A lot of people swear they are going to do a lot of things when each new year rolls around. Promises of drastic life changes are ritually made and ritually broken: Money will be saved, bad habits will be curtailed, more attention will be paid, etc.

Miss Candy Cantaloupes has a few vows that she is determined to keep, vows that dwarf the usual stroke-of-midnight, Andre-flavored pledges. She is giving up her life of four years as an internationally featured striptease artist. That means no more headlining tours to Tokyo, London, Montreal or New York, no more high-paying layouts in Bra Busters, Club International or Gent--Home of the D-Cups, no more appearances on Rolonda, Maury Povich, Sally Jessy Raphael or Howard Stern.

She will be leaving her plush Valley home to study biology at New York University. She will be dyeing her blond locks black. And, in one momentous act that will guide the fate of all others, Candy will have her surgically enhanced "115 ZZZ-cup" breasts returned to the way God made them. Which, she says, is "about half that size."

Candy sits in a small room off the kitchen at a west-side club called Centerfold's Cabaret. She smokes a cigarette or two, drinks a Coke. She has two shows left to go tonight, the last two she will ever do. You can hear waves of applause through the orange walls, men shouting in manly ways. The emcee, with his slick deejay voice, goads the boys on for Candy's next set with phrases that don't really seem to make sense when you think about them: "She's so smooth, she can steal the ice cubes out of your drink and it'd still be cold!!" And, "She's got more breasts than a bucket of chicken!!!" But nobody seems to be thinking about them.

For all her success in the industry, Candy isn't beautiful, she isn't a ravishing knockout, and, when she gets up onstage to dance, well, Twyla Tharp has nothing to worry about.

Candy, as she will gladly tell you, owes it all to the size of her chest. Many dancers--and countless movie stars and basic citizens--have enhancement surgery. But few feel the need to enter that Russ Meyer level of development where "healthy" becomes meaningless and "buxom" is stretched to the limit.

"My ex-husband talked me into it," says Candy, who married at 19 (she's now 23). "I was really big before. I remember I was going to walk away [from the operation]; I was in the bed saying, 'I do not want to do this.' I was so scared, to me my breasts were really large, they were perfect. But when you're that young, you listen to other people, and I didn't have my family guiding me. Nobody was giving me advice except this guy.

"He went and got the anesthesiologist, and he came in and gave me a shot to calm me down. I went to sleep for two hours, and when I woke up, I had the surgery. Afterward, I woke up and was like, 'Oh my God!' I thought, 'Well, I'm going to be married to him forever, I hope you like it, baby!'"

"Baby" liked it, all right. Candy says he recognized a meal ticket when he saw one. Or two. "He was what in the industry you call a dancer junkie--guys who go from dancer to dancer. They date no one else; they're into the strip-club thing. All they want is to get involved and take your money," she explains with an exhale of words and smoke.

"I still had braces on; I was so innocent. I had no idea what [topless] dancing was, or strip clubs, never swore or anything. This guy took over and was like, 'Oh, we need money, I've got knee problems, I can't work, blah, blah, blah.'

"And I was young and stupid, and I believed him."

Though Candy is not in search of sympathy--she plays her conversation for laughs more than anything--the lady has an almost Dickensian tale of woe to tell. She was born in the Bay Area, ran away as a young teen to escape abuse at home.

"I'm proud of myself," she says. "I made it. I didn't do drugs, I didn't party, I didn't sleep around, all the stuff you hear that dancers do. I could have ended up in prostitution, messed up on drugs, living on the street as a child. Nobody helped me out, nobody was there to pay for my college education, so I get put down for being a dancer. But society didn't give me any help to do anything else with myself."

After meeting up with the man who started her in the exciting world of professional show business, Candy got her first job at Phoenix's Cheetah I club: "When I auditioned, I was too scared to take my hands off my boobs." The hands came off, and the money came in, but not enough. As a "featured dancer," she could use her assets to travel the world and make the big money. In perfect Star 80 fashion, hubby stayed home keeping the money warm while Candy heated up the global strip-club circuit.

"I was running the business on my own," she says. "I was so stressed out, people are constantly trying to take advantage of you. And he was back home sleeping with other girls and taking my money."

Oh, but it's even worse than that.
"He and his mother were stealing my money, and I found out from one of my friends," Candy fires out. "When I found out, I was in Montreal, and I flew back and said, 'This is it. I will not be taken advantage of.'"

Exit Mr. Thoughtful.
So why didn't Candy quit the business at this point? Well, it takes money to go to college, and it had to come from somewhere. Back to the spotlight. "I saved my money, made my goals, and I want to get out," she clarifies. "Now I can."

Miss Cantaloupes may be getting out, but she's leaving with a few memories and some lessons learned, to say the least. Once she met two dancers on the road, helped them move here from St. Louis and let them stay at her place while she traveled. "They gave my bird drugs. They killed my parrot when I was out of town. I had an autopsy done, and it was crystal methamphetamine."

She's done all the talk shows, so many she can't remember them all. ("The dancers that get in and want to stay in are the ones that remember every little detail.") And guess the themes of the programs she's appeared on.

"'Breasts,'" says Candy. "'Large breasts.' 'Men who love them,' 'Women who hate women with large breasts,' you name it."

You can probably name current taste sensation Howard Stern's attraction to Candy, too, but the experience on his show "wasn't one of the better ones I've had in my life," she admits.

"He has a huge following among men because he says stuff that a lot of men think and feel and want to say to women, and I don't think it's right. I don't agree with degradation."

Yet nobody put a gun to her head to get her on the show.
"Oh, yeah, I'm not complaining," says Candy, shrugging. "That is the persona that has made him popular. Everybody has their thing, like my breasts. I can't sit here and be dogmatic on myself--you know, screw Howard Stern and his attitude--when I've done what I've done to my breasts to make money. He's the way he is to make money."

And, finally, she has learned a bit about men.
"I hear all the complaints of a lot of the men who come in here, and I understand how to make my marriage much better, when I get married again. Most of the time, they'll complain about their wife, say she's gotten fat, she's out of shape, and I say, 'Oh, what are you?'

"They're like 50 pounds overweight, no hair, missing a couple teeth. When men look at themselves in the mirror, they overlook half of their flaws. You don't marry someone for the way they look, you marry them for what they have inside."

I wonder if, for the past four years, she hasn't been providing some kind of fantasy image, a ridiculous standard by which all those foolish men are measuring their poor wives.

Candy sucks in a long drag. "Yeah, that's what's wrong with it."

By the time you read this, Candy Cantaloupes will be history. According to her plans, she will be in New York City, close to her current boyfriend. He's a sock manufacturer--"Everybody's wearing them!"--who lives in Montreal; they met at a disco.

"His family loves and accepts me," she says, beaming. "His mom loves me, his brothers and sisters, everybody. They make me feel so comfortable. I go to pool parties and wear bikinis; nobody says anything. My ex-boyfriend's family, his mother told him that my boobs were grotesque and disgusting. She also said, 'Do you really want to get involved with a girl who has so much baggage?'

"Why should I have to pay for being abused? Baggage you go and buy, you choose what baggage you want. When you get abused, nobody asks you if you would like to get beat or abused today."

And somewhere between here and New York, Candy will become Valerie again, a girl who got married at 19, had a surgeon giveth, will have one taketh away, and, hopefully, will come out the other end of this whole thing to live happily ever after.

Or, at the very least, have this come true: "I can hardly wait to go into a room and have people say, 'Look at her, she's attractive,' and not, 'Look at her boobs.'

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