I have to say that I am not an expert on S.F. strip clubs. I spend enough time in North Beach to see the dancers arriving for work, though, and they rarely look like anyone in the pictures out front. That is, they look like girls you might have gone to high school with, albeit caked in makeup and wearing hoochie shoes. I'm pretty sure that men have done a lot of jerking off to the memories of girls that they went to high school with, so I guess it works.
I once went to Mitchell Brothers with a boyfriend. We asked if there were any other couples inside, and of course they said yes, because it's the door guy's goal in life to get more booties in to see the booty. Once inside there were no other women there except for the dancers, and I found the whole thing dehumanizing and depressing. In one room a huge horseshoe of seated men were each awaiting their turn at the girl who writhed her way across all of them in a communal lap-dance. It made me sad that she did that for a living, and it made me feel sorry for the guys, who seemed desperate. But in sex-positive S.F., it's not cool to feel sorry for erotic dancers. I've even known a few and they were perfectly normal people. But I have avoided the places ever since.
The Condor though — c'mon: The place is too interesting to pass up. It hails itself as the oldest strip club in the city, and it looks like the Gold Coast meets Original Joe's. It sits smack on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, on the edge of Chinatown, and large windows give you plenty of people-watching before the curtains are drawn and the gals come out.
Then there is the grisly death that happened there. Suffice it to say that sexual intercourse, a grand piano, and hydraulics do not mix.
If you show up early (like I always do) it will probably just be you, some guy named Al, and the bartender, and lo and behold, that was what happened to me. The bartender was a plucky young lady who could probably flirt like a champion while maintaining her boundaries.
Once I snuggled into a chair I realized that this could well be one of the best bars in town, what with the cornball speakeasy interior, amazing views, and cheapo drink specials. I closed my eyes and tried to see if I could feel the remnants of death via piano. Failing that, I Googled it. Aintnowaytogo.com did the trick. "A nude, screaming dancer found trapped under a man's crushed body on a trick piano that became pinned against a nightclub ceiling was too drunk to remember how she got there, police said."
There but for the grace of God go I.
The story continued: "'If I were to speculate on the cause of death, it would be asphyxiation as a result of being crushed,' Detective Guinther Whitey said." If only this guy could've been involved in the JonBenét Ramsey case; he could've cracked that sucker wide open.
Apparently the man who died flipped the off switch in time to save the dancer, although he must have been trying to save himself as well. Like so many before me, I peered into the room that had contained the piano. It felt warm and welcoming, not drenched in blood. So there's that.
My morbid reverie was sublime until it came time to close the curtains and make ready for the influx of sailors and dancers. Even if my feelings about the women have evolved, watching men ogle them still leaves me depressed.
The Journal of Sex Research has just released a study about adult film stars, and it posits that the women involved in porn have, on average, better quality of life and body image, and higher self-esteem than their non-X-rated counterparts. They're also more spiritual. So strippers, I get it: Sex work is not always dehumanizing, and I shall no longer judge you as a group. But that doesn't mean I need to stick around to see you on the clock.
The bartender seemed to get why I might cut out, giving me a virtual wink and nod. Either that or she pegged me for a prude and was relieved.
That night I dreamed that I was back at the Condor, and that I had stayed for the show, but I was with my dad. This might be because whenever he visits we always seem to pick movies that have really uncomfortable sex scenes in them, despite my attempts to avoid that. (Sitting next to him during the masturbation scene in Black Swan is a memory I just can't erase.) In the dream I am praying that nothing too sordid happens in the club in front of us, and am delighted to see that the dancers were all sort of born of Laughing Squid or something, with playful tattoos made out of chalk, wheels attached to their shoes, and Easter bonnets piled high with fake flowers and condoms.
One girl sauntered up to me and I saw that she had lobster claws for hands, but that she had sewn them in a pale peach color and fitted them over each folded arm, like crustacean wings. She poked me tenderly with one of them, but, like the bartender, she could tell I was not the frisky sort. My father had disappeared, and I was grossed out by that. I heard the sound of hydraulics. I woke with a start.