by Kimberly Dark
Special to Lesbian.com
The Daddies is a story about love and grief – how hard it is to change even when we realize we must. In addition to the main storyline, the narrative reflects on the character’s childhood, exploring the origins of gendered living as a way to understand the adult decisions we make, often without realizing we’re making them.
We drove past the big pink building nearly every day. It was just off the freeway, on the way back to our home in Point Loma – a middle class suburb where the property values were rising every day in the early 1970s. It was great to live so near the sea, and so near the bay. The naval bases reminded us of freedom and the tuna fishermen were prosperous – out to sea for long stretches, then back again with money for presents for their Portuguese-speaking mothers, their good Catholic daughters. Point Loma was a good place to live and it’s where I was raised – at the very end of Interstate 8. We took the Rosecrans exit and just off the ramp – there it was.
The building was big, like a warehouse, but it was bright pink and it looked like fun! Big pink and yellow bubbles floated up the side of the building and each of the windows was pinked-over so you couldn’t see in. The windows were painted with little white lace curtains and bows too. Outside, was a lavender-colored bus. It looked like a school bus except for the color and the fact that the windows were painted and curtained with pink fringe. The words “Party Bus” were painted across the side of the bus too. It made me think of the way the Partridge Family painted up their bus all fancy to ride around in while they played music. I loved watching that show on TV.
The sign on the building was a big rolling script that said Les Girls and it lit up with big white bulbs against the pink building. That place looked so enticing! And it was something for girls – though I never saw any children around the building, going in or out. I sometimes saw sailors, or men my father’s age and older – never any girls at all, nor women.
Sometimes, as we drove past, I would say to my father “I want to go to Les Girls!” I pronounced the “s” in Les and he never corrected me. He just said, “No you don’t.” Or “That place isn’t for you.” Or “Why don’t we stop for a hamburger on the way home.” If he said that place wasn’t for me, I’d sing out “Yes, it is! It says girls! I want to go on the party bus!”
“Let’s get a hamburger.” Or “Let’s stop for an ice-cream,” was always a better response to my questions about Les Girls. Next door to Les Girls was a much smaller brown building with an orange and beige painted sign. It said “The Body Shop” in big letters up the side of the building and it had a huge sign up above it that said “Bottomless too.” I couldn’t figure out what that meant, but somehow, I sensed a competition between that business and my favorite one: Les Girls. It made me giggle to think about what a person might look like with no bottom.
One time, when we drove past Les Girls, and I came to attention and pointed, smiling, mouth agape, my father said, “That’s a place where girls work, not play. It’s for women to earn money.” And my mother, who was also in the car, added, “But not girls like you.” I was baffled. It looked like fun – and if it was fun, why shouldn’t someone like me work there, or play there for that matter. Who were the ones playing, if not the girls? That place was the same color scheme as my Barbie townhouse and her pink plastic convertible. Someone was not being honest with me, and I couldn’t figure out why or who.
And what was the proper way for girls like me to get money, when I was all grown up? It was the early 70’s and although feminism hadn’t really visited my idyllic white suburban neighborhood, it was affecting the bigger world around me. I was being told that women could go anywhere, do anything. My third grade class put on a performance of Free to Be You and Me. And yet, I was also being told that some places weren’t for me – even if they had the word “girls” in the name. Those girls were different, and I shouldn’t be different. The party bus also had smaller printing on it “Be king for a day!” and there was a little crown hanging off of the word “king.” I wanted to be king for a day – somehow the gender switch between girls and kings didn’t register problematic. I could be a king if I wanted to. I could.
Why didn’t my father tell me the truth? That my body is a commodity and that it’s possible to sell it for sex, or for voyeurism or for the sake of product sales? Why didn’t he tell me? How should I get money in order to make my way in the world, and from whom? Should I get money from women, or from men? Should I act more excited to get a gift from a man than from a woman like my mother and her friends? Should I save money by hiding it from a man – not letting him know that what I bought at the mall or that I took a friend to lunch? In addition to working for a living, should I use my sexuality to get things from a Daddy? What does it mean to be a “good” girl?
The images of women on the windows of Les Girls were all slithery silhouettes with their long hair curving up in the back. Sometimes at home, I stood with my body in an S like this and it’s true, if you lean your head back and curve your body just enough, someone could cut a silhouette into black paper that would make you look just like that. Well, almost. More like a cartoon version of a woman with her body slithered into an S and her long hair sticking out like in a photo-still moment. I practiced at home in the mirror, for when I could go to Les Girls. Les Girls. It looked like so much fun.
After I finished high school, my friend Jenny went to work at The Body Shop. By then, I knew why children weren’t allowed and why my father never spoke of the place. How could he? What would he say? By then, I didn’t want to discuss such things with my parents either. It’s in men’s best interest to keep those jobs hidden, along with the women who do them – it’s in men’s best interest to keep it all on the down low, away from their wives. Keep it in the realm of sailor’s stops on shore.
“Nothing to see here, move along!” That’s all anyone knew how to say. Both men and women in polite conversation just turned their heads as they drove past the big pink building, the giant Body Shop signage that still read – now in neon “bottomless too.” I too had learned the rules – I wouldn’t have mentioned that place to my parents because it would be uncomfortable. Those buildings were huge.
Jenny worked there and even she didn’t speak much about her work to those of us who weren’t in the business. It was as though she made a pact not to discuss the other world. She had entered an occupation where her non-stripper friends were not welcome, though perhaps she’d come to know our boyfriends, fathers and husbands in a different way than we knew them. Our other friend Kathy worked at a store in the mall and she felt jealous of Jenny somehow – like maybe Jenny was prettier, had a more desirable body. Kathy was concerned about the attentions of men too, and the gifts they could give her in order to help prove her worth.
So, what is the “proper” way for women to get money, status, wealth, without it always seeming like someone’s giving them something? Even after high school, that was a question I couldn’t answer. And I started to wonder, every time I drove past Les Girls: how is it legal to advertise “nude girls.” A girl is a female child, by definition. And it’s not legal to sell children for sexual purposes. If there really were girls in Les Girls, they’d be closed down, right? I mean, wouldn’t they?
Kimberly Dark is a writer, professor and raconteur, working to reveal the hidden architecture of everyday life one clever essay, poem, and story at a time. She is the author of Love and Errors, a poetry book. More information can be found on http://www.kimberlydark.com