Tagged: Le Strip

The Bare Necessities (Chapter 12)

“Annie, make sure it’s locked.” Hilary says choosing a needle from a few she has in her blue velvet jewelry box. 
I ask her, “Why do you need to do this now?” When we get into the change room in the lingerie department at the Bay I see how she tosses the pile of slips and bras aside to get something from her purse, which I knew wasn’t vodka as we already discussed how we’d take a booze break today so I could drink at the Have-A-Java Christmas party.  After she puts down the spoon and breaks off a filter from her smoke I know something is up. Bending down I pick up one of the needles like I would a pencil, uncap it and examine how the teeny silver point is slanted. It’s hard to imagine this piercing through skin, muscle, and veins without hurting. 
“Whoa, these are just like the ones that Kendal had,” I say watching her remove her baby-pink long john shirt with a white snowflake pattern to tie the sleeve around her arm tightly. She’s not wearing a bra. She’s comfortable enough with this to shoot up topless. I debate if I should reprimand her as the lingerie saleslady no doubt could already be suspicious of us just sharing one change-room or I can just watch this drug procedure pretending as if I’m okay with it.  Opening up the tiny envelope she taps a little heroin into the spoons cradle with as much attention to detail as she’s put into untangling my necklace or rolling up a wayward cassette tape.  
“So…I just found out that you can pre-make needles and they’ll stay fresh for twenty four hours, only I didn’t really get a chance before I left the house, so I figure I’ll just do it now.” She tells this to me without dividing her attention from liquefying the heroin. 
     Somewhat less miffed I ask her, “Are you sure that nobody will know you’re doing this?”
“So sure,” she says as her mouth acts like a third hand much like Kendal’s had to when pulling up the needle’s orange plunger while her right hand holds it in place on her left arms victim vein.  Deciding to watch her stick herself with this needle while trying on push-up bras, I examine how her blood gets sucked into the tiny glass tube and sucked back into her arm again. When the crimson drop rises in the inside of her elbow she just licks it off. I’m actually impressed with Hilary’s new ritual of gathering all the apparatus in one place without losing anything and wonder how much longer this procedure will take. 

Opting to try on a bra while she’s occupying herself with achieving her goal, I search through the pile and pull out a shiny, lavender push-up one and adjust the straps.  Seeing how good it makes my boobs look in the reflection I ask her if she digs it. I try to get her attention by tossing a black negligee her way. Her face is looking sallow. I can’t figure out what to make of all this. I’m feeling scared in a way that never happens when we hang out and I don’t know how to deal with my fear. It’s a friends responsibility to make sure that another friend doesn’t do shit that stupid, I think, and it’s not easy to convince her to stop trying to perfect this process. I feel my chest and throat tighten and it’s so uncomfortable I want to shake her and yell. I can’t hide my fear so it shifts into anger. “You’re not going to puke again are you? Cause that really makes you look gross.” I tell her still trying to feign detachment. Rising quickly she plucks a ruby red slip dress from her pile. The color matches her new shoes perfectly.  Still topless she pulls it on and starts to take off her cords, “No…no…I’m not going to puke. I am already way past that stage. It only happens the first six or seven times and that’s it.”
  “Okay,” so now I know she’s done it more times behind my back. That’s not good. I see how her skinny frame is flattered by the cut of the slip dress and understand why waifs got popular in fashion. 
  “That one kicks ass my friend, definitely a keeper.” I compliment her choice feeling slightly sick. 
  Agreed. It only makes sense to steal the co-ordinating g-string too.” Hilary picks up the g-string ripping off the tags. I watch her watch herself in the mirror push them into her purse. As we continue to try on g-strings over our Bubby underwear she checks her eyes in the mirror every minute or so to see if her pupils were pinned as much as I check to see if the fit is flattering. 
“Are you okay” I ask.
“It’s just like I’m normally. I don’t show any physical signs of change, other than my pupils and I’mmuch more relaxed, totally different than booze.” She pulls out her compact to get a closer look at her face. 
 “And the whole point of doing it is?” I wait for her to answer me with her eyes half-open. 
 “It’s letting me stay relaxed so I’m not obsessing on my hair falling out or thinning and I really don’t focus on it or my weight so much. I’m not going to get hooked, fuck, I don’t plan on giving drinking up for this.” Her tone shifts to her regular voice instead of a quieter-slur, “Annie…don’t worry. Let’s  share these outfits. Okay? Cool?”
 “Yeah, cool. I just wanna pay for the bra and g-string and other stuff first.” I tell her pulling out my wallet. 
We walk out of the department and I’m now curious how it feels to be high on heroin. Because of my unbridled and inflated fear of needles I now I’m a huge chicken and won’t ever try it. I can’t even talk myself into getting my belly button pierced or a tattoo for the same reasons. I can watch Hilary’s behavior alongside remember addicts I’ve read about in biographies and seen in films, but never actually ever truly know.


   “So what are you feeling now?” I ask.
“Literally like I am floating inside a tank. Just wait till they all get a load of me,” she responds in a voice that seems distant, even with her walking beside me. 
 “Do you want to keep thieving costumes, or do you think it’s time to go out to Yonge Street to buy music?” 
“Let’s do music now!” she answers knocking into my shopping bags. 
“HMV or Sams?” I ask her distracted by the sweet aroma from the Kernels stand.
“HIV” she says the nickname for the best selection of alternative CD’s anywhere in Toronto. We push against the big glass doors. I watch her lean into the door and then the door half-way opens and she strangelystruggles like she can’t do it. I watch some lady behind her look frustrated trying to exit. 
“Annie!” I hear my voice being called out by my girlfriend Elaine. Some people question whether or not you can ‘sound’ Jewish. Elaine’s word inflections make most of her sentences sound as if she’s asking a question even if she’s not, and if you ask me – that’s pretty Jewish. Turning around I watch Elaine catch up to us with her school bag across her chest and her camera around her neck.  
  “Hill…wait..it’s Elaine,” by the expression on Hilary’s face I can tell she’s not thrilled to be running into her. They both attend the same alternative school, and she too schleps from Finch downtown like us. Being a year younger than her, Hilary figures she takes it upon herself to act rude as if she possesses some superior maturity. Ironically enough my other friend Carrie acts this way to Hilary, so the cycle continues. She greets us with a huge grin on her face. 
“Hey!” I hug her and Hilary nods. “Are you taking photos for school?” I ask her noting the old-school Pentax
“No, I’m just helping out a friend with shots for her band and stuff. In no way was she as wild and fun as you and Hilary were when I got to do a shoot with you guys.”
“Yeah, that was a pisser.” Hilary says. Elaine reaches out to touch her purse.
“I love your tapestry bag so much, I’ve been meaning to say how much I like it when I see you outside at school in the afternoon having a butt. This year is hard eh?” If only Elaine knew what was inside it. Trying to connect with her but slowly failing I watch how Hilary sheepishly smiles as they talk,
 “School…whatever…I wouldn’t know cause I’m skipping today.” Hilary searches for her gum.
 “I really like our History teachers, wasn’t one of them in a band or something?” Elaine asks her. Hilary shakes her head. 
“I think you’re right Elaine he was in a band and you know what I was remembering when I went there? I remembered how I was so happy to be in the smaller classes. You’ll definitely get opportunities to do more artistic projects there than at a regular high-school.” My intentions are to try to somehow encourage her to keep pursuing her art. Looking down at my shopping bags she asks,
“What’s with all the stuff? You’re early holiday shopping?”
 As soon as she said that Hilary’s foot flies into the back of my ankle. I can easily pick up on the inconspicuous sign that she wants me to keep my mouth shut about stripping, glad that she didn’t kick harder. Hoping that Elaine doesn’t think that I’m being rude on purpose I blurt out,
“Well…I saw something I really wanted at World of Shoes, and it kind of started from there. You know how that goes right?” I lie. 
 She nods then her eyes go big, “Oh My God, you fully reminded me – I have your ring. The one that you left behind months back at the studio when we did the shoot. They found it under the make-up table.” Elaine reaches into her back-pack and hands me the purple rhinestone ring shaped like a daisy. It feels good to slip it on my middle finger. 
“Thanks hon!” feeling stupid about not telling her what we were up to, I decide that I’ll just call her when I get home. 
“Do you guys want to grab a tea with me?” she invites us and Hilary grabs the bottom of my jacket pulling me in her direction. 
“Sorry Elaine, we can’t we’re going to HMV. Call me later!” I say feeling so dumb walking away.
“While you’re there you should check out a CD from a band called Helium. You’ll love it!” she calls out. Once away in a reasonable distance I turn to Hilary and tell her how un-necessary her rudeness really was. Foraging through her tapestry purse she pulls out a broken cigarette throwing it on the ground. 
“Okay, first off we kinda need to talk more about who we’re going to say something to about what we’re doing and who we’re not saying shit to.” Hilary says adamantly. I have already made up my mind that I want Elaine to know. 
  “Yeah, okay.”
“Unless we have a good sense that they’re not going to make a super big deal out of it, and they’re probably cool to begin with. SO with her…I go to school with Elaine and that’s not cool.” Hilary pulls out a black lighter with a wad of gum stuck to it. I ask her what bugs her so much about Elaine. 
“I’m not bugged, as much as fucking annoyed by how hard she tries to be and dress different with her vintage pants and layers of purple or blue mascara and eyeliner. Just watch out with who you say anything to, like the people you work with at the Have-a-Java or whatever.” As she speaks I focus on the two sharp pencil tip points of her pupils. Because her eyes are so clear and green they really stand out. It doesn’t take a doctor to understand that she not only changed physically, but psychologically after shooting up. 
 “Okay, I agree to use discretion, and not reveal your stripping, even if I’ve revealed mine.” Crossing my fingers on the hand holding the shopping bags, I try to breathe and feel better about my negotiation. She seems pleased with my promise.  Now we’re going to get our stage music and I’m so excited  as music was the best part of trying this out. The freedom of being able to choose which songs to dance too was a big deal.

 “I want to dance to that P.J. Harvey song they played in the movie The Basketball Diaries,” I tell her. 
Right…Down By the Water.” She says flipping through the P’s. “here” she effortlessly pulls it out. Holding it’s skinny CD case in my hand I hear the ghostly lyrics being whispered in my ear: Little fish big fish swimming in the water come back here man gimmie my daughter.

“It would make the perfect third song, doncha think?” I ask her. 
“Yeah, I think I want it as my third song.” She says possessively. Of course she’d stake her claim on the one cool track that I really wanted solely as my third song. I try to convince her to pick something else. Maybe another track that we heard during our investigation?
“I thought you wanted to use Radiohead as your third song. Or you could pick a Hole song…” I think about how essential this choice is as both of us know how scary the idea of taking off all our clothes is so wanting the comfort of known music for this step in our stage shows makes sense. Looking down at other CD’s she exclaims,
“Oh you know what I really wanted was something from Tori Amos or Fiona Apple for my third song.”She says. I let out a sigh of relief and look around at all the CD’s I would love to buy, hoping that I’ll make enough money soon so that I can just walk in and do just that. After I pay for our CD’s I ask her if she’s interested in coming to my work dinner with me knowing that my bosses wouldn’t mind at all. In fact they said we could bring a date. I also ask because maybe she wouldn’t feel the need to get high again. 
“No, I think I’m headed back toward Finch and getting my homework and other shit done.” Her initial high seemed to be slipping away and the old Hilary returning. 
 “Cool, okay I’ll keep the bags and call you tomorrow.” I was getting swallowed up by the groups of commuters coming out of offices. 
“Yeah, I’ll probably call you tonight,” she called out to me. I wasn’t sad about the way our shopping excursion went, but I wasn’t happy with how things went either. There was something about her shooting up that divided us. If we had shared a mickey it wouldn’t have been that way at all. Reviewing the day walking down Yonge I passed Le Strip on my right side and it occurs to me that I can actually legally work there now. It wouldn’t be my first choice but now with our new licenses we are able to work in these places that were taboo and unknown before a week ago. Again my thoughts turn to Hilary’s heroin use – would she be shooting up at the strip club we work at? I wondered why everything always rolled along so perfectly and then she has to do something to fuck it up. The resentment towards her begins to build up inside me and I knew that I would have to start depending on myself more now rather than our friendship to provide me with serious inner strength to try stripping. The license was paid for, as was the shoes and costume, so I had to do it now. Looking at my purple rhinestone daisy ring I think that I’ll wear it on stage. I need to feel comfortable, and I’ll let them see my body but never will I take this ring off. The bags feel heavy and so does my head. I want to find somewhere to lie down and rest before the Christmas party but don’t know where to go. It’s the first time I feel this way and I don’t like it at all. I can’t wait to start drinking. 

THE INVESTIGATION: 
PART 2: ZANZIBAR, LE STRIP & BRASS RAIL (CHAPTER 7)

Zanzibar is much bigger than Las Vegas, and pretty much looks like what I’d imagine a strip club should with red stage lights, red vinyl booths and black lacquered tables. The colour scheme seems as suitable as chrome and turquoise would be for a 50s diner.  Even the customers matched the standards of the bar, as I’m thinking about how Tom would probably pick this club, a man with grey hair, glasses and mustache turns around and to my relief isn’t my boss.

“Before we sit down, let’s talk to a waitress,” Hilary points to the cocktail waitress dressed in an old-school black leotard with fishnets, white button up shirt tied around her chest with a pink bow tie. All she needs to complete her look is a cane and hat and she’s ready to do Chorus Line. Her brown hair is tied back in a high pony-tail and just to throw off the look, she wears heavy-rimmed glasses.

“Just so you girls know, Zanzibar has a strict no contact policy for private dances – cause of licensing and there’s a designated section in the back called the V.I.P.” she tells us while loading up her tray with bottles of Coors Light and wet glasses. We ask her about costumes. “No, the club won’t give you costumes or shoes, I recommend that you sit down and chat with one of our dancers who are freelancing tonight. I have to go deliver these.” She expertly balances her tray while gliding off, her pony-tail waving to us good-bye.  I didn’t quite understand what she meant by ‘freelancing’.

We sit down on red vinyl chairs in front of the stage to watch a muscular black girl with shiny skin perform tricks on their hanging trapeze. We’re silent watching her swing back and forth to “Killing in The Name” a Rage Against the Machine song that always gets the crowd going at Catch 22.  Her body-builder-contestant-type frame takes the focus off the fact that she doesn’t have huge boobs which demystifies the idea that you need a big rack to strip. Whether it’s the fact that I’m watching a topless girl seductively swing around on stage, or the fact that we’re the only women who aren’t working tonight, I start to feel anxious. Looking to my side I notice how my partner in crime isn’t fazed at all.

“She’s totally Grace Jonesey kick ass,” Hilary mouths at me and bobs her head to the song. Surveying the scene around me I watch girls in bikini tops and g-strings standing around booths and one girl in a rhinestone strapless mini-dress sitting beside a customer. All of these women are our age or maybe a year or two older.

“Gentlemen it is time to put your hands together for Terrifying Tatiana who’s coming out to do one more song. Next up is Crazy Daisy, so stick around as all of our sexy ladies are available for private dances.”  The D.J.’s voice sounds like a radio announcer from Q107 from the (tacky?) delivery and deep kick of testosterone combined. My eyes are drawn to a man in a business suit stand up to follow a negligee adorned stripper with what seems to be a picture perfect Pulp Fiction Uma Thurman black bob, but when I see it from the other angle I realize it’s a wig. Her metal-black lunchbox purse sways back and forth.

“Can you imagine how much money these guys need if they want to come into one of these strip clubs?” I ask Hilary. The waitress returns to us to find out if we got a chance to talk to a ‘freelancer’ yet.

“I think we’re on our way out, but thanks again for your help,” Hilary tells her butting out her smoke. Quickly I ask her about the freelancing comment. She explains how not every girl is a house girl, as some travel from club to club like free agents.  I imagine a tour-bus delivering them.

“Good luck!” she wishes us raising her tray.

Our next destination is Le Strip – where Kashara works. Walking south on Yonge past Dundas we pass the famous Burger King where the cops surrounded us on Halloween. The area is busy with kids and people coming and going, all oblivious to where we just were. I revel in that secret, and begin to launch into a tour-guide character’s voice to entertain us. Attempting to mimic the tone of the Zanzibar’s D.J. announcements I enact my own performance, “Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to the shitty part of Yonge Street where you can waste your money seeing Phantom of the Flopera, or you can take your hard-earned loonies and save them for the lovely ladies awaiting you inside Le Strip. Oh yes, it’s practically an institution, what with it being the oldest strip club in the city.”

“Is it?” Hilary challenges me.

“Oh yes my friend, one can see by the vintage signage and oak wood fire-proof door they want you to appreciate its authentic historical antiquity.” We make our way up the narrow stairs lit up by the same little light tubing they use in movie theatres.
“Annie! Don’t touch the railing!” Hilary warns me, all of a sudden super germ conscious.

“Okay…” I push the door open with my hip when we get to the top. Unlike the other two strip clubs this place has rows of attached seating set up like in a theatre. The stage juts out matching the level of the front seats and has blue lights setting off a background photo-mural of the Toronto skyline at night. Maybe this place truly is a Toronto institution we should have known about, I simultaneously deeply fascinated and saddened by, reflected upon.

Dark oak wood wainscoting runs all the way through the room with three television sets stacked on top of one another playing porn that has a woman swallowing a huge dick. I am trying to look and not look.

“Why do they play porn when there are real naked girls on stage?”

“I don’t know, but should we stand in the back here or sit down in the back row?” Hilary asks and then moves over to the seats slinging her bag over.

As Debbie Harry croons, “Once I had a love and it was a gas, soon turned out had a heart of glass..” some older stripper’s grayish -blue legs were totally spread eagle on stage and some customer in the front row practically falling over into her crotch. She sticks her fingers inside herself and pulls them out to shove them under his nose.

“Oh my God, I’m totally not going to do that,” Hilary says with more than a hint of repulsion.

“Me neither, forget it,” I half whisper as a girl passes me by.
“How can that Katara chick work here?”

“It’s Ka-sha-ra,” I correct her and as I scan the room for her, she appears on stage, not in sandals but a platform pair of ruby red mary-janes. Her Miss Piggy legs stick out of her pink booty shorts that are half-swallowing her tush. She didn’t look that much different in her face than when she came into our store, but after my shock wore off I nudged Hilary.

There she is! That’s Kashara on stage.” Hilary’s eyes widened. For lack of a pole, the girls make use of platform black boxes to lean against or prance around. We had used similar ones in our drama classes for our scenes. The strange thing about those cubes was that with just a hint of physical or verbal suggesting something could convince you it was a boat, car, or a prop on a strip club stage if you mimed a pole. Like those boxes Kashara was morphing into a stripper. After her set she came out and I approached her. Her face was relaxed about me bringing Hilary here to watch her show. I explained to her, “We’re sort of investigating, and we really don’t know anything about the business, or – “ Hilary interrupts, “what exactly is a lap dance?” Kashara tucks her hair back, takes an inhale and smiles with amusement.

“What happens in a private dance here, is we have a token-system where the guy has to pay first at the counter and we turn in these tokens at the end to get our money, but he can tip us if he wants, and we go into a booth thing that’s like a little room with a bench and that’s where the private dances happen.” She fiddles with her hair and then moves her hands to her pack of smokes lighting one up.

“Can the guy touch you?” I hesitantly ask.

“There’s strictly no touching, but that doesn’t mean some wont try. Like last week this old guy stuck his finger in me and I freaked out and got him taken out,” she exhales nodding without an inkling of embarrassment. I figure maybe she just doesn’t know about the other clubs and how they have real stages with poles.

Before we take off, where did you buy your shoes?” I point to her platform mary-janes.

“Oh… you know at the corner? The World of Shoes? They may have these in blue also,” sticking her leg out we admire their metallic shine. Impulsively I give her a hug. She smells like Impulse body spray and gin.

“Please come in the Have-a-Java to say hi to me anytime, and please don’t say anything to Gavin about us coming here. I’m not sure if I’m going to tell anyone I work with that I maybe want to try this out,” the word ‘stripping’ isn’t something I can say aloud to her.  She agrees to keep my secret and waves goodbye trotting off to the back to change. Moving down the stairs as fast as we can we make noises exclaiming, “Ew! Ew! Ew!” for each step we land on. Tumbling back out on Yonge Street we venture north.

“That was soooooo not classy,” Hilary laughs while lighting a smoke. I stick my hand in my backpack to fish around for our mickey.

“Well…I need a stiff drink after that captain,” I say in my Sean Connery accent.

“Yeah… Yesh… me as well.”

Both of us duck into a door-way to have a few swigs before our next club. Hilary and I get to a familiar point in our evening where we know enough to reign in our drinking. That peak hour of being a few degrees under drunk has already passed for me, and more often than not I sober up just when she’s fully wasted, so it doesn’t surprise me that when reaching the enormous, gold-plated shining squares of the Brass Rail sign she starts slurring her words.  Holding onto the black sides of the vestibule towards the entrance we cut in front of two men in trench coats. Now I thought I’d see some really big perverts here, but underneath their trench coats were their business suits.  The doorman is also wearing a pretty nice suit, and he starts smiling at both Hilary and me when we approach him.

“Hello Ladies, unfortunately we’re at our full capacity and won’t be able to seat you right now,” his large arm could easily smack the both of us into next year if we mess up, I reflect keeping an eye on Hilary.

“Okay, but what if we just want to ask the manager a few questions about working here?” I ask trying not to stare behind him.  Hilary shifts her weight back and forth anxiously trying to see what kind of girls work here.

“Do both of you ladies have your licenses?” he asks us as I try to make up an answer while hearing  the song Sister Christian, “You’re mo-tor-ing, what’s your price for flight… in finding mister right…”

“Wh-what lie-shunse? Lie-shunse to be sexy?” Hilary slurs, and I worry about his perception of us has been ruined by her comment. Maybe he’s immune to inebriation from working here.

“You girls need to get a Metro Toronto License to work here. You won’t be able to work here without one,” not only did we turn from ladies into girls, but he stopped smiling and instantly got serious.  Like a marble rolling out of a netted bag, a stripper pops out of the crowded bar wearing a pair of leather chaps over her g-string.  Her eyes curiously look over Hilary and me under a well-worked in cowboy hat.  Watching the tassels on her little brown fringed vest wave at me she smoothly spins and puts her hand on a man’s back. There is something sweet, and yet untouchable about that girl which is conveyed in the ten second peek that I’m able to catch a glimpse of her. Nudging Hilary I want her to see this cowgirl, but she’s got other things on her mind – her bladder being first.

“Come on Annie, I need to pee,” she whines and starts pushing her way into the bar. The bouncer sticks his meaty arm out to block her.

“Can’t let you in. Would be a definite fire hazard. Come back when you guys have licenses.”

“Thank you!” I call back dragging her across the street to the Taco Bell. Once inside their washroom we know that we have to see the other clubs, but can’t handle the shlepp across town. Tomorrow is another day.