Stormy Daniels, Unlikely Hero

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Stormy Daniels with writer Karen Feld and her dog Bellini. Courtesy Karen Feld.

Here’s how I met Stormy Daniels.

I was at Nail Bar in Portland, Maine, when I overheard a woman at the pedicure station say she wanted to see Stormy perform at PT’s Showclub. That’s the city’s sole gentleman’s club, where, until recently, unescorted women were not welcome.

“I want to congratulate her in person for being such a bad ass,” she said, but she couldn’t find a friend interested in accompanying her.

“I’ll go,” I said, jumping into the conversation.

As an old-school political gossip columnist in Washington, D.C., also “dishing” as a regular on the Joan Rivers Show, this was right up my alley. I have written about Liz Ray, Paula Parkinson, Fanne Foxe, Monica Lewinsky — women who brought down powerful politicians of their day. I view “political dish” as social commentary chronicling the times.

Now it’s definitely Stephanie Clifford’s (aka Stormy Daniels’s) time.

As I drove to the club, I listened to an NPR interview about “Money Diaries,” a column in the hot online millennial magazine Refinery 29, about how people spend money in daily life.

Money is clearly a fundamental element of this story. PT’s is an all-cash club, with ATMs in every corner, refilled all night long. Patrons paid a $20 cash cover, plus drinks and the $2, $5, $20 or even $100 bills they shoved into the girls’ G-strings or spent for Stormy “merch” ($30 to $100), autographs and selfies ($20) — all a far cry from the multimillions in play in the high-stakes legal game Stormy has been playing, and winning. But there were clearly other monetary nuances on display at the show.

Surprisingly, females and heterosexual couples of all ages outnumbered the men. In the four hours of watching the other dancers and waiting for Stormy to take the main stage, I had plenty of time to chat with patrons as well as performers.

On any given weeknight, I learned, there are about 15 rotating pole dancers on the two stages. They don’t have a work schedule, but show up at will and pay a fee to work, not unlike renting a chair in a hair salon. On this particular night, the lure of Stormy tripled their number. They wanted to meet her as much as the patrons did.

It turned out that the female patrons were both more aggressive than the men when it came to touching and more generous with their cash.

For the dancers, these shows are a competition for the biggest bucks. One who exuded confidence said she can make money anywhere doing this work, but wanted a photo with Stormy to memorialize the evening. The media-savvy Clifford had performed as Stormy Daniels at PT’s before she reached stardom. She had been where the other dancers were, literally, in their onstage careers.

“She has legitimized us. She has made it okay to be a sex worker,” said Phaedra, a young blond gal who had come from Atlanta to work and meet Stormy. Another dancer, a horse trainer, works here for additional dollars. Many, seeking legitimacy, echoed those feelings.

They seemed as proud to be sex workers as women of my generation were proud to break the glass ceiling in law, medicine and the corporate world. While we admired Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, these young women look up to Stormy for strength to speak their minds and the freedom to do what they wish with their bodies.

At 10 p.m., Stormy finally appeared, draped in a red, white and blue sequined cape, sandwiched between two exceedingly large bodyguards. The DJ turned up the music and flashed colored lights. A fog machine belched smoke and the Dodger game playing on the TVs overhead seemed to fade into the background.

Then Stormy began to strip. She tossed her cape, revealing a sequined corset, and then the corset to bodyguards at the side of the stage. One held a laundry basket of props, including a plastic bottle that she used after disrobing to a bright blue sequined bikini — yep, that´s all, folks, at least in Portland —  to squirt streams of oil over her huge breasts and the rest of her body.

Most of the women dancing were tattooed. Stormy had a large horizontal flowery tattoo boldly showing across her belly, hiding a scar just above the bikini line.

Approaching 40, she was visibly older than the women who warmed up the audience. Although she didn’t dance or climb poles, she did move seductively.

Curiously, a middle-aged woman — not a man — slipped the first $100 bill under the sequins. Soon, the stage floor was layered with bills — mostly twos, fives and 20s — which a security guard swept into a large basket.

Another dancer, watching, exposed her breasts to a patron, asking: “What does she have that I don’t?”

After about 15 minutes, the show was over. Patrons and performers queued up with cash for photo ops with Stormy. There was a calm civility in the air, not the rowdiness one may have expected.

Stormy signed one woman’s breast. “Money well-spent,” the patron exclaimed. A young unemployed man from South Sudan agreed.

One man holding a beer was wearing an “I’m Not Insane” T-shirt with a caricature of Trump in a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, but most patrons were well-dressed aging hippies. A gentleman from New York exclaimed, “I admire Stormy’s guts!” A young childless dancer, Sara, gushed, “I want a photo to show my grandkids. This is part of history.”

The opinions were varied.

“She’ll be remembered as the woman who brought down a president.”

“She’s better in porn.”

“I’ll take the autograph to the local gun club and hang it on the wall,” a proud middle-aged man boasted. “The old-timers will love it.”

The crowd seemed to include almost everyone, from curious “adult club virgins,” nervous on their first visit, to less-than-trusting women who didn’t want their husbands going alone to new parents on their first night out after the birth of their baby.

One woman formerly worked as a “club mom” — an employee who looks after the dancers backstage. Her duties had included hiding tampon strings, massaging tired feet and ensuring civility. She was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a “mom” at this club. “We don’t need it,” said one of the dancers. “We support one another.”

For some, the evening was a sign of the changing times. For others, like this writer, it was a refreshing break from days of watching the Kavanaugh hearings. For most, it was a historical moment.

The new mom, 20ish, still wearing braces, had dressed up for the occasion and said this was the couples’ second date after childbirth. Why here? “My fiancé wants to see the titties that bring down an empire.”

“This is a money story and a fame story,” as an astute woman with graying hair put it.

After the show, an elderly white-haired gentleman with a walking stick merely commented: “I think she’s alright. Probably would’ve been better 20 years ago.”

He missed the point, or maybe he got the point.

Twenty years ago, the audience would have had a different composition, likely all male, and non-political. Today, patrons of both genders were accepting and respectful of sex workers and their lifestyle. Women earning and spending their own dollars in a strip club felt empowered to show their support for Stormy — yet another way that our culture and lifestyle is changing in this strange chapter in America’s social history.

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