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The return address on the letter was from a Connecticut prison. Typed neatly over the address wasn’t a sender’s name, but rather, an inmate ID — a hashtag and a string of numerals.
I tore open the envelope. The letter was from M., my old strip club regular.
Within the taxonomy of strip club customers, M. wasn’t Captain Save-a-Ho, the type who thinks telling a stripper, “You’re better than this” is a compliment, and seeks to whisk you out of this hellhole. He also didn’t view dancers as a dating pool and hang about, lovelorn, like a Stage Door Johnny from vaudeville days. He greeted me exactly where I was, and in that spot, affection bloomed. I sat in his lap during a night shift in my San Francisco home club when he was in from the East Coast for work; we started talking, and couldn’t stop. When he laughed at all my jokes, the connection was sealed.
M. was gloriously larger than life, and also, well, gloriously large — a jovial bear with a classic Brooklyn accent. An up-from-nothing success story, he sounded like Jackie Mason and made it rain like Jay-Z.
He grew up poor, made a fortune, partied hard, and struggled with addiction. He had his own spiel about his hard-knock life.
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.“I’ve been drunk and I’ve been sober. Sober’s better.”But M. would trip over the verdict on “I’ve been married, and I’ve been single.” He’d pause before saying, “Single’s better.” […]