I’ve been having nightmares about the Republican National Convention. Not because they’re nominating Mitt Romney, who I’m sure is a very nice person if you’re not a dog or have bleached blond hair. I’m talking about the Tampa strippers. They’re going to eat those poor Republicans alive.
I’m not sure why the powers-that-be chose Tampa for their convention. I guess it’s because Florida is a swing state and it’s supposed to flatter us. But don’t they know the city’s reputation? Don’t they know about all that stuff going on? And it’s not just my opinion. Here’s what State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff had to say: “We have the strip club capital of the world in Tampa. I hate to say it out loud, but we do.”
I first noticed that something wasn’t quite normal when I moved down here 30 years ago. I was a young bachelor back then, and I was curious about the area’s fleshpots. Coming from New York, which had pretty good fleshpots itself, I was hard to impress. Well, one night in Tampa and the tough guys tumble. There was a tropical hellhole element to the place. You got the feeling that underground sin had been going on here for hundreds of years, like in Havana or Shanghai. And the strip clubs were just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath there was an enormous web of sex, drugs, cheap motels, swingers, pimps. I sampled some of them but soon realized if you moved in that orbit long enough, something awful was going to happen. So I stayed in Sarasota, where a hot night usually meant the air conditioning was out at the Van Wezel.
In fact, strip clubs are to Tampa what the arts are to our town. They’re an economic engine, a tourist attraction and a major employer. A club like 2001 can have 300 dancers on the payroll at any given time, along with bartenders, bouncers, door girls, DJs, cooks (yes, food is often served) and—let’s hope—cleaning personnel. And guess what—they all expect tips.
Officially, there are 44 strip clubs in the Tampa Bay area, and they’re governed by a complicated set of ever changing rules, since the town’s mayor and city commissioners love to do battle with them. If you are fully nude you can’t serve liquor. (This is gotten around by allowing the customers to periodically go out to their cars for a quick slug.) Rules are different for the bikini bottom clubs. Some clubs make the girls wear tops. And then there are the infamous “friction clubs.” I’m not sure what that means, but it doesn’t sound good.
The most famous club is the Mons Venus, on Dale Mabry. It has attracted a little cluster of competitive clubs in an area known as the Bermuda Triangle. The Mons, as it is affectionately known to generations of NFL players, is owned by the remarkable Joe Redner, a force to be reckoned with in Tampa Bay politics. He’s run for office several times and always makes a good showing. His politics are very Libertarian (he’s a First Amendment authority and activist, sort of like Larry Flynt), but when Occupy Tampa needed a park to occupy, he lent one of his own, a private park he just happened to own, which leads me to believe that Tampa has no public parks.
Inside, the Mons is surprisingly small, and there is no DJ. This means the poor girls have to hobble over to the jukebox on Lucite platform heels and put their own quarters in.
The girls themselves are quite renowned and are fully nude. Many customers gloat online about what a wonderful “hands-on” experience they had, but the big problem seems to be there is no private VIP room, which means you have to get your lap dance out in public, and there are mirrors everywhere. No wonder Newt Gingrich refuses to go there.
In response to this problem, some of the new upstart clubs are totally revamping for the convention, with the Pink Pony building a whole new VIP entrance, secluded at the rear of the club, with a private elevator up to one of the $450-per-hour “skyboxes.”
The Pink Pony, by the way, along with its sister club, the Penthouse, is one of the new breed of Tampa strip clubs, an enormous space of more than 5,000 square feet with hourly “shower shows” and Tuesday-night midget wrestling—or is it midget throwing? There’s also a dungeon, which offers humiliation and tickle torture, among other a la carte items.
How much is this going to cost me? This is undoubtedly a question in the minds of the fiscally conservative politician, so here’s a little guideline. Be prepared to pay a cover charge (maybe it should be “uncover” charge), which is always more than quoted on the phone. Budget $20 for this. Once inside you are expected to give a dollar to any woman who asks for one. Lap dances are negotiable, depending on number purchased, drunkenness of client, amount of touching allowed and length of dance. (Keep in mind that one minute of lap dance time is billed at the rate of three minutes of real time.) Most men pay around $30 for a short dance, but this can vary wildly. You are also expected to order drinks, even if it’s just a bottle of Zephyrhills, and, as mentioned, to lavishly tip everybody in sight. I personally would come with at least $300, but $500 would be a little more on the safe side.
Good news for Dick Cheney. Most of the clubs are now wheelchair accessible, something he can thank the Democrats and their handicapped accessibility laws for. Several of the older ones were built before the laws were enacted and thus grandfathered in without the changes. But they have publicly announced that they will send staff out to the parking lot and carry you in. So, problem solved—until you have to go to the bathroom.
I trust that the Republican Platform Committee will pay close attention to the way strip clubs operate, since they may get some useful ideas. The overall principle is exploiting a human weakness, in this case, horny men who’ve had too much to drink. Any tactic is fair game, especially lying—lying is taken for granted in a strip club, just as it is in a campaign. The goal is to extract as much money as possible from the consumer, and this is done by clever use of the tools of business and art—beauty, talent, advertising, shuttle buses to the local hotels. The politicians—and certainly not just the Republicans—will understand this perfectly. They promise you exactly what you want, but once you get there you find out they are nothing like what they promise, and all they want is your money.
And you fall for it every time.