Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dancing at "Flash" 3: Breezers and Caesars, Oh My!

WARNING: Adult situations and sexual themes are discussed 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...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dancing At "Flash" 2: What A Feeling...

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

I wish I could cut together some kind of television-esque dramatic recap of my past events, like:

Previously on Frothy Pop Treats, Garth got more than he bargained for when he went to gentleman's club Flash!

[Camera pans to cute, shirtless guy] "You wanna go for a dance?"

After experiencing the dangerously tantalizing ins and outs of the club first hand, can Garth resist the urge to come back? Tune in tonight!

Seriously, though, after writing my first piece about Flash, I did want to check it out again to see if it would feel any different after breaking down all my feelings about the initial visit. And boy was it ever different. Admittedly I was coming into it a bit more lubricated than last time. (Thank you cherry brandy!) I also started to feel like an undercover reporter who thought he had it all figured out, but then succumbs to the temptation of the very situation he's supposed to be investigating. My previous experience brought out a heaping dose of cynicism about the ways that money and sexual desire intersect. This time I found myself more willing to surrender to the atmosphere, getting somewhat hypnotized by it in the process.

I started the evening having tasteful discussions with a friend about why I haven't been dating. I'm petrified about the idea of rejecting a person, and almost as squeamish about being the one turned down. That same feeling even applies to casual flings. My pal then offered the sensible notion that the potential rejection is part of the risk both parties sign up for. It makes total sense, but it's something I've never been fully comfortable with.

Cut to a few hours later where, after a few libations, I'm dragging reluctant pals back to one of the places you won't risk rejection, provided you pony up the money. I was craving more exposure to Flash, the "members only" strip club on Church Street in downtown Toronto. Depending on my mood, there are times I'm more okay with throwing cash around to buy an erotic experience than wearing my heart on my sleeve for free.

Being a tad tipsy gave things a slightly exaggerated perspective this time around. As soon as we paid our cover charges, I spotted ballots to vote for the "2012 Dancer Of The Year" and stuffed one in my bag as a souvenir. I then stared with jaw dropping awe as two guys slammed each other with gusto on the screen behind the bar. The neon lasers also made a dazzling light show across the stage as I watched a dancer reveal his red g-string with holiday bells dangling from it.

One of my friends was immediately cornered by the dancer who did a slow, melancholy performance to LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" during our previous visit. This time, the guy seemed much more lively and had a completely different spark to him. My pal chatted with him for a bit and I wondered if things had really changed that much in such a short time.

It also took me by surprise when I was recognized by VinTatum, my private dancer from last time. (In my last entry, I dubbed him VinTatum because he reminded me of a cross between Vinny from Jersey Shore and Channing Tatum.) "You're not so shy anymore," he teased. I held back from saying, "Well, actually I was stuffing dollar bills down a go-go boy's underwear in Syracuse a few weeks, probably not that shy!" Thought bubbles aside, VinTatum was super friendly, encouraging me to grab a couple of drinks and go for a dance with him later. Resistance was futile as I became putty in his roaming hands...

Despite the wandering gropes, my friends really weren't feeling it this time. However, VinTatum had an irresistible draw that provoked and inspired me, so to paraphrase Miley Cyrus, I couldn't wait to see him again. My pals agreed to wait for me outside, so I downed a Bacardi Breezer, found VinTatum and was ready for the sequel to our first adventure.

I made a joke about being "bad" during our previous encounter, since I was worried that I had been too grabby. "You weren't bad last time," he smiled. Sigh...swoon...faint. VinTatum seemed very eager to please, filling our tiny room with his intoxicating manliness, but coming across less cocky than before. I kept blurting out comments that he was a "sex god" and "so hot," to which he thanked me. Part of me wondered if he was friendlier because he knew he had me hooked. After all, I was back again, right? He invited me to feel his abs and asked, "Do I look more toned than the last time you saw me?" My eyes almost popped out wondering if he read my last essay where I said he was "slightly less built" than the others. In fact, seeing everyone upping their game made me feel like the restaurant critic that returns to the eatery after publishing their initial review. People seemingly pulled out all the stops, among other things, to please the patrons and snag a better rating.

Aside from hot men, one thing I will always praise about Flash is their abundance of amazing Diva music. I nearly squealed when VinTatum was all over me and Rihanna's "S&M (Dave Aude Mix)" began playing. I told him straight up, "Ohhhh...I LOVE this song!" Here I was with this hot guy, that hot track, and experiencing a major sensory overload. It was weird to also realize how well the lyrics fit the moment.

"Feels so good being bad...there's no way I'm turning back..."

If last time was an awkward initiation, this time I was more at home completely losing myself within the fantasy. It was a living, breathing, three dimensional erotic dream clouding my better judgement.

"Come on, come on, come on....I like it, like it..."

Rihanna's raspy insistence underscored the lurid appeal of our interaction. I even started singing along as audience participation reached new highs. Skin was squeezed, breath was heavy, bodies were writhing and making ends meet took on a whole new meaning.

"I love the feeling you bring to me, oh you turn me on. It's exactly what I've been yearning for, give it to me strong..."

There was a point when I looked up in the dimly lit booth and saw VinTatum standing there, radiating the most handsome silhouette. His killer smile sparkled, even in relative darkness. His tattoos and golden cross were the finishing touches on the striking figure he made. No matter how much guilt I held from society's conventions that it's wrong to pay for this, I didn't care. He was my fantasy and in this moment he was mine.

Funnily enough, Rihanna was followed by a return appearance of LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It." I can honestly say the "wiggle, wiggle, wiggle it" refrain will never, ever be the same for me. VinTatum gets top marks for the passion in his pants that he wasn't afraid to show. It was also fun to drunkenly sing along with the lyrics while being up close and personal with my dancer's considerable charms. When else will I get the chance to chant "Look at that body! Ahhhh..." while running my hands all over a sizzling hunk of man?

My tipsiness made me more chatty overall, which led me to bust out some of the Spanish I knew. I thought VinTatum had some Latin flair, but when I probed further, he said he didn't speak any other languages. "You speak Spanish?" he asked in surprise. "Un poco," came my reply. Part of me hoped I could use that as a springboard to learn more about him. I was falling into the trap of trying harder to humanize my temporary object of desire. It's sort of like discovering a delicious cocktail, wanting more of it and then being curious about the ingredients that make it up. You're really not supposed to know the secret recipe, but I couldn't resist trying to decipher it.

The one thing that was easy to decipher was the sheer force of VinTatum's erotic magnetism. I had to think long and hard about how far I was willing to go with my dollars this time. I settled on a "high five" since five dances would be long enough to drink in everything that made me high off my sexy stallion. At times he was literally working his ass off to seduce me into spending more. Composure flew out the window and my face essentially dissolved into what Homer Simpson looks like when he's craving a beer. Everything felt so much more amplified compared to my last experience, but I tried to be blunt about my situation. "I work in retail...I'm not rich," I explained. "That's ok," he insisted.

He then sat down on my lap and asked for a massage. I think it was a moment we both kneaded, and I definitely had his back. After rubbing him down for a bit, our time was coming to a close. Pants went back on and I gushed once more about how good looking he was. He gave me a tight bear hug, momentarily lifting me off the ground. I was impressed, cause I'm not the lightest guy around and it was a fitting metaphor for the way he's swept me off my feet. When it was time to pay, he asked if he could "steal an extra $5" to buy a bottle of water. His brazen turn of phrase was oddly endearing to me, and if this moment were in a magazine, the headline would read, "Erotic dancers - they're just like Us!"

"You should come back next week," he encouraged. I almost looked down to see if that whooshing sound really was a vacuum attached to my wallet. "Maybe later, sometime in the New Year," I replied. His face then looked a touch more serious. "I'm not going to be here in the New Year." My words then spilled out faster than logic could intervene. "Ok, I'll be back next week..."

My mind raced through the Flash flood of dramatic potential in VinTatum's casual revelation. Was he leaving in the New Year to follow his true passion? Leaving to do something he really wants to do with his life? Leaving to bring his brand of sweltering sensuality to other hot spots around the globe? My visit to Flash started as a one time thing, then spawned a sequel and now it felt like sirens were calling out for me to complete the trilogy.

One friend shared his concern over how much I was spending, asking me, "What are you really getting out of this?" I almost replied, "Songs and stories and so much more!" But Polka Dot Door references aside, I really have felt creatively inspired by these events. When something sparks that process I crave more, especially when an attractive man is involved. But these encounters do run the risk of becoming addictive. In just two visits I went from being a jaded outsider, to snorting the fantasy like it was a drug. The more I enjoyed myself, the more I wanted and that meant more cash flying out of my hands. VinTatum's alluring performances were a luxury that took me away from my everyday stresses. Sometimes you pay a premium for that kind of experience, but I know my pockets aren't deep enough to fully support the habit.

But people buy all kinds of pricey things they don't need. Expensive purses, designer fashions, collectible dolls, concert tickets and so on. We all make purchases that give us a boost, however superficial they may seem. Yet, there's still a clutching of the pearls when it comes to money and sex. Is it fair to consider his work so much more shameful than anything else we consume? I admit my mind struggles with the idea of paying for something that could be found for free. But a fierce feminist I know once used the phrase "Our business is your pleasure" while advocating for sex workers' rights. I work in a store, VinTatum works in a private club, but our shared goal is to leave people happy and satisfied while making some bank in the process. We both have financial concerns to take care of. Are we really so different from each other?

The bigger difficulty is learning how to navigate my own conflicting desires. What am I really looking for? Lust or love? A pinch of both? It's as if my internal GPS broke down and I'm trying to download new maps to help me recalculate my destinations. Flash provides me with a dangerously tempting shortcut past the grittiness of more cost efficient hookups. I really don't feel like wading through online messages that insist on "no fats, no femmes" and other judgmental specifics just to find someone to share a thrill with.

Deep down I know Flash is just a temporary, pleasurable detour on the road trip of my life. (My bank account definitely hopes it's only a brief pit stop.) VinTatum fills the role of the hunky drifter with a dazzling smile who makes me feel really good before I get back on the road. There's a long way to go in the journey and a lot of uncharted terrain that I've been afraid to explore. Hopefully I can take some of that sparkly, lusty high I've enjoyed and incorporate it into my life in a way that's a bit more substantive in the future. As for VinTatum, I really do hope he's been enjoying what he does. (I know I certainly have.) But if he is, indeed, switching careers, I hope he takes on something that continues to bring out that dashing, vibrant grin to everyone he meets...