I went to my first strip club (titty/tittie bar, nipple derby, skin bar, girly bar, nudie bar, or go-go bar) at the tender age of twenty-two. My twenty-two was tender. Probably more tender than yours. I can only compare the feeling shortly before stepping through the velvet rope at Flashdancers approaching the nudity to the feeling shortly before stepping through velvet rope at the Salisbury Mall approaching a Mr. Santa Claus. I wondered if I knew all the rules of engagement that were in play. I wondered how I should ask for what I want. I was filled with nervousness, excitement,, and believing the hype. At the mall, you sat on Santa’s lap. At the club it is your lap that is to be addressed. Addressed in dance form.
The strip club was a careful merging of the two poles of a Foghat concert into one cohesive entity. The smoky lightshow and near deafening music volume of the stage, combined with the heavy drinking and naked women of backstage, living as one unstoppable being. For the sake of expedience lets call this being “Slow Ride.”
Slow Ride wasn’t a “Gentleman’s Club” because there were no gentleman there. Not because these men weren’t gentleman. You just weren’t expected to be one there.
Slow Ride was Boschian Shangri-La where men smelled like alcohol, butt sweat, and good times and women smelled like love, spring flowers, and attainability. If you smell them outside the club the bouncer or even the dancer will break your nose unless there was a previous negotiation.
In Slow Ride the rule was, ”Look but don’t touch.” This went for the dancers and the buffet. This too was negotiable.
Women in Slow Ride, unattainable in the outside world and wearing nothing but a smile and a sliver of shiny fabric not large enough to use as a blindfold would talk to me. I wasn’t able to understand a word they said given near deafening music volume mentioned earlier but given the heavy drinking also mentioned earlier I could only assume it was positive. I could even go as far as saying it was a proposal of marriage or even just a more temporary union. You can assume quotation marks around the word union. I’m a gentleman in the outside world.
I was a gentleman when I walked out Slow Ride. I was a gentleman with glitter on him that wasn’t there when he entered. I was a gentleman who had been tagged.
I was also someone who desperately wanted to make a picture about the experience. This was my white whale. The thought of getting this down in an image and of writing off skin magazines for reference was compelling. I failed in my task. Not at writing off the magazines, the picture. Given the transient nature of letting a picture take you where it wants to go because it wasn’t intended for anyone else, this picture didn’t go to the titty bar. The picture doesn’t really have the nipple derby feel, except for the nudity. Even if there is some Freudian symbolism or metaphor making this an skin bar picture, I was not consciously aware of it and it’s subconscious nature would put it out of the reach of my understanding. Even the fact that eight years after this failed girly bar picture, I moved to an apartment not far away from a go-go bar named “Mermaids” could be made to connect but its understanding would be “cosmic” and thus beyond simple boy from just below the Mason Dixon.
I write all this just to say that yesterday, almost a decade after the experience, I finished a nudie bar picture. I’m not saying I captured the image, harpooning my white whale. I just want him to realize I still know he’s out there and that I’m still looking.
I still believe in Slow Ride like I still kind of believe in Santa Claus.