Scottish Lap Dancers & Earl Grey TeaFriday, August 17, 2007
Not too long ago I was taking pictures of Vancouver sculptor Alan Storey by an outdoor sculpture of his near the new condo complexes of Pacific Blvd. We stopped when we saw a majestic Aston Martin driven by a young man stop at the metal gate on the side of a condo. The gate went up and he was gone. He was gone to a shiny new apartment with all the conveniences of the wireless era. It struck both of us that this sort of living was even different from that of a forestry executive driving up the sinuous driveway of his Shaughnessy home. It was more hermetic. It was more alien.
Last night I was given an invitation I could not refuse by a friend. It brought us to a place that is far from the hermetic world of the Aston Martin driver. But it is a hermetic world to those who live in Vancouver and do not know the existence of these places and of the men (usually men) who run them. They are not quite in the league of 30s Chicago but they are not squeaky clean by any measure. I know a few of these men and one of them is a friend of mine. Having a hood as a friend has saved me from a few touchy situations in my past. Having a hood as a friend helps me think that I just might have a better grasp of my adopted city of Vancouver.
On the other side of the spectrum I have a friend with whom I have the occasional Earl Grey tea. He is handsome. He wears long Holt Renfrew camel haired coats and wine coloured tasseled Bostonians. His slacks are razor creased and he wears black turtle neck sweaters. He once went into his jacket and pulled out a little canister. “This is my gun now.” It was a can of pepper spray. My friend is a homicide cop. I suspect that I have no idea of the world he deals with and I am perhaps as far away from it as I felt last night sitting at a table of an almost empty Penthouse.
I had previously been at the Penthouse, a sometime notorious Vancouver strip bar on Seymour Street known as the Eagle Time Athletic Bar back in 1947, twice since coming to Vancouver in 1975. Both times were in the 80s. Once my writer friend Les Wiseman invited me to have a steak while watching a big-breasted stripper (from Iowa she was). Gary Taylor had gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to give us that lunchtime privilege. The second time was sometime in 1982 when I photographed owner Joe Philliponi who was murdered in his house next door the night of September 15, 1983. I have no memory of the man that I can remember except that in his presence I felt like a grandson who at any moment would be on the receiving end of a wad of cash and be told to go to the corner to buy some candy. Soon after, I photographed him riding shotgun on Robson during a promotion ploy by baseball streaker Annie Ample.
It was Philliponi’s nephew, Danny who pointed at my friend who was being ignored by the surly staff. He was served immediately. Next to Danny, an older man was chain smoking cigars. I told my friend that perhaps I should tell the man that it was against the law to smoke in the premises. I was advised to the contrary. There were a couple of Latin looking women walking around in small bikinis who seemed like they had come out of Cartier-Bresson’s picture of prostitutes in a Tijuana “prostíbulo”. They had jet black hair, large eyebrows and looked as uncomfortable as I felt.
I had not always felt so. In the 80s I gloried at the exotic dancer craze that hit Vancouver. The establishments (like the Drake and the Marr Hotel) were clean and were run like tight ships of the line. The owners greeted me with free drinks and I photographed the dancers for posters and Globe& Mail articles by John Lekich or Vancouver Magazine essays by Les Wiseman. I once shot a fashion spread for the magazine on expensive eyewear. Art director Rick Staehling wondered where I had found “all those unusual looking models.” I was tight lipped.
But then the dancers seemed to forget about dancing and the some of the owners became born-again. One switched to driving the number 10 trolley. Just like that the excitement wore off and my discomfort set in.
We were approached by two women wearing the smallest kilts I have ever seen in my life. My friend asked me, “Are they going commando?” My friend’s friend (who was sitting with us) and was not wearing much herself said, “No, they are not sitting on a towel.”
The two women were from Scotland and were on a whirlwind tour of the Americas. They were planning on going on to Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. Their expenses would be covered by the private lap dances that they performed in clubs such as the Penthouse and others on the way. Of the two, Heather was the most talkative. I set her straight from the beginning that I would not be investing in her talents but she lingered and she told me of her travels. The other was more centered. She told me “Unless I see a good possibility I just don’t bother,” and she moved away.
On the first night that the Eagle Time Athletic Club opened in 1947 it was raided by the police for a liquor infraction. The Vancouver Sun headline read, "Police Raid Penthouse". Joe Philliponi re-named his club. Through the years the club has been frequented by politicians, judges, lawyers, actors including Gary Cooper, singer Frank Sinatra, hoods, crooks, cops and gamblers. And prostitutes, too.
But I will not be returning any time soon for Earl Grey with a friend.