We needed the wasted day; I know I sure as hell did. Being a hero is tiresome, and I was sick of the job. I didn't ask for it, I didn't want it, and it turned out the pay was crap. I mentioned all this to Bekka, who was vaguely sympathetic, but had a Calvinist attitude towards the whole scene: it was obviously meant to be , so there's not a lot I can do about it, can I?
Ivanka thought it was all beautiful, and that that I needed a cape to go along with everything else.... Especially her hero worship, which had taken a very physical aspect. It was unspoken so far, but it was a matter of time before hostile words were exchanged over who got access to me....
.... And I feel like a whining hypocrite: "Oh boo fucking hoo, I've got two women in the sex trade who are both after my schwanz, ain't my life tough," but with both girls, we started out as friends, one later than the other, and I'd prefer remaining friends with both, not to mention them remaining friends with each other. If Bekka and I are going to help Ivanka land a job, it's more in Bekka's bailiwick to help hook her up with the right gig at the right club.... And at a club where she'll pull down as many ducats as possible; we'd like to see her make more money than us. Working in porn is definitely a lifestyle, and it pays well, but the nude dance places and booth shows are too, only in a different manner. Adult video is by far more involved: there's a higher level of camaraderie. Everyone knows that they have a direct interest in producing a high-quality product, one that will sell in volume and keep people coming back for more. It's like candy bars, drugs, sex toys, or dog whistles: if the product sucks, you're running yourself out of business, and it's time for a gig at Burger King.
The biggest problem was finding a quality paint shop that didn't have a wait time of two weeks. After much telephonic exhaustion, I found a shop on Franklin near Gough which could get me in within three days; the spray job itself would be two. Hey, we could go out and play tourists for at least part of the time. Much of the other time would be taken up by looking at random naked women and talking to club managers. Those conversations made me nervous: I felt like a fucking pimp, even if Bekka was the one doing the talking. We were making it clear that our friend was not from this country, had been been hurt badly in the somewhat recent past so we were rather protective, and she was one hell of a dancer.... But the whole "having been hurt" thing is the reason why his office was so crowded. I had no illusions about my position when it came to the bouncers, these guys were gorillas.... But I'd make sure we all went to bed that night with headaches if vicious aggression was aimed at Ivanka.
By and large, the managers just seemed a bit jaded: they'd seen it all before. What was ultra-mega-cool was was the number of raised eyebrows Ivanka got when doing her routine. She was impressing people, which meant having a choice of clubs to work, Given her work ethic (she planned on sending money home to Mom when she could) she could bounce between clubs doing forty hour weeks, an insane amount of time to put in as a dancer/booth girl.... Or if she was really lucky, land a gig at the O'Farrell Theater, where you pretty much chose how big of a pile of money you rolled around in. (The Century was a close second when it came to money-rolling-around-in-ing.)
The other dancers we met were friendly.... To an extent. One more dancer on the floor or in a booth was that much less space for the girls already there, so the arrival of new girl could possibly mean that much less money. Everyone hoped the "new girl" did well... But not too well.
Only two managers were blatantly hostile, and those we simply walked out on. They had an immediate "fuck you if you think you're good enough to dance here" attitude, and we'd already had a half-dozen immediate job offers in our first day, so Ivanka did know she was good enough to dance at their club. Never figured out what their trip was: turnover at clubs was too high for anyone to be turning down possible potential dancers, much less alienating new girls A total mystery
..... Although it's not like we were greeted with roses and candy in those clubs that made immediate offers. Ivanka was the crapteenth person the manager had had to deal with that day; and of those, half had fake I.D.s and had to be told that really, life in Walnut Creek really isn't that bad, little girl, no matter how much your parents bug you.. (Ivanka's visa threw them for a loop.. We knew they were serious about hiring when they called their lawyer and asked about some place called Roe-may-nee-ah. "I got some kids in here claiming to be from there, does it actually exist?". The Fax machine would whir away, and the existence of Romania could be confirmed. ("Get a California I.D, Miss.... save everyone some trouble.") Those who greeted Ivanka with raised eyebrows and looks of surprise were physically demonstrating their impression that she could actually dance, and well. Usually it was more a check to see that the girl had the girl correct had the correct numbers of of nipples, located in the standard position , which acted as the qualifier. That, and no open running sores....
Ivanka signed on to two places in North Beach: The Hungry I and the Lusty lady, both with stages and booths. The Lusty Lady focused mostly on booths, with the Hungry I keeping the floor show running; dancers were more dependent on tips from customers as a source of income. At the Lusty Lady, girls got a percentage of the booth fee. Neither club was known for high-end money --- "only" $600-$700 per four hour shift --- but had relaxed atmospheres, which as a novice had appeal to Ivanka. If she wanted to shift to a different club after she was more comfortable working, nobody could stop her. It was a game of Chinese Checkers that happened constantly. There was no offense taken.... But with Ivanka's skills, she'd probably have a lot of pleading directed at her when she announced she was moving on. In private, though: the other girls would not be amused by the manager kissing ass of this damn foreign girl who'd only been there a few months. "So she's a good dancer. I've never seen her do a routine starting off with sliding splits!" "And she's always so damn friendly. 'Member Janice twisted her ankle and couldn't work? She was passin' the hat so that Janice would have some income for the night, then the next two nights after that! Said she didn't want a 'fellow dancer having to work in pain'." She wanted everyone putting up enough to match what Janice would have lost." "Well, maybe that's how they do it over where she's from."
(You may be thinking, "If Ivanka's so open-hearted, what about when the operation in Santa Barbara came crashing?" The answer is, all the girls split so fast there was a sonic boom. When Ivanka went back for her stuff, ten of the fourteen girls had already dusted, leaving no goodbyes. They collected their visas and made tracks to go do, well, God knows what. Work the streets in Los Angeles, work a KFC in Lawndale, attempt to get air fare back to their homeland via their respective consulates, whatever. None of them seemed to have a plan or a friend in Santa Barbara, though. They hid themselves away when not working, not availing themselves of the library or coffee shops or other places where they might have developed some basic human contact. The other girls did a good job of secreting themselves from the District Attorney, as well as the feds. Small wonder they could hide from us.)
As a bit of moral support, Bekka and I went to Ivanka's first turn at the Hungry I. It was the first turn I'd seen all the way through, and.... Oh yeah. It's possible to be rock hard while artistically impressed. Most strippers don't begin their turns with runninig forward flips, and get both naughtier and more elaborate from there. The rest of the audience was cheering, practically jumping on each other to shove twenties in her g-string. The other dancers, watching from one side, were realizing a high new bar had been set. Ivanka was realizing that a forty-hour week of this would be insanity. And a hand the size of a catcher's mitt gently landed on my shoulder.
There was a calmness in the gorilla's voice. "No problems, sir, the manager just wants a few words with you. He recognizes you." Oooo---Kaaay.. I tried to remember if this was a manager Bekka had engaged in Donald Trump-style negotiation tactics with, accusing him of being a failure and a dimwit if they didn't hire Ivanka at any rate she asks for, god dammit, grow a brain and hire the girl.
If it was, there was no bad feelings. The manager had been watching her moves over the CCTV monitors.... And wanted to know if we could somehow produce more dancers like her.
I told him it would take a while, as the parts needed to be shipped in through Oakland, assembled, and have the android functionality installed. They tried shipping 'em assembled and pre-programmed, but they'd bust out of the cargo containers and raise hell on the ship: alternately seducing or murdering the crew.... often within minutes of each other.
"I'll take that as a no," he said glumly.
"Sir, her abilities as a dancer were as big of news to me as they were to you. I mean, I knew she could dance.... But in theory, any simian with rhythm can. Let's be honest here: you ain't Bob Fosse, and you don't pretend to be. But me and you and Bekka were all floored watching her kludge together her demo.
"Look, she's here from Romania by way of some white slaver cocksuckers. There was some stressful times after the ringleaders got nailed, but her visa was valid, and as long as she is gainfully employed she can remain in the states. She's expressed interest in becoming a citizen, and I hope she does. We could use more Americans like her."
"So how did you three meet?"
I said, "Her john was getting abusive with her, so I put his head into the ice machine a few times. She told us her story, we said, 'Fuck that shit,' and found a lawyer who helped get her visa back. We kinda brought the heat down on the operation. So we talked it over, and---- "
Jesus Lenny, you're gonna skip the part where you saved our lives!?"
I glared at Bekka and told the manager, " You can imagine the white slaver hated my guts for destroying his business, so he shadowed me out of Goleta and tried to use his Lincoln to take me out. I could drive a lot fuckin' better than him, so I used his own bad temper and poor driving skills as a weapon against him, eventually making him him wreck his own vehicle south of Solvang."
"Wreck, hell," said Bekka. "You made the guy kill himself, period."
"Yeah.... Well, whatever. Anyway, we've been together with Ivanka for, what nine days now? She's older than me, but I think of her as being younger, I guess because of her voice."
"She comes across as a bit naive, too. Like, she fully expected to be going into sex work in some form when she got here, but she also thought they'd pay her."
The manager smiled and said, "Wait, she expects to get paid from being here?"
I stared at him unblinking, and unmoving. He finally said, "Just a joke. Poor timing is all."
"Your timing is piss-poor, sir. Your comedic rhythm is off by several notches. News of such treatment by Ivanka would have kept me very busy."
The gorilla said, "You kiddin' me?"
"I smiled at him and told him, "You'd have come out ahead, surely. But I'd have done enough damage to make sure you wake up with a headache for several days, do you understand me? I'm the farthest thing you'll find from a tough guy .... Unless someone I care about is threatened. And then I'm not tough, I'm just plain mean.
I smiled and said, "But we're talking in pure conjecture anyway. The reason Ivanka chose this club wasn't because it offered the best money, but because she trusted you, trusted the club. She felt you're on the up-and-up, that y'all aren't going to play games with the money. And we agreed with her."
Bekka said, "True dat You get high?"
"Depends on what."
Bekka pulled the jar from her purse and put a tablet down in front of everyone . the manager sent the gorilla out for fake beer. We watched the monitors as Ivanka shimmied from table to table, doing lap dances, collecting tips. Then she came into the office; the manager counted out her tips. On her first turn she had made over seven hundred dollars ("I count cash quick ") minus her floor fee money of of two hundred .: she was ahead about five hundred dollars. The manager banked the cash the dancers brought in for reasons of practicality: $700 in twenties, fifties, and the occasional hundred built up quite a wad, so the manager kept it in a safe, in separate envelopes. She still had two turns on the stage, plus time in a booth.... We'd be opening a checking account in the morning, no question: the way she would be building cash, back-up would happen damn quick. I was guessing she'd pull $1700 out of that first night.
The first thing to be saved for was an apartment, which should take about a week at the rate she was going: Even if she dropped the amount of cash for some inexplicable reason, there was no reason for her to not depend on $1000 a night at the lowest, at either club.
The only barrier she had was one of language. In the booths, the guys wanted to hear you talk dirty.... Which Ivanka could do, but her accent would either be a blessing or a curse. There were still phrases and words which bolloxed her, and some guy jacking it might not want to hear, "I.... Do not understand...?" The phrasing "sucking of cock" sounds too stilted to get a guy off. Maybe she could watch some porn with Bekka and work on her phrasing..
But with the money she made, an apartment on Russian Hill, Pacific Heights, or even Telegraph Hill wasn't out of the question. She had no habits to feed besides Nutter Butters (I swear I saw her chop one into a line and snort it once). Yeah, $1300 for a small one bedroom seems extravagant --- keep in mind we're talking 1988 prices --- unless that's what you make in one day's work, and you've got another fifteen days of raking it in. I couldn't imagine her becoming a spendthrift: her family would be living very well back in Romania.
The four of us --- the manager, the gorilla, Bekka and me --- watched the monitors and gabbed. Every now and then the gorilla was sent out to eject someone. When you've got some mook passing ones, he's wasting everyone's time, and he's got to go. At one point the gorilla jumped up without prompting and rushed out, putting some guy in an arm-lock and marching him out the door. "He gets lap dances and stiffs the girls. Fuck him, Charles (the gorilla) will make sure he bounces twice when he gets tossed. Your girl wouldn't know him, but the other girls do. They signal the cameras and out he goes."
"Guy hasn't figured out it's free to stay home and jerk it, huh?" I asked.
"The guy hasn't figured out we know who he is. Damn idiot."
The gorilla came back in and announced it was getting to be a thick enough crowd that he would stay on the floor.
"I can imagine a myriad of problems that can happen here. What's the most usual?"
"Guys touching the dancers. Or more accurately, touching the dancers without paying for the privilege, you know. Some schmuck tries to feel a girl up, she raises her arm, and the guy is gone. It has to be that way. That, or a guy with his dick out at the tables. That's what the booths are for. By the way, I hope Ivanka doesn't mind watching dudes jerk off, because she's gonna see a whole lotta jackin' working the booths."
"She's been apprised of the situation," said Bekka. "She worked in clubs in Bucharest, but comparatively speaking, she was pretty much dancing for pennies. She was starving because she wouldn't fuck the customers. Here she's getting fifty bucks for a lap dance? She'd have to screw two different guys for the same amount, if she was lucky: it was a buyers market, so to speak. It was the only way to make money."
The manager said, "We'd be a bit more popular if we allowed more contact between the customers and the dancers. At the same time, I don't feel like running a fucking brothel. For girls that want to play that game, there's other clubs to go to. I'm happy with the money I make, and to be honest I think I sleep better at night than other club owners and managers do. So the booths need mopping routinely."
"Yeah, I don't have to deal with that end of it.."
The manager stared at at Bekka for a moment and said, "Be honest: you're in the business, but not in the clubs. I feel like you're holding back on me. What work do you do?"
Bekka smiled a bit shyly and said, "Honestly, hwe haven't held back on purpose, It's just jot come up. I'm a performer in adult video, and Lenny here is a still photographer. We work for a company called Inana Productions down in San Diego."
A light went on over the manager's head. "Okay! That's why you both seemed so comfortable with the naked women walking in and out. I gotta ask, though: why didn't you just draft Ivanka to work for you?"
I said, "A few reasons: first of all, we're not sure the company is gonna be there when we get back from vacation. The big-wigs are being mysterious about this enforced vacation we're on. Lots of rumors, no facts.."
Also, remember these are movies. How well people will respond to a Romanian accent is up in the air. Midwest customers wanna know 'jist whut th' hail we're doin' hirin' some Commie bitch to be in a good ol' fashioned ''Murrican porn movie.'." And there's the big one.
"If she's mentioned it to you, fine, if not, this is a secret, and I ask you to keep it that way. She was assaulted multiple times, as a form of control, while she was trapped with the white slavers in Santa Barbara. It's viewed as both punishment and training, getting them used to accepting any activity. Follow me?"
The manager chewed his lip and nodded.
"Rape victims do not make good performers. I've seen freak-outs on set, I've had women suddenly stand up in the middle of a shoot, announce what sick pieces of shit we are, get dresses and leave, I've had them suddenly start sobbing during a shoot, I've had them go practically catatonic on a shoot. Go ahead and guess what the common thread is for all these would-be performers.
"The thing is, the women think they're past it, it was five years ago, this is consensual, we've laid out parameters. It doesn't help. Yeah, I've only known her nine days, but Ivanka is my friend, and I'm not about to risk hurting her like that, and the odds are pretty dismal she'd be hurt..
"So instead of my having a basket case of a fuck film actress, you get a highly talented dancer, one with a borderline acrobatic scope of talents."
I added in, "All I ask is that, knowing her history, if she signals for Charles or whoever is on the floor, she needs help right then: the guy won't let go or is saying fucked up things to her. She's no delicate flower, she can handle herself, which is why it's so important they react fast: something majorly fucked up, far beyond her ability to control, is going down, and that's an unusual to have happen.
I looked him in the eye and said, "Please?"
"So, she's tough enough, which means that if she signals, something serious has dropped?"
"Don't worry about it. Especially someone who dances like her, she's worth a mint to the theater, so I'll keep her safe. Now, who want's a line of coke?"
I said, "makes me gag. You two go ahead, though."
"Woo hoo! More for us!" cried Bekka.