By Joel Warner
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Instead, she had a wonderful time -- while it lasted. (Pregnant or injured dancers get first dibs on the house mom job at Shotgun Willie's.) "I could make 150 bucks a night, and I still got to read, and I never had to wear a suit," she recalls. "I was kind of an overachiever. I always brought an entree item and a vegetable, and when it comes to food, you had all the types: Atkins freaks and the 21-year-olds who ate everything. So I brought Oreos and celery, pizza rolls and fruit. I covered up tattoos. I sewed up costumes, and I listened to a lot of stories. A lot of the girls were dealing with creeps. They liked to have someone to talk to."
Pat Patterson also found herself pleasantly surprised by her first house-mom job. "I wasn't the type to hang out at these places," she explains. "I don't even drink, particularly."
A Colorado native, Pat envied her newspaper-reporter father, who sometimes took her along on breaking stories, but generally thought such activities unsuitable for girls. "It was sad for me, because I always wanted to write, as early as I can remember," she recalls. She thought she might pursue her passion in college, but marriage put a stop to that: She ended up working to finance her husband's many years of medical school and residency. After that, her husband was restless, and the family moved many times, from small towns such as Lamar and La Junta to Columbus, Ohio, and Sacramento, California. For a short time, they lived in Los Alamos, "a strange place," she recalls, "where 55 percent of the population had master's degrees and kids were synthesizing their own LSD in their home labs. It was a town of coffee klatches -- but then, they all are."
While her husband built his practice and her kids worked their way through school, Pat held down a series of secretarial jobs and, for a while, attempted the role of housewife. "In the small towns, doctor's wives do that," she says. "I entertained a lot, too, but I always felt like I was wasting my life."
Twenty years into the marriage, her husband made one final move: After joining the military, he was stationed in Japan. Having promised her kids that they could finish high school in one place, Pat filed for divorce and moved to Greeley. There she worked as a motel clerk -- "one of the worst jobs there is," she says -- and went to college, earning degrees in English and psychology.
Finally, she was free to start the writing she'd always dreaming of doing, cranking out two as-yet-unpublished young-adult novels as well as a practical, and published, manual titled The Denver Job Search, written during one of the Mile High City's worst stretches of unemployment. To finance her writing jones, she continued to work as a secretary. "For the longest time, I felt that I had chained myself to a desk," she remembers, "but that's what I did -- I worked in offices. And I ended up in the cardiac intensive-care unit three times! Too much pressure."
Determined to give it a rest, she let her son talk her into selling T-shirts at street fairs and flea markets. From there she began selling jewelry, eventually traveling a regular circuit of motorcycle bars. The hours were late and the company questionable. She loved it.
"It was freedom! No deadlines! And besides," she adds, "I'm always open to anything that will help me write."
It turned out the bikers had girlfriends, many of whom were strippers, and plenty of whom suggested Pat try selling at topless clubs. She did, matching jewelry styles to classes of club: sterling and Native American accessories at the less fancy places, rhinestones at PT's Gold and the Diamond Cabaret. She tried the Red Garter only twice. "It was scary," she recalls. Besides, how much jewelry can an all-nude dancer wear?
"But eventually, I got tired of being in bad neighborhoods in the middle of the night with a lot of jewelry and money clanking around in my car," she says. When she announced her retirement from the jewelry business, she was offered a house-mom job at Beach Babes, a Diamond Cabaret offshoot designed to appeal to a younger crowd. "It only lasted four months, because it turned out those guys had no money -- and also, they had dates," she notes.
Pat went on to work at the Landing Strip, Shotgun Willie's and, most recently, the Diamond Cabaret, where she spent more than three years. After that, she worked for a while at a home for emotionally troubled youth. And then, in a Kaiser Permanente lobby, she ran into Gidget, who lured her back into the strip-club business in time for La Boheme's grand opening last month.
Over the intervening years, Pat says, the industry has changed. "Each club has its own personality," she explains, "but this place is really classy. I don't think they have a dressing room this nice anywhere, even in Hollywood. And management is the best I've ever seen. Gidget's danced; she knows what's going on."