I only hear about these shows, but until tonight I’ve never had the absolutely terrifying pleasure of reading in a burlesque. Drinking Rolling Rock, the cheapest can of beer the bar beneath the theater of Le Poisson Rouge offers, I’m sitting next to a thin man about my age. Thin hair, thin fingers, thin mustache. The room is weighed down in pomegranate light making time pass between people in small conversation stretching out the hours. On the walls photographs of flowers shadow the room with a certain darkness traced in a hot white illuminating the stage.
“So, what does a burlesque exactly entail?” I ask the small man next to me writing on a scrap piece of paper and wearing dark jean overalls and a white tee.
“You know,” he says in a peculiar high rasp of a voice. “I’ve been to a few in the past and they’ve all been drastically different.” He continues to write on the paper.
“I assume people will be getting naked at some point in the night, eh?” I ask. Looking from his paper he stares at me lazily and a bit off peering over my shoulder.
“Considering two fairly saggy ladies just popped their shirt off for a photo behind you, I’m guessing your right.” When I turn the flash from the camera blinds me. Slowly my sight swells through blue electric subsiding until it’s all white freckled skin and cheetah print braw patterns. The two ladies in their forties aren’t terrible looking. I can’t decide if it’s the sight of weathered moth-eaten breasts long with cleavage or the bewildering allure of the archaic nudity that keep my neck broken looking over my shoulder.
“I’ve got to get in on this action,” says the thin mustache sitting beside me at the bar. He gets up and takes down the straps of his overalls baring his chest for another photo.
Sitting back down next to me this guy is excited. Back to writing on the piece of paper in front of him, he’s laughing when he asks, “So, where are you from?”
“Kentucky, Covington,” I add, as if he would know, but he hears Kentucky and his eyes rise painting the stereotypes quick.
“Kentuckyyy, hmm, that’s nice.” It’s a bit annoying when the label slaps over the skin and is sewn tight to your cheek . I do my best not just to blend into the rest of the world, but I can’t stand the thought of someone smearing me in with the grey graphite, flattening me to, TOURIST. “What brings you to New York?” I fill him in, but I can tell he isn’t listening. His eyes glint just past me and over my shoulder again.
“Oh, wow. This guy just popped off his shirt too. He’s only wearing a red tie and shorts.” I look over and the dudes chest are two-pound packages of raw hamburger meat left out on the counter overnight. “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m listening I’m listening.”
“I’m traveling with two collections of poetry I’ve written.”
“That’s a fantastic thing,” he says.
“What about you, what are you performing.” I point to what he’s been writing. “Is this a last-minute monologue you’re working out?”
“It’s something of the sort, yeah,” he says lifting his knees into his seat, placing one hand on his hip and smiling, clenching his lips together with his eyebrows rising. Slim here, is part of an organization that brings awareness to the everyday shit and piss we expel from our bodies and the harm of sending the stuff beneath our streets to fester. According to this group we walk about this haunting destroying our health with disease floating out of our shower drains and around public park swings. Essentially our air is one dirty fart. The organization assembling of these sanitation avengers is People’s Organization Of Procrastinators. “Because in the end everything comes down to P.O.O.P.” he says. He’s come tonight to read what he’s been writing to help and change this problem.
The show is beginning and the lights burn deeper. The MC on stage gives his introduction, “Ladies and Gentleman! Welcome to the Inspired Word! hooking up tonight with the beautiful women and men of the Sugar Shack Burlesque!” At the end of the introduction this guy drops his pants and is down to his boxer briefs. “Welcome to the Le Poisson Rouge where we bare both our soul and our gorgeously constructed bodies!” Everyone is clapping and hooting for his donation of flesh. I’m six beers deep and well rehearsed with the couple of poems I’ve chosen. Bloodletting and Cure For the Common Cold. The first called to the microphone is a heavy man with every inch of hair on his body platinum blond.
He barrels himself up to the platform and mic screaming, jiggling, cursing rejections and unrequited sexual advances in verse.
On stage, the crowed is warm with the few less naked performances before me. My bones are throbbing out of my skin. The spot light, cameras rolling and the room from front to back filled with dressed and sparse nudity rings my nerves. I am full and I am brazen.
I am bleeding and I am whole. I am wild and gigantic in the moment.
I’m the last opener to perform before the features of the night. At the bar I continue to drink four-dollar Rolling Rocks that begins to taste worse by the can, but I can’t afford anything else. There’s a woman on stage, a comedian making a big joke out of breast cancer. I’m on the brink of weeping for her breast possibly having to be removed, but she pulls me out with dirty, dark humor. At the end she rips her shirt open tossing buttons into the crowd revealing nipples dress in jade sequence cocktail waitress tassels and swings the parts of what physically makes her a woman. Proud to be cancer free. Proud to be alive with her own fantastic tits.
Another theatrical beauty stands up to the microphone with her hair set ablaze prison jumper orange and dyed yellow at the roots. She keeps her top on, yet bears every bit of her abusive past in a monologue recited with the diction of the King James Bible. The piece is mauled with modern genre and pop culture. Shakespeare drug through Bukowski.
“Another Rolling Rock,” I say laying down a five for the head full of sandy curls behind the bar. New York women are easily the most gorgeous women I’ve never gotten the nerve to talk to.
On the stage when I turn is a tall gal with black hair, long lashes reaching into the crowd and a body drenched in a lacey daisy pedal dress. She says her name is Run Around Sue. She sings without any music sounding sugary and whiskey soaked with a dirty kind of love. There’s a poem she’s reading now that I won’t remember later. I take out my recorder so I can enjoy it all tomorrow. She giggles as she takes down the first branch of her dress off one shoulder. She shimmers shaking the other strap from the other side and she is on. She isn’t entirely nude. Rolling the dress over her fair skin below the bulbs of her breasts she demands, “Now don’t look at my breasts!” She smiles. “Listen to my poem because it’s a good one.”
Her nipples are covered with blue heart-shaped and glittering pasties catching the light sending jelly fish beams swimming across the ceilings and walls.
The final feature of the night is dressed in a black mourning garb mocking the Pope. He holds a Bible in his hand reading his own constructed dogmatic scripture to the crowd. It feels heavy over my faith, but I tug myself to let go and lavish myself in the untamed performance. His face painted in crass mascara, a mask of skin tone foundation spreads mud thick on his face and rancid dark eyebrows drawn below the deep folds of his forehead lift with each inflection. His teeth short and stubby in the stage light click together praising debauchery and the wane of spiritual toil. He makes sacrilegious decree to length of cock and pleats of labia as love, rank and fruitless sweating no use but human pleasures desire.
Then, in a swallow of terrible beer, before the false bible he’s holding hits the stage and a tug at the robes around his waist, he is naked.
The Pope isn’t stark, however he’s about to be. Over his johnson is a transparent square pouch full with about four or so pints of wine. The expression on his face is unmoving and sarcastic. The room is filling with bothered chuckles and nervous eyebrows. Women don’t know what to do with their eyes and uncomfortable men are minding their drinks. I’m too drunk to care who is naked anymore. This would be irresistibly curious to anyone seeking out the peculiar in the world. From the pouch are two curling two foot long hoses that the man invites male or female to come forward and receive the sacrament. Run Around Sue and another gal drop to their knees taking up a hose of their own. The Pope raises his hands as the two start to suck the vino from the pouch as he recites his last piece. The wine gets lower as her recites.
In the middle of the poem, where dick neck folds over balls the other girl can’t finish the job so she bows out and lets another take over. The new gal is wearing a Victorian style dress and she drop and handles the task vigorously. With arms lifted and hands shaking in the air like a snake bitten church handler, the Pope finishes and so do the girls with the alcohol dragging purple streaks down to the sides of their mouths and dripping from their chins. The pouch empty exposes a pale penis, an eyeless infant squirrel pressed beneath the plastic, waxed and shinning like a vanilla candle. The hysterical laughter and claps loom over the room like a hot metallic mirage ghostly above a July street. Everyone knows a small piece of themselves is molested with the act. Despite the vulgarity of the crude sermon advocating immoral self-indulgence, the guy was good. Who says a poetry open mic night is boring anymore. Show him to me and I’ll punch him in his pecker. If it’s a lady I’ll get my girlfriend to head-butt her ovaries.
I finish the beer in hand, pay my tab eight bucks short that the curly female behind the bar winks off the bill and get lost three sheets and gallons and a half deep on the way home.