Me, Dad, and the Tijuana Strip Club

A coming-of-age tale featuring beer, strippers, and a transvestite pickpocket.

I was taking a bubble bath when my dad first told me about sex. Without warning, he hunkered down on the toilet across from the tub and began hurling words like “vagina” and “stimulation” my way, as my bubble cover quickly evaporated, leaving me naked and pruny in the tepid water. The awkwardness of this sex talk set the stage for our relationship on that subject.

Like nearly every other teenager since the dawn of time, I did not talk sex with my dad much. Not that he didn’t want to. It was he who tossed a box of condoms in my lap one rainy afternoon after picking me up from school. “I can teach you how to get those on,” he told me as I quickly shoved the golden box into the glove compartment and changed the subject. Though my dad was open to the subject, we rarely discussed sex—I was busy with other things, like not being creeped out. Over time, I think my father began to see his drama club son as a prude, and so set out to do something about it. That is how we ended up in Tijuana.

To my dad, who loves his family and unchecked debauchery in near equal amounts, a family vacation to Tijuana, Mexico, was a natural. You may not think binge drinking and family fun go well together, but my dad can squeeze them into one happy snapshot. Tijuana, for those planning a trip with the kids, is the place revelers go when they want to shake the puritanical shackles of Bangkok and Rio. If whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, whatever happens in Tijuana makes unicorns cry. The city has always held a special power over my dad, its gravitational pull drawing him southward with the promise of discount tequila and illegally obtained penicillin. And of course, fun for the whole family.

♦◊♦

On this trip, my dad seemed particularly interested in getting some guy time in with me—a little father-and-son bonding before I went to college that fall. So once we crossed the border, my stepmother immediately shanghaied my brother and sister away to satisfy their back-to-school needs with knock-off products like Reebork shoes and Gnucci handbags. My dad put a hand on my shoulder and held me back. “Cole, why don’t you and I head up the road and grab a beer.”

I followed, and soon, spread out ahead of us, was an avenue of nothing but unpretentious strip clubs as far as the eye could see—brown and ashy tenement buildings, slumping forward with no intention of overselling the erotic wares contained within. In front of every unassuming club gathered groups of men leaning on wooden posts, carnies barking at us. Insinuations of the coldest beer and hottest chicks smacked from every direction. The pitchmen stretched far out over their posts, braying, berating, and shaming us to “come see something sexy!”

“Hey, mister!” one of them howled to Dad. “Why don’t you come in and make your boy a man!” I had to shrink away from the remark, being a freshly minted 18-year-old. Dad tossed back, “Oh yeah? What does your place have that the others don’t?”

“Mmmm,” the barker moaned, rolling his eyes back in his head and rubbing his stomach as though he’d just finished a meal. “We got the best ladies in the world right here.” My dad had to appreciate the plucky bravura of this man’s pitch, the sheer hyperbole. He steered me toward the entrance. A rickety staircase meandered its way up to the club. This sudden detour in the vacation itinerary made me anxious.

The fact is, I don’t see the allure of strip clubs. Getting drunk with a bunch of guys and having erections together seems a little weird. I don’t need to have my stimulation encouraged by close friends, shouting, “Dude, you horny?” and capping it with a fist bump. Often people say it’s “entertainment.” No. Movies are entertainment. Watching a game is entertainment. If a stripper wants to entertain me, then while she is naked she should tell me a story. Play a little tune on the recorder. Do a magic trick.

Maybe I’m resistant to this sort of male bonding because as a young boy one learns to be as guarded and stoic as possible or risk being found “gay.” Though they have no informed concept of homosexuality, there is nothing little boys enjoy more than attempting to out one another. As a result, their gaydar is a bit off. Talk about spending weekends with your grandpa? You’re gay. Like your sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Gay. Then those same little homophobic boys grow up to become guys who sit in dark rooms and excitedly share their boners with other men.

I can’t quite wrap my head around it.

♦◊♦

The club was about the size of a studio apartment, darkly lit with a smattering of sticky tables. Dad ordered us beers and a waitress brought them over. Hands full of drinks, she straddled my thigh, negotiating her hips precariously close, practically sitting right down. “Cole, put your hands in your pockets,” my dad ordered. “She’s trying to shake you down for change.” How did my dad know? Where had he picked up this kind of arcane knowledge? If this woman could extract my change without the use of her hands, she was welcome to it. I wasn’t about to ram my fists into my pockets in a strip club.

The entertainment looked remarkably tame. The strippers weren’t naked—just in their underwear, which I found both bizarre and comforting. They marched robotically back and forth, running their fingers under their bra straps, staring a hundred miles away. After years of waiting tables, I now recognize the look. It’s the dead stare of those toiling their lives away in the service industry. There is nothing erotic about that look. I sucked down my drink and searched for something interesting about the ceiling, trying not to make eye contact.

This was to be a seminal moment between father and son. These gyrations were meant to bring us closer together. So where was my enthusiasm? Lord knows I couldn’t normally control my libido. Every other waking minute of my life I spent chasing after girls Wile E. Coyote–style, constantly running off cliffs and getting blown up. Why should the old sex drive take a siesta now? Why couldn’t I shout “Show me your boobs!” just once? You know, for Dad.

Dad picked up on my lack of interest and suggested we go.

“This place sucks,” he said. “They’re not even naked anyway.” I knew he was letting me off the hook and I felt like I let him down. At the top of the staircase, our waitress dashed out of the club. She took a hold of my dad and lip-locked him, running her hands all over. Then it got weird. He spun her around and pinned her against the wall. Hard. I blinked dumbly, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. When the haze cleared I saw in her hand, the one pinned against the wall, his wallet. He had done it in one quick, cat-like motion, unexpected from a portly, middle-aged father wearing a Hawaiian shirt. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen my dad do. (Not that one should make a practice of manhandling people of foreign lands, but it was pretty neat.) My dad was like James Bond with a fanny pack.

A thick guy popped out of the door.

“Hey, what do ya think—”

My dad cut him off. “She tried to rip me off. We’re outta here, chief.”

Whoa, I thought, my dad just blew off a Tijuana bouncer! And he meant business, too. You’re not screwing around when you call someone “chief.” On the way down, I kept an eye behind me to make sure the bouncer wasn’t bringing reinforcements. Dad didn’t. “Incidentally, Cole,” he said, “did you notice our waitress was 5′ 11″ and had an Adam’s apple? Gotta watch out for stuff like that.”

The information hit me like a cherry bomb flushed down the toilet of my mind. KA-BOOM! My first transsexual.

♦◊♦

Back on the street, sunlight fried my eyes. I squinted in my father’s direction. For the first time since I was a kid I saw him as something more than just Dad. More than the guy who wore floral ties and penny loafers. More than the guy who waited up to chew me out when I broke curfew. We caught up with the rest of the family. My stepmother asked where we had been. “Just took Cole to see some strippers.” She shrugged. (This is why my stepmother makes such a good match for my dad. Statements like “went to see some strippers” do not faze her.)

On the way back to the states, I wondered where my dad had picked up those kinds of survival skills. My mind wandered: secret foreign adventures, raucous sexual exploits. Maybe he wore an eye patch. There was some mystery left in the old man. Was I impressed he could take on a stripper? No, but I was intrigued by all the things I still might not know. Somehow pornography, not to mention violence, had brought us closer together. Not in a dark room, but in the light of day.

Photo Kaloozer/Flickr

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About Cole Gamble

Cole Gamble's writings on the crimes of Willy Wonka, man-eating beds, and tales from his cringe-worthy life appear at Cracked, Babble, The Daily Beast, The New Yorker, Funny Crave, Mental Floss, The Huffington Post and Salon. Find him at his site, Fun with Cole and on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Fucking fantastic. And all captured perfectly.

    My favorite line is: “If whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, whatever happens in Tijuana makes unicorns cry.”

  2. That was hilarious! I’m sorry you had to live it, but thanks for sharing!

    I too wonder where your dad got those mad skills. These days there is the Internet and you can learn all manor of strip club “tips” like Dressing For Success. But where did you learn that stuff before that?

  3. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    This is a great father-son bonding story. It was fun to read, even though it brought back memories of my own father’s various failed attempts to talk sex to me. Once, when my parents and I had to share a motel room on a family trip, I was awake (though feigning sleep) while they were doing it. Though a kind of shocking experience I could never talk about it, it told me more than Dad ever could about his view of sex and love.

  4. Bonding over strippers? This is why masculinity is so messed up – men bond over objectifying women. When are guys going to realize that there’s more to masculinity than lust? How about treating women decently? About seeing value in them even when they’re clothed?

    Men encouraging their sons to act like this makes me sick.

  5. Wylee: Give me a break.

    Of course men bond over objectifying women. Whether that’s at a strip club or the time my dad showed me my first Playboy, fathers and sons (with obvious exceptions) will inevitably bond over beautiful women. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re really too uptight and Puritanical to reconcile this fact, look at it as a father and son doing their part to financially contribute to members of the young female workforce.

    You don’t think mothers and daughters bond while ogling hot men? Because the Chippendales don’t even exist right? It goes both ways and I see nothing wrong with it.

    It is possible for men to go to a strip club and still be good men. Also, one’s mere presence at a strip club does not mean a man can’t treat women decently. If anything, your broad snap judgments about people are sickening.

    Relax will ya?

  6. “Of course men bond over objectifying women.”

    What do you mean, “of course”? It doesn’t have to be like that. Thinking about women as objects is not something insignificant. It’s such a big part of male culture that I understand why people scoff, but thinking of women as property was also a big part of the culture not too long ago. There’s nothing “Puritanical” about thinking that men stop behavior like this. Don’t bond with other men at the expense of women – find a different way.

    And, no, I don’t think that this is how women bond. I’ve never heard a mother say to her daughter “check out the package on that one! He has a big dick.” or “Damn, don’t you want to squeeze that ass?” Objectification is not a big part of female culture. And that’s a good thing. Compare how many men’s magazines (playboy, penthouse, Hustler, etc) there are to how many there are for women at the news stand. Playgirl? One? And that has more gay subscribers than female. There’s really no comparison between how women objectify men vs. how men do it to women. And yes, there is something wrong with that. Chippendales is one club chain. How many locations does it have? How do you think that number compares to the amount of lap dance clubs for men? No woman I know has been to a male strip club – every guy I know has been to one for women, probably multiple times. Where’s the comparison?

    If you walked up to a woman on the street and said “I’ll give you a few singles to show me your tits” that would be disrespectful, wouldn’t it? Just because these women want the money and are okay with that type of attention doesn’t mean that it’s any different from the man’s perspective. The mentality is the same.

    I don’t think that men at strip clubs act respectfully to women. Yelling “Shake your ass over here!” is not particularly respectful. I would venture to say that most men wouldn’t want their wives and mothers to see how they act when they’re there – and there’s a reason for that. I’m not saying they can’t be respectful in general, or at different times. There was no broad judgment.

    I’m just sick of the idea that objectifying women is was “makes boys men”. It doesn’t.

    • You don’t think women bond over hot guys???? I just showed my wife your statement and her exact words were “Are you kidding? Does this guy even know any women? That’s bullshit.” Most of the women I know have seen a male stripper and they’ve also gone to a regular strip club with guys. And we’re talking about good, solid people.

      Your comparisons are so off it’s not funny. If you walk up to a woman on the street and offer money for nudity, out of bounds. And it’s that way because a strip club is an establishment where women (and men) are there willingly providing a service. You can’t compare that to harassing someone on the street. It’s ludicrous.

      I never said going to a strip club makes a boy a man. Hell, I don’t even care for strip clubs. Not to mention I think Cole’s article was a condemnation of strip clubs and archaic forms of male bonding more than anything, so I’m not sure what you’re so up in arms about.

      But I’m telling you that bonding over a beautiful woman is legitimate between father and son, and not something to knock. And as my wife can attest, the same is often true for mothers and daughters.

  7. Wylee, read the story again, if you will. You see, this is a story of how arcane and outdated the strange ritual of bonding over pornography is. You’ll notice I take a whole passage to point out my confusion over the allure of strip club bonding. In the end, it’s not the porn that brought my dad together, ironically it was what happened after we left. So this isn’t a tale about strip club bonding rituals at all, but a refutation of them, of the old ways men bonded with men.

  8. enjoyed this article. . . I grew up in SD and spent some time in Tijuana in my late teen years. Fascinating place from a sociological point of view. I liked your subtle and dry humor. Glad you’re on Dads Good.

    Jared

  9. To be clear, I did get that the article had a negative attitude toward the whole situation. My comments were directed at the responses that didn’t seem to strike the same tone.

    In general, I feel that most men take the objectification of women too lightly. It is actually a very pervasive mindset. Men see it as fun, entertainment, something that they are entitled to because they’re men. In my example about the woman on the street, i never said that the situations were the same… I said that the mindset is the same. And it is. Going to a strip club doesn’t make you a horrible, awful man. But it is behavior that I is not for the best and could be reduced. You don’t have to go. IF you don’t like it anyway, why not decide to not go back? It would be better for women and would maybe give other men the option to say that they, too, don’t want to go.

    And to say that men go to strip clubs to see “beautiful” women is absurd. They’re not about beauty at all – they’re about the illusion of sexual availability. To say that these drunken men are there to “appreciate” women is quite a stretch. It’s like comparing art to playboy.

    And I never attributed my comment about “making boys men” to you, Daddy Files. It was a reference to the article, where someone says something like that.

    I don’t know how you can say that women’s objectification of men is any where close to their objectification of women. By volume alone, it’s not even close. What percentage of the sex industry do you think is funded by men?

  10. Wylee’s got a good point. But you have to wonder if they would have been able to foil the pick pocket? Or if they’d notice the tranny waiter. If a strip club is a bad idea in America, and worse in TJ, don’t you have to go to know?

    That was the idea when I flew wingman for an Iowa guy I met at a San Diego conference. I used a fake cough and sniffed my nose to direct the table ladies his way. He followed one to the curtained off place in back…and came running out in ten seconds. The stripper was a dude who looked like a lady. And that made a unicorn cry.

    Dave

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