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Red Hot Sonja
by Billeh Nickerson

During the drive from the Student Union pub to the Red Lion, an infamous strip bar in Victoria, I wondered what the hell I was doing. I had never seen a female stripper before and it seemed strange to start now, at age twenty-five. I couldn't blame it on a few too many beers because I was sober; my friends were the drunk ones. I told myself that this was an adventure, a quest. That it was perfectly reasonable to have piled into a large pickup loaded with my fellow students, perfectly reasonable to have joined this trek to Nymphomania Week at the Red Lion.

The guys driving with me had a propensity to drink Jack Daniels straight, listen to Tom Waits and throw glasses off rooftops whenever their relationships ended. I cared for them in the same way I care for all wild boys, and though I didn't try to sleep with them, I teased them in a way that was almost intimate. It was always about cock, never pussy, so by the time we reached the Red Lion parking lot, I was confused: why had my friends invited me out to see naked women, and why had I said yes?

The club reminded me of my hometown. Wooden interiors spruced up with hundreds of small Christmas lights. Framed mirrors painted with logos of once-popular beers. Men who wore baseball caps, white T-shirts and denim. Denim, denim, denim. There was also a stage that reminded me of the cheesy fashion shows that used to go on at Willowbrook, a mall in my hometown. Unlike Willowbrook, the stage at the Red Lion had poles and a shower stall, and the performers there wouldn't be accompanied by the smells of the Body Shop and the sound of elevator music. But like the stage at Willowbrook, this one was brown and looked like it could fall apart at any moment. It made me crave Orange Julius.

Up on stage a woman with long, braided hair extensions danced around while men in the front row – my friends call it gynecology row – gawked at her crotch as if it were the only thing on stage, a magical dancing vagina. I ordered a dark rum and Coke from the cocktail waitress. She was frumpy and big-boned and when I realized I was comparing her to the stripper, I tried to think about something else, but I just kept staring at her until the stripper grabbed my attention with an upside down, legs-spread twirling manoeuvre on the pole.

I had only been with a woman once, on a dark beach with my boyfriend. It just happened. All that wine and the three of us, naked. I remember how warm her vagina felt on my face. How this surprised me. How my boyfriend wanted me to experience her because I hadn't, and I should. I couldn't really see how she looked, because the moon wasn't bright enough. I remember she felt warm. The warmth is most of what I remember.

Up on stage, the braided-hair stripper swayed her head seductively and it occurred to me that she looked like she was perpetually stuck halfway through a beaded curtain. When she did the splits and pushed her pelvis forward, one of the guys said, "Everyone loves pussy. It's where we all come from." I just smiled like someone who had nothing to add to the conversation. All the other guys clinked their drinks together in a toast to pussies. I ordered another. As the braided stripper continued her act, some of the guys leaned forward to hide their erections. I knew that feeling, and I understood their pleasure, but not the source of it.

When I was young I tried to excite myself with the Playboys my father kept under the stairs, wondering whether next month's playmate would do the trick. When the stripper left the stage, my friends asked me what I thought of her. I said, "It didn't do anything, she didn't do anything for me. It was like eating rice cakes." Overhead, a loudspeaker urged us to get ready for all six feet of Red Hot Sonja. The guys in gynecology row began slapping the stage as if it were a giant communal bongo. My friends leaned forward again, this time in anticipation.

Red Hot Sonja came out on stage in big fuck-me boots like Julia Roberts' in Pretty Woman, only white vinyl, not black. She was so tall that her hair almost brushed up against the stage lights. She wore a pink negligee and a faux-pearl choker. I liked this woman. She was cheeky and sassy and walked around like a cruise director with attitude. I wondered if she'd had a boob job and for the next few minutes my friends and I speculated on whether her breasts bounced right, sat right, whether they were real or fake. Finally one of guys said, "Shut the fuck up, like you're the boob expert," in the same tone my uncles used whenever I interrupted their baseball telecasts.

Red Hot Sonja had shaved her pubes. I'm told guys like it better that way, otherwise they'd be staring at hairy triangles. Guys like to see the goods. And, apparently, smell them--every time she sat down in front and spread her legs, men went right up to her crotch and took a whiff. They could get away with it, too: it was only against the law to touch the strippers. There was no law against paper-thin distances.

By the end of the night I had seen so much pussy that even sitting in a cramped truck full of men felt comfortable, not because of the close proximity of my friends, but because of my yearning for the familiar. I felt like a different man. Different from my friends and different from the man I had been before I entered the Red Lion, though I can't pinpoint why. As we drove past the turnoff to the beach where I'd had my first and only sexual experience with a woman, I thought about Red Hot Sonja and the braided-hair stripper. I thought of the men in the club and the men seated around me in the truck. I thought about all the women I've loved, and that night down at the beach, how I wanted to do a great job, how I really wanted to satisfy her, show her how much I cared.

Billeh Nickerson is almost in paradise.

From Let Me Kiss It Better to be released Thursday October 17th by Arsenal.

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DAY 23:
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