By Paul McGuire © 2007
"Never underestimate the afternoon shift!!" Lewey shouted at the top of his lungs as everyone it Sloppy Joes stopped what they were doing and turned their heads to investigate the commotion.
The weather was the culprit as it usually is in Key West. The gang originally wanted breakfast at a French crepe place, however, the owners were away on holiday and the place was closed. They walked down Duval Street in search of alternative options and ended up at Sloppy Joes, where Hemingway used to get bombed back in his Key West days. After sampling every specialty drink on the menu, Lewey lost his volume control. I couldn't blame him. The drinks were delicious. The Key West Lemonade is by far the best of their house drinks. You can barely taste the vodka thanks to the sour mix, which is why Lewey and company drank eight in a two hour span.
It always rains at random times in Key West during the wet season. Sometimes it pours for five minutes, then stops. In that instance, the rain kept coming. And coming. Most of Duval Street quickly flooded within minutes. The boys were stuck at Sloppy Joes and weathered out the storm by drinking heavily. AlCantHang and I were stuck at the house he had rented. We eventually decided to make a run for Sloppy Joes during a brief break in the rain.
The skies opened up as soon as we set foot on Duval Street. We were quickly drenched and found shelter under an awning of a jewelry shop to escape the pelting rain. We grew anxious after a couple of minutes. AlCnatHang wanted a drink. I just wanted to be inside somewhere. We eventually said, "Fuck it!" and sprinted the last two blocks through the rain as we jumped over tremendous puddles that collected at various spots. We rushed inside Sloppy Joes completely drenched. My entire shirt was soaked. I waled next door to the souvenir shop and bought a dry one Sloppy Joes t-shirt with Hemingway's Face plastered on the back.
Lewey had lost all forms of volume control by the time we arrived. He was beyond drunk and fired up. The other tables radiated curious and odd glances as they tried their best to decipher the drunkenese that spewed out of Lewey's mouth. AlCantHang and I quickly ordered drinks to catch up.
"You're way behind," said Alice, our waitress.
Alice was in her late 40s with leathery tanned skin. She wasn't fazed by Lewey's antics and seemed more amused than anything else. She was a veteran waitress in Key West and had grown used to the inebriated tourists. For almost two decades she handled drunks ten times as worse and ten times as large.
The only thing that could calm Lewey down was The Classy Joint. It was not even 3 pm on a Monday. Most of the people I knew were still at work. But we were on a mission and courageously ran down Duval Street zig-zagging through the raindrops like we were GIs storming Omaha Beach on D-Day dodging bullets from Nazi machine gun nests. We scaled the slippery flight of wooden stairs and reached our main objective. We burst into the strip club, ready to shower the strippers on the afternoon shift with small bills.
"Never underestimate the afternoon shift," Lewey repeatedly told me as we found a seat at the stage.
I had ventured into new territory. The afternoon shift. Sort of the Bermuda Triangle for strippers. It had been several years since I had visited a strip club during the day. There were random exceptions like stumbling out of strip club at 6 am or 7 am after a bender in Las Vegas playing poker all night with Grubby. But for the most part, my illustrious Wall Street days where the last time I ventured inside a club during normal working hours. Sometimes the stress from trading bonds was so immense, you needed to escape from reality with a lap dance from an exotic dancer drenched in cheap perfume. I'm going to hell for enjoying every moment of my Dionysian existence.
When I lived in Atlanta as a college student, my friends and I were frequent patrons of the crappy Sunday morning breakfast buffet at the Pink Pony strip joint, located behind a Denny's parking lot. I was stuck behind enemy lines in the middle of the bible belt and instead of attending church services on Sunday mornings like a pious Christian, I smoked dope with Jewish frat boys and ogled strippers.
There's a definite difference between the girls who work on weeknights vs. weekends and a major difference girls who work the afternoon shift vs. the evening shift. I was fascinated and intrigued by the reasons that drove a woman to dance the Monday afternoon shift at a Key West strip club during the off season. A foul odor of desperation lingered around strip clubs during the day. And since there's a more natural light that appeared every time the front door opened, the establishment never looks as sultry as the middle of the night.
It's also a frame of mind. If I was as shitfaced as I was the night(think Dudley Moore drunk) when I stumbled into The Classy Joint for the first time, I might not have picked up on the subtle differences. Like the dozen or so geriatric patrons checking out the afternoon shift. AlCantHang's crew made up 50% of the total number of customers in the club. The rest of the clientele were in their 70s. Retired guys on death's doorstep waiting to die as they slowly sipped rum cocktails and got their jollies off during a three minute lap dance. No one every said you could get your face slapped with a pair of boobs while on heaven's waiting list.
The Classy Joint lost a tinge of class during the afternoon hours. It seemed seedier. I felt dirty just being in there. The club was just the type of dingy place where you might find William Kennedy Smith or any other soused heirs to the Kennedy name, knocking back cheap scotch at 3 pm while aggressively fondling the sketchy girls with visible c-section scars and multiple fresh bruises all over their cracked-out bodies.
We didn't have much talent to choose from. There were three mediocre dancers at the time... the angry Latina, the voluptuous Jennifer Hudson look-a-like, and the pale foreign girl from an Eastern-Bloc country who wandered over and asked, "Do you vant a dansh?"
The foreign girl barely looked 18 with long brown hair and crooked teeth. She was fresh off the boat, evident from her lack of suntan and less than graceful moves on stage. You have to start somewhere, right? She was working her way up the stripper food chain. She was cute enough to dance at The Classy Joint, but lacked the experience on proper pole dancing and more importantly, the act of stage seduction. She needed practice. Hence, the afternoon shift.
A giant green tattoo on her stomach read Milano in a Gothic font. She didn't look Italian and her accent was more Eastern European. I wondered what the word Milano meant. Lewey saw the same thing and we quickly discussed the origins of her tattoo. I tried to talk in hushed tones, but Lewey continued to scream at the top of his lungs.
"What's that tattoo all about?" he shouted.
"I guess that's her favorite city," I said. "Or her favorite brand of Pepperidge farm cookies."
"Or her favorite actress," said Lewey as he shoved three singles in between her breasts.
She looked over at us and asked, "Do you vant a dansh?"
The Latina with the c-section scar took the stage next. She was about twice the age of the foreign girl and appeared pissed off at something. Despite her angry demeanor, she had the best technique out of the bunch. She performed a weird trick on the pole where she'd shake her ass and it would vibrate faster than a hummingbird could flap its wings. Lewey almost had his nose dislocated when he got too close.
The last entertainer on the afternoon shift was a black woman in her 40s who called her self Kat. She purred and seductively moved along the stage like a cat. Unlike the rest of the strippers I encountered, she didn't shave her snatch. She had a bad boob job and you could see the multiple scars underneath her armpits. That's what happens when you go to the equivalent of Dr. Nick from The Simpsons to get your breasts enhanced in the back of his trailer.
I was not drunk and therefore not turned on by any of the women working the afternoon shift. An inebriated Lewey had a blast with a stack of singles which sat in front of him next to his cocktail. For about fifteen seconds Kat would come over and swallow up his head between her humongous breasts. Lewey would emerge with a gigantic smile.
"The girls on the afternoon shift pay more attention to you. Yes, they're not as good looking, but they work harder for the money. You're getting more bang for the buck," explained Lewey. "Plus were helping out the locals."
His drunken ramblings almost made sense to me. We were doing them a favor and helping save an endangered species.
As Landow put it best, "Save the afternoon shift. Save the world."
Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.