I don’t get strip clubs. I’ve been to a few in my time and I usually come out of them depressed. They usually contain a lot of lonely men, desperate to pay for a fantasy. The dancers have always puzzled me as well; what compels these people to turn to stripping?
I found out on a trip to the Hustler Club for a friend’s bachelor party. I was particularly impressed by one dancer, who probably could have had a shot at the Olympic
gymnastics team if she had put her mind to it. After her number, she came and sat next to my friend Justin, and they started chatting like old school buddies. Turns out they were.
“Well, now you know what I do for a living,” she chuckled, wincing at us. “It’s pretty much the perfect job while I’m in school, though. I only work a few nights a month and make more than enough to get by.”
The wheels started turning. I was already waiting tables – a service job, to my mind, only slightly less degrading than stripping. And making hundreds of dollars for a few hours work didn’t seem like such a bad deal. With student loans piling up and the recession tightening tip margins, the idea started to seem better and better. But could I put myself through school by taking my clothes off for money?
I knew just the person who could get me started in the world of exotic dancing. I called Dino Rosso: male stripper, gay porn star, and a former coworker. First off, he explained that I’d almost certainly be dancing in gay clubs. Other than private parties, the main audience for male strippers in San Francisco is other men.
“The best way is to just jump into it,” he told me. “How about this weekend? I need another guy to go-go dance with me at The Cinch.” Though not quite stripping, the thought of dancing shirtless in front of a crowd of drunken horny men was a little intimidating.
“OK,” I gulped, “let’s do this.”
I was hoping to get some pointers before the performance, so I showed up at Dino’s a couple of hours early before heading to The Cinch. We never got around to the dance moves, but we certainly got in some drinking. Dino, his housemates, and I quickly polished off a bottle of Jack Daniels (male strippers don’t drink appletinis), and before we could get down to training, it was time to go.
On the cab ride over, Dino imparted some of his sage stripper wisdom.
“It’s not like the straight clubs where you can’t lay a finger on the dancers. But they gotta pay you! If some guy is touching on you, just say, ‘Yeah, you like that? Well this shit ain’t free, so pay me!’”
With his words echoing dully in my whiskey-addled brain, I stumbled out of the cab and into The Cinch. Maybe it was the location on Polk Street, but this was far from a dudes-only crowd. A hen party screeched in one corner of the bar, while an orange-tinted straight couple who had gotten lost on their way to the Marina gaped at the painting on the wall of a man being fucked by a lion.
Dino and I climbed the rickety stage and began to gyrate as people came by to offer us drinks and stuff dollar bills in our shorts. Occasionally, someone would come up and want to get a bit more physical. One particularly frisky male customer kept approaching me, and through the haze of whiskey, I remembered Dino’s advice.
“You like that? Pay me!” I bellowed. Looking dejected, he lumbered off the stage and back into the darkness. I started to feel guilty. But outside, after the show, karma caught up to me.
As Dino and I stood on the curb trying to hail a cab, I heard some snickering behind us.
“Huh-huh, fags,” a troop of fraternity apes chortled.
Pent-up rage from my years of high school nerddom bubbled to the surface. I wheeled around, peeling off my jacket to stand before them in my full stripper regalia.
“What, BITCH?” I boomed, my voice dropping an octave “You wanna GO?” The bros stared, slack jawed, as Dino tactfully stuffed me into a cab.
For my next assignment, Dino and I headed to Chaps, a leather bar South of Market on Folsom Street. Another go-go gig, but this place was going to be considerably more intense than The Cinch.
“Guys WILL try to put their fingers in your butt,” Dino casually informed me.
We met the manager, David, who invited me for a tryout. He told me to come in on “Locker Room” night – a themed evening where patrons can relive fond high school PE class memories of towel snapping and grab-assing.
“Obviously, you don’t mind dancing in a jock and boots?”
“Uh, like a jockstrap? I don’t really own one of those.”
Outside, Dino gave me the rundown. “Remember, don’t let on that you’re straight. Go out and get a jockstrap, and you might want to work out in it a couple of times and DON’T wash it. Only noobs wear a fresh jockstrap. Sheesh, good thing you have me as your mentor!”
When I returned to Chaps for my performance, a nice guy who was introduced to me as “Herbert the Pervert” bought me a couple of beers. I was up on the bar, high enough so that all the customers could get their hands on my legs. One hirsute gentleman rubbed a thick sausage-fingered hand on my thigh as he slipped a dollar into my boot.
“Are you special?” he asked me, raising an eyebrow.
“Uh, everybody’s special,” I replied, hoping not to utter some secret code word that granted him butthole-touching privileges.
Aside from the road-warrior-tinged attire and ubiquitous bare asses, this place had the vibe of a typical neighborhood sports bar. I could see myself coming here after work, taking off my pants to get comfortable, and throwing back a couple of Bud Lights with Herbert the Pervert.
The go-go dancing was not going to pay the bills. For all my gyrating, I made only $58 at The Cinch and $43 at Chaps. If I wanted to make the big money, I’d have to go all the way. The final challenge in my quest was Nob Hill Adult Theatre. Succeed, and I would assure my place in stripper Valhalla.
Surprisingly, the Nob Hill is the only male strip club in San Francisco. This place would make the go-go gigs look like a children’s birthday party. The Nob Hill is a full nude establishment – and no alcohol was served, which meant I would have to get my drinking in ahead of time, and leave my inhibitions at the door.
Shaken but determined, I show up for amateur night and a chance to win $200. Unfortunately, other than myself, the only other contestant is “Mana,” a soft-spoken 19-year-old kid who had taken BART in from Richmond. That meant that although we’d be dancing, we wouldn’t be competing for the cash prize, since the minimum was set at three performers, according to the emcee for the evening, Justin.
“And then we move to the lap dance portion of the evening,” Justin continued.
“L-lap dance?” I sputtered. Justin explained that that’s where I would make my tips. “The bigger the thrill, the bigger the bill,” he winked.
My performance was a disaster. I had thought it would be fun to do the scene from Risky Business , sliding out on the stage and singing Bob Seger into a candlestick. I was so nervous, I forgot to remove my underwear before the song ended. Justin got up on stage and stared at me sternly.
“You want to take it off now?” he snapped.
I unceremoniously dropped trou as the DJ replayed 15 seconds of my song. I left the stage to sparse applause from the audience.
Justin brought us back up on stage, me in nothing but socks, Mana wearing only a huge pair of diamond stud earrings. “Contestants, get ready to LAP DANCE FOR YOUR LIFE!” Justin shrieked.
I stepped out into the crowd. I stalked stiffly to a man who turned out to be the club manager and began to move in a way that must have looked like a malfunctioning animatronic character from the Chuck E. Cheese band. Noticing that I was keeping a good arm’s-length distance from his lap, the manager patted me on the shoulder and slipped a fiver into my sock. “You look good, kid. That’s enough.”
I scurried back to my clothes, glancing to see Mana getting freak-nasty with a customer. If there were any more tips to be made here, I figured I’d let the kid have them. Like Cristal from Showgirls said, “There's always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you.”
Any illusions that I had what it takes to make it in the high-stakes world of exotic dancing were summarily dispelled after that night at the Nob Hill Theatre.
For someone who once eschewed Facebook for being “too exhibitionist,” perhaps it was a bit much to jump right into teabagging for tips. I certainly wasn’t going to pay my bills with a few measly fistfulls of sweaty dollars. I guess I’m better off sticking to the other side of the stage and leaving the stripping to the professionals.
Are you a dude and wanna go-go cuz you’re broke? Head over to The Cinch. Think you got the gear? Cruise on down to Chaps and test your mettle. Ready to lap dance for your life? Check out amateur night at the Nob Hill Theatre for a chance to win $200 for your ballsiest moves.