By Joe Speaker © 2006
"You'd better go up first," said River.
"'Cause you're dressed nice. They won't let just anybody in."
"Great," I thought to myself. "I'm a continent and an ocean away from Los Angeles and I still can't escape the velvet rope."
Sure enough, the bouncer - sporting the requisite black clothes, bald head and condescending sneer - looked us up and down before waving us in.
We had come from a tapas bar, which was preceded by a little poker at a Glasgow club. Okay, it was a lot of poker. Five hours worth that took us past our dinner reservation. Damn short stacks wouldn't die. I was the honored, but not honorable, guest of House who introduced me and my 40 pounds to his fellow Scottish degenerates. Their easy manner and mocking table talk made me feel right at home. River took most of my money, and everyone else's, with his undeniable skill at spiking a card right at the last.
Razz had mysteriously gotten us a table right away at the packed tapas bar, the Big Man striding in as if he were a majority investor and directing the waitress to fill the table with a wide array of culinary enticement: anchovies in olive oil, charred kabobs of pork, meatballs dripping with tomatillo sauce. We fought like famished cavemen over the small plates, arms criss-crossing the table like a cat's cradle. I washed it all down with Sangria, dusky, fruity, perfect.
"Let's go to Truffles," somebody said and all agreed with eager nods and knowing smiles. Being the guest here, I acceded to the local knowledge.
Granted passage into Truffles by our bald judge of acceptable appearance, I ascended a couple flights of stairs with the anticipation of a man facing an unknown adventure. The place looked posh, sconces and scarlet lighting pointing toward a trim, demure blonde awaiting our cover charge. She smiled as she took our money, the same smile I'd just seen on the faces of my guides. Shrugging off the coincidence, I headed for the double doors with nary a glance back to see if the rest followed.
I could hear the rhythmic pulse and as I opened the doors, I saw the lights, haze and ambiance of the nightclub I expected. Except it was only a quarter full and darker than the types of spots I'm used to, all black corners and shaded glances. I turned around, the realization dawning, and my new Scottish friends stood there in a pack, knowing smiles finally blooming into hearty laughter. Another bouncer force-led us to a round table. And the strippers followed.
Chloe was first, joining our circle while Tank, on my right, ordered a round of drinks. She sat between me and House, smelling of jacaranda. She aimlessly draped a languid arm around my shoulder, bathing me in her scent, her hot breath on my neck. She seemed fresh, a polar opposite to the few hard-ridden dancers I've encountered in the City of Angels, who emit an odor of cynical boredom.
Soon Chloe was leading me across the room, expertly dodging barely discernable chairs, toward a black shroud I hadn't previously noticed. She pulled back the curtain and helped me into a leather chair. I could sense activity around me, but I held my eyes on hers, gauging her commitment to this erotic facade. People don't like being looked at, not in the eyes. Even these exhibitionist entrepreneurs would prefer you ogle their curves, proven by their overt - and often impossible - positions. She whipped her brown hair at me, stretched this leg and that one, running her own hands along the gentle swale of her hip, peering at me over her shoulder. Her eyes never betrayed a hint of deception, never pulled from mine when I held them a few beats past comfortable. Her eyes said nothing but the simple fact that she wanted to be there, in that moment.
She was good, that Chloe. Damn good.
I sauntered back to the table, a little rubbery. The others watched me intently, without comment. I noticed they had ordered champagne and began to laugh at the image of the five of us sitting there, sipping from flutes, five veterans of the pub and club wars - guys with names like Tank and River and Razz - enjoying a refined beverage in a titty bar. Before I had a chance to scoff, however, House leaned in for details on Chloe.
"Did you re-buy?" he said.
"That I did," I said, nodding and holding up one finger.
"One re-buy!" he announced to the table, which erupted in back-slaps and applause.
Jazzmyne had a lot to live up to when she sat down, her open smile in the lead, her wild black hair flying out in dozens of directions. She, too, had an alluring smell about her, hints of cocoa and honey, sweet and brazen. She was Asian, born in Malaysia of Chinese descent she said, studying her way toward a Finance degree at the local university, working her way through balance sheets and income statements in a black thong. I kept her in conversation, veering elsewhere when she asked if I wanted a dance. I did, but I wanted her to hang out some more, keep laughing, even if was only at me, the silly Yank.
By this time, the table had become a revolving cast of dancers and disappearing Scots and even a few strangers. There wasn't much of a crowd any more and we pretty much had a 2-1 dancer ratio in our favor. Tank came back from a dance with a statuesque black woman, a spent grin plastered on his mug. "I asked her name," he said. "She said, 'We don't need names.'"
House and River took turns with Chloe, leaving Razz a little flustered.
"I couldn't beat 'em into the pot," he complained.
The time had come for me to head off with Jazzmyne and she didn't disappoint. Where Chloe was all light brushes and enticement, Jazzmyne knew just where and when to apply the right kind of pressure. She curled around me like a serpent, her tanned limbs nimble and active, her hair lingering on my chest. I penetrated her almond-shaped eyes, larger than a typical Chinese and set wide apart. Again, nothing but pleasure there, no trace of dissemblance. Maybe these strippers got some sort of training. From a hypnotist, or a poker player. She punctuated the dance with a kiss on my cheek.
I was hot. No-doubt-about-it worked up. Back at the table, I fidgeted as House asked me how it was in the curtained room.
"I limped in," I said. "But I was soon raised."
I bought a round of lagers, enough of this prissy sparkling wine shit, and the night began to wind down. We were satisfied, leaned back in our comfortable chairs, pints raised permanently to our lips. I took another turn with Jazzmyne, because I had to. The final night cap.
We stumbled/skipped down the stairs and into the early morning Glasgow streets. I got an ambling drunk to take a picture of us in front of the club. In a perfect bit of symbolism, the photo is totally out of focus, our faces blurred as they most certainly were to our entertainers on the evening. Just anonymous customers in an endless queue to them, but I see their faces clearly; Chloe, Jazzmyne, even the nameless black girl.
We walked off, back-slaps and brotherhood. I turned to River and said, "I still think it's weird that we had to pass some kind of dress code to get into a strip club."
"It's a classy place, mate," he said. "It's a classy place."
I nodded, flashed him a knowing smile, and brushed the glitter from my shirt.
Joe Speaker is a writer from Los Angeles.