Light spins through the darkness like a thousand tiny stars, refracted by mirrored moons that orbit a sunless room. The hostess, squeezed into a constricting black bustier, directs us to a table near the middle of the floor. Her costume amplifies already exaggerated proportions. From the corner of the stage the emcee fades from Juicy J to Lonely Island without a trace of irony. “Let’s hear it for the beautiful Amber!” he intones, drawing out the final ‘r’. Amber, a bikini-clad dancer in her mid twenties, slides head-first down a two-story metal pole, stopping herself inches from the stage. On an enormous video wall behind her an expressionless woman gyrates in psychedelic nebula of color and light. We’re at the Gold Club, but really I have no idea where we are.
At the edge of the stage a large man wearing a Boy Scout shirt and a backwards camouflage baseball cap stacks a hundred dollars in ones on the bar. He draws his hand across the top of the stack in a series of rapid chops, showering the dancer in singles before leaving to join his friend at the back of the room.
“They’re brothers,” says a woman’s voice next to my ear, battling the thumping music while taking a seat on my knee.
“What?” I ask.
“I said you’re cute,” she says a little louder. “I’m Amanda.” I tell her it’s nice to meet her. I don’t know why, but I make up a name. She tells me she loves that name and asks me what I do. I say we’re food writers and that we’re here working on a story. “Cool,” she says and gestures to another high-heeled dancer strolling the floor. “These guys write about food,” she shouts to her bikinied coworker. The new girl perches herself on Nathan’s knee.
“Food writers. Awesome,” she affirms, “Anthony Bourdain was here. He said the fried chicken was the best he ever had.”
Amanda says she likes how serious I look, which achieves its intended purpose of making me smile. She says she likes my smile too. The friend tries on Nathan’s glasses and asks us if it’s a sexy look for her. She tells Nathan he looks cute without them, but that she also finds glasses “really sexy.” She also likes that he’s a Virgo (because Virgos are the best lovers). She loves his boat, his boots, and his beard. They both love that we write about burgers. I take a bite of mine, apologizing to Amanda for eating in front her. “You can feed me a french fry if you want,” she offers, placing a diminutive pink box on the table. There’s a small handle on top and a slot to accept money. This is how it works.
We continue to talk and eat. Everything we say is received with enthusiasm by both women, who laugh and touch our arms when we joke. They apparently share our interest in burgers, peppering us with questions about what and who makes a great one. Amanda bookmarks the site on her iPhone—she can’t wait to read it. ‘interest’ is as unwavering as it is unsettling. When Nathan presses his attendant for a point of view she responds, “This is a wonderland. Objectify me.” Her response sounds shockingly sincere. Though presumably designed put men at ease with the attitude they brought into the place, it has the opposite effect on us. We couldn’t be more uncomfortable. We excuse ourselves and thank them both for their company. I hand Amanda $50 in singles and ask her to to share it with her friend. She tries to cajole me into tucking the money into her clothes. I tell her that’s okay, and we walk back into the daylight.
The Creative Lesson
Design relies challenge. It requires informed clients pushing back against progressive ideas. It relies on opposing points of view, varied tastes, and honest dialogue. The next time you find yourself wishing your client would just say yes to everything—or make fewer suggestions—remember just how unsatisfying (and unproductive) unconditional affirmation can be.