I was not fired because of my religion. That needs to be clear from the beginning. In the current political climate it is illegal to fire people because of their religion, and, again, I do not believe my religion was the reason I was fired. The reason I’m explaining this is because the reasons I was told I was fired don’t seem based in reality as I experienced it and/or grievous enough to warrant termination versus feedback. If it wasn’t my religion, if it wasn’t the stated reasons, what then was I fired for?
My story begins last November, November 2014. I had quit working in the oil fields in favor of self-publishing a couple books and living the good life. Book nearing completion, by the end of the holidays it was coming to crunch time. By the end of January, I swallowed hard and realized my first short novel would not make money. I began to look at my options for part-time employment. As I love pizza, and as there is a bit of an urban legend about pizza delivery being lucrative, I considered it. Then, one night while hanging out with a friend in a strip club, I had a better idea. I remembered Mark Twain’s sage advice about finding work. In volume one of his autobiography he writes that you should think about what you would do for free, and then go from there (essentially). I looked around the club at all the staff and thought, “Hmm. I have to imagine that these places have the same hiring dilemma that every company has. I bet I could get a job here.” Not to mention I am a wicked dancer.
Before you jump to conclusions, keep in mind that I do not believe in fear. I’ve been afraid a couple times in my life and it was not pleasant. Strip clubs, from the earliest age, always caused me fear. I was afraid of them. And that was no good. So to face my fear, last February, with very little to lose and desperate for a job that wouldn’t drive me crazy, I got a job at a strip club.
This was not a solo venture, either. I sought out the advice of many friends of all ages. The older the friend, the more encouragement I received to explore this opportunity. (Young people are so worried about resumes it’s bizarre.) Anyhow, I was very nervous about the whole endeavor from day one, but the company I worked for was corporate enough that everything was tolerable, and more. It was fun. I could see why people do the work. Citizens, you folks and me, like to let loose from time to time and strip clubs exist as the penultimate place to party. So I helped facilitate your parties, getting paid all the while.
A few weeks in, a friend asked me how it was going. His tone indicated that he didn’t want the usual, cheerful, of-course-everything-is-alright answer that we’re trained to give. So I answered him honestly. I said, “Things are good. They’re good. I think I’m going to have to go to seminary afterwords if I still want to make it to heaven, but I like going to work and it pays the bills.”
Well, as he says in August Wilson’s Piano Lesson, “Time go’d on. Time go’d on.” The part-time gig was lucrative, but part-time. I saw what the business was and was fine with it, so I started voicing that I’d like to be a manager. Given my professional history, though they didn’t know me very long, they took a chance on me that I am very grateful for. So now I was an assistant manager of a strip club. Smiling every day at both the irony of my life and the easy money, I especially loved the meetings where we brainstormed how to throw a better party.
Keep in mind, all the while, I had been going to my church as often as I could and even playing piano occasionally during the Wednesday night prayer meetings. Talk about some inner turmoil. But Jesus ate with prostitutes, I told myself.
As the summer drew to a close, I determined that I could use a bit more cash to keep up with child support and kindergarten costs. In the back of my mind I knew I still had a chunk of my GI Bill available to use to go back to school. It has a healthy monthly stipend in addition to paying for the education. If done right, it can be a perfect second job. Since I was working only at night, everything seemed to fall into sync. I followed through on my comment about seminary and began to take classes towards a Masters of Divinity in Theology at an Evangelical Christian seminary–while managing a strip club. I smile every time I think of it. You should too.
(I’m sure I will write more on the job in the future, but that’s not what this post is about so be patient.)
Once I began the semester, I quickly realized that the school would not be smiling. Maybe I’m totally wrong, but so far only the wisest of older Christians seem able to possess a manifest understanding of how the little situation I was in was actually as ingenious as I thought it was. Be that as it may, I avoided talking about work at all costs while at school and fervently prayed that no one would ask me directly where I worked. Omission is one thing, direct lying is another. I loved my school and did not want to get asked to leave.
Naturally, because I talk a lot, people at work learned where I was going to school and for what degree. As fearful as I was of my school rejecting me, I was astonished at how supportive everyone at work was. The general consensus was, “Right on. Do what you love.” Keep in mind that an Evangelical Christian is inherently one which believes it is a Christian’s duty to share the Gospel. Perhaps you’ve met one? Also remember that it is the federal government’s duty to provide a workplace which is free from proselytizing. So I never shared the gospel at work. I sometimes talked about an interesting idea that was presented in class, but to me that was no different than what any student that has a job does. For example, I shared that we were taught that (as I mentioned earlier in a post) the reason God curses the ground (work) after the fall of man is because God wants nothing earthbound to satisfy humans. Almighty God designed the time-space universe to point back to him and he is our sole satisfaction, the theological speculation goes. That’s why we’re all miserable at work (despite everyone and their brother trying to tell us that happiness is found in the workplace if only…you buy their book). I shared this particular idea because I was floored by the way this accurately described my life. I’ve been aimlessly wandering around the professional field for three years now and when I headed to a place that most people locate somewhere near the bottom, I ended up at a seminary looking for answers. Hmm. This was a fascinating coincidence in my mind and I presented it as such. But I’m open to the fact that even that might be illegal proselytizing. If that’s the case, however, I need to go back to human interaction school next.
In any case, time go’d on and as you know I finally finished up the semester last Friday. Busy doesn’t begin to describe the last 3+ months. Nor does the seminary’s favorite word “tension” do justice to my soul’s experience. But I made it.
Then I was fired Monday night.
Only now, in retrospect, does it all make sense. I was so mixed up. Boobs will do that to a man, I guess. I was so worried about the school finding out my job, that I never, not once, stopped to consider the flip side. I also never intended to be a problem child for the company, though I fully agree that people who look at this story on paper only could reasonably conclude that I am one. You see, strip clubs are on the edge of the legal envelope. Club’s owned by fellas with an accurate assessment of the value of the long game cannot afford to cut corners. Workplace harassment of any kind cannot be tolerated precisely because all of you assume that it is a natural part of strip club culture. “Of course she got sexually harassed, look at where she works” etc. Because of this, the whole industry is engulfed in the fear of legal issues. (There’s that word again. Fear.) Court is expensive, and no one wants to go. Therefore, the company takes the law very seriously–in an effort to avoid lawsuits.
Then there’s me. Let’s role play now. Suppose you’re my boss and you know about my school. For some reason, you acknowledge something that I–the one going to the school and working for you–don’t. You believe that the two are incompatible. If you are hyper-sensitive to employment lawsuits, can you legally ask me what’s going on or what my intentions are? I wish they would have, but I can’t see how they could have. Once the very subject is broached, I (not me, of course, I would never engage in a court battle as faithful readers know) would have the upper hand in their eyes. I’d be un-fire-able. Employment for life. You can’t ask someone about their religion and then fire them for another reason. So they never asked. And I was fired for another reason (again, they did not fire me for proselytizing or comment in any way on the matter, which they would have been fully right to do had they believed I was in fact proselytizing). Fair enough.
Despite the loss of income, I’m still smiling. I may be the first person to have ever done what I just did last semester. Seriously. Y’ever heard o’ such a thang? Seminary student by day, strip club manager by night? The Lord works in mysterious ways.
A former co-worker from a previous job told me once, “Pete, you sure love to stir shit up.” I guess I do. I wonder which historical figure’s model I’m following?
Looking ahead, I could (and probably will) write endlessly about this experience. It was rich, as they say. And I’m grateful for having it. But this is all for today. Merry Christmas people.