Rick Emerson, sans mackerel

“What’s the most random thing anyone has ever asked you?” I asked Rick Emerson, local disk jockey. We were both standing on the sidewalk in front of the Mt. Tabor Legacy Theater in southeast Portland, late on Sunday night. From inside the theater, past the burly bouncers, an invitation-only party was raging, the theater filled with a rock & roll crowd: lots of black – black leather, black jeans, dyed black hair; lots of tattoos and piercings; hair of all lengths, from bald to past their ass (men AND women).

“Tonight? Or ever?” Emerson shot back at me.

I stepped closer, smiling. I should have known he’d be quick on his feet. “Uh… ever.”

He considered a moment, then said, “Well, there was this one time a guy asked me if I had a mackerel.”

“That’s pretty random,” I agreed. I had expected him to say that my question was the most random thing. But this reply was better.

“Not really,” he said, “because if you think about it, if I had had a mackerel, it would have been pretty obvious.”

“Sure,” I said, “the smell alone…”

We were both here, attending the 2007 Barfly Awards Gala; Emerson as a nominee for “Person most likely to be famous”, and myself as a fan of Stormy. Stormy had asked me to be here to help her in her quest to become Portland’s Sexiest Stripper. She was stacking the ballot.

“Right. And so he was pretty safe in asking me that question.” He looked at the door, where a skinny kid with long black hair barely contained by a stocking cap and carrying a skateboard was toe-to-toe with the bouncer, in spite of the bouncer having a full head of height and at least another 100 lb. of advantage over him. “I think we’re about to see a beat-down” Rick said.

The night before I had been at Devil’s Point, making the most of the extra hour provided by the end of Daylight Savings Time. Because the Oregon Liquor Control Commission forbids the selling of alcohol between 2:30 AM and 7:00 AM, the end of DST means that bars – and drinkers – get another hour to drink. For someone like myself, it’s almost like Christmas.

Stormy had been putting myself and others off for a private dance, though, and when she had offered me the chance to go to this event as a consolation, I had accepted.

“But if you’d had a mackerel, that would have been random” I said to the disk jockey, pursuing my original line of thought.

“Sure, OK,” Emerson said. Still watching the bouncer argue with the skateboard kid, Emerson started chanting “Tas-er, tas-er, tas-er…” softly but increasing in volume.

A pretty brunette approached Rick, and started chanting along with him. I’d seen her with him inside and assumed she was Mrs. Emerson. The combined effort of the bouncer’s intimidation and the chanting crowd finally penetrated the skateboard kid’s booze or drug fogged mind and he left, literally shaking his fist at the bouncer.

I had showed up tonight with the hope that I could hang out with Stormy, even for a bit. Maybe sit with her entourage, meet some of her friends. But when I had seen her earlier, she had hugged me, thanked me for showing up, then walked off through the crowd with her trademark click-click-click walk, dragging a tiny little emo boy behind her.

After the disappointment of Stormy’s brush-off had worn off, minutes later, I had realized that the party was fun for multiple reasons. Like exchanging jokes with Rick Emerson. Like seeing the petite Bud Light girls in their next-to-nothing short-shorts and halter tops, and turning them down for the free beers because I was already drinking vodka-crans.

Oh, and did I mention that the booze was free? Nothing soothes a broken heart like an open bar. I only drank three of them. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have tried to make sure that they lost money on me. That’s how my I roll.

Emerson shouted at the bouncer, “I would totally have backed you up, man. I would have said that he’d pulled a knife on you.”

The bouncer replied, almost bored, “Dude. I don’t even carry a taser.”

“He didn’t know that!” Emerson bounced back.

I realized that my question about random questions made a pretty good conversational opener. Maybe I’ll go back inside and try it out on people who aren’t famous and used to being asked random questions…

Emerson and the brunette walked off. As she dragged him away, he turned back to me, and pointed. “I did not have a mackerel!” He emphasized every word.

I laughed, and shouted back, “Thanks! That’s my new slogan for the night!” I went back inside, squeezing past the people trying to get in, flashing my wrist band at the bouncer.

Postscript: I did not actually use my new opener on anyone else. I did not stay long enough to see the awards given out. And I did not see Stormy again for the rest of the night. Emerson and the lady accompanying him did return, however.

And did I mention the open bar?

Update: Fixed the link to Stormy’s MySpace page. – 3:56 PM 6 November 2007

Feels like the first time

My first time almost going to a club was around 1985 or 1986, I think. I had tossed my bicycle in the back of my truck and rode out to Clackamas Town Center, where there was a bike trail that ran along I-205. I had just parked the truck when I saw a cute brunette girl in a red t-shirt walking towards me from the direction of the freeway off ramp. She asked me to help her; she was on her way to work and had a flat tire. Being the chivalrous type, of course I helped her! Unfortunately she had no tools to remove the spare tire from underneath her car, so I offered to give her a ride to work; she was already getting upset because she was late. She agreed.

When we got in my truck, I asked her where she was going and she told me that she worked at the Acropolis. “Do you know where that is?”

Duh. The Acropolis is one of the more famous Portland landmarks, a strip club with four stages, impeccable hiring practices, and the best steaks in town – the owner has a ranch and grows his own beef. I’d seen that blue-and-white striped building for as long as I had grown up in Milwaukie (a suburb of Portland).

I answered her in the affirmative, but when she’d asked if I’ve ever been in there, I had to say no. On the drive there, I asked her if she was a waitress, or… and let that question hang. She said she was a waitress.

I let her out in the parking lot, and she told me that if I came back the next night, she’d be able to pay me for my gas.

“No problem!” I said (stupidly), “consider it a favor!”

She went inside, and I drove off. I don’t remember her name. I wouldn’t actually go inside that building for another year or so. Details are fuzzy after all this time. Bear with me.

Now, two decades later, I live a half-mile from the Acropolis, and I’m known there by face, name and hat. And I’ve been to a lot, but not all, of the clubs in the Portland area. My current favorite club is Devil’s Point, but I still hang out at the Acrop just because I don’t have to drive home.

I’ve got a lot of strip club stories to tell… And I very much respect the entertainers and staff that make it all happen. If I won the lottery, I’d open a strip club of my own, and make it a progressive place to work…

But that’s a story for another time.

Falling in

I go most places alone. It’s not that I don’t have friends, many friends, good and dear friends with whom I’ve shared good and bad times, people I respect and care about, and who seem to feel the same way about me.

My friends, though, have responsibilities, houses and children, others who depend on them, jobs that require their full attention, savings plans that are a life raft against future tsunamis. Adult stuff. Insurance. Taxes. Paperwork. Caring for the future.

Me, on the other hand? Not so much.

If I spend a night out drinking, the only one who pays is myself, and time (or more drinking) erases the immediate cost. I don’t own a car so I won’t drink and drive. And if I blow my savings on strippers and pizza… if I run off to Vegas on a whim… If I jump out of a perfectly good airplane… there are no children’s tummies which will want for nutrition, no widow left behind to mourn my passing and curse my foolhardiness, no estate that will go unclaimed amongst my heirs, no work left unfinished.

As long as I pay my bills and my rent, I feel free to do whatever I want with whatever is left over.

So last week, on a Monday night, I walked into the Devil’s Point in dirty southeast, a fat roll of cash in my pocket.

I flirted with the bartender, who appears to be a former (or current) exotic dancer herself, though clad in t-shirt and jeans, and got the Drink of My People (Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic, twist of lime). I small talked with the folk at the bar, and looked around the place.

Being alone a lot in venues like these, I’ve been de-sensitized to how I must appear to others. But lately I’ve realized that people can, and do, notice. What’s the best way to counter the “lonely guy” look? Strike up a conversation with others, join their group, and show that I am, in fact, just as much a social creature as any other hairless ape. Or, better yet, talk to many groups. Be the life of the party, the host with the most, the guy with a gift for gab.

Those of you who know me can stop smirking now.

Drink in hand, I walked, shoulders back and relaxed, smiling, moving slowly but with determination amongst the tables full of hipsters and goths, to the stage. A dancer I did not recognize was finishing up, and there were two groups of people seated at the rack, on opposite sides of the stage. By pure chance I chose the group closest to me. Two guys and a girl. The guys wore button shirts and slacks, dress shoes, one with tie, the other in a sweater vest. The girl had on dress pants and a white blouse, blonde short hair, glasses.

I sit down. I engage them in conversation. We banter back and forth. They ask me if I have a light for their cigarettes, and I decline, and tell them two out of three vices are enough for me (drinking and lap dances). The blonde guy makes a joke about being French and I make a comment about him knowing his vices, but he takes it as a comment about surrendering and the French, which gets a little personal (I meant no insult, but I can’t tell if he took it that way or was just playing along with what he thought I’d said) so I drop that thread and mention to the whole group that I think Monday nights is “Fire Dancing” night at the Devil’s Point, which causes them to grill me on what, exactly, that means and am I sure?

I’m not sure, but I like the idea of being the guy who knows, so I play it off. Depends on who’s dancing tonight, I tell them. It’s a good show, I understand. One of the dancers is especially known for her fire dancing; if she shows up, wow, watch out.

Several songs of banter go by, but no dancers take the stage. I came in right at shift change. Old shift leaving, new shift getting ready. I notice Stormy, and Rocket, and Selena, all coming and going from the dressing room, talking to the bartender, talking to the DJ.

Finally the dancers come out, one at a time, two or three songs each, slowly getting naked as the songs progress. This is the show. This is the entertainment. The punk rock, the Goth-y dancers, the buzz of alcohol, the sting of smoke. This is why I’m here.

I toss a dollar on stage for each song. If I like the song, sometimes I’ll toss more than one. It’s strip club etiquette.

The guys I’m with are throwing fives, tens and twenties on the stage. Each. Per song.

Who are these guys? That’s my first thought.

I hope I don’t look cheap next to these guys. That’s my second thought.

I picked exactly the right group to talk to. That… man, I wish I could say that was my third thought, but that did not occur to me until much later.

The dancers give the big spenders attention, but they give me attention, too, just as they give attention to the group at the other end of the stage. In fact, the group at the other end of the stage get a little more, because they seem to be regulars and well-known by several of the dancers, Selena in particular. I don’t particularly care, but the party I’m with… they notice. And they start throwing more money on stage.

They run out of bills, so the guy in the tie gives some money to the girl, who goes back to the bar to change it. She comes back with a huge stack, maybe singles, maybe more, I can’t tell. I make note of that transaction – tieguy, to girl, to bar, back to tieguy.

Tieguy makes some joke about how there’s not enough girls in the club for him to… do… something. The punch-line is lost in the noise. I laugh anyway, and nod, and turn back to watch Stormy take the stage. Sweet, hot, Stormy.

And tieguy catches my eye. Pulls a twenty dollar bill off his roll. And tosses it at me, across the corner of the stage.

I remembered him giving a twenty to the girl to get change. Is that what he’s doing with me? I suddenly felt a power struggle. Was I the knowing insider, helping these newbies have a good time on my home turf? Or was I the help, the service staff, here to help them and make them comfortable?

We had what an improviser would call an imminent status game. Was I high status to them, or low status?

I smiled, oddly, crookedly. I slowly reached out, poked the bill, picked it up, held it in the air, looked at tieguy…

…and I tossed it back at him.

His eyes got big. His companions grew quiet. I did nothing more.

“Seriously?!” tieguy said. It was loud, but I could hear him. I heard incredulity in his question.

The girl looked at tieguy, then leaned over and whispered at sweatervestguy. Sweatervestguy leans over to me.

“Dude… he just gave you twenty dollars.”

“I know,” I said. Did I misinterpret something?

“And you just threw it back.”

“Right.” I nodded at the money. “Did he want me to get him change? A drink?”

He looks at his friends, back at me. “No. For you to spend.”

He scooped the bill off the stage. “Don’t worry. I’ll handle this. I’ll go get some ones, and when I come back I’ll split them with you.” He leaned back to his friends, they whispered amongst themselves. I turned back to the stage, tossed a dollar up for Stormy, finishing her set. Did she see this interaction?

Tieguy got up from his chair and came over. His initial whatthefuck look had been replaced with flummoxed. “Dude? What just happened?”

“I meant no insult. I just wasn’t sure what your intentions were.” I sounded calmer than I felt. Drug dealers? Organized crime? Was I going to get whacked when I left here tonight? Did the blonde dude go to call in reinforcements? Did I watch too many Mafia movies? Let the defendant state for the record, your honor, that to the best of my recollection, none of them appeared to be packin’ heat. “You have to understand – stuff like that doesn’t normally happen to me.” I hoped that didn’t sound as lame to him as it sounded to me.

“Right, right… true. I was just being… It’s just…” he shook his head, looked back at the girl, glanced to see where sweatervestguy was in the bar, “that guy? He’s my boss.” This last seemed dragged out of him. He appeared loathe to say it.

The dymanic changed again, with just a few words spoken. Boss? Tieguy is subordinate? He seemed the more powerful one, when he was handing money to the girl and tossing large bills on stage, and joking about not having enough women. Now he appeared small, diminished, trying to puff himself up in front of his supervisor, his foreman, his manager. His boss. Boss? Really?

I nodded as if I had any clue what he was talking about, and fell back into the role of knowing advisor. “Well, you know, these things happen.” I waved at the stage, where Rocket was taking over from Stormy. “Why be angry or upset when there’s beautiful naked women?”

He laughed, and clapped me on the back, and stood up, and pulled out more money. “You’re all right!” he yelled out, and he rained down singles in front of me, and shouted for Rocket to “take care of this guy!” When Rocket came by, he tucked a one hundred dollar bill into her belt, for which she kissed him on the cheek and called him “sweetie”.

For the next half-hour or so, I couldn’t spend my own money even if I wanted to. They still wanted to show off, still wanted to be the big spenders, but realized I was too proud to accept it directly. They brought me drinks, and spread waves of singles and fives in front of me on the rail. And when I stopped Stormy to ask her for a private dance… they paid for it.

Remember that status battle, though? They had tried to buy my attention. If I had accepted, I would have confirmed my lower status to them. By refusing… I had retained higher status. And now, even though they were still trying to buy what I’d refused to sell them, they had accepted lower status to me. The harder they tried, the more it lowered their social value.

They grew bored with me, and wandered away from the stage for a while. I lost track of them. Finally, sweatervestguy came over, tossed more money down in front of me, thanked me for a great time, and made his goodbye.

They were gone. I don’t know if I’ll see them again. I still don’t know why they had so much money and were so willing to spend it. Expense account? Money laundering? Blackwater or just normal Republican corruption?

I’ll never know. But I will keep on talking to strangers.

Though I doubt it will often be as lucrative as that night.

Snarky Stormy

Sitting at the rack at Devil’s Point, watching cute, petite, energetic, tattooed Stormy rocket around the stage in a fishnet body stocking underneath a bikini emblazoned with skulls, I half-listened to the music. Nodding my head in time to the electronic beat and the goofy lyrics, I had that flash of recognition. I knew this song!

When Stormy came over to dance for me, I said, “This song is from Velvet Goldmine, isn’t it?”

“It’s Brian Eno. I think Brian Eno was around before Velvet Goldmine!” She laughed and her tone was playful, but a bit condescending.

I laughed, but I thought to myself, Was Brian Eno involved in that movie? I didn’t think so, but…

By the way, the song was “Baby’s On Fire” (iTunes link to song preview) – Performed by Jonathan_Rhys-Meyers and the Venus In Furs… and written by Brian Eno. We were both right…

Small update

I knew I shouldn’t have stayed out late last night drinking doubles at Devil’s Point. But Winter, Aris, Selena… all very persuasive women. And I ran into Sam the DJ from the Acropolis there. He’s a fun guy, too.

But then I had to be at work today at 5:00 AM, and the earthquake hit Portland, just as the Emergency Management folk planned, and I had computers to set up for the (simulated) disaster recovery. Luckily, plugging in computers isn’t a very taxing activity. Turns out I can even do it hung-over and tired. And even enjoyed myself a little.

To top it all off, waking up from my nap this evening post-work and finding MaryAnne (as S called her) had commented on my post, all the way from Toronto, put a smile on my face. I guess I owe someone a dollar; they really do have internets in Canada. Go figure!

Blocking the offers

Three hat stories from Saturday night…


I stepped out of the Limelight into the muggy cool Portland night, walked past the blonde boys sitting smoking on the benches, adjusted my fedora, and walked across SE Milwaukie to where I’d parked the car.

On the far side, I was walking past another bar and onto a side street. A tall guy in a straw cowboy hat, unshaven, wobbly-drunk, was crossing my path. He saw me, did a sloppy double-take.

“You a hood?” he asked me, somehow turning to face me even as he slowly continued into the bar.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“You a hood? Hoods wear those.” He pointed at his head, which was wearing a cowboy hat, but I knew he meant my head, not his. How’d my brain know that? It was the context.

I laughed and said, “I’m not a hood!” And you’re drunk, I thought.

No trading

The stage at Devil’s Point hangs from chains and is secured in the back but is otherwise hanging free. On that stage, on Saturday night, paraded a variety of strippers, most of them dark-haired, tall and thin, and covered in tattoos.

I’d come in out of curiosity and a desire to see some strange cooter.

I sipped my Bombay Sapphire and tonic, felt the gin work its way into my system, and kept wiping my snarky grin off my face as Rocket danced above and in front of me. The crowd was loud and drunk, and included a short, dark-haired woman with librarian glasses in a green t-shirt and jeans that looked to be either an off-duty dancer, a regular, or just really friendly with everyone. At one point she jumped over the back of a chair, sat next to me, and announced that she was “waiting for the hot dancers.” Which seemed crazy to me, since Rocket was on the stage, but to each their own. Not finding Rocket “hot” didn’t prevent the glasses girl from shouting, miming a rope to pull Rocket closer, or pretending to kiss and lick Rocket whenever a body part presented itself. Yeah, definitely crazy.

After Rocket finished her three-song set, the next girl up was a tall thin Asian girl. Normally not my type, but… wow. I’m not sure if it was the crowd, the strongly mixed drink, or the newness of these women, but I was having a great time. Sharai? Sharai who? Heh.

When System of a Down’s “Toxicity” came up, I remembered the dark noisy bar off of Bourbon Street where I’d first heard it, and sang along, loudly. I wasn’t alone.

A group of early-twenty-somethings sat at the far corner of the bar, and I noticed that the boy, a tall, thin, dark-haired emo boy, appeared to be talking to me over the music. He pulled his yellow-and-white mesh-back trucker cap off and held it towards me, mouthed something, pointed at his now-exposed head.

I leaned over a bit to better hear him.

“Hey, man,” he said, “we should trade hats!

I gave him a blank look. “What?”

“Hats!” He was smiling. He pointed at my fedora. “We should trade them! For one song!”

Take off my hat? For a guy? And put on his trucker cap?

Smiling indulgently, just as Superman would smile at a six-year-old who wanted to fight crime at his side, I simply said, “No.”

The kid looked a bit shocked and hurt. He pouted. His friends laughed. “Well, fuck you and your super-cool hat, then!” But he was smiling and laughing. He replaced his cap on his head and extended his hand in friendship. “My name’s Sam!”

“Hi, Sam, I’m Brian,” I said, talking loud just as the song ended and the volumed melted away. Awesome. Now everyone knew my name! It’ll be like Cheers!

Sam smiled and shook his head. “It’s a really cool hat, man.”

“Yeah. Everybody loves the hat!”

Interrupted thought

I stood in the middle section of Devil’s Point, the part that wasn’t the bar and wasn’t the stage. I guess it’s the “lounge” – filled with tall tables and overstuffed vinyl booths. Not that Devil’s Point is very large to begin with. The majority of the dancers that night were tall and thin, with short dark hair, and covered in tattoos. They all seemed to dress in bikini tops, lacy boyshorts, and platform boots that went all the way up to their knees.

In other words, totally my type.

I’d run out of singles and was debating getting more from the bar, or heading back to my neighborhood and the Acropolis. If i was going to be doing more drinking I didn’t want to have to drive very far. I watched the girl on the stage and debated internally. I wondered where they did private dances. I saw a curtained alcove, dark and triangular, not much bigger than three square feet. There?

Rocket strutted out of the dressing room and walked right up to me. She smiled and leaned close. “Hi, I wanted to tell you…”

She was interrupted by a burst of noise as a loud song started up and the crowd cheered. We both flinched.

“Rowdy crowd!” I said over the din.

She nodded. The DJ announced that the girls not on the stage were available for private dances. I looked at Rocket and raised my eyebrows.

Her eyes twinkled. “Would you like a private dance?” she asked.

“Mainly, I’m wondering where? Where does that happen?”

She turned and pointed to the alcove I’d spotted. “In there.”

“Seems dark. And small.”

“Would you like to see?” She took my hand and led me over. “C’mon! I’ll give you a tour!” She pulled back the curtain.

Sure enough, it was triangular and painted so dark that light seemed to fall into it. I could see the glints of light off the glossy leather (or vinyl) bench in the back, and silver handles set into the wall on either side, presumably hand-holds. Other than that I couldn’t see much. Rocket was standing right next to me, warm and smelling of cherries. In fact, she smelled… delicious. She smelled like chocolate and cherries and vanilla. I kept thinking of Dr. Pepper. I wondered if I would be overwhelmed in that space.

“It looks… great!” I said.

“Cool! I’ll be right back, OK?”

I turned around and watched the stage while she did some business at the bar. She returned just as the song was ending. I sat down. She stood in front of me and writhed in close, in time to the music.

“Oh, wait!” I raised my hands and she leaned away, not very far because of the tight space. I pulled my hat off. If she was standing over me I wouldn’t have been able to see because of the brim, and she wouldn’t have been able to get very close, either. Plus my head was warm. “My hat…” I started to put it under the bench; she took it from me and put it on a shelf just inside the curtain. I had not noticed that shelf before, but then there was a hot Goth-y chick about to get naked for me. I was distracted.

As she started dancing, I grinned, snarky. “Should I sit on my hands?” My hands were placed in plain view on my thighs.

“Why?” She asked. “Are you going to be a naughty boy?”

I just laughed. Probably not, I thought, I don’t think I want to be kicked out of here yet.

She danced for me, leaning in close, presenting all of the most fascinating body parts in extreme close up. She did something that the dancers at the Acropolis never do, also: she would kiss and nibble my neck, and get very close to actually kissing me on the lips. I was smiling but I tried to keep very still and move slowly and deliberately. No sudden movements. And the Dr. Pepper smell just reminded me of how hungry I was. No dinner. No wonder the one drink was affecting me – empty stomach.

Or maybe it was Rocket.

Just as the song was ending, Rocket had taken off her belt and appeared to be about to strangle me with it. But not in a dangerous way; in a sexy way. Some people like that, I understand… It was probably a ploy, though, because she stopped when the song did. “That song ended just in time for you!” she laughed. It sounded like a joke she’d made many times before, and it was the only off note she made all evening. We can tell when something’s rehearsed, or when it’s natural, or we believe we can. Because she’d been so playful and friendly, I shrugged it off.

I dug out my wallet, and she turned and picked up my hat. She admired it before setting it back on my head. “Oh, I almost forgot! The whole reason I walked up to you was I wanted to tell you: I really like your hat!”

I laughed, softly, and nodded. “Yes. Everybody loves the hat.”

Coffee and strip clubs, too

I’m walking downtown, and traffic is slow (due to the streetcar construction on 5th and 6th). I see a car pull out of the main traffic lane and angle towards the sidewalk. Looking ahead, I think he’s probably trying to sneak out of the stalled traffic and pull into a garage in the middle of the block.

The car pulls closer to the sidewalk and the window comes down. Driver leans out and says to a guy standing in front of me, “Excuse me. Do you know of a bar around here that’s got a lot of micro-brews on tap?”

The license plate is from Oregon so he’s an out-of-towner, not a tourist. Unless the car’s a rental, but it’s a few years old, so probably not.

While the sidewalk guy is scratching his head and looking up and down, I pass by and keep walking.

A bar with micro-brews on tap?

How about all of them?

Naked Bike Ride: Prologue

Friday night. I’m at the Acropolis, as usual. I had to come in to see if S. was dancing. I wanted to tell her about the midnight naked bike ride.

She was.

I did. Right after watching her on the stage for a full set, and two private dances.

As the song ended, she was sitting in the chair opposite me. I leaned forward. “I’m doing something crazy tomorrow night,” I said.

Her eyes lit up and she leaned forward, too. “What?”

“I’m going on a naked bike ride.”

“What? Naked?” She thought a moment. “I think I’ve heard about that!” She stood up and gathered up her bra, panties and skirt.

“Yeah. It’s awesome. I’ve never been naked in public before. You’ve inspired me with all your talk about being naked.”

She looked down at me and her face grew serious for a moment. “Thank you! That’s… I appreciate that.” She struck a pose, arms wide. “The world needs more naked people!”

I laughed. “I agree completely!”

She sat down in the chair next to me and put on her thong, carefully stepping into them with her 9-inch platform shoes. “Have you ever seen a naked war?” She arched her back to raise her ass so she could pull the panties up.

“No! Well… sometimes the losers are naked.” I pulled out my wallet, fished out the money.

She continued, on a funny rant. I don’t think she’d heard me. “How about a naked fight?” she challenged me, “Knife fight? Mugging? Nobody fights when they’re naked! Naked people are not angry people!”

“That’s very true. They’re too busy giggling.”

She laughed.

I pulled at my shirt, stopped. “I’d be so naked right now if I could.”

She nodded, hiding a grin. “I bet you would. I just bet you would.” She shrugged into her bra, stood, reached around and did the clasp.

I shook my head. “Curse these rules that keep me clothed!” I shook my fist in the air. I started to hand the money to her. She lifted one leg, balancing on one foot, and offered her stocking-clad thigh for me.

I tucked the money into the stocking. The brief warm contact of my fingers on her leg buzzed far more than it should have. I looked up and our eyes locked while she lowered her leg. I thought that was a neat trick of balance.

“My friend, Tracy? You’ve met her, remember?” Sharai nodded, I continued. “She doesn’t think I can do this. She wants me to… just doesn’t think I’ll go through with it.”

Our gaze was still locked and we stood very close together. In her shoes she was over 6 foot. I was looking up at her smiling eyes.

“What, like she think you’re gonna pussy out of it?”

I nodded, smirking. “But talking like that just makes me want to do it more!”

“Oh, no,” she said, enthusiastically. “You’re going to do it. You have that sparkle in your eyes.”

Blasting through the walls of repression

So, it’s a running joke between Tracy and I that I’m repressed, at least where it comes to sex and sexual expression.

Oh, sure, I hang out in strip clubs and flirt with the dancers, but when I’m outside the club, in the real world, I fail to act on what should be normal, human, desires. And when I am dating a woman… It’s not all whipped cream and sweaty skin, if you know what I mean.

Slowly, over time, this idea, that I’m repressed, has filtered into my conscious mind. And I know that it’s a problem. And, being who I am, I want to fix the problem. Only… how?

If I visualize the repression as a wall of stone, thick and cold, gray, covered in oily black-green vines… then the way to fight it is to either climb over it, dig under it… or blast through it.

My favorite dancer, “S”, loves being naked. She really and truly finds joy in being naked. She hangs out at “clothing optional” beaches. She wanders around her house naked. And even in the club, she seems more alive and happy when she’s got no clothing on.

…and I’m really comfortable around her. A large part of that, I believe, is the connection that comes from her being comfortable in her own skin.

Then, today, I read about Pedalpalooza, a celebration of bikes and bicycling. More importantly, I read about the World Naked Bike Ride.

I’d read about it last year. There was a nighttime ride and a daytime ride. I’m a voyeur – I looked at the pictures, watched the videos (warning: NSFW). I had forgotten that it was an annual event until I saw it on some blog again today.

Talking to Tracy, I complained. I said, if only I had a bike, that sounds like fun.

Tracy called bullshit on me. She’s my best friend. She knows that I would never actually be naked in public.

Tracy was mostly right. Mostly, like 99.999997% right. I knew it. I didn’t argue with her. Much. The repressed parts of my brain (I’m sure there’s more than one because it seems like they gang up on me) were screaming and wailing at the very thought of being naked in a crowd of strangers while sitting on a bike in the Eastside Industrial District. I’m a 42-year old man, a man who is still overweight, a man whose ancestors were hairy people. I’m one of those guys that people joke about wearing a sweater when I take off my shirt. At a party in Mexico, slender hairless muscular Mexican men were calling me “Danny De Vito”. I don’t have great self-esteem when it comes to being naked.

But… I kinda wanted to try it. More accurately, I wanted to be the kind of guy who would try it. I wanted to be able to tell S., the next time I saw her, that I had, in fact, been naked in public. I wanted to be able to blog about it.

I’ve raced cars, both in formal settings and late night, on the streets. I’ve jumped from airplanes. I’ve walked around dangerous parts of New York City by myself. I have moshed. I’ve had an affair with a married womon and then become friends with the husband.

I can be brave. No, scratch that – I am brave.

So I made a deal with Tracy. First, I needed a bike.

My first thought was asking to borrow a bike. Ken is about my size and has a bike. I’d ask him if I could borrow… No. Tracy and I both cracked ourselves up. Ken is many things, but he’s got, shall we say, cleanliness issues. There is no way he would let me ride his bike while I was naked.

So the deal is this: if I can find a bike that fits my budget before Saturday night, I will ride in the Naked Nighttime Bike Ride, along with all the others. I run, I’m fit. A bike would complement my running nicely.

I allowed Tracy to come up with the consequence if I don’t do this. Her first thought shows that, one, she knows me very well, and, two, she has a subtle and devious mind.

I can’t run for a week.

Running is my therapy and my passion. Not running for a week would be pure psychological torture. It may sound odd to folks who don’t run, but, believe me… I would go crazy. Um… crazier.

And now, I’m blogging about it. I’m putting my reputation on the line. I will do this.

I will blast through the walls of my repression.

Plus I’ll have an awesome story to tell.

OK, time to read up on the tips for first-time naked cyclists… And if you’re wondering, no, riding naked is not illegal.

Big Dork

At the Acropolis, as per usual. S. is dancing a private dance for me. She’s amazingly beautiful, long brunette hair, lean body but not hard and muscular. The word “lithe” was invented for women like her. If dark eyes can flash, then that’s what her eyes do.

And then she gives me a silly-sexy look, and I mug back at her, giving her an Austin-Powers-esque double-take, and she laughs and out comes a snort and it only makes her laugh more, and me, too.

“I can’t hide it,” she admits to me. “I’m just a big dork.”

“I think that’s why we get along so well,” I say, hoping it’s true.

“We laugh a lot,” she says. “I dig that.”

Me, too. It’s why I like spending time with her.

After the private dance, she asks me if I’m going to stick around. I say yes, of course, and she tells me that she’s got some funny pictures to show me. When she sees me again she brings up a pile of 5 by 7s. I look through them. They’re of several Hispanic men in flannel shirts and slacks and wearing bandanas. They’re stone-faced. One, in close-up, sneers and has a teardrop tattooed coming from one eye.

Oh shit. “Is this… you?” I ask.

She nods and giggles. “Yes!” She explains she went to a club in town that had Drag Night. “We went as Mexican gangsters! It was so funny!” She says she even came to the Acrop still dressed up, sat at the rack and wasn’t recognized until she gave herself away.

Later, out in the club, I look at the other dancers and wonder if they, too, are big dorks. A., probably, but with her body-builder physique and ink-covered skin and dozens of piercings most might not see it. T., definitely; she plays the airhead role well enough but she also has a fun energy. Most of the other dancers tonight are hard-body types – bolt-on boobies, hours spent in the gym and the tanning booth, they’ve built their looks up to the point of being plastic.

And then there’s L. Hollywood looks and a petite, soft but slender body. Perfect nose. Brilliant blue eyes. And although I’ll likely never know for sure, I get the sense that the whole package is natural. No scalpel has marred her skin.

The last conversation I had with her I was babbling about being in New York last Christmas and not taking the chance to go to Harlem to see James Brown’s body at the Apollo. I remember ending that conversation and leaving her with the impression of me being morbidly obsessed with death. The details are foggy. But since then she’s seen me at the club, having fun, and seeing the other girls treat me like a mascot, and maybe that previous impression has worn off, or never sunk in in the first place.

I sat at her stage for a set, and tip, and smile, and mugged a little to see if I can get her to smile. It’s stifling hot in the bar, has been all night, and after her second or third song, while she’s going around scooping up the money from the rail and from the floor, she looks at me, and scrunches up her face. “Ugh” she says. “It’s hot in here.”

I take my fedora off and fan her with it. She laughs.

Then it was S.’s turn again.

The next time L. was up was on the main stage. It was getting later, and the club, once filled with party people, was starting to empty out. I could actually sit at the main rack and have almost an entire section to myself. I sat there and watched L. dance and spin on the pole. I watch the other customers’ reactions to her, and they all look like they’re thinking the same thing I do: wow, she is seriously beautiful. Ethereal. Somehow above this dive-y bar with its smoke and its beer and whiskey and the sticky floors and dirty everything – she’s somehow untouched by it all. “You’re so beautiful,” they say to her: the tough bald biker guys, the smartass frat boys, the geeky emo boys. Even the girl patrons admire her in a way that’s very different from the more carnal appreciation the other dancers get.

Second or third song, again, and she laid on the bar in front of me, tits up. She smiles her angelic smile at me from her cloud of platinum-blonde hair (OK, so not everything is natural) and arches her back.

I lean in, close enough to be heard over the thumping music but not close enough to alarm. Thinking of my earlier conversation with S., I say, “I’ll bet, secretly, deep down… you’re a big dork.”

Her smile freezes, just for a second. She slides off the bar, completing the motion she began before I spoke up, turns to face me and leans over.

“What?” she asks.

I know that if I want this to come out correctly, I need to suppress any hint of apology. I’m just speaking of what I see, even if I’m wrong. “I’ll bet that most of the time, you’re a dork. Silly.”

She leans back, her smile gone as she processes what I’m saying. “I don’t know how to take that,” she admits, slowly. Her song is ending and she’s starting to move back towards the bar in the middle of the stage. She turns back to me, her smile returning. “But you’re right.”

I laugh. “I knew it! I like being right.” She laughs with me, but it’s an uneasy one, as if she’s afraid of being exposed and not just naked.

Another song, and she dances. I smile when she dances for me, and I thank her when she thanks me for the tip. Another song, and the same, except I turn when S. walks past me to get a hot cocoa from the bar (she doesn’t drink anymore) and chat with her.

After L. has collected all her money from the floor and the bar, and has put her panties and bra back on, and is in that in-between mode, waiting for the next girl to take over, she walks over to me where I’m still sitting at the bar.

“Why did you say that about me?”

I didn’t know what to say. Honestly, I said it because I wanted it to be true. I said it because, out of all the girls here tonight, L. was the one who seemed least likely to be… human. Except for S., of course. But most of the dancers had an edge to them, or showed their insecurities in little ways, or would vent and get angry. But L. seemed perfect, and therefore not quite Earthly. So I thought it would be great if she had a goofy side. I thought that somewhere, there’s someone who makes her laugh so hard she farts.

“I don’t… I just thought… I could see… It’s just second nature…” I stammer out, still smiling and trying to summon the confidence I had had just two songs ago. “I just think you’ve got a funny side you don’t show very often.”

“Well… thanks. You’re right.” And she turned her perfect naked ass and walked up the stairs.

Damn. Did I really pick up on something she thinks about? Or did I just demonstrate the Forer Effect by stating a complimentary generality that anyone would find flattering and therefore hard to deny?

Whatever I did, I rather like the effect.

New rule: Inside many beautiful women is a big dork waiting to be noticed.