Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Strippers and Smokes and Secrets: A Day At The Racies

Here’s what kind of good friend I am. I am going to tell you about an adventure a few pals and I had in a strip joint but I’m not going to name names.  
TALK ABOUT YOUR YONGE STREET STRIP 

Except for the name of the strip joint: Starvin’ Marvin’s. It was on what is known as the Yonge Street strip, just north of Dundas. My friends and I were visiting Toronto from our hometown of Sudbury and we were probably I’m guessing 15 years old.

This was long before the Internet. Dirty pictures were rare in our Catholic lives; real live naked women rarer. We figured we could lie about our age, tell the woman at the ticket booth that we were 18, and see stuff we’d only ever talked about.

I’m pretty sure Starvin’ Marvin’s didn’t have a bar. I could be mistaken on that but even if it did, that’s not what we were interested in. 

The plan, I should add, included Groucho Marx glasses and moustaches. I don’t know whose idea that was, but we each carried a set and figured that if we wore them while we watched the show--I can’t believe this really happened but it did--we would be in no danger of being recognized.
IT WAS STARVIN' MARVIN'S OR BUST 

Getting in was far easier than we had anticipated. I’m not sure the ticket seller even looked at us, and I forget the price of admission. 

I do remember, though, which way the hallway to the showroom led us, and how we found ourselves in the front row, right near the stage, surrounded by mostly empty chairs.

And we donned our disguises. 

A band was playing.  The lights went down, an announcer told us the show was about to begin; and, taking us by complete surprise, a house comedian walked on to the stage. The three of us instantly chickened out and removed the glasses. 

Which turned out to be his cue. The comic walks over and standing RIGHT OVER US, says,
“Hey boys! What’d you do
I OUGHTN'T VISIT ANY STRIP CLUB THAT WOULD HAVE ME AS A PATRON. 
with the disguises?”

And then.

Him: “Where ya from?”

One of us, probably the one whose voice had broke: “Sudbury!”

Him: “Sudbury? I know Sudbury. Ever been to the Belton Hotel”? The Belton was a sleazy beer hall in the west end of town, about 10 blocks from OUR HOUSE.

Us, lying: “Yes!”

Him: I forget.

All I remember is that as soon as he said Belton, I thought, "if I say anything else he’s going to be like, 'Hey! You’re Tom’s brother! How’s he doin'?'”

From that moment I was in total hide mode, slouching as low as possible in the chair, glancing around the joint, trying to get a look at the other patrons and hoping that none would recognize me. 

It was the same when we left. I remember nipping out of there absolutely sure that standing out on Yonge Street would be our parish priest Father Feranzena, or maybe Mr. Blackwell our grade-eight teacher. 

Worst part: I don’t remember any stripping. Just guilt.

Why am I telling you this now?

Because yesterday, I had the very same feeling, though it had nothing to do with naked women.

Yesterday morning, I had to visit a small tailor shop here in Toronto and when I got to the front door, one of those horrible “Back in 5 minutes” signs hung in mid-glass. “Back in 5 minutes” doesn’t tell you anything. Except that the store’s closed.
  
I got in my car to wait. Five minutes passed. Sign remained hung.

Adjacent to the tailor shop was a small café. “Maybe,” I thought, “He’s in there having a coffee.”

I walked over, opened the door, and was almost knocked down by the smell of ….I hope you’re sitting down…cigarette smoke. Inside, there were three men, my age or older, sipping coffee, watching TV and enjoying cigarettes. Sin-freaking-city!
JUST LIKE THE GOOD OLD DAYS, THE PLACE STANK.  
I felt like I was in Starvin’ Marvin land again.  (Amazing how, within the space of a few years, what we deem socially acceptable can take such whiplash-style whoop dee doos.)

“Just wondering,” I asked the guy nearest the door, “if the tailor from next door’s in here. Sign says he’ll be back in five minutes.”

“Not here,” he said, “He’s just going to the bathroom. He’ll be done soon.”

And he was. Right on schedule. And I didn’t tell him about my conversation with the guy next door.

Here’s what kind of nice reporter I am. Just like I’m not going to tell you who my co-strip-club-goers were; I’m not revealing any geographic details about the smoky restaurant or tailor shop.


I didn’t say I was good reporter, just a nice one.

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