A fuckin' rooster woke me up.
Monday morning. My head viciously throbbed with a category three hangover and my body was riddled with dehydration. I managed to avoid puking, chugged the rest of the bottled water and quickly popped two Motrin followed up by one generic Vicodin.
I sat down at the table near the window overlooking Duval Street. I looked through my digital camera in a scene out of Memento where I slowly pieced my life back together using a couple of random images, mostly taken at the Irish bar. The strip clubs we’d ventured to had a strict no photography policy. Sadly, there were no shots of that debauchery.
I grabbed the wad of cash out of my pocket. It looked healthy until I unfurled it and began counting. Wait, were did all the hundreds go? All those twenties were replaced by singles. What the fuck? I did some quick math and figured out between the Irish bar and the two strip clubs, I had blown about $420.
A tour trolley stopped in front of the hotel. I looked out of the window and a guy on a microphone pointed to the hotel. He muttered something about this being, "a historical landmark almost as old as Key West itself."
One woman snapped a quick photo. I wonder if the tour guide stopped his trolley at The Classy Joint or The Dive and said the same thing?
Key West. It had the vibe of a Caribbean island without the color. The streets were flooded with sunburned white people clutching souvenir bags and digital cameras. The AlCantHang Compound (ACHC) was off the beaten path, down a secret alley off a side street, definitely away from tourist central.
A few hours after the Sunday arrival, the guys hung out in the pool while I sat in the shade with AlCantHang and Big Mike. We drank and swapped Amsterdam tales. Most of the crew eventually wanted dinner. AlCantHang's primary objective was booze. They went for food while we walked over to Irish Kevin's, a tourist magnet on Duval Street which was an AlCantHang favorite.
From the view outside on the street, Irish Kevin's was located in the first floor of a two story structure, but from the inside, only one humongous space existed. We wandered inside the narrow bar, maybe three tables or four tables wide, with high ceilings. It was one of the longest bars I had ever seen running almost the entire length of the property which was at least thirty or forty yards.
A guy in a blue t-shirt and cargo shorts stood on stage with am acoustic guitar. He played popular cover songs like Jack and Diane and Sweet Home Alabama in a wacky manner. He interacted with the audience and encouraged them to sing along and participate in his random goofiness like busting on people from New Jersey, changing the words to the songs, and guilt-tripping pedestrians to come inside and get shitfaced with everyone else.
It was exactly 8:08pm when I entered an Irish Bar in Key West with AlCantHang. Whenever you walk into a bar with AlCantHang, you're immediately assuming full responsibility for your actions. You always know what you are getting yourself into. There's no false pretense. You will drink and drink and drink and drink as life unfolds around you. You surrender to the flow of the liquor.
One of our friends described AlCantHang as a walking party. And when the party plops down at an Irish bar, you're knee deep in the depths of a serious mind-altering drinking binge. The best you can hope for is that your liver manages to escape with minimal damage and that the hangover the next day won't be devastating where you're clutching the porcelain god at sunrise with the worst case of the dry-heaves that you've had since the earliest days of the Clinton administration.
I knew the three basic tenants of the AlCantHang party-like-a-rock-star rules.
1. Pace yourself.I followed two but not the third. I drank on an almost empty stomach and by the sixth or seven beer, I got hit with a sledgehammer. We were seated at the end of the bar next to a kid, who barely looked old enough to drink. He was with his pretty girlfriend and they sipped some sort of rum and coke drink.
2. Drink lots of water.
3. And eat as much as possible.
The musician on stage asked who was in the military. The kid raised his hand and said he was in the Army. AlCantHang quickly bought him a shot. That's when he discovered that the kid and his girlfriend lived in the town next to AlCantHang's. Small world.
Enter the Germans. Originally we thought they were Irish since they knew all the words to Irish Rover. As soon as the song ended, they screamed out, "Johnny Cash! Joh-neeeeeeeeeeee Cash!!"
The Krauts were fans of the Man in Black and over the next hour, they constantly screamed out his name. In due time, AlCantHang bought them shots. One German kid almost hurled when he downed a shot of Jim Beam black label. He told us that he'd been in America for two weeks and saw a bunch of cities, but none more fun than Key West.
AlCantHang pulled a $20 out of his wad and rushed up to the stage. He tipped the musician $20 to play Johnny Cash. Ten minutes later, he busted into Folsom Prison Blues.
"Since I got tipped $20 to play Johnny Cash from AlCantHang," the guy on stage said. "I'm going to play two songs."
The Germans went nuts. The entire bar sang along. Inside of a couple of hours, AlCantHang became the King of the Bar. Even the owner was buying him shots. If you've done any drinking under the AlCantHang Experience, you fully comprehend his magical powers.
The rest of the crew eventually joined us for a round or three in the back of the bar while a second musician took the stage. He was a black guy from New York City. He had some sick chops and was twenty-times the musician as the goofy guy, but he lacked the charisma of the first guy.
That's when AlCantHang said, "Time for some tits. And ass!"
Like Moses parting the Red Sea, AlCantHang darted through the crowd as the drunks in Irish Kevin's made a path for him to the front door. We walked fifteen meters and we reached the establishment that I will call, "The Classy Joint."
Editor's Note: I have been informed by my legal counsel to omit the actual name of the gentleman's clubs and change the names of the strippers in order to protect the innocent. Like they are giving me their real names anyway? I also refer to the first strip club as "The Classy Joint" because there will be a second establishment mentioned in this post that made the first place look like the Spearmint Rhino in Las Vegas.
The Classy Joint is located at the top of a slippery wooden staircase. Previously, thousands of horny men and other wayward and desperate souls made the same climb. The cover charge was $5 but I got in for free since Lewey flashed his VIP card, which gave him and a guest free admission. I realized that the entire crew had VIP cards with the exception of me.
Big Mike scouted out a spot. The space was fairly large with a stage in the middle of the room with two stripper poles on opposite sides. Twenty or so chairs were around the stage while a long bar nestled against the back wall. There was a hallway off to the side which led to the Champagne Lounge. Next to that was a room with group of red velvet couches where the adult entertainers performed their infamous exotic lap dances under the sultry hues of red, purple, and pink neon.
We set up camp near the stage. One or two of us would take turns sitting at the stage and tipping the girls $1 bills. Except the AlCantHang crew were serious ballers. They were tipping a minimum of $5 or $6 and up to $20.
That was their game plan. It was the first night in town and they made it known that they were in Key West for a week. What at first seemed like they (well I guess it's the collective 'we') we recklessly splashed money around, it was all done on purpose to establish the fact that we were not cheap tourists looking to see some ass for next to nothing. As Big Mike explained, we were conditioning the natives. That way the next time we ventured inside, we got quick and attentive service. (And that would happen when we returned less than 19 hours later.)
Overtipping became the norm and within minutes our crew captured all of the attention of the talent in The Classy Joint, even though it was crowded for a Sunday night. Everyone became secondary to the AlCantHang Experience. Big Mike took care of our waitress with a sizable pre-tip. The attractive Cuban woman was dressed in a tight red top and she didn't look as skanky as the pieces of naked meat on stage. That made her the most sophisticated lady in the club.
"How come you don't dance," asked Big Mike.
"I'm a mommy. Mommies don't dance. Would you like to see your mommy dance?" she said.
"Are you kidding me? The fuckin' whore? I'd love to see her actually get off her lazy ass to make a dime," Big Mike said.
The majority of the strippers were average looking. They would be working a second-tier club in Las Vegas or working the pole during the day at one of the bigger clubs if they got lucky. However, in Key West, the strippers in front of us were the cream of the crop. They were some of the better looking pieces of ass in town, and still had the wild reputation of Key West strippers. The word "dirty" comes to mind.
Most strip clubs in Las Vegas implement a strict hands-off the dancer policy. The majority of the girls at the Spearmint Rhino or Crazy Horse Too don't shower you with special attention unless you shower them with $100 bills. It's all business for the Las Vegas girls and if you want any sort of extra attention or groping, you have to fork over big bucks for an adventure in the VIP room. Of course, that's the biggest scam in Las Vegas next to the 99 cent shrimp cocktail.
At the Key West establishments, all you have to do is pay $20 for a naughty session which includes (and not limited to) crotch grabbing and getting your face used as a punching bag as the ladies slap their poorly designed fake-breasts into your face.
Sure, we all had fun. But our primary goal was to make sure AlCantHang had fun celebrating his 40th birthday. And he did. Of course, we lost Lewey for some time. He disappeared into the back and didn't come out. He fell into the strip club black hole. And when he finally reappeared he had stumbled out of the back with messy hair and a wry smirk on his face.
I befriended a stripper from the Czech Republic, who stood about five-foot ten with dark hair and natural breasts. She reminded me of Phoebe Cates and had a tattoo of a scorpion on her ankle. What looked like four cigarette burns peppered the inside of her thighs.
By the second lap dance, we had been discussing lesser known Milan Kundera books like Identity as she stood upside down on her hands and rubbed her shaved crotch on my chest.
"Your country was invaded by the Soviets," I rambled on during the fourth lap dance. "They set up a puppet government that eventually crumbled after the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. Your formerly behind the Iron Curtain nation-state was broken up into two republics and instead of staying behind in your new land of freedom, you fled to Key West where you strip for a bunch of old farts who are in town for a few hours when their cruise ship docked. Or you're grinding away for horny servicemen on leave taking every cent of their slave wages that our government pays them?"
"I like the warm weather," she cooed. "And I'm trying to earn enough money to bring my mother here."
Of course, she was trying to sell the old routine, "I'm only let potential serial killers and politicians pull my hair and fondle my breasts for $20 a pop so I can bring my mother to America."
She was a hustler, and a decent one at that. The vixen almost had me convinced. But I've been around the block a few times and been to enough strip clubs that I could write a book about it. The American bimbos use law school or business school as their faux cover. The foreign ones like to bring up their mothers and highlight the hardships in their motherland. This one was down here to hook a big whale. Perhaps a lonely and well off retired businessman with a yacht and multiple million-dollar homes.
"Everyone loves their mothers," I said. "Don't you love money?"
"Of course," she said as she continued to dance to a random hip hop sing with fellatio lyrics.
"But do you love money more than your mother?"
She paused and said, "I love them equally both."
"But your mother is still washing dirty underwear for tourists in Prague, right? Because if you really loved her, she'd be in paradise with you, washing dirty underwear for tourists in Key West."
She didn't blink and tried to get me off the topic. She grabbed my junk for four long seconds and twisted my nipples until I begged her to stop.
I don't recall how long we spent at The Classy Joint. I was shitfaced drunk when I left the Irish bar and drank steadily at the strip club. We finally left and walked down the street. We made a turn down a dark alley next to a couple of abandoned buildings. A faint pink light could be seen and that was the strip club on the other side of the tracks.
The Dive was a step down on the stripper food chain. A couple of rungs. It reminded me of those horrible and sad clubs in shitbag towns and third-rate cities where career strippers end up when they hit 40 or on their last breaths before they croak from a speedball OD in the tiny bathroom of a no-tell motel freaking out the chubby married business man from the Midwest who hired the strung out vixen to suck his toes for $20 a toe.
"This is the place where Key West strippers come to die," said Landow in a straight face as we walked inside.
There was no cover charge. For obvious reasons. The place looked the basement of my fraternity house, except with a stripper pole. There was one dilapidated stage off to the left and a tiny bar to the right. Several old guys sat at the bar. Two of them had girls sitting on their laps. One was atrocious looking as her double-D sized boobs spilled out of her top. The better looking one seemed out of place until she smiled and I realized that she was missing three teeth. I didn't want to touch anything because I was afraid of contracting an STD.
As soon as we walked in, the best looking dancer in the club wandered up. She looked gorgeous at first glance, but underneath the lights, the wrinkles gave her away. Twenty years ago she was the hottest stripper in town. The Dive is her retirement home.
"Aren't you AlCantHang?" she asked.
AlCantHang told her that he was and she mentioned that one of the girls they knew was due to dance on stage next. Years ago, the crew befriended a stripper. I guess we'll call her N. When N saw AlCantHang and his crew, she bubbled over with excitement.
For the next hour or so, they all caught up over a couple of beers as I watched the various dancers take turns running to the bathroom to rip a few lines before it was their turn to dance.
The Dive was sketchy because they cut off all songs at the 2 minute and 10 second mark. I counted. So if you got a lap dance, you got cheated. The standard lap dance at traditional clubs is about three minutes or so. I refused to go into the back room with those ladies. At some point you have to draw the line somewhere. For me, it was The Dive.
Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.