True Stories: Tokyo Stripshow Tryout

I went to Japan looking for work. This was not what I had in mind.

By Phil Goldman

Maybe it's the bourbon, but lately, we've been feeling nostalgic. With writing this good, can you blame us? "Tokyo Stripshow Tryout" originally ran in 2009.

HELP WANTED: FOREIGN MEN NEEDED FOR STRIP CLUB

I see this ad in the English-language newspaper in Tokyo. I am broke; I can't get a steady English teaching gig, or any other form of employment, to save my life. I am just desperate enough to reply to it. Unfortunately, the days when a native English speaker without any qualifications can waltz into town and score a lucrative position are long gone. I'm learning this now that I'm already here and running out of money.

Just to be clear, I am not what you would call a "male-stripper type." I am hairy. Very hairy, everywhere, except on top of my head, where I would generously be referred to as balding. I am overweight. Not a fattie, per se. A former fattie — I've lost a lot of weight in the last couple of years and this has left me not with rippling abs, but loose, rippling, residually flabby skin. Facially, while I'm certainly not handsome, I'm not bad looking. I'd give myself a six or a seven. Decent for an average guy, but not a male stripper.

I don't mention these particular attributes when I phone Evan, the manager of the club and an American. I focus more on my entertainment experience, never specifically describing what it was I did as an entertainer — comedy, performance art, balloon animals — but he seems impressed by my credentials. As we arrange to meet, I ask Evan what he looks like, before he can ask me.

"I'm hard to miss in Tokyo," he says, "I'm black and six-foot-four."

* * *

Two days later, I step off a subway train at our pre-arranged stop and wind my way through a sea of Japanese commuters. Evan was right — he's impossible to miss. At six-foot-four, black and built like a professional linebacker, he's a mutant superhero towering above the Japanese. As I approach him, it's pretty obvious that he's waiting for a Fabio, not me. He looks around expectantly, everywhere that I'm not. When he finally realizes that the man who is standing right in front of him is the man he's here to meet, his expectant smile fades.

Let me just say two words: novelty act.

His mouth opens to speak. I quickly jump in.

"Before you say anything, let me just say two words: novelty act."

I plead my case to him, playing up the comedic aspects of my entertainment background. He naturally has his doubts. But he also has a club facing a lot of competition. He confesses that he's been looking for something to make his club stand out. And maybe, just maybe, a short, balding, flabby man could be his answer.

"All right, I'll let you audition," he says, "but you've got your work cut out for you."

We leave the station, get into his car and drive to the club, chatting along the way. Evan tells me about his life in Tokyo, being stationed there while in the Army and why he decided to stay after his tour was up.

"Japanese women love the brothers," he says. "I'm not kidding. Take a look around. Every time you see a black man, he's got two women on his arm."

I never noticed this before, but now, as we drive through the nightclub/strip-club district, I see it so often — black men surrounded by giggling Japanese girls in silver foil hot pants — that I decide it would make an excellent drinking game.

Evan unlocks the front door of the club and I follow him inside. I hear him flip a switch and a blue spotlight illuminates a tiny octagonal stage, which rises a few inches above the floor. It is surrounded on three sides by a dozen tiny, matching, octagonal tables, too small for holding anything except drinks. Evan throws his coat over one of the tables and tells me to get ready. He walks into a side room that appears to be his office. I take my costume out of my backpack: a brown suede Hefneresque smoking jacket and a brown felt jester's hat. I borrowed the jacket from an English teaching acquaintance, and the hat, which proudly sprouts three long, firm, turgid cones topped with yellow puffy balls, was bought at a Renaissance festival many years before. I had been travelling with the hat throughout Asia, never knowing exactly why I was letting it take up valuable space in my backpack. Until now.

I am dressed. I am ready. Evan comes out of his office and tells me to begin.

"What?" I ask, "No music?"

"The sound system's off and I don't feel like messing with it. Just do it without music."

I grumble about needing music to get into the mood — I can't strip cold. He tells me I should try humming something. It's no substitute, but what choice do I have? The only stripper music that comes to mind is the old Forties stripper song, which I believe is called "The Stripper."

Da da DAAA da DA da da

Ba da da dum

Da da DAAA da DAA da da...

I hum, I strut and I preen. Before long, "The Stripper" becomes the old Noxzema Shaving Cream commercial.

"The more you shave, the more you need Noxzema... Noxzema Medicated Comfort Shave," I sing as I shimmy the smoking jacket off my shoulders and down my back

When I reveal the thatch of hair covering my chest, back and shoulders, I detect a small wave of revulsion passing over Evan's face. He quickly composes himself, but it's too late. I decide to make the most of it, twirling and twisting my body hair, suggestively plucking out individual hairs on the accented horn blasts of the song:

DA (pluck!) da da da

DA (pluck!) da da da

DA (pluck!)

The moments of pain are but a small price to pay for my inspiration, though if I'd thought of this bit ahead of time, I'd have bought some waxing strips to strategically place around my torso.

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