My First Strip Club

No drinking.

This was really the only rule on office road trips.   I didn’t realize at the time what the point of that rule was. Now I understand—it means no drinking and definitely no doing anything stupid.

The first road trip I lead went to Statesville.  Showmars, David, Eric and I gathered around Shaun while he explained the rules in the parking lot, as was the tradition.  We were all leaders.

“If Noonan says the sky is purple, the sky is purple,” Shaun declared.

I had never been given power like this.

It was the first time we were allowed to sell Internet by itself and I had people calling me all day, asking internet questions.  We did some serious sales, and crushed our goal.  That night, I rolled back to the hotel with Eric and an 18 pack of Lights.  We turned on Impractical Jokers.

“Let’s go to a strip club,” said Eric.

“I’m in,” David said after a long, slow, “ha ha ha ha HA.”

“Hmm. Okay, okay. I see where you’re coming from,” I said diplomatically.

“Ahhhhh shit guys. You serious Noonan?” said Showmar across the room. He was engaged.

“Fuck dude I don’t know,” I said.

“It’s team night,” said Eric with David agreeing.  “What do you want us to do? Sit around and drink 7-Up in this shit hotel room?”

“Shit,” I mumbled. I had not planned a team night.

“Ok,” Eric said, beginning to flip through the white pages. “That settles it.”

We found a place, and began yelling at Showmar to come with us.  I beckoned with each side, to no avail.

“Alright Noonan, we’re gonna be waiting out at the car,” said David as he and Eric walked out of the room.

“Mars, Bro. I feel bad leaving you back here on team night,” I said.

“It’s okay Noonan. She said no.”  Mars had called his fiance and asked permission to go to the strip club, and we all heard her answer.  She was not on speaker. She was not amused.

“Are you sure? We can stay here and just chill,” I said, as the other two leaned against the headlights of the started car in the parking lot, just outside of our open-doored room.

“Yeah. You guys have a good time.”

“Okay um, tell me if you change your mind.”

“Will do.”

The club was right off the highway.  Literally the first right we took off the highway, 1 exit up.  The small parking lot next to the overpass was made of gravel and Harleys took in a red glow underneath the neon signs as they stood, wrapped around the building.

We walked in to a room that was under the command of a motorcycle club.  So many leather vests.  We sat down by the stage and the emcee announced the names of the strippers as they walked out.  The same lights that they used for my middle school dances were now adorning the pillars around the catwalk next to the bar.  It was more like a dimly lit talent show with a ton of titties.

“Alright Noonan, you just have to lay back for a while and act indifferent, that’s how it works with these girls,” said Aaron. “Just say no to the first five or ten.” He was younger than I and far more experienced.

“Just like a house-cat: only around for the food,” I said.

“Exactly.”

“Hi I’m Valerie,” a shaggy woman said to me just after walking off the stage. She grabbed my arm and began to yank me up. “Let’s do a dance.”

“Okay,” I said.

Aaron shook his head low.

“What are you doin here in Statesville?” she asked, elbow to elbow with me as we turned into the hallway with the private rooms. Two massive men guarded the entrance.

“Just out here for work,” I said.

“What do you do?”

In the car, I admitted that this was going to be my first strip club.  Aric told me to tell the private dancer that I was a helicopter pilot.  “Actually out here working with at&t U-verse,” I mumbled.

“Oh that’s–”

Valerie’s heel broke and she fell down, crumbling towards a face-first dive into the concrete floor beneath the thin carpet of the dance room.

“Oh my God,” she screamed over and over as she struggled up and hobbled out of the room with her face covered in blood.

“Va, Valerie?” I stuttered.

I leaned out of the room to find the two massive guards catching her and carrying her towards a recovery spot.  Aaron ran back.

“What the fuck?”

“Dude she just fell,” I said.  “Are those guys pissed?”

“Yeah.”

“What did that tattoo on his arm say? What was that inside the diamond?” I asked Aaron.

“Uhhh. I think it was a 1% sign.”

“FUCK,” I said.  I was beginning to feel weak in the knees.  “Are you sure it didn’t say 99?” I pleaded.

“I mean I saw a 1 for sure. Maybe the percent sign was actually just some zeros? Like these guys are in a group of a hundred good dudes.”

“Fuck Aaron.”

I started to slide down the wall when the massive guys showed up and started to wander down the hall.

“Get up,” one said.

“Get up,” they both repeated and slung me up.

“Come over here and get some water,” the first one said.

They walked me to the table next to Val and sat me down in front of a glass of water.  I looked over and saw she was covered in fancy napkins soaked in brownish red. Her nose was broken.  She was pissed, but had explained to the men that it wasn’t my fault.

“You didn’t catch her buddy?” a large, bald man loomed over to ask.

“Shut up Ronnie leave the poor boy alone,” Valerie coughed out.  And I had once planned on feeling like a man at this place.

“Come on I was just fuckin with him.  Here, look.  I’ll give him a beer.”

He tossed me a Coors Light and I did not hesitate to get the cap off.  It had never tasted so good.

“Looks like someone might need a dance,” said Ronnie.

“I’d still like to give him one, said Valerie.  Her nose was plugged with bloody tissue paper and her blonde tiny mustache was now dry and crusty.

“Whataya say?” asked Ronnie, looking at me.

“I mean hey, why the hell not.”

She took me back and we began dancing to a Jay-Z song, and I told her that it was my 24th birthday.

“It’s all downhill from here baby,” she said. It was one of the most depressing moments of my life.

She grinded on my angry boner for 2 more songs and then the boys and I all got the hell out of there.  “Dude,” we all agreed.  We went back to the hotel room and were pleasantly surprised that Mars was still up.  We all had a few beers and a huge laugh.

The next morning we woke to the sound of a ruckus coming from outside. I climbed out of bed and, in my boxers, drew the curtains to a swarm of police men.  The room next to us had been stripped of it’s furniture and all that was left behind was a chair and a few metal parts that belonged to automatic weapons, according to Aaron.  It made no sense to me, but it seemed like a perfect time to check out.  We did a groundbreaking 11 sales between the three of us that day, and headed back to Charlotte with a victory.  We stopped at Burger King before getting on the interstate.

“You know what I’m really good at,” I asked as I drove out of the parking lot.

“What?” asked Showmar.

“I’m really good at, um, eating cinnamon buns,” I said with a mouth full of cinnamon bun.

“What kind of shit is that?” Showar asked after a laugh.

When I got back to the Cutter house and hung by myself at the bar, I thanked Jesus that everything was alright.

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Charlotte, NC

My eyes stung because I had been up since the night before when the bus left Washington DC and headed south on 95.  We stopped at maybe three or four a.m. at the hub in Richmond.  When we got back on the bus after an hour break, the driver made a show of ejecting a man that had been caught with an open container on the bus.  The Florida-bound man was left to think about what he had done, in the middle of the night in Richmond, VA.  I tried to get some sleep but no, and by 11 a.m. I was spent.

I squinted out the window at a small southern town as we rolled slowly through the tiny streets. I was back in North Carolina.  I had no idea what to expect but I was excited because I was on my own.  “The Charlotte Adventure begins,” I said to myself.

Hours later, I saw her again for the first time in weeks, as we passed the two radio towers next to the interstate. When we rounded the turn on to I-77, I smiled as the city exploded into view.  On a clear day, a distant Charlotte looks almost computer generated to me.  She is shiny and clean and precise.  Cranes dash across the lower end of the skyline above the trees and everything is suspended, as if the city were at the bottom of a huge spotless aquarium.  As we get closer, the city becomes alive and unmistakably real.

I stretched for 15 minutes on the sidewalk in front of the Greyhound station until James rolled up in his silver Infiniti SUV and before I knew it we were cruising with the windows down.  Rock n’ Roll was blasting and the shades were being worn like armor. The air-conditioned luxury car was heaven compared to that bus.

“Alright bro, you got down here in the middle of a rumble. The family is in a huge fight,” James said grinning. Panthers stadium loomed before us.

“Oh, shit,” I said. My first thought was that they were stressed about me moving in.

“Yeah Mark and my dad got in an argument over some wings we ordered.  They went back and forth, Mark said, ‘I’m mentally and physically superior to you,’ and then they started brawling.”

“What?”

“Yeah it’s pretty funny. It was actually really funny.”

I think the family was stressed because the parents were moving to Colorado the next day and leaving me, James and his two younger brothers to ourselves. James’s mom was letting her friend move in to the house too.  Her name was Vivian and she was going through a rough divorce.  The brothers openly loathed Vivian, and that was before she was on the bill to live in the same house as them.  When James told me to move down I called his mom to double check. “Hey Ms. Cutter, are you sure it’s okay if I stay for a little while?”

“Yes Jay of course, but on one condition—you have to be nice to Vivian.”

I honestly had no problem with Viv. I thought she was pretty cool and she was always nice to me, but we rarely said more than a few words to eachother.  I never fully understood all of the animosity, but I trusted the brothers’ judgement. Still, I made it clear to the brothers from the start that I was to be no part of the Viv-fest.  I was there to chill, play music and find a real job and that’s it. The problem was that Vivian had young children and Mark had parties.

When we got to the house things had calmed down. Mark was nowhere to be seen and the parents were out back on lounge chairs with the pizza.

“Hey Jay,”  said Mr. and Mrs. Cutter.  They are my folks in the south.  “Grab a few wings.”

Everyone seemed to be back in good spirits.  They had just gotten back from their annual stay in Florida.  Vivian wasn’t moving in for another week or so.  I was haggard and went to bed on the early side.  Crashing in the exercise room on an air mattress, I was already well aware of my options.

THE CUTTER HOUSE AIR MATTRESSES

There are four massive, beautiful bedrooms on the top floor of the house. Three of them are inhabited by the brothers and the fourth is Halle’s room.  “It’s a freakin cathedral,” James told me after he first saw it.  Her room had a carpet so white that I hated to wear white socks in there.

Next to her door, there is a bedding closet with sheets, pillow cases and beyond.  On the floor there are three air mattresses rolled up and stuffed under the shelves next to their empty boxes.  I’ve gotten to know each one of them well since my Sophomore year.  One of them has blue tape and pink tape, from the night that those tape rolls were all I could find to patch up the new holes. The bright X’s are down near the bottom and one of the tears is bad.  A massive, thick-sharpie penis, compliments of Mark, can be seen pointing towards the sleeper’s face if they sleep on the left side without any sheets on the bed. This is the bed that goes to the slowest guest.

Bed number two has a small hole right behind the pillow that I have tried to patch with masking tape, glue and tissue.  This one will last for about 4 hours before deflating enough to wake you up, assuming you can sleep over the small hiss of the air leaking out from under your pillow.  Trying to stuff tissue in to plug the hole only made the tear worse so I will take responsibility for that one.  The third air mattress is brown and works perfectly.  Mrs. Cutter says she will kick someones ass if this one gets messed up.

Over the next few months I would battle Mark’s friends for these beds.  Many times, I found myself doing the pissed-off stand up in the middle of the night to hold down the inflate button and cringe as the small, incredibly loud motor would fully wake me.

But that first night at the Fox house I could have slept on a damaged inflatable pool raft and I still would have been out until the next morning.

The boys get Mrs. Noonan on speaker phone

“Dude you’re going.” James said.

I sat there on the green carpet packing my bag. The ceiling fan whirred slowly above, rocking slightly with a soft clinking chain as it stirred up the morning air that came in through the living room windows. The breeze from the kitchen came in too, carrying a draft from the skillets we used to make eggs and bacon. I was surrounded by the crew, all sitting on chairs or standing.

“Dude, I know I need to go. But I can’t man,” I said half-laughing with a sigh.

“But why not?” James demanded sternly. “You just graduated. It’s summer time. You don’t have a job. How can you possibly not go?”

That was a question I did not have a good answer to.

“My mom is gonna freak out. She thinks I’m heading home this morning and we’ve got this cruise in a few days. If I had told her about it earlier maybe it would be different, but now?”

“You’ll be back in four days. Alpharetta is two nights,” James and Ray yelled. “Just call her.”

“Guy’s it’s not gonna work,” I said.

But it was no use. I walked outside and called mom.

“Bud absolutely, absolutely not.”

“Mom.”

“You just told me you were coming home in an hour and now you’re jumping in the car and heading to Atlanta? That’s crazy. How are you going to pay for that?”

“I have like eight hundred dollars.”

“That’s your graduation money. That’s your nest egg.”

“Mom I need to go have some fun I just got out of school and I’ll still have plenty left.”

“What about a job? Have you found a job yet? That’s what this week is for. And then we are going on the cruise. You are not missing that god damn cruise.” She was talking in her deep, no-nonsense voice. She sounds like Meryl Streep when she does that.

“Mom I’m gonna be back for the cruise and I got a job at Taco Mac.”

“Oh Jeb come on. And how are you going to get home?”

“I can borrow the Honda. We’ll swing by and get it before we go down. I won’t do any drinking.”

“Nope. Ellen is using that car for her dogs this week. No way.”

“Can’t she use the bug?”

“Bud that’s my car. Just come home.”

At this point my friends had come outside and caught up on the conversation. They could hear her on the other end of the phone.

“Put her on speaker,” they all whisper yelled.

“No guys, shut up for a sec,” I said, waving them away.

“Who’s that?” mom asked.

“My friends.”

“Put her on speaker,” they said louder.

“Here mom, the guys want to say hey,” I said. I knew they were about to apply the pressure. I hadn’t pulled the speaker-phone move since 6th grade. I must have been still drunk.

“Hiiii Ms. Noonan,” they all chimed.

“Hi guys,” she said in the friendly, chatty tone. Meryl Streep was gone.

“Hey Ms. Noonan, this is Gabe. We just want to let you know that we all had a nice time together last night and we’re gonna be extremely safe in Alpharetta. It’s just two nights and then he’s gonna come straight home. We feel bad about changing the plans last minute but we need Jeb there with us though, he’s a really good guy. He was the responsible one last night.” He said in his most eloquent, level-headed tone.

“Ahh hi Tannen,” she said, laughing like she didn’t believe we were actually being serious. “That sounds fun and all but he’s gotta come home this week and look for a job. And we have a vacation.”

“We promise we’ll have him home in time for the cruise,” James said.

“We’ll get him back to ya in one piece Ms. Noonan,” Ray said.

“How is he gonna get home? He’s not using my car,” she said, beginning to level with them. Nobody was being cute about this any longer.

“He can ride back with Ray,” James said.

“I’m not driving, Gabe’s driving,” Ray reminded us in a whisper.

“Shut the fuck up Ray,” James whispered back through clenched teeth.

“Bud, if you go to Atlanta you are not coming on the cruise.”

“Mom, come on. What?”

“Go to Atlanta if you want, but you’re not coming on the cruise. Ellen and I will sail without you.”

“Hey Ms. Noonan, I’m not going to Atlanta,” said Ross. “Can I come on the cruise?” Even my mom laughed at that one.

“Put Jeb back on the phone,” she said.

She yelled at me for putting her on the spot and I apologized. I called her bluff on banning me from the cruise and told her that I was going to Atlanta. She was pissed and hung up. We got her on speaker again in the car and she finally caved and made me promise that I would get home in time.

I rolled down 85 in the wind that day with Umphrey’s blasting, no tickets and no plan, and felt more freedom than I had in years on that trip. We hit Kings Dominion on the way down and all of us blacked out on the same curve of the Nascar roller coaster, and James swore off roller coasters for the rest of his life. We stayed at James’s house in Charlotte that night and then head South the next morning. We weren’t on the Alpharetta lot 5 minutes when some girl in a sun dress flashed James. “Full frontal, boys.”

I caught a cold, as I do every summer, and felt like shit the first night.  I wandered around the venue and waited for the show to end. I snored so loud in the hotel that everyone hated me in the morning.

There was such a downpour on the next night that the lawn was evacuated.  I was standing next to this girl on the lawn and we ran down to the seats together. I tried to talk to her and start a storm-time romance with her, but she wasn’t feeling it. By the time she scurried off I had lost the group and I found myself entirely alone.

A few minutes ago the sky was orange and I was gently grooving to some tunes with the homies, sipping on a bud heavy and enjoying the awesome light show. Now all of the house lights were on, the music had stopped and water was cascading down the stairs of the amphitheater. Everyone was running everywhere, and I stood there dumbfounded looking at my water-logged brand new iPhone that no longer worked.  I eventually found them, but then lost them again when they all ran into the pit.  Here’s one thing about me that I’ve learned to accept—I suck at sneaking into shows and/or better seats within the show.  I had to sneak through the box seats and jump over the wall down into the pit to get back with the crew.  It was unfortunate that I knocked over one party’s bottle of champagne on the way down, but luckily they never found me after the show.

We got back to Charlotte the next afternoon and stayed at James’s house that night. Exhausted and content, I calmly licked my wounds from the road as we told our stories around the pool drinking beer.  All the boys were going to see Phish in Charlotte the next night but I had to catch a bus back up to D.C. I guess we must have wanted to keep story time going because everyone ened up on air beds in James’s room.  I eventually started to fall asleep but everyone kept yelling at me for snoring

“I’m still awake I’m not snoring!” I yelled.

“You were snoring,” Ray said.

“Shut the fuck up Noon,” Tannen said.

“Fine. That’s it.  This is bullshit.” I stood up and grabbed my air mattress and they all started laughing as I stomped out of the room.  You can’t be taken seriously when you are holding a twin-size air mattress, no matter how dire the situation. I slept down the hall in the zebra room and by the next morning I was good to go.

I got home hung over but unscathed that Thursday night to a much relieved mother. A few days earlier she told me that the ship was leaving on Friday, come to find out it was really leaving Saturday. This is the only time she has ever lied to me as far as I know.

The sordid tales from that Charlotte show are so out of control that it still stings to hear them. Phish played the best they have ever played in Charlotte. Everyone got their faces melted. The boys had to rescue the Body from the clutches of the police that night after the show, only to end up flying down a major road towards the city crammed into a cherry picker together. But the cruise was epic as well, so I haven’t ever been mad about that un-truth. Who knows if I would have caught that Friday morning bus.

Anyhow, if my little Alpharetta stunt got my mom’s feathers ruffled, I can only guess how she felt about me moving back to North Carolina to work behind a deep fryer so I could stay in a band that had never performed in front of her.

“This is not a pizza.”

This is a story about my friends, who rallied around me in North Carolina when things got real for me. It takes place over the past few years, and although I will surely have to talk about the occasional antics that go down in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, New Orleans, Maryland, Upstate New York and Chicago, this adventure has it’s heart in Charlotte.  That being said, the tale begins in Columbia, MD.


We were all at Ray’s house in the late hours of the night. It was mid-June and the air was full of electricity, the atmosphere was just finally cooling down and everything smelled muggy and green. The light from the porch-bulb floated hazily up the pebble stone driveway as we stumbled towards the house, shouting at eachother with our ears ringing. We were covered in dirty dry, tired sweat and loving it. Everyone was gasping for air between fits of laughter telling stories about things that happened as little as 10 minutes earlier.

We were just getting back from Merriwhether Post Pavilion, a magical little spot that’s dug into the middle of the woods and lit up like a small mountain town.  My best friends and I had just seen Phish set the place on fire.

During the second set I dipped my finger into the bag enough to get my face settled into a weightless grin, and with every muscle in my body relaxed I was my own biggest fan.  It was like right after blast-off on a roller coaster; nothing in the world could’ve taken my happiness from me.  I invented a whole new dance move.  It’s called the Surfer– just watch Michael J. Fox on top of the van in Teenwolf and you’ll get it.

By the time we were leaving the show I had come down just enough to let the weed and beer keep me rolling. Ray, our designated driver, was letting us all crash at his parents’ house only a few blocks away. The banter in the car on the ride home was loud to the point of getting tiring, so by the time we rolled in to Ray’s driveway everything died down.  A random silence fell over the car for a second, then Ray turned on the radio just as Jackson Browne belted his best high pitched whine–“Oh won’t you stayy”— and we all started dying laughing again.  These were truly good times. I had just graduated from college after coming inches from failing out, twice.


Earlier that day Ray and I went to Wegman’s for groceries and Ray grabbed a couple frozen pizzas for after the show. I stopped him, insisting that we get the raw dough and I make the dang pizza from scratch.  During the last 3 years of college I had been working as a cook at a bar on campus and I was known to make some of the best pizza in town. The bar was called West End Station.

“You want to make a pizza?” asked Ray.  Ray loves pizza just a little bit more than everyone else.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know bro, are you sure,” he said with some concern.

“Trust me bro. I’ll kill it.  I got really good at West End.”

“Alright. If you say so.”

I took the frozen pizzas out of the cart and put them back in the fridge and we went to get the dough, sauce, cheese, toppings, beer and everything else. We met up with the rest of the guys at the house and got changed.


By 3:00, Eminence Front was blasting out of Tannen’s trunk on the lot and the sub-woofers were knocking over quarter-full solo cups of warm Bud Light.  The sun came down hard on our coolers and tent that day.  We stumbled back and forth between our spot and the edge of the woods for hours. At the tent, we sat in camp chairs and talked trash about every show on the whole tour before this one.

We made our way in around 7. Half of our tickets said LAWN and the others were in the Mezzanine somewhere, but did we never did make it to those seats.  We seized the 5th or 6th row and our row got crazier as the night went on. Afterwards, there was more drinking and firework-shooting in the parking lot before the ride home.  I may not be able to recall everything from that night, but I can tell you we played The Ocean loud as balls with all windows fully down on the way out of the lot.

After our arrival to Ray’s house, shortly after I tripped on the door frame and fell into the living room, I remembered that I was supposed to actually make the pizza.

I put all of the toppings out on the counter and just kind of stared at them in the plastic for a little while.

Eventually, I got everything out of the packages.  I flattened the dough and put everything on top, and soon the guys and I were all yelling at Ross who stood by the fridge, chugging milk.

I returned my focus to the pizza, only to find myself yelling at Ross again minutes later. He was no longer Ross though—this was the Body.  When Ross gets wasted he turns into the Body.

I slid the pizza into the oven and went back to yelling at the body as he finished two gallons of milk, and God bless him, he didn’t even throw up.  Nobody knows how he did it. Ross would have thrown up for sure.

35 minutes later, after a ton of cursing and loud oven-rack shaking, I pulled out of the oven a flat oval of red, white and brown charcoal filled with raw dough.  It takes years to build a reputation and about a half hour to destroy it—I think Jimmy Buffett said that.  The crowd could only stare at it until I goaded someone to try it, after trying it myself. After a few minutes, the results were in.

“Wha….t the fuuuck. This is the worst pizza I’ve ever had.”

“NOONAN! What is this!”

The other four wouldn’t even try it.

“Guys. I’m sorry. I’m not used to this kind of oven.” I was pissed.

“Kind of oven? It’s a pizza bro. You throw it in, you take it out,” said Tannen.

“No dude, this is not pizza,” Ray said.  “This is not a pizza.” That was tough because Ray’s famous catch phrase was “A Pizza’s a Pizza.”

Ray had to order a pizza.  To this day I have not been forgiven for my trespasses that night in June.  But the next morning, all was temporarily forgotten.  The boys had a much larger agenda for me.