Alabama’s Strip Clubs of Death
A strip club regular in Rialto, California, was so obsessed with a dancer he went to the club for several months specifically to see her. But when she refused to go home with him one night a few weeks ago, he shot her in the face—and then he shot himself in the head.
The stripper survived and is now in stable condition. The man is dead. And this kind of violence isn’t particularly rare. According to various local news reports I’ve been combing through, strip clubs in the US have already seen at least 11 shootings this year, which resulted in nine deaths. And that number doesn’t even include the bouncer at a Tennessee strip club who was shot with an arrow.
Reasons for the shootings vary. Most of the time, it’s the result of a fight between patrons that gets out of hand, or a drunk who’s thrown out of the club and comes back with a gun for revenge. In a few cases, they were robberies gone wrong.
But what causes the violence? Your regular armchair psychologist might say the combination of booze and boobs causes men to revert to a primal state and try to kill each other. Richard McCleary, one of the few criminologists who have studied this subject, claims that violence happens because strip clubs with lax security attract unsavory people who carry weapons and end up causing violent situations.
The truth is probably a combination of the two theories, with a dash of America’s gun-obsessed culture thrown in. At least, that’s how it is in Alabama.
‘No Condom as Evidence’ Legislation Up for Debate in Albany
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and as per tradition, a cadre of affable, semirowdy hos have filled every seat in the Lower East Side’s Happy Ending Lounge.
Shivering from the residual cold, the crowd—pretty, riot grrrl types in Daria bangs and Doc Martens—lets out a collective giggle as Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” floats through the loudspeakers. “Tonight, we’re playing ho anthems,” the host explains, drowning out Fiona’s molasses admission that she’s been a bad, baaad girl.
The evening’s theme is “Pretty Woman Redux,” part of a monthly storytelling series from the sex-workers’ rights group, the Red Umbrella Project. For two hours, a handful of New York’s most articulate “hos” (as they endearingly call themselves), share intimate, industry tales.
As in past sessions, donations from the event will benefit a cause vital to every sex worker in the city: banning the New York Police Department’s well-documented practice of using condom possession as evidence of prostitution.
It’s a battle health rights advocates have fought for years. In every legislative session since 1999, proponents of a “No Condoms as Evidence” bill have asked state lawmakers to squelch the practice, citing evidence that it’s forced sex workers to stop carrying and using condoms all together. In every session, the bill has died on the committee floor.
In recent months, however, efforts to engage lawmakers have accelerated, thanks to studies released in 2012 by the Pros Network and Human Rights Watch—two Manhattan-based organizations that say the policy has led to a serious public-health crisis.
In the Human Rights study, among a slew of other anecdotes, a sex worker named Anastasia L., claims she had unprotected sex “many times” to avoid the risk of arrest.
How Would Sex Workers Design the Perfect Condom?
It’s very hard to deal with condoms. I imagine it would be very hard to deal with anything that asphyxiates your dick, adds a layer of rubber between a couples’ fun bits, destroys any semblance of sexual spontaneity, and generally makes sex a lot less enjoyable than it should be. All that stuff is still better than risking an STD or a pregnancy, but condoms are undeniably awful.
Hurrah, then, for Bill Gates, who—as you may have heard—is dangling a proportionally paltry $100,000 carrot in front of anyone who can inject a bit more pleasure into rubbering up. Despite the fact that many large medical corporations have ploughed far more than $100,000 into developing more pleasurable protection throughout the past century, Gates is hoping that his prize money will uncover the Popov of prophylactics who’s able to make condoms feel better than unprotected sex.
I’m neither a scientist nor an inventor, so my ideas of how to improve condoms are currently falling pretty short (somewhere around the implausible “make mini ones just for the tip” region). But I am a dreamer, and I dream of one day actually enjoying protected sex. So I thought I’d call up some sex workers—people who use condoms practically every day of their professional lives—and see if they could come up with a design that would make mine and Bill’s dream come true.
Rio Lee, porn star and dominatrix.
VICE: Do you like condoms?
Rio Lee: Obviously I like them because they protect me from scabby diseases, but I don’t like them when a guy gets floppy. I’m a selfish bitch in bed—it’s all about me, me, me—so it’s a problem if a floppy interrupts the sex flow. If you could develop a condom that allows a man to have a continuous Viagra erection that would be amazing.
What about pickling it in Viagra solution so it somehow works its way in there?
That sounds kind of painful, but I am a slight dominatrix, so that might work. Mind you, I want to be able to fuck it afterwards so I don’t want it to scald the skin off or anything.
Could a condom ever be better than unprotected sex?
Well, with modern technology they must be able to make them better. But where the fuck is the extra pleasure with those ribbed condoms? I genuinely want to know. You’d be much better off putting some frozen peas under the condom skin.
So apart from peas and Viagra coating, what ideas have you got to make condoms better?
First off, if you’re reading this, Bill Gates, this is copyrighted and trademarked under the Miss Rio Lee brand. But I’d say you’d need one of those contraptions like a Fleshlight. When a guy’s got a nice hard-on, you slip his cock in and, as it pulls out, it transfers some sort of micro space-age latex film directly on to the cock so it’s super thin and ready to go.
So do you think the whole condom thing is a way for Gates to market himself as a sex symbol and draw some of the youth market away from Apple?
Bill Gates? Sexy? Maybe that’s the reason, but I’d say a new condom is going to appeal more to the health-conscious and professionals—young people just want to have sex regardless of [whether they have a] condom. But whatever his motivation, if he’s going to do something to improve mine and millions of other people’s sex lives and help sexual health throughout society, then good on him.
NYC Cops Will Arrest You for Carrying Condoms
The woman asked Officer Hill why he was stopping her.
She wore jean shorts and a tight red shirt and had stood outdoors for half an hour. She’d had a conversation with a passing man. When Officer Hill searched her bag, he found a condom and $1.25.
He arrested her for “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” On the supporting deposition, he filled in the blanks for what she was wearing and how many condoms she had.
When I read over the deposition in the PROS Network’s Public Health Crisis (PDF), a study of how the NYPD arrests folks for carrying condoms, I thought of all the tight shirts I’d worn while idling outside on delicious spring days. I thought, She sounds like me. She sounds like my friends.
The NYPD will arrest you for carrying condoms, but that depends entirely on who you are. If you’re a middle-class white girl like me, you’re probably safe. But say you’re a sex worker or a queer kid kicked out of your home. Say you’re a trans woman out for dinner with your boyfriend. Maybe you’ve been arrested as a sex worker before. Maybe some quota-filling cop thinks you look like a whore.
Then you’re not safe at all.
Like most laughably cruel tricks of the justice system, you probably wouldn’t know that you could be arrested for carrying condoms until it happened to you. Monica Gonzalez is a nurse and a grandmother. In 2008, Officer Sean Spencer arrested her for prostitution while she was on the way to the ER with an asthma attack. The condom he found on her turned out to be imaginary. Gonzalez sued the city after the charges were dropped. But if the condom were real, why should she have even been arrested at all?
My Roommate Is a Male Escort, and It’s Whatever
About a year or so ago I answered a Craigslist ad looking for a roommate and came across a really nice guy with an amazing room open in his apartment. We hit it off and he seemed genuinely nice. After awhile I started to notice that he was always buying things, but never going to work. Originally, I thought drug-dealer or parent funded, but I never noticed any drugs and he didn’t seem to talk to his parents very often, so I asked him what’s up. Turns out he’s an escort, with more than a few interesting stories.
VICE: When did you first start officially “escorting”?
Justin: 20 was the actual first time I slept with someone for money, but I was doing it on and off until 23, when it became a more prevalent part of my life.
Was it a conscious decision, like “I’m out having sex, might as well be getting paid?”
Yes, I had friends who were doing it and they had mentioned it, and told me about it and I figured, if I’m going to do it and not get paid, might as well make a few extra bucks. It wasn’t something I needed to do, more something I could do.
Was it offered to you, or something you decided to try?
The first guy offered it to me. We had met on a website called adam4adam
. He was a 43-year-old white guy, married with children, and he said he had to be discreet, obviously. He met me at Clever Park in Robinson, which coincidently is the park I had played at, growing up.
Was there any sense of apprehension about moving into the business?
I really didn’t see myself moving into the business, it was more just something to do for extra cash. I was really nervous meeting the guy, but I got a rush from it. I wiped my lips, and he gave me a hundred bucks, it’s that rush that’s caused me to become more into the scene.
Do you consider it an occupation, or something that you use currently to get by?
It’s something I currently do to get by, it’s not something I want to make into a career. But what can I say, eventually you train yourself to become numb. Take a deep breath, tell yourself it’s going to be over soon, and think about that green.
But it’s your current source of income?
Yes, but it’s not something that I’d like to be defined as, I’m a lot more than a pretty face and a good hole.
How do you find clients and what’s the screening process for potential hooks?
I find clients via the internet (SeekingArangement.com, Adam4adam, and Craigslist when I’m desperate) or sometimes by word of mouth. Clients will refer me to other clients.
And the screening process?
I always have them give me their phone number first, and I use a blocked number. After meeting them, if everything is OK, I’ll give them my real number, if they’re a returning customer. I always have clients send exactly four pictures, all of their face with different backgrounds or poses. So that I know it’s the person I’m dealing with.
Any safety precautions?
At first, when lived in Pitt I would always tell a friend where I was going, but here I didn’t have that, so I just kept to meeting in public places like Starbucks, in the street, back of a cab, never at theirs.
I Sold My Used Panties for Heroin
All photos courtesy of the author. These are some of the images she would send to her potential customers.
I started using heroin when I was 16 years old. I had played with every other drug at my disposal, but noticed an affinity for opiates in tenth grade when a friend suffering from cancer gave me some morphine. Within one year, I was shooting up in the parking lot while other kids were decorating the gym for pep rallies. My addiction continued for nearly ten years because, simply put, heroin made me feel fucking great.
Heroin addicts are constantly in need of money, and I was no different. I had heard people talking about the dirty panty market in Japan, and wondered if a similar demand existed in my northern Virginia suburb. After a quick Google search I found that this market was indeed real and thriving in Old Dominion. The need for money overcame any inhibitions I might have had, and I started responding to ads on Craigslist almost immediately.
My first customer offered me $100 for a pair of my panties. Not sure if you’re plugged into the going rate for old underwear, but that is on the high end of the spectrum. During our first meeting, which took place in a parking lot, he hopped in my car and handed me the cash. I removed my lacy black panties and let him slap my ass a few times. He didn’t even take the panties with him, as he was afraid his wife would find them. I drove away and laughed hysterically. I was $100 richer, and was about to get high. I had opened up the floodgates to a whole new world of possibilities. I didn’t feel exploited; I felt like the greatest hustler on Earth.
Making Friends with the Prostitutes of Switzerland
In Italy, much like every single other country in the world, it’s not uncommon to see girls—with or without penises—stalking street corners, watched over by some volatile pimp in a pleather jacket and a bad haircut. The act of selling yourself isn’t actually a crime here, but aiding or inducing the sale of yourself is, which makes hooking kind of tricky, especially if you’re not particularly into the thought of spending your evening inside a cell.
For those who want to make a little extra change in partnership with their vagina, however, Switzerland—just across the border—is a haven for sex workers, being one of the few European countries where prostitution is legal. Bar Oceano, a historical, family-run brothel in the Swiss border town of Lugano, is one of the landmarks of the Swiss sex industry, so my friend Georgio and I drove up there to have a chat with Ulisse, the brothel’s 60-year-old owner, and Nicola, his right-hand man.
After being greeted by a monolithic bouncer, we were led inside to the brothel’s reception. We quickly found out that Ulisse had already gone home for the day to sit in his pyjamas, but he had left his 19-year-old niece, Diandra, in charge. Diandra told us a bit about how the brothel usually functions. “The clients come into the lounge, pay the cover charge—which includes a drink—then all the girls line up in front of them.”
Diandra gave us some good advice, should we ever feel like forking out cash for sex at any point in the future: “Never pick the first girl, they’re always the most desperate.”
You have to be registered to prostitute yourself professionally in Switzerland, which, by law, only EU citizens are allowed to do. Until last year, the Swiss government would turn a blind eye, meaning girls from all over the world (but mostly South America and Eastern Europe) would flock to its brothels, but since they cracked down, there are only Romanian girls left.
Diandra at reception.
Despite the fact that everything seems to be running by the books, the brothel still has its problems with the police. “Our girls all have visas, but the police always end up finding something they don’t like,” Diandra told us. “First, the room prices are too high, then they call us out on girls approaching clients, which is illegal because it’s considered soliciting.”
After we’d been given the full run-down, we asked to chat with some of the girls. Diandra took us through to the VIP lounge, where we were told to choose any one of the girls on offer. The first girl we spoke to was Paola, a 27-year-old Romanian who’d previously worked in Spain but had been living in Switzerland for the last couple of years. She didn’t appear to have any reservations about her line of work, because “a job is a job and I do it for the money.”
Paola does everything—”everything everything”—in her very pink, pungently-scented, IKEA-heavy room: pisses on people, licks feet, sodomizes men, and dresses up in costumes. Once she even dressed up in a dog costume, which makes me kind of worried for the majority of dogs wherever that particular client calls home. Many of her customers are married Italian men, but she claims she’d never set foot in Italy because streetwalkers there are “garbage, they never wash and they do it in cars.”
Meet the World’s Only Clown Escort
The first email I get from Sugar Weasel the clown escort (real name Doug Wright) he said, “I’m sitting here, naked, eating jellybeans. I’d love to do an interview—that’s code for sex, right?”
Riiiiiiiiiiight. At first I’m slightly nervous that he is being serious, but it’s only fair since he himself is slightly nervous that I actually am an agent for the Vice squad, not VICE. Apparently being the only clown escort in America has landed him behind bars many times. Once we square away those details—“I swear to you, I’m not a cop!”—we are good to go.
Sugar Weasel speaks with a Texas twang that hints that he lives in Austin, though much of his work is in Las Vegas. A self-described hillbilly by day, at night he paints his entire body white, plops on a clown nose and gets paid to be an “adult entertainer, a world class lover, a rouge, and a scoundrel.” Sugar Weasel has been working as a clown escort since the 90s when he used to run ads in the back of local newspapers in Los Angeles. (Around that time he also advertised as a “clown” for birthday parties. Once hired by the unsuspecting parents, he would feign some horrible accident, leaving horrified Beverly Hills’ tweens in his wake.) But in recent years he has transferred his skill set to hosting concerts, photo shoots, dominatrix work, and bachelorette parties.
VICE: So, even Sugar Weasels must come from somewhere. Tell me a little bit about your background. Where were you born?
Sugar Weasel: I was born in Michigan and come from a long line of oddball performers and circus people. My dad’s dad literally ran away at 14 and joined the circus. I’ve been doing a fucked-up ventriloquist act since I was a kid; I called my dummy Harold Mancock III and would rattle of a string of vulgarities, throw in some made-up curse words, and get away with it by saying I had Tourette’s or some other bullshit medical condition.
How did you grow into your current profession as an escort? Was there some critical moment in your past where you were like, “Light bulb! I’ll be a clown escort!” Or was it a slow process?
I’ve been clowning for over 20 years in some fashion. Originally I would feign heart attacks or commit suicide, usually at the expense of some unsuspecting partygoers who thought they had hired a Christian clown. The clown escort thing came later, when I was doing a gig at a gentleman’s club and the strippers were all trying to hit my shit.
What are you most known for?
Besides a great big dick? Actually, that’s it… My clientele is extremely diverse: recent divorcées, bachelorettes, punk rock chicks, and married women looking to fuck a grown man in make-up who acts mentally retarded.
Seka, Raising Penises for Three Generations
Sex in the 70s was Seka. Half Cherokee, half Irish, and looking like a perfect Hollywood trophy, or a divination of death from the Norse Gods—Seka was a flinty mirage of whatever fantasy you had. Porn magHigh Society dubbed her the “Marilyn Monroe of porn.” Her costars were just as effusive. Jamie Gillis: “She was porn, but a little above it—sort of a white trash queen in a way that I found really erotic.” Veronica Hart: “As long as I have a face, Seka has a place to sit.”
Dorothea Hundley Patton—Seka—started late for the industry, at 22. A nude spread in Vegas led to movie offers. All of a sudden, she was a star. Not too many porn actors are remembered for their faces—but Seka, with no effort, mainlined into the culture as a “Platinum Princess.” She was arguably the last icon of porn’s film era—her films presaged “reality porn” and “performance artists” like Sasha Grey—and the first icon of porn’s video era. Most porn actresses don’t get a second act, but in the 80s, after traveling the world on the strip circuit, Seka came back, this time to the small screen via video. She was, according to Playboy, “a bona-fide video phenomenon—just like Boy George and stereo television.” She went on Donahue and The Today Show, appeared in Entertainment Weekly and People. By the mid 80s, she was writing and directing, making her part of a seismic shift in adult entertainment—women having some control of the product. In the late 80s, with the threat of AIDS looming, she got out of the business again, but now, at 58, she’s back and running her own site, Seka.com. I called her up recently to chat about stuff like anal, her days hanging out with rock stars, her wedding night, and giving boners to three generations of men.
VICE: Dorothea Hundley Patton, that’s quite a handle.
Seka: Dorothea Hundley was my maiden name.
You married straight out of high school, right?
I was in high school. I got married a week after I turned 18; I wanted out of the house. I guess I was in love with the guy, but I had just turned 18 for God’s sake. I was a baby. When I got married on April 21, 1972, I’d never had sex. I was a virgin. And I didn’t even have sex on my wedding night; I was too scared. I hid in the bathroom.
When did you have sex with him?
The next day, the next evening.
It was pretty damn good.
And then you ended up working at an adult bookstore?
I was divorced and I didn’t like what I was doing. I was at Reynold’s Aluminum, standing on my feet all night in a hot metal building pulling a production line. So I applied for a job as a clerk and started dating the owner. Most people think that we were married, but we were never married. He likes to think he was married to me but he wasn’t. As a matter of fact, he was already married when I met him, which I didn’t know at the time.
You’re probably the only adult actress who got her start by reading books.
Not only did I read the magazines and the books, but this was in the day of quarter machines. When the film broke I’d have to get the projector and splice it back together, put it back in the booth, and make sure it was running OK. So I saw a lot of the films and thought, God these women look horrible! It wasn’t their fault, it wasn’t that they were ugly women. The films represented them badly—they had pimples on their butts, dirty feet, no makeup, and their hair looked like it needed to be washed.
We Got Our Interns to Review Some Strip Clubs
The house rules at The Nag’s Head – no photography ;), no soiled clothing ;(
First things first, if you’re a girl and you’ve never been to a strip club, go. I had never been to a strip club before last week. Now I have been to nine.
This all started when we found out that my borough, Tower Hamlets in London, was proposing a ban on the opening of all new “sex establishments” and the closure of pre-existing ones. The neighborhood’s religious communities now find themselves pitched in a battle against the roughly 6000 people employed by the local stripping industry.
Things are getting pretty heated, in a bureaucratic way, but I’m a lover, not a fighter or a sex lawyer, so my friend Henrietta Hitchcock and I decided to ignore the morality war and instead tour the strip joints of Tower Hamlets to see which of them—if any—deserve to stay open purely on merit.
Unfortunately, all but one club forbade us from taking any pictures inside. However, we did chat extensively about the ins and outs of the industry and at one point had a go on a pole ourselves, so that’s something for you to look forward to.
THE WHITE HORSE @ BLUSH
The White Horse was our first stop. As we arrived, that Jessie J “It’s not about the money, money, money” song was playing while a woman pulled her thong off for a pint glass full of pound coins. I wasn’t turned on at all, but it did give me the biggest irony boner.
Atmosphere: It’s pretty much just a typical old-man pub with naked, gyrating women in it. Amicable, cheery community center vibe.
Customers: The obligatory solo weirdos, but mainly groups of men after work, a mix of suits and working class guys. We were the only women.
Wedding Ring Count: Nine.
Dancers: A fine balance of “OK fine, here are my tits, shakey shakey” and actually impressive pole-dancing ability. The cleaning policy was a problem, though—the stripper up next has to Windex and wipe down the pole used by the dancer before her, in front of everyone. Bathos is watching a woman in a Lycra one-piece wipe another lady’s butt-streaks off a metallic pole.
Overall vibe: Pretty chill. The girls seemed to be having an OK time, and it didn’t feel seedy or skuzzy in the way I had expected all strip clubs to be prior to this experiment. This is not the place to come seeking stripper-y looking fake breasts, although there were some surrrious butts.
THE NAG’S HEAD
The Nag’s Head cemented our impression that the real issue facing strip establishments today should not be widespread closure but a long, thoughtful examination of their playlists. I do not want to watch a woman strip to “Zombie” by The Cranberries ever again. Or maybe I do, every day, as soon as I wake up. It’s hard to say.
Atmosphere: It’s a very small space. Like, very small. With the table of strippers and us and the two old guys at the front (that’s where the old men live), most of the tables were filled, even though the women were only taking in about £5 per dance, which is eughhhh.
Customers: More touchy-feely than is generally allowed. Some lecherous banker-type appeared and asked how us two little ladies were “enjoying the view,” before suggesting we join him at his table up front. We did not.
Dancers: They all seemed kind of bored, but had traditional hot stripper bods—fake tits and tans and teetering Lucite heels—so maybe that’s the trade off?
“What you taking notes for then?” count: One.
Overall vibe: Kind of dingy, but hilarious opening hours. Have a lapdance with your lunch! BYOSandwich.