Every week when the managers here at the Tribune sit down to meet, there is inevitably talk of the latest bad news in the newspaper industry. Businesses that are hurting are cutting back on the advertising dollars that are so vital to the modern newspaper. Being a very small operation running on minimal staff to begin with, the Tribune has not seen the layoffs and cutbacks that our friends at the Reno Kazoo-Journal (as my colleague Andrew Barbano likes to call it) have seen: shrunken paper size and layoffs across the staff. In fact, industry reports and my own contacts there tell me another round of layoffs is just weeks away. Ah, the perils of working for a large corporation.
The struggles of Joe the Plumber have been the focus of most reports highlighting the plight of everyday Americans. The stories of these everyday men and women tug at our heart strings and play on our emotions in a “that could be me” kind of way. People who for many years felt safe and secure in their jobs are finding themselves suddenly categorized as “expendable” when balancing the books suddenly becomes more important than individual livelihoods.
As I hold a newspaper over my head in the driving rain of this near-recession, I fear that it will simply soak through and shred. At times I ask myself — as many others do, I’m sure — what line of work could I be in that is so essential that it could weather these economic storms? What are those certainties in life: death and taxes. The job I had prior to being at the Tribune was as the editor for a company that provided continuing education to tax professionals and my brother has worked for several years in the death industry at a cemetery (though he recently told me that pre-paid funeral sales are down). Maybe I need to see if I can get my old job back or hit up my bro for a referral.
But there have to be other certainties in life. What else is so constant in life that the demand for it will never wither under market conditions? What profession is so old that it’s known as the “oldest profession?” One look at me and you’d know I could never be a working member of the flesh industry, but it’s no secret that for many women (and a few men) it’s a reliable way to make a living. And since we know there will never be a shortage of horny men, and in fact jobless men are bound to have more time to think about sex, I got to wondering how the local women of the night were doing.
Since I have neither the budget nor the inclination to solicit the services of prostitutes and it was too far to drive to the brothels after a long day of work, I decided to do a little reporting from the Wild Orchid in Reno. Granted, sex is not on the menu there, but I figured it would be a good barometer of how skin is selling these days. Right off the bat I learned that times might be a little tough, as the admission price has gone from $20 to $25 since the last time I did “research” there last year. The lady at the door told me that the extra five bucks gets me free entry into two similar establishments in town on the night of purchase, but I have to imagine it simply results in extra income and not in much club-hopping. The 10 p.m. crowd on Thursday night seemed decent to me, but upon chatting with a young lady who called herself Kennedy I received a lesson in erotinomics.
Kennedy, a tall, thin brunette with some work-related enhancements, told me that she is a single mother in her early 20s who recently found herself without help in child rearing or mortgage paying from her son’s father. She lives in a house in Carson City with a $1,400 monthly payment and drives half an hour to dance in Reno five nights a week. She considered renting the house and moving to Reno, but she felt that she couldn’t get enough rent for the place to cover the mortgage, so she instead commutes and relies heavily on child care. Upon surveying the evening’s patrons, she told me that the ratio of girls to slobbering, dollar bill-waving men was far less than ideal. In a perfect scenario, she said, there would be about five men to each stripper. On Thursday, there were about 25 or 30 customers and 18 girls working the floor — odds that definitely do not favor the house. Kennedy told me that winter is much slower than summer anyway, but even a good winter night should net $800. She said she’d be lucky to take home a couple hundred.
While Kennedy seemed to be in good spirits despite the bleak outlook for the evening, another dancer who called herself Alicia was way down in the dumps. When we started talking she immediately conveyed that she was in a bad mood because she was behind on some bills. She, too, is a single mother who even more recently was ditched by her long-time boyfriend and the father of her two-year-old son. The poor customer selection at the club was also weighing on the 21-year-old’s mind, as it would no doubt affect her bottom line. Just recently Alicia moved back in with her parents to save money so that they could help with child care, though to add to her troubles she said mom and dad were simply turning a blind eye to her current occupation, which is funding her quest to eventually become a registered nurse.
Both Alicia and Kennedy used a phrase during our conversations that echoed the sentiments of Americans who work with either clothes on or off - they’re just “doing what they have to do.”
By no means am I trying to imply that Kennedy, Alicia or any of the other Wild Orchid employees are in that … ahem… position, purely because of bad luck. I’m sure each one of them can look back and point to personal decisions that led them to be “doing what they have to do.” But all of us are surely in that boat, having made or are still making decisions that cost us more money than we have to spend.
Based on my thorough erotinomics research, I would like to propose an alternate economic “stimulus package” (those two words suddenly have new meaning, don’t they?) to President-elect Obama. Let’s take your Joe the Plumber guys who make more than $200,000 a year and require that a percentage of their income has to be spent at strip clubs in 2009. This would “redistribute the wealth” from those who have it to those who really need it, especially for those women who have children. Strippers would get tax breaks for college tuition and for expenses paid for food and shelter (not clothing since that would make no sense) and the clubs would get a tax break for providing child care to their employees. Instead of bailing out mortgage companies for giving bad loans, federal aid money could go to help home-owning exotic dancers stay in their homes, thereby decreasing foreclosure rates, or help them buy foreclosed homes and provide some stimulus to the housing market. Who knew strippers could be so stimulating?
Before government intervention, however, I might recommend some belt tightening - if either of these ladies had been wearing a belt. I might recommend that they first tighten up by quitting smoking. Not only is it a nasty habit, it’s an expensive one. Kennedy had a lot of tattoos and while they looked good, they also probably cost a lot of money. Fortunately for her, gas prices are coming down so her commute from Carson is probably costing her less each trip. Also I believe, strippers might qualify as independent contractors, so I wonder if these ladies are taking all the tax deductions to which they are entitled. I may have to go back and ask Kennedy if she has the receipt from her boob job.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go work on my legislative proposal right after I make a stop to get some dollar bills.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.