The name of the strip club is Smiles. This is not an establishment where the likes of Elliot Spitzer or Charlie Sheen would visit. No. Customers of Smiles include men who have names like Billy Bob and Jimmy Lee. Battered, old pickup trucks litter Smiles’ parking lot. The female entertainers (I use this term loosely) are rumored to be missing teeth. In the realm of strip clubs, Smiles could be considered third world; the Calcutta of strip clubs.
Yet, Smiles is a landmark in our town.
“Where exactly is that used bookstore?”
“Know where Smiles is?”
“Okay, the used bookstore is right across the street.”
“Ohhhh. Great. Thanks.”
Several years ago, the plaza where Smiles abides changed ownership. The new landlord renovated the buildings, and several new businesses rented space. While not evicted, Smiles was made less obvious. It is now nestled between a barber shop and nail salon. While the other businesses have their names displayed on stylish signs, Smiles’ rooftop, however, remains bare. A dingy, yellow smiley face plastered on Smile’s storefront window notifies people of its presence. Smiles is akin to the elephant in the room: everyone walks by it and tries to pretend it’s not there.
One afternoon I was driving with my daughter and her friend. We passed the plaza where my husband gets his hair cut, which is the same plaza where Smiles is located.
“See that?” my daughter said, pressing her finger to the window.
“Yeah,” her friend answered.
“My dad goes there a lot.”
I panicked. What if the little girl went home and told her parents that my husband went to Smiles a lot? What would they think of us?
“The barber shop!” I yelled, “He goes to the barber shop a lot. Every four weeks for a haircut!”
My daughter and her friend exchanged glances before looking at me.
“Well of course he does, Mommy,” my daughter said, clearly puzzled by my outburst. “Why else would he go there?”
I looked in the rearview mirror at the two little girls, their heart shaped faces framed by blonde hair, their little bodies buckled into booster seats. I was overreacting. Of course they wouldn’t know about Smiles. How could they? They were children for heaven’s sake.
But give them a few years and they would know – just like everyone else. I flashed forward 10 years and pictured my daughter on the phone, giving out directions.
“Like, you know where Smiles is? I know! Totally gross, right? My mom says its been around for like for-ever. Yeah, well, like, you drive past that and the used bookstore is on your right …”