I put $5 into the machine so that I could get my own little piece of art. It was an antique, this machine in the middle of a luxury resort hotel with chipped enamel paint and atomic-era chrome accents like it came from the Tropicana dumpster. So many things get repurposed in Vegas. One of my first feels for the town was my knees on the Lusty Lady’s “velvet” stage carpeting in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast strip district, which reportedly came from a Vegas casino bargain warehouse. Put a dollar in the machine and out comes a thing.
The Art Vending Machine popped out a tiny little box from the window I selected, “Rare and Special,” and inside, some stupid leather bracelet you’d pick up in Diesel — except “crafty.” Like everything in Vegas, the experience of spending the money far exceeded the thing I got in return for spending the money.
The view outside my window looks like a post-apocalyptic phantasmagoric sinking city in the twenty-third century with desert dryness and far away mountains peaking in between skyscrapers like Aria, The Cosmopolitan, and Planet Hollywood all cross-hatched and crookedly faking a high-rise metropolis on either side of me. I half expect some kind of Blade Runner thing to hover past our balcony where I’ve forgotten the leather bracelet made from scraps of biker jackets by someone named “Wentworth Page” in North Carolina who signed up for an Art Vending Machine project. I’ve moved onto a hand-rolled joint of Strawberry Cough because weed is legal here now and nobody drinks anymore anyways.
Chelsea said that out loud (the thing about Blade Runner) right after I thought about it, and we blew smoke into the empty air as I imagined a holograph of Angela White on a bodyboard, surfing by and repeating the line “See you at the porn awards!” over and over like a living GIF… her hovercraft would be painted like the fake sky in The Venetian and every few seconds she would glitch just enough to see last month’s Lady Gaga holograph underneath. I think to myself, late capitalism has found its capital.
I think about leaving a lot.
The leftover of “give me a million reasons, give me a million reasons…” echoes not only in my headphones on the way home but also in the marrow of my bones where I feel change is coming. Knowing every trip to a porn-friendly town is another reason to question which of the Bay Area’s broken promises are mendable. Every sanctuary shuttered, every new heartbreak makes it hard to keep the faith. Do I move to a town that manufactures holographs or do I go home and live… in a holograph?
Spit on the glass. No I’m not telling you to spit on the glass… I’m telling you by the time we were done in there, there was spit on the glass. And cum and blood and maybe a little bit of shit on the bench of Booth 11 at the Lusty Lady on its closing night.
I started working there after On Our Backs magazine closed its office. If I was going to “keep writing” after I lost the fancy publishing career I loved, I would need to get a dependable job. The club was an all-nude peepshow run by a collective of sex workers and managed by a union. We had a special room, the Private Pleasures Booth, where you could talk to customers and perform private XXX shows through a bulletproof wall of glass equipped with a microphone and a vending slot for money. We kept a book in there, a collective diary called the Booth Book. I fell in love with the archive at the peepshow, wondering where the old books were kept and hoping someone was keeping good care of them.
Peep Show dancing is slow. On an empty night we were sloths gazing at each other nonchalantly. In private pleasures, we sniff bumps behind curtains and flip through our iPod shuffles looking for the perfect attractors. But the customers never know your songs. They Are Kind, so much more so than you would think when you are looking in their eyes afterwards. And I always wonder now that everything is gone, where? Where have all the perverts gone?
After every closure in the Bay there is a dispersal and a period of free-falling. Lusty Lady’s closure split the sex worker community. Other clubs took advantage of the closure and hired dancers without any similar benefits (like an hourly wage or collective control), while those who found solace in the Lusty’s diverse hiring practices but didn’t fit the Vegas-style “aesthetic restrictions” of (Deja Vu-owned) other clubs in North Beach found porn, camming, or other sex-worker gigs that could fill in the financial gap that an institution like the Lusty provided them. Losses like the Lusty split our community into pieces — with many of our replacement jobs (like camming) being done in solitary and the usual trappings of Gig Economy Culture, creating competition instead of camaraderie.
As a fuck-you to the new building owners, I made my boyfriend fist me in Booth 11, where my customers used to jerk it to my naked body through the dirty glass. Collective elders were on stage with the final lineup of current dancers, diligently doing their final shift in hopes that those last few hours would at least be lucrative. Nobody knew where the fuck we would be going, and it was fucked up that not one place in this town could be ours.
I left parts of my body in that building for a reason.
I’m a union man, you know.