Portland: A Democracy of Strip Joints

February 1, 2015
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Portland: A Democracy of Strip Joints

If you thought the old noir stereotype of the exploited, striptease dancer being verbally and physically abused by exploitative Mafioso-wannabe owners is something off Bravo or old black & white TV programming, you’d be wrong. Still, if you’re a misogynistic, greedy bully, you may find—especially if you do your business in a city like Portland—that messing around with the help is a bad idea these days.

First and foremost, consider the source. The city of Portland, Oregon, is known as the Greenest City in America. Very popular with the kind of proto-hippie middle class tourists from around the world who like to go to Amsterdam and San Francisco, it’s a cornucopia of year-round outside activities, coffee houses, microbreweries and liberal political values. It’s the Athens of America to some. “Portland should,” according to the right-wing political commentator, Rush Limbaugh, “be the first place we bomb after eviscerating Tehran.”

Portland residents take pride in producing such reactionary ire. After all, the drug laws are super-lax, local police tend to have a live-and-let-live attitude. Indeed, every kind of behavior tends to have a ready-made excuse for being part of a wide-open culture. As such, Portland has the highest density of strip clubs and massage establishments in the U.S. anywhere. Even more surprisingly, magazines that are considered to be the bastion of middle class American virtue like Time even recommend certain adult entertainment establishments.

Many of the young women who work in Portland as strippers have professional degrees in dance or performance art and end up working in the adult entertainment business because remunerative employment in their chosen field is hard to find. Indeed, one of the city’s main attractions for young dancers is that it’s accepting of alternative lifestyles. Not just in the sense of LGBT choices, but also because there’s an acceptance of dancers with outrageous tattoos, piercings and unshaved vaginas, which are just not acceptable to club owners in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Still, in such a wide-open environment, the scales of morality tend to tilt in two different directions, sometimes simultaneously. A club called Casa Diablo is particularly famous for this. Caso Diablo features both serious vegetarian cuisine—”Vixens on veal, sizzle not steak, we put the meat on the pole, not on the plate!” it says on the menu cover— and a late happy hour where the dancers fuck each other with strap-on dildos. Such girl-on-girl shows are bound to inspire men to give dancers big tips, or move to private booths where fully nude ‘friction’ dances (lap dancing) takes place.

At the same time, however, Casa Diablo ownership insists it strictly enforces a strict no-touching-private-parts policy on the premises. This can sometimes lead to intense conflict between the customers, dancers, management and security (who are often off-duty local police), and it’s difficult not to feel a certain degree of sympathy for customers who are used to laxer dance club laws elsewhere.

Sounds like a pretty good place to work, right? Well, unfortunately, no. The club is currently being sued by two ex-employees, Matilda Bickers and Amy Pitts, who accuse the club of a number of violations of their rights, including garnishment of wages. Ms. Bickers, employed at Casa Diablo for more than three years filed a federal lawsuit on January 18, 2015, in a U.S. District Court, naming as defendants Casa Diablo, its owner Carol Lee, along with John Zukle, who manages a talent company called Devil Dancer, which employs the club’s strippers. Mr. Zukle seems to be one and the same as the man in a YouTube videotape who refers to himself as the club manager, Johnny Diablo. Hmmmm! No need to go on. The facts are available if you want them.

No need to dig much deeper into this petty scandal tht has muddied the name of this American bastion of democracy. Let the courts decide. Its mayor is clearly no Pericles, but then you only need to read the writings of Pericles to know that Athens was never the democratic Athens it’s purported to be.

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