Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Camaraderie of Gentlemen's Clubs

There have been very few events in my life that have caused me to change the way in which I view things in my environment. For years, I have sarcastically opined about the perceived camaraderie that exists in the atmosphere inside a gentlemen’s club. Most of what I expressed was previously spoken with ignorance, backed up by very little concrete knowledge. The aura with which I viewed the gentlemen’s club became somewhat of a running joke. The term “gentlemen’s club” became comical because of my insistence that the establishments be called that. Most of my peers simply call these clubs “strip clubs”, “tittie bars”, “nudie bars”, and many other euphemisms. The camaraderie of a gentlemen’s club is not the camaraderie between the fellow men. Rather, the majority of the camaraderie results from the interactions between the talent and patronage.

Briefly, I entered “Dancers Royale” in Orlando, Florida on April 6, 2003. It came at approximately 1:00 PM, following a sleep that was in excess of 15 hours. I discovered the club, which is located on SR50, the previous Friday while in route to “Fairvilla Mega Mart”. I walked in to be greeted by a female bartender who asked me if there was anything I desired. I requested a Sprite, and the lady did not assess me a charge. I sat down at a high-top table and positioned myself in front of a big-screen TV. On the television set was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Aaron’ 499. The race was run at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Seated across from me were two men with NASCAR hats, almost assuredly rednecks. Their devotion to NASCAR was evident by the fervor with which they followed the competition. To my surprise, there was no dialogue between me and the gentlemen surrounding me. They watched the race and were chatting with the bartender. For approximately 30 minute before the entertainment began, I too watched the race. I was shaking almost uncontrollably, which was a combination of nervous anxiety and the coldness of the building. A lady wearing a sexy outfit approached me. Kim, which was her name, was extremely warm and accommodating. Some of my initial anxieties were assuaged by the friendly nature of the lady. At about 1:30, I heard a voice come on the microphone. He announced that the entertainment was about to commence. Years of speculation was about to come to a climax in a matter of moments. Wide-eyed and shivering, I reluctantly entered into what I feared would become an abyss of darkness.

The deejay came in and commenced the proceedings. He was a longhaired man and was wearing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers baseball hat. He introduced the first entertainer, a very attractive lady named Brandy. She stepped onto the stage, which was much smaller than I had envisioned. For the first song, she danced fully clothed in the long white gown she was wearing. The deejay got on the microphone every five minutes and implored the patrons to tip the ladies. He suggested a dollar amount of ten, but most gave little more than a single dollar. The next song played and Brandy got more revealing. She dropped her gown, which exposed her bare breasts, only covered by a small piece of tape required by law. On her leg was a strap which was used to collect tips from customers. By the time the second song concluded, she was unveiled completely topless. The deejay took the microphone and asked everybody to give Brandy a round of applause. Approximately 90 percent followed the man’s wishes.

While another entertainer took the stage, Brandy came down tableside to address the audience. She gave us pleasantries for the generous tips. She approached me sitting at the high table only a few feet from the stage, which just a short few minutes ago she was performing on. She sat and talked with me for around ten minutes. She commented on the depressing music played during her dance. I agreed, although I do not recall what song was being played. But it was definitely melancholy. I continued the conversation by telling her I was from Jupiter and was visiting a friend at the University of Central Florida. She raised a query. She wondered why I didn’t bring my friend along with me. I responded with a fabricated line that my companion was swamped with homework. Always desiring to have my ignorance alleviated, I asked her how much of a tip was standard for a gentlemen’s club. She replied with a non-answer, saying just to leave what you wish. As the day proceeded, I began to approach the stage with a five-dollar bill instead of the previous one-dollar bill. Much to my dismay, Brandy informed me that she was a fan of the nefarious Florida State Seminoles. She could see the Gator logo which was stitched on my cap. The issue was pretty much left at that. Her return to the stage was upcoming, so she had to get prepared. During the time she visited with me, another lady was performing nude on the stage. Brandy spoke with encouragement to the entertainer currently on stage, who’s name I do not recall.

The next few dances involved little excitement. There were rotating strippers, about five of them total. Each took turns on stage, for approximately five minutes each. To be generous, I went close to the stage and showed my gratitude with a gratuity. The entertainers were gratified that they received the tips and responded with very kind words. I had moved from the high top table to a more comfortable booth. The view was almost the same. It just had a better feel to it. Occasionally the waitresses came over and asked me if I desired a beverage. I declined. By about now I had calmed down and became more accustomed to my surroundings. The course of action became standard and easy to predict. The crowd began to file in, reaching a maximum of about 15 people. Nevertheless, there was an intimate feel to the club.

Around 2:00, a new entertainer named Elisha entered the establishment. She was perhaps the most attractive performer to date, possessing the largest bosom. The master of ceremonies introduced her to the crowd and she stepped onto the stage to perform. Nothing out of the ordinary occurred during her initial demonstration. Once again, I approached the stage and placed the money on her strap. I walked back to my seat and viewed with great anticipation the conclusion of her performance. Within minutes, her time on stage had terminated.

She came offstage and put her clothes back on. Then, she approached me and started a conversation. She put her arm around my shoulder and introduced herself to me, and I reciprocated. Once again, I said that I was from out of town and was in Orlando only for the rest of the day. I told her I was a freshman at Florida Atlantic University and was studying Communications. Much to my surprise, she was a student at Orlando’s University of Central Florida. She had been studying Communications, but had switched her major to Education. Her goal was to be a sign-language instructor, focusing on helping children. Instantly, my view of gentlemen’s clubs changed. This was not a place where oversexed freaks worked only to help maintain their cocaine habit. The entertainers dreamed to dig themselves out of the hole that was the “Dancers Royale” joint. Like me, she had a car that was without air conditioning. I could empathize with her as I too own a Honda Civic minus proper air. Her parents, while having good intentions, did not have the funds to help her financially. She asked me if my parents helped me out, and I replied that they do everything they can for me. The conversation could have taken place anywhere in the community. It was not standard gentlemen’s club banter about sex.

About midway through our conversation, she asked me if I wanted a personal dance. It cost $10, and is different from the standard lap-dance that has been made popular by television series like “Married with Children”. For about five minutes, she stripped from about 3 feet across from me. At times she simulated that she was going to provide me with Oral pleasure. It was not a particularly gratifying experience, but she got her ten dollars and I walked away with an experience everybody should enjoy once in their life. For one fine moment, I was in front of a beautiful lady who was focused entirely on me. Even when the time expired and I would leave the club, I could leave with that memory. Once her services had been provided, we went back to talking as if nothing sexual in nature had ever occurred between us.

After about 15 minutes, she excused herself and went to speak with somebody she was obviously familiar with. From a distance, it appeared to be a gentlemen who was a regular at the establishment. It was emotional to see her go over to him and give him an embrace. They danced to a tune simultaneously while another performer was on stage topless. The camaraderie felt between the entertainer and gentleman was evident. It was as if there is a bond former between regular patrons and the talent themselves. In this moment I saw the camaraderie that I have harped on for years. Only it wasn’t between men, but involving the man and female entertainer. She left the man, as she was scheduled to return onstage. I left her another tip, even though I had done so twice before. She came back to my side and explained to me that if I stayed there was a free buffet scheduled. We spoke for a few minutes, and I confessed that I had never before stepped foot in a gentlemen’s club. She asked me how old I was, and she was shocked to learn I was only 18. She told me that she had just turned 21 and started working in order to pay the college room rent. She commented that strip clubs were lots of fun and that I should go to one back when I returned to Palm Beach County. According to Elisha, gentlemen clubs are very conservative in Orlando. Entertainers must wear what is called in slang “tittie tape”, or more professionally spoken “pasties”. The entertainers are forbidden from exchanging in physical contact with customers. They are even banned from touching another female if they are performing together on stage. She assured me, although I never officially asked, that there was more contact at clubs in the WPB and Ft. Lauderdale area. In the next few minutes, I announced my intentions to leave the establishment. We said our goodbyes and I was on the road within ten minutes.

My first experience at a gentlemen’s club was truly an altering experience. I was saddened that I chose to objectify women who were more than just fodder for male masturbation. This particular club was not some kind of legalized brothel, rather just a place for men to gather and have a good time. The companionship I felt for those two hours was gratifying. There was very little sexual arousal that occurred during my visit. I was able to sit, watch some racing, drink some Sprite, and engage in conversation with women who would almost assuredly never talk to me outside the environment of a gentlemen’s club. When I got home Sunday night and began to write this essay, tears were close to falling down my face. The image of the man dancing with Elisha was replayed in my mind. I fondly remember sitting and chatting with Brandy and Elisha. I like to think they would have come and sat with me even if I hadn’t given them a tip, but that question will never be completely answered. What happened from this moment will be discussed at a later date, but I wished that my visit to “Dancers Royale” would have been my last a gentlemen’s club. Those two hours were two of the finest in my life. The camaraderie was there. If only in one select club in one select city in Florida, this experience is what I would like to imagine all gentlemen’s club experiences are like. Nothing should have been able to tarnish this grandiose experience. Unfortunately, two days later, something did. But much like a person traumatized in war, I will attempt to wipe away the memories of a few short days later. In my mind, this was the perfect experience on the perfect day, place, and time in my life. It was nothing like the darkness of abyss that I had felt only a few hours ago. If only I could borrow the tune “One Shining Moment” from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is sang after the Basketball Champion is crowned on the glorious Monday night each April. I have a difficult time imagining the camaraderie of that day being surpassed by any future endeavors.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Democratic Primary Endorsement: Sen. Barack Obama

Florida’s Democratic primary, to be held on Jan. 29, will be playing second fiddle to the hotly contested GOP race featuring newly minted Floridian Rudolph Giuliani. The Democratic National Committee harshly penalized Florida Democrats for moving their primary from its traditional March placement. DNC Chairman Howard Dean stripped Florida of all its delegates to August’s National Convention in Denver, and all major Democratic candidates signed a pledge to cease campaigning in the primary. Nevertheless, there is still an election being held on the Democratic side. Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York is the likely winner, as she has held a steady lead for months. And with the amount of transplanted New Yorkers residing in Palm Beach County, it should not come as a surprise that she enjoys a comfortable margin. However, I still take my vote seriously – and that is why I am choosing to support Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama is the only candidate who can effectively carry the mantle of change. Critics charge that Obama is too inexperienced to seek the presidency. The problem with this argument is that the longer one stays in Washington, the more they become part of the problem and not the solution. Obama is smart to take his shot at the presidency now. As we saw with Sen. John Kerry in 2004, more Senate experience does not equal success. Kerry’s voting record was torn apart, as every minute detail was exploited by the opposition for political gain. The most Senators in the 2008 race, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, never gained any traction and withdrew after Iowa.

The real question should be whether Obama has the acumen to handle the job of the U.S. presidency. Clinton stated recently that we shouldn’t elect a president who needs on the job training. This argument falls hollow, considering that no amount of training can truly prepare one for the job. All presidents come to the job needing on the job experience. Serving as governor of Arkansas, as former President Clinton did for nearly 12 years, certainly wasn’t “on the job training”. Obama’s most positive trait in this election is his ability to bring the country together. After two decades of Bush/Clinton rule, most people agree that it’s time to put this era of division behind us. Obama has the ability to build a national mandate to enact positive progressive change. It’s unfortunate, but Clinton is already too polarizing to fully bring this country together. If she were to be elected, we’d likely see the same partisan gridlock that occurred during the 1990’s. This country doesn’t need another Gingrich v. Clinton fight.

Obama’s trump card is his judgment. For all his “inexperience”, he had the judgment to oppose the Iraq War from the beginning. While Sen. Clinton and many of her colleagues were voting to authorize force in Iraq, Obama publicly stated his case against the war. Even when many establishment Democrats were quick to ally with President Bush, Obama saw the impending folly and was vocal in his opposition. Clinton has made the judgment that her vote was still correct – even when presented with evidence that the intelligence was incorrect.

For all my misgivings about Sen. Clinton, she would be a much better president than the current occupant of the White House. Despite the flaws that I point out, I would gladly cast my vote for her in the general election. However, her candidacy equals the most risk combined with the least reward for Democrats. She would enter the general election period with almost half of the country not open to supporting her. Convincing Republicans in upstate New York to support her is no comparison to trying to win votes of fence sitters nationally.
On Jan. 29, I urge Democrats in Florida to vote for Barack Obama. Even though there may still be bitterness about the fight between Florida Democrats and the DNC, the chance to support a candidate like Obama should be reason enough to take the time to vote in this “meaningless” primary.