Tour de Sleaze, Part 3—Journey to the Center of The Block

A Baltimore Tour de Sleaze—Part 3
A journey to the center of Baltimore’s Block
By Ingrid Verde and Andre Novak

Bar #4—███████████████
Note: The name of this establishment has been deleted at the insistence of Cream City’s lawyers.

I recall very little about the ride to The Block except that, once we were in the car, I started on some kind of political tirade that seemed to unsettle the driver. He was a good sport though. Also, Ingrid’s leg was hanging out of the car’s rear-left door as we drove off from Sherrie’s. She pulled it in before it became an issue though. We made it to The Block in record time. The hard part, we quickly realized, was deciding on where to spend the little money we had left. Haleigh-TourDeSleaze2

After a lot of arguing and peering through smudged, neon-lit strip-club doorways, we finally decided to try the largest and glitziest-looking joint on the block—you know which one. I was completely opposed to setting foot in the place, but I’d been out-voted by my associates. Jim kept insisting that we’d have “the time of our lives”—I remained 100% skeptical. The place just seemed too pricey and corporate for any real fun to be going down there. Ingrid had to drag me past the front doors as we entered. After going through some kind of blurry and expensive admission ritual, we were finally permitted to enter the dance room. The whole thing felt like passing through a military checkpoint.

Now, the exterior of this place didn’t make it seem that much bigger than most establishments on The block, but let me tell you: the interior is massive beyond your wildest imaginings. In a single room roughly the size of the Parthenon, hundreds—maybe thousands—of round black tables surround a tall circular stage on the main floor. The stage’s center is marked with two metal poles rising some 80 feet into the air, all the way to the ceiling. Each wall of the establishment is actually a stack of two additional floors, each opened to the stage for your viewing pleasure.

We were seated at a table way in the back. Jim was barking lasciviously about how great the place was as we paid large sums of money for our drinks. I didn’t like it. We were too far from the action. Even with my tiny binoculars, I could barely see the stage. I felt stranded in the desert of the real. From where I sat, there seemed to be tiny speck of a woman performing acrobatics on the pole at 60-ish feet up. But who could be sure from that distance?

I was growing weary, readying myself to organize a mutiny, when a thin man with a dark beard sidled up next to me. He leaned over and whispered something.

“You know, there are no girls here,” he said.


“No girls—not a single one. It’s all CGI or somethin’. I just came back from the front. I reached onto the stage to put a couple bucks inna girl’s g-string and my hand went right through ‘er—some kind a hologram, I think. I’m tryin’ to tell as many people as I can on my way out.”

I put my binoculars up to my eyes. It was hard to see what he meant, but the dancer on stage did have kind of a translucent glow about her. I started to turn toward the man.

“Hey, lemme go!”

I heard him shouting before I even saw the two men in black suits grabbing each of his shoulders. They each hooked an arm under the man’s armpits and began calmly dragging him in the direction of the door.

“Hey! Hey! I want my mone—“

He was pulled right through the exit doors.

By that time, Jim had apparently gone AWOL with his Tinder Date. I hadn’t noticed or cared. Ingrid, Brad, and I decided to try our luck elsewhere. We slunk toward the exit as the two men in suits stared us down. I’m on to you, I thought to myself, looking them in the eyes.

After we got out the door, we figured Little Darlings would be the logical next step as it was so close. We walked down a set of fuzzy stairs, into a darkened purple-lighted room where we each paid a cover of merely $5 before we were granted access to all of our wildest dreams, so we hoped.

“Let’s go next door—to the sketchier place. Im sure there’s no cover, and it’s more of what we are looking for,” Andre protested in front of ███████████████ where Jim had led us.

We headed next door only to find that they had an entrance fee, albeit half the cost of ██████’s. After a minor debate and at Jim’s insistence, we found ourselves at ██████—the granddaddy of Baltimore strip clubs. Out front, commanding signs and a long red-carpeted stairwell led up to the club.

Inside, clusters of tables circled a Colosseum-esque arena with two poles that led up to the high ceiling. The nude dancers climbed the pole to the second floor before twirling high above our heads and then dropping to the floor. I gasped, believing a freak accident to be inevitable and imagining the performer, mangled and broken, at the base of the pole. The $20 cover seemed worth the nude version of Cirque de Soleil.

A cocktail waitress interrupted my revelry to ask if I wanted a drink. I assessed my current level of intoxication and decided I should skip alcohol in favor of water.

“Are you crazy? Water costs just as much as alcohol here. Just get another drink.” Brad admonished.

This mentality had gotten me into a lot of trouble before. Shit was going to get crazy.

“Has anyone seen Jim and what’s her name?” I asked.

“They got a private room.” Brad said.

“OH in that case, let’s go back to the other place we scoped out. That’s what we came here for. Besides, I’m starting to think these strippers are just CGI holograms anyways…” Andre muttered.

Bar #5—Little Darlings
This establishment was small, but definitely more of a shoebox than a broom closet. The place was brimming with strippers. The management had simply hired too many girls for that night it seemed—the dancer-to-customer ratio was some 10 to 1. Also, the purple-ish lighting reminded me of black-lights and I knew we’d hit the jackpot. This was the place we’d been looking for. The three of us had to push our way through a small sea of near-naked female bodies as we walked toward the mainstage. I took a short detour past the bar and ordered another Pikesville on ice.

By the time I sat down next to my compatriots, Ingrid was already swarmed by a gaggle of strippers who were stroking her hair and lightly grabbing at her body like gentle molesters. Brad and I, it seemed, had turned into translucent ghosts at some point, which was fine with me. Brad, however, descended into a state of outrage as he shook his head, throwing his hands up, and commenting repeatedly on how Ingrid was hoarding all of the girls. “No respect,” he muttered lowering, his face into his palms.Haleigh-TourDeSleaze

I simply couldn’t relate in that moment. I turned toward the stage only to realize that one of the dancers had been staring me right in the face—with her brown eye. She was bent forward and shaking her butt-cheeks in my direction. How long had this been going on? Was I supposed to tip her? I was clueless on matters of strip club protocol. Fortunately, a doughy kid in a Batman t-shirt stepped in and saved the day.

“I got it, man,” he said to me, probably reading the panic on my numbed face.

He took a fistful of dollars and casually threw them at the dancer’s ass. She turned her head to smile at him. I noticed she had brown eyes.

“Thanks,” I said.

It was time for another Pikesville. However, I was horrified when the people at the bar told me the credit card machine was broken and they were only accepting cash. The barman pointed me toward the ATM in the far corner of the shoebox. Fair enough, I thought while taking wobbly baby-steps toward the glowing machine. I remember that a new song came on as I walked—some kind of slow organ dirge started seeping through the speakers. An airy female voice began:

Look on down from the bridge
There’s still fountains down there…

I shook my head and wondered what kind of sick joker-of-a-DJ would play that song in a club like this. No matter—I was on a mission. But even all of that went to shit as I approached the ATM and caught a slippery patch on the carpet with the heel of my shoe. I fell over and onto my back.

Everybody seems so far away from me
Everybody just wants to be free

A man dressed in a tuxedo-vest and bow-tie stood over me, and asked if I was ok. I reached into my pocket.

“Sir, there’s no smoking in here.”

“I know that.”

I discreetly slid the cigarettes back into my pocket and pulled my cell phone out. “I’m calling my lawyer, that’s all.”

“That won’t be necessary, sir.”

I’m just gone, just gone…

“Yeah, I know.”

Walking back to the stage I noticed that there were now three girls on stage, making out and grinding on each other. Whoa.

As I approached my seat, I asked Brad where Ingrid was. His eyes were wide and he just kept staring at the spectacle on stage. That’s when it hit me. I slowly turned my head around to confirm my theory. Ingrid was on stage. I turned back to Brad.

“What happened?”

“I dunno. They just pulled her on stage and she seemed down for it. They yanked her clothes off and then all of this started.”

Ingrid was standing, dancing and making out with one stripper while another one seemed to have her face tucked between her thighs.

There’s a light in your eyes
And you know, yeah you know

Batman was still seated to my right and his eyes were visibly dewy.

“This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he muttered.

“Is it really?!” I snapped.


Look on down from the bridge
I’m still waiting for you

I thought we’d been kicked out promptly at 2:00AM, which, at the time, seemed really strange in a place like that. However, I was later informed that we had, in fact, lingered around until about 3:30AM. That’s when were booted. Ingrid put her clothes on and we left, walking east down Baltimore Street in search of the next big thing.

We headed through a dark and narrow stairwell leading down to the doorway of Little Darlings. Once the door opened, I knew this was it. This is what we had been searching for. We had made it to the Promised Land— one overflowing with strippers and liquor.

“YES! This is everything I had hoped it would be!” Andre voiced my sentiment as he rushed to the bar in the back corner.

Our trio sat down at the seats arranged around the stage next to a guy with a Batman t-shirt, greasy hair, untrimmed beard, and slight paunch. I wondered how he was going to sneak back into his mom’s basement later that night.

“Oh my god that girl is so hot—the brunette one onstage.” Brad gushed.

A tall slim dancer called Jessie went on with a shorter girl wearing a g-string and jock socks. They twirled around the pole before sliding to the floor and crawling about together and simulating oral sex. Brad was in love. Jessie caught my eye and crawled to the edge of the stage.

“Hey there, sexy. You are gorgeous.”

“Seriously, Ingrid? They’re hitting on you?” Brad interjected.

“Come onstage,” she urged, pulling me towards the platform.

I resisted.

“DO IT!” Brad goaded.

“Come on Ingrid.. Come on! IN-GRID! IN-GRID…”

The other dancer had joined her in pulling me towards them; I was helpless against the siren song.

As I climbed onto the stage, Jessie unzipped my jacket and I threw it toward the audience. It smacked Brad in the face. Bright lights blinded me to the spectators. Jessie and Jocksocks simultaneously undressed me; I was oblivious to anything else. A fog machine (or, maybe, the copious amounts of alcohol I had consumed) created a haze that glowed with the lasers and rotating, multi-colored lights.

“Kiss me.”

Jessie’s lips were soft and sweet. I have no idea how long we made out pressed up against the pole onstage while the other dancer tangled between our legs, but, eventually, the set ended, and I retrieved my strewn clothing while making my way back to my seat.

“That was amazing! And I have pictures!” Brad exclaimed. “I would have had more too if the bouncer hadn’t slapped my phone out of my hand.”

Ingrid Verde, pictured at center Image courtesy of Brad Baisley

Ingrid Verde, center, conducting important research for this article
Image courtesy of Brad Baisley


He shot an irritated glance at the towering presence staring at us from the wall.

“I was just about to shoot a video when someone shouted, ‘Hey! Show some respect!’—that’s when Shaq’s big brother decided to assault my phone.”

Oh, that’s just great…

The neck-beard in the batman shirt learned forward and turned toward me.

“I just want to say that was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.”

I laughed awkwardly as I put my shirt back on.

The girls were completing their shifts and came over to socialize. Jessie and Kendra sat on the side of my chair, while another girl played with my hair behind me. Everyone moved in a sort of blur. At any given moment I had my tongue in a different girl’s mouth.  Brad shook his head in despair behind us.

“Are you all lesbians?” he inquired.

“No, but how could you not love her.” Kendra purred.

I hadn’t realized we were the only ones left in the club until the Shaq look-alike screamed, “Girls—clothes on! You guys, OUT!”

“You need to come to our after party.” Jessie appealed as she handed me my phone.

I had several new additions in my contacts list under names like “Kassie” and “Jewel.”

“Alright we will.” I affirmed as we were shuffled out into the cool, forsaken streets of Baltimore.

“We are going to that after party.” Brad stated while hailing a cab.

My phone vibrated constantly with directions from several sources.

“Hell, no,” I slurred. “I was making out with like five girls, and they’re all asking me to come now—way too much girl drama. I can’t do that…”

“It’d be great for the story,” Andre mused.



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 
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.

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
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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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. (  Soon may he swim back.****)

—Randall L. Ladnar