Sunday, December 21, 2014

Madonna Made Lemonade!

Geez things move quickly! A very short time ago I complained about Madonna blasting negativity about her leaked demos instead of using her savvy to navigate the situation. Then BAM she surprised dropped a pre-order for the new album, Rebel Heart, with SIX tracks available for immediate download on iTunes! THIS is the Madonna I know and love! Whether you believe the "leak" was staged or not, it was a genius move that landed the album at #1 in 41 countries according to this wonderful new interview with Rolling Stone. Naturally, I pre-ordered the thing as fast as my fingers could log into iTunes. (And count me in for a physical CD when it comes out in March.) In one fell swoop Madonna took the attention back from the leaks and onto her music the way she wanted to present it and I'm quite impressed. The six tracks are pretty fabulous and you can read a nice overview from DJ Taj on his blog.


As for the original leaks, I began listening to them after purchasing the pre-order and for the most part the officially released versions are better. (However, I still enjoy being able to compare and contrast the versions and hear how the songs evolved.) I'm a giddy Maddy lovin' fanboy again and SO happy she decided to officially release new music so fast!

What can I say? Although I occasionally complain about Madge, I love her music and she always wins me back. Well played, Madonna. Well played...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Out of the groove with Madonna

I've been a Madonna fan since I was a wee young thing growing up in the 1980s. (One of my earliest memories is crying in a downtown Toronto record store because my parents wouldn't buy me all the Madonna 12" singles they had.) She's been there for all my major life moments and one of my closest friends said she was the one who gave him the strength to be proud of being gay. Her music has always spoken to me, inspired me and given me life when I've felt awful.

But nowadays I find myself rolling my eyes at her outbursts. Her latest statements on the leaked recordings from her upcoming album seem surprisingly out of touch for such a formidable businesswoman. It's 2014 - music leaks have happened to everyone for a long time, albums don't sell the way they used to, and any artist worth their salt needs to have contingency plans in place for situations like this. If Beyoncé could secretly record an entire album with accompanying videos and not have anything leak, maybe Madonna needs a new team. But what really gets to me is the negative tone of Madonna's statements and the way it sometimes feels like a slap towards the fans. After all, they're the ones who crave and relish her material and spend quite a bit of their hard earned money on her.

I'm not condoning the leaks, but as a fan, I LOVE to hear how Madonna's artistic process works. I buy all the officially released material, attend the very pricey tours and would gladly pay for "rarities" if she made them available. I very much consider demos and unreleased songs part of the tapestry that enhances my appreciation of her work. Her songs have leaked for a very long time (all the way back to Frozen) but now she's lashing out with a vitriol I've never seen. (One fan was even arrested a few years back after being accused of leaking an MDNA track.) These days, once an album leaks there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle, and people will be curious and listening.

Instead of lashing out in anger, Madonna could have called on her cheeky humour, brassy wit and gone in a whole other direction. Imagine if she wrote something like:

The songs that leaked are unfinished demos and I'd prefer all my loyal fans to be patient for the official release. But for those of you who chose to be "Rebels" and listen early, please find it in your "Heart" to donate $5 to [insert charity here] to repent for your sins! Next time I'll spank you! xoxo Madonna

Maybe that's a little too punny or cutesy, but with the sheer amount of followers and intense fans that follow her, she could probably get people to cough up some decent dough for a good cause. Instead we get negativity galore.

This is the same woman who has in recent years trashed Lady Gaga for allegedly ripping her off (something Madonna would never do), complained about "unfinished" demos being heard but released a career defining greatest hits CD with numerous errors, and charged exorbitant prices for her tours. (I've had better seats for Cher, Kylie Minogue and the Spice Girls reunion tour at a fraction of the cost.) My personal favourites were all the "special edition" CDs priced 3-5 times higher than the regular editions with nothing but slightly fancier packaging. (Ray of Light had a shiny slipcover and Hard Candy came with a bag of mints...) Sometimes it feels jarring to balance what I love about Madonna's music with her pithy attitude and cash grabs that take advantage of the loyalists. Especially when those commercially available products often times seem devoid of content worth the costs.

So, I'll go out on a limb and suggest the leaks sometimes help fans like myself feel like we're getting our money's worth because we support her career in so many other way$. (Don't even get me started on people who paid $250 to watch one of Madonna's workout classes when she opened a Hard Candy gym in Toronto!) Most of us will buy the new CD and pay through the nose for the inevitable tour, but still want to hear the leaks because of our voracious appetite for Maddy material. I'd even go so far as to say certain leaks have benefitted Madonna. Back in 2006, DJ's Loo & Placido used a leaked acapella of Into The Groove and mashed it with Cassius' track Toop Toop. The results impressed Madge so much that she incorporated the remix into her 2008 Sticky & Sweet Tour.


Again, I'm not condoning or saying it was right for this stuff to be leaked. I don't think we're entitled to them and understand Madonna has every right to be pissed and hurt about them being thrown out there. But once they've hit the net, they're essentially released to the world. I think Madonna should be flattered that her songs still merit this kind of attention and interest, despite being less polished versions than she wanted released. It makes me shake my head that Madonna couldn't try a more positive spin to this situation, because a woman with her savvy should be able to give us lemonade instead of sour lemons via Instagram.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Dancing At "Flash" 8: Mono-logues, Flash-backs and Dressing For Succe$$...

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!

For those just tuning in, I've been hooked on Toronto's all male strip club Flash due to my ongoing infatuation with a dancer I call VinTatum (after Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) After numerous blogs on the subject (see One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven) I'm hoping eight is enough! Here's a look back on the year that was.

SUMMER 2013

My visits to Flash had morphed from their cynical beginnings into a perfect storm of lust, longing and desire. After my last encounters with VinTatum though, it felt like a good time to break away from the bar. I thought I had exhausted everything that drew me to the club and there'd be nothing to gain from returning. (Now that VinTatum had become my Facebook bud, I could "see" him without going there.) My goal was to move on and close that chapter of my life, allowing my emotional and financial well being to get back on track. Little did I know it would be harder to stay away than I initially envisioned...

HANDS ON RESEARCH

"Back at the club. Hope to see you soon..."

VinTatum's message hit me like a ton of bricks. It was early November 2013 and I had spent the last several months trying to get him out of my system. I also thought he was done with Flash after plunging into new opportunities both careerwise and romantically. At this point, I was channeling my feelings into a full fledged play about our situation. Part of me thought that pouring my energy into something creative could steer me away from repeating past mistakes. But my stubbornness and curiosity about VinTatum's comeback led me right back to the club where I amassed a whole new set of experiences without him. (Ironically, after he announced his comeback I never saw him there.)

There was one boozy night in late November where I did unofficial research for my play at Flash. I sloppily asked what various dancers would want to see represented in a stage show about their work and introduced myself as a "recovering VinTatum addict." The gay-for-pay angle made me curious too, so I asked several guys "Do you prefer men, women, or both?" The answers were intriguing.

"I was born straight, but then I found out men can do certain things too," expressed one guy who wore a shell necklace and danced with a hetero swagger on stage. "I don't judge based on gender," said one hunk with the smooth flair of a politician. He was gorgeous, reminding me of the Andrew Christian model Pablo Hernandez. "I'm straight!" one buff peeler from Montreal exclaimed as if it was obvious. "But, you come with me, get three dances and then you have something to think about when you jerk off later." Last but not least, there was the dancer who reminded me of Joey from Friends. Most of our conversations were an enjoyable blur, but I do remember him pausing and answering "men" with a slightly guilty smile. (In that haze, I also remember telling him, "I know you're more than just a body," which he seemed to appreciate.)

Starting that night and extending through February 2014, I began exploring private encounters with dancers other than VinTatum. Part of it was to chase my VinTatum blues away, but I was also curious to see how different things might be. On one occasion I went with the dancer who reminded me of Pablo Hernandez. I already liked him because he posed for pics with me at Pride and had no qualms or fears about his reputation. He was very friendly, sexy and, to my surprise willing to kiss in a way VinTatum wasn't. Another trip brought me face to face with a cute, twinky-yet-toned Latin dancer who wasn't my usual type, but he won me over with his willingness to make out. I also indulged in dances with Joey, having seen him off and on since I started going to the club. When he asked what I liked to do, I mentioned kissing, and we went at it like passionate animals. I was also surprised he seemed to like some of my assets as much as I enjoyed his. He even stripped faster than the other dancers, confident without being cocky about it. All throughout, he was eager to please me and it was my best experience at the club.

I can't express how much Joey comes across as a genuinely nice guy. He was always upbeat, and never pressured me to go for dances with him. That was something I really admired and appreciated. Our encounter was really satisfying and it didn't fill me with the same angst that VinTatum brought out of me. Part of me wondered if I had gone with Joey instead of VinTatum that first night, I'd have seen Flash as a boys night out treat and not the ongoing addiction it had become.

However, there were other visits that reminded me of what I didn't enjoy about the club. During one late, impromptu appearance I went in and ordered a Diet Coke, having come sufficiently sloshed from a friend's birthday gathering. A dancer came to my table and was plying his wares as it neared 2am. "Last call for drinks, last call for dick!" he said, putting an arm around me. "You smell really good," I said, trying to subtly shift away from his pitch. "How do you like working here?" He then went into a mini-rant about how "too many young people" were coming to Flash and not spending money. "At Remington's you had to buy dances, keep drinking or get the fuck out!" he laughed, as if he expected me to agree readily. I looked down at my Diet Coke and thought I must be one of the "cheap" ones that night. Implying that people don't belong unless they're throwing around piles of cash seemed like a dubious business strategy. But it did make me wonder - what was I really doing there?

A MONO-LOGUE TO REMEMBER

I began March with a lackluster visit to the club, but it was a totally different experience mid-month that threw me into a tailspin. I started to get really sick with what seemed to be a nasty viral infection. Then, after eating a cheeseburger and turning yellow at work, I found myself in the emergency room of the Markham Stouffville Hospital. After two days of quite stellar treatment from an amazing staff, I was diagnosed with mono - a.k.a the "kissing disease." I can't say for certain that I picked it up from anyone at Flash. It's spread via saliva, so I could have sipped someone else's drink and gotten it. But the timing felt significant. It made me wonder if my desperation for connection might have directly led to this pretty unpleasant predicament. To be fair anyone can pass mono, so this isn't a judgement towards strippers. But I was tired of pining for VinTatum and wasn't sure if filling that void with other Flash dancers was the best move, no matter how much nicer they seemed. Alcohol and kissing were now off limits for at least one month and it felt like a good time to end my visits to the club.

FUR-OCIOUS FUN

In early April, I traveled with a pal to Drenched Fur, an awesome event for the bear community held annually in Erie, PA. It would be my third time attending and despite being out of the hospital for just a few weeks, it was a much needed getaway. Even though I couldn't kiss, I was still able to indulge in other activities, so to speak. What moves me about Drenched Fur is the sense of bonding that occurs. You have a group of gay men coming together, with a variety of shapes, sizes, ages and races, being proud of who they are. I've made some amazing friendships through the event, and it reminds me that men can be attracted to me for who I am. Before Flash, I wasn't so conscious of how meaningful that felt. I don't always have the healthiest sense of my "appeal" to others, but Fur always gives me a boost. But as much as it felt great having fun and being desired by like minded gents, certain sirens would call out to me in the coming months...

TEMPTATION ISLAND 2: BUDGET CONSCIOUS BOOGALOO

World Pride was coming and June 2014 was filled with a sense of excitement. I was doing well avoiding Flash and getting back into the swing of things after my battle with mono. I was downtown meeting up with a friend to go on a road trip mid-month when I came face to face with a familiar figure standing outside of Flash. There was VinTatum, shirtless and glistening in the sun, with his unmistakable tattoos and killer grin. It was my first time seeing him in person in nearly a year. My heart was pounding and I was floored that I bumped into him of all people before going on my trip.

From that moment on, it felt like I embarked on a tired rehash of the previous year's events. Even though the road trip prevented me from falling back into old habits, I was still rattled after seeing him. So, foolishly, I messaged him online asking how he was doing and admitted he still turned me into jelly. He replied saying I had "better come see him" at the club. I countered with, "that's like telling a recovering alcoholic to visit the LCBO." I kept trying to stress how dangerous it would be for me to go there, saying I could only promise to buy him a drink if I came by. Once again, I mentioned that he inspired a play and blogs as if that would give him more pause than it did a year earlier. (I even mentioned my bout with mono for that extra dash of oversharing...) Yet, somehow I got it into my head that I needed to see him one last time, despite all signs indicating it wouldn't provide the closure or understanding I still craved.

A week after his reappearance, I attended a beautiful barbecue filled with love, laughter and friendship. The anticipation of World Pride was in the air, but I wasn't so proud of my next set of actions. After the dinner, my pals and I went back to the gay village to check out some street art. One of my key Flash wingmen joined us, and shortly after I broke away with him to go to the club for a drink.

Almost as soon as we walked in, VinTatum saw me and rushed over. Things were loud and crowded, but I was able to shout, "My messages didn't scare you?" He then replied, "Forget the drink, let's go for a dance!" At least that proved he'd been reading my missives. "I didn't bring any extra money with me," I explained. "There's an ATM right there," he pointed, looking almost as desperate on the outside as I felt inside. He tried pulling my arm like he did the year before. I then asked VinTatum if he'd be around during World Pride, but he insisted he was going on a vacation. (Maybe to stoke an "act now, don't delay" sense of urgency?) I asked him to give me a moment and he said he'd come back in five minutes.

VinTatum then milled around for a bit and I was very close to actually pulling out cash from the ATM. That's when my friend started questioning me like a counselor as I contradicted myself much like an addict would. He asked what I thought would be different about this occasion than any of the other times I saw VinTatum. I was like a kid trying to say whatever they could to get what they wanted, but failing miserably. My friend's questions did help me focus and he suggested leaving before VinTatum came back, so we made our exit. I felt terrible about essentially ditching the people who care about me to go see a guy who didn't. But in the end, especially with the ATM gesture, I saw what I needed. It reminded me of the Shonda Rhimes quote, "When people show you who they are, believe them."

The following week I saw VinTatum standing outside the club on World Pride Sunday. Even though it was silly, I had the urge to try talking to him again. It took a few moments to work up the courage to move forward physically, as I regressed emotionally. Almost immediately, he said I was a "troublemaker" and that I owed him a Pride dance since I disappeared the last time. (That would have been the perfect time to ask how his 'vacation' was going.) I held firm and said I couldn't because I was still hung up on him. He replied with an "aww" that seemed like a pat on the head. "It's not healthy for me," I insisted. "Come on, just one dance," he continued. "No, but I'll give you a Pride hug because that's free," I countered. We hugged, and as much as I knew it probably didn't mean anything to him, I tried to infuse it with sincerity. I then wished him a happy Pride and he wished me the same. At the time I felt both triumphant and like I wanted to burst into tears. Triumphant in the sense that it was a big deal to say "no" to his overtures, but sad that the whole thing really did seem to be over.

EPILOGUE

As much as I craved closure, searched for a definitive end to my infatuation or hoped for some sort of acknowledgment of my feelings, it was mostly for naught. The reality is that you can't "break up" with a stripper, you just have to stop showing up. Being added to VinTatum's social media network gave a false sense that I could wiggle out of my "customer" status. But his group included other clients, promoters, co-workers and actual friends all in one bizarre, overlapping cluster. I really wasn't any different than any of the other admirers or johns who praised and complimented him online. As much as I imagined standing out from the rest, all that mattered was my money. I was never going to be the guy he wanted to see a movie or grab a burger with. Yet, I repeated the same old loops of behaviour with him hoping that the end results would change.

On the flip side, I also realize it's not him - it's me. As I said in a previous entry, he really doesn't owe me anything. I came to his place of work and let myself get wrapped up in the fantasy he brought to life. (Our social media connections were really just an extention of his brand, not an opening for friendship.) And I do appreciate how much he's inspired me and sparked my imagination. He gave me a real high at one time and I hope he finds his niche and true happiness someday. But the illusion he sold faded slowly and painfully as I understood I couldn't make any part of it real. In retrospect, I think it hurt more deeply than I realized when he asked me for money outside the club. That may have been a big part of why I had so much difficulty letting go.

But I really need to stop looking to VinTatum for answers as if he's the missing puzzle piece to this journey. He's not the solution to whatever romantic or sexual void I feel in my life and I need to be okay with that. I need look inside myself and cherish the people that love and support me as well as indulge the things that lift me up. Reading soul stirring novels, enjoying great music, or spending time with fabulous friends are all better options than chasing a guy that doesn't want or need to be chased. I also need to work on taking more chances with men who appreciate me for who I am.

Although it was a major downer to finally accept that VinTatum only sees me as a bag of money, a friend's suggestion inspired me to OWN it and turn it into something fabulous.


This past Halloween, I proudly embraced the absurdity of my situation and had fun with it. But the biggest surprise was teetering around on Church Street and having a cute guy make out with me after I complimented him. It was a timely reminder that, despite my appearance, I didn't need to be throwing around money to get lucky.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Dancing At "Flash" 7: Relapse (or Re: Laps?)

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!

Greetings Frothy friends, here's a quick Flash-back of previous events:

I became addicted to visiting Toronto's "members only" strip club Flash due to an alluring dancer I call "VinTatum" (named for his resemblance to Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) What started as a fluke turned into a puzzling infatuation that I couldn't shake. (Check out Part One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six for the complete saga thus far!)

In my last outrageous episode, I was trying to create a "grand finale" to wrap up my Flash-tacular adventures. After seven intoxicating encounters with VinTatum, I was determined to go "sober" and was successful for at least four months. But only a week before the 2013 Gay Pride festivities, I fell back into old habits...

I should start by mentioning something I left out of my previous entries. VinTatum and I had started trading e-mails shortly before my last visit. (He stunned me by giving me his contact information after one of our dances, but warned me not to "abuse" it.) My first e-mail was crafted with my best softball banter and he told me I was "awesome" in his initial reply. But after that, he only wrote to ask if I was coming to see him at the club. Even when I asked lightweight stuff like "How are things going?" he would encourage me to "catch up" with him over at Flash. I hoped our messages would lead to crossover success outside of the club, but he had me firmly placed in one specific john-re.

During the months I was on hiatus from the club, we became further acquaintances through social media. His only rule was that I never mention his "work" on any of the platforms we were connected on. Part of me was thrilled to get a better glimpse of his non-stripper life, although it may have created more blurred lines than a Robin Thicke song. Befriending my infatuation online probably wasn't the best way to get over him. But whatever the case, I was ecstatic to learn more about his "real" self, or at least a version of it.

In early June, I sent him a message complimenting one of his pictures and offered suggestions for a project he was working on. He then replied saying he had a favour to ask of me and wanted me to call him. I almost fainted on the spot. My mind raced through tons of scenarios as I wondered why he'd want me to call. I had to go to work, so I wrote back saying I'd phone him on my dinner break. I was a nervous wreck for the next few hours and tried calling a friend right before touching base with VinTatum. My pal didn't pick up, but I left a voice mail frantically theorizing, "I hope it's not about money." Soon enough, though, my fears were confirmed.

VinTatum explained that a situation had come up in which he couldn't work at Flash for a brief period. He told me his bills were piling up and that he would really appreciate it if I could "help him out" financially. He might have heard the drop in my voice, since he quickly added, "I know I can't force you, but think about it..." It was a gloomy Monday and rain poured down as I processed VinTatum's attempted cash grab. I went numb as he tried to shift the conversation into more genial topics. "So how have you been doing?" he asked. I should've answered, "Kinda depressed now..." But I went through the motions and shared my excitement about Pride coming up. He bantered back about how great the festivities would be and said he'd give me some time to think over his (indecent?) proposal. When the call ended, I felt utterly deflated.

For quite some time, my friends were concerned that VinTatum was taking advantage of me and his latest request seemed to prove them right. I could take responsibility for choosing to spend money on him at Flash. But doing it outside of the club was a whole other story. I felt stupid for trying to put a sincere (if naive) effort into supporting VinTatum's goals away from stripping. It was becoming clear that I only mattered to him when he needed cash. (Everyone reading this is now shouting, "You think?") Social media can be deceiving, but from what I saw, VinTatum had a large and diverse network of people who would be more than happy to help him out. So why me? Was it because I was a smiling dope who was hung up on him? None of the potential answers seemed very comforting.

There was nothing left to lose, so I poured my heart out in a sprawling e-mail that detailed all the angst I felt. I owned the fact that I was experiencing a one sided infatuation, but questioned why our interactions always seemed to come back to money. (Specifically, I wondered if he asked any of his closer friends for help before approaching me.) I also mentioned that I cut down on visits to Flash because I felt far too invested in a hopeless situation. I even admitted I had been writing essays, song lyrics and envisioned a musical about my experiences at the club. Against my better judgement, I added that I might be tempted to give him some cash if he told me his life story over dinner. My letter was a dizzying attempt to express a broad range of emotions, but I hoped it might provoke some sort of meaningful response from him.

For a brief period, it felt cathartic to get my feelings out in the open. Even if he didn't care, telling him everything felt important to me. It was an exhilarating stage of my journey, like the moment in the Wizard of Oz where black and white gives way to vibrant technicolor. Being honest about what was on my mind felt like a giant step towards moving on. Was I really on the path to freedom from my unrequited admiration of VinTatum? He didn't reply to my message and the bumpy stretch of road that led to this moment suggested the saga was running out of gas.

***

About a week before Pride, a pal and I decided to check out Flash. I joked that I was ready to "cheat" on VinTatum with a new dancer, since he claimed he wasn't working there at the time. After dinner on an outdoor patio, we headed over towards my infatuation station and my jaw dropped as we got closer. VinTatum was outside chatting with the doorman and I was immediately filled with anxiety. I turned to my friend and started to wonder out loud if we should even go there. My nerves grew more unruly as I paused to pull a wad of cash from an ATM before resuming my panic. Ultimately I decided we should still go in, but as we approached the steps, I snuck past VinTatum so quickly that he didn't see me.

About a half hour went by with my pal and I watching other dancers grace the stage. I had contradictory feelings about whether or not I wanted VinTatum to come in and find me. When he finally did re-enter from his outside chat, he took one look at me, smiled a mercenary grin and pulled me into a gigantic hug. My head rested on his shoulder as I looked at my pal with an expression that read, "What do I do now?" My friend shrugged whimsically as my eyes widened with confusion. Even after my soul baring letter, he was trying to drag me off for some private dances as if nothing had changed. I was desperately hoping to slow things down a bit before they went further.

"Did you get my e-mail?" I asked. He replied that he did, but just in case, I figured I'd reiterate some of the key points.

"So you don't mind that I have a hopeless infatuation with you?"

"No."

"You don't mind that I'm writing musicals about this?"

"No."

His nonchalance was ironclad and he didn't seem phased by anything I said. (I wondered if he would've been thrown by something really crazy, like, "You don't mind that I want to make a blanket from grafts of your skin?") In all seriousness, I did feel relief in having his quasi-approval over being turned into my muse. But opening up to him about my infatuation only emphasized that the ball was in his court and he knew it. All the imagined conversations where I would face him and tell him how hurt I was began to evaporate. Only minutes after he found me, I was caving faster than a building marked for demolition. Even though my crush had become a wrecking ball to my emotional stability, I was allowing him to pull the lever again. He took hold of my hand and led me to the booths in the back just like old times.

"How long have you been here?" he asked as we settled into our tiny cubicle.

"About a half an hour," I replied.

"Wow, I didn't realize I was outside for that long," he said. I actually felt envious that the guy at the door could have such a long, casual conversation with VinTatum. If this latest adventure was any indication, he preferred dragging me into the back before I could start any meaningful dialogue with him.

"I was actually really nervous when I saw you there. I thought things would be weird between us," I admitted.

"Why would they be weird?"

"Because of the e-mail I sent..."

"I appreciate you sharing that with me," he replied quickly and casually. It made me wonder if he actually did read it.

The mists of sensuality subdued any further attempts to flesh out what he thought of my message. I hated how much I loved holding him. I knew he wasn't going to kiss me on the mouth, but there were some near misses that were pretty nice. At one point our noses were pressed together as we more or less stared each other down before he kissed my neck. In a way, this experience was like falling into bed with an ex. I knew it was probably the wrong thing to do, but it felt great at the time.

"I really missed this," I sighed as we embraced.

"Then why didn't you come see me sooner?"

It baffled me how oblivious he seemed to my conflict over coming back. I thought my e-mail would have helped him understand that every time I saw him, it wasn't just "fun" for me anymore. It was something that weighed on my heart in a way that wasn't so healthy. But our dances soon came to a close and aside from being disappointed in my lack of will power, I really enjoyed them.

"You're a troublemaker," VinTatum teased as we exited the booth.

He repeated the phrase again, which I found funny, since I thought of him when I heard the Olly Murs song Troublemaker. Especially with lines like, "Why does it feel so good, but hurt so bad? My mind keeps saying run as fast as you can..."

My pal and I soon left the club, but waited outside for another friend to join us. Moments later VinTatum came out for a smoke and I remarked, "I'd still love to get a picture with you." Unlike our last encounter, he seemed a bit more open to the idea.

"Maybe next week during Pride, since I'll have an excuse for it."

His neck was stiff and I offered to try massaging it for him. I'm no expert, so he was coaching me on how to do it properly. As I rubbed away, a guy on the street noticed us and joked, "Can I be next in line for that?" The guy stood there and repeated his query, to which VinTatum shot back, "That'll be $20." His reaction seemed a bit stern, since it was a harmless (if slightly leering) compliment. Those little breaks in character reminded me how much his demeanor shifts when money isn't involved.

The dancer who reminded me of Joey from Friends had joined us outside and volunteered to take over. Joey demonstrated more proficient massage skills and shortly after, the two men began an impromptu arm wrestling match. There was a weird mix of homoeroticism and machismo on display and once more I thought their adventures would make a great documentary. (Or a reality show? They could be boisterous sexy buds like Jaymes and James from the Amazing Race.)

In the days following my relapse, I sent VinTatum a message saying it was great to see him again and gently pressed him for a reply to my e-mail. I told him I was still really interested in his perspective on what I wrote. His silence was deafening, yet not entirely unexpected. However, my mind was now preoccupied with the hope of getting a picture with him during the coming weekend.

***

Pride arrived with a bang, bringing together friends, fun and fabulousness across several days of mayhem. It was Saturday night when I convinced a group of my pals to join me in my quest for some Flash photography with VinTatum. Given the inflated prices at other venues, the $5 entry fee at Flash was a bargain.

Not long after making our way in VinTatum spotted my group and I joked that I brought my "gaggle" with me. He smiled and nodded at my friends, before suddenly grabbing my arm and pulling me to go for dances with him. "Stop! Stop! I just got here," I protested, surprised by his aggressiveness. "Now!" He insisted, before explaining, "I'm leaving pretty soon."

"I'm really broke this weekend," I explained. "I can only do two dances today."

"Three," he said playfully.

"Okay, but three is the most I can do," I countered.

Even though things felt a bit more rushed, I tried to make like Barbara Walters wherever I could during our time together.

"Have you ever been attracted to a guy? You seem pretty straight," I said. He nodded and smiled mischievously. He followed up by implying that he might not be as straight as he appears. I still wasn't sure if he was being real or just playing up his Flash persona.

"I know you want a reply to your e-mail," VinTatum said, promising he'd send one soon.

"I'd really like that," I replied, somewhat surprised that he even brought it up.

"I actually read it the day you sent it," he continued.

We didn't get much more introspective than that. But there was a humourous moment when he accused me of reacting to his touch...er...prematurely. (I hadn't.) He acted shocked and his expression was a tad exaggerated. I joked that if I was wet, it was from the mickey of alcohol I guzzled before arriving. Maybe it was just me, but I found this kind of schtick tougher to get into after all we'd been through.

Cynicism aside, it was fun to have dances with him while the energy from Pride filled the venue. As we wrapped up our shortened session, he reminded me that tips are always welcome. Normally I'd oblige, but I told him I barely had enough money to get through the weekend. I asked about our potential picture and he promised to text me when he was outside so we could take one.

Soon, the DJ announced VinTatum would be dancing upstairs, so I went up to watch. He did a neat trick where he bobbed his hand up and down in sync with his member, as if he had his manhood on a string. Another highlight came when his pal Joey snuck up behind him and slapped his ass. VinTatum briefly channeled Beyoncé's reaction in Copenhagen before he realized it was his buddy. Frat boy action - it's faaaantastic! VinTatum saw me watching and rubbed his palm in a "money" gesture, hoping to squeeze a tip out of me. The patrons of the room, though, showered him with a sizable amount of dough for his brief performance. I scrounged up a two dollar coin, which I offered as he counted his haul of cash. "It's still a tip," I said weakly.

It may have been my giddy anticipation over our upcoming pic, but I offered to buy VinTatum a drink. "I thought you were broke," he said. "I am, but I have my credit card," I replied. He seemed distracted and slipped away before I could further humiliate myself. Despite being furious he asked for money outside the club, I was now bouncing around like a puppy desperate for his attention. My friends had left already and were waiting for me, so it was a good time to go.

A bit later, we finally met up for our picture, but he still harbored a few reservations about it.

"Let me put my shirt on," he said, before adding, "Don't take it in front of Flash."

We turned to face the opposite direction and I captured two "selfies" of us with my camera. I looked wild eyed, but gleeful beside his scruffy facial hair and gorgeous smile.

"Don't post these on Facebook, or I'll delete you!" he said.

"I won't, don't worry," I assured. (I ignored one pal's advice to go out in a blaze of glory by posting them with the tag "In A Relationship With...")

"Send them to me," he said.

Even though he promised a response to my tumultuous e-mail, it continued to slip his mind well after Pride. (I also understand why he wouldn't want to reply. It's harder to seduce somebody if you officially confirm they're only a bag of money in the grand scheme of things.) He did, however, send a message saying our photos were "awesome."

One friend suggested that VinTatum and I didn't just blur the lines between us, we "napalmed" them. That's probably true, since we constantly pushed against each other's boundaries in various ways. I kept attempting to transition from client to friend/acquaintence so I could have him in my life without draining my bank account. On the other hand, he kept trying to find ways to profit from my attraction, even away from Flash. So maybe we could never be "friends" in the traditional sense. However, I think I'm now okay staying in the background with everyone he's added to his online "fan club."

All things said, it really did mean a lot to me that VinTatum let me take a picture with him. It was important to me to capture us overlapping at this particular moment in our respective journeys. He made a huge impact on me, and now I had something to represent that in my "scrapbook of life." As with most of my infatuations, I hope to someday look back and laugh about how crazy I went. (It also wouldn't hurt if I can successfully turn it into a play that does the saga justice.)

More recently, it looks like some great new opportunities have opened up for VinTatum outside of Flash. His future seems very bright and I'm really happy for him. (It looks like he's gaining traction for his goals and has some stability, which may help him avoid asking guys like me for moolah...) I sent him a quick note of congratulations, telling him I was excited about his new endeavors.

He told me I was awesome.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dancing at "Flash" 6: Finale McBeal?

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!

Greetings Frothy friends, here's a quick Flash-back of previous events:

Checking out Toronto's "members only" strip club Flash became a regular habit of mine due to an alluring dancer I call "VinTatum" (named after Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) What started as a fluke turned into a puzzling infatuation that I couldn't shake. (Check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four and, yes, Part Five for what led up to this!) The drama continued with my perpetual urge to create a satisfying "finale" to my encounters with VinTatum. Would that moment ever come? Or would I turn blue waiting? Stay tuned...

March arrived and the first weekend of the month gave way to yet another trip to Flash. Most of my friends at this point steered clear of joining me for fear of enabling or encouraging my addiction. (Many of them are seriously ready to stage an intervention...) But as luck would have it, I had coffee with a pal who had never been to Flash before and he agreed to be my partner in crime for the night.

My frustrations from my last visit to Flash led me to create a mental list of talking points I wanted to bring up. Once again I was hoping to create a "grand finale" so I could try to break free from an increasingly costly habit. I really wanted to try telling VinTatum about some of the impact he was having on me, even if I couldn't confess everything. As my friend and I approached the entrance, I was determined to keep my wits about me and hit the right beats when we made our way in.

As soon as we entered, I Flashed my membership card and my pal signed in at the front desk. We then headed downstairs to the coat check area. Bounding out of the dancer's dressing room was VinTatum himself, sharply attired in a hat and vest that made him look like Magic Mike. (The guy who reminded me of Joey from Friends was also wearing a bow tie and cuffs, furthering my opinion that he and VinTatum are buds and may have co-ordinated their outfits that night.)

"I'm glad you came to see me tonight," VinTatum said with a huge grin as he paused to grind on me for a moment.

I can wax poetic about these encounters for days after they occur, but during the moment itself my brain goes tilt. Whatever his flaws, VinTatum posesses a killer charisma and often uses it to full advantage.

I introduced him to my pal, to which he replied, "Hi friend!" Then he was rushing back up the stairs to where the mayhem was.

My friend and I had trouble finding a good spot to catch the show, but eventually grabbed a table in a back corner. We got a couple of drinks and he enjoyed the blend of lights, music and men that I found so intoxicating. Shortly after we settled in, one dancer was strutting his stuff to Samantha Fox's 1980's hit "Touch Me (I Wanna Feel Your Body)." It was surreal to see a song previously associated with the exploitation of women getting recast as an anthem for men to strip to. We've come a long way baby.

The energy remained high as the fabulous drag performer Carlotta Carlisle came out and did a routine to the song "Hey Big Spender." (My friend noted the cheekiness of her song selection...) Carlisle also owned the stage with funny quips about testing out the private dances to ensure "quality control" for the club. She remained on stage to MC the "One Minute Flash" and gave sassy commentary as the boys stripped down.

When VinTatum came up, I let out a loud shriek and clapped for him. Subtlety is my strong point. Not too long after VinTatum's exposure on stage, he came by our table. I told him I was definitely up for some dances, but that I wanted to spend some more time hanging with my pal first. "I'm gonna kidnap you soon," he promised. VinTatum is one of the few guys that can make abduction sound sexy.

After checking with my friend that he'd be okay on his own for a bit, I was off to the races with my stallion. VinTatum and I went to the back and he teased me about heading over to our "regular" spot. I started to make a joke about carving our initials into the booth when his face suddenly turned sour. "It smells like old people and farts in here," he grimaced before leading us to a different room. His comment seemed a bit harsh given his flirtation with some of the silver foxes outside only moments earlier.

We finally settled into a more scents-ible booth where I could totally drink in one of the sexiest looks he had ever sported. "You look great tonight," I praised. "You want me to leave the hat on?" he asked before the clothes started to peel off. My eyes bugged out when his jeans came down, revealing a tight pair of Emporio Armani briefs in lieu of the Diesel shorts he favoured. He was such a knockout that I felt like I was being chloroformed by his sensuality.

"I'm hooked on you," I murmured at one point. "That's a good thing," he replied with a suave, assured demeanor. "It's good for you, but it's not good for me," I countered, trying to shift our banter into more realistic territory. "We both get something out of this," he reasoned.

I couldn't really argue with that, since the feeling he was giving me was a fiery inferno of delight. Whatever felt "flat" the week before was replaced with an energy that crackled between us. There were times when he'd tilt my chin up to look at him and his lips were inches away from mine. "It's too bad you don't kiss," I said, feeling an electric spark within the tension of being so close to what I wanted. He masterfully eluded my mouth, but allowed a kiss to land on my forehead. Soon he worked his way down to my neck, where he smooched with such ferocity that I was worried I would have hickeys later on.

The action was soon underscored by "DJ Got Us Falling In Love Again," which throbbed almost as much as we did. "This song is sick!" VinTatum declared in a voice so butch I almost asked, "Do any of your bros know what you're doing right now?" Appropriately, our bodies were rocking side to side as we sang along with Usher's ode to clubbing.

The only thing that briefly took me out of the moment was when he began pounding on the wall when he heard voices near our booth. "I like to scare people," he explained. "So you're a prankster? I like that," I said, more or less on autopilot since I didn't really get it. Maybe it was a display of that hint of Jersey Shore I sensed in him? Who knows?

At any rate, the dances were superb and I was about to pass out from the sensuous stupor that had overtaken me. For an attempted "grand finale" it really did feel like I was going out with a bang. We then began to settle up for the night.

"Thank you for your loyalty to me," VinTatum commented as we hugged.

"If I don't see you again, thank you for inspiring me," I said, getting in at least one of the major points I wanted to tell him.

"Don't worry, I'm still gonna be around," he reassured.

"I really have to start watching my money now," I countered, knowing full well I had said the same thing several times before.

Part of me started to realize that creating a "finale" would be always be difficult. After all, why would VinTatum want to say goodbye to a guy that helps pad his finances every few weeks? I might never get that cinematic farewell I dreamed of, where we'd chuckle and give each other a sincere blast of well wishes for our respective futures before parting ways.

After coming back from my dances, my friend and I spent a bit more time watching the other strippers before getting ready to go. We soon travelled back down to the coat check, where I saw VinTatum coming out of the change room with his jacket on. He and I hugged one more time before my pal and I bundled up and prepared to head out.

As soon as we exited, I gasped when I looked down and saw VinTatum having a smoke with a couple of guys on the sidewalk in front of Flash. (Although I had just seen him with his coat on, I wasn't expecting him to be right outside when I left.) I suddenly saw the potential for a moment that would take my "grand finale" over the top. My nerves tingled as I headed down the front steps, gathering the courage to approach VinTatum with my idea.

"I know you're probably gonna say no, but can I get a picture with you?" I asked earnestly.

VinTatum paused, with a sly smile creeping across his face.

"Anywhere but Church Street," he replied.

We hugged again, but the disappointment quickly set in when we parted. My pal and I then walked away from the relative darkness of Flash's entrance, heading towards the glow of the Hero Burger down the street. Once inside, I consoled myself with a Diet Cherry Coke, while my friend ordered a burger and we talked about what just happened. Part of me expected VinTatum to say "no" to a photo, but it was the phrasing of his answer that confused me. I can understand the fear of being outed as a stripper, but why did he single out Church Street as the place he couldn't be associated with? Would something overtly gay be a threat to the non-Flash reputation he's cultivating?

I sometimes forget what a slippery slope identity can be. I've been out and proud for over a decade and generally wear that as part of my everyday life. But VinTatum's comment made me wonder how fragmented his own persona is with different groups of people. Is he straight, bi, gay-for-pay, heteroflexible? I know we all tailor ourselves to different audiences, but what made him choose to work in a venue that's so in-your-face with its homosexuality? How does his secret career at Flash fit into the larger picture of his life?

There will almost always be more questions than answers. (If I was a bit braver, I might try asking VinTatum himself for some responses to my queries.) But he really doesn't owe me anything. It was my own choice to invest more than a thousand dollars into a potent fantasy that captured my imagination. In fact I probably learned more about him than I should have, which made it easier to justify going back so many times. Intimate sensuality combined with human curiosity and attraction can be a dangerous combination.

In the past, I've had my share of infatuations with guys that I couldn't have, but I still wonder why VinTatum was the first to trigger that feeling in such a long time. He definitely had a beautiful allure and charm that he exuded, but how did it go from casual fun to full on addiction so quickly? Maybe it was the challenge of trying to win him over, thinking it would only take a clever gesture or two for him to like me for real. Perhaps I longed for him to recognize or appreciate something about me aside from my money before I could fully let go of our encounters. (Though, to be fair he did acknowledge my love of music, my "happy" personality, noticed my Sketchers shoes and complimented my cologne.)

I also imagine VinTatum is eager to be appreciated for more than his body and seems to be charting the course towards his true goals. I really do wish him well and imagine him being very successful. I don't think I would have become so hung up on him if there weren't a real spark underneath the sexy image he portrays. For my part, I hope to have a grand musical, novel or even a finished song or two to represent this era of my life. VinTatum really did inspire me in a lot of ways that he probably never expected to and I appreciate that. (Not sure how he'd feel about all these blogs, but I hope he'd be flattered in some way if he ever does stumble across them.)

I can't say with any certainty that I won't go back to Flash, or that I won't see VinTatum again. But I am finally starting to understand that I might never have the perfect ending for this set of experiences. At times, it felt like a puzzle I was trying to solve, since the moments I shared with VinTatum resonated more deeply than I expected. Figuring out where all the pieces fit and understanding what everything meant was a journey in itself. Despite the concerns, criticisms and loose ends involved, I still feel it was a mission worth investing in. My wallet may be a tad emptier, but I think I've come out richer from exploring the multitude of feelings that VinTatum and Flash teased out of me.

Until next time, stay Frothy and fabulous everyone!

Dancing at "Flash" 5: Once More, With Feelings...

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!

Greetings Frothy friends, here's a quick Flash-back of previous events:

Visits to Toronto's "members only" strip club Flash left me shaken and stirred thanks to a dancer I call "VinTatum" (named after Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) What began as a fluke turned into a massive crush that I can't quite escape. (Check out Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four for what you missed!) Part of me feels like I'm in an ongoing Queer As Folk plotline full of sexy drama and mysterious men. But after a series of episodes, I'm still craving a satisfying "finale" to the season that never seems to arrive...

I started the New Year with a resolution to stop by Flash only once a month to get my "fix" of VinTatum's intoxicating charms. By February, though, the resolution was as smashed as I was back on New Year's Eve. The month began with a fabulous dinner with friends as we took advantage of the Winterlicious promotions taking place. A tasty meal, however, didn't quite satisfy my appetite for another excursion to VinTatum's weekend haunt.

After showing my membership card, the doorman waved me through before I could even check my coat. I hadn't even gotten settled when VinTatum smiled and made a beeline towards me. "You're not that cold," he said as he leaned into me, though my glasses were still foggy from the weather outside. "You smell good, as always," he added in a sexy voice. After drooling over his cologne on several occasions, he was now returning the compliment. I knew it was part of the game, but I still liked the flattery. While we chatted, he was also having fun banter with the guy that reminded me of Joey from Friends.

Almost immediately after my arrival, it was VinTatum's turn on stage. Joey stood next to me and watched, with his arm around me, rubbing my back and giving me little squeezes. At first I worried he was buttering me up to get dances with him, but overall I sensed a really cool, friendly vibe from him. It actually seemed more like he was there to support his buddy, joking with VinTatum about how to work the pole as they traded funny barbs. They seemed to get along like frat boys at times, which was a show in itself. As usual, I watched VinTatum with awe, captivated by his masculinity as if I was a voyeur in a slow motion perfume commercial. Sometimes I worried that the essence I was giving off smelled like "Obsession With Men." Eau the agony.

He got off stage and asked if he should "kidnap" me for our private dances right away or later. "Now is fine," I replied. I didn't even pause to buy a drink or put my jacket away before VinTatum swept me into a booth. I didn't ask too many probing questions this time, prefering to enjoy the ride for a change. Though I did pause to ask, "Do you like men, women or both?" He replied, "Both."

The dances were great as usual, but then he threw me a surprise curve ball. Without giving too much away, I'll just say that VinTatum opened up about his future plans in a way I wasn't expecting. It gave me a lot more insight into his "real" life and goals. Inititally I was trying to wind down my whole VinCrushing and felt this trip was just a fun bonus round to my last visit. I thought I had more or less wrapped things up, but now the wheels of curiosity and intrigue were spinning again.

After our dances concluded, I looked at my watch and told him I was happy that I still had time to go over to Fly for Sharon Needles. He didn't seem to know who Sharon was and I worried that he thought I was off to do hardcore drugs with people. "She's the winner of RuPaul's Drag Race," I explained. "That should be fun," he replied.

We said our goodbyes and I made my way to see Sharon Needles make her appearance at Fly! (The crowd was packed like sardines and, as a result, I got several free lap dances from people squeezing by me.) But the one thing even spookier than Sharon's FABULOUS performance was the fact that I was still haunted by my infatuation with VinTatum.

***

Two weeks later I returned to Flash for an event called "Sin." The infamous tagline on promotional material reads: "Everything Is Permitted." I started the night by myself, but a pal was slated to join me around midnight. An awesome tribal remix of Madonna's "Gang Bang" blared as I wandered between floors, though the main stage on the lower level was strangely subdued without any dancers on it. During Sin, the dancers were upstairs in the Erotico lounge performing for patrons who were lined up on opposite sides of a tiny stage. The arrangement looked almost like a Soul Train dance off headlined by semi nude hunks. To my simultaneous dismay and relief, VinTatum wasn't there that night. Without his presence, I knew I could concentrate on having a good time with my pal and not be inclined to blow through a giant wad of cash.

When my friend arrived we began to mingle, took in some tasty jello shots and explored the venue. What was interesting about an event like Sin is that it seemed to flip the script on a typical Saturday night at Flash. The guys who came to Sin appeared more invested in cruising each other than the strippers. I even noticed a few of the dancers sitting around at a table, mostly sidelined from the action. All they seemed to be missing was a deck of cards to pass the time. (There's probably a joke about strip poker in there somewhere...)

Eventually I explored the dark rooms and sauntered in and out of the areas cordoned off by flowing curtains. At one point I said to no one in particular, "Is this where everything is permitted?" The decor was sumptuous and I half expected a framed picture of Bette Midler to be hanging on the wall. (Flash was once home to the famous Bigliardi's Steak House, which attracted guests such as the Divine Miss M.) Soon, I came across signs indicating I'd found the semi-private area where everything was allowed For The Boys.

I did loops in and out of the darkened corridors with a mix of nervousness and curiosity about the cruisy behaviour taking place. Eventually I noticed a cute guy walk in and followed him. We made eyes at each other and moments later we were alternating between gropes, kisses and more. My new friend took the lead and a few other Sinners began to watch us. It was sort of naughty and exciting to be a "performer" for a change, letting our actions speak louder than words.

When all was said and done, we shared drinks and chatted for a bit. Even though it didn't solve all my woes with love and sex, it was a great feeling to meet a guy and have a moment of mutual attraction. It was also nice to remember what it was like to be wanted for my own traits and not my wallet. Yet, no matter how much I enjoyed a glimpse of what desire was like freed from handling fees, VinTatum was not an easy habit to shake.

***

One week after Sin, a pal and I were downtown at a birthday gathering for a friend. When the party ended he sardonically remarked, "Hey, you have just enough time to visit Flash!" My eyes perked up and I replied, "You're right! I do!" His brow furrowed and he quickly tried to recant his suggestion. "I didn't mean it! Seriously...don't go there tonight." However my mind was set and my companion reluctantly came with me.

We reached the doorway of Flash, but my pal said I should check if VinTatum was there before he shelled out the cover charge. Since I had membership, the doorman let me take a quick peek inside while my pal waited. A huge crowd surrounded the stage as VinTatum was sweating it out to Dan Hartman & Loleatta Holloway's classic "Relight My Fire." I rushed back to tell my friend we were staying, much to his chagrin. We checked our coats and then fought through the mob of patrons to carve out our own space in the venue. It almost felt like a small scale Studio 54 with disco music and scantily clad men dominating the room.

As we settled in, the song ended and VinTatum surrendered his platform to the next dancer. The DJ then put on Kim Wilde's bombastic 80's dance version of "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Once more I marvelled at how the soundtrack at Flash seemed to capture certain moods and feelings. Over heavy electronic drums and synths, Kim belted out the key line "You don't really love me, but you keep me hangin' on..." only moments before VinTatum and I were reunited. As my friend and I watched the other Flasher shake his stuff, VinTatum snuck up on me and I was suddenly face to face with his beaming smile.

"Did you see me on stage?" VinTatum asked as his hands teased my body and quickly found my weakness. "Did I get you all turned on?"

It would be crass to say he had me by the balls at that moment, but he certainly had a good grip on the situation.

"You were great up there," I stammered, melting under his touch.

"Are you ready for a dance?" he asked, as I looked over to my pal. "Do you mind if I go now? I can stay out here for a bit longer," I offered. "It's ok...go," my pal replied.

This marked my sixth excursion to the private booths with VinTatum. My visit was so impromptu that I told him I needed to hit the ATM before our dances. "Don't worry, you can go there after," he said. "I trust you." We then resumed our journey to the back area of the club.

"How've you been doing?" he asked. "Good," I replied somewhat cautiously. "How are you?"

"I'm doing good too," he answered. "Moving forward with things."

If our dance was a poker game, we were holding our cards very close to the vest. Maybe I was imagining it, but we both seemed a little more guarded than usual. Since he opened up a bit during our last visit, I was hoping for more of that reality to slip through. Yet, things were strangely flat. He didn't volunteer any new stuff about himself and I had no idea what I should be asking or talking about. It a weird way, it was almost like courtship in reverse, albeit embedded within a series of paid transactions. The sexual stuff was so well established that I was now more curious about the man himself and wanted more than the eroticism. Otherwise, it was just a really expensive way of getting off.

Since I couldn't get much conversation going, I was at least going to enjoy the music that accompanied our dances. I sang along with selections as varied as The Pussycat Dolls' "Buttons" (which he joked was "our song") and Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger."

"You seem to know your music," VinTatum observed. "I love music," I replied. "Music heals the soul," he added. That felt like the perfect opportunity to say: Yeah, I actually like to write songs and you've inspired quite a few! I wanted to say anything to propel things in a new direction. Do something to shake up the old routine. However, words seemed to escape me during this particular encounter.

Once our dances were done, I thanked him and he followed me as I went to the ATM. My pal saw us and gave a look that seemed both sad and concerned as he witnessed the most literal representation of my addiction to date. Picture me leaning into the glow of a money machine, pulling out cash with a shirtless hunk watching cautiously. It probably would have made a great artsy photo or painting with a title like, "A Portrait Of Desire."

After business was settled, my pal and I headed towards the coat check, but he couldn't make it two feet without being accosted by strippers. The quasi-hustler vibe that pervades Flash is one of the main reasons my friend hates coming with me. Our exit, though, became dryly comedic as we kept getting stopped by dancers jumping out of the woodwork.

One Flasher began a conversation with the infamous, "Where are you from?" My pal then replied, "Cheektowaga," in honour of our road trips through Buffalo. The dancer resembled a sk8r boi and we essentially said "see ya later boy" when he tried to market his goodies to us. I did give him points for insisting, "I forsee us having a dance in the future." We barely made it past him when a cute Latin hunk approached. My pal was totally done at this point and started making up random stories. "I have to go right now because my friend is leaving and he's my ride home," he insisted. I almost burst out laughing since he lives a few blocks away and I don't even have a driver's license.

We finally got our coats and as I was making my way back up the stairs I saw VinTatum and Joey running down towards the dancer's changing area. As I previously noted, they seem pretty friendly with each other and I would love to see whatever their story is played out as a movie or documentary. I can totally picture them going on a road trip and discovering what life is all about in the process. VinTatum then stopped me and gave me a big hug and Joey was playfully envious. "I'm jealous," he remarked. "Give me a kiss!" Our quick smooch on the lips felt both enjoyable and bittersweet, since Joey was volunteering the one thing VinTatum wouldn't give me.

In retrospect, VinTatum's comment about "moving forward with things" seemed to underline how much I wasn't. There was a sense of yearning and futility I felt from trying to squeeze "real" moments out of an essentially artificial scenario. As much as I could recognize that you don't get to ride off into the sunset with an erotic dancer, I did want to see if there could be any small Flash of connection between us. I might be one of the few folks who thinks it would be neat to drag a guy like VinTatum to a diner and have him tell me his life story over pancakes. (Well...pancakes for me, and whatever he could eat that wouldn't ruin his fitness regimen.) Understanding the improbability of the situation didn't make it any easier to quash my curiosity about who he was or the urges to keep paying to see him.

COMING UP NEXT: The grand finale?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dancing at "Flash" 4: The Stuff That Sweet Dreams Are Made Of...

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed at...er...length. Once again, this blog includes details about my encounters with male strippers! Readers' discretion is advised!

Greetings Frothy friends, here's a quick Flash-back of previous events:

A fluke visit to Toronto's "members only" strip club Flash led to my increasing interest in one alluring dancer I call "VinTatum" (named after Jersey Shore's Vinny and Channing Tatum.) Long...er...very long story short, he is one irresistible mofo. (Check out Part One, Part Two and Part Three for what you missed!) Between the music, the atmosphere and VinTatum, I finally bought a one year membership to Flash for $25 instead of shelling out $5 each trip. I was also still trying to make sense of the mesmerizing, conflicting swirl of feelings that occurred during my visits.

Just before the new year I came back to Flash to pick up my membership card. I wasn't planning on staying long, since I was meeting up with a friend. But the few minutes I was there reminded me of everything I hate about strip clubs. My mistake was coming relatively early in the night, so the place was pretty empty. One dancer saw me and immediately zeroed in. He introduced himself, shook my hand and then the questions came a mile a minute. "What's your name? Where are you from? I haven't seen you before!" I was pretty taken aback, but explained I was only staying for a few minutes. He followed that up by saying he could "take care of me" right away. "Maybe next week," I replied. He countered with, "I'll get you next time!" It almost sounded more hostile than sexy.

There was another dancer who was very cute and really worked the pole on stage. He was playing to a quiet room in what looked like an undress rehearsal for the full stage show that would happen later. Even the laser lights looked more depressed without the energy of a full crowd. He ended his set and went to the bar fully naked, which made me take notice of his muy bien derriere. I came up and tipped him $5 for his efforts, saying something cheesy, like, "Great pole work up there!" He wasn't as pushy as the first dancer, but he was also curious about who I was. "Have you been here before? Is there anything I can...do for you?" If I wasn't so hung up on VinTatum, I might have been persuaded, but I also told him, "Maybe next time..."

The following Saturday arrived and I was determined to have a Happy Nude Year! I was trying to recruit a friend to join me, but he was hesitant. "I don't like seeing you get taken advantage of," he explained. "Will you at least come for moral support? What if I paid your cover?" I countered. "And a drink?" he bartered. "Sure!" I agreed. With that settled, we met up with another friend and the three of us made our way to the club.

At the door I proudly presented my membership card as my pals signed in to the strains of Alexis Jordan's "Happiness." We were bopping along to Jordan's belting, which made the doorman comment that he was glad to see enthusiastic visitors. "It's a great song," I said. "Yeah, it's only my fourth time hearing it tonight," the doorman deadpanned.

Once inside, the energy was palpable. It was a marked contrast to my brief, early evening visit the previous Saturday. The crowd was overflowing and my friends and I made our way to the bar to partake in some shots of peppermint schnapps. I also broke tradition and ordered a Rev instead of my usual Bacardi Breezer. We soon snagged a table and observed the show.

At one point the DJ announced that all dancers had to come on stage for the "One Minute Flash." It became a chorus line of men getting up, being introduced and then quickly showing off the goods. There was a large round pedestal next to the silver pole on stage that the dancers climbed onto before dropping trou for the crowd. One of the newer dancers stepped up and almost lost his balance, causing the others to gasp and shout like sports fans watching a risky play. Some of the Flashers seemed bored or annoyed that they were pulled away from working the room to assemble like a manly buffet for all the onlookers. It really was the largest gaggle of strippers I had ever seen in one place. Eventually VinTatum showed up in the rotation, prompting me to poke my friends and squeal, "There he IS!"

Shortly afterward, VinTatum came by our table and I fluttered like a schoolgirl. "I finally got some of my friends to come back with me," I said. "Bonjour," he replied, turning to my pals. We then talked about our respective New Year's celebrations. He mentioned spending his with family, which made me feel slightly trashy when I declared, "I drank a lot, but I didn't get sick!" He noticed me sipping on my Rev and said, "I'll let you finish that, but I'll see you later?" My face beamed as I nodded in the affirmative.

I turned to my friends and jokingly fanned myself, but they were pretty much done with it. I didn't mind, since they stayed with me for at least a half an hour and I knew it wasn't really their thing. Aside from that, I didn't want to leave them by themselves when I went off for my private dances. We hugged, said our farewells, and then I didn't waste any time. I found VinTatum by the bar and tapped him on the shoulder. "Are you ready?" I smiled. He seemed a little surprised, but replied, "Yeah, sure!"

Fourth time was the charm as everything felt strangely relaxed when VinTatum and I settled into our private booth. I really can't explain the feeling I get when we have our visits, except that it's an overwhelming high. The buzz was momentarily thrown off, though, when he asked about my workplace. "How much discount do you get over there?" he inquired. "Not very much," I replied, hoping to change the subject. I don't blame him for asking, since it's a question I get a lot when I mention where I work. But it made me wonder if he was angling to take advantage of my perks as I was exploiting his.

He didn't press further, but the workplace talk got me into a confessional mode. "I cried when I got my credit card bills this month," I said, only half joking. I wasn't trying to sound so dramatic, but earlier that day I went through a mini meltdown over how much I'd been spending. "It's ok, we're just having fun," he said, trying to sound reassuring.

The music throbbed as usual, this time with VinTatum singing along in a humourous falsetto. He also mimicked the electronic beeps of the song, joking, "I sound like R2D2." I actually laughed quite a bit with him and relished the bits of facade busting that took place. Maybe that's why I liked him so much, since a man that can turn me on and make me laugh is something I crave. "I love the music here," I said. "It's kinda like Fly," he noted. "But it's not always like this. On Sundays they play really sleepy stuff."

Since he'd seen me enough times to know I enjoy his cologne, he asked, "Do I smell good today?" After confirming he did, I asked what he was wearing. "It's a secret," he teased before admitting it was Christian Dior. "You smell good too," he commented, making me do a back flip of joy inside. "It's Yves Saint Laurent," I explained. "I had to up my game."

My cologne revelation may have prompted the next question, which took me by surprise. "How much do you spend on clothes?" In between our gropes and grinds, I came up for air long enough to say, "Not a lot...I like sporty stuff like Adidas. Why?"

"I like to help people dress well so they feel good about themselves."

My eyes widened as another juicy piece of VinTatum's puzzle fell into my lap. Although it was funny to think that he saw me as the Brittany Murphy to his Alicia Silverstone. But it was a revealing insight into how his taste for designer labels extended into his overall sensibilities. Fancy clothes, though, have never been something that interested me, let alone something I'd use to boost my self esteem. Part of me wondered why he thought I didn't have a healthy sense of self in my current attire.

However, one common thread throughout our encounters is his desire to make people "feel good" in various ways. So maybe his questions about clothes were another manifestation of that goal. On one hand, I thought it was sweet that he was trying to use his sense of style to help me out. On the other hand, it was another example of our wires getting crossed. In our first visit he assumed I didn't go out very much, now it appeared he thought a makeover would help me feel better about myself. In my mind, I saw him as a sensual, funny, charm factory that should be putting his personality to use in stage shows or TV. So maybe we were both guilty of projecting different ideas onto each other that weren't always correct.

"Your friend out there really seemed to like me," VinTatum observed. "What have you told him?" I thought to myself, He reads my bi-weekly blogs about you and hates coming here because he worries about me getting ripped off. But my actual reply was the more demure, "He knows how much I like you." I still wonder what he would have said if I'd told him the whole story. There were many questions and answers on both ends that sort of got lost in between our writhing.

VinTatum then began throwing out some of those sexy animal snarls that I loved from our last visit. As much as the thrill was sexual, a lot of my intoxication was coming from the simplicity of holding another man close to me. There was an intensity to the massaging, the caresses and the feel of his hot breath on my neck.

"You're very theatrical. I like that," I praised, hoping he'd take my hints and become an actor. "Why thank you," he replied, breaking into some of his cute character voices. He even threw in some raunchy banter that had me laughing with high pitched glee.

"I know I've said it before, but you really are gorgeous," I gushed. "Thanks," he replied. "You should see me when I lose more weight." My jaw dropped as I said, "Stop that! You're perfect the way you are!" He appreciated the compliments, and it was another bit of reality slipping through the cracks. It still surprised me that a guy as hot as VinTatum could be worried about his appearance.

"You have a really nice smile," I continued. "Nice smiles always win me over." He then jokingly leaned against the wall, posing for me with that wicked grin, looking like a sexy pinup come to life.

When it came time to pay, he admitted he gave me one free dance because I've been so nice to him. I still added on a tip, but he quickly asked if I wanted it back. "I don't want to break your bank," he said, looking concerned. I told him to keep it, since, "I need to take a break from coming here for a bit." He understood and didn't put any pressure on me about my decision. "But don't be afraid to come back later on," he added.

Our goodbye hug melted into another round of us telling each other we were awesome. I felt like I was walking on clouds as I headed back out near the main stage. Simply Red's "Sunrise (Love To Infinity Mix)" was thumping as the lights bounced all around the venue. Normally I'd be analyzing the moody lyrics and trying to apply it to the club, but this time it just felt euphoric. I grabbed my coat and left Flash with a glow that felt akin to Madonna's giddy giggles at the end of the "Justify My Love" video.

By the time I got to Union Station to wait for my bus home, I could smell a mashup of both of our colognes. It was a nice epilogue to the intermingling I'd experienced with VinTatum earlier that evening. I felt less angsty and more satisfied than our last encounter, since I had learned a pinch more about him and enjoyed the rush overall. If it wasn't a perfect "bow," it at least wrapped things up enough for me to conclude my series of essays on Flash.

My adventures with Flash have been alluring, addictive and occasionally off putting. A lot of different buttons were being pressed simultaneously during my visits. I've volleyed between being cynical of the club and romanticizing my encounters there, but the reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Flash is a venue that brings people of all stripes - employees, dancers and patrons - into one place for a variety of reasons. As the great Annie Lennox once sang, "Everybody's looking for something..." We all have "Sweet Dreams" that we want to turn into realities, and Flash makes that happen for many folks. I didn't even think I was looking for anything when VinTatum overwhelmed me with his magnetism. But developing a crush on him seemed to break the concept of anonymously enjoying someone's company in the shadows of a private booth. "I didn't expect it to hit me over the head like this," I explained to a pal. "Isn't that what you're paying for?" he impishly replied.

There's always a price to pay for acting on desire, whether you invest in it emotionally or financially. Flash turned me inside out because I was guilty of doing both. VinTatum gets credit for sparking a feeling I haven't had in awhile. It's not hard to grow fond of a cute guy that displays massive amounts of charm, appears devoted to family, and has goals related to his stylish flair. (I also appreciated that he didn't want to "break my bank" after I mentioned concern over finances...) I may only be able to sketch a tentative outline of who he really is, but he seems like a decent enough guy. Even if I know I can't have him outside of our Flash-stravaganzas, I'm glad we crossed paths. Those fleeting, dizzying moments we've shared have inspired me a lot and there's something priceless about that, even in spite of the actual costs attached.

In some ways this all feels like part of a bigger journey that's taking place for me. It began a few months ago when Damon Suede's amazing novel "Hot Head" awakened emotions I'd locked down for years. Then Flash came along with a tantalizing infatuation that literally landed in my lap. As a result, my emotional spectrum was all over the map, but it was nice to know I was still capable of feeling and wanting certain things. The next step is to harness all that vibrant energy and bring it back down to earth. It's time to conclude my Gossip about Flash and "Move In The Right Direction" with my personal goals...

In the meantime, a huge thank you to Flash for being so provocative and the amazing, seductive, lusty scamp I call VinTatum for giving me so much to think about! More thanks are owed to all the friends that love me and watch out for me! We've had interesting debates about what this all means.

Stay Frothy and Flashy everybody...