Stormy Weather Ahead

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  • May 03, 2024

by Karen Feld

Hush Money Trial in NYC with Stormy Daniels

“Donald has had a few tough days lately,” President Biden quipped at the White House Correspondents dinner, April 29. “You might call it stormy weather.”

Stormy Daniels and Karen Feld
Stormy with author Karen Feld and toy poodle Bellini in 2018, Portland, ME.

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As Donald Trump faces possible indictment, Stormy Daniels, an unlikely persistent heroine, is back in the news. Not one to be silenced, she’ll likely add a new chapter to her tell-all memoir, Full Disclosure. The porn star who in 2006 had a one-night fling with Trump (or Tiny, as she calls him) — while Melania was home with newborn son Barron — was paid $130,000, via Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen, in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). As the tables turn, Stormy’s former attorney, Michael Avenatti, now says he will testify for Trump. Stormy, dodging threats on her life, expects to be called as a witness for the prosecution, who say she was part of a broader catch-and-kill scheme.

I looked back on my unlikely meeting with Stormy in Portland, Maine, a half dozen years ago in 2018.

I was at Nail Bar in the Old Port when I overheard a woman at the pedicure station say she wanted to see Stormy perform at PT’s Showclub (now known as Rick’s Cabaret Portland). That was the city’s sole gentleman’s club, where, until recently, unescorted women were not welcome.

“I want to congratulate her in person for being such a badass,” she said, but she couldn’t find a friend interested in accompanying her. “I’ll go,” I said, jumping into the conversation.

As an old-school political gossip columnist in Washington, D.C., also “dishing” as a regular on the Joan Rivers Show, this was right up my alley. I have written about Liz Ray, Paula Parkinson, Fanne Foxe, Monica Lewinsky — women who brought down powerful politicians of their day. I view “political dish” as social commentary chronicling the times. Now it’s Stephanie Clifford’s (aka Stormy Daniels’s) time.

As I drove to the club, I listened to an NPR interview about “Money Diaries,” a column in the hot online millennial magazine Refinery 29, about how people spend money in daily life.

Money is clearly a fundamental element of this story. PT’s is an all-cash club, with ATMs in every corner, refilled all night long. Patrons paid a $20 cash cover, plus drinks and the $2, $5, $20 or even $100 bills they shoved into the girls’ G-strings or spent for Stormy “merch” ($30 to $100), autographs and selfies ($20) — all a far cry from the multimillions in play in the high-stakes legal game Stormy has been playing, and winning. But there were clearly other monetary nuances on display at the show.

Surprisingly, females and heterosexual couples of all ages outnumbered the men. In four hours of watching the other dancers and waiting for Stormy to take the main stage, I had plenty of time to chat with patrons as well as performers.

On any given weeknight, I learned, there are about 15 rotating pole dancers on the two stages. They don’t have a work schedule but show up at will and pay a fee to work, not unlike renting a chair in a hair salon. On this night, the lure of Stormy tripled their number. They wanted to meet her as much as the patrons did.

It turned out that the female patrons were both more aggressive than the men when it came to touching and more generous with their cash.

For the dancers, these shows are a competition for the biggest bucks. One who exuded confidence said she can make money anywhere doing this work but wanted a photo with Stormy to memorialize the evening. The media-savvy Clifford had performed as Stormy Daniels at PT’s before she reached stardom. She had been where the other dancers were, literally, in their onstage careers.

“She has legitimized us. She has made it okay to be a sex worker,” said Phaedra, a young blonde gal who had come from Atlanta to work and meet Stormy. Another dancer, a horse trainer, works here for additional dollars. Many, seeking legitimacy, echoed those feelings.

They seemed as proud to be sex workers as women of my generation were proud to break the glass ceiling in law, medicine and the corporate world. While we admired Betty Friedan, Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem, these young women look up to Stormy for strength to speak their minds and the freedom to do what they wish with their bodies.

At 10 p.m., Stormy finally appeared, draped in a red, white and blue sequined cape, sandwiched between two exceedingly large bodyguards. The DJ turned up the music and flashed colored lights. A fog machine belched smoke and the Dodger game playing on the TVs overhead seemed to fade into the background.

Then Stormy began to strip. She tossed her cape, revealing a sequined corset, and then the corset to bodyguards at the side of the stage. One held a laundry basket of props, including a plastic bottle that she used after disrobing to a bright blue sequined bikini — yep, that’s all, folks, at least in Portland — to squirt streams of oil over her huge breasts and the rest of her body.

Most of the women dancing were tattooed. Stormy had a large horizontal flowery tattoo boldly showing across her belly, hiding a scar just above the bikini line.

Approaching 40, she was visibly older than the women who warmed up the audience. Although she didn’t dance or climb poles, she did move seductively.

Curiously, it was a middle-aged woman, not a man, who slipped the first $100 bill under the sequins. Soon, the stage floor was layered with bills — mostly twos, fives and 20s — which a security guard swept into a large basket.

Another dancer, watching, exposed her breasts to a patron, asking: “What does she have that I don’t?”

After about 15 minutes, the show was over. Patrons and performers queued up with cash for photo ops with Stormy. There was a calm civility in the air, not the rowdiness one may have expected.

Stormy signed one woman’s breast. “Money well-spent,” the patron exclaimed. A young unemployed man from South Sudan agreed.

One man holding a beer was wearing an “I’m Not Insane” T-shirt with a caricature of Trump in a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, but most patrons were well-dressed aging hippies.

A gentleman from New York exclaimed, “I admire Stormy’s guts!”

A young childless dancer, Sara, gushed, “I want a photo to show my grandkids. This is part of history.”

Opinions were varied.

“She’ll be remembered as the woman who brought down a president.”

“She’s better in porn.”

“I’ll take the autograph to the local gun club and hang it on the wall,” a proud middle-aged man boasted. “The old-timers will love it.”

The crowd seemed to include almost everyone, from curious “adult club virgins,” nervous on their first visit, to less-than-trusting women who didn’t want their husbands going alone to new parents on their first night out after the birth of their baby.

One woman formerly worked as a “club mom” — an employee who looks after the dancers backstage. Her duties had included hiding tampon strings, massaging tired feet and ensuring civility. She was surprised to learn that there wasn’t a “mom” at this club. “We don’t need it,” said one of the dancers. “We support one another.”

For some, the evening was a sign of the changing times. For others, like this writer, it was a refreshing break from days of watching the Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh hearings. For most, it was a historic moment. Likewise, the ongoing New York trial of a former president is a historic moment regardless of outcome.

The new mom, 20ish, still wearing braces, had dressed up for the occasion and said this was the couple’s second date after childbirth. Why here? “My fiancé wants to see the titties that bring down an empire.”

“This is a money story and a fame story,” as an astute woman with graying hair put it.

After the show, an elderly white-haired gentleman with a walking stick merely commented: “I think she’s alright. Probably would’ve been better 20 years ago.”

He missed the point, or maybe he got the point.

Twenty years ago, the audience would have been different, likely all male and non-political. Today, patrons of both genders were accepting and respectful of sex workers and their lifestyle. Women earning and spending their own dollars in a strip club felt empowered to show their support for Stormy — yet another way that our culture and lifestyle are changing in this strange chapter in America’s social history.

During Trump’s first presidential election, Stormy took her story to the National Enquirer. They made a deal to buy the rights and kill the story. “Checkbook journalism” with the National Enquirer, the reason former publisher David Pecker was the first called to testify at the ongoing trial.

Stormy refused to remain silent as male attorneys historically advised women involved in sex scandals with public figures to do in the past. That was then. This is a new world, one where women are admired — at least by their contemporaries — for speaking up and sharing their truth with humor and veracity. Remember, this trial is about the cover-up, not the affair. How the jury feels is to be determined.

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