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Philosophy in the Bathroom

By Saara Dutton

I once had an English boyfriend who took me to Atlanta’s legendary Gold Club on our first date. It was a cliched alcoholic swirl of whipped cream basted hard bodies, beery frat boys, sexy dance music, Buckhead businessmen, dollar bills peeking out of lacy garter belts and suburban husbands in from Lilburn or Smyrna, already rehearsing Sunday’s confession.

I imagine most women would have been outraged by this scene, but not me. By the time the early morning hours rolled around and I was happily scarfing down a plate of $2.99 cheese eggs across the street at the Waffle House, I felt initiated. I had taken part in the delicious rite enjoyed by legions of conventioneers in Atlanta. I only wished I’d had a wedding band to slip off my finger and a necktie to unloosen.

Actually, that’s not really true. The conventioneer’s experience is a man’s experience, and the main reason I enjoyed my first foray into a strip club had everything to do with being a woman. That’s because the real fun at the Gold Club wasn’t found in those murky back rooms where various celebrities supposedly got their dicks sucked. Maybe it’s because I’m not a celebrity and I don’t have a dick, but for me, the real fun was in the bathroom. You see, at the Gold Club the few female patrons had to share the bathroom with the strippers. This meant we had to walk through their dressing area in order to find the toilet.

Sneaking into the backstage world was fascinating. As I turned the corner to get a full view, I saw a topless woman noisily munching on an enormous hamburger after which she belched appreciably. Another woman was adjusting a G-String while lamenting the tiny bit of cellulite on her right cheek. Another was doing paperwork of some sort in spiked boots, while someone I couldn’t see shouted “Alright, which one of you filthy bitches didn’t clean the shower?”

It was fantastic, much better than the show going on out on stage. I hung around there for as long as I could, listening to stories about dead beat dads, techniques on shaving your pubic area and where to buy cheap wallpaper.

When I finally returned to my seat, one of the women whom I’d gossiped with backstage soon came slinking out onto the floor. Even as she grasped a brass pole and started doing some rather graphic and quite limber stunts, I felt a certain solidarity with her. It was like we were in tenth grade and had just shared a joint behind the gym. Now we were back in history class together, grinning slyly across the room at our secret. She wasn’t a sex goddess—she ate fat hamburgers and belched and she knew where to get a good deal on wallpaper.

It felt strangely comforting to have this vantage point. My limber Burger King Vixen and I were in this thing together. Even though I was a spectator, I wasn’t leering at her, judging her, or drooling on myself. In short, I wasn’t getting turned on. I was simply fascinated and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was curious about what I got out of the deal. But then when she winked at me, I knew we were both in on the joke.

My Gold Club experience triggered a strip club enchantment. Over the next three months, I visited almost every strip club in Atlanta. Bravely, I ventured into the obvious ones with kitschy, suggestive names like The Cheetah and Pink Pony. Soon, I progressed, accompanied by one of my gay friends, to a place that featured both naked men on one side and naked women on the other. My friend took one look at a naked woman opening and closing her legs, announced “Look-it’s talking!” then quickly scurried to the naked men’s side.

This same friend later escorted me to Swingin’ Richard’s, a gay men’s strip club. Being the only woman in the joint, I was a novelty, "like a pair of Yosemite Sam mudflaps on a Miata"

This v.i.p. status led to much attention and hugs by sweaty, beefy men wearing nothing but baby oil and chaps. “You look just like Grace Kelly!” they cooed. “No—Buffy the Vampire Slayer!…No—that’s not it either. Charlene Tilton—you know—Lucy Ewing from Dallas!” I left soon after, to avoid the downward spiral of comparisons. I feared Pia Zadora was next.

At the end of three months, my search for the holy grail of strip clubs finally took me to the dirty old grand daddy of them all—the Clermont Lounge. It made sense that the last strip club I went to was the polar opposite of the first one I entered. Established in 1968 and situated on seedy Ponce De Leon Avenue, The Clermont Lounge is tucked under the Clermont Hotel, a place that rents rooms by the hour if you want. The ceilings are so low that I’m sure tall men have had their pompadours and Mohawks flattened. There is wood paneling throughout. Cheap gin is served in urine test plastic cups. The women’s toilet is separated from the strippers’ dressing area by a piece of sheer material hung from the ceiling.

The Clermont Lounge is the Baltic Avenue, the Wal-Mart, the Spam sandwich of the strip world. Charles Bukowski could have written 300 short stories here. Tom Waits could have sung a million melancholy notes here.

As for the strippers, they are almost incidental. You might even forget about them until you get up to grab a drink from the bar, and are confronted by a gyrating ass in your face. There is a dance floor, beyond which I’m told female patrons who are just so overwhelmed by the sheer glamour of it all can rip off their clothes and begin their stripping careers on the spot. Like most stories about the Clermont, this may or may not be true.

But true or not, the stories that have sprouted up about the Clermont are plentiful. For instance, there are rumors of a mother daughter team working the joint, as well as a congressman’s ex-wife and a trained wrestler. The star of this den of inequity is Blondie. Folks will tell you she is sixty years old—however—she certainly doesn’t look it. Then again, this is the kind of place where a stripper would lie about her age if it would add to the sheer perversity of it all.

Blondie is also a pioneer of the tit-punch. Usually reserved for festive occasions, like bachelor parties, birthdays and the death of wealthy asshole relatives, it involves ramming a gentleman’s face in her ample bosom, and then punching her own tit repeatedly. She also performs the rather nifty trick of crushing a beer can between those resilient mammary glands. Whether she prefers Bud over Coors, is anyone’s guess.

On the subject of body parts, you have never seen so many peculiar body types on display. Bulbous asses with flat pancake tits, squat legs and long necks, sexy mamas who are four feet tall and four feet wide. The women dancing listlessly on the bar could be fry cooks at the high school cafeteria or the salesperson who demonstrates hardware products at the mall.

I visited the Clermont for a good bye party in 1999. We bought one guy a lap dance. Unbeknownst to us, when a lap dance is purchased, the dancer will usually just use whatever song is blaring from the jukebox at the time. Consequently, our friend was treated to a naked, writhing Jezebel, attempting to coerce a boner to Ray Parker Jr’s Casio classic “Ghostbusters.” Afterwards, whenever there was a lull in the conversation, one of us would inquire “Who you gonna call?”

All this got me thinking about the only real similarity between the glitzy Gold Club and the seedy Clermont lounge. The common thread that connects the high end, celebrity soaked club, and the low end, freak infested club. The answer is hidden in this one small fact: in both places, the women’s bathroom is connected to the strippers’ dressing area.

The fact is, no strip club owner would ever allow men to see that side of the show, no matter how low-grade the illusion is. Men can stare and salivate at any number of writhing body parts on stage, but backstage is strictly off limits, because this is the place that plays host to the humble, dreary rituals that are the foundation of sexual fantasy. No male strip club patron would want to be exposed to the deodorant with tiny armpit hairs clinging to the top, wadded up tissue and used douches in the waste basket, teary calls home, or complaints of cramps and sore tits. It destroys the magic: the swish of the curtain reveals too much.

But the deal is, women already know this. The curtain was pulled back for us from the onset. We have already caught the mermaid at Weeki Watchi going off to the side of the tank to steal a gulp of air many times over. We know which shoes make us tall, which bras make us buxom. We know that no woman is secure enough with her menstrual pad to prance around in all white clothes like they do in commercials, that cover-up never really conceals a bruise on your face, that breast milk can smell sour but tit sweat never stinks.

So it doesn’t matter if women see this side. We live it, daily. We are always catching glimpses of bra straps fixed with a safety pin, dark circles from staying up all night with a sick baby, dark roots hidden under a scarf, disappointment over a forgotten birthday gift. It is these familiar observations scribbled in a pink diary, the uninspired monotony of our daily routines that link us together. And sometimes, it feels pretty comforting to sit back and appreciate the sweetly mundane pact of dull little secrets that all women sign, whether they know it or not.

In August 2001, The Gold Club became the property of Uncle Sam after a long celebrity filled racketeering trial. The last I heard, the city government was going to tear down the big black building and turn the property into a park.

I’m all for it.

I’d like to think of the ex-Gold Club strippers taking their kids to the park. I picture them walking along with their slender legs, pushing baby carriages and lifting little Jenny or Joey onto the swings, careful not to scratch their chubby arms with a long red fingernail.