Ladies’ Night

The ladies enter, adjust their eyes to the dim lighting, and take their
places in the horseshoe of chairs and tables around the dance floor. The
college girls in the crowd, Saturday night warriors in bright tops, black
pants, and slathered glitter, sit down quickly, and nervously
order Mike’s Hard Lemonade. The 30-and-older set is more boisterous,
with permed hair and half-buttoned denim blouses. They saunter in and belly
up to the bar for an opening round of cheap beer. By the time they take
their seats, they’ve strapped a couple of beers on and are ready for
the show to begin. It’s Saturday night at Toad’s Place, and the
Red Hot Pony Express is about to leave the station.

Toad’s is infamous for its late night dance parties, semi-exclusive
affairs where men and women with proper id can grind their blues away to
remixed hip-hop and strobed lighting. Once or twice a semester, things change.
Courtesy of the Red Hot Pony Express, Toad’s sheds its dance hall skin
and devolves into a raucous mess of a strip club, where enthusiastic men
in G-strings and boots will rub up against a woman’s leg only if she’s
offered him a crisp dollar bill first. On nights when the Red Hot Pony Express
is in town, no matter what their age, no matter whether they’re leaving
behind a high-paying job, a sink full of dishes, or a sociology paper, these
women squeeze sexual liberation until it bursts.

 

With the exception of Toad’s bouncers and bartenders, tonight I’m
the
only man in a sea of more than a hundred women. In this sexually charged

atmosphere, I’m a non-entity. I’m not getting onstage to shake
my booty;
I’m watching just like the rest of them. I sit at a table next to the
stage with seven women who spend most of their time talking like I’m
not there. Our quarters are tight, which keeps the experience vivid and
close, especially when I have to scoot over to allow my neighbor ample room
for a lap dance later in the show.

To my left, three Yale students are psyching themselves up for their first
male strip show. They’re dressed for a night out, but are a little
too put together for the lewd atmosphere. They’re here for the full
experience, but shy away from discussing the nearly naked men. For “health
reasons,” they’re going to forgo the lap dances tonight. They
will spend much of the show with their hands over their mouths, giggling
and asking each other, “Did you see that?” One of their number
is securely righteous when she tells me that she thinks it’s the lewdest
thing ever. (After the show, she changes her tune and says she’d certainly
go again.) For now, though, the suitemates nervously joke about the townified
nature of the crowd. The New Yorker of the bunch leans over to me and advises,
“Make sure you write down how scary the women are.”

“Which women?” I ask.

“All of them.”

She could very well be talking about the rest of the table, if by scary
she means intent on seeing a man in a G-string. To my right are a pair of
gravelly-voiced, tightly-coiffed 40-year olds who work for Yale on weekdays.
Although they’ve had strippers for birthdays, they’ve never been
to a strip show and are enthusiastic. Their cameras will guarantee lap dances
later in the evening.

They’ve come with one of the final women at the table, a petite Yale
undergrad they work with during the week. She sits across from me with her
friend, another student who’s been to a strip show before. They are
visibly excited, loud, ready to embrace the endless parade of flesh. They
will match the strippers’ enthusiasm, scream for scream, grind for
grind. When one of the girls gets her “birthday” lap dance, the
stripper will cradle her face in his hands and gleefully yell, “C’mere,
baby!” For her part, she will grab his ass as tight as anyone else
does that evening.

Everyone at the table, myself included, has a different reason for being
here tonight. Its “the experience,” “my friend’s birthday,”
“a writing assignment,” “to support a friend.” These
reasons, though individually defensible, ignore the fact that it’s
8:45, the show was supposed to begin 15 minutes ago, and the audience looks
like its about to mutiny if a man doesn’t get out on that dance floor
and flash his ass sometime soon.

The emcee jogs out to the middle of the dance floor, drawing a few cheers
of relief from the audience. He’s dressed casually but smartly, in
crisp blue jeans, a tight silver shirt, and a black leather blazer. He’s
a smooth character and good at relaxing the nervous first-timers into the
enthusiastic sexual aggression shared by the rest of the audience. He hawks
Niagara, Viagra’s carbonated fruit cousin, smoothly assuring, “When
these guys get you hot and horny, do whatever you want, cause you’re
the ones in control tonight.”

“How many girls here are just plain horny?” he asks.

“Take it off!” screams someone in the audience. This is the battle
cry of the evening, raised by the crowd when someone on the dance floor
is doing too much teasing and not enough stripping. The emcee’s doing
well, and the momentum is building.

He laughs and says, “Okay, my name’s Brett. Now you have to scream
out your name on the count of three. One, two, three!”

The women respond most heartily where I’m sitting, dubbed the “Sexy
Erection Section” by Brett. Apparently I’m surrounded by “season
ticket holders,” ladies who have been to shows before and have mastered
the proper “fold and stuff” technique for the placement of dollar
bills. The first timers don’t get off so easily. “Tonight you
are all fucking virgins,” Brett sarcastically intones. The season ticket
holders cheer. “Tonight, ladies, this is your one true opportunity
to be a virgin.”

The 40-year-old “virgin” to my right leans over and mutters to
me, “Oh God, I gotta go home.”

“Okay, ladies, are you ready to see your first naked man?”

Even the “virgins” join in as the crowd yells a forceful affirmative.
The momentum of female sexuality breaks for a moment when three women behind
me start yelling guttural “Yeah!”’s at Brett. Brett does
a double take. The testosteronic irony is clear: They’re playing the
alpha male at the Kitty Kat Club, loud, abrasive, and confused as to whether
they’re cheering for their favorite quarterback or favorite stripper.

Brett snaps his fingers, regains the crowd’s attention, and silkily
introduces “Marky Mark,” aka “Fireman Joe,” aka “the
New Haven Fire Marshall, here to inspect the ‘penal’ code.”

Marky Mark runs out of the wings like a pro-wrestler. His entrance music
is a crackly nursery rhyme chanted over a plinky music box melody. “He’s
a little fireman, he’s a little fireman, everyone knows he has a great
big hose.”

Barely 5’6” in boots, Mark is indeed little, but makes up for
his height with a chest and shoulders that threaten to pop out of his yellow
flame-retardant suit. A red fire helmet and coke bottle glasses top the
outfit. This is Mark’s act, his gimmick and hook. Every stripper has
one, whether it’s as a cowboy, a policeman, or a fireman. Mark’s
hook is unique in that it taps the self-deprecating vein of the striptease.
He’s not just up there to strip; the face he puts on is one of good
times, and he’ll be damned if he leaves the dance floor without making
everyone smile.

Mark reaches into his pants and pulls out a foot and a half length of fire
hose. He fondles it in time to the song for a moment before it fires a jet
of colored confetti from the nozzle. The women at my table burst out laughing.
The ice is broken, and the show starts in earnest as the house’s joyous
cheers are drowned out by the muscular techno standard, “Y’all
Ready For This?”

Mark tears off his jacket, revealing a grotesquely built body that strains
under a white elastic singlet. His bulk is no hindrance to his dance moves,
however, which squirt out of him like hair gel from a bottle, setting the
evening’s standard at an impossibly high level.
Amidst sidles and spins, he pulls off the singlet and heavy pants, temporarily
keeping the white briefs and heavy boots where they are. His solid bronze
body is unencumbered enough to leap through the air and land in a roll that
pops him back up bopping.

Mark brings the crowd to the cusp of panic before he executes the finishing
move. He cocks his head and milks the moment, as if he can’t hear the
screams of “Take it off!” He grins, rips off the briefs, and poses
there in all his green G-string glory. He swells his chest in happy pride
as the crowd begins to wave dollar bills like green flags at a bull.

He bounces over to his first lady, a wary college brunette whose head is
framed by her friends’ money. Her friends burst into cheers when Mark
leaps into her lap and guides her hands to his rear, exhorting her to “Squeeze!
Squeeze!” He takes hold of her hair and begins to gyrate, grind, and
pump his hips with convincing sincerity. The lap dance lasts for two or
three ferocious minutes, during which the girlfriends stuff the G-string
with bills, which give Mark’s modest package an ironic layer of virile
padding—so virile, in fact, that he’ll later have to transfer
the wad to his boot to make room.

Mark’s performance is clearly meant to be rough and sexual, but there’s
a moment at which he becomes oddly sweet. He dismounts, leans over, and
gives the brunette a soft peck on the cheek, a move the strippers repeat
all night long. She looks up at him and smiles. This unexpected affection
lasts for only an instant before Mark breaks the spell and witches his tanned
buttocks over to the next woman.

A theme begins to develop in Brett’s shtick between performers. He
jogs out after Mark’s maestro routine and asks, “Any women getting
married tomorrow?”

A suspicious third of the 100-woman crowd cheers, rallying around marital
plans that may or may not exist. Brett takes the 30 brides-to-be in perfect
stride. The Red Hot Pony Express attracts the marrying, married, and temporarily
unmarried to their shows on a regular basis. Brett turns to the openly wed
women to offer their counterparts some timely advice.

“Don’t do it!” yell the unrestrained wives to the college
students.

“Right,” Brett says. “Do you want to know what single stands
for? Stay Intoxicated Nightly, Get Laid Everyday.”

Another witty repartee between Brett and the crowd doesn’t go as smoothly,
but speaks to the same concerns. “Hey ladies, what’s the difference
between a tornado and a marriage?”

A witty gal behind me slurs, “They both drive you crazy!” Her
friends laugh at the bon mot.

“They both drive you crazy…” Brett mulls this over for a
moment. “No that’s not right. The answer is “nothing, ‘cause
in the beginning there’s a lot of sucking and blowing and in the end
you lose your house.”

Again and again over the course of the evening, Brett’s jokes and
the interactions between women and strippers riff on the marriage theme,
if only to make the lapdances and stripteases seem that much wilder and
more forbidden. The sexuality gets positively violent at moments, quite
often at the woman’s prodding; the strippers seem warier of the fine
line between sexy forcefulness and aggression. Someone behind me screams
at a stripper, “Come on baby, right here! I got a whole pocketful!
Get your ass over here!” She has five lap dances with him, each one
a violent ride that leaves her partner with red scratches on his ass.

By the time Brett announces the final stripper, an 18-year-old sailor,
the crowd is hurting. It’s unclear whether the ladies have anything
left to give after two visceral hours of screaming, waving bills, and getting
hauled up on the shoulders of ridiculously ripped men. The applause is weak
and could be as much for the end of the show as for the stripper. The undergrads
at my table have expressed an urge to do their own dancing. The show’s
gone on a little too long.

Brett brings two beautiful undergrads onstage and seats them across from
each other. A third chair, upon which rests a cane and top hat, is between
them. The well-dressed girls, one blonde, the other a brunette, look nervous,
but share a smile when Brett growls, “He’s your last naked man
… he’s an officer and a gentleman … his name is Corey!”

The theme from Top Gun blazes over the sound system and Corey, 26 years
old and a gym owner, strides into the spotlight. The over-30 crowd goes
wild. They leap from their seats and join the collective wail of the music’s
screaming guitars. At 6’6,” and blonde, blue-eyed, tan, and dressed
head to toe in officer’s whites, he’s as close to their dreams
as they come. He marches past the lucky pair, pivots on his right foot,
and stops at the edge of the stage, still at rigid attention. Corey snaps
his right arm into a serious and sincere salute, oblivious to the cheering
and catcalling crowd beneath him.

Corey brings his arm back down and the music changes again, this time to
Top Gun’s canonical anthem, “Take My Breath Away.” Corey
stands rigid for a moment more, then melodramatically sways, a lover’s
swoon, towards his onstage girlfriends. He rushes over to the blonde, gathers
her in his arms, and lifts her up as if she were as light as a feather.
Corey looks at her sweetly. She puts her arms around his neck. And they
spin once. Twice. Just like in the movies.

I freeze. I’m not the only one. All the cheering that had seemed so
sexual, so derisive, and so visceral, suddenly becomes everything I thought
a striptease wasn’t. Yes, a lap dance literally beats you over the
head with sexuality. Yes, the money’s too damn good for these strippers
to be in it for the love. But something happens in the exchange between
these paid men and liberated women that deserves to be understood. A woman
might come for the forbidden pleasure of paying a stranger to shower them
with physical attention, but at the end of almost every lap dance, there’s
a gentle kiss that brings it all right back to romance, however superficial.
It’s the perfect relationship: three minutes of hot sex and sweet nothings
with no messy break-up.

Not all of the women are touched by this sentimental moment. Some are laughing,
and some women left Toad’s an hour ago. But for the women who find
sexuality and romance watching a strip show, who imagine themselves both
in Corey’s bed and in his arms, this Red Hot Pony Express is really
something else. No wonder this place is packed.

 

Christopher Heaney is a junior in Timothy Dwight College..

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