|Photo by Maharet Hughes|
I stepped onto his hand with my full body weight, effectively erasing his humanity by refusing to meet his gaze. Grinding my stiletto heel into the metacarpal bones slowly, like a hot high school dry hump in a basement rec room, I imagined stigmata blooming through through his tendons to his palm, a puddle of blood soaking into the beige shag carpet. I jutted my hip forward, snapping my fingers impatiently as he carefully slid four crisp fifty dollar bills into the garter where it met my fishnet stocking. Kicking his drink over, I spit in the direction of his head and sauntered down the catwalk, the transaction completed.
* * * * *
It was the summer of 1978 and I was wild seventeen year old punk chick who’d left LA for New York City on a whim, fleeing from a heartbreaker. I was staying with my friend Kristian Hoffman of The Mumps, and his boyfriend Bradley Field, drummer of Teenage Jesus And The Jerks. Urban pioneers, they lived on the sixth floor of an industrial walk up at the corner of Bowery and Grand , in what had once been a silver-plating factory. My pal Brian Tristan ( who hadn’t yet changed his name to Kid Congo) and I slept in the rehearsal room, which was shared by both bands.
I’d had the Teenage Jesus single “Orphans” since it’s release a couple of months ago, and was excited to meet Lydia Lunch. She showed up at the loft wearing nothing but an oversized San Antonio Spurs team jersey and a pair of slutty black patent leather ankle strap heels. No bra, no panties, no purse…and apparently, she’d walked from Second Avenue all the way down the Bowery like this. Lydia was a lot shorter than I expected, with abundant curves and alabaster skin. Her bright lipstick smile, huge baby doll eyes and throaty laugh completely contradicted her angry onstage persona. To me, she was adorable, not even close to the tall, removed, arty ice queen I’d expected.
We bonded immediately, prowling Max’s and CBGB, and taking the train out to Coney Island on hot summer nights to ride The Cyclone rollercoaster. We’d meet for pizza on St. Mark’s Place to compare notes on people we’d both fucked, and started taking long, luxurious baths together in the large tub that Kristian and Bradley had dragged in from the street.
As my scheduled departure date approached, I realized I didn’t want to go back to LA, so I started looking for a job. The hippest record store in town, Bleeker Bob’s, had a year and a half waiting list for a minimum wage position as a sales clerk, so that was out. I pounded the pavement relentlessly, but with my cropped neon pink hair, finding a waitressing job was impossible. One night in the tub, after I’d already resigned myself to leaving, Lydia came up with a solution.
“Why don’t you come and work at my job?” she drew out to word “job” to “jahhhb”, purring in her slightly nasal Rust Belt accent,
“They’d love you as a waitress there!”
She described all the benefits: it was at a place called The Wild West on 34th street, so it was close… just a few subway stops away. Hair color wasn’t issue. All you had to do was serve 3.0 Near Beer to old men- mostly Midwestern conventioneers-for a whopping $3.50 a can, which they actually paid. The tips were great, you could make about $75.00 a night and you could set your own schedule. Considering that if I stayed, my rent was going to be $25.00 a month, everything sounded fantastic. I was all gung ho until Lydia told me that the “uniform” was a bathing suit… and that if you wanted, you could make even more money by letting the men buy you drinks, earning a commission on each one they bought.
Wrapping a towel around myself as I stepped out of the tub, I narrowed my eyes in suspicion.
“Is this a Naked Place?”, I asked, hands on my hips.
“Well,” she drawled, “It’s kinda like a tourist trap.”
After we dried off, she got on the phone to someone named Rocco, telling him to expect me.
I showed up at The Wild West the next evening in my little French cut hot pink Spandex spaghetti strap Capezio leotard looking like a refugee from A Chorus Line, and found out that indeed it was a Naked Place.
“Hot Shot” by Carole Young poured out the door the moment I opened it. There was a bar to the right as you walked in, bottles of booze gleaming under twinkling, multi-colored fairy lights. Bowls of peanuts and “classy” glass vases of plastic roses sat on the bar complimenting the tuck ‘n’ roll mustard Naugahyde bar stools. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw a large, carpeted stage dominating the center of the room, a nude woman with a Henna red Cleopatra bob writhing around on it. A ledge for drinks and ashtrays ran all the way around the stage with chairs flanking it. Booths filled the walls on either side of the room, many of them inhabited by a man in a suit and a woman in a negligee, heads together, giggling. Some had champagne buckets placed conspicuously in front of them. Smaller , private carpeted stages nestled in corner alcoves, women danced in lingerie on top of them, bathed in red lights.
Behind the bar, Rocco was resplendent in a Ban Lon shirt unbuttoned to the waist, revealing a giant gold crucifix hanging from a weighty chain. Looking like a cross between Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever and a punch drunk prize fighter, he nodded and wordlessly handed me a tray, introducing me to Esther, who’d show me the cocktailing ropes.
Warm and motherly, she explained the way the drink commissions worked, pointing out the women- dancers- who made the most money, advising me to keep an eye on them and watch as they worked. Esther and I even cooked up a few scams together on the spot, splitting the proceeds down the middle. That first night was a people watching bonanza, even if I felt like an asshole asking the men to pay such an exorbitant price for beer that wasn’t even alcoholic. I also went home with $79.00 in tips. I was sold, so I went back the next night, too.
It only took another shift or two to realize that the dancers made well over twice as much as the waitresses, so I decided I wanted to dance. Raised in the 1960’s, I was fine with nudity, and even though I’d never once danced on a stage, I could easily do splits and backbends. I asked Lydia’s advice.
“ Just tell Rocco you want to dance”, she said, “Tell him you want an audition; bring a G-string and heels.”
I had several pairs of thrift store Jackie O pumps with me, but the lingerie was gonna be a problem. I didn’t own a g-string , and since there was no such thing as black underwear in the ‘70’s, and that was only what I wanted to wear, all mine had come from the same junk stores as my heels. My personal aesthetic was purely True Detective: aside from one leopard print peignoir, my lingerie consisted soley of black satin spiral stitched 1950’s bullet bras, lacey black Merry Widows, whorish panti-girdles and garter belts.
Rolling her eyes, Lydia took a tiny black g-string out of her purse, wadded it up and threw it at me, admonishing,
“Wash it before you give it back!”
I got the job, of course, and it wasn’t til Esther and the other servers clustered around me making a fuss that I realized I was the only girl – at least in recent history- who’d made the leap from waitress to dancer. Esther and I figured out a brand new scam, which we continued for weeks. The way this one went: she’d tell the customer it was my first night ever dancing, and that I was really nervous and needed to loosen up with champagne; he’d buy me a bottle “for good luck”, and I’d surreptitiously dump it into the ice-bucket as I whispered sweet nothings into his ear.
Many of the gals gave hand jobs under the table, but I never had to- I realized immediately that I was a natural born liar with a psychic sense for what the men wanted to hear. I was a champion, a genius. My stories ranged from being a single mom with a kid to support to being a poor little rich girl AWOL from Vassar with a Forbes 500 daddy I wanted to humiliate by letting the whole world know I was a stripper.
The lies fell out of my mouth like a machine gun spitting diamonds, rivaled only by the rate my non-stop drink commissions came flooding in. I’d tell a mark I got off work at 4:00am when I really got off at 2:00, take a deposit from him “for the baby sitter” along with his hotel room key… then I’d never show up. I’d drop the room key into a mail box as I hailed a cab, heading back to the Bowery to catch the last set or two at CB’s. The next day when the outraged man returned to The Wild West to get his money, Rocco or one of the Mafia bouncer goons would bellow,
“Our goils ain’t like that!” and literally throw the guy out, right onto the sidewalk.
The only problem I ever had there was that was that without my glasses, I was so blind I was afraid I was going to get too close to the side of the stage and fall off. I felt like a total dork in my glasses, I fucking hated them. I scarcely wore them during the day, never wore them to clubs, and was damned if I was going to wear them onstage. I was convinced I wouldn’t make a dime. The sexy secretary or hot librarian was surely already an archetype for decades, but I hadn’t heard of it; and in my absolute naivete , it never occurred to me that anyone would ever want to see a naked girl with glasses on!
One night as I mounted the steps to the center stage, I noticed a bunch of the waitresses carrying on about a guy who’d just sat down. Even without my specs, it was clear that he wasn’t a middle aged Fuller Brush Man from Cincinatti or a sweaty Japanese tourist with a combover… he was young, and from what I could gather, actually good looking. As I strutted around the stage, I tried to get a look at him without giving myself away by squinting to focus. Esther, aware of my vision impairment, had already swooped in and was making furtive gestures , waving me over so we could pull our scam. I took my time getting there, but misjudged the distance, accidentally stepping directly onto his hand.
He winced in pain, his groan audible over The Andrea True Connection. Absolutely horrified, I bent down and started to yell, “I’m sorry!” when Esther frantically cut me off , drawing her index finger dramatically across her neck. I froze, and as I did, the guy filled my stocking with bills so new, they actually felt sharp on my skin and I was afraid I’d get a paper cut.
Wow, I thought, six bucks at once? No wonder the gals were bum rushing him!
Practically dragging me off the stage, Esther screamed, “We’ll be right back!” as she hustled me into the dressing room.
“Don’t ever apologize to that guy again!” she hissed,
“But I stepped on his hand!”
“He has a fetish”, she cried, “Never say you’re sorry!”
“What’s a fetish?” I asked dumfounded.
“ Forget about it!” she said, pushing me out the door,
“I’ll explain later- just kick him… or knock his drink over or something… he likes it! Now get out there and make more money offa him!”
I made a lot more money from him, but it wasn’t until the end of the night that I realized those first initial ones he’d handed were actually fifty dollar bills. Just by stepping on his hand accidentally, I’d made six hundred bucks! I was astounded. Esther filled me in on the intricacies of S & M and it was all so fascinating that he next day, I talked fetishes with Lydia, Kristian, Bradley and anyone else who’d listen. I’d been drinking, taking pills and having sex in alleys since I was barely fourteen, but had no idea that there was a whole kinky world out there I’d never even imagined!
Apparently, even the antique black underwear that I wore just so I wouldn’t look like one of Charlie’s Angels was considered fetish worthy. I was delighted- this fetish thing was going to be even bigger than my B-Girl lies. To fully prepare myself for rolling in fetish dough, I hightailed it up to Times Square and spent an obscene amount of money on a pair of black patent leather pointy-toed over-the-knee, spike heeled boots. The tops even folded down, so that they could look like hot pirate chick boots. Two hundred bucks? Hell, it was less than a third of a good night’s pay! I handed over the cash gladly.
I was so enchanted with the boots that I didn’t save them for the stage. I wore them to CBGB’s, I wore them to Max’s Kansas City, I wore them to The Mudd Club…and I wore them to the bodega to get a Yoohoo. I adored them. One day I was wearing them in the West Village on my way to a lunch date, when a shifty looking guy came up right in my face and asked if he could lick my boots. I was about to walk away, but he discreetly flashed a fifty dollar bill.
“Where?” I asked suspiciously, not wanting to get raped and murdered in some Hudson Street basement.
“ How about right there,” he said, gesturing to a phone booth.
I was dubious of how this was going to work until he handed me the bill , which I pocketed while stepping into the phone booth. Picking up the receiver, I mimed putting a dime in, and was just about to close the glass door when the man threw himself onto the ground and grabbing my ankle like a giant lollipop and started slobbering all over the vamp, heel and ven the sole of my boot. I watched in horror as he sprawled out full length on the sidewalk, men and women in crisp business suits carrying brief cases stepping over him gingerly in the bright autumn sunshine. I was afraid we were going to get arrested.
“You gotta stop!” I hissed, but he didn’t.
“Hey!” I screamed, starting to get paranoid, rapping sharply on the glass,
“Cut it out!”
His hands moved up my calf; my entire foot was now in his mouth like a slice of watermelon. His lapping tongue strokes became longer, piggish, more lascivious.
“Goddammit!” I growled, simultaneously cuffing him on the head and kicking him as hard as I could with out losing my balance.
He did…with a groan and body wracking shudder. Yanking my foot free, I hopped over him, high tailing it home. I didn’t feel dirty, I didn’t feel used, I was just happy I could make so much money from people with “exotic” taste. That was the night my star customer came in and I crushed his hand, this time on purpose, imagining the stigmata.
Soon, the weather began to get colder, as Autumn really set in. By the end of November, it sleeted constantly, and there was no heat in the loft on the weekends. It was time to go back to LA.
The only strip clubs in LA at the time were in The Valley, and weren’t accessible without a car. I certainly wasn’t about to take the bus to go to work, so that chapter in my life closed. Once in a great while, I think of all the lies I told and feel a small, fleeting pang of conscious.
But my only true regret is that as an underage stripper in 1970’s New York, I wish someone would’ve told me about investing in real estate.
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