Flaming Sambucas, Cheri & Emma Does Not Peel AnymoreTuesday, January 25, 2011
I remembered, in fact, many years later when Rosemary and I were eating in my favourite fast (but slow enough for it to be really good) food joint, Nando’s on 41st very close to East Boulevard in Kerrisdale. We sat down after we had ordered (in my case it’s the usual extra hot chicken wings which are generously slathered with South African Piri-Piri). Immediately we listened to two loudish cockney women who were shouting and being shouted at by what sounded like a murder of Dickensian street urchins. We moved, near the entrance to the restaurant. I soon forgot and I went at my 12 wings with gusto.
During the middle of this, the noisy cockneys paraded past us. I recognized one of them. She had been that first ecdysiast I had ever seen at the Drake Hotel sometime around 1977. She had gone by the name of Emma Peel. Emma Peel was no taller than 5ft. She was compact and she had straight black hair and huge black eyes. And because she had such an accent, we connoisseurs called her English Anna.
I decided to say nothing and she passed by. But I changed my mind and called out, “English Anna!”
She came back, looked at me and smiled and then said, “How are you Alex? This is my son…” The boy, who was about 9 asked me, “Why do you call my mother English Anna?” I fired off my answer quickly, and never embarrassed the ex-ecdysiast, “Because of her accent!”
The second Menckian dancer I saw in Vancouver had the loveliest face, the longest legs (she once in a high step broke her nose with her knee) and the most perfect chest, pale as pale can be, round as round can be and with two little…but I will not continue...
Her name was Cheri and I had the good fortune to photograph her many times. The pictures you see here are from the first time and then the second or third. I had a basement studio in Burnaby with very low ceilings. It was pretty well impossible to get a head to toes shot of anybody. But I was youngish and I did not let that bother me. Because I was a former amateur and not quite a professional, my photographs had a combination of luck, dumb luck, allied to a desire to experiment into the avant-garde which remains in one until one starts making money. As soon as that happens, one becomes conservative and formula-bound.
It is tragic that my self-imposed decency code prevents me from showing here Cheri’s magnificent breasts. In fact I actually used two Photoshop tools, the clone stamp and the healing tool to remove the offending bits of perfection.
It may have been a few months before I ran into English Anna that I was having soda water with a bunch of architects and a couple of journalists at the Marble Arch. They were having pitchers of beer. Because I was friends with the nominal owner of the joint, one Tony Ricci, it meant that my soda water was bottomless (a curious designation in a joint that featured that, plus, topless). While my friends did pay for their pitchers, the Greek man behind the bar always sent us a tray of flaming Sambucas, on the house.
Smoking was still permitted and some of the architects and one of the journalists smoked into my face. As an ex-pipe smoker their smoke offended me. The shine was off for me. I had seen enough ecdysiasts. As far as I was concerned as soon as we all forgot who Mencken was, the profession went down the drain and those up on the stage were simply making the motions. I wanted to leave. One of the men at the table said, “Let’s go as soon as she shows us her tits.” Somehow in the context of the place this still offended me and I promised to myself I would never return. I never did.
A few months later I stopped at the Number Five, another joint nominally owned by the Italian. I asked him, “How are things?” “Not too good. But what can I do? I am married, I have children and this is the only thing I know how to do.” I bid him goodbye and I haven’t seen him since.