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While most of the better topless establishments in Las Vegas cloaked sexual fantasy in the sophistication of plush decor, flavored martinis and fine dining, the clam joints were more base.  Totally nude with zero left to the imagination.  Jerry found nothing sexy about a girl squatting over his face and cracking open a sideways window to her spleen.  Yet there he was.

Jerry’s face was lined too deeply for a man of 43.  His tie was loose and his blue suit needed pressing.  The music inside the club was loud.  Unfamiliar.  On the stage a naked girl swung upside down on a pole, while on couches and cushioned chairs dancers tickled their private flesh against the noses of strange men for $20 a song, then lingered to tease up $20 more.  Or however much they could gouge for ambiguous promises in the private VIP room.  These girls weren’t selling sex.  Well, some were.  But most were trading a commodity far more intimate, which started with a smile.  Maybe a compliment.  Then in the blink of a moment nipples would be brushing against the sucker’s face.  Bare snatch grinding his crotch.  Those few minutes could make even the most pathetic loser feel like a somebody.  Men thought they came to places like this for sex, or the illusion of sex.  But in reality, they all came for that one thing which all too often eluded their daily routine.  The chance to feel special.  A feeling they could still hold close even after walking out of the club back to a bitch wife or a dead end job.

Jerry watched as on stage the pole dancer now squatted spread eagle, whiffing distance from the hornballs seated ringside.  Tourists and frat boys.  Attorneys and plumbers.  All leaned closer as the dancer reached two fingers between her legs and flashed the pink of her clam with the same wink of innocent flirtation as a coed revealing her thigh on a ‘50s cheesecake calendar.  They may have differed in hair, height and tattoos, but to Jerry the dancers all looked alike.  They moved alike.  Had the same base wretchedness as all women, only here it was not hidden behind proprieties such as dating and marriage.  And then he saw her.  A girl who looked out of place.

This girl was different from the rest, even as across the room she rubbed her naked flesh against the crotch of an overly eager kazoo salesman.   Playfully pushed his hand back as he bent the rules and touched her, but not so defensive as to break the mood.  In a room where most every dancer sported a rack from the same torpedo factory, this one was the girl next door.  She was almost tall.  Real tits pert with youth.  Her long red hair had a bit of natural curl.  Her face was pretty.  Her smile genuine.  She was Playboy in a room full of Hustler and Jerry could not take his eyes off her.

He watched as she flirted and did her thing.  Visually stalked her.  Trying to build up his nerve to approach her.  Took it personally as she slithered free from her G-string and aroused a middle aged tourist.  Then another.  And finally another who forked over enough green to take her into the VIP room.  After about ten minutes she exited alone, then reacted as she caught Jerry staring at her from across the room.  She put on a flimsy top and walked toward him.  He began to perspire.  More with each approaching step.  Nervous.  Wanted to run.  But why?  This was why he was there, wasn’t it?  They stood face to face.

“Hi Daddy,” she said through an uneasy smile.  It was odd that a girl who bared her all to strangers could be embarrassed.  She tried not to show it.  No dice.  “What are you doing here?”

“This was a mistake.”  His being there humiliated them both.  He wanted to melt into the wallpaper.  “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have come.”

“It’s just a job, Daddy.  Please don’t be embarrassed.”

“It’s not that.”  Of course it was that.  But there was more.  Something far more unsettling than seeing his naked 19 year old daughter soliciting boners from strange men.  “Could we go somewhere and sit down?”

He followed as she took his hand and led him to a sofa in a dark corner.  Perspiration became sweat as he could smell the two naked blondes tag teaming a limo driver on the chair directly across from them.  Jerry’s rehearsed speech had been ambushed by anxiety.  Apologetic words stumbled from his tongue.  “You have to understand I wouldn’t embarrass you like this, but it can’t wait until morning.”

She self-consciously folded her arms across the sheer fabric of her top.  Worried about the magnitude of news that couldn’t wait.

Jerry would not humiliate himself further by going into detail.  He leaned back and took a breath.  Struggled to find the right words.  Realized there were no right words, then blurted, “I need $800.”

Huge relief.  She thought someone had died.

He was still sweating.  “I need it now.”

“Relax Daddy.  I’ll give you the money.”

Just like that.  The answer he needed.  But instead of breathing easy, it made him feel even worse as he realized what a pathetic loser he had become.  All for a lousy $800.  Was he now the child and she the parent?

As he watched his daughter walk past a bouncer and disappear behind a curtain, Jerry thought back to a time not that many years before.  When she was six.  He had held her securely in his arms after she had awakened crying during a thunder storm.  Told her that he would never let anything hurt her.  The standard throw away promise to a kid too young to know better.  But Jerry had meant every word, and it turned out to have been the defining moment in their relationship.  He worked hard over the years to be the best father he could be.  He asked instead of told.  Listened before he reacted.  Soothed the pains of puberty and puppy love.  Ever since that night when she was six he had spoken honestly to her as a person instead of talking down to her as a child.  And she had loved him for it.

She loved him still.  Loved him this night even more as now she was able to be there, no matter what the circumstance, for the man who had always been there for her.  The man who had picked her up whenever she had fallen.  The man who made certain she would grow up in a stable environment even after his own had been shattered by a sanctimonious ex-wife who believed that sucking off the lawn guy was not infidelity.  Kind of like good Catholic girls taking it in the ass to retain their virginity.

Jerry had loved his wife.  Been faithful and true to his marriage vows for 22 years.  His reward?  Exile to a furnished one bedroom apartment while his ex-wife was now free to give her all to tradesmen in any part of the 2800 square feet with a pool for which Jerry remained obligated to the mortgage company every month.  Even in a community property state, her lawyer had stretched him past the limit.  But for years Jerry had earned a good income as a casino executive and he managed to get by.  Then came the recession and Las Vegas tourism took a direct hit, as did many in the local work force.  Jerry was a middle management suit without a contract and this made him expendable.

Wall Street, the banks, Congress.  There was no shortage of villains for the casinos to blame in the shtick they fed the press justifying across the board layoffs.  But it was hard not to read between the lines as they pled poverty in one breath while grandstanding multi-billion dollar expansion projects with the next.  After a while the local economy leaned toward recovery, but by then the layoffs were old news.  Except to the people who were still out of work.

Jerry was too old.  He was overqualified.  He was a day late.  The excuses were boilerplate.  A lateral move was impossible.  Even a downward move wasn’t realistic as hotels were now hiring kids fresh out of business school for half Jerry’s price.  It was like pushing a rock up a hill.  Unemployment compensation lasted only so long, and what he had managed to keep in the divorce he pissed away on luxury items like food and rent.  All the while still obligated for 2800 square feet with a pool.

Finally Jerry was offered a job as the live-in manager of an aging 96 room motel a couple blocks off the Strip.  Professionally beneath him, certainly.  But he took it so he could eat while continuing to look.  Eventually he stopped looking as he grew to like the job.  It was easy.  Location meant he didn’t need the responsibility of a car.  Not having to pay rent, the salary more than covered his monthly nut.  And working for an absentee owner eliminated the corporate stress of having to look over his shoulder.  After work he gorged himself at the casino buffets, enjoyed a few beers at the sports books and went to the movies.  All within walking distance.  Life was simplified.  Life was good.  He enjoyed playing video poker.  And then he began to enjoy it too much.

The owner of the motel had the books audited every three months, and the accountant was coming in the morning.  Two weeks early.  Was it because Jerry had borrowed from the motel account to cover his gambling losses?  No.  But Jerry knew that if the $800 was not put back before breakfast, it would be.

What Jerry had done made him sick to his stomach.  Unemployment, even prison, would be preferable to the degradation he suffered having to beg money from his daughter.  A daughter who he had watched, just a year before, cheerleading at her high school football games.  A daughter who, just a year before, had swooned over posters of teen idols on her bedroom walls.  A daughter who now shaved her asshole to glom twenties off drooling conventioneers.  Jerry certainly wasn’t thrilled about it, though he had somehow managed to come to terms with the thought of her working there.  What choice did he have?  Just for a while to save  some money, she had told him.  Hey, most teenage strippers kept work a secret from their fathers (her mother thought she worked for the phone company).  But father and daughter had always been close.  A special bond.  He appreciated her honesty, but having to actually see it for himself tore him apart as it would most any father.  He hated himself for being in the position of having to come there.  He hated himself for embarrassing his daughter by coming there.  He hated himself.

As she came back into the room, it was obvious by the confidence of her walk that she loved her work.  And why not?  The attention she got was a real high.  She wanted to hug her father.  The man who had always made certain nothing would hurt her, yet now felt such hurt himself.  Wanted to hold him securely in her arms as he had done for her when she was six.  Wrong place.  Wrong outfit.  She pressed some folded bills into his hand.  “I love you, Daddy.”

Then he was gone.

Jerry walked past idle warehouses toward the lights of the Strip, struggling to come to terms with what he had just done.  With what he had become.  A pathetic loser, sponging off his kid.  Maybe in the morning he would be able to look past the self pity and realize that his daughter didn’t see him that way at all.

Jerry had hit rock bottom.  Maybe in the morning he would realize that it was the place from which all great comebacks were staged.

Maybe he wouldn’t.