Strip clubs are straightforward: girls dance naked for money and guys pay to be chauvinists. Not exactly the best place to find yourself a date … right?
It was love at first sight. I did my best to play it cool but I knew it showed; I had to have her. I had to take her home with me that night. I knew others who’d been with her before me had treated her shabbily, but in my mind that was nothing that my tenderness and affection couldn’t overcome. I knew the moment I was inside her, everything was going to be all right.
She was a ’72 Buick Skylark custom convertible, canary yellow. I named her Veronica; Ronnie for short. 350 V8 engine, white leather bucket seats, canvas top, and a deep, throaty growl she made whenever I hit her accelerator. I loved her, and I knew she loved me back, but it was doomed from the start. Those that had been with her before me had driven her too hard, too fast, for far too long. That wouldn’t stop me from trying to save her. Over the course of the next eighteen months, I would pour my heart, my soul, and my wallet into her—in vain.
Coincidentally this was right around the time I met Bethany.
In the days before a certain sanctimonious, crusading mayor turned an admittedly seedy but authentic New York City into Disneyworld, there was a “gentleman’s club” I used to frequent. I discovered the “Melody Cinema” during my Wall Street days. It was so underground, only the truly depraved even knew it existed—which explained why the boys in finance loved it so much. It was a respite for reprobates, a sanctuary for scoundrels. There was no bar and no blaring lights in this burlesque style theater, just a catwalk surrounded by voyeurs drooling in the dark. For a twenty dollar cover charge, you gained entrance, and the right to bring your own booze, order take out food, and ogle a dazzling array of the most beautiful women ever to disrobe for money.
The Melody had the casual, clandestine ambiance of a 1920s speakeasy. The theater style seats were perfectly suited for the dollar-a-minute lap dances that were the highlight of the establishment. If you had five dollars, a goddess wearing nothing but glitter, a thong, and a smile could make you feel like a king for five whole minutes. But what made the Melody truly unique was the girls. Unlike some of the higher profile clubs, the ladies of Melody actually understood their clientele. They were friendly, smart, conniving, and insidious. They perceived that IP bankers with boobs pressed into their faces would be loose not just with their wallets, but with their lips about the latest hot stock. You could sit, eat, drink, and shoot the shit with them before or after your optional lap dance, and if you came back, they always remembered who you were. It was a bawdy version of Cheers, with tits, and ass, and grinding.
I was cruising the city in Ronnie with the top down and Prince blasting on my car stereo on the warm August night I met Bethany. I wandered into the Melody in my uniform: wifebeater, bandana, blue jeans and my Harley Davidson boots, and made myself comfortable. In club speak this meant I looked for an unoccupied section of seats–sitting down right next to a stranger in a strip joint was a bit too much like using the urinal right next to someone in a public bathroom.
In true Brooklyn form I gave cool but distant nods of acknowledgement to all of the regulars. I was surveying the landscape, deciding what flavor suited my fancy that evening when she sauntered up alongside me. “My name is Kali” she said. “Would you like a dance?”
You know that moment in the movies when the boy and the girl lock eyes for the first time, and the lights dim and the whole room spins to a standstill? This was not like that, at all. It was more like the moment in the little red riding hood cartoons where the wolf’s eyes pop out of his head, his jaw hyper-extends, his drooling tongue hits the floor, his heart thumps out of his chest and he whistles like a steam engine, while his feet flap in the wind. At least that’s what happened on the inside. Outside, I nonchalantly said “sure, sit down,” even though I knew my eyes were telling everything I was forcing my mouth to hide.
It was easy to make the connection between Kali, as she called herself, and her namesake: an ancient, dark, tantric goddess, equally capable of granting destruction or ecstasy; worthy of consorting with Shiva himself. Sitting next to me was a real life bronze skinned Jessica Rabbit, and yes: they were real, and they were spectacular. She had hair like onyx and the raspy voice of an old jazz club singer. Sex hissed out of her pores effervescently, like a shaken up soda that you had to open carefully to avoid it blowing up in your face. In fact, if I were to have discovered a warning label inside her thong that read “DANGER: CONTENTS UNDER EXTREME PRESSURE; REMOVE WITH CAUTION AT YOUR OWN RISK,” I would not have been the least bit surprised. And yet, behind her eyes, I saw she hid the softness of a child.
At this point I should mention that, for reasons I don’t claim to understand, I don’t emit a predatory aura. Despite all of my hyper-aggressive tendencies and über sexuality, I never set off a fear response in those who have nothing to fear from me. For this reason, babies, dogs, and strippers trust me implicitly, and immediately. Maybe it was because I always conducted myself with a sense of decorum, but I can’t recall the number of times some half-naked woman smelled the stench of decency about me, gave up her hustle and stepped completely out of character and into herself. I actually remember having to tell one young lady who was tearfully bearing her soul to me, that the main reason I was there was so that I wouldn’t have to listen to a woman. ”I don’t mean to be insensitive to your plight miss,” I pleaded, ”but I came here to objectify women, and you are ruining the experience for me by humanizing yourself. Please, take this dollar, and go shake your ass. Really hard.”
I say this because as Kali began to talk to me, I could sense her taking my measure. She started sizing me up as they all do; faking the sexy talk, trying to ascertain my solvency and just how much cash she could ply me for before moving onto the next victim. When she realized this was met with disinterest, she began talking to me like a real person, but still clearly only as part of her artifice. At this point I should have just gone along with the game, except I could tell she was still trying to deconstruct me. As clear as my motives for being there were, my instinctive reaction to her attempts to assess me was to become deliberately opaque.
I didn’t have any illusions about where I was or why she was making conversation with me. She made her livelihood by beguiling men out of theirs, while simultaneously making them feel good enough about it to come back for more. Usually showing up semi-nude was more than sufficient to accomplish this task, but I could tell she loved a challenge. She actually seemed to be enjoying our mental chess game; so much so that she almost seemed disappointed when, after almost an hour of parley, I disengaged without warning, reached into my wallet and pulled out a twenty dollar bill.
With palpable ambivalence she snapped back into character, climbed into my lap and began churning herself into me. The sudden reversal made actual physical contact disappointing and anticlimactic. In comparison to the spirited exchange that preceded, my lap dance was boring. Receiving what I had come there for now seemed dingy, and common, and lewd. I felt foolish and embarrassed; the placebo of feigned connection had worn off and the resultant vacuum amplified the craving for genuine human interaction. I was trying to figure out how I could gracefully interrupt her gyrations and skulk off when she suddenly stopped, leaned forward, and whispered into my ear.
“You should call me.”
I wiped the sweat from the small of her back as Kali sat in my lap, scribbling her phone number onto the inside of a torn box of Newports. “My name is Bethany” she said, “but my friends just call me Betty.”
© Jackie Summers 2012