Tour de Sleaze, Part 2— Strippers, Booze, Buttholes, and Boobs

A Baltimore Tour de Sleaze—Part 2
Strippers, booze, buttholes, and boobs
By Ingrid Verde and Andre Novak

Original artwork by Haleigh Hey Boy!

With original artwork by Haleigh Hey Boy!

Bar #2—Haven Place 
Andre
When we entered Haven Place everything was pretty blurry. The lighting was dim and red, and I really had no idea what we’d walked into. The Talking Heads’ “And She Was” blasted through speakers somewhere. I immediately went to the bar and dropped my last few dollars on a bottle of Natty Boh. I remained there for a bit, surveying the scene, until I decided I needed stronger drink.

En route to the bar’s ATM, I stumbled past a guy sitting alone at a table. He looked just like Anton Chigurh, only far less menacing. After I got my money, I jogged back to the bar and ordered a Pikesville on the rocks, which I gulped down in one sip just before ordering another.

Drink in-hand, I shuffle-stepped toward what appeared to be a miniature wooden stage on the side of the building. On a marginally elevated platform, a lady danced topless to the music. The area was enclosed by a sort of box-railing supported by wooden uprights. I’m sure it was meant to keep the riff-raff away from the dancers, but it was no use—Anton Chigurh was at the front of the thing, pressing his face between the banisters and throwing dollar-bills over the railing with an awkward hook-arm. His eyes were bulging from their sockets and he looked like one of those horny wolf characters from old Tex Avery cartoons. The stripper turned, smiling, bouncing her ass around. The man pushed his face further through the uprights. I became concerned for his safety, but he seemed alright—especially after the stripper began twerking on her hands and knees, with her ass directly in front of his face. The man’s arm began spasmodically catapulting heaps of dollar-bills onto the stage. I remember thinking that his nose was perilously close to the lady’s butthole. Perhaps he wanted to dock it? CreamCity-HavenPlace

By this time, I had no idea where my friends were. I assumed they had ditched me. As I stood there, swaying around, trying to stay upright, I couldn’t blame them.  I left the stage area to take a piss. The last thing I remember in Haven Place is leaning on a wall next to the urinal and closing my eyes. At some point, I apparently left the bathroom, found my friends, and walked to Sherrie’s Showbar on Pulaski Highway.

Ingrid
I found myself tripping out of a cab in front of the aptly-named Haven Place on Haven Street. A neon sign lit up the dark streets and the faces of smokers lingering on the corner, getting their fix in.

Inside, my eyes adjusted to a dimly lit netherworld, thick with a dense cloud of the condensed sweat from the patronage. Andre headed for the bar. He seemed excited and began loudly proclaiming that he already loved the place. I made my way to the ATM on the back wall, fully prepared to pop some bandz. My finger stuck to the machine’s sticky keys, and I noticed that many drinks had been spilled on the screen. I looked over to Brad, Jim, and Tinder Girl who were standing around a dancer on-stage. She was on a platform raised a mere 6 inches from the ground with a waist-high rail to keep the gapes out—or, perhaps, to keep her in. She was extremely thin with closely cropped platinum hair, and, most importantly, gargantuan fake titties. I walked over to my group just as Tinder Girl reached up to fondle Blondie. She looked at me excitedly—“Touch them! This right here is what I need.”

“They’re saline. Go ahead feel them,” Blondie encouraged.

I stepped closer and reached out, hesitantly. Blondie leaned forward, until my face was sandwiched between her airbags, and shimmied—effectively slapping me in the face with her boobs.

“Um, Yep. Those are nice. Uh…thanks,” I stammered.

Blondie smirked and winked before walking off stage and over to the bar. My attention shifted to the adjacent platform where a much younger looking girl gyrated on all fours while a liver-spot-freckled man peered agog through the bars at her. Whoa. I stood mesmerized by this man who was, in turn, hypnotized by the dancer. His hands grasped the rails. His eyes bugged as he put his face between the bars. He reached for dollar after dollar intent on paying for Honey’s rent that month. He trailed the dollar down her chest before tucking it into her garter, wiping his palms, and licking his lips. Honey pasted on a brave smile and danced more and more limply. I was amazed when gramps nearly pushed his entire head through the rails while attempting to bury his head into her susceptible ass crack. I needed air. Where the fuck was Andre and his Lucky Strikes when you needed them?

Bar #3—Sherrie’s Showbar
Ingrid
At Andre’s research-backed suggestion we headed to Sherrie’s Showbar, where being plus-sized might be requisite for employment.

A scene from Sherrie's Showbar

A scene from Sherrie’s Showbar

Nice—good on them. The bar wrapped around the stage where a round dancer rolled about, jiggling wildly. The dancer applauded herself without using her hands, which really seemed to impress Andre. I noticed a bit of tumble-weave rolling forlornly across the other side of the wooden stage. It was a sobering sight that needed to be remedied. I turned to the bartender, a woman wearing only a bit more than the dancers, for a vodka-soda.

“We ain’t got that. We only do beer and shots.”

Beer in hand, I looked over and noticed one of the dancers wearing a neon-pink string had Brad cornered as Andre argued with her about the price of a lap dance for Brad. I stepped in and offered my two-cents—“$70? For just a lap dance? He should at least be able to cum on your butt for $70.” I had to document the moment.

“Excuse me, can I take pictures here?” I asked the stripper-lady.

“Yeah—uh, sure. Some of the girls mind but I don’t.”

I took several pictures and even some video footage of the stage before I was interrupted by the BBW who had been onstage when we arrived.

“Excuse me, can I get a tip?”

I didn’t know that dancers could even ask for tips, yet here she was looking at me expectantly. 

Brad interjected. “A TIP?! I’m still trying to un-see what I just saw!”

The bartender looked at us with an expression of sheer, justifiable disgust. She set down the bottle of liquor she was pouring and placed her hand on her curvaceous hip.

“Ya’ll need to leave. Go on!”

She dismissed us with a vehement wave and no one argued as we trudged out the door.

Andre
At Sherrie’s Showbar they “only serve beer and shots,” so I asked for two shots of Pikesville and a beer glass with some ice in it. Problem solved.CreamCity-TourdeSleazePart2

I only recall a few things from our time at Sherrie’s. First, I remember trying to buy a lap-dance for Brad. Earlier in the evening he almost cashed-out to go home and sleep—he apparently had to work at some obscene hour of the morning on the following day. I convinced him to stay out by offering to buy him a dance at one of our destinations.

Well, a mere dance turned out to cost $70 at Sherrie’s and I wasn’t having it. It simply wasn’t market price. I haggled with the hot-mom-ish-looking stripper in neon pink who had taken an interest in Brad and my money.

“Come on—$70? That’s almost four full lap-dances at other places around town. Can’t you cut us a deal?”

“Sorry, it’s not my policy. $70.”

“What if we take the time down and do like a 1-to-2 minute dance for $20?”

“Nope—can’t do it.”

“Look,” I said quietly, leaning in, “how good is this $70 dance? I mean, is my friend gonna have a good time?”

I curved my hand to form an o-shape, which I shook up and down with a loose wrist.

I could see in the lady’s eyes that I’d gone too far. Luckily for me, Ingrid barged-in and went even further, flatly suggesting that Brad get a full-release buttjob for $70. I discreetly slipped over to the bar before things got ugly, and hoped that they simply somehow wouldn’t.

I watched an extremely curvy lady dancing on stage for some minutes and became entranced. I downed another Pikesville and that’s where my memory gets foggy. However, after we left Sherrie’s, I recall that we had no luck hailing a cab on Pulaski. Fortunately, a good samaritan pulled over and offered to drive us to The Block after we spent a few minutes gesturing—on the side of the road, with twitching claw-hands—that we wanted to catch a hack.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Tour de Sleaze, Part 1—A Bar Crawl Through Baltimore’s Underbelly

A Baltimore Tour de Sleaze—Part 1
Take a bar crawl to nowhere in particular
By Ingrid Verde and Andre Novak

Original artwork by Haleigh Hey Boy!

Original artwork by Haleigh Hey Boy!

Editor’s Note
Seemingly  due to sheer laziness on behalf of the authors, each section of this article has been split into two separate parts: one written by Ingrid Verde and one written by Andre Novak. I tried to convince Andre and Ingrid to combine their distinct sections into a single easy-to-read piece, but they refused, both claiming to be suffering from “severe crickets—no, rickets” before cackling hysterically into the phone and hanging up on me. Accordingly, the shift in voice, from Ingrid to Andre and vice-versa, is labeled with their names—and in bright colors—for your convenience. Thank you for your patience during these economically trying times.

 

Prologue
Ingrid
Deep in the heart of the urban labyrinth of Baltimore lies a grimy decadence whose existence is denied by the decent people of the world. It is a darkness one can normally avoid by simply remaining within the Fells-Canton-Fed Trifecta—the carefully mapped-out “safe zones” that the upstanding citizens of Baltimore inhabit and commute to-and-from in the safety of their Uber Black Cars. In search of The Truth, Andre and I decided to delve deep into Charm City’s uncharted territories of degenerate dive-bars and go-go clubs as a sort of sociological study, or perhaps to just release our own suppressed debauchedness under the pretense of academic pursuits.

The night of our assignment, I scoured my wardrobe for a costume that would appear familiar to the locals we were sure to encounter. I donned my sweatiest of sweat pants, slip-on canvas shoes, an Orioles t-shirt, and one of those now popular “Baltimore” caps you can pick up at any 7-Eleven around the city (if you don’t know what I am referring to, you may be an elitist). Was it convincing? I wasn’t sure, but I knew a blunt to the face could only improve my haze-eyed Baltimore sleaze-crawl uniform.

Baltimore's seedy underbelly File photo—AP News

Baltimore’s seedy underbelly
File photo—Cream City Newswire

My roommate, Brad Baisley, had agreed to accompany us on our tour of Baltimore’s seamy underworld. “As any good Baltimorean knows, we cannot head out sober,” Brad admonished as he handed me my first of many Fireball shots. I glanced at the clock. 3:30 in the afternoon and I am already inventing dance moves in the kitchen—thank you very much, Mary Jane.  Andre had promised to head over by 7:00 PM. Plenty of time for pre-gaming and karaoke. Brad, a skilled bartender, began to mix drinks and shots while belting out the lyrics to various 80s serenades.

My neighbor Jim, an expert on the depravity of our city—a man who has, in fact, banged a girl in a Porta Potty (and at Preakness, no less)—volunteered to act as our guide through the dense underground of the Greatest City in America. He arrived just as I had finished constructing a giant straw (patent pending) consisting of about ten separate multicolored straws jammed into each other so that I could maximize my drinking by never having to pick-up or cease slurping my ever-flowing vodka-sodas.

Jim immediately downed a Fierball shot, intent on descending to our level. He glanced down at his phone before announcing that we would need to stop by his house before heading out to pick up a girl that was purportedly to meet us there. “Who is this girl?” I asked suspiciously.

“Some girl I met on Tinder.”

“You’re bringing a rando Tinder date out with us??”

He laughed unashamedly.

Andre’s knock announces his arrival. “Thank God. Someone with some sense is here.”

I ran to the door to admit a sane presence to our midst. Andre had shaved his beard into the sleaziest of mustaches had a cigarette holder between his lips and was wearing an olive colored jacket over unbuttoned plaid shirt over a t-shirt. He had one of those tiny press notebooks in hand. “Well, Do I look the part?” he asked excitedly.

“I’ve been drinking. “ I blurted out. I have a tendency to out myself. “Come upstairs and have a shot before we head out.” I imagine Andre was frustrated with our revelries, as he wanted us to venture into the abyss sober. Oops. I sought to make up for it with Fireball.

Jim and Brad were mid-karaoke performance when we returned to the kitchen. “Guys, I’m going to need to grab some food before we head out,” the entirely not-intoxicated Andre interjected. “We could just grab some Rodeo Burgers from…”

“Nah, let’s go to Sip & Bite and get real food,” someone countered.

Thirty minutes later we were walking, en route to Burger King, after a visit to Sip & Bite where we had found a table but left 10 minutes later when a server had failed to appear.

“Let’s grab some Natty Daddies.” Jim suggested.

“Well, if we’re going to have a trashy night out, we should probably do it right,”  Andre affirmed.

As I found myself walking into Burger King (as a vegan this in itself is an anomaly) with a 24oz bottle of Corona stashed in a brown paper bag and asking for one of their wax cups, I put a new entry on my mental This-is-a-First list.

“I think I’m going to need the biggest one you’ve got.”  I said setting my beer on their counter. The cashier suppressed a laugh and presented a King-sized cup. “This oughta do it.”

Now that my fellow explorers were temporarily placated with their burgers  and beers disguised as sodas, we headed back to Jim’s house to grab his Tinder date before heading to our first authentic Baltimore shit-hole of the night.

Andre

The idea was simple—execute a Saturday-night tour of Baltimore’s sleaziest nightlife establishments and return, unscathed, to document the whole experience for Cream City. I thought it was going to be easy.

However, from the moment I met with Ingrid to embark on the journey, I could see we were heading into a long, blurry tunnel with no light at the end. While I had insisted that we stay as sober as possible to better remember—and eventually, convey—the happenings of the night, Ingrid had insisted on living-out scenes from Sleep’s Dopesmoker album and LMFAO-Lil Jon collaborations for the hours leading up to our departure.

When I arrived at Ingrid’s place, she was a wreck. She answered the door laughing and mumble-rambling incoherently, reeking of high-grade weed. Her wet eyes appeared to be hemorrhaging a bit. “Wonderful,” I said to myself. Ingrid had thrown all professionalism out the window. At first I was disappointed. I even pulled my tiny homemade “PRESS” credential from my hat and placed it inside Ingrid’s trash-bin while she slurped vodka through a ten-foot straw, giggling like a fiend on nitrous oxide. But then it hit me. Ingrid hadn’t failed the project—she was taking it to the next level. Of course. I thought it through. How could we possibly cover Baltimore’s sleaze-beat without becoming complete shitbags ourselves? I mean, it won’t be easy, but it’s certainly the right thing to do—we cant’t just half-ass this project like City Paper would. Upon realization of Ingrid’s grand journalistic vision, I was ready to dive in.

About a half-hour later, I was sitting in a prominent fast-food restaurant on Eastern Avenue, savoring a final bite of my Rodeo Burger and sucking the remnants of a Natty Daddy from a towering wax “King Cup.” Ingrid, Brad, John, and I were loudly discussing the effects of salvia divinorum while a family enjoyed their meal in the booth behind us. I recall that they looked deeply unsettled for some reason. By the time we finished our food and beverages, it was around 8:30 PM and we were ready to tackle the assignment. Sure, we were already really drunk—but not just on beer and skunky malt-liquor; we were also drunk on our undying lust for the truth. As we stepped onto Eastern Avenue, we gazed long into the abyss—the abyss also gazed back. We set out for a bar called RJ’s— but first we had to stop at some place on South Collington to meet up with a lady-friend of John’s who turned out to be a Baltimore Hooters Girl.


Bar #1—RJ’s
Andre
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s  ‘Bad Moon Rising’ was playing as we walked through the doorway, which I took as a good sign. RJ’s was the first bar on our list and it was the only destination that made me uneasy.

A famous wall on which female patrons can donate their bras for public display made this place a must-visit for our project. However, I had been informed earlier that RJ’s was basically a haunt for Baltimore’s aging combat-veterans. I knew the vibe would be macho, racist, and possibly violent. What did ‘RJ’ even stand for? Ron Jon?

The building was basically an elongated broom closet. Quarters couldn’t have been any closer. Out of all the people in our group, Ingrid and I were the obvious outsiders. Patrons stopped their shouting and whooping as we walked by, giving us both the tense eye.

It was a weight off my chest when the bartender—an orange-haired, middle-aged lady—greeted us with a warm smile. I remember thinking that maybe things would be alright. All of that, however, ended at my drink order.

“Hey—just a Wild Turkey on the rocks, please,” I said, smiling.

“A Wild what?”

“A Wild Turkey—on ice.”

The smiles were fading fast.

“No—no, we don’t have that. We have Miller Light and Coors.”

“Gimme one of those Colorado Kool-Aids,” I said grimacing, thinking I’d just scored some credibility points.

What?

“Colorado Kool-Aid,” I mumbled, mostly to myself.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”

“Um, a Coors. I’ll take a Coors.”

I hadn’t been sipping for very long when a stout man with a distended belly shoved his way through the narrow space between the barstools and the back wall. Just as he was passing me, a tall guy with long, stringy hair and coke-bottle glasses edged close enough to stout man to slap him on the back.

“Kramer, I didn’t realize this was a gay bar!” he shouted while cackling.

This man, Kramer, didn’t even look back to see who it was when he responded,  “Yeeeeaaaah, fuck you, you faggot.”

RJ’s was quickly becoming the place that I imagined it would be: a hangout for gay-bashers and proto-nazis. Ingrid suddenly remembered why we had come. She unhooked her extra bra and handed it to the barmaid. All kinds of cheering and whooping ensued.

It was time for a smoke break. I dragged Ingrid outside with me. After a half-hour in that bar, hearing someone speak in way that was free of casual bigotry seemed strange, but we quickly re-assimilated as we talked about plans for this article.

We enjoyed about 2 minutes of peace before the door swung open and Kramer stepped between us. I could tell we were both thinking the same thing—we needed to make this guy think we were like him, lest I be beaten to a pulp for no real reason whatsoever. We had to hide any of the cultural trappings of our public-ivy backgrounds. Well, we failed. Kramer hassled us viciously for some minutes. We decided to leave after he played a cruel prank on Ingrid.


Ingrid

Swaying into RJ’s Place, I found myself surrounded by locals. I knew they would be here, but it was glaringly obvious that Andre and I were not indigenous to the scene. Brad, Jim, and Tinder Date were passable. I suddenly felt like an explorer who had unwittingly donned the war paint of a neighboring tribe in a feeble attempt to assimilate. Do they know I am here under false pretenses? All eyes found us as we shuffled sideways down the length of the bar to the empty seats.  I became conscious of the disparity of age and background between us. The patrons were largely comprised of retired veterans talking loudly, guffawing, throwing-back beers, and in desperate need of baths. There was only one thing that would remedy this pickle I found myself in— vodka. Andre was already haggling with the plump middle-aged bartender with frizzy orange hair over some whiskey.

“Could I get a Vodka soda, please?”

“Sure, hon.”

She slid the mystery vodka across the bar and I was pleased to find that the soda was an afterthought. I noticed the famed wall of bras behind the bar and remembered our purpose for visiting this establishment. “Is is true that if you give up your bra you can drink for free?” I asked the bartender.

“No, Hon, we just collect them.”

The majestic Bra Wall at RJ's

The majestic Bra Wall at RJ’s

“So, you want girls to just hand over their bras without compensation?” What is this, St. Vincent de Paul’s?

The bartender leaned over the bar. Her tits flattened over the surface and I had to rescue my drink from certain doom.

“Normally we would let you drink for free, but the owner is here now,” she whispered conspiratorially, her eyes jetting to the older man behind the bar.

Luckily, I had come prepared. I reached under my shirt and ripped off one of the two bras I was wearing and handed it over.

“Add that to your collection.”

“Ron, we got another one!” she shouted, holding my bra above her head like a prize. Ron came over inspected the spoils, turning it over in his wrinkled hands.

“Oh, this one is going right here in the front. Yeah, this is a nice one—I can tell. This is one of those $50 ones, right here!” he proclaimed proudly as he hung it on the collage of lace, cotton, satin, and underwire.

Turning over my glass, I took a moment to more closely examine the clientele. There was a definite impenetrable camaraderie that suggested this was the daily watering hole for these guys. They addressed each other by name, made bets, and exchanged misogynist jokes. The compadres laughed riotously as Andre and I exchanged uncomfortable looks.

“Do you want a cigarette?” Andre asked me. I took the offered Lucky Strike. My cigarette consumption is contingent on my alcohol intake. Sober, I will not touch a cigarette. This night, I was a chain-smoker.

Andre lit his cig, inhaled deeply, and lamented, “This place is everything I had hoped and feared it would be.” Kramer burst out the door, the remnants of laugher still on his face…until he saw us. “What are you fresh-faced university kids doing out here?” Oh god… he’s on to us ! We’ve been discovered.  My alcohol-and-weed-addled mind raced for an escape. He watched us suspiciously as he reduced his cigarette to ashes in an instant. “Let’s head over to that Go Go place I was telling you about.” Andre suggested, after we’d withstood about five minutes of Kramer’s abuse.

“I’ll get the others.” I dashed inside to grab the others relieved to abandon the stares and bigoted crudeness that was RJ’s.

“You kids have never worked a day in your life. You don’t know the meaning of work…” Kramer informed us as we left the bar.

His voice was trailing off as we piled into the waiting taxi.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Black Lights and Blue Balls—Reflections on Burlesque and Stripping

Editor’s Note
Several months ago, sometime in early February, Cream City sought to commission writings from the semi-legendary Randall L. Ladnar. We at Cream City always admired Ladnar’s ability to navigate the world of sleaze and smut with a philosopher’s pen, so we were thrilled when he agreed to write a burlesque show review for us. Most importantly, we knew Ladnar’s writings would be a huge credibility boost for the site and likely result in ad revenue increases. Ladnar demanded payment in advance, and we obliged, but his deadline quickly passed with not so much as an update on the review’s progress. The piece was originally slated as a post-Valentine’s Day romp, but by mid-March I was sending bi-hourly emails and texts to Ladnar, demanding the burlesque review, or our money back.

About two weeks ago, I finally decided to pay Ladnar a visit at his Station North apartment. After prying one of his windows open with a crowbar, I tip-toed across his living room, through a minefield of drained absinthe bottles and used condoms, to find the man passed-out on his couch in front of a television set that was blasting the Hallmark Channel at some inhuman volume. I woke Ladnar. He tried to make a break for it, but I introduced him to my good friend, Gerber Clip-Point, who was finally able to persuade him to write the burlesque review, in light of the fact that he could not pay off his debt to Cream City in that moment.

With my associate, Mr. Clip-Point, I watched Ladnar type each and every word of the fascinating screed that follows. Personally, I’m surprised at how amazingly well the thing turned out, given the conditions under which it was written. It’s definitely the kind of classic Ladnar rumination that we’ve all come to know and love. Anyway, in case you find yourself wondering why the hell we’d just now be publishing a partial-review of a burlesque event that happened in mid-February—well, now you know.


Black Lights and Blue Balls
Reflections on the arts of burlesque and stripping
By Randall L. Ladnar

An Introduction
Strip clubs are hardly the typical Valentine’s Day purlieu of middle class candygram-sending American romance seekers. Spending your love day cooed up in the throbbing haloes of bass and viscous glittersmoke is about as traditionally acceptable as a man throwing a pre-wedding fleshlight party for his bachelor bros. So what options are left for the bourgie sort who none-the-less want to pay good money to sit with perfect strangers and watch people undress? Burlesque. It’s like the etsy of American nude entertainment. You can even invite your mother.

At least that’s what I thought until I saw Reggie Bugmuncher take a rotary grinder to a metal plate covering her pubic mound during Gilded Lily Burlesque’s 5th Annual Tassels and Champagne show, showering the stage with a veil of hot sparks. Maybe it was for the best that I hadn’t brought my mother.

What follows is a review of the Gilded Lily Burlesque’s rather remarkable Tassles and Champagne event. But first, a rather indulgent meditation on the difference between stripping and burlesque. If such distinctions bore you, please, proceed to the review.

*************************************************************************************

bur·lesque
noun
1. an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, esp. in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.
2. a variety show, typically including striptease.


A Few Facts
All of the strip clubs I’ve ever visited were about as erotically enticing as watching Guy Fieri jerk off into a pit-beef sandwich.  Burlesque, on the other hand, with its acceptance of the Rubenesque, its swaying, gravitational dances, the tidal pull of glove & gauze till oh look it’s off (except that tasteful, enamored, en-armored target)… In its embrace of the tease and tarry, I sense a stirring at the root of the photoelectrified, callused, porn-tundra of my American Sexdrive.

What is the difference, you might wonder? Well, a little history is in order. The first American stripper was really just a ballerina trying to be comfortable. Her scandal caused all the “decent women” in the theater to storm out. The men stayed, and the Bowery became the heart of American strippery. Whitman once reviewed these “taboo’d” and “robustuos” theaters (unsurprising: he focused intently, almost pornographically, on the all male audiences who frequented them). In his words, they were:

…pack’d from ceiling to pit with its audience mainly of alert, well dress’d, full-blooded young and middle-aged men, the best average of American-born mechanics—the emotional nature of the whole mass arous’d by the power and magnetism of as mighty mimes as ever trod the stage—the whole crowded auditorium, and what seeth’d in it, and flush’d from its faces and eyes, to me as much a part of the show as any—bursting forth in one of those long-kept-up tempests of hand-clapping peculiar to the Bowery—no dainty kid-glove business, but electric force and muscle from perhaps 2000 full-sinew’d men

LadnarArt2

Original artwork by Guy Fawkesalot

Unsatisfied with the term “stripper” to describe her profession, the legendary burlesque diva Gypsy Rose Lee enlisted the help of the American essayist H.L. Menken. The resulting neologism—ecdysiast, from the Greek meaning to molt—is far too erudite to titillate, and worse, reminds one more of an STI than an exotic artist. It never caught on.

Side note: The controversial poet e.e. cummings loved burlesque, and painted numerous portraits of dancers. It’s appeal, he thought (like Whitman), was to the blue collar and mechanical man. He wrote later in life, “Burlesque appeals to me. I’ve seen in the past thirty years of my proletarian life, a lot of burlesque shows (and I hope to see a lot more).”

Additional side note: He also wrote of snow once as “sexually fingering the rooftops of houses.”


Regarding the Appeal of Stripping
The average rutting male juiced up on redbull-vodkas and foursquares of redmeat & budplatinum secretly believes one special thing when purchasing a lap dance: for him alone, the stripper will drop her act. In burlesque, the pleasure is in the act. There is no possibility for separation of act and actor. One would no less expect the Venus de Milo to start offering stony titjobs.

The art of burlesque exists simply indulge. It resides the borderless horizons of the tease, a jurisdiction confined only by the fractal limits of play. Porn is still art, but it is restricted by the genre’s tacit promise of gratification. Its payoff is never unexpected; it completes the circle from urge to act ending creative culmination. It requires not imagination, but a form of sexual empathy—a visual prostheses.
Although not truly a sub-genre of porn, strip clubs activate the same mental (libidinal?) schematics as porn. The viewer becomes the ultimate consumer—paying merely to browse. Too often a lupine browse: carnal—with all the predatory implications of the word. With hunger unsated, lust subsumes to fantasy (a fantasy which has as its basic premise the dissolution of the fantasy, a transgression between worker and client—in just the mind of the client). Too often, the outcome is violence. (Crime against strippers is almost epidemic; crime against burlesque, unthinkable).

I do not say this to denigrate the profession of stripper—I wish only to denigrate the target audience.

Stripping seems like such an American enterprise. The tensions arising from our puritan modesty ensure a market where supply does not outstrip demand. (Yes, I know we have no claim to the artful nude—or, for that matter, the topless muses of art nouveau or the gartered strutting of the le Moulin Rouge, our protoburlesque.) Along the trade route that took us from brothels to burlesque, stripping is an oddly capitalist waystation. To create a market for graphic titillation, one must commercialize nudity, not by heightening demand, but rather by fetishizing supply. Sex as a product carries its own inherent demand, but stripping is not sex, nor ostensibly, the promise of sex. It is actually its opposite: unfulfilled arousal. Striptease. Black lights and blue balls.

LadnarArt

Original artwork by Guy Fawkesalot

It is at this juncture that burlesque and stripping begin to diverge. Out of the guarantee of nudity one must hypothesize sex. This is perhaps the element of the pornographic: visual stimulation of fantasy—many a healthy sex drive craves such. However, this admixture becomes explosive when it is paired with a male gaze that territorializes women’s bodies.  Here fantasy threatens to go off the rails. The tease becomes interlude. Whereas the transgressive play* of burlesque refuses to acknowledge gratification as a destination, the monologic ethos of stripping promises a destination somewhere short of gratification.

Inevitability is the enemy of desire. We say longing because desire is distance. The stripper, by inevitable eponym will end up naked. The titty bar, the strip club, build into their names exactly what one finds there. Money is paid, tits are shown. In the inevitability of this exchange, seduction as delay across distance morphs into a lesser cousin: the grind.

Despite their neon dinginess, there is something sanitized in the product put on display. Female form is abstracted, idiosyncrasies submerged. The typical stripper’s appeal is calculated, market tested, chain-store g-stringed; it is often as dull and prepackaged as a Wal-Mart couch. It is a fabricated arena where the good citizen can turn inside-out in predictably dingy ways. Entering the black-light glow & plumeria mist, I feel about as classy as Burt Reynolds in Vaseline filled boots.

For burlesque, the pleasure is in the real, the crenulated zaftig—a rare, un-rendered vitality. (Americans especially are trained at an early age to squelch such animal fascinations with the shape of real bodies. Boys learn to point at cellulite on the legs of teenage girls and laugh as if such vague pocking were not the thumbprints of the vowelless hand of an as-yet-unnamed-god: the lust of the eyes & the lust of the flesh).

Perhaps this is why Menken mined such arachnid origins for his word—ekdysīs. Burlesque pivots on our subcutaneous itch, the ancient suspicion of clothes—the animal sexual teeming of fleshfulness: skin the outward and immediate form of our dying. Shedding ones clothes then, is both a Lazarus act of vital indifference and a dance with the death we each wear outward.  To strip is to put on grave clothes.  To burlesque is to mock the long toothed reaper with our gaudy pigment and breathing and full-bodied vehemence.


An Uncomfortable Realization
I see now that I never really reviewed the show in question.  By now, what specific memories I possessed have faded.  Blotted impressions remain.  A red sexual gauze of rimshot memories.  What I remember:  I drank two bottles of champagne.  I watched the sashay, heard the repartee, got lost in the frothy cocktail of banjo and clarinet from Sac au Lait.  Most importantly, perhaps, for the well-intentioned yuppie, you leave having enjoyed the sex without braving the murky political waters of neon sex-work indulgence, and you are free to like it without the burden of irony. Privilege pervades, choice reigns on all fronts, and its result is a self-conscious artistic product that can be safely, yet not unerotically, consumed by all—perhaps even your mother.

**(Burlesque is by its very nature a queer space, approaching pleasure through vivid multiplicities.  ****Here the author is lost for a moment in reveries of the divine Paco Fish, whose recent absence from the Baltimore burlesque scene is deeply felt. (http://pacofish.net/)  Soon may he swim back.****)

—Randall L. Ladnar