Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Horrible Strip Bar

From the beginning, it was a horrible idea. We had driven by them for years. Sad little strip bars by the Airport, parking lots filled with cars and trucks in various states of disrepair. I had been in a few of the “better” ones years back when I sold rock radio, and picked up checks for small radio advertising schedules. I always left feeling like I needed a shower. Now we were going to up the ante. The ones we had targeted to visit were the ones that flew even further under the radar. My assumption was that each one was a little outpost of sorrow. Lost souls trying to swindle money from other equally lost souls devoid of companionship. When you can’t read life’s compass, you find yourself grinding your crotch into a stranger and/or paying for a stranger to grind their crotch into yours at Gigi’s Lounge. Yet, there I was, at Gigi’s Lounge at 545pm on a Friday.

When mounting an expedition of this nature, you need to have the right crew together. Leo was a no-brainer. If you are talking low rent strip bar, here’s a guy that won’t only willingly go with you, he will enjoy it to the fullest. Leo puts the “L” in sLeazy. Texas Pete and Krusty’s wife Erin were also immediately interested after their trip a few weeks back to the Lido Lounge where the highlight was the dancer approaching them for a table dance while eating Subway. Having that as a point of comparison clearly makes you well suited to this adventure. Me? I’m not much of a “strip bar guy”. I have never been very successful at the “willing suspension of disbelief” necessary to believe that “Mercedes” or “Destiny” was actually interested in me. I don’t like to feel like I am being hustled, and I am generally not attracted to girls that wear shoes bigger than Gene Simmons. However, I am interested in observing unorthodox social situations, and I’m always trolling for new song ideas.

Gigi’s Lounge reminded me of walking into a party some weekend bikers threw in one of their basement rec rooms. The motif is wood paneling with domestic beer signs in a very small box of a room. The music was supplied by a goateed DJ (of course) that looked like Ali G. He played a variety of horrible club music that no one in the place would ever listen to on his or her own volition. This was the kind of crowd where if someone put on Molly Hatchet, you would have heard someone else say, “Fuck yeah”. A small group of guys that had adopted a Cleveland version of the West Coast Choppers look were holding court with the heavily tattooed girls. Each one of the girls had at least five tattoos, with each design more awful than the last. One girl had “Double” and “Trouble” across each ass cheek, and another had something that looked like a terrifying panther with a skull head leaping into her vagina. My favorite girl was the one that looked like Charo, but only if Charo had taken too many Quaaludes and ended up on a missing persons poster in the early 1970s.

The most interesting thing about Gigi’s was the giant outbuilding out behind the club, which is easily three times the size of the cinderblock bunker of the “lounge”. Texas Pete has a theory that maybe that was some sort of glitter or giant stripper shoe outlet warehouse. “Ladies! Why pay retail for your glitter? Start saving today at the Glitter and Giant Shoe Warehouse! This week only, take 50% off any 55 gallon drum of gold glitter!” Who knows what goes on in there, but I am going to stop speculating so I don’t wind up in a shallow grave in the woods.

Our next stop was the Fox’s Den. The Fox’s Den from the outside is what I would think the last sports bar in Stalingrad would have looked like during the siege in 1943-44. While probably a good place to have a military defense, it doesn’t exactly exude hospitality. It is a cement pillbox of a building on a dodgy industrial corner road with a red block print sign that screams out “this is where hope dies”. Five working class guys and four girls glanced at us as we walked in. Leo ordered us a round of beers from the bar, and I stood behind him noticing a food menu above the bar. Now I have eaten at some rather sketchy places over the years, but this was past the limit even for me. As soon as Leo walked away, I immediately ordered him a menu item that flashed out like a beacon to me. Egg rolls. Two for three dollars.

The Fox’s Den is a more humble operation than even Gigi’s. The girls put money in the jukebox to pick what song they want to dance to, and climb up a small stage to gyrate to whatever horrible selection they just made. When I was there, the patrons all pretty much ignored the girls up on the stage. This may have been due to the fact that they were not very attractive, or maybe that everyone just seemed so bored. I’m not saying that the Fox’s Den does not have a huge amount of quality control on their dancers, but one of the girls looked like a floppy egg wobbling on cheap shoes. After that girl finished her song, another girl that was wearing non-ironic square wire rimmed glasses replaced her. Erin leaned over to me and said, “I passed her when I went to the bathroom. She really needs to wash her hair.”

It should be noted that if you ever go to the Fox’s Den, make sure and use the hand soap. Mounted on the wall in a giant plastic dispenser, this must be the only place in America that uses this Polish manufactured wonder cleaner. Before you even walk into the doorway of the men’s room, you are almost knocked to your feet by the odor of lilacs and chemical warfare. I didn’t want to use it on my hands, but if I ever had to clean up a murder site, this might be my go-to soap.

A woman named “Cream” sat down to talk to us. By the way, I am certain her real name is “Cream”. We had a real connection. She really seemed to like me. She would never lie to me. Anyway, when I asked her why she chose this particular establishment as her place of employment she said, “You know… It’s pretty hillbilly in here. There’s no chance anyone I know would ever walk in here.” That’s when the egg rolls arrived to the booth. Cream looked down at the plastic basket in horror. “I have never seen anyone get egg rolls before.” I asked her how long she had been working there. “Three and a half months.”

The egg rolls were a shade of gray I would not normally associate with food. It was if they had moved into a realm past freezer burn and into something new like mummification. Leo bit into the egg roll. I asked him how it was. “Horrible. It’s really horrible.”

He finished them anyway. We left.

We went briefly to a place called Secrets. This was way too much like a legitimate strip club. The mostly black dancers on staff were much more attractive than the flotsam and jetsam we had seen over the last couple hours, so much so that it was mildly off putting. When I was walking in, one of them playfully tapped me in the crotch. Unfortunately she hit me at just the wrong angle. The effect of this was like taking a soft ground ball to the cup in a baseball game, and I briefly saw stars. A word to the wise Destiny, this is not a good way to earn big tips.

We yelled over the horrible club music about finding our next destination, and Erin told us about a place she went to once called Touch of Gold that sounded perfect. I looked it up on my phone, and called the number to see if it was still in business. The number rolled into one of those cellphone messages where I was supposed to “enjoy the music while my party was contacted”. This was not a good sign. We decided to drive down the street and take a look anyway.

When I pulled up to the Touch of Gold, I felt an emptiness wash over me like a tidal wave. Dim blue lights struggled to illuminate the faded block building. Sleet and freezing rain mixed, and I had an immediate flash of a better life where I strolled by the California Coast in my own version of paradise. Instead I walked inside the foyer, where I discovered the metal door locked and not budging. I stood there a minute trying to understand why the club was locked, when the door buzzed open. A club I need to be buzzed into? Excellent.

Leo, Erin, and Texas Pete were at the bar already having animated conversation with the bartender, a surprisingly attractive woman with more ink on her arms than a 17th Century sailor. There was one woman dancing on a table, swaying back and forth out of time to a Skynrd song. A man stood to the left of the bar at a hastily constructed DJ booth controlling the music. That was it. No one else was there in the large room.

This was exactly like walking into a scene from a David Lynch movie. It all seemed slightly off kilter. A television that could be charitably described as “low-def” showed Sports Center, but it was almost like it was showing highlights from faded 1970s footage. The back corner of the room featured a collection of photographs that I thought of as “The Gallery of Despair”. Washed out color pictures from 15-25 years earlier showed weather beaten blue collar men grimly looking at the camera while smiling doughy dancers put their arms around them, assumedly after having secured the lion’s share of these men’s weekly wages into their garters. It’s a really fascinating collection of photos that rivals almost any art installation I have ever seen. If you dramatically mounted the best photos and put them in a gallery in SoHo, you could sell them for five figures each.

To the left is a collection of couches in front of a fireplace, which I bet is probably a functioning fireplace. If I’m not mistaken, there are fireplace tools to the left of the hearth. This is surprising, as I would have thought a stripper with a temper would have split a patron’s skull with the fireplace poker years ago. The tools would have then been quietly taken “in the back” until chatter from the regulars about how “Jim is still in the hospital” died down. Maybe they were just too far of a reach from the couches, so that sort of violence was avoided. The couches are all circa 1986, stained, and probably smell like every scary couch in a rock club dressing room. The room is old and tired, but it is clean and for some reason sort of inviting.

There’s a scene from Blue Velvet where Dennis Hopper’s character beats up Kyle MacLaughlin in a parking lot, and while that is happening, a woman climbs onto the roof of the car to dance to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”. That is exactly what it was like while “Crazy”, the only dancer, moved on the pole while we talked to the bartender. No one was paying any attention to her, and she didn’t care. If “In Dreams” had come on over the speakers, I would have exploded I would have been so happy. That sort of happiness was not in the cards for me though, as I think it was Marshall Tucker Band instead.

The dancer’s name was “Crazy”, and it quickly became apparent that it was not because she was wild, but probably actually receiving government assistance and was making a little on the side swaying around to Southern Rock songs in an empty room. She was nice though, and I really appreciated what she added to the scene. As I gave her some cash, I asked her if this is what it was always like. She said, “At 11 it jumps. It’s cagey.” I looked at my watch. It was 10:12pm.

Texas Pete looked over to me and said, “You know what? I could hang out here.” He was right. This place is a real find. It is so weird and just plain off, it’s perfect. If you tried to come up with a really fucked up place in your imagination, you still couldn’t come up with the scene in this joint. What sort of madness combines all these elements into one public space? It belongs somewhere in East Germany. Or Epcot. But it really works. Why? The three people that worked there were friendly. How friendly? When I kept asking to use the bartender’s pen to make notes, the man playing DJ went to the back and gave us all promotional “Touch of Gold-Adult Entertainment” pens. I triumphantly texted a picture of the pen to Krusty, who quickly responded “Classy giveaways to attract sophisticated businessmen”. Indeed!

Knowing that no location could possibly top Touch of Gold, I called it a night. Texas Pete and Leo were not pleased that I bailed prior to heading to West 25th Street, but as the hour had crept into actual nighttime, it seemed the right call. You can only judge the low rent strip bar by the quality of the afternoon shift. I drove home a more complete resident of NE Ohio, knowing my town just a little bit better. More importantly, I drove home with my complimentary Touch of Gold pen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate Stroh's

I was stunned to see that Stroh’s still makes beer. Stroh’s is a beer that lives in the same neighborhood as Pabst, Old Style, and Genny Cream but doesn’t enjoy the same hipster appeal as those others. Stroh's is the dorky guy that woke up one day and discovered that his apartment in Wicker Park was cool. If these beers were bands, Pabst would be Rev. Horton Heat, Old Style would be Naked Raygun and Genny Cream would be NRBQ. Stroh’s would be Bachman Turner Overdrive or .38 Special. Utilitarian and doing its thing for less than discerning customers, Stroh’s has quietly gone about its business since its fall from grace in the American marketplace.

Stroh’s was at one time a very popular beer in this part of the country. Branded as “America’s Only Fire Brewed Beer”, lots of Dads like to knock back a few Stroh’s after a long week at their soul sucking job. As this was a very popular beer with Dads, my delinquent friends and I often stole whatever Stroh’s these men stupidly left stored in the garage. We were young, thirsty, and ready for adventure. We were actually thieves, but if you are 16 and wanted to drink beer in Pennsylvania you had to work for it or have an older brother. I didn't have an older brother. I had another hurdle. It wasn’t like I could grow a beard and walk confidently into Haggerty’s (Home of the 12 pack!) and stride out with a razor sliced half case of beer in cans. I looked like I was 11 until about four years ago when I suddenly started to look 54. This led me to a life of petty crime.

The real downside to “garage-ing” was having no control over what brand of beer you wound up with drinking. This lifestyle choice led me to having some of my first beer drinking experiences include Utica Club (in 16 oz bottles), Schmidt’s Bock, and lots of Stroh’s. We preferred to drink Michelob or Molson Golden, but we were punks that took whatever we could get. That led to lots of Stroh’s.

Stroh’s has always had a distinct effect on my digestive system; similar to what I imagine would happen after a nice long drink out of a public water fountain in Bangladesh. Within 30 minutes after having a Stroh’s, I could count on a gurgle in my abdomen which would serve as a warning buzzer to find a “friendly” bathroom in the next few minutes. It was like a freight train the effect of this beer on me. Imagine if you mixed a bottle of Yoo-hoo with a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew under great pressure and finally cracked the lid into a porcelain bowl. It was like blowing beef stroganoff out of a fire hose.

Being young and in search of a beer buzz, I didn't care. If we had it, I drank it. So there I was at a house party, finally talking to a much older cheerleader (one year) that wisely would normally have nothing to do with me. I spent the Eighties and most of the Nineties in a very awkward phase. Today though, it had all fallen into place. It was probably due to the fact that I looked so debonair holding my can of Stroh’s that she was ensnared by my witty banter. It also didn’t hurt that my confidence was probably buoyed by my intake of two Stroh’s on the way over to the party while probably rocking out to Rush’s “Moving Pictures” cassette. Yes, I was a very cosmopolitan young man.

The gurgle in my lower intestine came right on schedule. How I didn’t pre-plan, or forego drinking the Stroh’s altogether, I really can’t explain. So there I was, in a crowded house party with a real situation on my hands. There was a line at the door to the sanctioned bathroom, and no way to really slink upstairs due to the host wisely locking the access door. It was an emergency. It was time. Right now. Right fucking now!

I don’t know if I looked as debonair as I thought I did earlier when I was crouched by the pine tree in the side yard shitting like a feral dog. Probably not. The contents of my system poured out of me as I heard the party continue on inside. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to bring a Kleenex or toilet paper with me outside, so I gingerly cleaned myself with some nearby fallen leaves. The enthusiasm for the party gone, I walked a few miles home.

That’s the last time I had a Stroh’s.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Bar Crawl

The bar crawl is a great tradition in this part of the country. This is due to two indisputable facts. 1) There isn’t too much to do in Northeast Ohio in February. 2) Because there isn’t much to do, most of the residents drink and smoke as much as Russian coal miners. Russian proverb: When there is little hope, that is the time to turn to the vodka. Prost!

I have decided to have a bar crawl here in Northeast Ohio. However, I am not going to walk down some neighborhood street and go to Tipsy Clancy’s where I will wrestle for bar space with the great unwashed backward ballcap minions. Who needs to spend one more second in a place where the crowd sings along to “Paradise By the Dashboard Light”? Do I really need to expose myself to the horrors of a jukebox filled with Creed, Stone Temple Pilots, and Jimmy Buffet? I am not going to wear a white t-shirt that people will sign. No thank you, I don’t want to order any chicken wings or cheese sticks. I have much higher stakes.

The bar crawl I have in mind will target the most horrific strip bars in the region. I will walk in to each place, have a beer, and leave hopefully without contracting crabs or an open sore just by being in the vicinity of the low end “entertainment”. Ideally I will be joined by a few hearty adventurers like myself, and we won’t lose our wallets or sense of decency. Or teeth. This is one of the last great frontiers in America. A real chance to see the seedy underbelly of the place you call home. To meet future “Cops” cast members in their natural habitat.

The idea first came to me when Texas Pete and Krusty’s wife decided to make a long discussed journey to the Lido Lounge on W117th St in Cleveland. I knew the place had a seedy reputation after Leo stopped in on a few occasions to see an ex-girlfriend dance there when her mentally handicapped bus pass allowed her to make the journey from her government subsidized apartment. However, I had no idea how great it actually was until it was reported back to me on Texas Pete and Erin’s visit a dancer had approached them for a table dance while eating Subway. That’s what Cleveland is all about.

Texas Pete believes the Lido Lounge is great, but maybe not as amazing as The Hideaway in Medina OH. The Hideaway is located conveniently for meth addled truck drivers right off Route 18 in between I-77 and I-71. On Pete’s last visit, there was one dancer on call that afternoon. She was a leathery skinny woman missing two (2) key teeth. She asked if he would like a dance, and when he begged off, she sat down and started telling him about her “fucking old man”. She was described to me as looking like that woman that comes out of the bathtub in The Shining, but if she was dressed for a Stevie Ray Vaughn concert in 1985.

I do have rigid standards for this journey. I will not go into any place I have been to previously. For example, I had to pick up the original Cowslinger guitar player “Duane Wayne” at a place called “Attitudes” on West 25th. Attitudes was not officially a strip club, as the women wore bikinis. Why anyone would go to a seedy place like that to have unattractive women in bikinis dance next to them while they drank warm Stroh’s, I don’t know, but Duane was a weird cat. He spent more time there then at his house. That place was most noteworthy for being so dark that when you walked in, you immediately were blinded and needed 10-15 seconds for your eyes to adjust. It would have been a great place to get rolled. Maybe the worst looking group of human beings I have ever seen under one roof…

I have also been to “Magic City” in downtown Cleveland after a degenerate sales guy I worked with insisted we go there for an after work beer. Magic City featured a five by five foot stage raised about three inches off the ground where a skinny black girl danced topless in front of three paraplegic guys in wheelchairs. After the song ended, she would walk over to the jukebox in the ensuing silence, put in some coins, choose a song, and dance again. After about twenty minutes, another black girl walked in the door where the dancer screamed at her “Jezell! Where the fuck you been! I been dancing up here like a motherfucker and you late!” Jezell, not to be shown up in this matter, screamed back “I had to feed my motherfucking babies! Fuck you, you fucking bitch!”. She then put on her giant stripper shoes while balancing in the doorway, and stomped over to the stage. The guys in the wheelchairs swiveled their heads to follow the action. Everyone settled back down. I looked around and noticed we were the only ones in the room with all of our limbs or not in wheelchairs. Magic City, while lacking in amenities, certainly had an atmosphere I would rank as “memorable”.

There appears to be about 16 good potential candidates for this Descent Into Madness. Many people have “Climb Mount Kilimanjaro” on their “Bucket List”. I’ve got this. You want to go? Bring some dollar bills and maybe a shiv.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate the Super Bowl

It is almost impossible to avoid the Super Bowl Hype Machine. I do my best to avoid ESPN, the sports page, sports talk radio, and all newscasts but it still seeps in nonetheless. There are a few items for this upcoming weekend I feel need your attention.

1) Every single talking head, ex-player, and so-called expert is talking like the Giants have already won this game. This flies directly in the face of the fact that the Patriots are actually favored by three points. The Super Bowl attracts an estimated $10 billion dollars wagered on the game itself. Anything with $10 billion dollars attached is going to have a shocking amount of misinformation attached to it. What about Gronkowski and his foot? How can the Giants defensive line be stopped? Is Eli Manning the greatest QB of our era? This is all bullshit used to fill media space. Vegas knows. They always know. They like New England, and so do I.

The line right now is New England -3. We will see a ton of New York money drop that number to -2.5 in the next three days (i.e. under a field goal), and that’s the way to go. I will repeat the mantra again and again. If everyone in America thinks something will happen, they are dead wrong. They are always wrong. Take New England, and wait until you get that -2.5.

2) Madonna is doing the halftime show. While she will look better than Pete Townshend and his pasty gut flowing over his slacks last year, she will still have the air of someone trying to be relevant and more Lady Gaga than Lady Gaga. This is confusing as Lady Gaga is trying to be more Madonna than Madonna. Regardless, halftime will be an excellent opportunity to hit the crapper and expel the horrible food you have eaten at your Super Bowl party.

3) Super Bowl Sunday is the single largest caloric intake day in the average American’s calendar year. That is impressive when you think of all the crap you eat at Thanksgiving. The key is to eat enough snacks to keep yourself in the ball game and soak up all that beer you are drinking. If you find yourself at a Super Bowl party serving anything but beer, pizza, wings, chili, and chips you should leave immediately. I went to a party once where the woman changed the channel to “Sex and the City” at 9pm, and I saw the Patriots kick the game winner on a 10 inch black and white in her dead father’s back bedroom with two other pissed off dudes. I should have known better when I saw the crab puffs.

4) If you are going to nestle in and get down to it, make a wise beer choice. Super Bowl Sunday is no time to try to be a hero. Leave the “Boris The Crusher” 10.5% alcohol content stout at home. You need something you can fire back with regularity, and walk back and forth to the kitchen to retrieve shouting out “Fucking Brady! How the fuck did he miss that wide open fucking fuck!” I made some big mistakes on beer choices in the late Eighties and early 90s that have left me with huge voids in my sports memory banks. For example, did you know the Giants beat Denver in the 1987 Super Bowl? I didn’t. I vaguely remember buying a 12 pack of Elephant Malt Liquor that afternoon, but the game itself escapes me. Tecate, Pacifico, Bud Light, or the traditional Budweiser are all good choices here.

5) The commercials will be disappointing. They always are. Why companies choose to spend millions of dollars trying to entertain the audience for thirty seconds instead of selling them their actual product is beyond me. Ego of the company heads I guess. When you hear about everyone “rating” the commercials the next day, don’t pay attention. Those vapid hosts on the Today show don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. The only thing that matters is if that company sold more product. That’s how you determine if that commercial was a “winner”.

6) The game will not live up to the hype. It never does.