Night In The City

In the hear of Phoenix lies a suberranean sone where day fades into night nearly without notice, where the city doesn't shut down with the sunset, and where, for some, the day begins with the night. Welcome to the night watch.

We drive west on Van Buren toward the Bank One high-rise, its opulence like a condescending apparition above downtown, constant and masculine. To the south the low hills of South Mountain give way to a shadowed range with a cluster of glowing red television towers at the top, standing like eerie flickering sentries. And to the north, on Taylor Street we drop Sue off in front of what Joe says is a crack house, a big wooden thing built in the teens with a dirt yard and chain-link fence. We watch the woman bounce toward the house and all the promise it holds for her, her steps energized and full of intent.

Dollars for Derriere
"Why do I have to leave?" asks the incredulous, seemingly straight-up fellow with short dark hair who's decked in preppy, frat-house attire.

"Because you grabbed that girl's ass, dude," answers the diminutive security-guard-with-a-cop-complex as he escorts the antagonist out through the big front doors of the Alaskan Bush Company all-nude show club.

In the entrance, a considerable stuffed Alaskan Vortex bear in a glass cage looms, perpetually caught in attack mode, snarling down on the clientele, an ironic symbol of pent-up sexual tension, perhaps the motivation behind many who easily cough up a week's pay in a night here. The photographer and I make our way in.

Inside, a few hundred blue- and white-collar males in various degrees of slow, focused perception are seated around spacious floor tables or in roomy, semiprivate booths. The men's expressions are vague, often blank, relaxed in a kind of pre-ejaculatory, mouth-breathing reverie. Whatever they are thinking, it is conceivably and ultimately private; veiled thoughts of longing, wonder and unfulfilled desire; the turning of illusion into something tangible.

Female anatomy decorated in sheer and lacy ribbons and bows is the hardware used to color their illusions, to liberate these men of their cash. Fifty or so girls running the gamut from Pamela Lee clones and Rubenesque Latinas to zaftig Afro-Americans are here offering table dances and conversation. In catwalks of sass, attitude and sexual persona, some girls parade the scene eagle-eyed for the legal tender, while others stand along the edges of the room bored, nodding in agreement with co-workers about how economy-minded the men are on this particular night.

Above the crowd in the club's main room--a ski lodge-like brown, stone affair--Old West-style wagon-wheel chandeliers adorned with strips of lighted neon hang from a beamed ceiling 30 feet up. The DJ spins a mix of thundering bombast--techno, hip-hop and Eighties metal, bracketed by a morning drive-time radio patter saying things like: Put your hands together gentlemen, for lovely Nikki, she'll rock your world and bring you wood.

Lighting fixtures shoot primary-colored beams in and around the action in time with the DJ's throb. A stage with two vertical poles and a giant wall mirror is against the north wall. Across the room a bar serves up nonalcoholic beverages like coffee, water and juice. (Arizona law permits that only nonalcoholic beverages be served in nude joints, precisely why they are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m.)

Men don't come here to get plowed. Obviously, they are here for the girls; for the imagery, the personification of an unrealistic and biased image of women. And the women here are ready to profit from that; it's what gives the stripper all of her power.

Summer, 22, a three-and-a-half year veteran of nude dancing, has a close-cropped blonde coif, an indoor tan and a heavily aerobicized torso--the preferred physique of most dancers. Her implanted chest is covered by a Hooters tee shirt a couple sizes too small.

"I dance to all kinds of music, preferably rock," Summer purrs. "I like Marilyn Manson, the 'Beautiful People.' . . . I am beautiful." Summer's voice imparts a coy suggestiveness like a Machiavellian cheerleader. She tilts her head when speaking, to affect an innocence, helping one to forget momentarily, even in these surroundings, that she publicly unfurls her orifices for a living.

"I love to turn everyone on, I do," she says, then adds reluctantly--like the answer is sure to disappoint--"But I prefer men over women."

As quickly as Summer offered herself for interview, she is up, out of her seat and off into the hazy, cigarette-smoked interior. The girl has money to earn. Aubrey slides into her place.

"Because I love to sit on cocks," says native Arizonan Aubrey Lovely sarcastically about why she works in the sex industry. Lovely is 24, looks 12, and has a manner of speech that upholds that appearance.

"Yeah, well, actually I've aged a lot in the last three years. When I first started dancing (three-and-a-half years ago) people wouldn't give me the time of day because they thought I was really 12. Really."

Lovely is fine-boned with breast-length tawny hair. She is tattoo-free with blue eyes and a failed marriage behind her. She tells me she is also drug-free.

"I find that a lot of the girls who do drugs usually don't make very good money anyway. And I have to admit when I do drugs it's like one hit off a joint of pot like every three months."

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