Mystère Femmes Aux Pieds Nus

So it’s 2:30am, and you’re heading home from the beach towns on the 405, listening to The Cask of Amontillado on the radio, headlights piercing fog banks at 80 mph, when a ping comes over the Uber app.  An easy pickup, right off the freeway.

Easy pickups are the Uber driver’s fool’s gold, particularly when you’ve already called it a night. Convenience has a way of luring you in, then sending you all the way to West Covina just at the moment you’re ready for whiskey and a plump pillow, to punish you for wanting one more.

The GPS location is a bar. The bar is closed. No one is hanging out in front of the bar. Not a pedestrian in sight in either direction. So you wait, and listen to a chain-smoking actor from the 1940s melodramatically recite Fortunato’s visit to the wine cellar. At the five minute mark, a young woman emerges from a service alley behind the building: no shoes, no purse, short black dress, clutching an iPhone and looking like bees slept in her hair, or worse.

She skips to the car on the soles of her feet, shivering.  She smells of alcohol, but she’s upright and near as you can tell, compos mentis.  Though she looks exactly like the nameless victim in the opening scene of a slasher film,  no one is chasing her.  The destination is the Airport Hilton.

Nobody goes to a hotel, shoeless, at 2:30am for a good reason.  Who goes shoeless across the pavement of an American city for any reason? Shoelessness is crisis in motion.  Why no purse?  The only thing which distinguished her in vulnerability from a deer in the forest was the glowing phone in her hand, which vibrated loudly every ten seconds, bearing urgency which had no explanation.

Was she okay, you ask. Yeah, why, she replies dismissively. Due diligence complete, you take her to the Hilton as she has paid you to do. You purloin glimpses of her in the rear view mirror.

She dashes across the bright entryway on dirty feet, flashing a glimpse of butt cheek as she pushes through the spinning glass door. You linger a moment to see if someone is there to meet her, but there isn’t.  Is she arriving, or returning? Fleeing danger or diving headfirst into a whirlpool of foolishness? The elevator door closes on her, and with it any clear explanation.

On Friday, Mrs. UpintheValley is walking the dogs at her usual hour: 5am, i.e., total darkness.

Thwap Thwap Thwap she hears to the left of her.  A blur, running past porchlights.   She turns the corner, keeps walking. Two blocks later, the thwapping returns, and another blur runs past her, moving in the opposite direction.

Mrs. U bends down to retrieve dog poop, and suddenly there is a loud thump directly overhead.

A woman wearing only a bra top and a pair of leggings has jumped atop the roof of the car next to her. No shoes.  No purse. No phone.

The woman waves her hands hysterically in front of her face. She’s terrified of pitbulls, she says.  Meaning Trixie.  Also, she’s just been pepper-sprayed.

She was a stripper at Synn, up on Sepulveda.  There was a misunderstanding about money another stripper accused her of taking from a purse. She didn’t have her glasses on, she explained, and might have been mistaken in whose purse it was. But she didn’t take nobody’s money. Plus, she’d been drinking.

She had to drink because she hated stripping so much but she needed the money to pay for kinesiology school.  But that didn’t mean she was stealing.

She had a long-winded, barely believable, non-theiving explanation for how she came to be running barefoot through the neighborhood in the wee hours with nothing on but a bra top and leggings and Mrs. U listened to it patiently until the police arrived, shined a flashlight into her blinking face and administered the Three Questions.

My life is boring, I think, when I consider these two night couriers, these harbingers of drama.  How predictable I have grown. You can set a watch by my responsiblity.  I’m a guy who lives in the Valley and pays his bills. Banks love me. People call me sir.

Oh, to heed the siren call of barefooted women, and swagger into the Mystery Elevator, careless and eager.

Portrait of working mothers on Sepulveda

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The Classy Lady was a valley institution for decades.  It would be difficult to imagine a sadder strip club.  There was no cover, which should tell you something right there.  There was no VIP room. You could buy a pitcher of Coors Light for $8.  Cheapskates would hang out by the pool table in the back, pretending to play while taking in the view free of charge.  Management didn’t seem to mind. The ladies would wander by with a tin cup and ask for money for the jukebox, and by money I mean coins.  They would clomp the two steps up to the pole and grind it out for a couple singles on the tip rail, or frequently nothing at all.    There were women working with fresh C-section scars and moonscapes of acne on their derriere.  The place was annexed to a gas station and a store which sold rims.  I can’t believe it’s actually a strip club, was the instinctive reaction.   Sort of like wandering in to your own private David Lynch film.  For the women it was not even a waystation on the road to perdition, but perdition itself, in which one panhandles naked without remuneration.

It shames me to say this, but a couple years ago, after regaling dinner guests with a description of The Classy Lady, they demanded to ‘see the ugly strippers’ for themselves.  Off we went. Only now the strippers were of an entirely different quality. They were thin. They were tone.  They had skills.   There was still no cover, and no one was putting money on the tip rail.  In the depth of the recession.

But you do what you have to do, when you’re a working mother.

Classing up the place
Classy no more

That’s all done with now. Sort of.  Classy has been gutted, expanded and replaced with Synn.  In keeping with Nury Martinez’s self-promoting ’45 day ban’ on adult business, all the strip clubs on the boulevard have renovated and enlarged, like the cup sizes no doubt, in the new, improved Synn Gentlemen’s Club.

La tierra de la carne

If you don't buy admission, my employers will make me contract salmonella
If you don’t pay $20, my employers will make me contract salmonella

First, there was burlesque, which gave way to stripping. Stripping gave way to lap dances in the champagne room.  Lap dances gave way gave way to extras. Extras gave way to….whatever it is, apparently it’s no longer enough to sustain the strip club business model.   All those clear plastic heels and micro school skirts have recently been converted to service as conveyances for food distribution.  At club prices, naturally.

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Which raises the question, what’s the food like?  Or more to the point, how does the food interact with the…entertainment, without drawing the ire of the health department?  Do ass-clapping and dipping buffalo wings in ranch dressing naturally cross-pollinate in the limbic pleasure centers?  Are there vegan options? I find it sadder than usual to see the old bump and grind (a time-honored American tradition) reduced to a loss leader for a bad restaurant. It doesn’t even live up to the dignity of the term sex worker. At least Hooter’s girls can call themselves waitresses.