Flash Dancers

 

 

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I had no more business going to the strip club "Flash Dancers" than I

had going to the moon. Even the walk down 42nd Street from the Port

Authority to Broadway made me feel dirty the way I had during those

times I went AWOL from the army to get drunk here in 1969, just one more

horny soldier the local street women taunted with their offers of dates.

 

"Hey, Solider, honey, you wanna come on a date with me?" the young

whores used to ask.

 

I had always passed up that temptation, vowing never to pay for sex no

matter how much I ached.

 

Even later, when in the rock clubs and college, I always resisted women

who seemed to easy or eager, always thinking I would pay the price later

on. I suppose that's why Sue didn't appeal to me as much as she did to

other men: I just couldn't afford her prices, and yet now, in 1996, I

wandered through the streets of Manhattan hunting her down, as if I was

just another spurned suitor seeking revenge.

 

No street women accosted me this time, though I saw a few huddled under

Disney's "Under Construction" signs near Broadway, dirty dismal

characters too strung out on dope to get a job in one of the houses,

faces caked in makeup to hide the sores from various diseases. The thick

crowd of mostly yuppie business men hurried by, bumping me, the whores

and the tourists as if none of us existed, or wouldn't exist if yuppies

ran the world.

 

This grew worse when I finally turned uptown on Broadway and travel

along the sidewalk resembled the school yard game we used to call

"Dodge," me weaving to one side to avoid the blind blundering of the

tourists then to the other to avoid the unyielding charge of the

yuppies. Tourists stopped mid-sidewalk to snap pictures of Times Square

-- only not the same Times Square I had stored in the back of my head.

Disney's scalpel had sliced up too much of the old neighborhood for me

to consider it the same place -- just one more attraction in Disney's

effort to make the world an amusement park, little realizing that it

already was.

 

Broadway and the Bowery had competed for years as the capital of world

entertainment, one giving the uptown crowd its snob-stuff, the other, a

more working class burlesque. The uptown version eventually evolved into

the over-priced Broadway junk tourist flock to, the Bowery eventually

gave way to traveling shows call Vaudeville, leaving the rest of the

bums. Over time, peep shows took over and moved uptown, sneaking in

between, taking over 42nd street like a plague.

 

But as I walked towards the strip club, city officials joined the

movement to finally clear out most of the riffraff, establishing a

zoning law that would prevent such establishment from operating within a

certain distance of each other. Unfortunately for the peep shows, that

square footage made it impossible for them to meet the law and still

maintain their numbers, a kind of musical chairs in which many of them

would vanish or move out of town. The peep shows would fight the law, of

course, but by the summer of 1997, would find the law upheld by higher

courts.

 

Yet on this night, all seemed as it always was, greasy yuppie peep show

customers standing in lines that ran side by side with tourists waiting

for the more legitimate shows, both attempting to ignore the other, both

equally embarrassed by New York City's ability to maintain both high and

low culture within a dozen feet, as if both were really aspects of the

same dismal phenomena, just packaged differently, designed to suck money

out of those who stepped onto this side of the Hudson.

 

Christian fundamentalists largely delude themselves, painting porn

patrons as men like Peewee Herman, slinking, slimy creatures of the

night who masturbate every hour and seek out young children to play show

and tell with. The truth becomes very evident when you study these

crowds for a while. The only difference between the lines for peep shows

and strip joints is that the men seemedcreatures of the night who

masturbate every hour and seek out young children to play show and tell

with. The truth becomes very evident when you study

 

Some of the strip joints even had a dress code, turning away anyone

wearing sneakers or without a tie. This represented the new attitude in

New York City clubs, turning their backnew attitude in New York City

clubs, turning their back on working men in favor of the wealthy Wall

Street cr

 

O'Keefe said I should come around 7:30. I got here at 7, and stood

across the street, drinking my dinner of diet Pepsi and munching on some

cashews -- waiting and watching for something I wasn't sure of, and

about as nervous as the first time I had sex. Partly I was nervous about

seeing Sue again, partly scared of the whole meat-packing mentality that

such places inspired. I was used to New Jersey, the neighborhood places

which I could pretend were just the corner bar, where women weren't

subjected to the same grind as places in New York, sweat shops of the

strip industry, straight out of old Bowery.

 

While a few places like the Palace in Passaic maintained the flashing

lights and slick atmosphere, most places I went to there in the past had

a single stage behind a bar and lonely working men paying to see some

tit. No one there handed out discount flyers on the sidewalk. No one

greeted you at the door.

 

Even then, I never quite felt comfortable in most go-go bars, always the

intruder, always feeling like a kid who'd just got a glimpse of the

neighbor's wife naked, rarely able to do anything but stick my head in a

notebook or stare.

 

In 1969, I came to Manhattan to the Metropole -- a strip club not far

down Broadway from here, where I saw a line of naked ladies on a long

stage, cold-eyed women with meaningless smiles who'd seemed more like

dancing robots than objects of affection -- turning me off so much I

didn't even get a hard-on -- a remarkable accomplishment for a boy who

had spent most of high school carrying his books waist high to avoid

giving himself away. Later I would learn much better control, and regret

it a little.

 

Standing in the warm October air with my can of soda, I felt no urge

except to leave, and, in fact, I took a walk of several blocks before

making my way back. For over a month I'd avoided this moment, precisely

because I knew I would feel this way, a mingling sense of fright and

revulsion, more suited to a house of horrors than a house of

prostitution. I was not shocked by the nudity or the immorality -- as a

child of the 1960s I'd seen my share of both. I was not even shocked by

the pornographic element. I had done light pornographic films when I

lived in L.A., disliked it, even hated it, but never felt the kind of

inhumanity I felt here in 1996 where the bars had turned sex into an

assembly-line product, blondes, redheads, brunettes paraded out onto a

stage as if new model cars.

 

I also expected a hassle at the door, as if I was still the teenage kid

sneaking into the burlesque shows at the Capital Theater in Passaic,

fearful that a bouncers would come down on my shoulder:

 

"What are you doing in here, Kid? Don't you know this ain't for you?"

 

I couldn't even use the excuse of being a reporter to explain my coming

to these men, how me and O'Keefe had come to spy on them and report back

on whether or not disappeared Sue was dancing here. The bouncers would

throw us out and leave us in some alley with a few broken bones just for

our audacity. These places sucked up money, and did not want the press

sticking its nose in how that money was obtained, especially on the eve

of strict new zoning laws that would shortly force a large number of

these places out of business. Many of these places would move into

narrowly defined parts of the city, where they could rub shoulders with

other, equally sleazy places. The bouncers and the mobon them and report

back on whether or not disappeared Sue was dancing here. The bouncers

would throw

 

I was no good at disguises the way O'Keefe was. He had changed utterly

when I finally found him, while I -- even with suit jacket and polished

shoes -- still looked like the same curious reporter that had wandered

the streets of Newark and Nutley. The bouncers would read the truth from

my face and -- I thought -- would refuse to let me in.

 

Weissman said he had seen Sue here, but only I knew what Sue looked like

to verify the truth. No one else who knew he well enough wanted to come.

Finally, when the appropriate amount of time passed, I made my way

across the street, toward the red door and the steps down into the club.

The doorman nodded his welcome at me.

 

"Do I pay you?" I asked, clutching a ten dollar bill in my pocket. My

hand shook.

 

"You pay downstairs, at the cashier," the man said, pointing towards

some sort of booth at the bottom of the stairs.

 

In my life, I had walked into every kind of go go bar, from the middle

class Clifton beer and shot places to the scummy, Main Avenue clubs in

Passaic, from the one girl and forty guy places with air full of

cigarette smoke to the one girl for every guy perfumed places. My friend

Frank dragged me to them all through the decade of the 1970s. When I

finally went out on my own, I settled for one or two very calm places

where I could sit and drink in peace. Most people in those places left

me alone, even when they wondered about my nearly constant scribbling,

my documentation of their lives and habits. In such places, I felt more

or less comfortable. And on busy nights, even the tip-desperate dancers

did not take offense by my inattention when they could obtain their ego

gratification from the numerous other patrons. As long as the ratio

remained high with many more men than women, I could do as I wished.

 

But this place had nearly as many women as men, and after shelling out

six bucks at the booth, I stumbled into the dark world, shocked by this

revelation -- the oval bar occupying one half of the huge room with a

stage filling the other, a few scattered cafe tables in between. The

club had a back room where off-duty dancers sat, resting for their

chores. The club also had a private room, something called the champagne

room, where for the price of an expensive bottle, you could go and enjoy

a much more intensive treatment with a dancer of your choice.

 

No sooner had I walked into the bar area, O'Keefe called to me. Although

I heard his voice, I did not see him or the characteristic beard I'd

come to recognize him by. Then, he grinned and waved. He had shaved off

thcharacteristic beard I'd come to recognize him by. Then, he grinned

and waved. He had shaved off the beard and cut his hair, part of his

campaign for a cleaner image, and conscious of the yuppie-loving

bartenders and bouncers whose eyebrows rose when they saw me, as if each

inherently understood my lack of necessary lewdness to appreciate this

place. My friend Michael, who had disappeared the same week as Sue, and

who used to see Sue in various clubs from the Vault to p

 

O'Keefe led me to one of the cafe tables, where we could see the stage

more clearly and possibly spot those women Weissman had informed us

about, one of two Holly's he claimed by actually be Sue. Around us at

the other tables, women did private dances for the men, something called

"table dancing" here but was called "lap fucking" in Ridgeway's book. I

was appalled and embarrassed, though if I blushed, no one noticed under

the glow of the red stage lights.

 

I saw no sign of Sue, though we uncovered one of Sue's suspects, and

neither O'Keefe nor I had the cash or courage to continue the search in

one of the many other clubs where Sue might be dancing. But we had to

wait, and in waiting, had to continually refuse requests that we hire

girls for table dancing, this making us look even more out of place.

 

All those naked bosoms and we were looking at girls faces! What were we

anyway, faggots or something? And why did we keep mumbling: "Is that

her?"

 

"No."

 

"Is that?"

 

"Not even close."

 

"Do you think she is here at all?"

 

"I don't know."

 

Had Weissman lied when he told us Due was dancing here or that he

believed either one of these women could be the one? He had brought his

report to the police, who reportedly checked this out and found no

substance to his claim. But was this the Nutley police, the New York

police. Weissman said the Nutley police made no effort to come here or

check out the validity of his claim. But Weissman's claims were

inconsistent. He routinely confused the two women, and contradicted

himself when he referred to one or the other.

 

Sometimes, he even seemed reluctant for us to come in and check out the

situation. And the more we sat, the more we came to believe this was all

a hoax, a delaying tactic allowing Sue to slip out from under the real

search ongoing in Newark.

 

In the end, after we had dropped about $30 each in drinks and tips we

didn't want, we got up and left, heading back to New Jersey, by which

time, Sue had once more slipped though the net searching her out in

Newark.

 

By this time, I began to suspect Sue would not reappear until after

Unsolved Mysteries made her a house hold name in January, or maybe, she

would never reappear totally, communicating secretly with Mark, Floyd,

Melissa, Hardin and probably others, keeping them informed as she

started a new life some place else, paying out this game until....

 

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Along comes Unsolved Mysteries

 

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