Hollywood and Sunset Strippers

LOS ANGELES—The Spearmint Rhino in downtown is an "upscale gentlemen's club," meaning it's $20 at the door for men (which I was happy to shell out for my companion, a tranny boy, because if you can pass to a strip club bouncer, you're in business) and 10 bucks for chicks. (I like to think of this as the club's nod to the continuing inequality in wages.) The cover charge supposedly weeds out the riffraff, and the crowd seemed quite well behaved as we found seats with a good view. This wasn't difficult, since the stage was round and every spot was the best seat in the house. People who design strip clubs are like casino planners—when they get you in, they want you to stay as long as your wallet will let you. We also had a peripheral view of the alcoves with big leather banquettes behind us, where women were grinding their hips on men's laps.

We watched as one dancer after another took the stage, wriggled out of her costume, crawled around with her ass in the air, touched her pussy, collected her tips, and departed. Classy strip joints like the Rhino offer mostly all-American girls, too clean and WASPy for my taste, with bodies modified in all the wrong ways. I'll take ink and metal over silicone and saline any day. But I would suffer through the implants and the fashion faux pas in order to see the featured dancer that night—my favorite porn star, Chloe.

Besides being smart, super sexy, and the queen of anal sex on the small screen (must be all three to be my favorite), Chloe is the Antichrist of strippers—no fluorescent pink spandex peekaboo dress, fake tits, and over-dyed blond tresses for her. Her body is 100 percent Chloe, and so is her style. She floated to the stage in an amazing white kimono trimmed with red sequin accents; it covered her entire tiny frame. With a flick of the wrist, a crimson fan appeared, and like a consummate drag queen, she executed her clever, raunchy choreography as that fabulously cheesy '80s tune "Turning Japanese" blared from the sound system. I am afraid her sense of camp and stripper irony was lost on most of the room.

When the silky robe was finally tossed aside, she revealed a red sequined bra and G-string that Judy Garland (or any Judy Garland imitator) would have died for. Spearmint Rhino is an all-nude club, so the sparkled set eventually came off too. For her finale, she dripped red candle wax on her pale, naked skin and encouraged audience members to drip it on her pussy and ass. (Don't try this at home, wannabe strippers; Chloe is a seasoned s/m-er and knows her way around hot wax.) Chloe has such a queer sensibility for a straight girl in the sex industry (another reason I adore her). The ultimate female impersonator, she can shake her tits and ass with the best of them, yet there is always some sense that a kickass being with big cojónes lurks underneath the glitter. Someone who can put on a girl look and take it off like nail polish.

In a different part of town, on Hollywood Boulevard, there wasn't any admission price at Cheetah's. People crowded the bar, played pool in the corner, and it felt more like a local dive where women just happened to be stripping. A big-boned punk girl with purple hair extensions and tattoos took the stage. She had a giant red ribbon etched on the back of each thigh. On the left, below the bow, in girlie black script, the word White covered the entire creamy space above her knee. On the right, Trash completed the picture. A different kind of stripper irony. My friend Thomas went into full-drool mode for her, ready to support a semester of college or 10 more tattoos. (Note to dancers: Play to the sex activists in the crowd. We are simple targets. We will easily part with hundreds of dollars because we want to support sex workers!)

I can always spot the best dancer in a place within 30 seconds. She arrives onstage and she captivates. Her presence and charisma stop conversation, traffic, and anything else in her way. Cheetah's top girl was a leggy brunet with an all-natural body dressed in a leopard-print ensemble. She was definitely pretty, but otherwise seemingly unremarkable as she made her way through the crowd. But when her heels touched the shiny neon stage, she transformed. She was raw sexual energy, electric eyes, melting smile. As she wiggled around collecting dollar bills at the end of her routine, my friend Rachel complimented her on her animal-print outfit, and the two of them giggled to each other. Everyone decided she was the one. The one who'd give Rachel her very first lap dance.

As Rachel sat down across the room for the leopard girl to strut her stuff, a mature woman (read: not 22) appeared onstage. She had short, perky blond hair, a red sheer robe trimmed with feathers, and black patent-leather thigh-high boots. The dramatic opening of a jazzy rendition of "Summertime" caught me off guard like Tupac playing in the supermarket. The blond's moves were polished, fluid, crisp, sensual, like she was auditioning for the chorus of Chicago or Fosse. (And by the way, she would get called back.) Was that a double-woman symbol tattooed on her right shoulder? Later, as she collected her tips, I smiled at her. She noticed that we had emptied all our ones onto the stage for her.

"If you're gonna do something, do it well," she said to me, and I detected a slight English accent.

"I could not agree more," I returned, convinced that she was a veteran stripper, possibly a dyke, and a real dancer in another life.

"I've only been doing this for nine months. I used to be a customer here, you know; I'd come in and hang out. One day, I thought, 'Hey, I could do that.' It's the best thing I've ever done for myself." I bet the guys in the place wouldn't have a clue what she meant, but I did. I am a sucker for smart strippers.

Visit my Web site: www.puckerup.com.

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