There were many topless bars in the town where I grew up but only one fully nude dance club, and it was regionally famous. Bachelor party central. The tales told by pizza drivers of deliveries there were the stuff of legend. Well, they were legend among the other pizza delivery drivers anyway. The flashing neon sign was impossible to miss:
L I V E N U D E G I R L S
And that’s what bugged me about the place. It may in fact have been what got me started noticing all the weird crap done in the name of marketing. I never stopped wondering why the owners felt the need to add another 50% to the cost of the sign by including the word “live.”
Because when I see a sign that says “NUDE GIRLS” and I just naturally assume they are alive. Personally, I don’t think a club with dead nude girls would be very fun and I don’t think I’m in the minority on this. If you asked 1,000 guys I bet at least 999 of them would agree with me. Live nude girls sounds like fun. Dead nude girls, not so much.
Which might mean it’s that one guy who could go either way that they made the sign for. Those neon letters were huge. It was a big investment. Presumably, the owners put some thought into it.
“Ya know, a sign that just says ‘nude girls’ is ambiguous. Some people might get the wrong idea and we certainly don’t want their kind in the club. I know it’s 50% more than we budgeted for signage but I say we add the word ‘live’ to it. Right there in front where you can’t miss it. LIVE NUDE GIRLS.”
“I think you’re right! A guy came in last week and said it was pretty lively in here, then left. I bet he was one of them Neferteriacs.”
“He has a thing for Egyptian queens?”
“What? No, Neferteriacs is people what got a thing for corpses, not gay people.”
“Gay, what? I don’t think that means what you think it does. Anyway, I’m telling you, putting LIVE on the sign will keep out the bad element. We are going to run a respectable nude dance club or none at all. Add ‘LIVE’ to the sign and we will attract nothing but fine upstanding clients.”
Lest you think I’m going a long way for a joke, it’s important to understand the area I’m talking about. Pinellas County Florida is a peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Tampa Bay on the other. In the middle is Lake Tarpon and, like most of Florida, the place is littered with smaller bodies of water. We had tens of thousands of signs starting with the word “live” and every last one of them, with the single exception of the one on the dance club, ended with the word “bait.”
For certain types of fish, live bait is essential and for others live bait is exactly what you don’t want. On all those tens of thousands of signs that said “live,” it was a distinction that mattered. I grew up knowing that that word on a sign meant something. It gave you information that was absolutely required when making a decision to invest part of your meager disposable income and precious leisure time.
So it was a bit jarring when I first drove past the club at night and saw the sign all lit up. Live nude girls? It had never occurred to me there was any other kind. This despite that I had such bad luck with girls that my classmates in school used to tease me about it.
“What a dork! You know what he looks for in a girlfriend?”
[General laughter ensues.]
All through High School I assumed this was hyperbole. That they were exaggerating for comic effect. Right? After skidding to a stop on the shoulder of the road and peering at the sign through the swirling, flashing, neon-red dust cloud that rose about the car I wasn’t so sure. There was that one guy who was really, and I mean really, into Alice Cooper. The lyrics I had never paid any attention to previously suddenly branded themselves across my pre-frontal cortex:
I love the dead before they’re cold
Their bluing flesh for me to hold
Cadaver eyes upon me see
Those words haunt me to this day. People think Alice Cooper is tame by comparison to the shock bands that followed but that guy scares the hell out of me.
But on that night, in that moment, frozen in place by the neon-red dust cloud that embraced the car, I thought about all my classmates who admitted never having been in the club and all I could think was “holy crap, these guys were into some freaky shit!” I’m lucky all they did was put me in the hospital, considering the alternative. There’s a few of them now that I think about it that you NEVER see during the daytime, and these are the exact same guys you don’t want to meet while in the company of live nude girls. That explains so much about the neighborhood, the school, and the signage on this particular club.
Within the span of about 5 seconds after seeing the sign for the first time I went from wondering why it was the way it was, to an epiphany in which I suddenly and deeply understood both the sign and my classmates. Over the years I’ve changed my mind many times about the reason for the sign, but after that night I was never in doubt about certain classmates.
Which also explains why I had to go inside. Right there at the tables around the stage, in the VIP booths at the back, those guys at the bar, these are all my people. Guys for whom nothing less than a live nude girl is acceptable. Guys who wouldn’t be caught dead in a club that features not-so-live nude girls. This thought gave me tremendous comfort.
Unfortunately, I was the only guy in the place looking appreciatively at the other patrons and not the live nude girls, which creeped everyone else out and caused me to get promptly tossed from the club. Great. I was now excluded from the one place in my corner of the world that cared enough to differentiate themselves from every other establishment with the solemn promise that all, not some but ALL, of their nude girls are alive. Nobody else made that promise and it was a distinction for which I cared deeply.
I picked myself up off the unpaved parking lot and knocked the dust off my clothes. As I trudged back to my car it occurred to me that maybe my classmates had been right. I needed to include “has a pulse” in my girlfriend criteria. Because if the one place in town that is unambiguous about this attribute won’t let me in, then I personally need to be utterly and completely unambiguous about it. It’s an assumption I can’t afford to keep making. It’s live girls for me or none at all, dammit.
Girlfriend criteria circa 1981:
- Must have a sense of humor.
- Must love dogs and/or cats, but preferably dogs.
- Must be above my station in life because, with apologies to Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to date a girl who would have dated me at the time.
- Must be nude under those clothes.
- And, now explicitly stated, must have a pulse.
By now you must be wondering why I’m telling you all of this. It is so you will understand the depth of my emotion when I say this:
Stop recommending vampire books and movies to me, PLEASE. You think of it as harmless entertainment that you can put down or turn off when you are done. I think of it as a colony festering in the dark corners of my home town – a particular species of inhuman whose patronage that you, if you owned a club, would probably want to discourage with a giant neon sign informing them that all the nude girls inside are alive.