Scene & Herd

Spending a little too much time at the strip club?

I don't know how many citizens know this, but Tampa is widely hailed as one of the strip-club capitals of North America. Years of traveling have made me privy to this information; I've been seated next to many men between the ages of 18 and, say, 50 on flights into TIA over the years. They never ask me about the historic Tampa Theatre, or the still relatively new and comparatively impressive Raymond James Stadium, or whether or not Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders really left for Cuba from Picnic Island on a muggy June night in 1898.

What they ask me about is Mons Venus - if I've been there, how far it is from the airport, what it might cost to take a cab there from Passenger Pickup.

I have been to Mons Venus, though not for years now. (My favorite personal Mons Venus experience involved a drunken limo driver, a prostitute from another part of town and a shanghaied groom-to-be.) I find the cost prohibitive, and I'm not really a strip-club kind of guy. I've got nothing against strip clubs in general, or the Mons in particular. And I think exotic dancers, like policemen, have an undeserved reputation - they're like any other group, a population in microcosm, a mix of good and bad and smart and star-crossed and just plain fucked up.

I just prefer my trips to the strip club to be a surprise, rather than on the schedule. I've seen the men for whom they're on the schedule. These guys are sad, and a little frightening.

Each and every one of the innumerable Tampa Bay strip joints - from the mighty Mons down to that "lingerie modeling" place on Fourth Street N. in St. Pete - is patronized, in part, by men who might be better off spending at least a little of their day (and their money) doing something else. But the thing is, at some point, their fantasies became so preferable to their real lives that they decided to try and swap the two. They're not the guys who can afford to drop a couple hundred bucks on the dancers one night, then go to work the next day and forget about it. They're the ones who feel an overwhelming need to return to the club and find out whether or not that connection they felt with Desiree was the genuine article. They're the guys who get called "sweetie" and touched on the face a lot by the dancers, but who can't or won't recognize the looks in the dancers' eyes while it's happening.

Are you one of those guys? It might be tougher to tell than you think. Here are nine telltale signs of incipient (or chronic) strip-club addiction.

You've got a regular seat/table.

What sounds like the highest honor an establishment could bestow on a favored customer is actually the first sign you're spending way too much time in the place. It's OK if you're famous enough to have regular tables in other, non-strip-club-type environments all over town, or the world; otherwise, watch out.

The bartender or door guy lets you know when you've got a phone call.

Definitely not a good sign. Getting busted at your favorite bar by a significant other who knows more than you think she does is one thing. Having a whole group of people who know you're more likely to be tracked down at a certain titty bar than anywhere else - and having a bar employee acclimated to playing your receptionist - is quite another.

You know more than 10 employees' names, real or otherwise.

If they're all dancers, and you just happen to be good with names, your life probably isn't just salvageable, but enviable. If, however, 10 employees of any strip club know you by name (and, again, you're not famous), and that includes, like, the bathroom attendant, then you've probably spent several nights too many sleeping in your car in the parking lot.

The shoes worn by every woman outside of the strip club seem oddly subdued.

When the fire-engine-red 10-inch patent-leather fuck-me stilettos become the norm, and the sensible black pumps you see on the street make you want to cry, it's time to stay away from the Pole Palace for a couple of days.

Your naked-woman-to-actual-sexual-encounter ratio exceeds 12:1.

If you're not having sex with somebody, anybody, at least once for every dozen sets of breasts you're viewing in real life, you're definitely inviting long-term psychological damage.

You can only remember or recognize, like, 20 songs, and most of them are by hair-rock bands.

You say your hum-along repertoire is down to Aerosmith's "Angel," Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again," Motley Crue's "Girls Girls Girls" and Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine?" You're not just spending too much time at the strip club - you're spending too much time at the wrong strip club.

You've accepted the fact that errant glitter is just a part of your look.

John Heffron, the comedian who won season two of the reality-TV series Last Comic Standing, called it "stripper dust"; when it becomes a permanent part of every piece of clothing you own, you're very close to lost cause-dom.

The 30-year-old dancer who told you five years ago that she's only doing this to pay her way through college actually starts going to college.

You've officially spent too much money there.

The fake money issued by the club for special engagements has your picture on it.

At this point, seriously, you should just go ahead and look into what it would take to buy the place.

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