The bouncer’s eyebrows knit together as he stoops over his desk and contemplates the Yale University Student I.D. A thought suddenly rouses the muscles of his face and he bellows, “Hey Phil, It’s Yale night, ain’t it?”
And yes, as advertised by the Rumpus, Tuesday night at The Catwalk is indeed Yale Night, a night when no other college but our beloved is given free entry (albeit with a two-drink minimum) to what the New Haven Advocate 2002 Awards have titled “Best Adult Entertainment Club.” Stagedoor Johnnies, but a few blocks away on St. John’s Street, is the only rival New Haven has offered up to this premiere venue. The Catwalk bartendress topples that club with a single verbal barb: “The women there are grimy, overweight, and just too old.”
The immaculate interior of the Catwalk, the halls in which its nymphs prance, unfurls like a post-modern pastoral arcadia, the dark beneath the reflective surface of a beautiful stream. Such splendor is drawn up from the plush chairs, gliding along velvet curtains to red and blue lights that stem forth from immense, bouquet-like chandeliers. Along one wall of the inner sanctum (the performance space itself), a fresco depicts a bridge extending in the sunset towards the Manhattan skyline. The symbol is clear: deep beneath the massive arches of the oh-so-phallic bridge, in a place set apart from “the city,” The Catwalk has constructed its own pleasure paradise.
Cici, Lexi, Onyx — strippers, yes. But also performers, magicians! This is the theatre of magic, in which these sorceresses exhibit fantastical feats of sexuality without ever moving beyond the illusory. Customers must keep hands off! — unless Cici permits you to gently stroke her hair. These women control all facets of the realm of pleasure, engaging their viewers in brief moments of personal attention when a few singles are laid out on the counter. Cici, time-efficient to no end, satisfies and gets her cash in one sweeping motion, clipping dangling singles from the mouths of her adorers with the cleavage of her breasts. Lexi spins and twists to Matchbox Twenty, finally flipping herself upside-down on the dancing pole and sliding slowly down, legs extended to excited eyes. Onyx adds an unusual intimacy to the cash exchange, chatting with her customers while arching backwards into their laps. The buyers hastily cough, or sigh, or fumble for their drinks, victims of hands off!, of the magic handcuffs of the club. It’s torture, but at least it’s more “real” than porn.
And the only thing one could want more from a Tuesday night at the Catwalk would be for Yale students to capitalize on the club’s marketing, to add a youthful flair to the generally middle-aged crowd, and to try their luck against the sorcery of the Catwalk temptresses.
I’m not going to say I didn’t like the cross-dressing. I liked the cross-dressing. Wearing black pants and a tuxedo shirt, I imagined myself as a kind of Gina Gershon in “Showgirls,” the kind of woman who was tough, who could separate herself from it all, could handle a strip club like a man. I walked in beneath the dark purple of the entrance. All seedy underbellies belonged to me and I to them.
Then I saw one of the girls. “Ah!” I said to Tyler. “She’s naked!”
“It is a strip club,” he said.
Below us, five steps down and twenty feet away, Cici, a busty Latina with long black hair, stood on all fours wearing just a thong. Two feet from her bare body sat two men, nodding approvingly.
“I don’t think I can handle this,” I said, but Tyler didn’t hear me. So I decided to calm myself. I thought about the night over winter break when a bunch of my guy friends were watching “Showgirls” and challenged me to watch with them. At first it disgusted me, but after a while I got used to it and began laughing at the jokes just as they did. Surely the same would happen here. I was no–I looked around at the dancer on stage who was slipping her thong around her ankles and off. I could handle this.
I sauntered up to the bar and asked the bartender, a small woman with beady made-up eyes, if she had a schedule or a calendar that said who was dancing on what night. She handed me a year’s calendar with a picture of a different girl for each month.
“All the pictures are on the back,” she said. I looked at the excited expression in her eyes and turned the calendar over to see the same eyes smiling up from a naked body.
“Thanks,” I said quickly and hurried away. There was no escaping it. I had to go down to the stage.
Four men sat around the stage, as though they were the regular counter customers at a local diner. On one side, two men sat together, one hooting appreciatively beneath a dark mustache, the other wearing two giant earrings oddly reminiscent of Elton John. Across from them, a pudgy teenager sat next to a man with the huge glasses and greasy hair of a TV movie pervert who was reading a porno magazine.
The dancer now on stage was Lexy, a remarkably pretty blonde with long legs and a perfect body. She wore only a belt and translucent high heels. I was beginning to feel a little better. If there was any power dynamic here, certainly it was to her advantage.
She brought her body close enough to touch the men and I saw that she was collecting the bills that they had left in front of them. I squinted and saw that they were $1 bills. She picked them up with a strange ritual, taking the folded bills up in her hand, then placing them in each man’s mouth and guiding his head in between her breasts.
There was a moment in “Showgirls” when I stopped laughing and started hating it, a graphic rape scene that left me with a feeling of horror unfelt since the first scene of violence I ever saw, Fagan’s murder of Nancy in the musical “Oliver.” Suddenly, I felt that again. My fleeting maturity passed and I found myself driven from Lexy and her legs, from the $1 bills, from the dancing pole and the pervert and his porn magazine. I walked back up to the bar where a patron sat watching the game on a small TV in the corner. I breathed in the exhaled smoke and watched the way the bartender chatted with everyone as she passed out the drinks, feeling lucky that it all disgusted me, lucky that I wasn’t the kind of woman who could separate myself, lucky that I wasn’t that cool.