When people find out I was a stripper in college they have questions. Yes, I was a male dancer hired to “entertain”. The most forward queries lead to the shortest conversations, such as “do you still strip?”. I’m sure they mean it in jest, given that it’s been quite a few years since those days. It’s time to share, and the best place to start is at the beginning and not the end.
I prefer that we start the inquisition with how I began in the trade. It seems like yesterday even though it was twenty-five plus years ago. Funds were stretched and I had very little time on my hands in between studying for classes like radar theory and numerical analysis. The need to study ruled out typical part-time jobs of grocery bagging or fast-food “would you like fries with that burger?”. I’d tried my hand at immersive oil frying the summer prior to college and did not relish the return to the crispy battered burns. Besides, physics textbooks were difficult to juggle while cleaning grease out of fume hoods. My search for money to spend on something more than ramen noodles was answered by my buddy Rusty who never seemed to lack for a pocket change.
First, let me tell you about Rusty. He was a long lingering English major who should have graduated years before. The college had become the warm womb that my friend relished even while the rest of us wished to leave its embrace. He was tall, skinny, and had more facial hair than the average student. Was he handsome? Perhaps, but only in a Shaggy of Scooby Doo kind of way. We met through mutual friends and became fast buds. Rusty was my mentor and inspiration. I won’t claim to be his Scooby, but I definitely played second fiddle during my collegiate performing years. This rang true in several ways. While I was a little more buff, not by much mind you given I was coming off of years of running competitions, I was downright bulky compared to my friend. He was skinny with big hair, like Tommy Chong of Cheek & Chong. This didn’t matter. Rusty’s fame was the tool of the trade combined with words of wisdom that have rung down through the years. His maxims, jingles for the dancing gigolos, allowed me to prosper even as I wished I had more, down there.
His most memorable instructed me how to carry myself with decorum. This is a fancy word for working a crowd to pile up the tips. Here’s the scoop on the money. You didn’t get much up front and still don’t. The pockets are filled, well, when you have pockets available afterward, by the tipping of appreciative customers. Rusty had looked me over and told me that I had to fully embrace his rule #3, “tease to please”. He explained that it wasn’t about what I brought to the show. It was instead about how I used it during the show. “Imply everything, they create the story”. Well, that’s an English major for you. He explained it was like a paragraph: beginning sentence, the body of the paragraph, closing sentence. The audience handled the middle if I set the mood and road it to the ending, figuratively mind you.
“It’s all about the middle” he would say. That was easy for him to say, but his sage words about the framing of the happy trail ending were gold. “Shave it to show it, shake it to make it” became the outwardly manifesting mantra that I still embrace. When I got tired of the maintenance Rusty would exclaim “don’t hide it under a bush”. Too true! The shaking seemed so much more dramatic with an unobstructed view. The clear-cut was a good combination with my Paul Simon like baby-face. Rusty and I became a compare and contrast duo with something for everyone. I was the bouncy bunny to Rusty’s steady stallion. Not surprisingly this led to my stage name, a persistent shadow that is never shaken no matter how much you do.
I can’t give out Rusty’s stage name. He’s still working the senior circuit. My nickname came from my “making it” motions. I had always been a fan of the movie Bambi, and in particular, its sassy little rabbit. It didn’t take me long to decide to use Thumper, or more often, “Lil’ Thumper” when compared to my partner in crime. To each, their own name, to each their tools. I made the most of the situation, often second fiddle, but somebody’s got to be on the bottom and somebody’s got to be on top.
That’s how I got my start, a few words about my inspiring partner, and a bit about my modus operandi, long for the short of “how I strutted it”. Rusty and I had some good times, made a few bucks, and those years launched me into a realm beyond the bright lights of the conventional world. Ramen noodles were left behind while I discovered how to truly tease.