Sydney is a city that brings to mind opera houses and gorgeous beaches, but to me it means King’s Cross—the granddaddy pimp of red-light districts; home to tranny hookers, sketchy tattoo parlours and more strip bars per square mile than anywhere outside of Bangkok.
Prior to travelling to Australia in my early twenties, my exposure to porn had been limited to Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the underwear section of Sears Catalogues. The first half of my trip was similarly restrained—working at a seaside resort, learning to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and spending New Year’s Eve at Ayer’s Rock. Seven months into my trip, my friend and I ran out of money, and that’s when things quickly went from PG to NC-17.
With less than a hundred dollars left between us when we arrived in Sydney, my friend and I were nervous. Being fiscally responsible young ladies, we immediately blew half of our wad at the Beach Volleyball World Championships. We were now desperate, albeit with great tans.
A café down the road was hiring, but it paid only six dollars an hour and I failed the frothing test (this no doubt contributed to my coffee phobia). A girl at the flophouse hostel where we were staying suggested waitressing at a King’s Cross strip bar as a quick way to make great money (while keeping your clothes on).
For my six-foot, busty, blonde friend this was obviously a viable career opportunity. For 21-year-old Lori Dyan, who could have easily been mistaken for a shaggy-haired, bespectacled dude (think Weird Al and Sally Jess Raphael’s love child), it was less than ideal. Thankfully—or not—even the most meager cleavage counts in King’s Cross, and we soon had jobs.
I was now an employee of Playbirds, an homage to red velvet kitsch that offered a potpourri of pervy options. Those in the mood for soft-core porn could view cheesy 70s smut from the archaic RCA televisions. Stripper purists who just wanted a gal on a pole could enjoy the show in theatre-style seating. If it all became too much to…ahem…handle, the brothel upstairs provided a private experience with a selection of dancers.
In my 3 weeks of employment (working only a few days a week) I made $3,600, more than enough to fund the remainder of my trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of Sydney—I spent most of my days recovering from my nights. Breakfast became bedtime and my tolerance for hard liquor skyrocketed exponentially.
Ironically, it wasn’t the garden-variety deviants that were most disturbing; it was the busloads of Japanese businessman and their wives. They would arrive as a tour—some wearing surgical masks—and proceed to stay for no more than two dances before filing out again. The wives always looked miserable as they watched their husbands don white gloves in anticipation of a dancer’s approach. If gloves weren’t available, a tissue would be used as a barrier between his hand and various female body parts.
The frat boys were the most exhausting. During my first shift, some jackass grabbed my butt so I spun around without thinking and whacked him on the head with my round metal serving tray (this explained why all of the trays were covered with dents).
Despite all of the grief and degradation I witnessed, working in a strip club wasn’t all bad. I learned I was made of tougher stuff than I’d ever imagined. I learned what really goes on at bachelor parties (FYI, the Serb never got one). I learned when the owner asks you to travel with him abroad as his personal assistant, you should politely decline.
But the most important lesson by far, the one that will guide me to my grave, is simple: my daughter will never backpack through Australia.