Life Lessons From A Stripper.
Friend - Did you message him ?
Me - Not yet. I am looking for jobs in the field of my choice. If I do not get anything, I will text him.
Friend - Okay.
*A month later*
Friend - Did you speak to Morris* ?
Me - Nope. I have been caught up with assignments. I will text him soon.
This is an excerpt from a conversation with my friend where he’s asking me if I got in touch with his friend in London.
I could replace this with many other conversations throughout my life where my well wishers have given me access to people they knew, so that I could get a job, feel less alien in a new city or just meet someone interesting. I have always avoided it at the pretext of being busy, which I usually never was. At the mere mention of having to meet a stranger, my mind would get fogged with questions. What if that person is meeting me out of obligation? What will I talk to them about ? What if they don’t find me interesting enough?
My post this week is about a day when I decided to act against this feeling and go meet Morris, and how that meeting transpired.
Owing to a desperation for part time work, I reached out to Morris, a friend’s friend and also a documentary filmmaker. I told him who I was, what work I had done in India, what I was doing in London and asked him whether he was looking for an assistant. He invited me for a coffee.
It was a sunny Friday morning when I packed my bag for the mission of the day. I equipped myself with a charged phone, water, an extra jacket and a magazine to look intelligent on the tube. The task ahead was simple. Meet Morris, try to see if he can give me some work and come back.
My journey to his office can be described as nervously excited. Was I excited to meet the guy ? Maybe. But, my nervousness stemmed from the spate of anxious questions popping in my mind. Even though my eyes were reading the letters in the magazine, my mind was busy imagining conversations with Morris, and how I would respond in each situation.
Forty minutes later, I reached Deptford. It was a sleepy suburb with small cafes, street markets, open skies and parks. The residents, mostly groups of old black men, young skateboarding boys and immigrant street vendors selling cheap everyday things were all basking in the glory of the shining sun.
Morris’ office was an interesting place. A small-ish theatre and performance centre coupled with small office spaces for individuals to rent. He greeted me with a smile as I walked in. He was a forty something stout man with a paunch, a balding head graced by a pony that tied the remnants of his youth neatly at the back and tiny, sharp eyes.
We walked to a coffee shop after brief salutations. Once we settled, he asked me a lot of questions about what I was doing in London, the work I had done and how I was finding it in the city so far. I felt eased in.
Note to self : Talking about oneself is strangely comforting. So asking questions is a great conversation catalyst.
Before I realised, Morris and I were bonding over the shared love for documentaries, a common despair with the media and a mutual distaste for academia. We spoke approximately for an hour before he asked me what I wanted from him. I said I wanted work. We decided to go back to his office to discuss the possibilities.
During the two hours we talked at his office, I remember feeling comfortable, speaking my mind as and when I felt like and the anxiety of having met an unknown man had subsided. The conversation meandered from professional possibilities, to the importance of stillness in our lives. While discussing how difficult it is for me to not be without my phone, Morris offered me to not do anything at all for 6 minutes a day for one week and he’d pay me ten pounds extra for that. It sounded easy, but when I realised the simple, yet nearly impossible nature of the task, I understood the value of what he was asking me to do, which was worth more than just ten pounds.
As we moved out of the office after the receptionist politely asked us to leave because it was too late, he asked me if I was hungry. While I was actually hungry, my anxious mind woke up from its slumber and popped a question again. What if he was just being polite ? What if I was overstaying ? I told him I had had a late lunch. He then asked me if I was interested in a drink ? I sheepishly accepted his offer. No amount of anxiety can ever make you decline a free drink.
As we moved to the bar, the conversation about stillness and how people my age struggle with it picked up again. As we were talking, he got a call from his wife and without realising, I started to unlock my phone. Just as I was typing in my password, he pulled the phone away from me and gave me a diabolical smile. I understood what that meant. For the next two minutes, I sat there, looking at him talking to his wife on the phone as he silently laughed at my awkwardness. “It’s just irresistible isn’t it?”, he asked while disconnecting the call. I laughed in affirmation.
Note To Self : Stillness, if that is something that one wishes to achieve, needs you to monitor yourself. The urge to want to pick up your phone as soon as somebody gets on a call is basically you escaping uncomfortable stillness. Try to notice these small things that you do everyday and create tiny pockets of stillness for yourself in your daily life.
As we moved on from one drink to another, he told me he knew exactly what I was missing in London. Before I could ask what it was, he said, “As a South Asian in London, you’re missing spicy, flavoured and freshly made hot food.” I was soon told that we would be heading to a Sri Lankan place nearby that was his favourite. I readily agreed. “My wife’s going to join us too. You’d love to meet her”, he said. “Fuck. Not another stranger. I had just started to get comfortable.”, my mind screamed. I kept smiling.
As we started walking to the restaurant, we heard some loud music coming towards us from behind. As we turned to see, a petite little lady on a bicycle was pedalling towards us. That was Tresa*, Morris’ better half. Another round of salutations later, we continued walking.
Tresa was in her late thirties. Having grown up all around the world, she had an accent that was difficult to trace. She was warm and friendly, like most women are. She asked me a lot of questions too. Again, it made me comfortable. By the time we reached the restaurant, I had become too hungry to be conscious or anxious. I let Morris take charge of the order and he did not disappoint.
Ten minutes later, two large plates filled with dal, mild chicken gravy, spicy chicken gravy, beetroot sabzi, green beans sabzi, aaloo sabzi, two varieties of rice and parotta arrived. In no time, all three of us dug in like a bunch of famishing little puppies, eating from the same plate. The satisfaction I felt was beyond words. The food felt heavenly.
The night had turned out to be a surprisingly fun one, all thanks to these two strangers who decided to feed and entertain me.
Just when I thought that it can’t get better than this, it did. I felt compelled to make some small talk with Tresa as Morris went to the restroom. “I never asked you. What do you do Tresa ?”, I asked casually. She looked up from her phone, looked around as if scanning the place and then whispered to me from across the table, with her hand covering the side of her lips as if divulging a secret. I couldn’t hear her.
After failing to hear her thrice, I leaned in a bit closer and heard her say, “I give lap dances for a living.” “Ohhhhh that’s interesting” is what I managed to blurt out. Even though I started asking her questions immediately, putting my newly learnt trick to use, something in my head had switched. I suddenly became conscious of the fact that the person I had been sharing my plate with, danced naked for a living.
I wasn’t judging her, but for a brief moment, my mind forgot that it was this lady who had been so kind and warm to me, and had treated me almost like a little brother. As I became cognisant of my inner conundrum, I decided to completely switch off from within and just focus on what she was telling me. How often does a young Indian man get to have an honest conversation with a stripper anyway?
I asked her what I should be careful about when I visit a strip club. As she started to respond, Morris came back and she said to him, “Dhyanesh just asked me what I do for a living.” She was laughing. “And what are we telling him?”, asked Morris as if they had been through this before. She said she told me the truth and Morris laughed in relief.
What came next was education. Pure, unadulterated lessons that no university, no book, no professor can ever impart. The fact that I knew what his wife did to earn her livelihood gave Morris a chance to prompt her to regale me with some fun stories.
“Why don’t you show him the photo from today?”, prompted Morris. After brief reluctance, she showed me a dick pic she had received that very evening. The sender of this photo, she said, was her customer who had been sending her a dick pic every day since the last seventeen years. I was startled. Seventeen years was a lot of time for this mundane act. “He even gets creative with it”, added Morris while laughing. During festive times, he would hang a small Christmas tree to his dong, and during summers, he would put some whipped cream on it, I was told. Full marks for consistency and creativity !
Having always been interested in power and sex, I couldn’t resist asking Morris how he dealt with the information that his wife did what she did when they started seeing each other. “What do you mean ?”, he asked. Trying to express myself without sounding offensive, I asked him how he deals with the jealousy and sting that everyone does ? How did he make peace with the fact that his wife was a subject of pleasure for other men ?
“Honestly, it never mattered to me. The only thought I had when we started seeing each other was what would I tell my family about it.”, he said while gently putting his arms around his wife’s shoulder. “And guess how he decided to tell them ?”, asked Tresa. “He brought his father to the club to see me dance naked and then introduced me as the girl he wanted to marry.”, she said while laughing.
A detailed recollection of everything Tresa told me about her life is a book unto itself, but here are a few things I learnt about her life that broke many myths in my mind. Hers is not a sob story. Tresa is a kind, intelligent, educated lady with an absolute sense of right and wrong, who decided to do this because she liked to. This, she says, is what a lot of ‘feminists’ do not understand. Stripping is, as Tresa puts it, “90% therapy, 10% titties”.
Men crying on her breasts is a regular day at work for Tresa. These are men that are ill, obese, socially awkward or just plain lonely in their lives and Tresa’s job is to make them feel better, a bit more relaxed. The craft of her trade includes building up connections with her customers so that in times when strip clubs are shutting down, she doesn’t have to compete with other women to make money. She’s so good at gaining people’s trust that a lot of her customers have put her name in the ‘next of kin’ section at their workplaces in case of an emergency.
The couple unanimously believes that if not for these women who work in sex work, or dancing, these lonely, frustrated men would be out in the streets creating a havoc.
As we leave the restaurant, the conversation moves to more boring things like places to visit in India. Having travelled to approximately sixty-five countries so far, the couple plans to finally take their long overdue trip to India soon. Tresa excitedly asks me to send her a list of all the places they should visit, so that she can start researching as soon as possible. I promise to send a detailed list with specifications as we approach the station.
As I bid them goodbye, I tell them that I have learned more from them in those eight hours than my university has taught me in four months. They laugh. I hug both of them, thank them again and make my way to the platform.
The journey back home on the tube is diametrically opposite to the journey in the morning. Now, I am more relaxed and maybe 5% more confident to go meet a stranger the next time.
Names of both the people have been changed.
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