"Is this the kind where they show their vaginas?" I asked my friend as soon as he got into the car. "Yes," he said. "So, like, do you think we have to look at the vaginas while we eat the food?" I asked. He didn't know. "What kind of food do you think it'll be? Will it be dark in there? Will we be able to see the food before we put it in our mouths? Is there a chef? Do the strippers cook the food?" I continued. "I won't be eating the food, just so you know," he said. "I feel nauseated already." "Oh," I said.
I wasn't nervous at all about going to the lunch buffet at Lake City's Déjà Vu Showgirls, until it was time to actually go to the lunch buffet at Lake City's Déjà Vu Showgirls. Jokes about "fried clams" and "thousands of beautiful tater tots and three ugly ones" (thank you, thank you) are all well and good until the moment when you must physically leave the car, face the vaginas, and munch the tots.
I did not want to munch the tots.
"Have you been to a strip club before?" my friend asked me as we drove north on I-5. "Yes," I answered without thinking. "Wait. No." How was it possible that I had never been to a strip club? I felt like I definitely had, but then again, maybe that was just all the Flavor of Love and Rock of Love and A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila talking. Certainly the idea had been floated (you know, in college) as a silly rite-of-passage novelty, but I'd never actually gotten around to going. I was on my way to my first strip-club experience, and it was noon on a sunny day. A Tuesday, to be specific. Also, there would be fried rice.
We pulled into the parking lot, which was ominously empty. A woman stood outside in the sunshine, smoking, wearing a "skirt" roughly the size of an onion ring. I thought about onion rings, and wished I could unthink them. "Do you think we have to see her vagina later?" "Yes." "All right, let's go."
What I was to discover inside the Déjà Vu Showgirls in Lake City wasn't just a semi-gross buffet and some gently gyrating buttholes. I discovered that deep inside my liberal, liberated, sex-positive core, I, Lindy West, am actually Mother Superior at the Barbara Bush Wet Blanket Academy for Totally Uptight School Marms. I was shocked, honestly shocked, at the depth of my own discomfort.
There was a cute girl at the front desk—the only female in the building who wasn't wearing platform Lucite heels. Her sensible flats were reassuring. "Hello," I said, "I understand you have a lunch buffet, so we just wanted to check it out. For lunch." "Sure!" she replied. "The buffet is not here yet, but it'll be here soon. Sit down and enjoy some ladies while you wait." The cover was $5, and an additional $10 bought us the all-you-can-eat food and bottomless soft drinks. "So that's how the buffet works?" I asked. "You guys order takeout?" "Yep! Today's Panda Express day!"
We sat down. It was Panda Express day. I had so many questions. "So, I mean, when you have a boner, are you also hungry? That seems weird. Do you think this violates some sort of health code? Surely there are guidelines that regulate the acceptable proximity of bare buttholes to trays of kung pao chicken." I examined the bubbles in my Diet Coke as a series of girls pinched their nipples and wiggled slowly, half-heartedly, around the stage. There wasn't another soul in the place. If we hadn't been there, I realized with a lurch, they would not have been dancing at all. They would have been smoking, relaxing, chatting, drinking Diet Coke. "I feel like I should get an erection just to be polite," my friend muttered. A crowd of masturbating transients would have been preferable to this empty, dark room, all nipples pointed in my direction.
I am a shy person, and so at Showgirls it wasn't the nudity that made me uncomfortable—it was the attention. The first girl to approach us was named Kitty. She touched me on the leg and asked if I wanted to go "have some fun." What was I supposed to say? The truth was ridiculous ("Oh no, no thank you—I'm just here for the chow mein"), but I tried it anyway. Yeah, sure. That's what they all say.
Taken separately, I am in support of the existence of strip clubs, buffets, buttholes, orange chicken, and sunny Tuesday afternoons. But even if I were into ladies—here's where my PhD in Grandma rears its head—there was nothing sexy or empowering about this commodified, artificial intimacy. Was there? It just made me feel lonely. I asked Kitty if the staff got to eat at the buffet for free. "Only after 2:00 p.m.," she told me in her robotic seduction voice. "We get to eat whatever's left."
The food was perfectly standard Panda Express takeout, arranged in a row of steaming aluminum containers on cocktail tables near the bar. I took a few noodles, a few chunks of glistening fried chicken, and a piece of broccoli. Back at my seat, I attempted to spear the broccoli. The broccoli would not be speared. I tried again. It slipped off the fork again and fell onto my plate. And again. I was flustered. "Broccoli is so slippery!" observed a tall dark-haired girl approaching our table. "And I'm sure those plates are like, totally aaaaaack!" (Here she pantomimed a paper plate collapsing in half.) "Yeah, seriously!" I said. We laughed. This girl really understood where I was coming from about the broccoli. It was like we were friends, chatting like normal humans. This made me like her way more than the other girls, but it also made me want to see her butthole way less.
"Hey, you!" called a blonde perched on the edge of the stage. "Hellooooooo!" She pulled her right boob out of her bra and jiggled it at me, like it was the boob saying "Hellooooooo!" instead of the girl. I wasn't sure how to react, so I waved back, using my hand. There was a noodle hanging out of my mouth. "We gotta get you up here!" she said. "Oh, no thank you!" I repeated. When I turned back to my broccoli friend, she had gone. "We need to get the fuck out of here," I whispered.
On the drive home, still hungry, we stopped at Tubs Gourmet Subs, my favorite place to eat in Lake City. My mini Firecracker ($5.79, with chicken, bacon, jalapeños, garlic, and barbecue sauce for dipping), and his large Don ($9.79, with salami, pepperoncini, garlic, provolone, and Parmesan) were hot and satisfying. There were exactly zero exposed vaginas. No one's boob spoke to me the entire time.