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
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.