Titty Ditties

The secret life of the gentlemen's DJ

My guts are churning with anticipation and trepidation as I step into the dimmed alcove that is Cheerleaders, the topless gentlemen's club on University Drive in east Phoenix. As my eyes adjust to the dusky illumination, I can't help but focus on the bikini- and g-string-clad beauties lounging about the room, waiting for this Wednesday evening's customers to begin pouring into the club.

I'm out of my element here. It's not that I've never patronized establishments like this, but tonight I'm on a mission to try my skills at that much-mythologized occupation, the strip-club DJ.

First, I've gotta tell you that while I spout off at the mouth in the newspaper every week, I have a phobia of public speaking. I'll never be an auctioneer. However, I'm fairly confident of my skills at picking out bootylicious, pole-friendly rhythms and beats.

Prior to my venture, I'm thinking Guns n' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle," Ciara's "Goodies," Juvenile's "Back That Ass Up," and maybe an indie oddity, like Bright Eyes' new single "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)," the electro-fied ode to casual relationships that begins, "First with your hands, then with your mouth, downpours of sweat, damp cotton clouds."

In preparation, I recruited one of the masters of the brass-pole soundtracks, Rob Trent, who's been DJing at titty bars for the past five years or so. Rob's an old friend, and a formidable musician in his own right, having been the smooth-rhyming MC in local legends Supermarket, and later, the Critics.

On the microphone, Rob has a low, velvety purr perfectly suited for his profession. My own speaking voice leaves much to be desired -- when I can filter out the vulgarities that involuntarily spew from my mouth, there's not much that I can offer aurally except the sound of a nervous white boy fumbling for words.

When I enter Cheerleaders and make my way past the assorted barely dressed hotties to the DJ booth, I notice Rob is dressed to the nines, sporting a sweater-vest over a collared shirt, his mini-fro perfectly coifed. Me, I'm in my usual dirtbag gear, a graffiti tee shirt and jeans.

When I walk up to the booth and exchange pounds with my boy Rob, I'm scoping out the accouterments stacked up in the control center. As Rob explains the process of song selection and inter-song patter, my preconceptions of what I'll be doing tonight are immediately contradicted. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be dropping vinyl and matching beats on two Technics, but I did expect a bit of CD swapping and fader sliding.

Alas, Cheerleaders' audio output is run off a PC, using the WinAmp program. Which means that, for the most part, the songs are on the hard drive, and selecting the soundtrack for the evening consists of making drag-and-drop playlists.

Worse than that, the girls (and Rob, professional that he is) have very specific tastes in what they like to shimmy and shake to. "I've got everything from open-minded girls who let me play anything poppin' on the radio," Rob explains. "Then there's straight R&B/rap girls who like Power 92 stuff; a couple girls like punk and hard rock, alternative; some like classic rock, techno."

So when it comes to importing the playlists, I'm bound to let Rob handle the soundtrack for the evening; I won't even be pushing buttons.

Even more disappointing, it's Wednesday night, Cheerleaders' hip-hop night, Hush, when DJ Phlava (clad in a hilarious Lil' Jon "Oooookaaay!" tee shirt) brings in his own turntables and handles the beats from 9 p.m. on.

This doesn't leave much for me to do, except the part I dread most: emceeing the night, introducing the girls, encouraging the patrons to pull out their wallets, and upselling the drink specials ($60 bottles of Moet and $3 Coronas).

"You can't be afraid of the mic," Rob tells me, and I nod with a straight face, trying to suppress my phobia of public speaking, even if it's to a bunch of turgid, distracted men and scantily dressed girls.

He gives me some tips on effective between-song pitches: "I like to have a nice, clear presentation. When I'm intro-ing a girl, I like to make everybody aware what her name is, maybe pick out some aspects about her, her nicest attributes -- make it interesting, make it creative."

Once Phlava's taken over the musical duties, I chill on a stool in the DJ booth, observing Rob for a few minutes. The first time I introduce a girl, giving a "meow" into the mic first, since her name's Kitty, I pimp the champagne special, and fulfill the other duty of a strip-club DJ, telling the girls who's next on stage and who's on deck for the next stage show.

"How was that?" I ask Rob.

"I know I can hear you. I'm gonna go sit out there on your next one," he replies, and I'm feeling pretty good.

Unfortunately, my optimism is premature. A buxom blonde, whose name I didn't catch, approaches me in the booth and says, "Don't put your mouth on the microphone, honey, I can't understand a word you said."

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