Many of you – even those who enjoy my work - really do not want me to write any more about my experiences as a stripper. I fully understand that it can be overkill at times but the more I thought about what to write this month, the more I was drawn to back to the old haunts and foliage of my memories at Club Candy. Call it a need for closure or an innate obstinacy, but this column my dear friends, is also going to be about Rosa as well. As for those who truly detest my writing and would rather use this time to gouge out their eyes rather than succumbing to the painful torment of my mundane/immoral/insertyouchoiceofjudgementhere columns, I would advise you to treat this like any other conversation. Leave! As for those who don’t loathe me as much, be assured that not all of my columns will be about my Latina stage persona. The fact of the matter remains that during my brief time at Candy, I learned so much about myself, about life and the world that its almost inevitable for me to not return to those lessons. So for those who may still possess an inkling of an interest, I invite you back into my life once again. Kick back, relax, make yourself at home. Grab a cup of coffee, some chai, maybe even a Heineken, a cigarette or a joint. This promises to another fun filled evening with Padash, Rosa and lots of juicy stories from Club Candy.
So lets start with Rocky shall we? Club Candy’s resident Bouncer. What a warm and fuzzy fellow, why wouldn’t we start with the enormously juiced but loveable Rocky. The first time I ever laid eyes on the bouncer, I was taken aback with both intimidation and disappointment. Intimidation at such a gigantic specimen of a man and disappointment because the ravishingly bulked up physique was topped with a very ordinary – if not unremarkable – face. I mean the man’s arms were as explosive as Greg Valentino’s, height which fell somewhere between the CN and the Eiffel Tower and thighs as thunderously large as Double Debby’s voluptuous figure and that my friends is truly HUGE! Our first encounter was also as insignificant as his face. Although I have always been schooled to never judge a book by its cover, but this book’s jacket seemed nothing more than a mean gymbo who probably and conveniently squashed people like flies on the first roid rage to hit him. A man with very little to boast besides his biceps and triceps which he had wisely put to good use by working as a bouncer at a back-alley strip club in Manhattan. It was also evident that his overly muscled-physique was the product of a deliberate decision at a young age to make up for a not so attractive face. In his early thirties, he still had zits, uneven teeth and a lopsided nose but still I would like to believe that he probably had the potential of bedding several women, the kind who settled for the ‘forget the face, do the base’ mindset on a desperate night. However from that first meeting, his wry smile and his sarcastic yet courtly chuckle at my stage name ‘Rosa’ is always the first thing that comes to mind. And even from that expressionless wit, I could surmise that deep down inside - once you got past the stacks of protein shakes and creatine - probably lay a heart of gold. A soft and endearing side to a body-builder than never meets the eye at first impression. In the weeks that followed, my hunch was accurately confirmed. We all adored him deeply and he was always there for us. Even during those late nights when after ‘closing’ down the bar, the girls and I would head to the Tick Tock Diner for waffles and pancakes. Since we all adored Rocky and savored the sight of his cheeks blushing into crimson when we flirted with him, we would always invite him to join us. Of course we needed his overwhelming protection but for the most part, we enjoyed Rocky’s company. He was the innocent and childlike teddy bear being corrupted in the uncouth company of foul-mouthed strippers. So we would tease and scandalize.
‘Look Rocky that girl over there likes you…go over there get her number.” And he would turn crimson.
‘Rocky, don’t watch I’m going to take my bra off…” And he would surprisingly obey.
“Rocky…how big are you?” And he would just shake his head and lower his eyes hoping for the topic to change.
Maybe because of our crude behaviors, he would often try to decline accompanying us to the diner but Snowflake would always ask me to pout my lips. He would blush, gently look down, smirk and relent. It was a known fact by all the denizens of Club Candy that Rocky never turned Padash down. His fists perpetually balled up to ward off riff raff the entire time we walked to the diner.
Not just the girls but even some of the patrons began to tease me about his ‘puppy dog crush’. But I chose to never really believe them. It just seemed highly unlikely because for me he was nothing more than a gargantuan bouncer and to him I was probably just another girl on the books, shaking my badonkadonk for tips. Nonetheless, I always admired and complimented his chivalry and thoughtfulness. I even remember a particular Sunday afternoon he and I spent together walking around Central Park eating hot dogs and drinking bubble tea. It was a spontaneous yet pleasant day where we both found solace in each other’s company and the day ended with him asking me to be his date to his cousin’s wedding in Connecticut. I enjoyed spending time with him so I immediately agreed and for the most part we had a great time. His family was nothing like him; over-starched, new haven gentry and stepford wives who did not seem too surprised by Rocky’s lack of ambition in life yet made sure they were overtly cordial to his exotic date. I too succeeded in upholding my end of the conversation as the seer-suckers and the summer dresses boisterously bounced from topics such as Nabakov’s Lolita, Paris in the summertime, Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans and the political unrest in Pakistan (a topic always in fashion no matter which decade you have lived in.) Rocky stood taciturnly besides me the entire time but with a proud smile. On the way back, he gave me a few dozen roses and professed that he harbored special feelings for me. In the back of my mind, I had both expected and dreaded this revelation while always hoping that the speculations were as substantiated as meandering musings of a group of bored pole dancers. But then again no one is more perceptive than a bunch of strippers and why wouldn’t they be, they build a career around the skill of learning exactly how men think, act and feel at any given point. Alas, rejection is never easy no matter which end you’re on. So even though I tried to be as careful and polite but we all know that no matter how genteel the words, a rejection can never be gift-wrapped as anything else but a rejection. To make matters worse, when I returned to work, the Club was already abuzz with news of how Rocky had asked me out and I had declined. What made it worse was when I discovered that I was apparently the first girl from the club that he had ever asked out. Gossip obviously breeds more gossip and when scandalous tits were reciprocated with even juicier tats, Rocky was slapped further across the face with the ‘didn’t-you-know’ news that DJ Stan-O and I had slept together in the DJ booth one night after closing. I am sure Rocky felt like a fool for being oblivious to that detail and had he known, he would never have confessed his feelings for me but regardless of the fact, the relationship between Rocky and I succeeded in staying cordial but failed to remain the way it once was. Even then, Rocky’s compassion never died. All those countless times of rushing late to work when I would be trying to scrounge for a cell phone signal underground to inform Stan-O that I was running late, I would rush into the club only to be greeted by a now-aloof Rocky who would politely disclose with a strained smile that he already persuaded Stan-O to switch the line-up order and I didn’t have to go on till the end. I would want to hug and thank him now he remained distant and guarded till my very last day at Candy. I don’t blame him and I say this with the utmost sincerity that whoever ends up with Rocky, is one lucky girl! He is a good man.
Ok, so now for the burning question. What really went down in the DJ booth that night. No it wasn’t meaningless hearsay and yes, DJ Stan-O and I did sleep together. Also as previously mentioned in one of my tips in ‘Shake what yo Ama gave you’ sleeping with you boss is always a terrible and awful idea. Even if it is your only chance to get it on in a DJ booth with someone as deliciously sexy as Stan-O. Now it didn’t happen during the first time I worked at Candy. However, when I returned to the club two years later as a fresh college graduate in the Big Apple, Stan-O was surprisingly more generous and obvious with his flirting. He seemed pleased, almost ecstatic to see me return and immediately offered me back the job while I searched for other, more appropriate jobs. The sexual tension between us was becoming hot and heavier. Now of course we were both missing the fantasy element of the flirtation, since he would practically see me naked at work every night and I had seen him naked many a times…well… in my dreams; we still had to improvise and be creative to sustain the chemistry. Long story short, after I stayed back to help him close the club one night, we ended up naked in his DJ booth. We made love to the spinning record of a Lords of Acid Vinyl. Very trashy I must say even for a woman like myself, because personally I would have preferred something more mellow or more romantic like…lets just say…some Michael Bolton or Sade perhaps but I must admit it was an experience. Unfortunately once it was over, the post-sex cigarette we shared was far more uncomfortable than the lewd lyrics we had just banged to a few minutes ago. Though our cigarette eventually managed to fizzle away…the awkwardness between us didn’t. He coldly resumed the role of boss with an added title of jerk and I was left to wonder of all the other similar girls in his life and all the other notches under his belt or his DJ booth. The irony of it all…I would now always ask him to play our song from that night ‘I Sit on Acid’ every time I walked on stage to do my routine. Youtube the song and you’ll know that DJ Stan-O was a pure, unadulterated freak! Dag I loved him!
Oh and as I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t and never will be the only Pakistani stripper in any city of the world. Once when Ebonii and I were bonding over cigarettes, I made a comment along the lines of how strange it was to be a Pakistani girl doing this. She took one hard look at me and replied ‘Don’t flatter yourself honey, you aint the only girl!’ I agreed that I probably wasn’t the only desi stripper in this city but I was shocked to hear that another Pakistani used to work not just in the same city but at the same club too. Eboni later showed me pictures of an attractive girl with olive skin and bleached hair (the most unflattering of her physical traits). I asked if she was a student like myself but Eboni told me that as far as she knew the girl had immigrated to the US when she was 11. She lived in Jackson Heights with her family in a one bedroom apartment and Eboni seriously had her doubts about the girl having gone to anything but a community college. The story didn’t end just there. One night, I arrived to work to find a balled up silhouette curled fast asleep on the raggedy couch of our dressing room. When I inquired about her, the girls informed me that it was an old friend of Eboni’s. Trying to ignore the fetal mess in the corner, I prepped for the night. Still, I couldn’t help but watch from the mirror as Eboni came and sat down next to the girl, cradling her with a cup of herbal tea. The girl truly looked like a train wreck; a couple of her front teeth missing, cheeks sunken in and her eyes glazing droopily at the world before her. Dizzily and sluggishly, she slurred the few words that escaped her mouth but they were enough for me to discern that this chaos of a girl whom I watched covertly in my mirror was the other Pakistani stripper.
I can still vividly remember her icy stares as she sipped her tea ‘That the new Rosa? Where she from?’ She squeezed her eyes as if she could decipher the familiarity of our ethnicities.
‘Mind yo business and drink your tea. I gotta get ready for work.’ Eboni’s replies.
‘You know I used to be the Latina firecracker on a pole.’ She was still speaking to me as she chuckled sarcastically.
‘Girl, didn’t I tell you to shut up and drink the tea that just cost me 2.99.’ Eboni’s last words to her followed by ‘And when you gonna check yourself into a program like I done told you to?’
When I returned back from my set, the girl was already gone and Eboni sat smearing bright red lipstick on her lips. She appeared cold, as if to deliberately avoid the barrage of my several concerned queries.
‘Is that the one I replaced?” I remember asking.
‘Everybody replace every body up in this joint if you not careful.’
‘Drugs?’ I probed further.
‘Girl, mind yo business.’
I was struck with a strange sense of disgust and fear. I realized for the first time that I did not want to be just another Rosa. I did not want to go on and further replace her as another sob story. I feel that she was there that night to warn me, of what I could become. I quit Club Candy shortly after when I finally got my first job as an administrative assistant at an Ad Agency. I still kept in touch with most of the people from the club but eventually we all lost touch. Rocky is the only one who still works there, the rest of them have all moved on with their lives. I was particularly amazed to hear that Eboni too had quit since she had been working there the longest and had never expressed a desire to do anything else. Sometimes, I wish I could get back in touch with all of them but in a city like New York where you can run into the same strangers every day of the week, you can also loose your closest friends in the crowds and never once see them again. All I have now are memories of special moments shared between us. The giggles, the tears and the jokes about clients that still bring a smile to my face.
Oh those clients. I mean the normal ones were the drunken frat boys that would slur their ‘Rosa caliente’ or the lugubriously nostalgic Wall Street yuppies in their skinny ties. But every now and then, a client would walk in, so exceptionally odd that you questioned the myth that such characters only existed in cheesy, B-grade movies. But then again, fictional characters have always been known to take their muse from reality, right? I could go on and on about the strange clients like the female-to-male transsexual who still thinks to this day that everyone in the club was oblivious to her little post-op secret. Instead we had guessed the minute she had swaggered into the club that he was once a she, but still we pretended to make ‘him’ feel like we had no idea and ‘he’ in turn kept the tips rolling like raindrops. That one was in love with Ebonii. Also not the only person to skew the club’s hetero saturation, there was a loyal regular who would usually be found prancing around the club, lip-synching to Britney remixes. I still chuckle when I think of how Stan-O despised Britney but Snowflake insisted that it was either Britney or Aguilera. So he had to cave especially because she drove the men wild with her genie in a bottle routine. The effeminate, Britney aficionado would also spend hours raving about the fact that although he liked to drop the soap on purpose, he still loved to come here and ‘appreciate the female body’. That and he also ‘like totally loved the fabulous music, duh!.’ I always wondered if I should introduce him to the same surgeon who did the gender reassignment for the other FTM client but believe it or not, he was one of our good tippers too. But those were just the regulars. The weirder ones were the whack-jobs who never returned after just one cameo but boy did they leave their mark at the club. One particular cat, I cant ever seem to forget was a lanky, almost reclusive desi boy in his late teens. He could easily have been a fresh off the boat freshmen, wallowing in the combined gloom of homesickness, intimidation, loneliness and libidinousness now trying to cheer himself up with a guilty trip to his first titty bar. I would have mistook him for just another frat boy save for the fact that he was sitting all by himself in tight black-jeans with an unnoticeable presence for the most part. As I entered the stage to do my routine, I remembered he kept getting close to the stage almost crawling onto it. Tip after tip, he dished out like free Kleenex for a jilted woman. I didn’t think much of it till I finished and realized that my thong was stuffed with nothing but 20s. “Dag girl, what was you doing out there, stripping or robbing?” one of the girls remarked. Later, a girl informed me that he was waiting outside and wanted to talk to me. It was normal for us to sit and have a nice conversation with our admirers. It ensured their return especially if they were good tippers. We had a good conversation and I was right. He was a privileged little Indian boy raised in Oman. He showered me with awkward compliments which were endearing in a boyish and geeky sort of a way. I reciprocated with coquettish smiles but when he requested a private dance, I politely declined. I still didn’t hold that against him because such requests were normal from clients. I informed him, that we had no champagne rooms at Candy and I never did private shows either. He insisted some more, I remained adamant. Somewhere along the way his persistence morphed into begging. ‘Please, just one song…please…I promise…’ He also began to double his monetary offers. From hundreds he began suggesting thousands as if he was bidding on an original Monet at an art auction. I tried to steer him towards some of the girls, who would accept his offer by the time he got to triple digits but he insisted that he was not interested in any of the other girls, he only wanted a South Asian. When he began to make me uncomfortable, I excused myself back to the dressing room. I had barely begun describing my strange encounter with a potential stalker to the other girls when he entered the dressing room. No one is ever allowed back there and we were amazed that he managed to sneak back. I remember tears streaming down his cheeks as he kept on begging in Hindi. ‘Please…you don’t understand…you don’t understand…just do this for me’. Eboni was not having any of it. She sensed my discomfort as the other girls began to yell at him and the next minute Eboni was dragging him out and yelling for Rocky. I remember the ruckus at the club. I was overcome with both fear and pity for this poor lonely boy as I watched Rocky and Stan-O literally man-handle him out of the door. The boy kept sobbing and crying for me. I was petrified and I hated that I had caused all of this. Stan-O sent me home for the rest of the night and made sure Rocky escorted me all the way to a cab. In hindsight, I’m sure the boy had mental health issues but to this day I can’t ever seem to forget that scary and strange look in his eyes.
Not all of the incidents were as scary. Some were equally freaky but when an insensitive soul would crack a joke about them at the diner, we would discover the humor in every tragedy and cackle with irony at how crazy our lives had become. For example, there was an older client who often frequented the club. Rich but not very elegant, always attired in a suit and carried with him an overworked demeanor. I also remember he was balding with a bad comb-over and his suits were always of different shades of gray and no other color. Slightly paunchy, thick glasses on a stubby nose and an ominously awkward stutter. We would joke behind his back that he was probably some sleazy snuff pornographer or maybe even the next serial killer but to his face we treated him no less than the most handsome man in the world. He never really said much and was as invisible and unnoticeable at the club as he may have been anywhere else in his life. Always in the back sipping his strawberry daiquiri in the dark. He would walk over to the stage, stuff a few bills. Smile clumsily, blush when the girls would wink and then retreat shyly back. As he sat gawking he was probably pondering over something totally unrelated to the nudity in front. It was a night similar to that when we got done with work and as we walked out planning our trip to the Tick Tock diner for breakfast, we saw that he was still slumped in his usual spot even after the lights had been turned on. A few minutes later, the bar-back rushed over to the DJ booth to inform Stan-O that the man wasn’t asleep but in fact, dead. I will never forget how all the girls huddled around him while Stan-O and Rocky checked for his pulse. Eboni was the only one brave enough – and smart enough – to plan for what lay ahead. Stan-O wanted to get his ID but Eboni stopped him and pulled out a wedding band from his front pocket. ‘What you gonna tell em? Kids tell your momma when she gets home from Pilates, that daddy just done breathed his last at a strip club.’ She had a point. Apparently, he wasn’t the first client to have died in front of Eboni because she seemed calm and performing a routine she had once practiced earlier. I too quietly took notes in case stripping also became my long-term career. I remember we drove him to the hospital and dropped him off. Stan-O, Rocky and Eboni spoke with the people inside while the rest of us sat in the car biting our nails and fidgeting with the radio dial. From what I could tell, this was not an unfamiliar situation for the people who worked at the hospital either. Word of advice: don’t frequent strip clubs if you already have a weak heart.
The sun had already risen by the time we all sat down in a booth to grieve over a quiet breakfast. Everyone ordered their usuals and sat mournfully. Even Stan-O sat besides us and he had never joined us for breakfast before. But that night we were all acting civil to each other. The man’s death had forced us all to put our differences and our pasts aside.
‘Well….’ Double Debby finally sighed ‘There goes my twenties….’
Eboni immediately spun around to shoot an angry look at the heartless comment but surprised us with her reply ‘Biotch, you think you’re mad, he had just promised to pay my sprint pcs bill.’
We all cracked up! It was heartless, it was wrong and we knew that. But such was the profession. You weren’t ever supposed to get emotionally attached to the clients. They all arrived at the club with their own share of histories and baggage tucked somewhere away in the back-pockets of their suits. We too performed for them shedding away our own histories and baggage in the back along with our clothes and neither of the parties were to be interested in the other’s histories or baggage.
‘I knew he was gonna die at the club…he just looked like somebody who would die at a strip club or a porn movie theater.’ One of the girls chimed in.
‘I just thought, he was gonna die of weight trauma. Getting run over by a truck or getting a lap dance by Debby!’
‘Girl who you think you is…them mens come from all over the world to see me. You cant super size these shakes, legs or thighs in no KFC bucket’.
By the end we were all in hysterics. Napkins flung at each other. Stan-O and Rocky in fits of laughter watching us cat-fight at the diner!
‘Ya all girls aint never up to no good’ One of the old and withered waitresses smirked as she passed by juggling her orange juice cups.
And that really was it. These were my friends, my coworkers, my family at that particular time. We didn’t care where we came from, where we were going or where we would end up. We didn’t even care what the world thought of us. Because at moments like these when you have all just driven across the city together with a dead corpse whose lap you have all sat in at one point, you learn the most important rule in life. The infamous words once echoed by Lady Chablis to John Kelso at his arrival in Savannah, Georgia:
‘Two tears in a bucket, motherf&%k it!’