Monday, January 26, 2009


“Ignore the girl upstairs in the bed. There’s a friend who’s staying with me and she’s his girlfriend.” My French writer friend, Guillaume, was sitting in my car and talking on the phone to his Estonian landlord. He’d finally had enough of our dark northern days, and I was driving him and his boxes to the post office. His landlord was, at the same time, en route to show the soon-to-be-vacant apartment.

“You don’t have a friend staying with you,” I pointed out to him.

“Yeah, but I can’t tell the landlord I’ve got a stripper in my bed.”

“A stripper?”

“I met her at a club and we kind of hit it off.”

“OK.” I didn’t ask what kind of club. I mean, strippers have private lives, too. Maybe he’d met her sipping vintage Bordeaux in Gloria’s wine cellar.

As we pulled away from his apartment, Guillaume started having second thoughts. “Estonian strippers don’t steal, do they? Maybe I should have taken my laptop with me?”

“Why don’t you just kick her out?”

“Oh, I don’t want to be rude. She’s a really nice girl.”

I told him I wasn’t an expert, but from what I’d read in the papers, strippers frequently steal.

“Prostitutes steal. This girl is a stripper.”

“She doesn’t take money for sex?”

“God, no.” He thought a bit and then added, “Well, not from me.”

To make him feel better, I suggested that since she hadn’t drugged him and left in the middle of the night, the odds were good she might not rob him. Guillaume decided we should drive back, and he ran in to get his computer.

“She’s still asleep,” he said, relieved.

“Did you take your cash, too?”

“I don’t have any cash. There are only books to steal, and she doesn’t read French.”

After we finished at the post office, I returned with Guillaume to his apartment. I wanted to get a look for myself. We passed the landlord on the staircase, and he mentioned nothing about a naked pole dancer asleep spread-eagle in the master bedroom.

She hadn’t stolen anything from Guillaume. In fact, she was seated at his kitchen table, sipping coffee, typing away on her very own—and very expensive—laptop.

“This is my friend, Julia,” Guillaume introduced her. She was tall and attractive. She was sluttier than a post office worker but less so than most of the high-booted girls you’ll find prowling the streets of Tallinn.

I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been to a few strip clubs in Tallinn and am always disappointed. The “dancing” is generally of a quality lower than a grade school ballet class, and often there’s a shirtless male with a python who effectively douses any desire whipped up by the girls. And if the snake dance doesn’t do it for you, the girls will often ruin the experience by rubbing their bodies against you and saying in a thick Russian accent, “You give me money now, da?”

I admit it’s been several years since I’ve been to the clubs, and it’s possible EU regulations have improved the dancing. But I doubt it. The strippers I’ve seen in Estonia were even lazier than construction workers. Since their clients were mostly catatonic Finns and undersexed Danes, they hardly had to do more than show up and get naked. The Finns we get in Tallinn don’t expect much, don’t speak much English, and so “give me money now” may really arouse them.

But Julia seemed different. She spoke British-accented English, was conservatively dressed, and had a contagious smile. We discussed politics and Europe, and she said she was getting ready to go to Barcelona “on business.” She finished her coffee, closed her laptop, and kissed Guillaume on the cheek. She offered me her hand and wished me good day.

“See,” Guillaume said when the door closed. “See what a judgmental ass you are?”

He was right, of course, but I wasn’t going to admit it. “I’m not the one who ran back for his laptop,” I said.

Guillaume and I drank coffee and talked about the sun-filled cafes of Paris. I told him I’d miss him and all his crazy adventures with people like Julia.

“But we can go see her dance before I leave,” he said.

I told him I thought that was a fine idea.

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