Tracy Starr’s Strip Palace

The strip joint was my brother’s idea. Four years my senior and a Royal Military College grad, George could be persuasive. Besides, I was curious. It was 1971. That year, the Ontario government decided to allow full nudity in certain establishments. In late August, Tracy Starr’s opened its doors in London to a standing-room-only crowd of one hundred and seventy-five patrons. Each had paid $2.50 to enjoy one and a half hours of “continuous stripping.” My brother, his wife, my husband and I took in the spectacle some weeks later. Two-thirds of the raked seats in the auditorium were empty.

Six strippers each danced for ten or fifteen minutes. I remember two.

Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” blared out over the audience and ricocheted off the vacant seats. From stage right , a woman who looked thirty-five but might have been twenty-three, pranced into view. Perhaps she galloped. Or trotted. Millie did insist that her boyfriend made her heart go “giddy up.” For a certainty, she was not dancing. Her costume was as childish as the performance—a cotton tutu-like skirt decorated with large, bright dots and, a matching blouse with puffed cap-sleeves and a deeply scooped neckline. A mini-zipper in the front kept her substantial breasts from tumbling out. Last, she carried a giant cardboard sucker with an exaggerated swirl pattern printed on it. From time to time she licked the painted paper.

Scars and home-inked tattoos adorned her body. Her midriff jiggled. During her routine, she directed her gaze to a point somewhere above and beyond the topmost row of seats.

As mentioned, each performance lasted at least ten minutes. “My Boy Lollipop” is a two-minute song. After the second repetition, and Lollipop’s tedious movements, my brother began to chortle. Loudly. The manager approached him. Asked him to be respectful. George tried to suppress his amusement—unsuccessfully. The manager’s second visit made it clear that we would be ejected if my brother didn’t control his response. George could not look at the stage without laughing. So, he stared at his feet and blocked out the music by humming God Save the Queen.

I suppose Lollipop girl stripped. Now that I think of it, it must have been some feat to take off her clothes while holding an over-sized fake candy on the end of a stick. But, I was too embarrassed by my brother’s behaviour to take in the rest of the performance. I too was contemplating the floor. However, just before I looked down, two men seated a few rows in front of us turned around to see what the fuss was about. Dear heaven above, one of them was my Educational Philosophy teacher. What was he doing there? Perhaps, like me, it was his first time. However, observing later his evident relish of the entertainment, I suspected not. I noted that he was as incompetent in his chosen profession as Lollipop was in hers. Professor Negligence’s introductory class lasted fewer than five minutes. He addressed an amphitheatre of more than one hundred students, “Everything you need to know is in the text. Choose a topic from one of the chapters. Write a two thousand word essay. Submit it before the end of term. If you have any questions, make an appointment with my secretary.” What a shame that Lollipop’s performance wasn’t as succinct.

The management saved the best for last. The music began—soft, soulful, sensual. A Blue Goddess materialized in the centre of the stage—her great black height enveloped in a navy catsuit. A sinuous zipper ran from the dip in the front of her neck to just below the navel. She moved only a little. But oh, what movements. Hips swayed. Shoulders rolled. Her entire body undulated with the passionate rhythms. Erotic, mesmerizing, seductive. But never obscene. She played with the zipper. Down, then up. Down a little further. Then up. Down further still. Up, but not quite so far. Tantalizing. Oozing self-confidence, she looked at the audience directly, but not invitingly. Her gaze announced, “I am my own woman. You can look but you can not touch. I love that I can move like this. I love what I do.”

The Blue Goddess never discarded her leotard. The zipper opened only to that spot just below the navel. The lights went out. The dancer vanished. The show was over.

My curiosity had been satisfied. A knowing about myself had been reinforced. Years prior to the strip club adventure, a friend gave me an issue of Playgirl magazine. A birthday joke. I perused the glossy images of naked men—penises flaccid or firm. None excited me. But, the bare feet did. As long as I can remember, I have loved the soles of my unclad feet in contact with the earth. Tar-sticky pavement, morning-dewed grass, blistering white sand, pebbly shores, and kelp-crusted rocks. My soles united me to the earth and the earth to myself. Long ago, a marriage counsellor asked me what I most disliked about my husband. “He wears socks,” I blurted out. Wow! Where had that come from? The male counsellor decoded my response, “You mean he doesn’t uncover his soul?” Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.

For me, bare feet were alluring, blatant nudity was not. I’m the kind of person who loves shadows. I look beyond the thing to the shape it casts. Then hypothesize about the thing itself. I love mysteries. The Blue Goddess left something hidden, something to be imagined, something to look forward to. I never perused another Playgirl magazine. I never visited another strip club. There was no need. I had my answers.

Blessings and Blisters in the Time of Covid

Sometimes only heartbreak allows us to see the truth of a relationship

The Lane that Leads to the Shore

Parallel to the south shore of the island, a rural highway meanders for miles and miles. Fifty or so years ago, in those places on the water side, where the land broadens into the sea, small cottage subdivisions sprang to life. Seven years ago, my husband and I bought a house opposite one of those tiny communities.

The man whose house we bought said that, despite the word “private” on the sign beside the lane that led through the subdivision to the shore, we were welcome to walk there. Just to be certain, on my first amble down that dusty road, I met a resident and inquired if I were trespassing. She laughed and said, “Of course not! That sign is meant for strangers—not for neighbours.” The affable woman introduced herself and invited me to enjoy the “most glorious sunsets” from one of the two Adirondack chairs that she and her husband had placed in their yard—just for that purpose. “Don’t come to the cottage and ask. Just use them,” she added.

Over the years, on rambles with my little dog, I became acquainted with most of the residents. A smile, a wave, a bit of news. Gardening tips, construction advice, or, the maritime favourite, weather observations—“The farmers could sure use some rain; they say the snow’s gonna be pretty bad this year”—were freely exchanged. A stronger familiarity grew up with some of the owners. We drove each other to workshops and meetings, and enjoyed lunches and walks together. One babysat my dog for several days and that same warm-hearted woman comforted me when my mother took ill and then died. Decorating ideas, artistic preferences and family stories flowed among us. More recently, a few months after a pandemic had washed over the world, two of the women and I enjoyed a movie together—physically distanced of course—while sipping half-glasses of chilled white wine.

She said I couldn’t walk there.

She said I was trespassing.

She broke my heart.

On a large lot abutting the western perimeter of the genial subdivision, is the home of a widow. The widow and I became friends and, after a time, engaged in some evenings of chit-chat and word games.

Last week, in the midst of a Scrabble-like game, the widow announced that I was not permitted to walk in the subdivision. I was trespassing. I was not a resident. I had no right to be there.

A few short, sharp sentences revoked an invitation of seven years standing. A carpet of cordial relationships was ripped from under me. I walked home that night believing myself a criminal. Never had I felt lonelier. Every one of my relatives and many dear friends lived thousands of miles away. Covid precluded non-essential travel. Covid canceled book clubs, yoga classes, restaurant lunches, museums and excursions. And now, the friendly people across the road were off-limits too.

The delivery of the indictment—harsh and unexpected—pained me as much as the accusation. I was blindsided. For three days, I grieved. For three nights, I cried myself to sleep. I considered phoning one of the residents and apologizing. I wrote a letter of apology. Never sent it. Thank goodness. On the evening of the fourth day, as I was watering the flowers at the front of our house, an acquaintance from the subdivision strolled up our driveway. Before she said a word, I burst into tears. Shocked, she told me that the express reason for her visit was to assure me that the new, much larger, private sign that had just been erected at the end of the lane did not apply to us or to our neighbours. We were welcome there, as always. I cried even more. Then, she did a miraculous thing. “What the heck, I don’t have Covid” she said, and wrapped her arms around me. She held me while I cried. Tears of perfect relief and unimaginable joy.

The good-will ambassador informed me that the widow, who owned no property in the private community, had no authority to speak on the behalf of the homeowners. I was baffled.

I phoned the widow. Told her what had transpired. Asked what had prompted her prohibition. She said, “It’s been that way for years.” No. It had not. I asked why she had never mentioned it before. She said, “I have.” No. She had not. Surely I would have remembered such a brutal injunction. I told her that for three nights I had cried myself to sleep. She replied, “Don’t be silly. Come over and have a game.” A game with her was the last thing I wanted. I wanted time—time to process all that had passed. I said it would be a while before I saw her again. I told her I would forgive her because I knew she had a good heart, but, I needed time for the hurt to heal.

Days passed. I thought perhaps there would be an apology. “Oh, Prairie, I’m sorry I hurt you. I never meant to.” None came.

Sometimes, only heart-break allows us to see the truth of a relationship. As I looked back over the years, I realized that the widow and I had little in common. Our diets, pastimes, intellectual pursuits, exercise preferences, health care choices, and spiritual beliefs differed vastly. The thread that united us was the Scrabble-like game.

I further recognized that our time together was peppered with the widows’ dismissals of my emotions and my accomplishments, and those of my family. These I had let pass. Because they were only “little hurts”, I could handle them. The last, the “big hurt”, the “Don’t be silly” hurt, allowed me to let the widow go.

I’ve been told that some “people of her generation”, the one preceding mine, armour themselves against pain and suffering. That “Don’t be silly” is a frequent admonition. Be that as it may, I prefer to forgive and be kind to those people—from a distance. To seek companionship elsewhere. With empathetic people. People who can climb out of their skin and into mine and feel my joys and my sorrows, share the pride of my achievements and the misery of my failures, without reference to themselves or their particular situation—past or present. I have a number of friends like that. I phoned a couple of them. They understood. They didn’t counsel me. They just listened. With their hearts. How blessed I am.

The women in the photos are some of my longest-standing “empath” friends.