• cooper hays

Buy the Stripper a Drink: V-day in LA.

Madam Cooper remembers last year's Valentine's Day.

Photo by: @withthe.band

“No one likes to talk about this part, but Valentine’s Day is generally a bad show.” She warned me. “I mean it will be fine, but just be prepared for it to suck.”

The producer of the burlesque show I was hosting for Valentine’s Day last year warned me that in her experience and in Los Angeles, V-day is amateur night and no matter how much we sparkle for them, people arrive miserable and leave meh.

Expectations are high. People are used to being holiday price gouged so there is already an air of suspicion filling the theater. It’s usually a house full of couples arriving after a prix fixe dinner somewhere that included hurried table-turning service and dry crab cakes.

He probably didn’t nail the flowers. How could he? The prices are jacked to bajeezus and the frazzled florist is fresh out of breath explaining that black roses are actually not something nature creates no matter what your gothy tinder sweetheart told you. Delivery is going to be double the normal rate and will arrive at sweetheart’s workplace sometime between 5 am and 11 pm on the 14th. “What color ribbon you want on that? You can add a box of crappy chocolate for $199.99."

Someone is hanging with their best friend on Palentine’s day and fighting the rising urge to yank every single table cloth off the stupid couple’s tables in this place. Their fingers itch wondering why their crush has not contacted them in 3 stupid days.

Someone else can’t squeeze into the red dress because she gave birth to his child only two months ago and all the friends and family are going to expect to see that couple’s pic from their first night out since the baby. Well, she wants them to see it anyway, and god damn it, she wanted to look perfect. She puts on the newer black one instead and pours an extra-large glass of white while they wait for the Uber.

The pressure is turned up. And we haven’t even gotten to the part about sex.

V-day is for lovers, right? We are commercially tasked with the great weight of romantic tradition and societal pressures to publicly proclaim our passion on this sacred day and to consummate it in the night.

It’s not like a wedding or a funeral when all the real life emotions and stressors create a pot of boiling hormones and abandoned reserve, culminating in a hot session of vulnerable and animalistic passion.

It’s like a trip to the airport complete with overpriced drinks, long lines, sometimes a full strip search, some extra baggage fees, and a double wipeout layover floor nap instead. There are complimentary snacks if you are lucky.

photos by: @danieljsilwa_media, @jordantaylormedia, @ascarlati

This is how I receive you. Like you just got off the red-eye. You are shown to your little cabaret tables and sit your nervy asses down. Thirsty for the bottle of cheap bubbles that came with the tickets and possibly already having resolved to not speaking to your lover for the rest of the night because of that cutting remark she made in the elevator.

My hair is done up and on point for you though, and for every hungry heart in the crowd. I am not wearing perfume or edible undies tonight because my lover is across the country right now, stage managing our regular show in Nashville while I entertain you in LA.

We have gotten used to V-day apart. It is a giant service industry night and we will have our chocolates after Walgreens marks them half off tomorrow.

Tonight it is about you. And I don’t want to be a bad date. ;)

I was warned by the producer, that expectations on this night usually squash the joy from it and not to have my feelings hurt if the crowd was quiet or disengaged. “Oh yeah,” she said, “ the performers backstage might be stand-offish or rude because they are such a tight-knit family.”

Rumors and gossip about my personality have been getting passed around like hors-d’oeuvres to feed the collective burlesque bully belly and the “family” is a little suspicious of me. No pressure!

To top it off, on this international day of love, I had just been served some threatening legal papers from a vindictive old boss man that were also delivered to my new boss in Nashville. What? No flowers?!

Quite Literally, as I stepped into my sun-drenched Hollywood suite, I got a call from the new boss telling me that the old boss had sent me a big nasty Valentine card. But not to worry too much, it would get sorted. “Have a good show!” Cool. No jitters.

I shakily glued a few hundred more red rhinestones to my costume and practiced deep breathing. We are going to have a lovey-dovey- happy-go-get-you-laid kind of night no matter what, Goddess bless it!

“This will be a good show,” I said out loud as I stacked on the lashes and plastered glitter to my lids.

I texted my staff back home to make sure the guest host was settled into her room. Checked that the headliner was fed and fluffed and that the band and dancers had everything they needed.

photos by: @ascarlati

I’ve been hosting sexy Valentine’s Day shows for years. This one should be no sweat. But all these expectations and raised eyebrows and “don’t fuck it up”s started getting to me.

I looked backstage for a shot of whiskey, It was 5 minutes to curtain and I was starting to hyperventilate.

The producer looked at me and giggled “you never get nervous like this, why are you so nervous?” I shot her a showgirl glare and she sipped her champagne from the bottle, then offered me a swig. I took a belt, dabbed my lipstick, and bolted for the main bar.

I clacked stilettos across the massive venue, heels screeching as I slid up on the VIP bartender.

“Shit” I realized out loud, my card was back in the dressing room and I asked if she could pour me a shot of Jame-o and I’d hit her back at intermission. The baby gazelle in a mesh leotard with the word FAITH tattooed on her spindly wrist gave me a blank stare. “Um no.”

Toto, I’ve got a feeling we are not in Nashville anymore.

I clacked back up and then down the haunted staircases to the stage. Shotless. Fumbling in the dark to the wings.

I’m supposed to be zen and ready to show you love and lust and beauty divine. I am supposed to be sassy and soft at the same time and to wow you without being too threatening. I’m supposed to have the right thing to say on this night of all nights.

What I really want is to get you laid. Then, like Dr. Ruth but in a corset and 6-inch heels, I can feel like I’ve accomplished my purpose this day. Like I have literally shown and spread the love.

The stage lights come up. This is how you received me.

Feeling the pinch and belting a tune about tough lovers to a track. I feel off my game without my band and with all these pressures swirling around my head. I see your shiny eyes in the crowd. Your starched collars. Your nails did. I can smell your hair product. But when I finish, your loud applause turns me on, lights me up, and here we go.

Wrangling, taming, or winning over a crowd is an act of seduction. And a tricky one. This isn’t just snapping a strap and cooing in an ear canal. This is a magical act of vulnerability.

Audiences are brilliant. Genius in fact. They pick up on subtleties and know when things aren’t right even when they can’t articulate it. They also know when things are real and true and if you are able to show them that, they will hand you the reins and follow you for up to 2 hours at a time!

The right amount of whisky helps get the juices flowing too but ole Faith upstairs really cock blocked me this time.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and happy Valentine’s Day!” I look up at the beautiful art deco ceiling and promise the theater gods that I will be true and vulnerable and kind from the heart. That I will love these people. And maybe if we are lucky, they will love me right back and we will have a good show.

I feel the room. I tease that gorgeous bodies are about to parade on stage. And of course, they are gorgeous, this is LA baby.

It is so vital to know that what makes these performers and this art form so special is that we are in the act of loving our bodies.

These dancers love their bodies and they love your bodies. There will be bodies of many shapes and sizes and colors on stage and they are all delicious. We are about to embark on the radical adventure of shamelessly celebrating sexiness and sexuality.

We, on Saint Valentine’s Day, are paying tribute to the divine-human form and art at the highest level. We are also dealing with a whole lot of stress and insecurity in this life and on this day so could someone get me a drink?

Shots of whisky lined up along the catwalk. More than I could ever drink alone. The audience felt me and I felt them and they over delivered when I asked them for one little thing.

Because I was honest with them. From my heart. Because I mentioned the elephant in the room and because I saw them.

I toasted my hundreds of new friends with a shot they gave me and we proceeded into the wilds.

photo by: @ascarlati

Feathers whirled and rhinestones sparkled, booties shook and circus acts dangled from the ceiling. Laser light beams and spectacular graphics lined the giant silver screens behind me. Every act was beautiful and sexy. We all went on a naughty and often hilarious adventure while watching these artists bleed their hearts out for the sweet applause.

I warned everyone to dampen any adolescent jealousies that might be creeping up when Adonis or Athena boldly revealed their artful sculpting. I challenged them to channel all their feelings into loving themselves and welcome experiencing a turn on where a trigger may have been.

Alone or coupled, there is so much love to be made and experienced if we get out of our own way and enjoy it. Consensually of course.

We empower ourselves and others when we love our own bodies and spirits out loud.

People are not used to being spoken to like this. People really like being spoken to like this. Even on Valentine’s Day.

Whiskey shots all around!

Suddenly, the flopped flowers don’t seem like such a failure or even a big deal.

And Someone got brave enough to send that “you up?” text. Yay fun! if it gets returned and just fine if it doesn’t.

The black dress is actually hugging some extra curves that have been aching to be squeezed and handled. She thinks they’ll just skip the boring couple photo. There was a line in front of the fountain anyway. A quickie in the car might be in order before they pick up the baby from the Grands.

By the end of the night, I’ve got a room full of joyful turned on people. It is my great pleasure and also feels like a gift to me.

I’m reminded of a $20 gift certificate to my favorite hot dog stand. It was our first Valentine’s Day together 14 years ago and Ian surprised me with it.

We were both broke. He felt bad that his $20 would only cover 2 roses and some baby’s breath. So he skipped the flowers and spent the full dirty Jackson on sausage for me. I couldn’t think of anything more romantic.

This year, I have no naked body shows onstage to gift you, Dear Reader. To charge you up and remind you that you are a wild carnal delight not to be boxed up with bows.

There’ll be no fantasy spectacle to help reveal to you that true sexiness is found in the weird places of vulnerability and abandoned pressure.

But I don’t need to draw a red curtain to remind you that.

On Valentine’s Day 2021, give yourself and your lover a break. Do something vulnerable and simple and remember the basics.

True love and intimacy don’t show up wrapped in silk and dripping in rose petals with a freshly waxed box in a hotel bubble bath. It’s not in a long line, a limo, or a bottle of Veuve.

It shows up broken and nervous and haunted with stretch marks and stupid legal stress. It fumbles and seethes and misses the exit and forgets the card. It says “lighten up” and lustily laughs at the carnival of humanity. It relaxes in the pleasure that our bodies can bring when we let them.

It costs less than a couple of hot dogs and requires only our attention. It asks us to love our sloppy selves enough to love the other with wild abandon and to let go of the pressures that keep us zapped and drained.

I don’t get to sit in your laps at the end of the show and remind you on a microphone this time, but there is indeed a tiny stripper that lives inside of every one of us.

This year, take the opportunity to let that stripper out for a self-loving dance. Do it for your husband or for your wife. Do it for your girlfriend, boyfriend, or lover. But most of all, do it for yourself.

And If you need something spicy to charge up your special night, slide into my DMs. I can recommend some excellent online dancers that would love to give you a good show.

- Cooper

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