G-Is for String
My dorm mates had read about an amateur dance contest at a nightclub in
Rochester, New York, a short jaunt from our campus. They were convinced that I
would take first prize if I entered it. They were also convinced they would have
much more fun at a fancy club in the city than hanging out at the local watering
holes with the townies.
After an hour of transforming me into a short Barbie hooker in a shiny tube top and short shorts with way too much mascara and eyeliner, the five of us loaded into one girl’s little Ford Mustang and headed into the big city.
No GPS or cellphone guidance back then in the 1970s. We had to ask for directions at every street corner. We sure raised a lot of eyebrows when a load of college girls asked where that particular club was.
The club was big, posh, and a little intimidating. Especially to a bunch of girls from mostly small towns, who had only been to neighborhood bars before. It was like being in a movie scene- they even gave us real cocktail glasses, with napkins. No red solo cups in that joint.
There were twenty or so candle-lit tables set up around what used to be a dining room, with the stage tucked into a corner of the room, so patrons at the bar area could also view it. The dressing room for the strippers was located in the old kitchen, which was right behind the stage. The wait staff consisted of young women in black skirts and low-cut black blouses.
The house strippers who weren’t onstage or preparing for a show were seated at tables, casually chatting with the customers, sipping on cocktails, and smoking their cigarettes. They were dressed in elegant gowns and high heels, making me feel very out of place in my short Barbie hooker get-up.
The drinks were expensive, so we had to pool our money to meet the two-drink minimum. There was a real DJ, named Wolfman Jack, who introduced the entertainers, and it didn’t take long for us to realize what sort of dance contest this was going to be. I wanted to leave but was glued to my seat out of sheer, morbid curiosity and the fact that we had just spent all of our money on the two-drink requirement.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Wolfman shouted, “I use that term loosely, please welcome our feature stripper of the night, all the way from the Combat Zone in Boston, Boom-Boom Taylor, and her Boom-booms!”
Boom-boom scared the heck out of me. Adding to her already statuesque six-foot physique, she wore six-inch pencil-thin stiletto heels and sported a monstrous, flaming-red, beehive hairdo. Even without all the extra accouterment, I suspected she surely must have played basketball in another lifetime. Her skin-tight gown glittered in the spotlight as she stalked around the stage with authority, knowing that all eyes were on her and her boom-booms. She never did anything akin to dancing. She strutted about like a Gestapo commandant inspecting the prisoners before choosing his quarry.
When she zeroed in on her victims sitting ringside, she would flop her cement bag bosoms in their faces and laugh hysterically at their surprised reactions. Men, women, waitresses, cockroaches, it didn’t matter. Whomever or whatever was close enough to the stage got a face full of boom-booms.
By her second song, she had flung her shiny gown over the DJ’s head, proving what I had suspected all along. She had given up her basketball career for something more lucrative- stripping. Her act ended with a dirty ditty about a dentist asking someone to ‘open wide’. She obliged the dentist by rolling around on a tooth-shaped cushion, dressed only in a flimsy G-String.
That night I learned that strippers only had two rules; keep your nipples covered with things called ‘pasties’, and make sure all your hair ‘down there’ was tucked neatly into something called a G-String, which was a piece of fabric no bigger than a square of Charmin toilet tissue.
Well, well, well, so it was that kind of dancing. It was more than a little disturbing to me. But it was dancing. Not only was it dancing, but it was also dancing in my own style and I knew, without a doubt, that I could outdance the featured stripper from the Combat Zone, wherever that was. When one of the house strippers took me back to the dressing room to get ready for the amateur show, I was informed that there were ‘go-go’ dancers, who did not take off their clothes and ‘strippers’, who did. I was to be the former, as I was nineteen years old and had a firm set of 36Cs. Plus, no one wanted to share pasties with a stranger. That was not a problem, as I hadn’t planned on removing my clothing anyway.
The DJ decided to put me on after Jackie Cantrell’s Rubber Ducky bath routine, which seemed innocent enough until the duck went under the bubbles. Wow. The bouncer had to remove Jackie’s swimming pool from the stage and wipe up the water when she was finished with her show. It hadn’t quite dried up by the time they announced the amateur contest, and the floor was still pretty slick when I walked out onto the stage on shaking legs.
I think I almost vomited. No, wait. I almost passed out. Nope. Thinking back on it now, I believe it was vomited. At any rate, about halfway through the song I realized I was not breathing, nor were my feet moving. I was so scared I couldn’t stop shaking.
So much for outdancing Boom-boom. My friends were in the audience somewhere, hiding behind the spotlight that was blinding me. I stumbled through the rest of the song and ran off stage, humiliated by the fact that all my work and practicing had resulted in a nothing-burger performance, showing that I could stand up and wave my arms around. Ugh. Perhaps that was it. I simply wasn’t cut out for a dancing career.
After my humiliating performance, I had to listen to the roaring applause for the next amateur dancer, Baby Jane. We figured Jane was somewhere between forty and sixty-five years old. Toothless, with thinning bleached blonde hair and no makeup, Jane was a shameless marvel. Every time there was an amateur contest in a Rochester strip club, Jane was there, ready in her battered go-go boots and mini skirt. The crowd loved her because when they hooted and hollered, she would get more creative. Jane, Jane, Jane. She never paid heed to the rules, mostly because they didn’t apply to her. No pasties? No problem. Her naked nipples were usually hidden somewhere between her knees. No G-String? Also, no problem. The G-String would only cover what was already hidden behind her drooping belly. No one could tell if she was completely naked or not.
If Jane had imbibed enough the other strippers informed me that she would offer amateur gynecological tours of her inside organs. The house strippers hated Jane because there was just no way another dancer could follow something like that. Even Boom-Boom was appalled and when you looked up the word, ‘appalling’ in the dictionary, Boom-boom’s marquee picture was next to it.
As I was making my way back to the table where my friends were sitting, an older gentleman stopped me and asked if I was interested in having a dance agent. Thinking he was simply making fun of me I almost ignored him.
Not wanting to be rude I replied, “Um, I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of dancing.”
“Look, every dancer freezes up the first couple of times onstage,” he assured me, “you’ll get over it. My girlfriend used to be scared to death. But she ended up loving it and got over her stage fright. Listen, I’m Don, here’s my card.” He said as he tucked his business card into my hand. “Call me, I can get you into some friendlier, smaller clubs to start.”
Like a sleepwalker, I took his card and walked to the table and told my friends what happened. When I told my friends about the offer, they were positively giddy. A flurry of encouragement came from my partners in crime:
“Do it! Do it! You can borrow my car.”
“I’ll help you with costumes if you want.”
“I’ll do your makeup.”
“Can we come to town with you and hang out?”
“Oh, my gosh! You’re going to be a professional dancer and you already have a real agent!”
Don didn’t have to ask me to think about this offer because that’s all I thought about for the next week. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Finally, by Thursday of the following week, I called Don and told him I was ready to work weekends in the city. He took down my dorm floor phone number and called me back after he had found a club for me to work on Friday and Saturday of that very week, giving me the club’s phone number in case I got lost.
Oh, my gosh, I’d just gotten my first official dancing job. My dorm mates were ecstatic and wanted to come with me for support, and to hang out in the city for an evening or two. I skipped classes on Friday to work on my costumes and practice my dance moves. Everything was a blur until we, once again, piled into the Mustang and went back to the city for my first official dancing job.
The Rendezvous was the first club Don booked me into. It had been a steakhouse that had fallen upon hard times and the owner thought that bringing dancing girls in would keep him from going under. The stage was a slab of plywood that could be viewed from the bar and the dining room. The dancers had to walk through the crowd in the dining room to get to the dressing room. The stage was also just near enough to the front door to catch every draft when the door opened. The Winter I worked there, I noticed that the snow would sometimes accumulate on one side of the stage, creating an interesting twist on footing.
After that first, exciting weekend, my college friends found other activities for their adventures, and I had to find other girls to borrow cars from for my trips to the city. As a matter of fact, after a while, my friends became a little cold toward me. It was fine for me to take their help in getting into this business. But now that I was an actual stripper, they treated me with a bit of disdain. While my college friends were pulling away, my new dance friends were warm, accepting, and helpful to me. That made the decision to leave school even easier after the semester ended.
There was always a good egg at every club who would take me under her wing and work on different aspects of exotic dancing with me. Go-go girls were phasing out and everyone was becoming exotic dancers. At the Rendezvous, I worked with a sultry stripper named Bobbie Brown, (think Ginger, from Gilligan’s Island) who taught me to ditch the barefoot, modern dance look for heels. She slowly started changing my cringy, new dancer looks by showing me how to wear wigs, false eyelashes, and stripper gowns, instead of short-shorts and midriff-baring tops. She also told me to slow down and make the audience wait for the strip in stripper.
Bobbie didn’t know it then, but her advice influenced my performance style for the next thirteen years. Every time I worked at the Rendezvous with Bobbie she would share more exotic dance secrets with me, and sometimes I would spend the weekends at her apartment. We’d go out for breakfast together after work and spend Saturdays talking about dance ideas. She was not worried about a nineteen-year-old rookie with a big chest stealing her thunder. She was born a star. She once demonstrated she could keep an audience of horny men in rapture for twenty minutes by showing them only the top of her thigh at the last minute of her set. Her kindness and warmth to me were an oasis while my school friends were distancing themselves from me.
As my bank account began to grow and my dance wardrobe filled up my dorm closet, schoolwork mattered less and less to me. My grades were plummeting, and I couldn’t care less. My agent, Don, booked me into a different club for my second month of stripping. It was called La Florina. Annie, a belly-dancing teacher, worked there and became my new mentor. She helped me learn belly dance moves and isolations to add to my footwork. She also shared with me that the dancers at the first club I auditioned at with the amateur contest called me ‘Tits and Teeth’, for two obvious reasons and my smile. I suppose it could have been worse. They could have called me ‘Baby Jane’.
Something Annie had said to me stuck with me also during my thirteen-year career. ‘Never do anything to compromise who you are inside. If a club wants you to do something you are uncomfortable with, just say no. There are hundreds of other places to work.’ There were dozens of times I found myself unemployed because I refused to sit at a bar and ask customers to buy me phony drinks or let customers touch me inappropriately, or let the bartenders pimp me off. I also refused to do what is called ‘a spread’, which was a floor routine that showed off my baby-making apparatus.
Nope. Sorry. That wasn’t for public viewing. There were occasions when the money situation should have made me comply, but I just couldn’t do any of those things in good conscience.
La Florina was in an old building, but the owner kept his club immaculate. There was a twenty-foot real mahogany bar as you walked in that had leather, fancy bar stools, and real crystal chandeliers hanging over it. The liquor bottles were polished and set in front of a shiny mirror that made the club look twice as big. Its stage was set up in the dining room on the opposite side of the bar and had real hardwood- not plywood. Everything about the club screamed Italian country style, down to the red and white checkered tablecloths, candles in old wine bottles on each table, and white, crystalline, hanging light strands decorating the walls.
The bartender was a mixologist, a rare breed in the bars I was to work at in the future. He introduced me to Grasshopper cocktails and no one else could make them quite as John did. John ran the day-to-day business for the owner, who only showed up on occasion. The owner’s sister, Antoinette ran the lunches, cleaned, and played house mother to distraught dancers.
Sometimes, after hours I would stay behind and help her sweep, clean the tables, and prep for the next day’s lunches.
“What a shame you quit college. Most of these girls would give their right eye teeth for the chance you gave up, you know?” She liked to remind me.
“I know, Antoinette. It’s just that I always wanted to dance and when I finally got the chance, I had to take it.”
“Well, just be careful in this business. There are more bad people than good, and you need to be picky about who you keep company with. Fidarsi e bene non fidarsi e meglio,” she warned.
“Sounds like something my grandmother D’Angelo would say. What does it mean?” I asked.
“To trust is good but not to trust is better.”
I should have heeded her warning because trusting people would soon be my downfall. My agent began booking me at a new club, called The Beer Barrel. It was a huge party barn that was always packed with cheering patrons. These guys tossed dollar bills at the stage for us with abandon. That was cool- and lucrative. The Beer Barrel used to be a warehouse that the owners had turned into a beer and sandwich place, with the added benefit of topless dancers. Men from every factory and office in the area crowded the place from noon until two in the morning.
The service bar was at the back of the club and the kitchen was situated behind that. All day and night sandwiches were pumped out by the dozens and the waitresses were probably pulling in $200. in tips every day. Sometimes, especially on the weekends, there’d be over two-hundred drunken revelers pounding on their tables for the dancers, yelling, ‘Shake it!’ or ‘Take it off, baby!’
Fortunately, there was a staff of five, burly bouncers who kept the uproar to a minimum. Although, one of the dancers, Cece, ended up getting tossed from one table to another by a bunch of college kids after a football game. That didn’t last long, as the whole crew got airlifted out of the club by the bouncers.
At the Barrel I met my friend, Jackie, who was my agent’s girlfriend. Another good Catholic girl who just loved to dance. Jackie was short and a bit stocky with curly, dark hair, which she dippity-dooed into stick-straight locks. She was old-school rock and roll and when Jackie got her fringed mini skirt bouncing the club lost it. Shake, Rattle, and Roll would roar through the speakers and the regulars would be screaming for her.
We had different styles, that’s for sure. But she was down to earth and had a great sense of humor. We got along like sisters. She was saving up to start her own dog grooming business and was well on her way.
Most dancers had a financial goal of some kind, or simply realized they were not going to make it on $1.75 an hour minimum wage. $70-$80 bucks a day was hard to let go of. Back in 1973, it was an unbelievably good wage for young women with no college degree.
I also met my newest friend at the Barrel. Marjorie was thirty-two, and had two kids by men she couldn’t really remember very well. She was always high and never bothered to change her dance style, no matter what the newest music trends were. She would take one long step to the right, bend over, touch the hat perched on her pretty, little blonde head, straighten up and start over again. Because she was small and blonde the clubs loved her even if she couldn’t dance her way out of a paper bag. Marjorie was all for me leaving college to work full time and when she offered me a place to stay, I jumped at the chance.
As soon as I returned from Christmas break in 1974, I packed up my things and left college behind for life, love, and adventure in the city. The only problem was facing my parents with this decision. So, I decided not to. That was my standard method of dealing with unpleasant situations, running and hiding. Unfortunately, most of my interactions with my parents turned unpleasant far too easily. This time, though, it would be deserved, and I couldn’t face them.
After I finally moved in with Marjorie, I worked at the clubs every weekday afternoon, plus the evening shift, and even nights on the weekends. My take-home pay at the time was $70. A day. When you consider that I had been earning $1.75 an hour working as a swim instructor at my hometown YWCA the previous year, that was an enormous amount of money for a nineteen-year-old. I was doing what I loved and making buckets of money. It was truly a dream come true.
Every morning, as soon as the bank opened, I was first in line to deposit what I didn't need that day and never missed a deposit. The owner of one of the newer clubs I worked at saw me there and commented that he’d never seen a dancer put money in a bank account before. I thought that was odd. Who needs all that money every day?
All I needed was enough to help Marjorie with rent and groceries with a little leftover to take a cab to work every night. I didn’t need money for drinks at the clubs and I usually didn’t even take them up on their free alcoholic beverage offers. I didn’t do drugs, which is what a few of the dancers spent their money on. The only extra money I spent was on buying items for my own future apartment, dishes, linens, etc. and that didn’t amount to much.
Any more than that was limited to purchasing dance wardrobes, which, at that time, were highly specialized and had to be made by tailors. You couldn’t walk into Walmart and pick up a G-string in the lingerie section and unless there was a Frederick’s of Hollywood nearby you had to either sew your own costumes or have someone else do it for you. Luckily, I could sew and was able to make the basics for myself. Wardrobe edits never ended. Most of my disposable income went into costumes and makeup for the next thirteen years.
Men, you ask. Yes, indeed there were men. Lots of them and I did meet a few men here and there at the clubs whom I dated casually, but nothing serious came of them. I was more interested in where I would be dancing next and how to perform better. When I say casual, I mean that, sincerely, but even after all these years I still remember Fred. Fred was a construction worker who struck up a conversation with me one night at La Florina. He was tall, blond, and good looking and I enjoyed his company. After work we went to my favorite all-night breakfast joint, ’The Toddle House, which was a few blocks away from the club. Breakfast after work was a tradition, especially after dancing all evening. This was the biggest meal of the day for most dancers.
There was a local legend working the grill, named Elmer, who put on a show that rivaled anything we dancers had done earlier in the evening; flipping pancakes high into the air, tossing multiple omelets around in their pans one after the other, chopping fresh ingredients with flying knives like a sushi chef, and balancing dishes up and down his arms to serve the counter munchers. He was incredible to watch, and the food was delicious.
Fred was fun to hang out with and I was having too good a time to call it a night, so I ended up at his apartment. Fortunately, it was dark when we arrived, so I unwittingly stayed over. In the morning light, I woke up alone to see a note telling me to ‘make myself at home and maybe do the dishes and he’d be home at four.’
Yeah, no. That’s not how this works, pal. You weren’t all that good. Do the dishes, indeed. Then I got up and looked around. His place needed much more than the dishes washed. It needed to be condemned by the Board of Health and hosed down by the Fire Department.
I picked my way carefully back to my pile of clothes, got dressed without further contaminating myself, and searched high and low for a phone. While searching for the phone through the detritus of a sloppy single man’s apartment I found a letter from his wife telling him the kids really missed him and she hoped he’d finish this job soon and come back home. Hmm. How very interesting. Now, I definitely wasn’t going to wash his damned dishes. Kiss my ass, Freddy-boy.
Finally locating the phone under a pile of take-out containers and pizza boxes I dialed the cab company. After they answered I realized I had no idea where, exactly, I was. I hung up and called again, once I got my bearings. The front door had no number on it. There was a mailbox in the back of the house though, and I snagged a piece of mail with his address on it.
Calling the cab company again, I recited the address I had found and waited. Ten minutes later I heard a car horn honking. I quickly ran out to the front of the apartment to the terraced sidewalk and saw nothing. I ran back through the apartment to the back where the mailbox was and still saw no cab.
I called the company again, feeling frustrated, I gave the operator the address and waited patiently.
‘Honk, Honk, HONK!’
I ran out the front door and looked down at the street, seeing no cab again I raced through the obstacle course of Fred’s apartment and looked out the back door. Nothing. One more time I dialed the cab company and the operator said, “Look, lady, next time you go home with your john, make sure you know where the hell he lives. We ain’t sending another cab.” Click.
Ouch! I won’t be calling them anymore for rides and I sure as hell wasn’t going to end up at Fred’s garbage dump of an apartment with no address again. Maybe his wife will visit and wash his dishes for him.
I never saw Fred again until just before I quit dancing, thirteen years later. He wandered into a club I was working at and poured on the Southern charm. Apparently, he had been living down South since I saw him last.
“You just disappeared! Where did you go? I looked all over and couldn’t find you. I missed you so much.” He drawled.
“And you are?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t remember me?” He asked with a pained expression.
I did, but why give him the satisfaction of thinking he was Memorable?
“Nope. The face doesn’t ring a bell.”
“We met at La Florina, went out for breakfast, and had a rocking good time at my place. Then you just disappeared. I tried and tried to find you, but you left town or something.”
“Gee, I didn’t go anywhere. Are you sure you were looking in Rochester for me? It couldn’t have been that hard to find me if you had really wanted to.” I replied sarcastically.
Behind his back, my friend, Dianna was making his drink. Having pegged him for the phony asshole he was she prepared a special cocktail for him. One part watered down, well vodka, two parts ice-cubes tossed by hand into his glass, after they made the rounds of her gigantic brassiere and topped off with orange juice, freshly spat into his glass with love.
Karma is best served on ice.