My Brother Strip Club Gladiator

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Being of service to my brother bouncer.

Decided I’d pick a random picture out of a pile and write about it.  What can I say?  I’m desperate for topics.  Okay.  This one should be easy.  Me and Joe.  We’re at my mom’s house having lunch.  I’m pouring him a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice made from concentrate.  It looks like I’m wearing a chandelier, but I’m just standing behind it.

And that.  Is pretty much.  That.

That’s what’s going on there.

Old Joe.  And me.  At my mom’s house.

Having lunch.

How about that?

Yeah, that’s some crazy shit.

Obviously, this was taken during a period of sustained sobriety.  Because that’s how cray-cray I roll when I’m not drinking.  Doesn’t lend itself to a good story though.

I guess I could write about the dashing black devil dog I’m pouring the OJ for.  That’s Joe.  We became buddies while working as bouncers at the same strip club.  This was the dump in Gardena.  Not the one by LAX.  The one on the Compton border.  Just get on Rosecrans Blvd. and follow the sound of gunfire.  And the smell of sex.

It wasn’t one of my more stress-free gigs.  There we were, sitting on piles and piles of cash, one block away from the 110 freeway on-ramp.  It was as close to a sure-thing armed heist jack-pallooza pay-off as you’re going to get.  At least that’s what all us bouncers had decided.

Now…if we could only find some people around here desperate enough to try.  Yoo-hoo!  Anybody in this zip code like some free money?

What made it even better was that I took the cover charge and carried the majority of the cash.  Felt like I was wearing a bacon-bikini to a dog fight. Eventually the owners let me carry a piece, but in this neighborhood that didn’t really guarantee anything, except drawing more fire.

So I really appreciated having a guy like Joe watching my back.  Ex-Marine.  Funny.  Sharp as razor wire.  Strong as an ox.  Squared-away.  He wanted to be a writer too.  We became pals and hung out when not at work.  We’d lift weights at his apartment and talk about writing, life, strippers.  Travel to border towns in Mexico in search of adventure and romance.  Just normal stuff.

He was a good fighter.  I got to watch him work his magic a few times.  He had a pretty impressive beat-down delivery system worked out.  Mostly thanks to Uncle Sam, but he also had a natural talent.  Which is hilarious when you knew Joe.  When you knew what a total sweet-heart, good soul he was.  To watch him go from genial, charming guy–to ring gladiator–was an amazing thing to witness.

They never saw it coming.  A flash of white teeth, then a storm of blows.  Black Lighting.

He didn’t have to resort to that very often since he had this natural ease about him.  It put other people at ease.  He could defuse a potentially explosive situation with a well-placed wisecrack, or a “C’mon now, work with me, brother!”

He never showed fear.  But he also didn’t get up in dude’s faces.  Instead, he would gently steer potential trouble down and away.  I liked that.  Now that I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t so gung-ho for fisticuffle solutions.  A fella could get hurt.

Sometimes though, you’d run across a dude whose personal karmic debt was just screaming to be paid.  A man intent on blowing past all the safe exits being courteously offered by this gracious gentleman.  He’d misjudge Joe’s nice as soft.  Think he could steamroll him.

That’s when he’d meet The Panther.

Surprise!  You’re suppositions were errant.  Now you get to do The Chicken while being choked out by in a powerful ebony bicep.

We worked well together.  Like some salt and pepper super hero duo.  I was salt.  Since, you know, me and the salt-shaker thing.  Although, at that point, I had moved away from those to a kinder and gentler 300,000 volt zapper, La Chicharra.  A light touch on the back of the neck.  Arcing blue spark blowing out CNS circuits, a little mountain dance, then a collapse into a puddle of electrified urine.  Much more humane.

Relatively.  That little Tesla cattle prod packed a wallop.  I know.  I accidentally sat on it one night getting into my car.  Forgot I had it in the back pocket.  All I know is I’m reaching for the ignition and a Frankenstein bolt of electricity blasts down my right leg.  Kzzzzaaahrrrrrr!

I screamed like a little girl.  Yes it hurt, like a bear trap snapping repeatedly along the limb, but it freaked the fuck out of me too.  Your first thought isn’t “Oh I just accidentally sat on my zapper.”  No, you think something very terrible is happening to you.  Something mysterious.  Some unmeasurable new torment.  From God, maybe.  And your involuntary screaming frightens you into more screaming.

Glad the windows were rolled up.

Anyway, it was good to know Joe had my six.  I sure had his.  I loved that guy.

We wound up working for the same security company after the we left the strip club.  That was dead-end, so we’d try to pick up free-lance work doing escort for scared rich people.  Most of the time we just wound up doing security at rap shows and private parties.  But, whatever we’d find individually, we’d try to get the other guy in on.   Always looking out for each other.

One day, I got to do him a major solid.

One of my contacts, a successful jewelry designer I carried baubles for, had one of her girlfriends coming in from overseas.  She needed a driver and escort while she stayed in LA.  My lady friend told me this woman was beautiful, and like I mentioned, prosperous enough to pay well.  Just to safely shepherd her around.

Why I didn’t take the job I don’t know.  Something just told me to pass it on to Joe.  I knew his financial empire was struggling a little more than mine at the time, so I told my lady I’d have Joe do it.  She had already met him one night in Santa Barbara when we all had dinner together.  (Actually, that was the night before this picture was taken.)

“Oh yes,” she said, “Joe would be perfect. Mmm yes, PERFECT.”

Huh?  Oh.  Okay.  I got it.  Our company just expanded it’s service line.  This was going to be one of those deals.

Shit.  I may have just fucked myself out of a very enjoyable paid gig.  Oh well.  This was going to be quite a happy surprise for Joe.  I called him and dialed him in on the basics, but left out my intuitions, not wanting to get his hopes up.  I shouldn’t have worried.

He called me the day after.

“I owe you more than I could ever repay.”

I knew it.  I sat down on the couch.

“Over several lifetimes.”

“Oh shit, what happened?”

“All good things, man.  All good things.  I so owe you.”

“What the fuck happened?!!”

“Just the best day of my life.”

“The one that could have been mine.  Go on.”

He tells me how he goes to pick her up at the hotel she’s staying at, and into the lobby slinks this blonde cougar.  Early forties.  Classy.  Sophisticated.   Clearly an intelligent and together woman.  But maybe unstable enough to be fun.  Maybe some unresolved issues that periodically erupt in deliciously bad behavior.

“Nine,” he says, “with make up.  Solid eight without.”

“You saw her without her make-up?”

“Hold on.  I’m getting there, but it’s part of a whole package.  A whole package of WOW!”

He’s laughing.  You can hear the joy.  Oh man, I’m thinking, a whole package of WOW sounds so good.  Even half a package.  I felt a tinge of something I didn’t like, so I shoved it away.

He tells me that after he picked up this clickity-clackity sexity society kitten, he took her to 3rd St. Promenade in Santa Monica.

“Good call.”

“Roger that.”

They walked around, looking at the stores and restaurants, Joe just being the young-charming-good-looking-intelligent-witty-chivalrous-chiseled-mahogany individual that he was.

“We hit it off right away.  She seemed fairly happy hanging out with me.”

“Really?  I’ll never figure out women.”

They stroll along the beach.  It’s a beautiful day and the freaks are out.  Lots to talk about.  Laugh about.  Poke playfully at each other about.  She takes him out to a long, leisurely lunch.  Over a glass of wine, she tells him about her life, with Joe asking all kinds of questions that showed his deep interest in her personal history.  He throws in a gentle tease here and there.  She throws her napkin at him, and they smile.  Order more wine.  Let their feet touch under the table.

“Get to the no make-up part.  Actually back up to just before that.”

“Chill my brother.  The story is unfolding.  Elements are…coming together.”

“You managed that too?”

“Not every time.  Just on the last one.”

“I fucking give up.”

Well, it turns out that our sexy and successful client wanted Joe to take her to a girlfriend’s house.  Why not?  Her friend’s a well-known actress, one that’s married to an even more-famous professional football quarterback.  One who also happened to be an African-American athlete Joe greatly admired.  How about that?  His job now required taking this beautiful charge to their mansion, to party.

“You’re bullshitting.”

“Afraid not.”

Fucking rough.  Raw deal.  It meant more people to charm, more people to make laugh and have fall in love with you. Having to sip the premium liquor your personal hero keeps pouring you, while a sexy vampula keeps sneaking you hungry looks.  With teeth-licking.  And eyebrow-raising. Mr. Quarterback’s quarter-grand sound system blasting Bootsy Collins.  Everybody in the kitchen.  Bumping to the beat.  Drinking.  Laughing.  Eating sushi appetizers prepared by the private cook.

I got up to get a beer, then remembered I didn’t drink anymore and sat back down.

“Please tell me you all get food-poisoning.  From the sushi.”

No such luck.  After soul-brother hugging his hero and kissing his beautiful actress wife goodnight, he takes the slightly-teetering client back to her hotel room at The Four Season.  After a few hours of endurance-testing, porn-worthy, jungle-fevered gymnastics they finally collapsed.

It was then he saw her without make-up, as she snuggled next to him in moist, twisted sheets.

“She taught me some shit.  Man.  Tore me up.”

“Got your freak on, did you?”

“Freaky freak.  Freaky-deaky freak.”

“Wow.  That is whole package of WOW.”

“Now here’s the kicker–”

Yeah.  Need one.  A good donkey kick in the gut.  Just to send me somersaulting down the stairs of self-pity.

“She paid me my hourly…up to when I left the next morning.”

“That only seems fair.  Making two month’s worth of pay to endure all that bullshit.”

I inhaled deeply through my nostrils.  Exhaled through my ears.

“You’re a dirty whore, Joe.”

“Oh yes. Yes I am!”

It was weird though, the jealousy was only a pang.  It sort of hit and binged off.  It didn’t lodge in and smolder.  Sure, I wish I had his day.  But something about knowing that Joe got it, a guy I really loved, took the sting out.  I found myself being genuinely happy for him.  More happy than pissed about missing out.

It was strange.  Nice, actually.  It  felt good knowing I kind of helped make it happen.  That I helped a bro have that kind of a day.

And night.

A guy like Joe deserved it.  All guys like him do.

Anyway, that’s what I think about when I see this picture.

My work is done.

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My Favorite Stripper.

Let me know when you're ready for a lap dance, player.

Let me know when you’re ready for a lap dance, player.

I’ve managed to meet a few exotic dancers over the course of my life, but she holds a special place.  For some reason, I always get to thinking about her around Thanksgiving.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because I was grateful to have known her.

She was a piece of work alright.  Men had no idea what they were in for.  But I did.  That’s what made it so wonderful to witness.  I’d watch some drooling letch walk arm and arm with her to the lap dance booth.  Or in the case of many Japanese business men, getting dragged into the booth by her.  Regardless of how they got there, they were all thinking the same thing.  “What an aggressive and nasty little slut!  What kind of a dirty whore has my good fortune chanced upon me here?  This omnivorous sexual creature, lacking inhibition and moral restraint.  This perfect woman.  At least for the lap dance booth.”

It was that or some variable of the same meme.  I could see it in their faces.  Their wild eyes.  Spinning Japanese eyeballs behind coke bottle glasses.  They were so excited.  Why shouldn’t they be?  This girl seems like someone who will let you get away with a lot.  They sensed a total disregard for boundaries.  A Devil’s playground for their wildest desires.

They were in for a surprise.  A boundary was about to punch them in the eye.  Knee them in the groin.

I was a manager at an L.A. strip club manager.  Stressed out.  Trying to stay sober.  Depressed.  Nervous about a big court date.  No money.  Shitty car.  No girlfriends.  And no, not doing any of the strippers.  Like I said, I was depressed, and maybe still mourning the loss of my drunkenhood.  I certainly wasn’t digging having to deal with things in a responsible and healthy manner.  My recently instilled moral compass had me baffled.  Navigating around the world with all kinds of restrictions and parameters was definitely harder.  No wonder I never wanted to do it.

It sucks ass.

It also seemed like every time I did do the “right” thing, something bad happened.  I was in deeper legal shit, then I had ever been in while drunk.  That didn’t seem like a very happy reward for giving up the thing I loved most.  Seemed like a total gyp, actually.  I was really getting the feeling that maybe it wasn’t worth all the effort, this new sober life.

Things kept coming at me, on an endless conveyer belt of bullshit.  Served continually, with no breaks.  With no beer to take the Nestea Plunge into.  No refreshing refreshments.  No oblivion to crawl into and hide.  Instead, it was Reality 24/7,  hammering and hammering on me.  Beating it out of me.  With no bell to end the round and take a stool.

My job didn’t help.  I was one of three managers at an ancient, bio-hazardous waste dump of a strip club.  I had to police over fifty different damaged bundles of dysfunction that we featured as entertainment.  Besides them, I had an owner to deal with.  He was a total money-crazed lunatic, who drank a lot and was prone to stroke-tempting rages.  Then I had a bunch of semi-retired gang bangers and ex-cons working as cashiers and doormen, a couple of odd-ball, tin-foil hat conspiracy nuts working as DJs, some strippers doubling as waitresses, and a few perpetually pissed-off bartenders, each with their own hornet’s nest of issues.

Then there was the clientele.

It would’ve made anybody want to drink.  It sure made me ready for a beer or seventeen after my shift.  Instead, I’d stop for a Cobb salad at Ralph’s and listen to the AM broadcast of Art Bell’s Coast to Coast on the late night drive back to Redondo Beach.  Coast to Coast is not tin foil, by the way.  Lizard people do exist, and many are in positions of great power.

Anyway, the barrage of bullshit was slowing eroding my resolve not to drink.  Also, the possibility of having to do time was hanging over my head, and that didn’t do much to slake my thirst.

So it’s never with great fondness that I recall those days surrounded by g-strings, glitter and thongs.  Go figure.  No, that’s a time in my life I tend to fast forward through when doing the Total Recall thing.  It was generally a gloomy two years.  I had to work at finding any silver lining.  The fact I could find some from such an unlikely source is note-worthy.  Lynx, the bad-ass, speed-freak stripper.  Oh shit.  There’s a song.  I call copyright.

Anyway, she was this  manager’s personal pet.  Out of the fifty or so girls we had working, she was my Number One.  My sunshine.  My only sunshine.

An attractive-enough little brunette, she wore her hair ratted up in a pony tail, like Pebbles… or Gene Simmons.  Had a pretty nice chassis.  Firm fanny.  Perky little peepers.  Sometimes she wore too much eye make-up and had a tendency to over-accessorize, but so did Gene Simmons.

I liked her because she could always crack me up.  I also found out that like me, she was trying to stay sober.  A fellow traveler on the Trudge Turnpike.

Not many of the other girls were trying to stay sober.  Like none other.  Not that every single one had a problem.  Just that of the many who did, no others were trying to do anything about it, but get money for more.  And while most of the other girls were criminally scandalous in their attempts to rip-off the house, Lynx was always square.  That’s the other thing I liked about her.

She showed me the respect of not making my job any harder.  She was still running game on a lot of the chump customers at the club, but she always rendered unto Caesar.  I appreciated that.  I never had to watch her.  Unless I wanted to.  Just for laughs.

I have to stop and make this clear.  Although she was attractive, I wasn’t necessarily attracted.  One of those strange things.  Like she was my younger sister in some other life.  I never had any pervy feelings for her.  Seriously.  I just got a kick out of her.  She had a loud laugh that made me laugh.  She was also a trip to watch.  She had the wanton whore thing down.

She’d be clomping around onstage in her black boots.  Not really dancing, but pacing back and forth like a caged dominatrix.  Step, step, turn.  Gyrate.  She’d have this look in her eyes like she was searching for someone to rape.  Raw animal lust, pausing only to choose who to violate next.  So many eligible and willing victims.  Step, step, step, turn.  You?  Gyrate.  Gyrate.

Ooh, pick me!  Pick me!

Poor suckers.  She didn’t have trouble snagging customers willing to pay for a private lap dance with her.  Guys were very eager to spend some quality time with her, to share some precious moments, inside one of our semi-private, shower-curtained, ripped couch, “what’s all this tissue on the floor?” suites.

After all, the mark had pretty good reason to believe he had pulled a live-wire.  He’s picked someone who would make his twenty-seven dollar, three-minute dance, worth every penny.  Those dirty fuckers all thought she’d be a pushover for some verboten grinding and rubbing.

I should probably explain how the lap dance thing worked, at least at this club.  Girls would dance on stage for tips, but if a guy really liked a girl, he could pay to take her into a booth and let her bump and grind on him.   He was supposed to keep his hands at his sides and never touch the dancer.  Well, at this club, all this took place in a dark booth, behind a plastic curtain.  I had floor men who would peek in to make sure everybody was playing by the rules, but strippers are a sneaky breed of greed.  If they can get away with earning a little extra, by allowing a little extra, most do.

Well, it turned out, Lynx was not that kind of girl.  She policed her privates to the legal letter of the law.  And she enforced that law with her bony little fists and pointy boots–much to the customer’s chagrin, and my utter delight.  I remember watching her take this excited, chubby business man into a booth.  He was leering.  His sweat glands were salivating.  Oh man.  He’s going to go for it.  Gonna make a grab for the gold.

I listened to the song start.  Sure enough.  After a couple of bars of music, I hear a commotion, and out from behind the shower curtain, Rolly Polly rolls out.  He’s sprawled on the floor, holding his eye.   She comes out of the booth putting some money in her purse, kicks the sorry lump, then steps over him on her way back to the dressing room.

“He touched my tits,” she told me.  I nodded.

The guy came to me complaining, but I didn’t want to hear any of it.  “You don’t touch her tits, dude.  She’s like a sister in a past life to me, you sick fuck, you filthy degenerate?   What kind of place do you think I’m running here?”   I had Danny throw him out.  No refund.

Turns out that guy was with a bunch of other guys.  They got pissed I was throwing out their buddy.  So I threw them out too.  They tried to make a stink, but found themselves surrounded by a bunch of guys right off the post office wall.  Yeah, that’s right.  No refund, you fucking fucks.

That’s what not drinking did to me.  Strung me way too tight.  Especially that first try.  I had no clue what it took to successfully not drink.  Being an asshole is not part of the program.  Maybe embracing your inner-asshole, and making friends with him.  Accepting the fact that you’re an asshole,  and then invoking some sort of supernatural force to run interference.   To mitigate it.  That’s part of my program now.  I’m mitigating.

Back then I was unmitigated.  I was the 100 percent, un-cut, pure shit.  It didn’t make life any easier.

Lynx was struggling too.  She had all kinds of Life problems.  Lots of wreckage.   Legal troubles.  Painful relationships.  Health concerns.  The whole recovery bouquet.  So she was trying to deal with all that and stay clean…while working as a stripper in a dirty L.A. club.  She had a lot on her plate.

I did my best to help.  I’d go to bat for her with the general manager for schedule changes, let her leave when she needed to, take her side in the cat fights, cut her slack for fuck-ups, and basically, tried to look out for her.  She repaid me with her goofy laugh and crazy stories.

One afternoon, during a dragging day shift, I was bullshitting with one of the bartenders.  I had just said, “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster,” when Lynx walked by.  “Turkey baster!” she shouts, “Were you into those too?”

Here’s the thing.  A long time ago, in some story I wrote, I wanted to imply that something kinky was about to transpire, so I wrote “And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.”  I always liked that line.  A nice blend of strange and nasty.  I reused it a lot.  It became kind of a standard device of mine.  It really makes a great last line to just about any story.

Anyway, when I came up with it, I didn’t have anything particular in mind.  I just thought the nastiness was inherent, but in an amorphous way.  Turkey Baster Time?  Hmm.  Something weird is about to happen.

So that was it, and I was actually using it that way while talking to the bartender, when Lynx overheard me.  Now she was all excited, asking me about using a turkey baster, and I don’t even know what she meant…what that would actually entail.

“Uh, I don’t…know…what that’s all about…even though…I was talking about it.”

“Oh fuck, that was my favorite way to do speed!”

What’s this?  I had to think about it, but I got it.  Wow.  That’s pretty crazy.  So crazy, my own imagination couldn’t have come up with it.  That’s pretty crazy.  Disconcerting, actually.

“Oh yeah, that way…the turkey baster, ha-ha! Yeah…sure.”

“I used to have different colored ones.  Even had a rack of six different ones mounted by the wall of my bed.”

Okay.  That was too much.   My mind was officially blown.  What-the-mother–?  Is she pulling my leg?

“You’re fucking with me.”

“No Marius, I had them in this thing, like a spice rack, my boyfriend made and mounted for me.”

She was serious.  Turkey basters.  For taking speed.  Via culus.  Different-colored.  Collect-them-all, but keep your best six in a happy rainbow by the bed, in a rack, that your boyfriend made as a handyman shop project.

Wrap your mind around that.

To think I was proud of myself for coming up with a turkey baster being used in some generally implied kinkiness.  Real life had out-weirded me.  Had run circles around me as a writer.  As an artist.  It was humbling.

Even if I could make something like that up, I would never use it.  It’s not very believable.  The reader isn’t going to buy it.  Maybe the shooting drugs in your butt part, but not the spice rack with different colored basters part.  That part, is just too.

And yet, there it was.  True fact.  Stranger than fiction.

I love it.

Lynx was always good for stuff like that.  She was full of surprises.

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before my white knuckles lost their grip, and I was drinking again.  All the stress finally made me snap.  As it started to look more and more like I was going to go to prison for a few years, I caved.  I was scared, and didn’t want to think about it.  So I told myself I could get sober again while inside and started bolting them down.

Then my lawyer beat the rap.  Oops.  Ha-ha.  Jumped the gun there.  Maybe I should have waited a little longer.  Oh well.  Now it was too late.  The genie was out of the proverbial.  I had unleashed The Beast.  Nine months of absolute destruction.  Stepped into the elevator and pushed B.  One more time.  But this time for good.

I was very quickly out of a job, and then an apartment, then a mind.  Made quick work of all of them.  Who needs that shit anyway?

I drank myself helpless, and wound up in rehab for the second time.  This time in North Hollywood.  A place, appropriately called Cri-Help.  Or as we lovingly called it, “Cry Help, Bitch! ”  After detox, I was transferred to residential.  One day I went to the office where they handed out mail.  There she was.  As a patient, but working in the mail room, Lynx.  I guess she couldn’t stay straight either.

“Hey!”

I started towards her, wanting to give her a hug, but she stood back and shook her head.  I had forgot.  The place was strictly non-contact.  As members of the opposite sex, we were not only not allowed to touch, but to talk, or to even make eye-contact.  This place was pretty uptight about it, too.  You’d get written up for even acknowledging a chick in the dinner line.  Of course, everyone broke the rules when they could, but there was a counselor right there in the room.

“Uh, I’m here to see if I got any mail.”

“What’s your name?”

It was strange.  It felt bad.  Not being able to talk to a friend.  Not being able to ask what was going on with them.  How they wound up in rehab.

“There’s nothing here for you.”

“I figured.”

We stood there looking at each other.

“Okay, I guess I’ll check back some other time.”

“Yeah, try again later,” she said,  looking over at the counselor.

One day we did manage to talk.  She had come over with another woman to the picnic bench me and some other dude were sitting at.  They sat at the other end of the table, facing each other.  A counselor was talking to someone at the next table, so we used our friends to beard the conversation.  It was absurd.

“Last I heard, you were going to prison,” she said to the woman across from her.

“I beat it,” I told the guy across from me.  “But I went out anyway.”

“No shit,” she said, poking the woman.

We laughed at our respective conversation partners.  There was that  laugh, loud enough to bring unwanted attention from The Man.

“And you, dude?” I asked, “Did you go back to the turkey baster?”

“What?” My guys asks.

“Not you.  Her.”

“No, heroin.”

“That’s one way to keep off meth.”

Everyone nodded.

“Did you ever wind up dating, Emma?” she asked her friend.

“Dating is hard to define,” I told my buddy.

“Yeah.  I know,” she said to the woman, “You’re a whore.”

We sat there for a while, but it was awkward trying to catch up while pretending to be talking to two other people.  Looking at some dude and asking him if he still plans on stripping when he gets out.

It became really difficult when the two other people started to talk to each other at us.

“Do you think they ever fucked?” the guy asked me.

“I can’t figure it out,” her friend told her.

We finally decided to wrap it up.

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” she said, getting up from the table.

“Me too, bro. It’s good to see you.”

That was it.  That was the last time we talked.  I’d run into her around the rehab and we’d do the slight nod to each other, then I stopped seeing her. I’m pretty sure she got released before me, because one day she was gone.   I never saw her again.

Too bad.  She was a cool chick.  I wish we could have stayed in touch.

So I guess I’m hoping this entry is like a note in a bottle that I’ve thrown on the seas of the internet.  I’m hoping that she’s alive and well, and will somehow, some day, stumble upon this while surfing.  Even though I changed her stage name, she’ll know it’s her.  After all, how many women have had a mounted rack of multicolored turkey basters by their bed?

If you are reading this, I want to thank you for being a good friend during a hard time, and for entertaining me, and always keeping things interesting.  I really owe you for that.  Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

And that’s when she broke out the turkey baster.

Let's party!

Let’s party!

I Sold Out To The Mann.

I slammed the door in front of him causing him to run into it with his chocolate shake.  He smashed the cup right into his jacket, and now the ice cream was running down into his pants.  At first, when he looked down, he was sad.  All that delicious treat… ruined, and now soaking into his clothes.

However, by the time he looked up at me, he had already turned his sad into mad.  After all, he was on his way to sneaking into a free movie with his delicious chocolate beverage, when some person stepped in and fuckered it all up.

I was that person.  I was Marius Gustaitis, hired representative of Black Knight Security, sub-contracted to Mann Theaters for twenty dollars an hour (ten of which I would keep before taxes) and your worst nightmare, Mr. Sneak-in-while-other patrons-exit-the-back.

I bet you never figured on running into a petty and pissed-off dry drunk in need of either a program of recovery or a case and a half of ice cold sweating bottles of Heineken.  I bet you never thought when you saw that open door, that a man, strung tighter than a meth addict’s banjo, was watching it intensely, like an animal snare, just waiting for someone to trip it.

Well, you tripped it alright, and now you’re dangling upside down from a tree limb like a Piñata representing everything wrong with his picture.  Is it time to rip your head off and bludgeon your sagging torso with it?  Gosh, I hope so.  That would be swell.  What time is it?

“What the fuck, dude?!” he said, backing off and squaring his shoulders, then flipping his hands out in the universal sign for querying, ” Do you want some of this?”  Ah, the old Come-and-Get-It stance, except his had a coating of cool chocolatey creaminess that took down the threat-level a peg or two.  If he was going to come after me, he would’ve done it a long time ago.  Myself, I wouldn’t be asking a bunch of questions.  You food me, and I go into a red-out.  Just another thing I have.

“No happy show for you.  Only bad times,” I said, the adrenaline taking a toll on my eloquence.  I sound like an angry, Chinatown merchant, I thought.  Buck fever.  You see them in the cross-hairs and the scope starts to shake.  So close.  Don’t scare him off.  Don’t let him see The Crazy.  Calm down.  Goad him back in.

“You should be a good citizen ship,” I told him, “And sail straight, observing all bylaws.”

There I was, a middle-aged man in a suit and tie, with a thimbleful of authority, spouting off some some square do-gooder pablum.  That would have me swinging.  Do it.  Please take a swing.

They never do.  Not when you really want them to.  It never happens.  Never.  He smelled it.  His animal instincts were dialed in.  No, this suit is stuffed with explosives.

“Chocolate shakes are bad for you,” I scolded,” You need sunshine and exercise.”   I even managed my Happy Face with Bright Eyes, but to no avail.  He turned and beat it down the alley.

Alright, that was still semi-okay.  At least I ruined his night.  That’s something.  Nobody was going to have a good time on my watch.

Not if I’m not.

I walked back around to the front of the theater.  Out on the promenade, some long-legged sex bomb clacked by in ice pick heels, swinging a vintage Whiting and Davis purse.  I smiled.  She smiled back.  Dude, she totally wants you.  Or, she will once she finds out you’re a 40 year-old, non-drinking alcoholic, working as a rent-a-cop for a movie theater.

You’ll get some leg tonight, for sure.  That was a woman, right?  I didn’t see any Laryngeal prominence, but her mitts looked a little ping-pong paddley.

I went back inside the theater and took my post towards the back, where I could keep an eye on the patrons coming in and any renegades trying to cross-pollinate theaters.  Not that I cared about Mann Theaters losing out on money, or any kids seeing a movie with a higher rating.  I just didn’t like the idea of anyone thinking they got over on me.  Mine was an ego-based sense of justice.  I was beginning to understand the mind-set of cops and prison guards.

How bleak.  How utterly demoralizing.  This was my reward for giving up beer.  I don’t know if any reward would’ve seemed big enough at that point, ungrateful wretch that I was, but this job sure wasn’t it.

Let me back up.  After rehab, my buddy, Spike, invited me to stay with him in Redondo Beach.  What the hell.  It was hard knocking around Santa Fe sober.  I felt like some alien had invaded my body and was now making me live someone else’s life, somebody who doesn’t stop in at The Cowgirl Hall of Fame for a few pints of Guinness and a frozen Margarita kicker before hitting the liquor store on his way home from work.  It was just too disconcerting.

I took Spike up on his offer and loaded up my internally bleeding Ford Bronco II, and pointed it’s overheating radiator West.  I stretched a cumulus cloud of white smoke across two state lines and stopped when I hit ocean.

Spike was a good bro.  He let me sleep on his couch rent-free until I could afford to pay towards a larger apartment.  He really wanted to see me make it.  Looking back, probably more than I did.

My first job was working for a florist named Gary.  I saw the help wanted sign and walked in.  I told him the whole truth: almost 30 years of drinking, destroying my life, crashing and burning, rehab, now trying to live sober, and looking for a job while surfing a buddy’s couch down the street.  A Fortune 500 resume if he ever heard one.  It turned out that this charming little bald, gay man, was 20 years sober, and I had just aced my interview.

I got along with Gary and the ladies that worked for him.  Because my mom had always been into floral arrangement, I pretty much grew up around it.  I knew how to put together a Japanese Ikibana arrangement by the time I was eleven.  I know.  Pretty gay.  Not that there’s anything wrong with gay.  I just wasn’t, and would’ve rather learned to shoot skeet or drive a tractor by eleven instead.

Now however, being able to spike some pussy willows into a shallow vase, taking care to divide the branches to represent Heaven, Earth, and Man according to Japanese tradition, was winning me big points with my new boss, and his harem of female workers.  Big thanks, Mom.  The ladies and Gary liked my stories and would laugh as I recounted my drunken misadventures while we sat around assembling wedding centerpieces.  They didn’t seem to think less of me because of my past.  At least they didn’t show it, and I really appreciated that.

I wound up picking up another job as well.  I got a job as a bouncer at a strip club in Gardena.  So, during the day I played with flowers with a bunch of giggling gals, and at night, I tussled with drunk and drug-crazed degenerates, and hung out with strippers, at a ghetto flesh joint.  It was a full life to be sure.  I was enjoying the novelty of sobriety.  Stuff like having my boss walk up to me and not having to bend at a 45 degree angle at the ankles to avoid him smelling my breath.  I thought that all my problems were over now that alcohol was out of the picture.

The problem was that the alcoholic was still in the picture, and this one not doing anything to fix what was troubling him so much in the first place.  The novelty of not being drunk eventually wore off, and things began to bug me like before.  But now, I had no release.  So I just gutted it all up and tried to hold my mud as best I could.  If you pressed your ear to the lapel of my suit, you would hear the ticking of the time bomb.

I became a raging square.  I morphed into some kind of uptight Jack Webb, an angry middle-aged white man, resentful of anyone I suspected might be happier or having more fun than me, which when you’re that miserable, is everyone.

I remember when C.C., one of the dancers from the club, took me to Venice Beach one afternoon for lunch.  Instead of enjoying  the company of a pretty stripper on a beach full of freaks, I spent the date sneering at the colorful populace and mumbling epitaphs under my breath.  All the free-wheeling wierditry irritated me.  We’d pass by some rollerskating cosmic troubadour trying to hustle his next forty ounce, and I’d just hate on him.

“Good for you, Ding-Dong Daddy.  Wave your freeloading freak flag high, you bongo-beating, rainbow dong thong-wearing parasite.  Go ahead, use up all the freedom and fun under the warm California sun.  Some of us have to work for a living.”  Yeah, basically jealous. and when you’re  jealous of a lunatic panhandler, your way of life isn’t working for you.  More coffee.  More cigarettes.  More anger.

One of the other bouncers at the club, an ex- Marine named Joe Washington, had gotten a side job with a security company.  He told me this company provided executive security, something I was not entirely unqualified for, since my work credits in Central America would transfer.  Far out.  A jaw-clenching reactionary providing a little muscle to escort self-important paranoidals seemed like a perfect fit.  A God shot.  But there was a catch.

Joe explained, that the only openings the owner had were for providing suit-and-tie security for a few Mann movie theaters in L.A., including the one in Westwood where they held all the big openings.  But, as real body-guarding positions opened up, we’d be first pick.

I met with the owner and told him a little about my qualifying work experience, leaving out the couch-surfing-alcoholic-trying-to-stay-sober stuff.  He hired me and gave me a black t-shirt with a logo of a stylized knight chess piece.  “Dark Knight Security,” it said, “Knows Your Next Move.”  I remember he gave it to me almost ceremonially, like he was handing me an ancestral samurai sword.  I mean it was a quality t-shirt, you know, one of those Beefy Tees, but it was still just a t-shirt.  And a presumptuous one at that .

Regardless, I got a third job in as many months, was building up some savings, and soon enough, would be body-guarding the rich and famous.  That wouldn’t have happened if I was drinking.  I decided to drop the florist gig, so that I could dedicate more time to becoming the baddest sober bad-ass I could.

I ran the beach, biked to Marina Del Rey and back, worked out on my bag, and lifted weights like a convict.  The exercise did me good.  I shed the last of my beer muscles and leaned out.  I got back to my fighting weight.  I looked good in my suit again.  It would only be a matter of time before I was shepherding some rich sheep safely through this wilderness of pain known as Los Angeles, California, a pair of .40 caliber pistols strapped across my bullet proof.  I just had to wait it out at these stupid movie theater posts in the meantime.

What I didn’t know then, was that the meantime, would be the only time.  There were no body-guarding positions with this company.  It was all bullshit.  The owner was an ex-L.A.P.D. cop that had to suddenly resign from the force.  We could never piece together his story why, but Joe and I had our suspicions.  After a while though we did piece together that he was just stringing us along.  The only jobs he had for us were as rent-a-porkers, but in suits and ties instead of the standard Boy Scout/Crossing Guard uniform.

My first night was at the theater over on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  I stood in the lobby, trying to front all Secret Service sinister while watching families and couples spill popcorn across the carpet, when it hit me like a bolt.  Oh fuck.  I’ve done this before.  When I was eighteen I got a job working as an usher at a Mann Theater.  It was now over twenty years later, and here I am again back at Mann Theaters, basically doing the same thing, and adjusting for inflation, getting paid the same.

Sure, my suit was better than the polyester, Mid-Western realtor’s jacket and tie they made me wear back then.  But, if that’s all you have to show for twenty years of evolution, a better monkey suit, you’re not setting the world on fire with your ascent up the social ladder, Rocket Boy.  I was right back where I was before my drinking took off.  Back at square Go.  The irony of it all stained my lips and teeth black with it’s bitter berry juice.

I was usually shuffled between two theaters, the one at Third Street Promenade playground of the well-to-do in Santa Monica, and a more run-down one in Culver City, with a lower-income, higher-gang member demographic.  At which one do you suppose I had all the problems?  Think about it.  You got it.

I never had any problems at the Culver City one.  I’m not kidding.  There they would be, Bloods and Crips, watching the same movie together, behaving like good little boys and girls.  I suspect there was a general truce regarding theaters, neither side wanting to fuck up being able to go to the movies in peace.  Sure, there were the usual sneak-in attempts and theater jumpings, but they never gave me a hard time when I caught them.  It was understood we were playing a cat and mouse game and there were no hard feelings.

I even had to empty the whole place one night, in the middle of everyone’s movies, because of a fire alarm.  There was some grouching and irritated questions, but nobody went ballistic.

Meanwhile, back in Santa Monica, I’m squared off and ready to start trading hooks with some dad, wearing a sweater tied around his shoulders and soft leather driving loafers.  He insists on bringing in his leftover spaghetti dinner against the no outside food policy.  He didn’t want to go put it away in his car because…he didn’t want to miss the previews to this Disney movie he was taking his family to.  I swear to you.  I’m not making this up just to create great literature.

I’m thinking, “It’s spaghetti with meat sauce, dude.”  This guy looks like he owns an Audi dealership, and he’s blowing a shit fit over 77 cents worth of food.   If those previews are so precious, I would take the foil tray outside and drop kick it over the sunglasses kiosk across the way.  This guy was willing to risk getting his ass kicked in front of his family over it.

He’s up in my face, seething with rage, white hot spittle foaming in the corners of his mouth.

“It’s the principal!  The principal!” he keeps sputtering.

Everybody in the lobby has stopped to look.  The manager, Mike, is hanging back watching.  I didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved at this point.  A guy like this one is usually well-lawyered.  They don’t get this bold without knowing they can hang you with a juicy law suit.  Is this his game?  Is he trying to bait me into taking  the first shot?  Interesting role-reversal.  Maybe he thinks a shot is the chops is worth a three week vacation in Vanuatu, including the  jet-ski rental, on-call masseur and helicopter tours.

All this going through my head as he’s screaming at me.  His wife has got the kids, but she’s not trying to pull him back or calm him down.  She must be in on it.  The kids don’t seem to be too freaked out either.  Have you seen Daddy do this before?

“I am going to bring this dinner in with me,” he announces, “I am walking in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s where he was wrong, of course.  I’m mentally spinning a Lazy Susan of choices.  I recognized that his assholeness should have consequences, but how painful those should be was now being mitigated by the presence of his family, and the possibility of legal repercussions.  This was not stuff I worried about when I was drinking.  But what would be an appropriate response to punish this impudent and petulant little turd?  Just the right amount of pain sprinkled over a generous portion of shame.

That’s when I realized my old behavior wouldn’t serve me.  Sure I could kick out his knees and rub his snout into the rug like a bad doggy, forever scarring his kid’s image of him as Daddy Hero.  And while that would be deeply satisfying and personally gratifying, I might eventually regret it.  Why not play his game instead?

I decided that if he so much as brushed against me on his way to the Disney previews, I would go down like an NFL punter.  Totally take a dive, making sure to hit my head hard on the floor, so hard that I might night be able to recognize relatives or pronounce words with more than once consonant.  “I can’t feel my penis. What’s wrong with me, Doctor?”

We’ll see who winds up jet-skiing in Vanuatu, bitch balls.

“Please don’t make impotent threats. I command you to halt,” I said, holding my hand up, but splaying the fingers slightly to suggest a weak defensive gesture, my wrist bent almost effeminately.  I also used “impotent” on a hunch.  Hot button?  Hoped so.

Unfortunately, I have a bad poker face.  People can read the thoughts going through my head with the ease of a teleprompter.  As soon as I decided I would hit him where it hurt most, namely his Audi dealership, dry-cleaning franchise, or whatever enterprise had shod his hoofs with such elegant supple leather slippers, he started to balk.  His animal instincts were dialed in.

Instead, he looked up.  His rage was gone.  He was now weighing things in his head.  Meanwhile, I’m trying to telepathically implant crazy violent ideas, trying to stave off the sanity I saw leaking in.  C’mon, bust a move motherfucker!  Just shove the flunky theater security lug out of the way on your march towards victory.  Run for the roses.  Trample those that deny you your spaghetti leftovers underfoot, in the fierce day of your pride.

He turned to his wife.

“I’m going to take this out to the car.”

I watched him walk out of the theater, and with him, my hopes for getting out of this stupid job.  They never go for it when you really want them to. They never do.  Never.

There would be no quick fix to my situation.  Alcoholics prefer their fixes quick.  Deus ex Machina, descend upon our wretchedness!   No, I was going to have to learn how to wait.  Maybe things were unfolding at just the right pace.  How could you ever really know?  Except maybe in retrospect.  I resigned myself to think so, if only to delude myself into not being so uptight.  What the hell, right?  You can believe whatever you want.  You might as well believe something that helps you make it through another day with out taking  a drink.  Unless, you don’t want to make it through another day without taking a drink.

In that case, carry on.  You know what you have to do.

I went back to my post and checked my watch.  Two and a half more hours to go.  I looked up and saw two teenagers jump the ropes and run for theater 4.  They looked back at me.  I waved.  Fuck it.  Enjoy yourself, kids.  I’ll do my best, too.

Wishing you a happy show.

The Sober Strip Club Manager; A Vanishing Breed

Hey Ma, look at me now!

I hated working at the strip club on Sundays.  Sundays are sad enough.  Strip clubs are even sadder.  A strip club on a Sunday is as sad as it gets.  The refuse that washes up on its shores is pretty ugly.  The level of sleaze that frequents a strip club on a Sunday night is lower than, say, a guy who just wants to pop in while his wife is in labor.

I was working as a shift manager in an old club by LAX.  “Nude Nudes” our sign redundantly declared.  It was run-down and dirty, like the clientele, and our featured entertainment.  I had started out as a bouncer, but because I could muster more cognitive ability than a Neanderthal, knew simple arithmetic, didn’t steal, and wasn’t drinking, I was singled out for promotion to management.   I really felt like sobriety was moving me up the food-chain.  Unfortunately, it was of a species that tended towards bottom-feeding.

On Sundays, we opened at 6pm.  I got there at five, to unlock the place and get things in order.  The strippers were supposed to come in at staggered times from 5:30 onwards.  Instead, they would start showing up around 6:30, but definitely staggered.  Some drunk, some hung-over, others poisoned by powders, but all late.  Meanwhile, I had guys who had just been stuck with a substantial cover charge, sitting around drinking skinny glasses of six-dollar soda, looking at an empty stage.  “Where are the girls?”  they’d ask me.  “Fuck if I know,” I’d tell them, and no they couldn’t get their money back.

I’d stand in the parking lot, pissed-off and stressed-out, waiting for the girls.  Eventually, they’d begin to arrive, by their new Lexus or Escalade, or by taxi, or boyfriend’s truck.  They were a sight to behold.  No make-up, stained sweat pants, ratty hair, sometimes red-eyed and bruised.  You wouldn’t think some guy would squander a large percentage of his paycheck to rub up against them, but you’d be wrong.  For me, the relief of seeing them finally show up diluted the anger.

Coco was notoriously late.  An ebony bombshell, with boobs like a bullet bumper from a ’55 Buick Century Riviera.  She had the body that let her get away with a lot of things in life.  She took advantage of this fact, along with a lot of suckers who fell under its spell.  We hated and liked each other in equal measure.

“Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Your Highness.  We have champagne and a eucalyptus body wrap waiting for you.”

“Shut the fuck up, I’ve had a hard day. Could you take my bag…please.”

I bent down to pick up her bag and noticed her new Louboutin shoes, then saw the polish on her toe nails was chipped and flaking.  Says it all.

“Having to tote around this duffel bag stuffed with dollar bills will take it out of a girl, or was it the Iron Worker’s convention?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

We walked to the back gate and had Tiny buzz us in.  We went down the hall to the dressing rooms.

“I’ve got a roomful of Japanese business men sitting in there angry because I have, as a poor host, disgraced their honor.  Anytime now they might realize they’ve been drinking non-alcoholic beer, and that alone is enough to restart the war.”

“Why is that my problem?  My back hurts, and I started my period.”

“Wow, that’s just great.  I mean, I’m sure there’s a lot of guys out there breathing a sigh of relief.”

“Is Boogie here?”

“She got here ten minutes ago.”

“She’s got something of mine.”

“Contagious?”

“Shut the fuck up.”

We got to the dressing room.  It smelled like hairspray and weed.  Girls were putting on make up, getting dressed for getting undressed.  Some were laughing, others bitching and complaining, many drinking from paper cups.  I turned a blind eye to all the boozing and substance abuse.  I understood that getting naked in front of a bunch of strangers, and giving them a view usually reserved for the doctor, required a special sort of mind-set.  Being sober wasn’t it.  Besides, who was I to judge?  I would drink to fortify myself for a lot less daunting tasks, like going to the mailbox or to take a shower.  I dropped the bag by her locker.

She sat down, pulled out the massive coconuts from her lace bra, and just let them flop like tired seals.

“Nice.  Okay, please don’t peel it back here for too long.  The natives are getting restless.  And try not to get too drunk tonight, Howard might be showing up.”

“I need a tampon someone!” she yelled.

“Listen for your song…and don’t forget to cut the string.”

I went inside the lounge to check on things.  Willow was on stage.  Poor thing.  She was a lost little hillbilly, mercifully dim-witted enough not to realize how cruel her lot was.  Her boyfriend was some ass-hole that was basically pimping her out.  He took all her money at the end of the shift, and doled out a measly stipend for her to buy Cool Ranch Doritos and breath mints, which see seemed to live on.  I tried to look out for her as best as I could, but the predators were plenty.  Besides, she’d be going home to one, so it was a lost cause.  The place was full of those.

I looked at my floor guy, Armando.  He seemed fairly sober tonight.  He had the clipboard.  His job was to mark which lap dance booth the girls were privately dancing in.  The “dance” was usually some form of dry-humping and groping, and each one had to be accounted for.  It’s not landing a probe on Mars, but enough of a hassle for a drinking man.  He had to keep track of twenty-two different booths located in various parts of the club.  Every booth that had a girl with a customer inside, had to have a little light bulb lit up by the door.  That showed that the girl activated the light by running her card, which was basically a debt card she had been issued at the beginning of her shift.  She would pay for, or be given credit for, a number of song’s worth of dances.  That was how the house got it’s cut.  It cost her seventeen dollars for every two and half-minute song, but don’t worry, she’d get that back from her customer and plenty more.  Especially if she didn’t bother to run the card.

Armando had to make sure that didn’t happen.  He really had to have his hustle on checking each booth.  Some of our more scandalous scamps would dart into the darkened booths as soon as he turned his back, in order to grind one out rent-free.  Fortunately, Armando watched vigilantly.  It’s not that he cared about making Howard more money.  He just didn’t like the idea of some stripper outsmarting him.  I got that.

My bouncer was Danny, a gang member, ex-con, off-and-on drug user.  Good guy.  I was grateful to have him.   He could handle a fair share of shit, leaving less of it for me to deal with.  Regardless of the management title, I was still just a bouncer, but one that had to count a lot more.

The money from admissions, the bar, and the dances didn’t just have to add up, it had to add up high.  The owner had decided all of that depended on me.  If  guys didn’t come in, that was my fault.  If they didn’t want to drink more soda than the two drink minimum, or pay some creature forty dollars to sit on their lap, it was considered a failure on my part to motivate them.  I had to get them to fully participate in their own fleecing.

Every night I’d have to call in the final numbers, and would pray that Howard wouldn’t pick up from the answering machine.  By then, he’d had a few, and was prone to screaming tirades, even if the numbers were okay.  I stressed balls over the numbers, and looking back, I can see it was all for nothing.  Howard was going to rage whenever he felt like it.  Worrying about it was a futile waste of misery.  It didn’t make staying sober any easier, that’s for sure.

My DJ on Sunday was Dan.  Jesus.  How can I describe Dan?  He looked like some troll that just stepped off a fantasy game board.  No, troll is not right, more like an old garden gnome, but one who instead of wearing a pointy cap, had wiry hair pulled back into a Thomas Jefferson type of thing.  Just a strange-looking creature, but you forgot all about that when you got to know how weird he really was on the inside.

He was paranoid and saw Big Brother watching everywhere, so he had decided to watch back.  He would listen to a portable police scanner while in the booth.  Don’t get me wrong, the scanner is a valuable tool to keep a step or two ahead of the squad car’s arrival, but he wasn’t up to anything.  He’d monitor the calls coming in and make scary, cryptic announcements . “Somebody’s about to take a fall on a fifty-nine dash eleven, and nobody knows who’s going to be next!”

I was already jumpy from not drinking, and had recently had some trouble with the law, so I never knew if I should pay attention to him.  Every time his radio came on,  it sounded like cops had entered the building, and I’d have to fight the impulse to bolt.  Paranoia is highly contagious.

Dan was bizarre on the mike.  I’d have to do the voice for you to get it across right, but it was an over-the-top, greasy AM radio smooth, but with a pervy quality.  It was like audible leering.  This combined with his odd choice of patter to make everything sound sick and sinister.

“Yes yes gentlemen, the time has come for our two-for-one special!  Our ladies are waiting for you to take advantage.  Exercise your freedom of choice while you still can!  Grab one of our young ladies, before it’s too late, and allow her to entertain you.  Don’t feel the regret of lost opportunity the lost opportunity of not taking advantage…of our two-for-one special.  Be good to yourself, and do it now…”  He was clearly trying his hand at mind-control.  The girls were all creeped out by him, and they didn’t creep out easily.  I felt sorry for him.  I could tell he was a lonely soul, and he wasn’t doing anything to fix that anytime soon.

Carla Chronic was behind the bar, her eyes fighting to stay up at half-mast, selling sodas, juice, and non-alcoholic beers.  Because we were an all-nude place, the law said we couldn’t serve alcohol.  I guess the reasoning was that seeing a woman’s vagina while drinking was going to make men too crazy.  Two powerful intoxicants, when mixed together can have a dangerous synergistic effect.  I have to begrudgingly agree with our lawmakers on this one.  One or the other is trouble enough.

I looked around the room.  The crowd on Sundays was a depressing lot.  We had The Fiddler.  He was slunk down behind a table in a dark corner.  He would wear  flimsy nylon running shorts so he had easier access to massage himself.   In order to throw him out, I’d have to catch him in the act, which I was never enthusiastic about.  He would change into shorts from his work clothes, out in his car before he came in.  He was someone’s Dad, I thought, and that must really suck.

There was Lover Boy, a chubby guy who would bring gifts to a certain stripper.  Flowers, cards, candy, balloons, little trinkets, all brought with great anticipation of bequeathing to his lady-love.  He would then take her into a booth, sit harmlessly next to her for $400 worth of songs, and tell her about his day.  She was kind enough, but when his time was up, she’d have to leave to find another guy.  He would watch her go off into a booth with some dude, and then bring the balloons over to me for safe-keeping, and leave.  It was brutal to witness.  Like watching a duckling get flattened with a tennis racket.

Off to my right, was Pappy Parker.  I think his real name was Roy.  He was one of those guys with a big beard and a hanging gut that required both a belt and suspenders.  He sold custom-made knives at gun shows, and made bolo ties that had real scorpions embedded in amber-colored resin.  His big thing was taking part in Civil War reenactments, the ones in which Pickett’s Charge succeeds and the South wins.   He also liked to have strippers cradle his head in the lap dance booth while cooing baby talk.  There were rumors of a pacifier involved, but I never saw it.  I watched him pick his nose and wipe it off under the table.

Everywhere you looked there was something to feel bad about.  Someone was exploiting someone, often while being exploited themselves.  If it wasn’t the bad feelings and bullshit, it was the boredom.  By then, I had become desensitized to even the most alluring of dancers.  I’d watch some slutted-up slice of seduction, wantonly writhe around on the stage, and find myself  thinking about having to buy new socks or wiper blades.  “I need to mail in that rebate, it expires pretty soon.”  That would freak me out.  What’s happening to me?  When your favorite stuff starts to bore you, you know you’re in trouble.

I was in bigger trouble than I realized.  I was letting it all get to me, and that’s not good for somebody trying to recover.  The constant worrying about my earlier legal troubles, and the stress of trying to appease the unappeasable Howard, was making me thirsty, and not for a six-dollar soda.  I hadn’t learned to live without alcohol, and that meant I hadn’t learned how to live at all.  A strip club was probably not the best place to take those baby steps.  I would eventually start drinking again, and Sunday nights wouldn’t be so sad anymore.  They would be even sadder.

Strip Clubbed to Death

Joe Washington and I were lifting weights in his ghetto apartment.  We were doormen at a strip club straddling Compton and Gardena in Los Angeles. Rio Gentleman’s Club. Joe was getting his buff on, while I was just trying to keep my blub off.  He was an ex-Marine in his early 20’s, and a sharp dude.  I was an ex-drunk in my early 40’s, and just coming to.  Somehow we teamed up and watched each other’s back.

“We are surrounded by beautiful, naked women every night,” Joe said, “and we still dread going to work. Where do we go from here?”

“I don’t know, Joe,” I said, “but I think I’ve pretty much topped out, and frankly it’s not that great up here.”  I dropped my cigarette into what was left of my protein shake and picked up a dumb-bell.

Working at a strip club was fun, for the first few hours.  If you’re normal, you notice the girls.  Then you notice all the bullshit that comes with the girls.  Then you try not to notice the girls anymore.

The club was sketchy.  Being in the ‘hood, and right next to the 110 FWY, made it a prime target for armed robbery.  Since I handled the money, the owners let me carry a gun.  That didn’t guarantee it would be much help without pals, ones who wouldn’t wilt when the lead started flying.  I could trust Joe, Mike the Merc, and a skinny guy named Javier.  Javier had to dodge bullets everyday on his way to Cesar Chavez Elementary when he was growing up.  Any blast-a-thon would be like waiting for the school bus for him.  I wasn’t sure about Samoan Jeff, but I definitely didn’t trust Man Make-Up Daryl.

Although I appreciated Daryl’s ability to ‘roid rage at will, he wore pancake, for fuck’s sake.  He chemically sculpted his body with Deca-durabolin, Winstrol, and Test-250.  His face was fake-tanned and fabulously framed by a tinted coif.  He took it up a notch with mascara, eyeliner, and foundation.  The result was strange.  He looked like he was about to appear in a play, or an open casket.  “You put make-up on like a mortician,” I once told him, behind his back.  I was always nervous that someday he would save my life, and I’d have to explain how I owed it all to a preening narcissist.  In the meantime, I wouldn’t give him any reason to hesitate.

I had quit drinking by the time I started working at strip clubs in L.A., but I started again before I quit them.  No alcohol was served at the all-nude joints, but drama was served up in heaping helpings.  Whenever horny, lonely, desperate and frustrated men congregate to win the affection of drug-addled, wounded, bitchy, and manipulative women, the fun never stops.  It wasn’t always the girls I had to protect.  The guys were in just as much danger of being ripped-off or beaten up as the women.  A nasty, ugly vibe pulsates underneath all that gyrating g-string and strobe.  Bad Feng Shui, for sure.

I remember having to rescue an Asian businessman from one of our dancers.  He had expressed displeasure about some aspect of his lap dance. I suspect the price aspect. Suddenly, he found himself in an Adult Hentai action comic, with a long-legged stripper from Thailand, in latex boots, kicking his ass.  I must confess that I was hesitant to step in.  Lilly had become a whirling tornado of claws and kicks.  I don’t know if all stripper’s from Thailand know martial arts, but I encourage all men to assume it.  I got the guy outside, and didn’t know what to tell him.  He hardly spoke any English, so I just bowed, and said “So sorry for crazy action!”

Because I could do simple arithmetic, and didn’t drink or steal anymore, I quickly shot up the ladder to management.  That was at the club near LAX.  You know the place.  The one on Century, next to Carl’s Jr., with the big garish sign redundantly announcing “Nude Nudes.”  It had been there for ages, and every year the City Council had tried to get rid of it.  I remember seeing it when I was eight years old while driving by with my parents.  I asked my Mom what “nude” meant.  She explained it meant naked.  Naked ladies worked there, dancing for men who paid them money.

That flipped my lid.  I just couldn’t believe there was a building that contained a bunch of naked ladies dancing around, and in ten more years, I’d be allowed to go in there.  That is… if the world didn’t end by then.  I prayed every night that it wouldn’t.  It didn’t.  Thirty years later I was working in that building, oblivious to any nakedness, stressed to the max, praying every night for the world to end.  Go figure.

Being a manager was much worse than being a doorman.  Besides trying to keep an eye on all the cash, I had to make sure the dancers followed the rules, which was impossible for them.  If they could follow rules they wouldn’t have wound up there.  So if they could run any kind of game on you, they would run it, and they were good at it. You had to find an angle to make them want to listen to you, at least once in a while.  I found myself becoming a pimp, a strange mixture of intimacy and threat.  I had to listen sympathetically to their stories of domestic horror, give them a hug, then remind them if they weren’t on stage when ZZ Top came on, I would send them home.  That kind of stuff felt bad.

There was plenty of stuff to feel bad about while working at a strip club.  From seeing beautiful women swirl down the toilet drain of drugs and alcohol, to lonely men paying $40 a two-minute song, sometimes just to sit in a booth with a girl and talk.  Seriously.  No dry-humping or groping.  Some guys just wanted someone to talk to.  One paunchy little fudnick would buy ten songs in a row with this certain stripper.  They’d go off into a private lap dance booth, and when you’d peek in on them to make sure they weren’t doing anything too illegal, you’d see her sitting next to him, holding his hand while he told her about his day.  He would bring her flowers and trinkets, and probably convinced himself she was his girlfriend.  Brutal.

I guess the hardest part of seeing humanity at its saddest and seediest, is the haunting thought, that maybe you’re not that different.  It’s easy to feel superior at first.  What a whore!  What a loser!  But with any reflection at all you begin to ask yourself uncomfortable questions.  Have I ever sold myself out for money?  Have I ever taken advantage of someone?  Have I ever wanted someone so much that I became pathetic?

I read that they finally bulldozed the place.  The city finally scraped it off its shoe and put in a parking lot.  I can’t say it bummed me out.  I wasn’t eight years old anymore.