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!
This marks the third chapter in my series on Toronto's "members only" strip club Flash. (Check out Part One and Part Two for what you missed!) What began as a fluke started to become a regular occurrence due to one dancer that drew my interest. I nicknamed him VinTatum (after Vinny from Jersey Shore and Channing Tatum) and was hoping to see him one more time after he hinted he might be leaving in the New Year. Something about VinTatum sparks my creativity and passion, but also leaves me worried about how smitten with him I've become.
In between visits, I also discovered an amazing book called All I Could Bare: My Life In The Strip Clubs Of Gay Washington, D.C. by Craig Seymour. I stumbled upon this memoir when searching for other writings on gay strip club experiences and I highly recommend it! Seymour delivers vivid stories of his personal journey as a grad student who becomes a stripper on the way to his Ph.D. The book is a great read, filled with compelling debauchery and fantastic pop culture references. More importantly, it gave me a first hand account of what it's like to be a dancer in a club. That was a perspective I was very curious about after my experiences as a customer at Flash.
On a recent Saturday, I entered Flash with a sense of familiarity and didn't know if that was a good thing or not. This was my fourth trip to the club and I realized I was becoming a semi regular. After checking my coat and bag, I went to the bar to order my usual - a Pineapple Bacardi Breezer. My attention then shifted to what appeared to be a new dancer getting advice from the bartender about his new gig. Part of the fascination with the club is feeling like I'm an extra on the set of a really intriguing movie filled with titillation and drama. Even though I'm not getting paid, I'm soaking up whatever I can about the atmosphere every time I step in.
By now I should be used to the laser light show, but it always adds a music video feel to the stage that's pretty alluring. (Don't go anywhere near this if you have epilepsy, as it gets pretty intense.) While songs pump and throb, the lights punctuate the heady mix of alcohol and sexuality that co-exist within the venue. Even the porn at the bar was catching my attention more than usual. Something called Fraternity X was on with college students going through some pretty intense exams during their pledge week. My own initiation to Flash might have been over, but I still felt like I was in a haze.
I'm not sure how much I was influenced by All I Could Bare, but I felt like the dancers had a fun exuberance and more camaraderie than I previously observed. They were all teasing each other, joking and playing around like a clothing optional band of brothers. The crowd was also pretty packed with a wide diversity of folks taking in the sights and sounds. One patron got out of his seat and danced around to some songs, popping and locking at times. Another jolly gent was singing along with a Darkchild produced remake of "Ain't Nobody" while heading to the bathroom. People were young, old, fat, thin and came from a variety of backgrounds, making Flash a veritable UN of sorts. Aside from music, can naked men really make the people come together? (Er...I should probably rephrase that...)
So if I viewed Flash as a movie set, it was lights, camera, action when I noticed VinTatum there. And if I was the extra on set, VinTatum was the star of the show, making my heart leap as he smiled and approached. "What are you doing here so early?" he asked. "Hoping to see you, since you weren't here last week," I replied, feeling like a nerd trying to make small talk with his studly crush at a high school dance. "What was I doing last week?" VinTatum said, searching through his mental Rolodex. "Oh yeah, I was at a friend's birthday party. I've been pretty busy." I mentioned having a few days off from the stress of the store I work at, while he talked about finishing up his Christmas shopping. "You're coming for a dance later, right?" he asked. I confirmed I would.
In between talking to me he worked the room and was busting out all kinds of personality. In fact, he was more humourous than I was expecting, breaking into a hilarious faux cockney accent on occasion. He let loose with little dance moves and sang along with songs this time too. I was witnessing what a natural charmer he was with everyone he encountered. Quickly enough it was his turn to grace the stage, and he was wearing a fake pair of glasses that made him look even hotter. He was very playful, smiling and having wacky antics with his eyewear, which were soon resting on a very provocative perch. He also looked right at me and let out a really cute laugh when he saw my eyes popping out over his impressive manhood.
When he came off stage I offered to buy him a drink and he wanted a Caesar. The bartender at the front had just gone on break and his replacement was afraid to make a "bad one." We then went to the other bar at the back, where the guy slinging booze was a pinch snarkier with VinTatum. "You don't want that! It's too many calories! You'll be bloated. Aren't you on the stripper's diet?" My butch fantasy became a sassy queen, hands on hips, exclaiming "Honey!" in protest. I loved watching all this, since it added to the cinematic feel of the evening. (It also reminded me that I can eat a baconator and not care, while it's a whole different ball game for those who make money from their physical attributes.)
Snark aside, they really weren't able to make Caesars in the back. VinTatum then grabbed another dancer and brought him over to help the bartender at the front make one. It almost became a Reader's Digest joke about how many strippers it took to mix a drink. He thanked me, we toasted, and he exclaimed "Spicy!" as he sipped his beverage. Once more he asked if I was ready to go for a dance, but I was still meandering on going right away. He politely said he'd get back to me soon because, "I need to go make some money." It was as if the director had suddenly yelled a loud "CUT!" and the sound of the clapboard jarred me out of my trance. We weren't just two guys talking in a bar. We were in his place of business. As a bit player in someone else's world, I felt like I'd lost all my sense of timing.
After VinTatum did another tour of the room, I was finally ready and we went off for our dances. There was almost no pretense this time when we entered the private booth since he knew me already. As he leaned into me I told him he "always smells amazing" and he proudly said he had a new scent on. When I asked what it was, he replied, "Prada." I was a bit Bacardi'd, so I fumbled my way through a reference to "The Devil Wears Prada." Given the cross around his neck, I'm not sure he appreciated the metaphor, but he was a temptation I had trouble resisting.
Not long after the cologne talk, he showed me a beautiful, expensive watch he had on. Appropriately, he was displaying his taste in luxury at the same time I was indulging in mine. He briefly paused to take off his shoes, commenting about how slippery they were when he was on stage. I nodded with recognition, since I had just read about Craig Seymour's fears of wiping out while dancing in All I Could Bare. After the shoes were off, VinTatum joked, "I bet you want me to take my pants off too!" I also asked him to help me keep track of our dances and he announced them with comedic royalty, all, "You are on dance number two, sir!"
As we closed the gap between us, he kissed my forehead and I squealed, "More kisses!" He then planted a row of tiny smooches across my brow. I was surprised when he slipped his hand down the back of my shirt to give a mini massage. When he was working his magic, I told him, "You're really good at that!" My hands explored his body as well, and he replied, "I concur." He was also grabbing onto me, playfully snarling like an animal. There was a weird, wild, wonderful energy radiating from him that totally disarmed me.
The little pecks on my neck and forehead prompted me to ask him if he kisses on the mouth. "Yeah, but not here," he explained. "That's understandable," I casually replied, though I felt red faced and strange for having asked. I know that a real kiss can sometimes be much more intimate than any bawdy physical act taking place. But it was like I had smacked face first into the glass wall that separates the desire within the transaction from real life. I'm limited in the tools I can use, since my non-cash charms have less value here. He's limited in how much he can give me in satisfying what I want without giving away too much of his "real" self. The parameters of our exchange were sometimes difficult to maneuver.
Seemingly, he tried to make it up by kissing my neck again and put on a stupendous performance for me. When he asked how many dances I wanted, I sighed dreamily, "A lot..." (For the record, I settled on lucky number seven.) Once again I told him how gorgeous he was and went into my usual ramble of, "I like you too much and that's dangerous!" That was my polite way of saying, "Hi! You're like a narcotic to me and I'm stretching my paychecks thin to keep getting my fix! Do you have a patch I can wear to wean myself off of you?" Maybe the patch would smell like Prada. At any rate, VinTatum really gave his all trying to make the dances special for me and I appreciated that quite a bit.
When things wrapped up, we bantered again about the upcoming holidays. He mentioned he still had last minute shopping to do for people and hoped to get them some nice stuff. I got out my wallet, we settled up, then he pulled me into a hug and told me I was awesome. I countered, "No, you're awesome!" We ended our back and forth with him saying he was glad he could make me feel so good. He then added he was going back on stage to dance soon, so I stayed around to watch. But I also wondered if it was odd to wait for his performance, since I'd essentially blown my wad for the night already. Maybe I was hoping to take in just a little more of that sparkle he possessed? Geez. Was I really becoming a fanboy for a guy I barely knew? I worried that I was becoming too invested in all senses of the word.
After staking out a seat across from the stage, I glanced around at all the other patrons nearby. They were drinking pitchers of beer, meeting up with friends, texting and almost ignored the dancers on stage at times. I was slightly envious of their detachment. Maybe they were just better at compartmentalizing their desires than I was? I resumed watching the parade of hunks and paid more attention to the music that was being played throughout the evening. The songs at Flash are generally awesome and inadvertently capture the push and pull of the club's contradictions at times.
For example, "Die Young" made an appearance early on with Ke$ha singing, "Looking for some trouble tonight? Yeah! Take my hand, I'll show you the wild side..." The dancers are certainly willing to help you embrace your inner hedonism. But later on, Marina & The Diamonds offered the cynically tart counterpoint, "This is how to be a heartbreaker, Boys they like a little danger, We'll get him falling for a stranger, a player..."
I kept waiting for VinTatum, but the lineup got all kerfuffled and he didn't get a chance to go on stage again. It was getting late and I had to make like Cinderella around midnight. So I waved, gave him a quick hug goodbye and made my exit. The fairy tale was coming to a close, at least for this Saturday night. The cold blast of air that hit me was surprisingly refreshing as I left the club. I then headed over to Union Station where my carriage was awaiting to take me home.
This trip to Flash was intended to be the climactic ending to my "trilogy" of The VinTatum Monologues. He had mentioned "not being there" in the New Year, so I wanted to come back for our last dances, compliment his killer smile and wish him well with whatever he wanted to do. I had hoped to neatly tie everything in a bow so I could feel like the experience was complete. But instead, VinTatum's outsize personality captivated me so much that I still want to keep going back. I like being around him even though he's obviously there to make money. He's just so unbelievably charming, dazzling and unattainable. Yet again, I've developed a hopeless crush on someone I can't have.
I don't blame Flash or VinTatum for my unexpected roller coaster of emotions. But it is noteworthy for being the first time I've liked a dancer enough to come back regularly and spend a lot on him. (That feeling never occurred during my trips to rival bar Remingtons.) VinTatum is great at what he does and the better his performance, the more money he makes. If I didn't have bills to pay, I'd be tempted to quote the famous Clairol commercial and cry out, "I'm worth it!" But even a clear cut exchange of money for lust can be complicated. I can rent or buy porn and have a safe distance from the fantasy because it's playing on a screen. But when an actual person delivers the fantasy, the interaction can trigger real feelings and wants, even if you know it's a paid transaction. What I thought was a great shortcut past the awkwardness of regular hookups and flirtation sometimes brings out the exact same insecurities and issues I've tried to avoid.
Maybe there is no quick fix for navigating desire after all. My cynical side wonders how much I'm being played by VinTatum's irresistible, heartbreaking mystique. (Cue the Marina And The Diamonds...) On the other hand, he does seem to genuinely want to please the people who come for his dances. The tiny bits of reality that slip through his facade show me he's a normal guy with regular goals. In fact, I love that he enjoyed a Caesar in spite of the so-called "stripper's diet." He wants to get nice gifts for the people he cares about and has a taste for designer labels. I don't begrudge him the ability to earn cash for those things by selling his charms. But our experiences get me thinking about my own goals and how I want more than what he can give me. (Even though he does provide a very potent, enjoyable cloud of sensuality that always leaves me in a stupor...)
So what comes next? Probably more visits to Flash, since I caved and signed up for a membership! But I'll move forward with the goal of enjoying it in moderation, and trying not to overthink it so much. But I do encourage my readers to overthink about Craig Seymour's awesome blog Craig's Pop Life! You'll experience stunning photography, passionate prose and some hot NSFW documentations of men taking it off. (As well, buy his book All I Could Bare! It rocked my socks!)
Until next time, stay Frothy and Flash-tastic everyone...