What's New Pussycat
What's New, Pussycat?
I went to a strip bar this weekend in New York called the Pussycat Lounge. It was the first strip bar I've been in since I went to one in Coco Beach Florida, which until Saturday was also the only strip bar I have ever been in.
I forget the name of the one on Coco Beach. It was 1991 and my family had driven down to Florida to hang out during New Year's Eve and to escape the cold in New Haven, where we had just moved and didn't know anybody.
The line between sleazy and low-brow cool in Coco beach is kind of blurry. Once while driving around the backroads, we came upon an all-you-can eat BBQ joint populated only by bikers and other not-so-well-to-do whites. A sign announced that there was a country band inside (this period, by the way, was well before I began to like country or bluegrass), and promised cheap cold beer. All the proceeds went to a little girl in the neighborhood who had cancer. Dad pulled a quick U-turn, and we piled out of the car. My brother missed out on this particular adventure: at 12 he was a classist sonuvabitch and refused to enter the bar saying, "These aren't our kind of people." While he sulked in the car, I walked out to the back where a couple of whole pigs were sizzling away on oil drum cookers. "Where'd ya get the pork?" I asked one of the fellas that was watching the pig. "Shot 'em down by the crik t'other day," mumbled one of them. "There's some already done up inside." So I went in and for $5.00 I got enormous helpings of BBQ pork, macaroni salad, coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob and a biscuit. Beer provided, no questions or IDs. This was low-brow cool.
My sister's boyfriend Gordon had come down on this trip as well. Gordon would later end up serving time in the ACI for stabbing someone in a bar fight. When he and my sister broke up, I began referring to him as Stabby the Clown. Gordon was a big blonde guy, about 6'5" and an ex-marine. He liked to drink and, besides the stabbing incident, was in general an OK guy, if a bit dense. One night he suggested we hit the strip bar down the road. I wasn't sure I liked the idea, but figured, why not and went along anyway.
I'm the kind of guy who likes a good bar: a bar with a unique group of people, with a decent selection of beer. The perfect bar is more than just a room to get drunk in: any asshole can do this in the living room. The perfect bar has a certain spirit to it, a certain coziness that makes it like an extension of your home. Perhaps it is a bartender you know, or perhaps it is the way the bar is lit, or perhaps it is the beer they have on tap or the books they have to read. All I know is this place in Coco Beach had none of these things. A tall skinny broad with no clothes on and floppy tits danced around a pole, to loud but dull dance music. I ordered an overpriced Budweiser from the standard BudBudLiteMillerMillerLiteCoorsCoorsLite list of beers. There was no one I wanted to talk to, and nothing to read. So far, this wasn't fun.
Then, a girl with big eyes and a sweet smile came up to me wearing a thong and a satiny teddy thing. I could see the shape of her breasts pushing up underneath the scrap of satin and the thiong was embedded way into the crack of a pretty fuckable ass. I got that familiar stirring in my groin. "Would you like to dance?" she said, looking me in the eye.
"Huh? Oh.. I uh.. I've never been to one of these places before. What do you mean, "dance"?"
The girl pointed across the room. "You know, like them." I looked over, and saw a man about the size of a walrus (a manatee?) wearing a flannel shirt and overalls. His face was bright red and he was wheezing loudly and grunting as he ran his palms over the gyrating ass of a stripper, whose jiggling breasts looked as bored as the rest of her. The man's ample hips were gyrating too, as he masturbated himself against the inside of his coveralls.
"Ummm... no, I think I'm all set," I said. I was embarassed for her and for me. "Gordo, let's get out of here."
Since then, I have had a number of friends tell me how great strip bars are, and how I would enjoy them. I disagree.
It is not that I am a prude. God knows I download more than my share of hardcore pornography. I have been known on occasion to visit a 25-cent video booth. The last four years of singlehood were not spent in a monastery. I have been in any number of weird sex situations. In other words, I have a penis and it gets a lot of use! My problem is more than just that I find the whole endeavor to be an exercise in sexism (and patriarchy if you really want to start calling up the ghosts of a liberal arts education): I think I would be more comfortable at a live sex show, where both man and woman are degraded and objectified equally. No, it's that... well, there's something a bit too gay for me about sitting in a room with a bunch of other men having a communal hardon, that I can do nothing to relieve.
Which brings me at long last to the Pussycat Lounge. I was in New York because I had band practice, and after practice, our drummer was headed off to his other gig. "Let's go see Jamie's band," said my friend/ guitar player Izzy. "You're gonna love this place. It's a strip bar!"
"I don't know," I said. "I'm not really into that whole lap-dance thing. And that whole communal boner thing kind of freaks me out."
"No, no, this is different," Izzy assured me. "It's more like an old-fashioned cabaret, I guess. There's no touching or anything like that, and the girls dance behind the bar on a stage. Guaranteed, you'll have a good time." So, despite warnings that I would almost certainly be leaving the Pussycat Lounge before he was ready to, Izzy insisted that I drive us into Manhattan, and we threaded our way into the financial district.
The Pussycat is a large room with mirrored ceilings and walls, done up with red Christmas lights that give it that "carnal" atmosphere. On stage behind the bar, a half dozen young gals were dancing topless. Some of them were pretty hot, with nice breasts bouncing and swinging around lazily through the cigarette smoke. I ordered a beer: it was a 12 ounce bottle of Heineken and it cost $7.00. "How long until you play?" I asked Jamie, who had appeared behind me. I like to drink, and at $7.00 a pop for sour imported beer, this was an expensive bar.
"Probably another 2 hours or so," Jamie said. "Dude, I gotta tellya, this bar isn't as good as one in Montreal. This one I went to in Montreal, you could actually have sex, in the bar with the dancers! Isn't that insane? Or what, you don't like strip bars or something?" he added, as I made a face.
"Nah.. I'm not into the whole strip scene. And the idea of paying for sex.. that just doesn't do it for me."
I took another sip from my $7.00 heineken. Every 20 minutes or so, a girl would climb down from the stage and mingle with the customers,while a new one took her place and commenced wiggling. I watched a new girl climbed up and as she got naked, I realized that she was practically a dead ringer for my girlfriend and I started laughing. "Now look at this chick," I said to Izzy, pointing. "What am I wasting time here for, all this makes me want to do is go home and have sex with my girl."
"Don't look, don't look," Izzy said. "It'll only rile you up. The worst thing you can do is look at these girls, it'll drive you nuts."
That was about the last straw. I tipped my bottle at my friends. "Guys, I'm outta here."
"But you've only been here 20 minutes," complained Izzy. "Jamie's not playing for a couple of hours."
"Yeah, leaving me paying exorbitant prices for beer as part of the privilege of ogling a bunch of half-naked women that you're telling me not to look at anyway. No thanks."
A half hour later, I was back in Brooklyn, at a little joint called Hank's, listening to a clumsy and half-drunk band play old time country songs. I took a long swallow off my $4.00 pint of the pride of San Francisco, Anchor Steam, and absorbed the music, the cigarette smoke, the stink, and the guys making time with real girls who, with a little luck, they'd take home and screw. This is real life. This is a real bar. These are my kind of people.