt by this). With love in the air, he is free to add beauty advice to my lesson in personal improvement. He tells me, if not for my own sake, that I should dye my graying hair for my husband. He says that men need their wives to look young. He says that men start feeling old if their wives look old. He says that wives owe their husbands dyed hair. He implies that men are otherwise compelled by forces beyond their control to frequent topless joints.
This is interesting logic, coming from a fat old bald man.
I tell him that my husband and my lover both find my silver hair sexy.
In truth, it looks like hell right now. Having been seduced by Lady Clairol last year, I’m now in the throes of leaving her. I live in Colorado – I’m supposed to look wholesome and earthy and natural and outdoorsy. And coloring my hair did not make me look younger. It made me look like I colored my hair (myself, and badly, with an $8 kit, dripping dark stain all over the bathroom). At present, I’m stuck somewhere streaky between Goth Skunk-Line and Fake Faded Brown. One of my friends called my head “ombre” and declared it very trendy. She was much kinder than Old Acquaintance.
Self-mortification is good for the soul, or so they tell me.
Last time there was this much righteous moral jubilation in the land, the county sheriff shut down a dangerous doughnut shop. “Dangerous” is not an adjective one generally associates with doughnuts, unless one is discussing cholesterol levels. This, though, was a topless doughnut shop, housed in a sagging old gas station out by the interstate. No attempt was made to beautify the building – it relied upon the beauties within, just as mother always counseled me to do. For the few months Debbie Duz Donuts stayed in business, it was wildly popular. Geraldo Rivera did Debbie. Dallas did Debbie. Cross-country truckers took long detours to get there. Rowdy cowboys and construction crews vied with mild-mannered insurance agents and mortgage bankers for the chance to pay $2.25 for a cupful of coffee and an eyeful of nipple.
The year was 1989, when 59 cents typically bought more coffee than you could drink and included tax. On opening day, the local paper featured photos of protesters with signs that read, “Welcome to the Pit of Iniquity.” That’s a pretty big word for a placard. And isn’t it dens of iniquity we must beware, for fear of the pit of hell? Yet the place was an armpit of a pit stop, so perhaps they used the word advisedly.
Debbie ultimately sold drugs to an undercover detective under the covers, and thereafter never dunked another doughnut.
So much furious fussing over a few boobies. Got social outrage? Point it at bigger things. Strip down to the basics. Dare to bare the real problems. Rub up against homelessness and violence and poverty and addiction and abuse and neglect and hunger and hopelessness.
But that’s so . . . messy. I know I should befriend some out-of-work stripper and help her in tangible ways – babysit for her kids, maybe, while she goes to night school to better herself. Help with money for groceries. Provide reliable on-going social support she can count on. But, really – that would inconvenience me. It would make me uncomfortable. It would make me have to face some naked truths about how unevenly God spreads his grace (He’s a busy man. He doesn’t have time to tuck the same tip in every G-string).
I should get my hands dirty and do something useful. But it’s much easier to fill a dollar-store gift bag with some useless trinkets, call in the press to impress those too squeamish to do even that, and then wash my hands of the whole affair.