The common wisdom is that suicides skyrocket during the holidays. Though this is entirely unsupported by research, the public buys it because it's so easy to envision. The de facto mandate of family togetherness at this time of year seems destined to push the haunted lonely — those going through divorce or on the outs with parents — off a bridge.
Kalee sees it on the faces of her customers every Christmas. "It's a bunch of men who come in who are very sad," she says.
Fortunately, women like this young mother of two are out there on the front lines, even on Christmas, working to talk George Bailey back from the edge. Kalee is a stripper at Dancers Royale, and she's worked the holiday shift for the past two years.
"We're here to support them," Kalee says of the clients who frequent the side of her stage with dollars in hand, "to tell them what they want to hear." Kalee's smile is reassuring enough that men probably believe her when she tells them "that they're worth something. Don't worry about it. Just have fun." And if they don't, they can always pay to get her ass shaking inches from their face.
"Some of them don't even want to know what day it is," she says. "That's why they're here."
If the thought of spending time gyrating for cash sounds worse to you than the divorce that drives people to a strip club, you're not alone. "One year, a guy came in and sat by himself for a while. I went over and said hi and he just started crying. He said, ‘Why are there girls dancing here on Christmas?' I said I had two kids and bills to pay. He said that was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard and gave me $100 and left."
But before you feel too sorry for Kalee and her sisters, remember that management doesn't set the schedule; the women make their own. So anyone you see swinging from a pole is there by choice. "Sometimes they offer us cuts of the tip-out," Kalee says about attempts to lure dancers to work the holiday. "Sometimes they have food. Not just for us, but it's there and we're here for eight hours."
And it doesn't actually take her away from her children. "We don't open on Christmas until 7 p.m., so I spend all day with them." After that, this aspiring child psychology student is off to work as a "waitress," as far as the kiddies know.
The club promotes the festivities. The girls are encouraged to dress up in Santa hats and costumes, and the DJ will sneak "Jingle Bell Rock" or such into the usual lineup of Poison and 50 Cent. For Kalee, it makes a good holiday even brighter. "I feel good knowing that I've comforted somebody."
She offers this advice to all the other proletarians struggling through work on Christmas: "Have fun with it. And remember there are people out there who have it a lot worse than you."