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Peeling Away the Illusions of Show Biz in a Topless Bar

The woman I’ll call Linda was reminiscing about her first visit to a Candy Cat tavern.

A 26-year-old writer, Linda had decided to take a break from the undernourished free-lance life and get a real job, working at something she didn’t much like.

So last year she answered an ad for barmaids in LA Weekly, which directed her to an address in the deepest Valley.

“I walked in, and I just wanted to turn right around and leave,” she recalled, amused by her initial naivete. “It was noon, and women were taking their clothes off.”

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As the transplanted Midwesterner was unaware, the Candy Cats, in Chatsworth, Sepulveda and elsewhere, feature bargain beer and female dancers who eventually achieve toplessness.

There is something almost quaint about the survival of such places in the age of sexual-harassment suits and female construction workers.

And, as Linda discovered as she teetered back and forth in her high heels behind the bar, tugging with optimistic modesty at her short shorts from time to time, there are few better places for pondering the eternal puzzlers: why women get the jobs that give them goose bumps and sore feet, and who still sells fishnet stockings.

“It really gets to you after a while,” Linda said. “You get to be really hardened or you quit.”

Linda lasted three months.

Besides transporting pitchers of beer, she was expected to keep an eye on the dancers, enforcing such oddly puritanical regulations as making sure they didn’t wear anything too revealing before they finally dropped their tops.

“I didn’t like bossing around these girls who had tattoos and who could kill me,” Linda observed. Most of the strippers, who danced to the jukebox with varying degrees of skill, were amiable enough, she said, but a few had delusions of stardom despite their Frederick’s of Canoga Park costumes.

She recalled one young woman who believed that it was her talent, not her splendid behind, that caused the audience of mesmerized males to stare at her as if they were jacklit.

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“She was sad,” Linda said, “like Lola the showgirl in ‘Copacabana.’ ”

The Candy Cat dancers don their G-strings and perfect their makeup in the ladies room.

After all, none of the customers needs to use it.

“Woman customers are so rare that, when one does come in, they usually have somebody follow her into the ladies room to make sure she doesn’t steal the costumes,” Linda recalled.

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She did not add that such an act would be petty theft.

Although Linda wasn’t always inspired by her female colleagues, she much preferred them to many of the customers. She didn’t mind the guys who were brought in by their buddies the night before the wedding, she said. It was the macho regulars that got to her.

“It practically makes you frigid,” she confided.

On nights when her uniform seemed especially undignified, it amused her to speculate on how the less secure of these Candy Cat cowboys would have reacted had they known that one particularly attractive stripper was a male-to-female transsexual.

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“I wonder how many of these guys knew what she was all about?” Linda asked with a knowing laugh.

For every young woman who decides she’d rather be a hard hat and hangs up her G, there is another who figures topless is just another name for show biz.

Thus, on a recent Tuesday night, a nubile new dancer was performing at a Valley strip joint (not a Candy Cat).

While four young men and an older man in a wheelchair sat entranced, the new girl did a spectacular handstand on stage, wearing only a bikini bottom and a smile.

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Her genital gymnastics were performed to the jukebox accompaniment of Whitney Houston’s current hit, “The Greatest Love of All.”

Nobody, least of all the dancer, seemed to find anything odd or ironic in one woman’s peeling off her clothes while another sang, “Whatever they may take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.”


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