Bare Necessities

Sometimes a girl -- even an almost-naked girl -- just needs a mom.

"Mom, will you clasp this necklace, please?"

"Here you go. That looks nice. Very nice."

"I like your necklace, too," the stripper says politely. It's a faux-pearl choker in the shape of a bowtie, worn with Pat's sensible business shirt and powder-blue pantsuit. Hers are the only flats in the room, unless you count bare feet.

Girls! Girls! Girls! Pat Patterson oversees the action in 
La Boheme's basement dressing room.
John Johnston
Girls! Girls! Girls! Pat Patterson oversees the action in La Boheme's basement dressing room.
The lowly Red Garter.
Gary Isaacs
The lowly Red Garter.

All around her, the dancers sway to a seemingly endless techno soundtrack. "I can block it right out," Pat says proudly. "Just like when your kids are little and they're bickering. That kind of training comes in handy."

Very handy. "I heard about that," an irate dancer is saying as she bursts into the room. "Apparently, she's fucking him. That place is going to hell. The girls all hate it. Fuck that place. This dressing room is a hell of a lot better, anyway."

"You hear that crude language? I'm used to it," Pat says.

"Oh, Mom, can I have a Band-Aid? Look at my knee from dancing last night. Is it terrible to go on stage wearing a Band-Aid?"

"No, it's perfectly all right," she says, then adds, "It's also fine to have tattoos here. At the Diamond, I spent a lot of time covering up tattoos."

Upstairs, the crowd has been building steadily. Girls who aren't dancing are drinking at the bar or chatting up the customers. A nice, intimate passing of the time can lead to a table dance, or even a chance to be "bought off the list," meaning a dancer is allowed to keep talking and drinking -- and possibly fending off handsiness -- instead of returning to the stage.

From her subterranean vantage point, Pat tries to get a sense of what's going on above her head. Because eventually, she says, it all comes back into play in the locker room.

"Jealousies develop," she explains. "You have to break up arguments. Some of the girls are male magnets -- men can't seem to throw enough money at them. Others just sit around up there for no apparent reason. At the Diamond, every four or five months there'd be a fight that had to be broken up by security. Or you have to drive them home, and you have to be firm. 'You're not driving anywhere by yourself in your condition,' I'll say."

Sometimes, to her horror, a dancer will spot a man in the audience -- a family member, say, or a college classmate -- who has no idea what she does for a living and whose ignorance she wants to preserve. That's when Pat smuggles the girl out of the club.

"People have no idea what kind of effort it takes to work like these girls do," she says. A case in point: the Asian dancer who, at last count, had been sitting on biker/Buddha's lap for three hours and has just dragged herself downstairs for dinner.

"I have cramps," sighs a bodybuilder whose dress fits like latex. "I usually smile, but I'm forcing that smile out my ass tonight."

"...and then my car was towed. God, it's a long story," says the dancer in the baby-doll mini-dress, as she heads back upstairs.

"Driving while Hispanic -- that was her crime," Pat announces. "It's terrible that such things even happen."

A recent Russian immigrant -- a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe, if she were six feet tall and raven-haired -- tweezes an errant pubic hair. A girl with electric-blue hair adjusts her makeup. "Gosh, someone give me a boob job," another girl pleads, to no one in particular. "If anyone needs one, it's me. Desperately."

"I hate my clothes," sighs someone else.

Pat listens carefully. She's thinking of rewriting one of her young-adult novels and has been told that her teenage characters don't use up-to-date language. Setting aside the occasional obscenity, which she would never dream of transcribing, she absorbs dialogue here to her heart's content.

And as she listens, she moves quickly down the row of chairs, picking up dirty dishes and straightening up. "Somewhere along the line," she says, "I always think all this will help me with my writing."

Italia/Brooklyn reappears, elated, with a handful of bills in one hand and a locker key in another. Her audition has been successful.

"What do you think of 'Ghost' for a name?" she asks the room, which remains silent.

As she ponders the name question, Italia/Brooklyn/Ghost tries on a long black evening gown.

"Finally!" a friend tells her. "You look like a lady for the first time all night!"

"You really do look very classy," Pat assures her.

"Wait! I have my name! How about Justice? I'm very honest," she explains, "and I always wanted to be a lawyer."

"This," says another dancer, without a trace of sarcasm, "is terribly unique."

"It's Justice," the new girl decides. "Definitely."

And Justice heads upstairs for her first official shift as a La Boheme stripper.

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