What I Was Doing in Guam

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When I tell people that I used to live in Guam, the usual reaction is, Guam? What were you doing in Guam? I tailor my replies based on the person asking the question. If there’s a risk of my husband or family being hurt or embarassed, I say, Oh, I worked in a bar. If the risk is only that the person may sneer or refuse to associate with me, I say, I was an exotic dancer. A stripper. Both statements are true. One is simply more precise than the other.

Guam. Oh, Guam. Haunted vortex of contradictions. I spent six months there in 1995. Six nights a week, I danced in seven inch platform heels. Vikings Tavern was on Tumon Bay, where most of the luxury hotels are located. At the time, it was considered the cleanest club on the island. If guys were looking to paw the dancers, they best go elsewhere.

The Japanese tourists, who often were accompanied by their wives, treated us like movie stars. The American military men treated us like sisters. It was easy to forget that I was naked, because they didn’t seem to notice. The club was tiny; the number of dancers hovered at around seven. Those of us on short term contracts lived in dancer housing. The other ladies, most of whom were married or in a relationship, had their own places. We had no choice but to get along, because the island was too small to escape from each other.

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During the day, the other dancers were active. They’d go shopping or snorkeling or just lie on the beach. I was invited to do these things, but I usually prefered to lie in bed with the curtains drawn, too exhausted to be envious of their energy. In my six months on the island, I managed to make it to Two Lover’s Point, Jeff’s Pirate’s Cove, and to an eerie, hidden water hole that was known only to the locals.

Women sometimes become strippers to feed an addiction – to drugs, alcohol, sex, attention, etc. Looking back, I see that I was no different. My addiction was travel. Escape. But I couldn’t even hide from myself in Guam.

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In 1998, I went back to Guam for six weeks. I’d been working as a travel agent for a couple of years, so I knew that I was capable of having a respectable job. My friends talked me into one last quick fling on the stage. Besides, my new job had fallen through and I needed the money.

Vikings Tavern was different. Breezy Ryder, the dancer whom I was closest to, had died of an overdose. Two of the ladies I worked with were still there, but the others were new. Guam was different. Tahiti Rama and Wet Willie’s beach bars were slated for demolition, making way for high rise hotels. I was different. Two days after my arrival, I met the man who was to become my husband. Though I didn’t know it yet. After he went home, we communicated via staticky phone calls. Alone or with other dancers, I spent the days exploring the places I missed the first time: Ritidian Point, Piti Bomb Holes, War in the Pacific National Park, the Umatic fiesta. One day, all of us met up for a stripper field trip to Talofofo Falls. We promised ourselves that we’d make these outings a regular occurence, but it never came to pass. I left Guam shortly thereafter.

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**A short passage about Guam is in my memoir, but I thought I’d post a short excerpt from my novel, Blue, which was published by a Canadian small press in 2006. The novel is about the world of exotic dancing and some of it takes place in Guam. It’s not autobiographical, but some of the characters are based on the colorful people I met. This is a relatively tame excerpt, but it’s best avoided by those who are offended by adult language and situations.**

As I stepped off the plane, bleary-eyed from jet lag, the humid air hit me like the hot breath from a giant beast. It had a ripe, organic, and not altogether unpleasant odor. It smelled like foliage in a state of constant decay.

“Who are you?” said Annie, the manager of Castaways, when I called the club. “What do you want?”

I could have been concerned about this, but since they’d already paid for my ticket, I figured they’d have to give me a job.

I passed through the sliding opaque doors. A man emerged from the crowd. He lifted his chin at me, “You Blue?”

I nodded.

“The car is this way.”

I followed him outside the terminal. The dense air clung to my clothes and body, adding to the dinginess I had already acquired from the twenty-hour journey.

“We gotta go to the club and get the key for the condo,” Horace said. He had bulging eyes and a twitchy smile. I would soon learn that they were the result of an ice habit. At least the place had bouncers, I reminded myself. Not like the Pink Palace, where the girls had to fend for themselves.

Metallica bounced out of the doors into the nearly empty parking lot. The beach was across the street.

“It don’t get pumpin’ until about eleven on weeknights,” Horace informed me.

I reached for my suitcases.

He said, “Leave them. We’ll only be a few minutes.”

I looked at the entrance of the club. The doorway was partially hidden by fake foliage: palm trees and hibiscus flowers. As we approached the door I saw the flowers had faded from red to a coral peach color and were covered with mold. The plastic coconuts on the palm trees had graffiti written on them like, Maria’s hooters or My balls after looking at Maria’s hooters. The Castaways sign hung over the door by one hinge. But I figured it was meant to be that way.

There were two fish tanks inside the club. In the brochure they were brightly lit and filled with jewel-colored fish. Times had changed. The one behind the bar was dark and empty except for boxes of straws and stir sticks. The one that formed the wall between the entryway and the club was inhabited by one enormous, sickly orange-colored carp that barely had enough room to turn around as he made lazy laps back and forth in his murky home. He was the sole survivor of what were once the pretty little fish.

Everything had lost its color. The candy-colored walls were mere pastel shadows. The neon palm trees gracing the sides of the stage glowed inconsistently so one’s imagination was needed to see that they were, in fact, palm trees and not abstract designs there just for the hell of it. The neon tubing around the base of the stage was still intact, as was the shower that was set into the wall above the left side. At the bottom of the stage, in the middle of the bar, was a giant glass pole. Bubbles frothed inside, and the color changed hue every few seconds. To the right of the stage was the red curtain hiding the dressing room.

A tall brunette whipped the curtain aside and screamed, “Put me up will ya, goddammit, Annie!”

A gaunt redhead with breasts like overripe watermelons stood behind the bar. She squinted behind her glasses and dug through a box of tapes. She put in a tape that moaned with the strain of countless plays.

The dancer, who appeared to be of South American, pranced onto the stage, throwing her arms into the air as if to say, I’m here, worship me!

The guys jumped as if startled. The girl was stunning: perfect natural body and a smile so bright it hurt to look at it. She exuded hot Latin sexuality and she knew it. She tossed her wild brown curls back and forth and growled at the audience. She slapped her ass and hissed, “Oh yeah. Do it to me hard, baby.”

A guy near the stage laughed and gave her a little tap. “Harder, harder!” she yelled, bouncing up and down on her heels. Please, please, please.

He shrugged and laid a good one on her and she screamed, “Oh yeah!”

For her second song she stripped and got into the shower. She squeezed shampoo between her breasts. It curved like a fluorescent river down the length of her body. At the right moment she tilted her pelvis up so that it slithered between her legs. The guys cheered as she lathered up, massaging herself everywhere.

I felt myself getting hot and turned away, embarrassed.

She sauntered out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her head. She threw another towel down on the stage; she twisted down to the guys, mopping up the excess water. Her jubilant tits bounced up and down like those dots at the bottom of a karaoke video.

A dainty black girl at the bar said, “So what do you think?”

“I just want to go home,” I said and yawned.

“That bad, huh?”

“Oh no! I mean, I’m exhausted from the flight. I just want to get some sleep. The place is fine. Not posh, but it’ll do.” Compared to the Pink Palace, it was heaven.

She nodded and turned to her drink. She didn’t introduce herself.

“I’m Blue,” I volunteered. “What’s up with the fish?”

“Oh, that’s Otis. Our mascot. I’m Tina, but my stage name is Brandy. Blue’s not your real name, is it?”

“Actually it is. I don’t use a stage name because of it.”

“You wouldn’t have to,” she snorted. “These losers would never believe it’s your real name.” Her smile seemed a bit sad, as if she tried to psych herself up for the long night ahead. Finishing her drink in one gulp, she pushed back from the bar. “Time to get all dolled up. Welcome to Guam.”

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I’ve received hundreds of emails regarding this post. It seems to attract people who feel entitled to something – a free ebook, my time and energy, etc – but who are incapable of saying “please” or “thank you”.  I am not here to promote your stripper memoir, help you track down the stripper that you’re obsessed with, do research on clubs for you, and so on. All emails regarding this post will no longer be responded to.

68 thoughts on “What I Was Doing in Guam

  1. As I am currently reading Blue, I appreciate the more personal glimpse into it’s material. And I wondered about the geography of the island, knowing you to be an inveterate traveler! From your pictures, it looks quite lovely. I’m glad you got to explore.

    • Hi Yvette – Guam is very pretty in some parts. But I’ve heard that it’s much more built up now than when I was there. Lots more military. It’s such a tiny place – 30 miles long/4-12 miles wide. I’m not sure how much more they can cram onto it.

  2. Is Blue available on Kindle? I should explore this. I almost made it to Guam once, but the plans fell through at the last moment. I read this again. It is very descriptive, and really very interesting.

    • Thanks, Robin. Nothing wrong with a protected life. I don’t know this “Sin City” of which you speak. Maybe that means that my life is somewhat protected, too. 😉

  3. Island life in the northern tropics, work, rest, and play like any other day some place else. Never cheap to get materials, or maintain places in their latitudes, even popular isolation comes with a price. And yeah, there’s a bit of activity happening in various island territories to the Indian and Pacific these recent years. Above, the narrative style reminds me a little of Hunter S. with a feminine touch though, but it’s late evening here, perhaps I’m tired and my head is fumbling with the words as try to conjuror up the voice of an NZ friend who journeys the world too, her expressiveness. Easier to read the style when calling on the sounds to a particular voice, brings the narrative to life, well kind of… The tale sounds a good one, island life…

      • Pondering, Julie… Characters have to have voices, don’t they, make it more fun, like theatre for the mind with a book… I’m not a speed reader, so I tend to read/listen from within the entertainment of the book/tale. Have never felt like rushing while reading, a bit like wander the wild and its places, both time and tale will find their way.

  4. i think that a good writer must make you feel into the situations, and make you think about the unlimited possibilities (positive and negative) that everyone have in a lifetime… reading this I can have a pretty detailed idea of Guam; you had sure quite an experience. Cris

  5. This reads like quite an adventure, but as you say, you were feeding an addiction (to travel).
    Actually my first question would have been , Where’s Guam? How big is it? I didn’t realise it was as built up as your photo shows. Is it predominantly a military base?

    • Guam is a tiny speck on the map near the Phillipines. 48 km long and 6-19 km wide. There’s a big Air Force base there, but part of the island (Tumon Bay) is a mini version of Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach, i.e. huge high rise resorts. It’s only a three hour flight from Japan, Korea, etc, so it’s very popular for tourists from there. The rest of it used to be rural villages, but that may have changed. I’ve heard that there’s been a lot of military buildup since I was last there in 1998.

  6. “Guam. Oh Guam. Haunted vortex of contradictions.”

    I enjoy the clarity of your prose. You capture the essence of Guam and the South Pacific with that opening paragraph from Blue: ” As I stepped off the plane, bleary-eyed from jet lag, the humid air hit me like the hot breath from a giant beast. It had a ripe, organic, and not altogether unpleasant odor. It smelled like foliage in a state of constant decay.”

    I spent a couple of years in New Zealand in the 70s. Coming and going, my wife and I stayed in American Samoa for a couple of weeks. Both times, when I got off the plane in Pago Pago, it felt as of I were standing in the draft of the jet’s engine. But no, I was just exposed to equatorial weather or as you said, “… the hot breath from a giant beast.”

    Thanks for the memory Julie and the peek into your interesting history! 🙂

    • Yeah, the humidity there is definitely unique. It penetrates to the bone and makes your skin feel downright soggy. I bet American Samoa and New Zealand were very interesting in those days.

  7. Brilliant writing, as always. We like to define people by occupation. I am uncertain why that is – what I do know is that this obsession places limits on who we are, what we are, what we will become. I especially liked your opening – we tailor our responses. That opens up such an amazing dialogue.

    And you know how I love our dialogue!!!! 🙂

    • I don’t like to have to tailor my words, but, as you said, people judge you by your occupation, even those you had for a very short time. When I was first teaching myself to write, I joined a very popular online critique group. I workshopped Blue there and made the “mistake” of telling others about my career and education history. Many of them had MFAs. Very few would acknowledge me or my work after that – I was an ex-stripper college dropout! It hurt my feelings at the time, but now I see that it taught me to not give up just because I’m not accepted by the cliques. Given my childhood, this was a very important thing for me to finally be comfortable with. Thanks, as always, for your insights.

      • I had to follow-up with your insightful thoughts on critique groups. There is such freedom when we break away from standardization that seeks to marginalize creative output. I remember thinking that I was always on the wrong page until one day I decided it didn’t matter what page I was on because what I was reading made me happy. I just have to add one quote!!!

        “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” Frank Zappa

        Have a wonderful weekend!!! Sunshine in Vancouver!

  8. What an interesting life you have had.
    I am still getting over the idea if dancing in 7″ heels.
    I thought Guam was a U S base. Why did the Japanese go as tourists?

    • I can’t believe I used to dance in heels that high, either. I used to be able to cut a rug and never fell, not even once! Now I can’t even wear 3 inch wedge heels without falling. Guam is an easy, quick getaway for the Japanese. They can go shopping in the “USA” and then fly home the next day, if they want.

  9. My firtst reaction was: What? Where exactly is Guam and why haven’t I heard anything about it till now? At which point a google search did the trick and now I’m all the wiser 🙂
    Would love to have seen you dance in 7” heels then wake up in the Talofofo Falls!

    • I sometimes hear the “Where is Guam” question, too. Though I think people often pretend to know where it is rather than ask. It’s so tiny, it’s normal that you haven’t heard of it. 🙂

  10. I really enjoy reading you, and even more when you tell things from your past like this. I’ve always been fascinated by “exotic dancers”…

  11. I’ve been there when I was young and still couldn’t forget that place! Guam is like a heaven on earth!

  12. Your words have touched me in 2 different ways: 1. My mom is from Guam!!! I love learning more about this place that shaped who my mother is, especially from other places than travel books (read: REAL). 2. So interesting to read what you’ve written since my namesake, my mother’s best friend, was also a stripper on Guam. Fantastic coincidence! Thanks!

    • That’s very cool. There’s a lot more to the island than what I wrote here. I can’t begin to imagine how much it’s changed in the 15+ years since I was last there. Have you ever been there? That’s funny that your mother’s best friend was a stripper there also. Do you know which club she worked at and when?

  13. Hi Blue!

    I grew up in Guam but originally from Chuuk. I would like to read your book. It would be interesting to see your view about the islands.

    • Hello there – The book is fiction and only part of it is set on Guam. Blue is the character’s name. 😉 Though you’re not the first to assume it’s my name. Cheers- JD

    • I know what you mean. However, Guam is actually very difficult to find, even on a large wall map. Usually the name is larger than the island itself. 😉

  14. HI Julie,
    I miss your posts, been a bit busy lately. One of my best friends in college she was a stripper and everyone did not get why I was her friend I hated that, people are so stupid and judgemental. She did it for school and her son, she was a single mother at the time. She became a nurse and at work she never mention it, so sad about the writtng group. I notice as an artist, I did go to college but when I say it was graphic design not fine arts they do not take my work that serious, why are people like that.

    Addictions can be so many things, at point in my life I was addicted to my friends, I guess to scape too.

    • I got the book from your pages, will start reading, I like the name blue, cannot wait to read it. love your work.

    • So nice to see you, Doris. Love your new avatar, too. The dancers I worked with were either single mothers or college students. Very, very few were strippers because they liked the job. I used to keep quiet about it at jobs that I had afterwards, too. As for the writing group – I’m HAPPY they didn’t accept me. They were a bunch of pretentious, self-centered, boring a-holes. 😉

  15. Enjoyed your postnatal. I’m moving to Guam in september. I will not be dancing. I figure I can have a broken heart anywhere. I will blog about it here at shesgonerogue .

  16. I use to live in Guam myself ! it’s a beautiful tiny island 🙂 I miss the BBQ in Chamorro village ~ I lived there in my early 20’s and it was one of the best experiences in my life ~ I would love to read your book !

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