(Welcome to another episode in my stripmemoirs. Pour yourself an adult beverage. Sit in a comfy chair. Relax. Might I suggest rocking some Barry White? The show, once more, is about to begin...)
The time comes in every stripper’s life when, in the course of her normal work day, she wakes, she drinks her coffee, she does her daily doings, she tans, she showers, she applies her prophylactic coat of make-up, she takes a taxi to work.
And she finds her club closed. Dark. Padlocked. With a sheriff’s notice on the door.
Okay, perhaps that time does not come in every stripper’s life, but it did in mine. Sandwiched between the thighs of my thirty-first birthday and Thanksgiving, sometime in November of 1993, Pure Gold finally succumbed to its fiscal death and shut its doors. It took my meager living with it.
Alexis and Melody retained gainful employment. They found themselves folded into the soft, cushy, smoked peach scented bosom of Pure Platinum, but I, though I had been losing weight steadily, was still deemed too hefty to join those who graced Platinum’s ethereal plain.
I was a size 8 and around 135 pounds.
Rejected and dejected, I took my curvy assed body and freaked out head to Scores, which in the fall of 1993 had not yet been endorsed by Howard Stern and was still in the painful transition from sports/titty bar to upscale house of hos. I knew a bunch of the management, and a bunch of the girls, at Scores because after El Morocco had closed its doors earlier that summer they had merely migrated northward a few blocks.
I remember auditioning. I was taken aside by one of the managers and put on a jacked up, postage stamp stage near the bar. I danced on the tiny platform, looking at the busy club with its insects of patrons and butterflies of girls swarming around. I danced my three-song set, peeling my clothes off as I had been trained to do, mesmerized by the shiny shiny hair of the manager below me.
You know those men who have so much product in their hair that each comb strand stays in place, as if the teeth of the comb had just that moment been raked through the hair. You know that hair, those men. They shine in a weird artificial manner.
It is mesmerizing.
He had that hair.
I knew I couldn’t work there.
I got off the platform.
“You’re very pretty,” he said and drew his eyes appraisingly in an up/down/up zag across my body.
“Great tits,” he said.
“Not much cellulite,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. “Come back after the holidays. We have enough girls right now, but you come back after the first of January, and we’ll hook you up.”
Which meant no job. I had been in strip clubs long enough to know there were never too many girls. There just weren’t always enough of the right girls. I was alright, but I wasn’t all right. Mr. Hair could use me after business slowed down, because then their top earners would skedaddle their aerobicized/coked out/teenaged asses back home or on vacation.
I left, promising that I would return. We both knew I wouldn’t.
Fuck, fuck fuckity fuck fuck. I hadn’t wanted to work at Scores; I didn’t like it. But I needed the job. It was the only high-end club in Manhattan other than Platinum. And I had, like, $300 in my bank account.
So what could I do?
I went slumming.
“FlashDancers isn’t that bad,” Alexis had told me. “You can make a lot of money there.”
Anytime anyone tells you that something isn’t “that bad,” what she means to be saying is that it isn’t that good. It’s like purgatory. Sure, you’re not being buffeted about by the flamey sulfuric siroccos of hell, but you’re not being gently fanned by the sultry zephyrs of heaven either.
“Not bad” is like riding economy. You don’t get the leg room and the warm cookies, but it’s better than stowing away in the plane’s underbelly, succumbing to hypothermia and having your frozen body bisected by the dropping of the landing gear and scattered in pieces over Queens.
I stuffed my surfeit of pride, my sense of entitlement, and my sting of rejection and took a cab to Flash, the official club of David Letterman.
Three words about how I felt about Flash: it scared me.
First, it looked like a strip club. It had neon lights that lit in syncopated trails; its outside walls were laminated in some kind of weird black shiny tile substance that probably was initially made for the interiors of mademen’s men’s rooms, but then was rejected as too gaudy; it had the kiss of death "Live Girls" sign (as opposed to... what?).
It was subterranean. You had to pass a poorly outfitted doorman, cross a pointless and dingy velvet rope, and descend a flight of stairs lit by glitzy lightbulbs, walled in mirrored tiles, and decorated by pictures of nearly naked women trying desperately to look hot while clearly being photographed by an inept man armed with a technical manual and a hard-on.
It smelled. FlashDancers—and oddly all of the clubs in the Flash chain—have a peculiarly eau de Flash smell. It’s a mixture, as far as I can tell, of cigarette smoke, spilled and congealed alcohol, the apparitional waft of a thousand perfumes, and cleaning solvent, Oh, and puke. There is definitely an undernote of human vomit. Probably for earthiness.
The dressingroom wasthissmall. Really. And it was packed. Packed to the bursting tiled walls with women in various states of not quite dress.
Absent was a sense of space. Absent was a sense of decorum. Absent was any pretense that where you were was in a titty bar. Absent was, actually, clothing.
Flash was not nude. It just wasn’t, well, clothed in the strictest sense of the word. Instead of the gowns that I had been wearing for the past six months, the girls wore what could most generously be labeled costumes. Mostly, they were a bikini of some sort and some kind of schmatte around their waists, a scarf or throw covering their asses like a quick-remove tea cozy.
At $10 a dance, Flash was all about speed. Dresses, I would learn, slow you down.
I took one look around, stuffed the pride with a resolve so conscious it was nearly an actual physical move, and dressed in the tartiest gown I had. It was Alexis’s, actually, a chiffon tiger-print slip dress with a deep slit up the side.
I waited to go on stage to audition, the main stage, not one of the three side stages. This, I knew, was a good sign. But then these women were beneath me. This place was beneath me. This all, all of it, beneath me.
The manager Nunzio, who looks like exactly what he is—a kindly Italian grandfather from Brooklyn—asked me what I wanted to be called and where I was from.
CeeCee, I told him. From Chicago.
Over the loudspeakers, over the music, I heard a new DJ call my name called to the stage. I took it.
No, really. I took it. I owned it. That stage was mine. I strutted. I gyrated. I worked my sinuous Sheena-inspired mojo. I ruled as I stripped myself bare.
Three songs later, I walked off that stage with almost a hundred dollars. And a job.
Candace was dead. Long live CeeCee.
I was reborn and FlashDancers was my home.
(If you do go into Flash, located conveniently in Manhattan’s theatre district on Broadway between 52nd and 53rd, and if you do say hi to Nunzio, do give him my regards. Really.)