King of the Edgewater
Neal Cook stands at the edge of the stage, toying with a cordless microphone, clearly enjoying the moment. He looks razor-sharp in a black tuxedo with red bow tie and blinding shiny shoes. Short and balding, the mustachioed Neal looks more like a '70s sitcom character actor than an attorney, his profession by day. And it could very well be an episode of Love, American Style this evening, because Neal is emceeing the Great American Strip-Off dance competition at the Edgewater West Adult Resort in Oakland. He is king for a night -- and he is frisky.
A young woman named Salacious takes the stage and dances two songs. Neal and celebrity co-host Shanna McCullough join her for a little chat.
"How did you get your name Salacious?" asks Neal.
The dancer explains that she looked the word up in the dictionary, and it means "erotic, sexually desirable."
"YES IT DOES!" blurts Neil with an oily chuckle. The audience is silent.
A woman selling sexual trinkets at a table near the bar groans.
"Oh, Neal, don't be such a pill."
Neal The Pill has a task ahead of him this evening. The Edgewater's nonalcohol nightclub is packed with dancers, celebrity judges, and eager voyeurs. Since the surrounding 80 hotel suites all face the plate-glass wall of the club, the tenants are tuned to the live show taking place across the courtyard of palm trees, heated swimming pools, and hot tubs. All eyes are on Neal, bringing on the flesh with greasy fanfare:
"Her name is Candy, and SHE IS SWEET!"
Like Coltrane or Ornette Coleman, Neal is possessed with limitless improvisational confidence, fearlessly tossing out the tired in search of the new, the wow -- single-handedly wiping away years of burlesque tradition and innovation to cast a new form!
"Would it be too obvious to say that Venus is a heavenly body?"
After a dancer named Angel leaves the stage, Neil says with a wink: "She's enough to make you turn to religion!"
And when an audience member gives his name as Randy, Neal can't resist:
"I didn't ask how YOU WERE FEELING!"
Go, man, go! Does he even know how hip he is? Man, did the Bird know where he was going when he cut all those takes of "Leap Frog"? Like, does it matter?
It doesn't to this crowd. Neal is a regular, as are most of the guests here at the Edgewater, just a short drive down Hegenberger from the Oakland Airport. Behind those high-security gates lies Swinger Central for the East Bay, offering a clothing-optional alternative to the tedium of 15 years of marriage. Couples stroll the courtyard, the women invariably wearing something flouncy and transparent. Other women wander by themselves, their tanned, wrinkled skin no stranger to nudity. And beefy guys sit alone at tables -- lots and lots of guys -- drinking from enormous plastic commuter mugs that belong on the dashboard of a Peterbilt.
These are slaves to the sensual, who can experience a three-hour back rub and not get bored, knowing it will culminate in a rambunctious couple-swap with some nice folks from Livermore.
The expectation is staggering, as everybody busies himself with The Wait -- if we just hang out long enough, something really wild and sexy will happen! As the Edgewater brochure says, "Perhaps for the first time in your life, truly be who you want to be."
But eroticism is always fueled by the imagination, and when nothing is left to the imagination, you've got a roomful of chimps who like to watch. As I enter the courtyard, the first visual is of a nude man in his late 50s, leaning against the doorway of his ground-level suite, close-up fellatio on the TV behind him, hairy belly almost obscuring his flaccid little Elvis. He silently checks out the newcomers. Our eyes meet for a creepy moment, and I wonder if he's going to suddenly burst into a crusty British accent:
"Ah, Pemberton, jolly good to see you. Yes, yes, been far too long."
Or will there be muffled screams from the closet:
"Daddy, do I get my merit badge now?"
To be fair, the Edgewater provides a valid public function for the sex-charged suburbs, and any hanky-panky is consensual. If a room's curtain is open, for instance, it means it's OK to watch any proceedings, and if the door is open, you may enter and participate if invited. Saturdays are couples only, and although reservations are accepted, there don't seem to be many reservations in the hot tub, where the foot-fetish couple are soliciting a third party.
The strip contest winds down, the winners are awarded little acrylic statues, and Neal insists on kissing every contestant on the cheek, whether she's expecting it or not. The master of the one-liner turns to the thinning crowd, thanks them for coming, and yells into the mike:
"It's good to be king!"
YES IT IS!
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