|Two beloved ladies from the Sho-Bar, who have passed on. Much love to Jenny and LaTonia. Photo taken by Melissa Hermon.|
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I always think back to her rubber ducky tattoos. Maybe that is how we all remember Jenny. I loved those tattoos, the to little sailor style rubber duckies, sitting on her chest, right above her boobs, as the two cheerful little duckies smiled at each other while bobbin up and down, like bobbing around in a child’s bathtub with each and every step Jenny took. The rubber duckies and the pin-up girl dress.
Whenever I think of Jenny, I see her on stage at Big Daddy’s, slinking towards me, with her eyes down and her hips swaying to the Gorillaz, or the Bloodhound Gang. I see her in her black patent leather heels, with her fish nets slung around her arms and her back, giving her long, sleek sleeves. She is always wearing the pin-up girl dress.
The three of us used to fight over that dress. We were certainly always jockeying for position to wear it. I mean, it was so freaking cute. It was a little black A-line dress, with triangular tops that tied behind your neck. The dress was speckled with pin-up girls, posing and winking in all different directions. And it looked good on all of us.
But, now I always see Jenny in that dress. Dancing through my mind, in the pin-up girl dress. I think back to both of them, and I guess, in a way, those both suffered a similar fate. I certainly lamented over both their deaths. And now, I look back and see them together. After all, the pin-up girl dress looked better on Jenny.
Chloe often was the source of conflict on the pin-up girl dress, but then, Chloe was often at the heart of most conflicts that surrounded her. Her nickname was ‘Crazy Chloe,’ and if you had to ask about the moniker, you obviously had not spent more then twenty minutes with the girl. But Chloe and Jenny were thick like thieves, they always had been.
It was actually through Jenny that I came to love Chloe, but then we all came to love each other more from the time we spent with Jenny. Like dear Reese and me. The two of us will always share a special, and virtually unspoken bond, because we both still share that same love for Jenny. When Jenny left New Orleans, I will never forget the morning she left. Jenny, Reese, and I sat on his bed in his light and airy apartment, a really nice place with hardwood floors and a luxurious wooden framed bed. I think back to that morning, and I can clearly see the sun shining through the windows, and the dust dancing in the room. I can see the white comforter, and Jenny’s face, Reese’s face. I remember what she was wearing; those red plaid pants, with her black boots and a black wife beater. I remember the heaviness in the room, and the haziness in the room, and although I can see both their faces, so clearly with the hazy edges of that morning, contrasting with the bright sun, seeping into the apartment, seeping slowly into my world, I cannot remember a thing we said. It is like I have that memory, so tactile in my brain that I can touch it, and all our lips are moving, but I cannot hear what we are saying. I think about those silent, moving lips, as I think about tomorrow’s Day of the Dead, and I wonder if maybe I will be able to hear the whisper of dear Jenny.
Almost every morning, Chloe and Jenny arrived at the club together, and most often they were already bickering about the pin-up girl dress. They had bought the dress together, each going in half. And each day, they proceeded to argue about who would wear it when. When I first met Jenny, it was through Chloe, whom I had been aware of for years. And they came into the club together, back in New Orleans after some hiatus, fighting about the pin-up girl dress and hoping to work the day shift at Big Daddy’s.
Clothing is a commodity in a strip club, but it is also something that is shared and passed around, but only amongst those you trust. On the day shift, we were a tight crew, and we all trusted one another. So, we shared and shared alike. But, the pin-up girl dress was not often in the sharing pile.
One day, when Chloe was not there, Jenny proudly suggested that I wear the pin-up girl dress. She said she knew it was going to look better on me than it did on either of them, and she could not wait for me to try it on. I had often admired the little black dress, speckled with the pin-up images. I reached, out, feeling the soft, thick, and slick stretchy fabric. It was smooth in my hands, and it slid right over my chest, fitting me like a perfect glove.
I spun around in the mirrors, and it twirled around behind me. Jenny clapped her hands with delight, as she began to bounce around a little, suiting me up with my black satin gloves, while swiping my layered, wavy hair up into a dramatic 50s style up-do. With my 6-inch black, chunky, strappy shoes, I looked like I had stepped out of the pin-up magazine myself.
“I knew it would look so good on you, Scarlet!” Jenny gushed. We had so much fun the rest of the day. Slowly sipping our cocktails, and working the customers together. We slowly ingested our pills, took a few bumps, and made arrangement for more drugs later. The day went by in a blur, and I was sad to see it end. Without Chloe around, the tension of the threesome was relieved. And to be honest, I am pretty sure Jenny was at her wit’s end with Chloe at the time.
The fighting about the dress was minimal compared to some of Chloe’s other stunts. Chloe would turn on you in a heartbeat, suddenly turning around on a public street, flipping out at screaming and insulting you. Sometimes, you really just were not sure what you would get with Chloe. Many times, she was the most fun character I knew. She was always up for an adventure, and her smile was bubbly and buoyant. She had a good heart, and when all her chemicals were flowing in the right direction, she was amazing, but unfortunately those chemicals could turn on a dime.
I didn’t see that I was suddenly put in the middle of the girls’ strange and volatile relationship, when I put on the pin-up girl dress. And when I twirled around, admiring it, because Jenny had been right…that dress, did, in fact, look better on me. I think this was Jenny’s plan all along.
When Chloe worked the next time, Jenny gushed about how I should wear the dress, and how it looked so good on me. Chloe grudgingly conceded, and from then on, I was also involved in the dispute over the pin-up girl dress. Only I was the only one who held no true ownership in it, save for the fact that it fit me like a glove.
When Jenny left New Orleans that day, she left the dress with Chloe. Jenny had promised to return, as soon as she could get a little clean time under her belt. Jenny got on a plane, headed for California, and we all thought we would see her again before too long.
Jenny had a little boy in California, and she managed to get clean. She even decided not to come back to New Orleans, because she wanted to stay clean. While it broke my heart at the time, I now can see clearly that she would not have stayed clean if she had returned. She met a guy, and she seemed to be turning her life around. And one morning, she did not wake up. She had taken her medication for anxiety and depression; she drank a few beers, and never woke up. It always seemed a little mysterious to me. But, we were thousands of miles away, caught up in the dope game, and through telephone conversations relayed back and forth; I still think the details are foggy.
In the coming months, Chloe deteriorated. I think a lot of it was losing Jenny. We all thought we would see her again, and it struck us all really hard. Reese would never quite recover from Jenny’s death, and there are times still today that I wonder if I will ever really recover from losing her. Chloe was really strung out, and her actions became more and more insane, more manic, more depressed, more incoherent. She would disappear for a week or so, and resurface, having traveled somewhere, or having hooked up with some new guy.
My condition deteriorated, too, as I became more and more involved in the scene of the strip club, as I became more and more obsessed with my addiction. I no longer worked at Big Daddy’s, and Chloe and I no longer worked together as often. Although, sometimes she would show up at The Shobar, or Temptations, for a shift., and she always let me borrow the pin-up dress.
One afternoon, Chloe came into Temptations. It was late afternoon, and I could tell the sun was beginning to set when the big black door of the club would slide open in the foyer up front, and the light came beaming in a little slighter than before. I was stepping off stage when I saw Chloe standing by the bar, with eyes wide and desperate.
She seemed to be waiting for me, stalking me like a cat, motioning me with her flailing fingers, trying to hurry me off stage and over to her. I made my way over, as I put my clothes back on piece by piece, finally arriving at the bar fully clothed once more. Well, as fully clothed as a stripper could be.
Her hands were shaking, and she looked like shit. Complete and total shit. Her hair was tangled and wild, and her make up smeared under her eyes, making the dark circles look even darker. Her eyes flitted around like meth, like madness, like something inside is just ticking and ticking. She clutched a bunch of clothes, tight to her chest, as she launched into this whirlwind speaking pattern that barely sounded like English.
“Scarlet…” she slurry hissed. “I need to sell these clothes, like now. I really need to make some money.”
“I really do not have any money, Chloe.”
“Scarlet, I will sell them all cheap, really cheap. The pin-up girl dress is in here, with the G-string,” she looked at me, waiting.
The pile of clothes just looked like a wrinkled lump of shit, just a bunch of black clothes all waded and clutched to her chest.
“Let me see it,” I demanded.
She let the clothes spill out onto the bar, while she sort through them with scarred and shaky hands. Lifting the pin-up dress girl to the light, I saw that it was hardly wrinkled.
“For just the pin-up girl dress?” I asked, with a harsh and dismissive edge.
“OK, Scarlet, I will throw in the black robe, too for another ten.” She held up another one of my favorites from her collection. A long, stretchy black robe that tied with one ribbon right in the middle of my chest, with edges lined with little sliver stones. The bottom edge was so full, that when you spun it swirled and flowed behind.
“Done.” I reached down to pull thirty bucks out of the garter tied around my ankle. She snatched the money, greedily, still shaking with the wide eyes of terror from either madness, meth, or a combination of both. She darted out the door, and a faint impression of sunlight squeaked through the back door.
I shook my head in disbelief. I made my way to the dressing room. I sat down, admiring my new bargain purchases, when I thought once more of Jenny. A triumphant smiled spread across my lips, and I spoke to her as I slid the dress on.
“Well, baby girl. I know you had wanted me to have it. And it looks like that wish came true.”
I thought of Jenny every time I wore the little black pin up girl dress. I now was handed the torch of the guarded possession, the stripper’s most favorite dress. Like the girls before, me, I was hesitant to lend it out and I wore it almost every night, sometimes. Every time I saw the posed pin-ups, winking at me in the mirror on stage, as I slid past, twirling, I saw Jenny smiling down on me.
Unfortunately that dress was among the things I lost during Hurricane Katrina. I inadvertently left a bag behind when I finally evacuated. I lamented about that bag for months, just thinking of the pin-up girl dress, or my cherry bustier, and of my black vinyl nurse’s uniform. I hoped that when I returned to New Orleans, that Linda would still have my shit.
When I finally returned to the city, and ran into Linda, she had long since sold most of my shit. She did say see had a few pieces left, and I could come check it out. She had a few insignificant random stripper dresses, but I did not see the pin-up girl dress.
“Linda, do you know what happened to that little black pin-up girl dress? That was Jenny’s,” I told her.
“Oh, Jenny,” She sighed. “I miss her so much,” her voice drifted off a little, and I noticed that faraway look that took over her eyes sometimes. Then her breath snapped to, like she just woke up from a nod.
“Oh, yes, Scarlet, that is around here somewhere.” She began digging through the pile of clothes, when I saw the edge of it piled in the dingy and dirty closet. I reached forward grabbing onto an extended strap, slowing pulling the pin-up girl dress from the pile.
I had barely pulled a few inches, when the fabric released, sliding out more quickly than I expected. I looked down to see that I was not hold a dress. Instead, the pin-up girl dress had been cut into a shirt! The edges of the cut were rough and slightly jagged, like someone had taken so little care to just hack this dress apart.
“What happened to it?” I asked Linda, probably horrified.
“I don’t know. I thought it was already like that.”
I took the pin-up girl dress, cut off into a really short and ugly shirt, rolling it up, and holding it close to my heart. I thought about Jenny. I thought about the destruction all around me, and thought about all the lives I had lost. I rolled the dress up, and went back out onto the cold, January streets of New Orleans. Weeks later, I left the city in search of sobriety. The pin-up girl dress came with me.
And I toted in around for a year and half, until my marriage fell apart, and I abandoned all my stuff in a broken home. With the pin-up girl dress left behind, along with so much of myself, I walked on like a zombie, like a ghost. It would be many more years before I thought about the pin-up girl dress. And then, I had come to look back on all the memories surrounding it and smile. Rest in peace, dearest Jenny. Eight or nine years after you have gone, you are still so dearly missed.
325 Bourbon Street is one of the most infamous addresses in my old junkie mind. Before Katrina, I spent most of my time there, working to pay for my expensive heroin habit. I can see the interior in my mind so clearly, as if I were still there. The place has changed since the hurricane, which is a shame because there was so much history there.
325 Bourbon is where The Shobar stood for years and years. It is rumored that the site was the first strip club in America and most certainly the oldest in New Orleans. Its history undoubtedly dates back to the red light districts of Storyville times, as the club sits on the edge of what was once the Storyville District. Walking inside, one became instantly aware of its checkered past.
The doorman stood out on the street just outside the double doors, barking at the people walking by, enticing them to come inside. Sometimes the girls would join him on the stoop, hawking at men on the street in attempts to draw more business inside. The girls were not supposed to leave the club, and most often they stood in the foyer, just inside the doors. This did not mean that it was impossible to leave, as I can attest. I would often have to make a dope run just before the night shift really got cranking.
I put on one of my most street worthy stripper outfits, which was generally a black vinyl nurse’s uniform with red flames accompanied by my knee high black vinyl boots. I stepped out of the doors, bullshitting for a few minutes like I was hawking at customers. Then, I turned to the left and darted down Bourbon to the corner. Turning on Conti, I picked up the pace as I rushed to meet the man with no less than two hundred dollars in my boot. (Often, I had much, much more.) A man called Turtle often met me on Conti, just a block away from Bourbon on Dauphine. I hopped in the car and quickly made the transaction. Hugging tightly to numerous little foils of my precious dope, I headed back down Dauphine towards Canal for one block until I turned on Bienville. Walking up Bienville to Bourbon, I passed several bars and fine dining restaurants. I made the block at Bourbon and was back in the club lickety-split.
When I returned from a dope run, anxious eyes always greeted me, waiting for their precious packages. Gathering in the dressing room, I distributed the foils like I was Santa Claus handing out gifts on Christmas morning. Let the moneymaking begin!
Once you entered the club from Bourbon Street, you stepped back in time. It was dark as hell in there, and the interior was dark wood and burgundy leather. It was always an adjustment on one’s eyes, even from the nighttime neon of Bourbon Street. Once your eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, you could see the inside of the place was really cool. It was old school, and you could tell it had remained unchanged for years. I think it is sad that it was completely gutted and remodeled after Katrina.
To the right was the bar. One end of the bar was almost on top of the window that faced Bourbon Street. This end of the bar was open and the bartender would come and go as he pleased. The phone was back in this corner, and I made and received many calls about dope from that phone. I even made a few calls to that phone from jail.
The bar itself was made of a dark wood, smooth from years of customers drinking and sloshing drinks. I can still feel the edge of the bar underneath my fingers as I think about it. It was an old bar with a raised and curved edge that went all the way around. The wood was softened from age and wear, and I often would push my nails into it, almost digging out little pieces of the soft wood. It was a nervous habit I had acquired while sitting there waiting for either money or dope.
The other end of the bar, opposite the windows and phone, met up with the stage. This allowed the bartender to keep an eye on the stage from where he stood to mix drinks. Sitting at the bar, even in the daytime, one always noticed how dark it was in there. Sometimes it seemed so dark that I could barely make out the bottles of liquor behind the bar. Of course, that was never an issue because I knew they had Jameson.
Behind the tables were more banquettes that were separated for dances. All the girls and their customers piled on top of each other, pretending that they were alone. The private room really was not private at all, only separated by a beaded curtain at the entrance. There was an old couch in this room that had absorbed years of dirt and cum, I am sure. I was afraid to stick my hand too far into the seam of the couch for fear of coming up with a used condom. I will say, though, when the junkie bartender and I would open up early for a day shift, we would often search the cushions of that couch for money. Dollar bills wrapped around thighs and ankles would often peel off unbeknownst to the dancer while giving a “private show.” Sometimes, we discovered enough money back there to get a bag of dope for each of us. That was the best way to start the day!
The stage of The Shobar was my favorite part about the whole place. It looked exactly like I had always pictured the stage of a strip club in my mind before I started to frequent them. The reality is that most strip clubs today try to look so ritzy, the stages do not look anything like the ones you see in the movies or we picture in our minds.
The old wooden stage was a shade lighter than the bar. It, too, had the same kind of beveled edge as the bar, only wider. This served to separate the customers from the dancers on stage. The back of the stage was lined with mirrors, and the pole came up somewhere near the middle.
The pole, like the rest of the place, was old and worn. Its rough edged black color had faded from years of use. And in the middle there was always a little grime from years and years of dirty, sweaty hands spinning around it. It was not an extremely high pole, which did not allow for a lot of extravagant tricks. Except for Blue, most of The Shobar girls did not do a lot of fancy pole work. But Blue was an extravagant exception, with her tender gracefulness and magical presence on stage, as she shimmied up and down the pole with the grace of a seasoned acrobat. She was covered in tattoos, nearly from neck to toes. Her high voice was the cutest thing I have ever heard, as she squeaked into my ear in the darkness of the bar.
One would enter the stage from the dressing room, through a deep burgundy velvet curtain. I sometimes wore these black fairy wings someone had left at the club. They looked really great on stage when I would make them barely flap like a resting butterfly. I had to be careful going on stage because it was easy to get them caught on the pole that held the velveteen curtain. That pole was eventually the death of the wings.
The dressing room was probably my favorite place in The Shobar- besides the bathroom, of course! The dressing room of a strip club is where the good stuff happens. This is where the camaraderie begins. This is where it all begins, starting with make-up and hair. The dressing room had mirrors all along the wall opposite the door. Just as one would expect, there was a shelf for make up against the mirror with chairs pulled up to it. The lights above this shelf were big, naked bulbs, but they never shone bright, and instead an old yellowed hue emulated from them. The girls relaxed in the dressing room, swapping clothes with one another, touching up make-up, gobbling down to go food, smoking a blunt, or just hanging out
The walls were the same yellowing color of age, scrawled with graffiti from decades of various dancers leaving their mark. The carpet was so old and worn that parts of it did not even resemble a carpet anymore, but looked more like a big splotch of gum that had been rubbed in. Old, crumbling lockers stood opposite the stairs that led to the stage.
The dressing room was a gathering place for the women who worked there. There was often a blunt passed around, and we all shared alike. Some of us may not have contributed weed, but we always chipped in a little money or offered up some of our other goodies.
Photo courtesy of Chad Phillips.