By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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The gang has been partying since the night before. "We don't want to go home," says the most lucid of the bunch, a clean-cut 29-year-old Cuban in a preppy jersey shirt. "I call this area the Bermuda Triangle. You get lost here."
When I ask him his name, he says, "You can call me Giovanni. The good thing about being in a strip club is you don't have to use your real name."
Giovanni boasts he's been out since around 8 p.m. the night before. He tells me he worked in real estate but is looking to expand his business into bail bonds ("bad economy, more crime on the street," he explains). After a trip to Solid Gold, the storied gentlemen's club in North Miami Beach, he returned to Gold Rush around 5:30 a.m.
Now, 16 hours later, he claims to have spent $2,000 and the better part of a day "doing some cocaine, drinking a lot, and smoking a lot."
The eldest member of the nocturnal trio is a native New Yorker, who says he's 40, though his wrinkles tell another story. He swoops in, inches from my nose. "Where are you from?" he slurs.
"Near Chicago," I reply. "Why do you like it here?"
"I like music," he says. "I like fun. I like pretty girls, but I'm partial to girls from Chicago. You're so cool; I can warm you up."
Thanks to the horror stories from Extazy and Athena, I'm unfazed by his line and press for a better answer.
"Women, once I sleep with them, they end up kicking my ass," he explains. "Here you can talk to pretty girls without all that."
The men move to a nearby table, where Barbie cuddles up to Giovanni. At this point, I realize my job is not that different from hers — aside from the whole clothing thing. We're both giving them attention.
She's tipsy but coherent. "I'm a mommy," she tells me. "Us mommies, we are only here to make things better for our children."
Her daughters, ages six and eight, live with her father during the week while she works, she says. She crashes at a cheap motel nearby.
"I'm a feminist," Barbie says from Giovanni's lap. "Dancers are like, 'Okay, you want to be a male chauvinist pig? Well, I'm a feminist pig.' It's not degrading to us. It comes down to business."
The third guy in the group, a 28-year-old who talks quickly and belches loudly, sits nearby. His eyes dart around the nearly empty room. The only other customer is a lawyer on his lunch break; he has his back to the rowdy crew and plays video poker as his plate of chicken parm cools.
"It doesn't matter what a girl's [breast] size is, right?" Barbie asks, turning to the 28-year-old.
"I'm an ass man," he says.
She stands, back arched, and wiggles her round tush near his face. "Big asses?"
"Big asses but no cankles," he says gravely.
She titters, doubling over, ponytail dropping to one side. "What are cankles?"
"When there's no difference between the calves and the ankles," he says.
Barbie turns to me. "Do you want to get onstage?"
"No, no, no," I demur. "I'm shy."
"You don't have to dance. Just see what it's like."
She grabs my wrist, pen still in hand, and leads me to the purple and green neon-lit plastic steps to the elevated stage. I reluctantly shuffle up.
Barbie places my right hand on the pole and points to the mirror behind the bar, where liquor bottles are lined in a target-ready row. "Look at yourself in the mirror," she instructs. "Shake your booty a bit."
I muster a stifled wiggle. From below, Giovanni extends his arms and graciously catcalls, "Whoo!"
"Now, to the mirror on this side," she says, pointing to the back. I see myself in nerdy glasses and conservative black pants, next to her voluptuous body in black heels. Again, I do my PG-rated shake. She beams, seemingly glad I tried. "See, that makes you feel good, right?"
Indeed, I'm smiling. I start to understand how she can do it. She dances for herself, and I begin to recognize that far-off gaze into the mirror I've seen on the faces of so many day strippers.
Kamren has a few minutes before her next dance at the Pink Pony. She nibbles on a plate of pineapple collected from the buffet. More dancers than customers seem to graze on the free food.
She's been in Miami only a few weeks, residing a cheap cab ride from work. She danced herself to the Doral club from Mays Landing, New Jersey, a town of less than 3,000, which she left with four suitcases and a broken heart. Her dance career began two years ago in Atlantic City. She is self-taught on the pole and says she studied ballet, tap, and jazz at Atlantic Cape Community College.
Kamren pledges to put on a show every time she dances, even if it's not rewarded by the customers.
"Guys, they will watch you and be astounded, but they won't pay for it," she says. "The most common compliment I get anymore is, 'Wow, you have a pretty pussy.'"