Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hunkmania - Part 1

Just for fun...I thought I'd share a piece I wrote a few years back....

I’m late. I’m always late. It’s no accident. It’s this little game I play with myself week after week. I know I’m supposed to be there by 7:15, but hell, I don’t even want to be there at all. Maybe there’s a part of me that hopes I’ll just miraculously miss it altogether. You know, wake up tomorrow and realize, “Oh shit. I missed it.” No such luck. It’s 7:10 and I’m still waiting for the subway.

I make my way to the 14th street exit fiddling with my iPod. This is the moment that can make or break my night. I have to have my song playing as I emerge from the subway. HAVE to. If I don’t have the right song playing as I approach, my whole vibe will be off for the night. Got it. “Strength, Courage and Wisdom” by India Arie, feels right for tonight. Earbuds secure. Volume up. I’m on my way.

Coming up the stairs onto the street is always an interesting experience. With all the gentrification happening in the Meatpacking District just two short blocks away, somehow, this particular corner hasn’t joined in. There are the drunks and homeless people I see on a weekly basis. They even recognize me now as I make my way up 14th street. Music pumping in my ears keeps all of the madness out.

By 7:30, when I finally arrive, they’re already lined up outside. I make my way to the door passing at least 50 women lined up to one side of the entrance. Bubbs sees me and his face lights up as he lets me through the ropes. A noticeable hush falls over the crowd of women as I’m sure they’re wondering how I got inside with no hassle or question.

Inside, it’s business as usual. The bartender is cutting lemons and limes. The DJ is setting up the music. The waiters are checking their supplies: pens, pads, etc., while the rest of the guys are setting up chairs and tables around the stage.
Once through the doors, I make my way down the long pathway toward the back. The bar runs the whole length of the walkway. I can’t tell who’s DJ’ing tonight as the booth is just at the end of the bar, but hidden by a large post from where I’m currently standing. Benny, the DJ pokes his head around the post and through the circular cutout that adjoins the bar. He gives me a wave and a smile.

Past the bar, the pathway opens up into a large square area which is the dance floor. There are three tiers of carpeted bleacher-type seats surrounding 75% of the dance floor. With the lights up, it’s very clear that these seats have seen many a night of dancing, drinking, puking and whatever else.
“How many do we have tonight, Liz?” asks Jimmy as he greets me with a hug and a kiss. I can’t really hear him, because I’m still listening to my music, but I know this is what he’s asking me. This is what he asks me every week.

“Don’t know yet, Jimmy.” I reply as I head downstairs to the office. Calling back over my shoulder I say, “I have to get the lists.”

Downstairs, some of the guys are hanging out and eating. Gladys is here. I don’t really know how and when Gladys became a permanent fixture here, but every week, she makes food for the guys. She doesn’t get paid. She just comes each week with her tins of food.

There’s a second bar downstairs that we only use for the second show. It’s a much smaller room with a long banquette that runs the entire side of one wall back to the DJ stand. Opposite the banquette is a small, semi-circular bar with a bathroom on each side.

Shawn’s in his usual corner stretching. Directly off to the right of the stairs is the office and supply area which doubles as a dressing area for the guys. Inside, some of the guys are getting ready which means greasing up and primping in front of the mirror. Cocoa butter for K.C.. Baby oil for Joey. Tony likes almond oil. Shawn doesn’t use anything – it would leave him less time to practice. Given the different scented oils, the room always smells like old alcohol and Hawaiian Tropic.

Making my way through the supply area towards the office, I maneuver past a handful of half-dressed and half-greased guys talking about some new growth hormone that isn’t FDA approved, gives you horrible gas, but “shreds you up”. Go figure. Removing my earbuds, I give a general “hello” to the guys. Tony comes over to give me hug.

“Nooooo. You’re already oily, “ I say, holding my hands up. “I don’t want to ruin my outfit.”

Tony smiles and grabs my hand. “Okay, baby. But anytime you want some of this,” he points to himself with pride, “I’m here.”

The office door is open. I cross my fingers hoping Danny’s working tonight, because he’s my favorite. He’s an Irishman raised in England, who’s been here since the beginning and is sweet and very easygoing. Though, I have a hard time understanding him half the time because of his accent. Peeking my head inside, I say hello.

“Hello Luv! The blasted list hasn’t come through yet. I’ll bring it up when it does.” Danny says looking up from a pile of money he is counting.

“They’re already lining up outside.” I say, taking my cash box, clipboard and essentials out of my purse before locking it up in my locker.

“Ah, fer fuck’s sake. Don’t these women have a life?” he mutters rolling his eyes.

I shrug my shoulders and make my way back upstairs. At the top of the stairs, Bubbs, who’s real name is Michael, is waiting for me. He’s about 6’5” and at least 275 pounds. He works as a bodyguard for a major record label guy during the week and bounces with me on the weekends. He has a crush on me. He tells me this every week. He also keeps asking me out, but I never date the people I work with.

“They’re asking how much longer they have to wait outside,” he says, taking my cash box and clipboard from me. “One girl keeps asking to be let in. She says she has to pee.”

We both roll our eyes, silently acknowledging the fact that we hear this same thing every week as the line of drunken girls increases and their bladders start to waiver.

“Five minutes, Bubbs. I don’t have a list yet.”

“What about the girl?”

Here it is. The first moment of a very long night. I want to be nice. I want to be accommodating, but I’ve seen it before. We let one girl in and then suddenly, everyone has to pee. Before you know it, half the line is already inside asking the bartender if they can order a drink, coming back to me asking if they can wait inside because of some long-drawn out story of how their boyfriend doesn’t know they’re here and if he drives by and sees her, he’s going to flip out. This is my reality. This is Hunkmania.

Hunkmania, a male strip club in NYC, was started back in November of 1999. The founder is ex-Chippendale dancer, who took the show to a few local nightclubs until settling into its current location on 14th Street, at 2i’s Nightclub. His approach was really quite clever. Knowing that the nightclub scene doesn’t really start to get busy until after midnight, he offered to bring the show in from 7pm – midnight on Friday and Saturday nights when the club is virtually “dark”. The club gets full cut of the bar and the Ladies are invited to stay after the show and continue to party when the club opens to the public.

I work the door. I collect money and check people in to make sure they have all paid for their tickets in advance. Most of the time, I end up dealing with stuff a Manager would deal with. But I never say that I’m the Manager. Ever.
During the busy season, we have two shows – 8pm and 10pm. We almost always sell out quickly which means all 175 tickets have been purchased (for each show) in advance of the show date. Legal capacity allows 225 people, so technically there’s room for 50 more girls.

If I tell a group of six ladies we’re sold out, they are extremely willing to pay $10 more to gain access to the club. So, we leave a little cushion for “walk-ins”. There have been times when ladies have offered me upwards of $100 to let them inside even though we’re sold out. I once had a woman in her fifties, from South Jersey march up to the front of the line, pull me aside and give me a detail-ridden story about how it’s her niece’s bachelorette party and the maid of honor has cancer and the groom’s mother is a paraplegic. I let them in just to shut her up. Extremely grateful, this woman threw me $200 as a gesture of thanks.

A guest list is generated for each show and then faxed to the club. This list goes to me and I have the pleasure of checking people in, making sure the number of people in their party matches the number of tickets paid for in advance. There have been times where women have tried to sneak in an extra person or two. Some of these women can be very clever. One will ask to be let in earlier because she has to “pee”. She stays in the bathroom waiting for the rest of her party to come inside hoping that I’ll forget that I’ve already let one person from the whole party inside. This is one reason I have a bouncer.

Do I really need an almost 300 pound guy to go inside and extract one woman who most likely weighs 100 pounds soaking wet? You’d be surprised. I’ve seen women get ugly in this place. Breaking bottles over someone’s head ugly, but that’s later, after the show has actually started. Right now, it’s all about getting them inside, seated and hopefully keeping them inside to avoid any kind of potential confusion.

Tonight, the line has extended down to the corner of 14th Street and it’s an interesting site as most of the women celebrating a bachelorette party are decked out in veils, blinking penis head bands, penis lollipops, penis necklaces, t-shirts unifying certain parties with slogans like, “We’re all getting FUCKED up for Heather’s Bachelorette Party!!” as well as the token 4 foot tall, inflatable penis. The inflatable penis is not common, but once in awhile we get one and all the other ladies love it.

The birthday girls are less extreme. The most common accessory for the birthday party set is a tiara. And there are many shapes, sizes and forms of tiaras. There are blinking tiaras, tall tiaras with feathers. There are even tiaras that play music, appropriately programmed with a loop of “Happy Birthday” blasting from atop the tiara.

Whether we’re sold out or not, the process of checking in each party should be pretty simple and in a perfect world, would go very smoothly. Bubbs and I have it down to a science. I sit inside the vestibule at my little podium with my list. He retrieves their email receipt and hands it off to me. While I’m checking the list, he checks id’s and once I give him the nod, he lets them inside. From there, it should just be me giving them the token, “Welcome to Hunkmania” greeting followed up by, “Go straight through those doors and someone will seat you inside.”

Most of the time, the girls have been out drinking prior to coming to Hunkmania, so getting them inside can be a little tricky. There are endless questions about things that are clearly stated on the website, which I have to answer each time, every week, as if I’m hearing it for the very first time.

Tonight is no different. There are tons of questions about the same thing from ladies wearing penis paraphernalia and drinking from penis sippy cups which I have to keep off to the side as there are no outside drinks allowed in the club. One girl is not happy about giving up her penis cup. She adamantly refuses to leave it in the glass case we have for things of this very nature by yelling out in a drunken stupor, “Nobody is taking my dick. This is MY dick!” Another job for my faithful bouncer, Bubbs.

Having Bubbs around works for a whole host of reasons. First of all, he’s huge. And I don’t care if you’re a man or woman, having this guy approach you can be intimidating. Plus, he’s a charmer with the ladies. So enforcing any type of house rule is always better coming from him than me. The psychology of it is fascinating. I can tell a bunch of ladies there are no outside drinks allowed in the club in the nicest way possible, but almost always, there’s push back. Bubbs, however, with his ginormous self and soft-spoken voice, tilts his head and asks in a way that makes each lady feel like they are doing him a personal favor.

Settling into my podium, Bubbs and I take a minute to bullshit about the past week. He sits down on the stool just opposite the podium – a comical site, given his size and proportion to the stool.

“How was your week?” Bubbs asks. His deep voice reminds me of Barry White or one of those guys who hosts the “Kissing After Dark” R&B shows on the radio where they only play really slow, sultry sounds.

“Same old,” I say as Danny bursts through the doors into the vestibule.
“Here are the lists luv.” Danny says, handing me four pages worth of names. “Looks like it’s gonna be a helluva of a night.”

Two shows. Both sold out. This means twice the headaches and twice the hassles.
I take a deep breath and turn to Bubbs, “You ready?”

“You ready?”

“Is it too early to start drinking?” I say looking at Danny.

“I’ll bring you some drink tickets, darling.” Danny says disappearing through the curtained doors.

Drink tickets are the most coveted item in this place. I’m given about 20 tickets for the whole night. They’re supposed to be used for things like drink spills or VIP’s or just when and if I feel like being nice. Mostly, we use them amongst ourselves.

It’s time to get things started. 7:45. Fifteen minutes to get 175+ girls in the door and seated. Impossible. Peeking my head through the doors into the club I call out,

“Jimmy! Are we ready?”

He gives me the nod and I settle down on my stool.

“Bubbs. Let’s do this.”

And the games begin.

(to be continued.....)

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