Fear and Loathing in Tampa

From cash-hungry strippers to protesters dressed as vaginas, your gonzo guide to the Republican National Convention

"We're bringing in different porn stars from everywhere," Hernandez says, rattling off names like Nikki Delano and Nina Mercedez.

In fact, nearly every club is already seeing an influx of porn stars, as well as out-of-state and out-of-retirement strippers. Hernandez says his club will keep things strictly apolitical, but others are playing right into the RNC theme.

"I'm going to do my Palin show," says Lisa Ann, a porn star who over the past four years has impersonated the Alaskan VP candidate in classics such as Who's Nailin' Paylin? and the point-of-view flick You're Nailin' Palin.

Rick Sealock
Rick Sealock

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"I come out in my Sarah Palin suit with my hair up and my glasses, and I dance and strip and give away a lot of Palin paraphernalia," she says of her two-night performance at Thee DollHouse. "It's going to be fun."

Ann, who once appeared in a live sex scene with a Mitt Romney look-alike almost as stiff as the real thing, swears her performance isn't political commentary. "I'm sure that there will be a bunch of people from the convention there," she says. "But I'm not here to make fun of politicians."

There is at least one Tampa luminary for whom flashing t&a will be about more than making some cash. Joe Redner, the 72-year-old owner of Mons Venus, is a philosophizing free-speech advocate who has donated his land to the Occupy Tampa movement. He's also a pain in local politicians' asses. In 1976, Redner took over a bar called the Night Gallery, and after hearing on the radio about the Supreme Court's decision to allow nudity in movies, he concluded that nude dancing would have to be protected as well.

For years, Redner played cat-and-mouse with Tampa police. When a woman stripped onstage, undercover cops would arrest her. But as soon as they took her outside, Redner would replace her with another. Then he'd go bail out the first woman. "It took nine girls on a three-girl rotation for us not to get shut down," he says, laughing. "They ran out of undercovers!"

Redner himself was arrested dozens of times. Eventually, he won an injunction against the city's nudity ordinance. Since then, he has run eight times for political office. In 2007, he lost in a runoff for city council with 44 percent of the vote. He has pretended in court to be gay in order to prevent a homophobic law from being enforced. His battles have pitted him against Hillsborough County Christian fundamentalists such as State Senator Ronda Storms, who has likened Redner to the Devil.

Like other strip-club owners, Redner says he looks forward to taking Republicans' money. But he sees it as long-overdue economic redistribution from the rich to the poor. (His dancers are self-employed and receive 100 percent of their lap dance fees and tips.)

"The big businesses, energy companies, and banks that back the Republicans have been stealing from the little people for years," he says. "Now, we're going to take some of their money. I'm glad to."

Redner doesn't hide his opinions. He doesn't have time to. He's got stage-four lung cancer and a deep cough that reminds him of his inevitable death. He doesn't want to see the country he has gone to jail for more than 150 times—yes, a country with titty bars and pornography—thrown out for a reactionary Reich.

"I'm already used to the invasion of conservatives," he says. "They've invaded our whole country and taken over our whole system."

He won't be in town for the RNC. Instead, he'll be in Vegas for a strip-club convention. It's better that way, he says. In Sin City, Redner won't have to watch Mitt Romney preach about "family values" while calling for a war with Iran.

Redner wants no part of Romney's America. He gazes around at his club. "I prefer to be in here with the decent humans," he says.

michael.miller@miaminewtimes.com

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