That summer of the storm was one of the hottest and muggiest summers I have ever known. The air all summer stood really still, which just helped the heat to penetrate through everything, leaving its invasive personality on the sticky film of every piece of my sordid little life.
The clubs on Bourbon were even really hot that summer. Usually, the air conditioner in a strip club blows strong enough to keep all the nipples rock hard. Apparently, it helps the dancer make money somehow, although it is difficult to have a comfortable conversation with even the easiest going man when your back is stiff from sitting in the frigid cold for an hour with nipples hard and pointy. But, the summer the storm hit New Orleans; even the super duper monster air conditioners in the strip clubs on Bourbon Street could not keep up with the hot dead calm.
I remember sticky. My butt stuck to the old and dirty leather banquettes that provided most of the seating in the Shobar. Those damn things were grimy enough without a bunch of already raunchy strippers stuck to them with the funk of their own sweaty butts. I remember sliding off that leather banquette one night, hoping to conceal a little of my clumsiness and act somewhat graceful, when I skidded out from leather and sticky sweat catching my butt on several spots of that seat, and nearly tumbled drunk onto the ground. I remember girls getting up from their seats next to a customer, with residue of butt shaped sweat left still gleaming in even the darkened lights of the strip club.
Not to mention the funky smell of the locker room. In the winter, the locker room reeked of feet. In the summer, the pervasive smell of humidity and mold always hung around in the air. All year round, the smell of stale alcohol and cigarettes competed with the marijuana and flavored cigar papers. But, that summer, the smell escalated with the sweat from dancers, seeping from armpits and pussies. We tried to cover it up with cheap perfume and body spray, but that only worked for a while until the stink would creep back in. At the end of the night, we would leave carrying the sweaty smell of every other girl in our hair, with our own smelly sweat clinging to our moist skin.
325 Bourbon Street is one of the most infamous addresses in my old junky mind. Before Katrina, I spent most of my time at 325 Bourbon Street, working to pay for my expensive heroin habit. I can see the interior in my mind, as 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 it most certainly was 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, the feeling of its checkered past becomes instantly obvious.
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. The most frequent doorman in those days was Jeff, who was also a junky. Jeff always covered for me, and the other doormen allowed me to give them a few extra bucks to keep my secret safe.
Looking back on it, I am sure my little runs were no secret from anyone, but is always nice to keep up our images. 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 times, 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.
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 money making 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 that it is sad that it was completely gutted and remolded 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 often 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, as it was only separated by a beaded curtain at the entrance. There was an old couch in this room that had years of dirt and cum, I am sure. I was sometimes 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 Jeff and I would open up early for a day shift, we would often search the cushions of the couch for money. Dollar bills wrapped around thighs and ankles would often peel off unbeknownst to the dancer while giving a “private show.” Sometimes, Jeff and I 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 was also old school and looked exactly like I had always pictured the stage of a strip club 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 stage was also old wood, but a lighter color than the bar. The stage had the same kind of beveled edge as the bar, only wider. This served to separate the customers from the dancers on stage. There was also room for drinks on this little edge. Drinks are an integral part of any strip club. Behind the stage were all mirrors, and the pole came up somewhere near the middle.
The pole, like the rest of the place, was old and worn. Its goldish bronze 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. We were more about the meat and potatoes of the business…getting money.
One would enter the stage from the dressing room, through a deep burgundy velvet curtain. I sometimes wore these really cool black fairy wings that someone had left at the club. They looked really great on stage when I would make them barely flap like a resting butterfly. One year during Mardi Gras, those wings were my moneymakers! I had to be careful going on stage because it was easy to get them caught on the pole that held the curtain as I emerged onto stage. 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. Just like the rest of the place, the dressing room at The Shobar was old school. It 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 that one would expect to find in any strip club. The lights were never bright like those I have used at some of the newer clubs. These lights seemed yellowed with age, like much of the place was. This is where the girls would stake out their spots…to put on make up, to eat, or just to chill 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. The carpet was grey with dirt and age, and I noticed the funky smell it carried when the dressing room was first opened each day. One door lead in and out of the dressing room and the other lead to the stage. Lockers lined the walls in random spots.
The dressing room was a gathering place for the women who worked there. There was often a blunt being 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. I often ran to the dressing room after my dope runs, handing out bags like free lunch to the homeless. Hungry junkies grabbing at the tiny foils.
The bathrooms were an infamous part of The Shobar. Many of the dancers at The Shobar were junkies. I do not know if it was because it was too hard to follow the rules at some of the other clubs (as was the case for me) or if we just tended to gravitate toward those we are alike. I bet those bathrooms had more drugs spilled on their floors than many users see in a lifetime. I spent many hours in there shooting up.
Often we would go into the stalls in twos. Sophia and I spent a lot of time in there together. After I cooked up a shot of dope (and also mixed with coke sometimes), Sophia would join me in the stall as I removed my choker. I pushed my hair aside, tilting my head to reveal the vein running down my neck. Sophia was good; she was in and out of the jugular in seconds…my head was instantly swimming. The two of us were thick as thieves, and we used to do a lot of heroin and coke in those bathrooms. We would emerge back into the club, heads spinning with a big, fat speedball, to sit on those vinyl banquettes just sweating our asses off. Just thinking about it now, my heart’s pace has quickened slightly. All night in and out of the bathroom. Back and forth, pacing the floors of that place. I spent a lot of hours in that place, drinking, getting high, and making money.