Quarters With The Chippendales

Quarters With the Chippendales

chipp pic

I see the Chippendales dancers are doing a tour this year, including in my home town. I guess we have “Magic Mike” to thank for dredging back up the franchise; I thought they were defunct for a while.

I have a Chippendales story.

My first job out of college, I worked in Manhattan as a researcher with a major entertainment company. It was a lousy, entry-level job that only sounded exciting. There was one definite perk, though:  I constantly received postcards from city venues advertising special pricing and parties and such.

My buddy Emma worked across the hall from me in the file room.  She lived in Jackson Heights, right over the 59th Street Bridge, and she owned a little Jeep. And oh yeah—Emma was gorgeous, and boy-crazy, and never said no to anything. Like I explained in the story about the bass player, since going out in the city was a complex and often dangerous undertaking for young women, we had a pact:  Whenever one of us wanted to go somewhere, the other would agree to do it with them. It was the buddy system.

We were symbiotic:  I shared my special-event invitations; Emma provided transportation home and let me stay the night at her house. I provided the classy Long Island college girl vibe; she delivered the Queens there’s-nothing-I-won’t-try bravado.

A postcard arrived on my desk for special admission to the Chippendales show.quarters 1

We got there early and claimed a decent table by the show floor. A shirtless guy in a bow tie, white cuffs, and black spandex pants introduced himself as Steven Our Waiter. He had Italian looking hair and nice cheek bones, but was kind of boyish compared to the dancers advertised on the billboards, and was not much taller than me. Emma was immediately smitten, and started ordering glasses of wine like crazy.

Steven appeared and disappeared at our table throughout the show, as various dancers did their schticks, sometimes backed by a chorus of other guys. One guy was the fireman, one was the cowboy, one was the businessman, one was a cop… it was like the Village People on Broadway. There were about six different acts from individual guys, leading up to the Finale Guy, who slid all over a motorcycle seat in a g-string while colored lights splashed on him like an AC/DC concert.

Once the show was finished, the women were let loose on the floor to dance off their energies for another hour. The male dancers stayed around to take photos with the patrons; the line was an hour long. Emma and I skipped the photograph, but did our share of dancing and drinking and hollering.

Late in the night, she took me aside. Steven Our Waiter stood behind her.

“Steven’s done with his shift,” she said to me. “We’re gonna take a walk.”
“A walk?” I said. “It’s 2:00 a.m.”
“Then maybe we’ll drive around.”

It did not escape me why she was going off with Steven. She had a habit of showing up somewhere with one person and leaving with another, never to return.

“Emma, in your Jeep?” She didn’t have one of those big Jeeps with storage capacity and sturdy sides and such. She had a Suzuki Samurai, a two-seater with zip-up plastic sides. It was almost a golf cart.

“You’re leaving me here?” I said. “By myself?”

“We won’t be long.”

I knew there was no stopping Emma when she wanted to … take a walk. There’s no way she was going to pass up the opportunity to get with a guy from Chippendales.

“I swear to God, you better come back,” I said. Although she lived right over the bridge, I didn’t. I lived at the outer edge of Queens, one of the very last numbered streets in the borough. 262nd Street in Floral Park. It was a distance no cab would travel from Manhattan. If you could even find one at that hour.

Half an hour, I promise,” she said. Shirtless Steven loomed in the background.

Then they were gone.

I downed another couple of drinks at our table and listened to the music. An hour went by, me looking rather pathetic at a table by myself, watching a bunch of screaming, jazzed-up women decimate the dance floor.

The line to take photos with the dancers started to wane. An MC announced they were closing. Emma was still nowhere to be seen. In an era before cell phones, this was a problem.

Never has a woman felt so awkward as to find herself alone at a table in the middle of the Chippendales Club at 3:00 a.m. When almost everyone else in the place has cleared out. And you have no way home.

A couple of dancers paced by, giving me suspicious looks. Finally I flagged down one of the more sympathetic-looking guys, who had obviously been wondering what my problem was. He was not one of the headline dancers, but I recognized him from the show.

“I’m looking for a waiter named Steven,” I said. “He took off with my friend, and she’s my ride home. Does anybody know how to track him down?”

Close-up, the dancer guy seemed much older than I originally thought, maybe in his thirties, which when I was 22 seemed like a much more functional adult than I would ever be. Still, he was hardly wearing clothing.

“That’s so Steven,” he said. He sounded like any old Joe I might meet at work. I don’t know why I expected him to have some deep resounding voice, or a Mediterranean accent.

“Yeah, and that’s so Emma ,” I said. They were meant for each other. “I’m a little worried. I live practically on Long Island, so I don’t know what I’m gonna do if they don’t come back.”

“Wait here,” the guy said. “I’ll see if anyone knows how to find him.”

I thanked him profusely. He disappeared into some backstage area. Dancers and waiters had been milling in and out, some of them back into jeans and regular shirts. Once the guys determined I wasn’t a stalker, several of them stopped to say they were sorry to hear I got stranded at their club. By one of their waiters, yet.

The original guy—let’s call him Dan—came back out and sat with me. He had changed into street wear.

“Steven’s clothes and his keys are still in his locker, so he’ll probably be back here tonight,” said Dan.

“God, I hope so.”

“He’s going to get an earful when he does,” Dan said. “But don’t worry. We’ll stay here with you until those two show up. We don’t want you hanging around alone on the street at this hour.”

“You guys don’t know how much I appreciate this,” I said. “You’re much nicer than I would have guessed.”

“What were you expecting?” Dan laughed. “We’re pretty ordinary. Half these guys are a mess. See Charlie over there, with the long hair?”
“Yeah.” Charlie’s hair was rather lovely.
Plugs,” Dan said.

I laughed. “You’re kidding.”

“Not at all. He’s a huge drama boy.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely. And Tom who did the routine with the fire hose?”

“Yeah?”

“He’s forty-six.”

“No way!”

“Yeah. Married with four kids.”

“Anything else I should know?”

“Can you keep your mouth shut?” He leaned in. “Did you see Mark, with the motorcycle?”

“You couldn’t miss Mark with the motorcycle,” I said.

“Did you notice that scar across his glute?”

“I don’t like to stare …” I said.

Dan whispered… “His girlfriend cut him.”

“Holy shit, really?”

“You better not breathe a word of this to anyone,” he said. “I’ll probably get fired if you do.”

I crossed my heart.  “Not a word. As long as you don’t toss me out on the street.”quarters 1

After another ten minutes with no Steven or Emma , I had a whole table of Chippendales drinking a round of shift beers with me. The lights went up in the place, which then looked like a banal warehouse, with lunch tables and a railed-off wooden floor in the middle.

When Emma finally strolled in, she found me and the guys in the middle of a rousing game of quarters, hooting and hollering. Just me and the Chippendales, 45 minutes after closing the place down.

I was so effing pissed at her.

 

 

 

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Amy and Nina and the Statue of Liberty

liberty stairsAmy and Nina and the Statue of Liberty

I saw a meme with two young girls walking, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. “Who was your best friend when you were 10 years old? Tag them if you’re friends on Facebook.”

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I was the type of kid who only needed one good friend. One person I trusted, who liked me better than anyone else.

Amy and I knew each other since we were seven. It’s been kind of unbelievable.

Amy, however, always preferred to have a lot of different friends, even while being devoted to our kinship. I was loyal as hell, but in the cold light of day, I was likely downright clingy and isolated and over-emotional compared to an easy-going, bawdy kid like her, who attracted leagues of buddies and pre-pubescent boyfriends at a time. She’d often try to share them with me. Through it all, I knew she would always liketen me best.

Amy’s other friends always noticed—and often resented—the bond between us. Not all those other friends took kindly to our attachment. Or to me. Instead of branching out with additional friendships of my own, I took it personally. I was intense.

In fifth grade, Amy became buddies with another girl in our class named Nina. Amy “shared” Nina with me, bringing the three of us into one fold, which worked out nicely for a while. In time, Nina got tired of being the third girl in the triumvirate. She wasn’t always so friendly anymore. She’d invite Amy to do cool things like ice-skating on the pond by her house, which my mother didn’t allow me to do, edging me into sporadic third-wheel status.

Throughout fifth grade at our Long Island elementary school, we students had been building classroom “points” for tasks and good deeds and high grades and such. Our teacher Miss Harrigan conducted a year-end class auction where we could purchase garage-sale items based on the points we accumulated.

There was a grand prize offering:  A trip to New York City with Miss Harrigan to the Statue of Liberty. Only five kids could win that, whomever bid the highest amount, secret-Chinese-auction-style.

I didn’t need the trinkets Miss Harrigan assembled. I bought a magenta glass brooch shaped like an apple, then dumped my remaining wad of points into the New York City prize envelope. Amy said she’d do the same.

Me, Amy, Nina and two “popular” girls in the class won the trip. I wonder if Miss Harrigan hand-picked a set of power girls and claimed we were the highest bidders. I resolved to go, even if Nina was no longer crazy about me, even if I was a loner and not Miss Popularity like the rest of the bubbly crew.1003NewYorkCity092 Statue of Liberty View through Crowne towards Manhattan

We climbed hundreds of steps to the crown. Amy, Nina and the girls were cordial enough, yet I waited for the shoe to drop where Nina might decide to cool it and not speak to me. I still felt that veil of threat between us, even knowing that some of it was a threat I represented to her, the girl who reciprocally forced her to apportion Amy’s attention. Meanwhile, my relationship with the best friend I had in the world sat squarely in the hands of a third party.

I’m not sure what happened to the teacher, but we ended up five eleven year-olds alone at the top of the Statue of Liberty. We gazed through the panels of the crown across a gray New York Harbor, the skyline miniaturized as to fit into a snow globe. I stared at the Gulliver-sized book Miss Liberty tucked under her arm (“JULY IV”). Satisfied, Amy and our two other classmates shot back down book july IVthe steel spiral staircase, echoing chatter. I moved to tag along—always the follower, never the leader.

Nina grabbed my arm and squeezed.

“DON’T LEAVE ME.”

I thought she was kidding.

Our friends’ footsteps were already too far below to hear. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. “The other girls are way ahead ….”

Nina had a death grip on my forearm against the stair rail. Her body vibrated like a scrap of paper caught against the back of a fan. Fifth graders in New York would rather burst into flames than cry in front of each other. Yet Nina stared at me, wide-eyed and blinking back tears, her feet rooted in place.

“YOU HAVE TO HELP ME DOWN,” she said. “Please, Suzanne. Please-please-please. I can’t do it.”

Amy was nowhere to be found.

I couldn’t leave Nina there.

I hugged onto her shoulders and said, okay, let’s go slow. We literally took one step at a time, resting on each step before she could face the next one. She wouldn’t let go of me. Every pace, she insisted she couldn’t finish. Every step, I said, it’s okay, try just one more.

Three hundred and fifty-four steps.

It took us nearly an hour. She asked me not to tell the other girls.

*          *          *          *

This morning on Facebook, I saw the meme again. It warmed my heart to see two friends from middle school tag each other across the miles, defying decades.

Then Nina tagged Amy—and me.

 

 

 

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Note I changed the names here.