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Night Crawler 

Wednesday, Dec 17 1997
Among the disparate social fragrances that distinguish North Beach on a Friday night -- frat packs pushing past elegantly dressed diners; fanny-packed tourists sidestepping brown-bag derelicts -- San Francisco's notorious past still wafts through the air. Red-lipped women with exposed thighs and careless eyes still beckon from brick doorways that promise "Full Nudity!," "Lap Dancing!," "Simulated Sex Acts!," and "Private Booths!" Although Carol Doda's once-musky Condor Theater has been anesthetized with bright lights and big-screen TVs, Broadway continues to offer titillating streetside tender for the overexcited and undersexed.

"It's 'Play Day' at the Lusty Lady," says a leather-clad woman with short-cropped hair and mountainous cleavage. "Anything could happen."

" 'Play Day' is the one day out of the year when you can interact with the women as women," says 32-year-old Andy Holly, a longtime customer of the Lusty Lady, who leans against a change machine. The lobby is bustling with customers -- male and female -- lining up for the many video, live dancing, and private booths. The dancers move through the crowd in G-strings and high heels, offering lap dances in the back with a wet smile and an inviting wink.

"This is our Christmas party," says Honeysuckle, a shapely blonde in a white halter top and stiletto boots. "It's the only time when the women are allowed to walk around unescorted. Usually, there is absolutely no customer contact. Today, things are a little different. We're offering lap dances and shoeshines."

Despite the one-on-one contact offered by lap dancing, most folks wait for a chance to enter one of the 13 "Live Dancing" booths. Inside, customers feed money into a machine. That lifts the shade over the windows to the main stage, where the dancers wiggle.

"It's incredibly hard to get quarters out of your pocket when your hands are covered in lube," says Rob Singer, a good-looking 25-year-old with a wild mane of curly hair and Mission-appropriate piercings. "It can be quite a frantic experience. Of course, if you put in $5 or $10 in the slot, and you come before the time has run out ... then what are you going to do?" Singer is accompanied by Ziadee, a small, smiling woman who works at Good Vibrations, and who has always been curious about the Lusty Lady.

"I've always wanted to come," says Ziadee. "And today all the money goes to the dancers. I like that."

The booths are dark and filled with the distinctive odor of ejaculate -- according to one "swabber," the closet-size spaces get wiped down with bleach three to 10 times an hour, but bleach and jism smell so similar that it doesn't seem to matter. (Side note: Upon meeting a swabber, do not try to shake his hand; they wear rubber gloves for a reason.)

Of course, the scene is more comfortably enjoyed from on the glass-enclosed stage, where you find yourself surrounded by tinsel, mirrors, and women wearing nothing but angel wings and caution tape.

From this viewpoint, the pale, curious, delirious faces of customers are framed in the tiny dark windows, and the dancers act as if they are attending a surreal slumber party in a Fellini film. While some of the girls work in front of the windows -- licking their lips, rubbing their bodies, maintaining eye contact -- the others talk about movies and day-to-day goings-on while gyrating against the wall of mirrors.

In the dressing rooms, dozens of women are sprawled across couches and chairs; the bicycle room has been filled with cake, Christmas cookies, and drinks; wigs, fishnets, garters, hats, shoes, makeup, boas, and props litter every surface. The room is filled with loud chatter and laughter.

"We don't work for tips here," says Honeysuckle, speaking of the Lusty Lady's hourly-wage policy. "So, there isn't the usual backbiting that can go on in strip clubs."

"These are some of the most creative, interesting people I have ever worked with," says Octopussy.

"Some of the customers can be real sweet, too," says Hanse, a naked Bjsrk-like imp.

Of course, there are the weirdos as well, and ultimately -- perhaps sadly -- that's what people most want to hear about. Sorcia Victrix mentions a guy who puts lit candles in his urethra and a regular who wants her to do a dildo show with her 5-inch stiletto heels. Ginseng relates one man's fetish for a clear dildo "about the size and shape of a 12-ounce soda bottle" that lights up and allows the dancer to see the "whole inside of his cavity." There's the guy who masturbates upside down and catches his own come in his mouth. The little old man who always arrives with a flashlight. The guy who came in, washed his face in the swab bucket, and asked for a piece of gum. The men who collect other men's used condoms. The men who talk about their girlfriends and fiancees, and those who talk about gang rape. Sexual fantasies are a mixed bag at best. Even in the "Private Pleasures" booth, where a staff member known as the Captain lives out a classic male daydream as he pleasures three lovely women, things don't work out quite as you might expect, or even want. (The simulation ends with the girls brushing the hair on the Captain's back.)

"This woman came in here once," says loyal customer Holly, recalling his most memorable encounter at the Lusty Lady. "She was showing her brother around town, but she came into a booth with me. I thought we were just going to masturbate together, but we had sex. After knowing each other less than 15 minutes. With her brother standing outside." It probably wasn't her brother, I think, but hey -- who am I to judge?

By Silke Tudor

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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