Unlike what many people think, strippers are not a bunch of uneducated, drugged-up low-lifes like you. They are pharmacists, realtors, bank tellers, nurses, husbands, and wives--and while some make a career of stripping, most sport their goods only occasionally for supplemental income.

It takes a certain amount of wherewithal to bare all before a group of horned-up, drunken strangers, but those who have the gumption are well rewarded, commonly earning $300-$500 a night. A couple nights a week of jostling your jewels in the face of yodeling onlookers can easily make the difference between a diet of quiche and fondue and one of ramen and Freezie Pops.

MELVIN Operatives sequestered one of these unabashed exhibitionists, a steamy lass by the name of Candy*, and asked her about how she uses the tools of her trade. Candy works it three nights a week at a "gentleman's club" on the north side of Chicago, where she's danced for about a year and a half to help pay for college. Read on to learn how even a sophisticated lady can make a easy cash toying with your libido.

How did you get into stripping?

Well, I used to waitress at a bar by where I live. I made pretty good money, but school is way expensive, and working every night until 2 a.m. really interfered with my school work. Another girl I worked with told me about how she was working two nights a week at this place in the city and making just tons of money--about $300 a night. That's more than I made in a week, so it sounded really good. She told me she'd talk to the manager and get me hooked up.

How did you apply for the job? Did you have to audition?

I didn't have to strip for the manager completely, but he did tell me to come with a bikini, or something else kind of revealing. I wore a string bikini under my clothes, and he had me take off my shirt and shorts and kind of dance around for a while. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.

What was your first night at work like?

I showed up that night, and they told me I was the first one up. I was terrified! I thought I'd have a chance to prepare myself, to kind of watch the other girls for a bit and get some moves from them. Instead, I was on a dry run, so to speak. They didn't really tell me what to do, but one woman handed me a hat and a trench coat and said, "Here, put these on," and she said I'd be dancing to "You Can Leave Your Hat On," a song from 9 1/2 Weeks. At least I knew the song.

How did it go?

Actually, I don't remember the actual dance too well. I just kind of closed my eyes and tried to shut out the crowd. There weren't too many people there yet because it was early. I just listened to the song, moved around, wriggled on the chair, and took my stuff off slowly. Then the song ended, applause, applause, and I walked off. The next girl on told me I did really well, so I could relax, and I felt pretty good. It wasn't until later that I didn't take my top off, which I had. You're not expected to do that your first time up. I was an overachiever [laughs].

How soon was it before you were comfortable with it?

Not too long, actually. It took me about two weeks before I could look at the crowd, smile at the guys, and let them stuff bills in my string. But before too long, I actually started enjoying it. I started having fun with it.


Yeah. I started teasing the crowd more, putting on garters that I'd throw into the audience, table dancing. I did some acting in high school, mostly comedy-type stuff, and it felt like that, only more intense. And, obviously, in high school I kept my clothes on.

How much do you make on a good night?

It can vary a lot. I usually make at least $150 a night, a really good night would be $300 or so. One night I did a bachelor party, and I made probably about $600. The biggest tip I ever got, some drunk, really good-looking guy in a suit stuck a couple of bills in my G-string after I was done performing. I walked off stage and found out he'd given me two $100 bills!

Is there a certain amount of risk involved in your work?

Not very much. Every once in a while a girl will be working the crowd and a drunk will get a little too excited and try to maul her, but the bouncers always keep the guys out there under control.

Are there any precautions the dancers themselves have to take?

Never give out your number, or take someone else's number. You can go out in the crowd, but don't do it if there's too many rowdy drunks, or if it's too crowded, or if something doesn't feel right. Trust your instincts.

Have you ever been grabbed while performing?

Of course. It happens all the time; it's part of the job. If you mean, Have I ever been attacked, no. If a guy gets close to me, I maybe let him touch me, but I get away before he becomes too attached. The bouncers are always there to keep the guys from getting too friendly, but I really haven't needed their help.

Are there any tips you'd give to an aspiring stripper?

Don't be shy on stage. Have fun. Flirt without getting too close. Smile. The more fun you have, the better the tips. Show that you're nervous and you'll get no tips, and you might even get booed off. The guys are like dogs; they can smell fear [laughs].

Do your friends and family know you strip?

Some do. I finally told my mother not too long ago. I thought she'd disown me. She was a little upset, but when I told her how much money I'd been making, she settled down. Now we joke about it. She even told me she knew a few girls in college that did it for a while. Not her, though.

What would you say to people that think stripping is a sleazy occupation?

Well, it is sleazy. It's nowhere near as bad as most people think, but it is kind of sleazy. I mean, if it wasn't, what would the point be?