Night Crawler

The gathering of Harleys outside the Trocadero is even more impressive than usual — especially for a Thursday night. The parked bikes take up most of the block, glinting in the lamplight like a tidy row of overfed insects. Their riders, who usually perch for a time outside the club, have deserted their machines so as not to miss one moment of the action promised within: the Exotic Dancers Alliance's (EDA) Exotica Extravaganza. A colorful handbill, featuring a cheesecake pinup on one side and a woman with a tiger springing from between her legs on the other, advertises the affair as “an evening of empowerment, social awareness, and erotic entertainment to benefit workers in the adult entertainment theaters.” Despite the early door time, a number of well-accessorized ladies in high heels still linger beneath the shadow of the nightclub. They laugh under their breath and flick lazy cigarette butts into the gutter.

At the entrance, a pair of tense women conclude what appears to have been a long-winded diatribe directed at an incredulous doorman. “They're Mitchell Brothers girls,” explains the doorman sympathetically as the women storm off down the street in a flurry of rapidly clicking heels. “Mitchell Brothers girls who don't want to unionize.”

Inside, where cameras are understandably forbidden by the EDA, a number of off-duty dancers in low-cut latex peruse the bar talking industry politics and shoe sales. The stage is dark, but upstairs the lounge is buzzing. A few middle-aged gents in suits — the type you would expect to see frequenting the Gold Club — sit at little tables with balloons floating merrily above. For the most part, though, the crowd is as usual at the Troc: young rockers.

“There are strippers from every club in town here tonight, and they brought their friends,” says a leggy redhead who has come purely as a spectator. “So it's kind of a rare occasion when the women are not outnumbered by the men. I kind of wish that I had volunteered to work. It would be fun to take off my clothes in front of a group of young men and women for a change.”

Near the bar, Julia, a raven-haired seductress in a black bra and G-string, slinks through the crowd offering lap dancing demonstrations. She leads a young bearded man to a nearby couch and asks the clean-cut couple seated there if they wouldn't mind scooting over. A passing friend compliments Julia on her recent haircut.

“Oh, thanks,” she says with heartbreaking modesty as she straddles the man sitting before her. She runs a hesitant hand through her shiny tresses and says something to a friend over her shoulder before settling her attention on her subject's face. Her hips begin to rise and fall in time with the beats that throb through the floor. Unruffled, the couple proceed with their discussion at the end of the couch. As Julia's pace quickens, the gathered crowd shifts to get a better view while ever so casually sipping their drinks. Julia's dance recipient looks around uncomfortably. She murmurs reassuringly in his ear and changes position. The man closes his eyes and reaches for her upper thigh. Julia pushes into him. He whispers and slides his hand up her ass. He squeezes. She grinds. Several women — some of them Julia's colleagues — squat down in front of the couch to watch more closely. They comment quietly on some of Julia's moves. Cinnamon, a tall, sybaritic African-American beauty, slides in next to Julia with another man and unharnesses her talents. The couch becomes an apex of controlled, undulating flesh. The couple at the end get up to freshen their cocktails.

Nearby, a Trocadero employee keeps a close eye on the goings-on. “It would have been nice if someone had told me that I was going to be watching girls grinding in guys' laps all night long,” he says, clearly stressed. “The guys aren't allowed to touch their genitals, but these girls know a lot more about what to expect than I do.” The guard shifts his feet and looks stoically on. “I was raised Catholic, you know. This is bringing it all up pretty hard.” On the couch, Julia finishes yet another lap dance, this one involving two women. The excited recipients bustle over to their dates and teach them what they've learned.

“The [strip] clubs are never like this,” points out an off-duty exotic dancer who sits with her arm draped lazily over her girlfriend's shoulder. “This is very controlled, very surreal. Normally, the women would be tackling these guys because it would mean money. You never get to dance for women. In fact, my owner is completely homophobic. [My girlfriend and I] have to pretend that we don't know each other when she does come in.”

Downstairs, a shout of “No more exploitation!” from ex-sex worker/sex educator Jennifer Bryce draws folks from the lounge into the now full house. The audience heartily applauds the recent unionization of the Lusty Lady and doesn't even hiss when Bryce launches into a trite song revolving around the chorus “I am an endangered species/ But I sing no victim song.” With the ever-entertaining Carol Queen acting as MC, the rest of the show moves along dashingly: A brilliant reading by Michelle Tea about her experiences as a prostitute brings much of the crowd to their feet, and the partially clothed and Troc-friendly erotic routines (i.e., a steamy number featuring “real-life brothers in Technicolor urban lust”) are entertaining to say the least — unless you were expecting the fully nude pole dancing of, say, Deja Vu.

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By Silke Tudor

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