Stormy nights in Columbus as Daniels takes stage one night after her arrest

Brad Keefe

This is America.

On what should have been a low-key Thursday evening, I got a text from my editor: “Any interest in covering Stormy at Vanity’s tonight for us?”

Stormy, of course, being Stormy Daniels — the adult film star who’s gained international notoriety since suing Donald Trump over their alleged affair.

This being the day after Columbus received some nationally embarrassing headlines when Daniels was arrested by Columbus police officers following her Wednesday performance at Sirens Gentlemen’s Club, how could I say no?

In normal times, a porn star appearing at a Columbus strip club would not be in our area of coverage. We are not living in normal times.

Daniels’ scheduled two-night stint at Sirens was derailed by Wednesday’s arrest — a bizarre enforcement of an Ohio law that hadn’t resulted in charges in the decade-plus it had been on the books. Columbus Police defended the arrest in a statement, saying it was part of a “long-term investigation into allegations of human trafficking, prostitution, along with other vice related violations.” (Daniels was arrested for, among other things, allegedly grabbing one officer’s buttocks.)

Regardless, the Columbus City Attorney’s office dropped all of the charges against Daniels on Thursday.

Legal hurdles cleared, Daniels found another location for her performance, moving a scheduled second night at Sirens across town to Vanity Gentlemen’s Club on Bethel Road, which allowed for the strangest assignment of my career. (Editor’s note: For now, anyway.)

Perhaps the most striking thing about the evening was just how normal it seemed. It was very easy to forget that this was a porn star who may also be the former mistress of the sitting President of the United States.

Because I guess that’s normal now.

After the Sirens incident, the club DJ reminded patrons there was “no touching” with a greater frequency than a prison guard in “Arrested Development.” A crowd of about a hundred people filled out the club, and if there was anyone there out of political curiosity, no one looked particularly out of place (with the probable exception of me).

Daniels took the stage after midnight, bedazzled in red, white and blue, and gyrating to the sounds of “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz.

It’s a bizarre thing being a few feet from a topless woman who may bring down a sitting president. It’s like watching living, breathing, grinding history.

The patriotic garb was the only real nod to the political storm around Daniels. The evening felt oddly apolitical given the circumstances, with the exception of a member of “#TeamStormy” making sure patrons on the patio were registered to vote. I’m not sure how often that happens at a strip club.

Daniels was smiling and confident throughout her 20 minutes onstage, and if she’s a somewhat unlikely feminist hero, she’s enjoying the moment. Her tenacity and unwillingness to back down is palpable. She’s not going away any time soon. And that’s good for America.

After her set was finished — and before her paid meet-and-greet with fans — I watched an employee sweeping up a sea of dollar bills with a push broom, a blunt reminder that cash still rules everything around us.

This is America.