My girlfriend leaned over the table during brunch at the Pork Store recently and stared deep into my eyes. "Baby," she said, "when you’re out there looking at all those boobies today, just remember that they’re fake. And when you’re petting asses and sticking money in G-strings, just remember that those bodies, unlike mine, are going to be saggy and horrible-looking in a few years."
Not exactly our ordinary breakfast conversation, but then again, it was no ordinary morning. I was about to embark on a whirlwind tour of some of the city’s notorious gentlemen’s clubs, and that gloomy Sunday seemed perfect. What better day than the Christian Sabbath to burn some cash on sex, right? I finished my eggs, said a little prayer, and hit the streets to find some heathens I mean, strippers. I knew exactly where to go.
THE SEEDY START
By the time I got to the corner of Market and Sixth streets, it was raining like hell, and various shady-looking characters were hogging every dry spot in sight. Despite my burning desire for a nip of whiskey, I decided to abandon my preparty bar plans and walk directly into the Market Street Cinema. I passed through the mirrored doors, paid the cover charge, and found a seat at the foot of the catwalk just in time to catch the next act.
I don’t know if the girls or the DJs pick the songs, but the music fit the sad spectacle like a latex glove. As the opening riff of the Smiths’ "How Soon Is Now" filled the club, a young girl stepped out onto the stage. Sexy Susan (or Luscious Lucy or whatever the DJ-MC had decided to call her) strutted down the catwalk in her fuck-me pumps, looked at her scant audience, and made her way to the pole. She swung around it with one leg and rubbed herself up and down before finally climbing to the top, where she hung for a full minute before sliding to the floor with a thump. She then stood up and beelined toward me.
"You look shy," the stripper whispered as she squatted in my face and began tugging at the elastic rim of her panties. From a distance the girl had seemed rather pretty, but up close her jagged teeth, stretched belly, and hollow eyes bespoke a street-style homeliness. She made me uncomfortable, and I knew the only way to shoo her off was to produce an embarrassingly small tip. So I dug down in my wallet and threw a buck by her feet. "Uh, thanks," she said. "Do you, like, want a lap dance or anything?"
"No, I’m OK. But I think that guy might want something," I said. She took my money and walked across the stage toward a scary-looking dude waving a five-dollar bill around in the air.
The young girl finished her set with a clumsy attempt to sync her body movements to Nine Inch Nails’ "Closer." She humped the pole, stumbled down the walk, and finally bent over for a spread-eagle encore. She then picked up her seven- or eight-dollar tip stash and took off. I was blown away. This girl had just showed us the holiest of holies for less than it takes to fill the gas tank on a moped. This was, presumably, her daily routine. Was it worth it? I felt too guilty to ponder the question. As soon as the young stripper was out of sight, I pushed all sympathetic thoughts out of my mind and bolted. Next stop: the Crazy Horse.
I didn’t expect much from the Crazy Horse, but it proved to be less depressing than the previous venue by a long shot. Sure, there were weird old men roaming around the lobby. And yes, the girls seemed a little sad. But at least the place was clean. The bouncer gave me a knowing smile, opened the door, and pushed me into a dimly lit room where 30 or 40 businessmen sat watching the show.
This stripper was definitely not a drug addict or a runaway who had recently celebrated the big one-eight. She was fit and healthy, and her dance routine was well rehearsed. She strutted like a cat, slowly removing the only two garments she wore. Soon she was naked and humping the air in front of an old man with glasses and dirty jeans. When she stood up to leave, the man threw down a few bills and waved a wad of cash in the air. It was a signal the stripper knew well. She scooted his donation to the middle of the stage, jumped into his lap, and began gyrating. The pattern repeated as the stripper moved from mark to mark until she was a couple seats down from me. I decided to leave at this point. My wallet had grown significantly lighter since I began this endeavor, and I still had one more cover charge to pay.
By midafternoon I was exhausted and bitter, but I had to press on. I knew my last destination, the Nob Hill Theatre, a seedy gay hideaway, was going to require true grit. After all, naked chicks are nothing new you see them every time you turn on the tube. But how many times have you seen a bunch of dudes with five-foot dongs petting one another onstage? For me the answer was never. And truth be told, I was a little scared. Still, I tried to be nonchalant as I walked into the theater.
Soon I was in a dark room watching a naked man dance to Bel Biv Devoe. I picked an inconspicuous seat in a shadowy corner, but as soon as the dancer saw me, he stepped off the stage and wandered into my private space. The naked man shook his wiener from side to side as he stared into my eyes. "How’re you doing?" I asked. "I’m good," the naked man said. He stepped closer and closer until his leg was touching mine. "Would you like a lap dance?" he asked. "No, actually, I’m here from the newspaper, writing a story about strip clubs," I blurted. He sensed my apprehension and backed off a little. Then, with a mischievous smile on his face and a growing member in his hand, he said, "That’s OK, honey, I’ll give you one for free." He placed my trembling hands on his ass cheeks and began to sway.
All told, I think I had another man’s penis in my face for about two minutes. When he was finished, he said, "That was just a taste, and you should still tip a little, but if you want more, you gotta pay."
"Thanks for everything," I said, "but I gotta get going." I dug in my wallet for some ones and then looked up in confusion. Where the hell was I supposed to put the money? When he noticed the look on my face, the naked man turned around and put his bum in the air. "Here you go," he said. I hesitated for a moment and then just figured it was protocol. As I went to put the money in the naked man’s ass, he jumped away and said, "Gotcha! You think I let people put dirty-ass bills in there? You must be crazy." I realized at this point that the dancer had been fucking with me the entire time. He stuck his tongue out, winked, and left to go dance for a group of daytime drunks in back.
A QUESTION LINGERS
On my way out the door, I was approached by two other strippers, Craven and Kaci, who had heard I was writing about their club. They laughed and posed and told me stories about stripping days gone by. They liked working at the club, they said. They were happy there.
As I sat smoking and hanging out with them in the doorway, I realized that the whole day had felt pretty gross until now. Something about the straight clubs made me feel sick, but that something was all but absent here. These dudes were actually enjoying themselves. The two straight clubs I had seen seemed to reflect the general population’s attitude toward sex. They were dark, shameful places, hidden in bad neighborhoods, where rules abounded. It seemed that here at the Nob, though, you could pretty much do whatever the hell you wanted. I had an epiphany that night: if I had to choose between hanging out at a gay strip club and a straight one, I would choose the former. Does that mean I’m gay? *
MARKET STREET CINEMA
1077 Market, SF
980 Market, SF
NOB HILL THEATRE
729 Bush, SF