sporklet 10

Don Waitt


On my way home from the office I stop at a neighborhood strip joint called Jimmy’s. I crack the car window for my miniature pinscher, Boo, who is used to this particular stop and who will sleep while I am in the club. Of course the club is owned by a guy named Albert, not Jimmy. The club is small, one of those stucco bunkers with no windows, the exterior painted a fluorescent purple and pink. The beer is cheap, the air conditioning always works and the girls are friendly if not that attractive. I’m what you would call a regular, a schmuck who comes by at least once or twice a week, usually early evening, and I’m gone after just a few beers before the craziness starts.

Some guys like sports bars or pubs.

Me, I like titty bars.

And, believe it or not, it’s more about the clientele they attract than the entertainment on stage. I’m not saying you meet a better class of people at strip clubs, just a more interesting class.

Like Albert.

“That’s a real sad story,” says Albert, who for some reason finds me a kindred spirit and always takes time to sit with me at my favorite spot at the bar. Albert is old and short and stocky, but always nicely dressed in slacks and a polo shirt. He smokes constantly and talks slowly and when you look at his eyes you know there are very few things he has not done and even fewer things he has not seen.

Albert is referring to the pretty, and very thin, blonde bartender who has just brought him one of his many Diet Cokes of the night. He waits until she is out of earshot, which in this case means just three feet away given the thunderous noise that fills the club from opening to closing and the nonstop chatter at shouting volume from both the customers and the dancers. There is an art to conversing in a strip club that involves watching a person’s lips as they talk and leaning forward whenever the noise level surges.
Albert takes a sip of his soft drink before continuing.

“She split up with her husband after moving here. She has a little boy and they used to live next door to an Iranian who owns a gas station. That gas station is immaculate. Very clean, very well run. You’d have to see it to believe it. 

“Anyway, the Iranian guy kind of adopted the kid, taking him to the park, to ball games. You know. Well after awhile they found out that the guy was molesting the kid. By then it was too late. The kid’s head was all fucked up. Nothing happened to the guy. He had a good lawyer, and there was something about too much time passing. I don’t know all the details. It’s really sad. Cause she’s a nice girl.”

Albert flips through the Fine Book, a loose-leaf spiral-bound pad with the names of dancers written in, followed by fines that Albert or one of his managers have levied on the girls for everything from arriving late to leaving early to getting a little too touchy-feely with a customer during a lap dance. He checks several names and takes another sip of his Diet Coke. His mind seems to be elsewhere.

“I don’t even know that guy,” Albert says quietly, “but every time I drive by his gas station I want to go in and blow his fucking head off.”

Which, one day, could happen.

I know from talking to other regulars that Albert did some hard prison time in his younger days. And I know that under his untucked polo shirt, and wedged into the skin at the small of his back, is a worn leather holster, and in that holster is a stainless steel Smith & Wesson 38 special. 

Albert always has that gun on him. 

Even when he stops for gas.


— — — —


“So where’s the rat?” asks Albert. 

Albert knows Boo sleeps in the car whenever I stop into Jimmy’s for a drink. He just likes to bust my balls by referring to my pride and joy as a rodent.

We take our seats at the end of the bar.

Albert is not in a good mood.

“You watch the game last night?” he asks.

Before I can answer, he says, “Lost my ass on it. Took the over. Screwed up my parlay. Cost me big.”

I nod to show empathy. Gambling, particularly sports gambling, is not a loner event. You win, you want to brag to someone. You lose, you want to complain to someone. I’ve done my share of both.

I met Albert years ago at another strip club where he was just the night manager. Over the years I saw him working at other clubs. When he bought Jimmy’s and traded his manager hat in for an owner hat, I made it my main hangout. 

At that first club where I met him, we ended up at the club owner’s personal table in a back corner one night. The club featured totally nude dancers which meant alcoholic beverages could not be served because of the county’s liquor laws, but that didn’t stop the owner from sending Albert to the package liquor store next door to get him a bottle of red wine and me a fifth of Jack Daniels bourbon.

“Just keep the bottle in the paper bag when you ain’t pouring,” said the owner, which I did when I wasn’t liberally pouring bourbon into the cokes that the waitress brought me.

An hour later the club owner called it a night, and an hour after that I decided I would have one more drink and then leave. I pulled the bottle from the crinkled brown paper bag and was surprised at how quickly and easily it came out of the bag.

Probably because it was empty.


I did a quick mental calculation.

One fifth of Jack Daniels.

Consumed in two hours.

By just me.

I’m fucked.

I tried to stand up.  Albert rolled his eyes, pulled me to my feet, fished the rental car keys out of my pocket, asked what hotel I was staying at, drove me in my rental car to the hotel, pushed me into the hotel elevator, and then caught a cab back to the club.

The last thing I remember was standing in my hotel room bathroom taking a piss.  Okay, l’m lying.  The last thing I remember was leaning a little too far back until I lost my balance and fell backward into the bathtub, still holding my dick and watching bleary-eyed as a plume of piss shot five feet straight up into the air and then splattered back down on me.  I knew that in my awkward and slippery position I could never untangle myself before the stream had run its course, so I just laid there and laughed and laughed.

The next time I saw Albert I thanked him for the ride home and he brusquely brushed it off, but we became acquaintances and today, even though he would never admit to it, I think we would be considered friends.

“So Albert,” I start to say and can actually see him wince. I know he hates it when I say those two words because it means I am going to ask him a question and Albert does not like questions. That’s how I know we must be friends because he will tolerate an occasional question from me. Questions from other people he just ignores.


“Why did it take you so many years before you stopped being a club manager and bought your own place?”

Albert thinks for a minute. He knows that I know that he did prison time. And he knows that I know it’s impossible for a convicted felon to get a liquor license without working some kind of angle. So he knows what I am really inquiring about is, what did he get popped for?

It takes him a while to answer.

“I had to wait to get some things straightened out before I could get a liquor license,” he says, a hint of irritation in his voice.

“What kind of things?” I ask.

“I did something I shouldn’t have.”

He pauses.

“Or at least I shouldn’t have got caught for doing it.”

He stops talking.

So I say, “... and?” because neither I nor anyone at the bar seems to know what it refers to.

Albert turns and looks at me with hard eyes. I have crossed a line. I can tell he is deciding whether to say something or just ignore me.

“What do you mean, ‘and?’ You asked me a question. I fucking answered it.”

I realize I don’t really need to know what it refers to.


— — — —


It’s Wednesday, hump day, so Jimmy’s is crowded, which means Albert is in a good mood for the most part.

A slender girl with straight brown hair limps into the club with a crutch under her right arm and makes her way through the milling bodies to where Albert and I are sitting at the end of the bar. Albert’s eyes light up. He stands to hug the girl and then drags an empty bar stool over to his stool. The girl leans her crutch on the bar and Albert helps her up onto the stool. She is wearing blue jeans and a white halter top, her hair parted in the middle, highlighting a face with big brown eyes and a smooth complexion, just a trace of pink lipstick on her lips. She is actually quite beautiful.

“So where have you been, baby?  And what happened to your leg?”  There is real concern in Albert’s voice.

Before she can answer, Albert says to me, “This is my favorite girl of all time. I love this girl.”  Which coming from Albert says a lot. He is never effusive, much less sentimental.

“So where have you been, baby? And what happened to your leg?”  he repeats, knowing the answers already.

Years of dancing as a stripper in ridiculously tall high-heels coupled with a hereditary bone condition have knocked the girl from the stage. Her right knee is shot. She tells Albert about doctor visits and yet another upcoming operation. They talk like old friends, like equals, not like former boss and employee. As she talks, the girl scans the club, commenting to Albert on the visual pros and cons of various dancers.

“How long did you dance here?” Albert asks the girl for my benefit. She danced at the club for almost five years and over those years she saw dozens of managers and hundreds of dancers come through the club. The one constant was Albert.

“Was he a good boss?” I ask.

“The absolute best,” says the girl.

Albert smiles.

The girl seems so fragile with her bad leg, a waif-like creature with a quiet voice who does not look like she could weather a month, much less five years, of exotic dancing with the long hours, the crippling shoes, the suffocating cigarette smoke, the constant drinking every night, the horny groping customers. She talks with Albert about her two young daughters and how they are doing at school. She doesn’t mention a husband. Albert tells her she is welcome to work the club’s front door collecting cover charges whenever she wants.

“How much?” she asks.

“Eight, nine dollars an hour,” says Albert, the sheepish tone in his voice and the pained look in the girl’s eyes testament to how little that is compared to the hundreds of dollars a night she pulled down when she was dancing on stage and doing lap dances.

“I’ll let you know, Albert. Thanks.”

The talk stops and they both survey the club. There isn’t much more to say after the reminiscing is done. The girl knows that she is out of the loop, that Albert’s fond welcome and genuine concern will always be there, but that the business of dancing must go on, and as each day passes and she is no longer on the front lines for Albert, she will become more of a distant memory.

Albert pats her leg and smiles at me.

“She was always my favorite dancer,” says Albert. “We’d get a bunch of nasty bikers in here, sitting around the stage pounding their fists on the railing and screaming and hollering. Just a crazy, dangerous bunch of guys. All the other girls would be scared to go on stage.”

Albert laughs as he tells the story and the girls’ eyes are bright and proud because she’s heard the story many times before.

“I’d send this tiny little girl up on that stage and she’d put her hands on her hips and yell at those bikers that if they wanted to see any pussy, they better just shut the fuck up. She would. And they’d quiet down like babies. You wouldn’t believe it. Just tell those badass bikers to shut the fuck right up.  And they did. Nothing scared this girl.”

Albert and the girl both smile recalling the memory. After a few minutes, the girl starts to get up. Albert helps her off the stool, hands her her crutch and gives her a big bear hug. As he hugs her I see his hand slip into the back pocket of her jeans and in his hand is a wad of green cash. He starts to let her go from the hug and she pulls him back for a last tight squeeze, her face buried in his beefy shoulder.

She walks to the front door.

Albert sits back on his stool and stares straight ahead as she leaves. He doesn’t look sad or embarrassed. He looks resigned.

“So...” I start to say.

Not looking at me, still staring straight ahead, Albert quietly says, “Don’t.”

I shut the fuck up.

Don Waitt was a crime reporter for newspapers in California and Louisiana where he won awards from the Associated Press and the Gannett News Service, writing about bank robbers and biker gangs. He is currently the publisher of several entertainment industry trade magazines. He is married with two children and lives in Tampa, Florida. twitter.com/DonWaitt