Day Strippers

While you're at work, Miami's exotic dancers put on a naked lunch.

There was only one dancer who looked as if she could one day graduate from Café Risqué. Her auburn hair was pulled into flowing pigtails, and she boasted the curves of a pin-up girl. To the strains of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," she pushed her pelvis into the face of a man with a shaved head. He sat fixated and frozen.

When the song ended, he told her: "You look like the girl from The Exorcist," an association between strippers and adolescent girls that didn't bode well for the dancer, or society at large.

"What?" she giggled.

Meanwhile, the redhead slipped on her clothes. She puckered her full lips in the mirror and squeezed her breasts together before nestling up to a customer sporting a trucker hat.

The next dancer, who had sleek black hair and wore an open-backed evening dress, called for Windex from the kitchen to erase the body smears of her predecessor. The jukebox stopped, and the room careened into awkward silence. After a few bites of unappetizing eight-dollar teriyaki chicken wings, my fiancé shoved his chair from the table.

"Ready?" he asked.

A few days later, back in Miami, I decided to start my solo excursion into the strip world at the bottom: i.e., anywhere near Miami International Airport, the sort of end-of-the-road place where it's easy to find anonymity and escape.

Club Pink Pussycat is dead shortly after noon on the last Wednesday in May. The fading Pepto-dismal pink building on NW 36th Street is wedged under the Airport Expressway at Okeechobee Road, in the shadows of Miami Jai-Alai.

There is one man inside the cavernous club. He wears a flattop and glasses and holds a beer in his hand. A seasoned woman with scraggly yellow hair and gold bangles glares from behind the bar. No one is naked. For that, I am glad.

"A Diet Coke, please?" I order ridiculously.

"You can't be here," she says, hands on hips.

"Really? Why not?"

"Because we have our own girls working here."

"Oh, I'm not working. I'm just passing through," I say, employing the only phrase in my strip club vocabulary.

"I'm sorry. You can't stay," she says. "Sometimes a guy brings in a girl and offers to other guys: 'Oh you can have her for $20, $100.' And maybe you are his wife. And you go all crazy and you break a bottle on his head."

I look to the flattopped man, who is sipping quietly. He shrugs as if to say, "You never know."

"Does that happen?"

"No, not really," the barkeep mumbles, eyes pointing to the door.

Outside, a man in broad aviator shades grunts as he hands over the keys to my Honda Civic, valet-parked five steps away.

My next stop is Bottoms Up Lounge on Calle Ocho, near SW 57th Avenue. It's a tiny dive bar with pink metal siding and the smell of stale cigarettes that hits you from the sidewalk. Lou, a balding manager with a phone-sex voice and a face to match, also refuses me.

In seconds I transform from strip club virgin to activist. Don't single women have just as much right to enjoy a quick bite over female genitalia? Even though the clubs are private, I contact the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. They don't see the travesty. "We are not the appropriate organization to comment on this," a spokesman says.

A few hours after getting kicked out, I easily recruit a male co-worker to escort me to the Pink Pussycat. The waitress doesn't welcome me back when my colleague and I order a pair of Bud Lights.

"Do you want a glass?" she asks, which I smugly accept as her unspoken apology.

Four men huddle near the stage, clutching dollar bills and yelling like there's a cockfight at their feet. From the bar, I see flashes of intertwined legs. I fear going closer. Soon, Sasha approaches. The dancer looks to be in her forties, with an unfortunate set of crow's feet and bony fingers she knits into her black fishnet top. She leans toward me and jiggles.

"I like women," she says, looking at me with clearly feigned lust.

She nudges my knees apart with a hand. I cackle nervously and close them.

"I'm studying theology," she tells us.

"Oh really? That's great," I say, happy to have underestimated her. "Do you want to be a pastor?"

"No, not a pastor."

"Where do you study?"

"From a book."

She motions for me to move my turquoise blue bag, which has been locked over my lap like a chastity belt. I shake my head no. We end up buying her $43 worth of champagne. She presses my co-worker to buy me a lap dance. We don't budge. Then she asks if we're cops.

I realize I will never pass for a strip club connoisseur. Her drugstore perfume clings to me when I leave. Hours and multiple handwashes later, I still smell like an aging stripper.

A woman with a silky black bob, Snow White skin, and rouged lips swings her listless hips to AC/DC's "Back in Black" on the main stage at Showgirls, a boxy club tucked off South Dixie Highway in Cutler Bay, near a Meineke shop.

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