Instead of having to scam mister streetcar driver with old transfers Hilary and I do our slithery step shimmy up through the back doors as they stay open when the passengers get off. We slide into the back seat putting our feet up. Just as we pass the Eaton Centre I look down to see if I recognize anyone from the Have-A-Java. “Are we there yet?” Hilary asks as we head over the bridge after the Humane Society. I anticipate seeing the tacky, airbrushed drawings of Poison video vixen-type women with puffy eighties hair inside neon pink frames outside Jillys. It’s kinda funny to think I would finally get a chance to go inside Jillys for the purpose of job possibilities.
We move into the dark, airless, smoky room with a neon Labatt Blue sign hanging over a pool table. The entire bar is small, but split up into two levels of seating where we choose table near the stage. It’s hard to accept the Jillys tiny rectangular stage as the proper place for a stripper to dance on after witnessing the airport runway sized platform at For Your Eyes Only. A tiny woman in a zebra print skirt clips up the stairs past the DJ booth to fix her bangs in the reflection of the back mirror and struts over to twirl on a pole on the far right edge. Maybe this was Canadiana kitchy, I muse. If Bob and Doug Mackenzie came to Toronto this is where they’d be for sure. “The queerest of the queer….the strangest of the strange…” her choice of dancing to a Garbage song makes it more fun to be here. It only takes a few minutes for an older, brunette waitress wearing a low cut lace tank top to approach us. “Justa bout to clear up your table, so how are youse ladies doing this evening?” she dumps the cigarette butts from the table into a soup can on her tray. Hoping that she’s not going to bug us for our I.D.’s. I launch into my sales pitch for us being in here. “We are feeling mighty fine thanks for asking, uh…we’re also kind of interested in maybe working here. I’ve heard fantastic things about this bar, and it’s our first time, so we should have a drink and check it out.” Did I say that with a slight twang? By the smile Hilary shot the waitress, it led me to believe I just did. “Sounds like a plan, so what can I getchya’s?” she looks at me and I order Tequila Sunrises for us. “Ever since that course you think you’re some big-hot-shot-jazz-era person at every bar doncha?” Hilary starts with me. “Well, if we worked in a hole like this for sure we’d have to slam back something harder then usual.” My eyes scan the room and take in the shabby décor of Jillys, from the potted plants to the mirrored wall – it’s too bizarre to be true. “For my stage shows, I’m totally going to dance to this song,” Hilary announces as another Garbage track, “Stupid Girl” starts to play.
Nodding my head I see some guy dressed in the same way Eugene Levy’s SCTV character “Bobby Bitman” dresses. “Hill – check this guy out,” I motion my chin over to him. With his dark afro-like hairdo, yellow tinted glasses, polyester suit with pointy collar and gold necklaces resting on his hairy chest, he’s our first strip club cliché! I watch our waitress approach him from the side and point our table out to him. “Annie, just wait and see, I betcha he’s the manager. Be cool.” Hilary directs me adjusting her sparkly scarf and tightening her ponytail. “Good evening girls. I can just tell from the vibes over here that you’re not here to just check out the show, but more interested in working here, am I right or am I right?” speaking just like a salesman on a mission, he moves his thick gold ring covered fingers around in a circle to encompass the area of the bar. Sizing him up I feel how he seems too ridiculous to be sleazy. I’m impressed by his warmth which ironically enough is just as genuine as the gold he’s sporting. He leans in closer to Hilary’s side of the table reaching out his hand for her to shake. She shoots me an expression which I read to be: how cool is this freak?
“My name is Steevie, and I’m the manager here at Jillys. Very pleased to make your acquaintance.” Noticing Hilary’s cigarette he produces a Zippo lighter with the playboy bunny symbol and does a flicking movement. His Zippo is low on fluid, forcing him to shake and retry a few times before a full flame appears. I like how his jewelry tinkles like chimes over the music every time he shakes his lighter – could I see him as my boss? “So whaddya Astrological signs?” he asks us. “I’m a Cancer,” Hilary answers smiling, sitting straighter and smoking happily. “I’m a Capricorn.” I reply, hoping that he’d tell us something about the club, rather than get personal. “Wow! Well, look at that. Now you know that’s a deadly combination, fire and earth, probably starting trouble together…or it could be balance each other out in someway. Either way, you both look like good girls. Where do you work now?” He is getting personal so I try my best answer, “She’s finishing up school and I’m pouring coffee.” Hilary quickly intercepts, “So Steevie, how much are the private dances here?” He shows us the areas which he refers to as their V.I.P’s off to the side. There are two small sections behind the large potted plants with shabby, grey upholstered chairs and tiny tables. My focus immediately goes to the chubby black girl doing a lap dance for a man wearing what resembles a TTC driver’s uniform. I watch her trying to move around his stomach in a g-string. Feeling unsettled again, I don’t want to stare too long, instead focusing on one of Steevie’s gold rings in the shape of a lions head. “All kinds of girls work here, very happily, and we have a lot of regulars and are always attracting more customers,” he reminds me of a waitress pushing dessert at a Swiss Chalet. It’s the way he’s trying to get us swayed by how popular the club is and not focusing on how shitty their V.I.P area really looks. He clears his throat to finish explaining, “So each song is ten bucks, but when it’s really busy you can do very well here. It helps to be on schedule too, and you being pretty, and smart girls may want to consider working the day shift.” Day shift? We never considered stripping as something we’d try during the day, nevermind how bizarre it seems to actually go to one of these places in the day. “Okay, so like, is there any touching allowed?” Hilary asks cocking her head. Steevie steps back, “What, what…you girls undercover cops or something? Nah…you know lap dancing is prohibited here, our girls don’t have any contact,” smiling he shakes my hand, “So you come back when you get your license Capricorn, I’ll take good care of you,” leaning over to Hilary he shakes her hand and winks at her too. I watch him go behind the bar and pat the back of the bartender and mumble something to him nod and walk away. He probably has to meet so many people and deal with tons of crap from customers and strippers I haven’t a clue how he keeps up such a genuinely happy demeanor.
Nearly knocking the tin ashtray onto the ground Hilary gets up, “Well I godda take a piss, and then we’re getting the hell out of Jillys.” A stripper with pink and purple extensions holding one of those little metal box purses teeters to the left of her. She looks drunk, but it’s hard to distinguish between drunk or high in this lighting. Once back outside we deeply inhale and cross Broadview to wait for the westbound Queen Streetcar, I ask Hilary if she was looking at how the girl was dancing in their awful VIP and if maybe all the strippers have to be either drunk or high to work there, or any of the places for that matter. “Oh my God for sure, the guys have to buy them drinks, that’s the policy I think. They can’t not get drunk, and I bet you there was more than one girl who’s on smack – for sure.” “Are you sure? Maybe they just smoked up.” I say in disbelief. “Maybe,” she says shrugging her shoulders. Could I see myself in a skin tight mini-dress with a glowing marijuana leaf pattern sitting at a table at Jillys? I asked myself this question while I was waiting for Hilary to finish in the bathroom. It was while we’re waiting for the streetcar that I make up my mind that I probably can’t do this, but another part of me knows that’s a lie. I can do this, and for the right amount of money I could do this. Hilary keeps complaining about where the streetcar is and suggests we hop in a cab to save time. “Where to geerls?” there was Punjabi music blaring out of his radio and the smell of a heavy incense throughout the cab making me guess we couldn’t light up. “Dundas and Jarvis please, “ Hilary tells him the main intersection for Filmores and lights up a smoke. “Okay but do not be smoking in here please geerls. I just washed cab.” Hilary begrudgingly puts her smoke away telling me to roll down my window for some, “god-damned air” As we jerkily bumped along I remembered a girl I grew up with in Public School who was mean to the core. Talia Zimmerman had lots of money and a mother who’d frequently pull her navy blue Audi up to the side of the schoolyard yelling insults and other random nonsense out the window to any of the girls Talia had pointed out as being a pain in the ass for her to deal with. Her mother was her heavy wearing rock-star sized black sunglasses even on a rainy day. She had skin to match her soul – pock marked and ruined. I can’t recall what I did that day to earn my turn to be chosen by her in front of my peers but I do remember what she yelled my way: “you belong on Jarvis, you know that? Go work on Jarvis!” Afterwards I asked my mother what the hell that meant, and she explained that most prostitutes worked on Jarvis. The irony being now here I am years later considering the possibility of working on Jarvis, in a strip club that has a hotel.
I hand the driver the six dollars and exit the cab. “Annie, before we go in lets make sure we get a chance to talk to the owner, or manager guy again, okay?” Hilary opens her compact checking out her lipstick. I apply another coat of mine and make sure my hair looks good. If there was anything redeeming about this investigation it is a much needed reprieve from my hair-loss obsession. “Let’s hope we get free drinks this time too,” I add as this excursion did not involve our usual hidden mickey.
As we open the door to Filmores the first thing I notice is how the air isn’t filled with smoke or cigar-smell like Jillys. Stepping in to a large pink carpeted room we hear the shouts of a few burly guys and people laughing. Putting ourselves near the centre of the room, I start looking around the place for a bouncer but don’t see one. “Lousy lovers…pick their graves but they never cry out loud.” The lyrics to Hole’s version of “Gold Dust Woman” blares as the stripper on stage is totally serious about doing this song justice. She’s wearing tiny gold short shorts and white platform heels kicking her leg as if it is her God given right to dance at Filmores.
A man in his mid-fifties with a noticeable belly approaches
our table. He’s wearing something my Zadie Archie used to wear, a button up shirt under a nice lemon yellow v-neck sweater. Similarly to my Zadie he has a calm and gentle manner when speaking to the waitress, and I hope that he’s the manager. “What would you do ladies like to drink?” he asks like someone who’s just answered our prayers. “Long Island Iced Tea’s please.” I order and give him a toothy smile. He tells the waitress to bring the drinks and add them to his tab. He sits to Hilary’s right and starts telling us about the club’s history and how they’re in the process of cleaning up after the whole lap dance fiasco got out of hand. Hilary doesn’t waste any time, “So does the conventional or typical lap dance involve the stripper to move around on some strangers lap without any clothes on?” she asks him without any editing. I’m am impressed with her gutsiness and wait for his response. “Okay, so you want to know the truth? It’s not hard to find girls doing that very thing in maybe, Brass Rail or someplace but here at Filmores we have a strict no-contact policy. That is why the dancers use the stools, and we have the licensing commission come in so often that we really can’t afford to take any chances,” he leans back and seems happy to share anything that will help our inquiry of this business. Maybe he too had to go through this more than once a week, but I am really not thrilled about the stools he was referring to. They had them lined up in front of white upholstered chairs which were all empty. They have a VIP area that’s totally out in the open, as opposed to Zanzibar. I wanted to ask him about that, but Hilary was already asking him where we get these “licenses”. “If you don’t have your licenses don’t worry – you can both work here on special terms where I know you’re going to buy your license right away with the money that you’re going to make in your first shifts. I can get you girls on schedule right away too, and that way it’s all going to balance itself out nicely.” He speaks slowly and calmly. He didn’t seem to be trying to scam us, I think. As I sip my cocktail I tell him how we’re concerned at how much money they cost and if it’s worth it to invest in it initially without knowing if the business is right for us. Hilary shot me a look which I read as: ‘Do not get him to doubt our commitment and not buy us another round’ “So how much would we make on a regular night here?” she speedily asks. “Uh, well anywhere from one forty to at least one sixty.” Pausing he searches the room for someone, but not a specific someone, just a girl that could maybe do a better job of convincing two grunge suburbanite Jews that there was plenty of cash to be made at Filmores. “Hey Helena…”a stripper wearing a neon green and orange spandex shorts and halter top outfit turns around and cautiously comes over to our table. Looking up at her Hilary asks her politely about her costume, and where she’d find something like that to work in.
“Costume lady…some stores on Yonge,” Helena answers in an accent which is clearly Eastern European. Judging from her gold necklaces and pointy eyebrows I guess maybe Russia or Hungary. The manager puts his hand on her hip, and she doesn’t flinch. I wondered if I’d let my manager touch my bare waist, and rationalize how it’s all part of her world. If Tom even looks at me funny I get pissed. “These two girls would like to know if they’re working here, how much approximately would they make on an average night – at least one forty right?” “Oh For Shoore. Tonight I make eighty dollars already and eets only eleven thirty?” she glances down at her little gold watch and I prompt her, “you’ll make more right?” “Yeah, for shoore. It’s still not that busy yet.” I see her scratching at her tanned, cellulite-free thigh and notice she’s sporting a black leather pouch-band with a zipper velcroed around her right ankle, instead of a purse. She goes back to the floor to continue her business, and I assume that meant somehow trying to get a guy to go with her to their VIP for a no-contact stool show. “So I have to see how things will turn out for you two. Are you girls going to come back to the club tomorrow? I’m in my office as early as four o’clock most days.” He pats his back pocket for what I think is a business card, but pulls out a matchbook that says Filmores with a tiny picture of a topless lady. “Thank you for the drinks, and for answering our questions,” I feel as it comes out I’m authentic about how I really mean it. On our way to Dundas subway I ask her if she thinks he genuinely cares for our well being. “Look, where that guy is coming from he’s scared about being busted again by the cops, and he could have even thought we were undercover reporters or something. Did you even take a look around at how dead it really was in there compared to For Your Eyes and Jillys?” again Hilary’s analysis of a situation presents a much more realistic and absolutely viable explanation for almost everything I had overlooked due to my preoccupation with not being creeped out by their manager. We walked in silence for two blocks until I ask Hilary what’s on her mind. “I was just thinking how we could just get our licenses and totally start tomorrow,” reaching into her purse she pulls out her pink knit cap. Fixated by loose tobacco and wrappers falling from it as she shakes it out, I wonder what it must feel like to be one of her many possessions that come from various areas of her bedroom and purse. Pulling it down over her head makes her resemble a movie star from the sixties. By the time we’re halfway home to Finch Hilary is ready to have a cigarette and turn this into a smoking car. We have always smoked on the way back from an excursion to a dance club, but make sure it’s always the last car furthest away from any TTC people. I take the opportunity to discourage her doing it as it’s been a long night and I didn’t feel like running if we get caught. “Come on Hill, please don’t light up, look we only have five more stops to go,” I plead with her tempted to rip the smoke out of her hand. She pauses and looks me directly in my eyes. “Okay fine. I’d never do something to get us caught but I’m going to light this shit the second the doors open.” Putting her feet up she let her cigarette ready hand rest on her leg. “Can you imagine how we’d feel after a shift at Filmores? You’d probably have to cab the ride back home and that’s a long-ass trip Hill, not to mention how much that costs.” I say hoping to break the mood. “Yeah, that’s a potential problem. That and competing with Russian strippers that know how to work a stool dance.” She said and I laughed. I liked that there was the possibility that we wouldn’t ever go through the whole process of getting our license and try working at a club. The more I laugh and picture us trying to wear those shoes or outfits, the more I just can’t conceive us carrying out this plan. And… if Hilary’s not lighting up her smoke when the doors at Finch open is any indication of how chicken-shit we are, I can now relax and give searching for a bartending job another try.