Bodies For Rent
Taxi Dancing, alive and well in Los Angeles

Near Fourth and Hill Streets in downtown L.A., there exists an underground market of pussy's sweet promise and rare reward -- a subterranean den filled with the reek of perfume, sweat and moist young cunt, aptly titled Club Fantasy.

See also...
... by Stephen Lemons
... in the Crave section
... from November 9, 1999

No, this is no House of the Rising Sun. Nor is it a strip club. It's a living anachronism -- a scene straight from the opening of Henry Miller's Sexus, reminiscent of the marathon death-dance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, or -- for those with more limited points of reference -- that cheesy '80s Pat Benatar video, "Love Is a Battlefield."

Club Fantasy is a taxi dance parlor, perhaps the cleanest of a score or so such establishments which flourish in Downtown L.A. It's a place where ancient white businessmen, horny Hispanic restaurant workers and listless, bored office workers square off against a horde of desperate young women willing to sell their bodies for a sawbuck in tips per half-hour.

These women are not prostitutes in the formal sense. What they sell is not vaginal insertion, but a slow, hip-hugging dance at about 65 cents a minute, with half going to the house. If you're lucky, you'll get a dry hump in a dark corner or a quick handjob under a table. In even rarer instances, you may score a phone number and an appointment to make the beast with two backs at a place where vice cops aren't as thick as flies on a hunk of shit.

All that's extra, plenty extra. But the house doesn't like it, and if it finds out, the broad will be out on her can and you with her. "We run a legitimate business," said a middle-aged Asian man who claimed he was the manager, but declined to give his name. "People think it's something dirty. But our clients are just lonely men." He did not want to be interviewed by phone or in person, but he invited me to come in as a patron if I so desired.

That's why I'm descending these stairs below street level to enter the dark dance hall. I pay the $5 cover and wander over to the "bar," where you can buy only bottled water or soft drinks. Places like this don't get liquor licenses. Too bad. Alcohol would sure liven this joint up. There's plenty of activity, but an eerie lack of conversation. Some of the girls are seated on a long black couch, flashing a generous bit of thigh to prospective patrons. Some are up on the dance floor with their customers, sashaying slowly to Nat King Cole on the box. A few are off in shadowy booths, perched next to their male companions, making furtive movements that can only be guessed at.

Men are milling about or sitting at tables where there's a two drink minimum. They stare at the girls on the couches like beagles in a butcher shop. It's all they can do to keep from licking their lips. In the case of a pug-nosed Latino guy in front of me, I'd swear he's drooling.

Taxi dance parlors like Club Fantasy have been around in America's major cities at least since the '20s and '30s, when they often served as fronts for prostitution. Now, with callgirls openly advertising in the back of local weeklies, they serve a different need. They're a subtle alternative to out-and-out flesh for cash. And unlike strip clubs, where lap dances vary wildly in quality, you're sure to get at least a cheap feel and the sensation of a beautiful young thing hanging limp in your arms.

Before it was razed to make way for a parking lot, the best of these was Club Flamingo, a seedy, trash-strewn version of Club Fantasy. There, the women were scuzzier and more willing to make a man feel like a man.

I flash back to over a year ago or so when a minx-like Puerto Rican/Jewish girl named Marguerite offered me manual relief for $20. Before I could say no, her hand was fishing for my trouser trout. She played patty-cake with Dr. Johnson for a bit, then quickly stopped and put him back in his place as a security guard ambled toward us.

"No charge," she cooed as our song ended. "Come back later, and I'll finish you off." I tipped her for the dance and left in a haze. I leaned against a wall to take a piss, only looking down when I didn't hear the sound of my own urine. There was a moment of horror as I saw my penis expanding to the size of a balloon.

"What the fuck?" I said. Suddenly, my "cock" exploded as the condom broke. I hadn't noticed the additional rain gear. A real pro, that Marguerite.

The whole episode was unnerving, happening as quickly as it did. It's funny in hindsight, but at the time, I felt strangely violated. Taxi dance halls have an undeniably lurid charm. As creepy as they are, as grotesque as one feels standing in one, there's still something more appealing about a slow dance with a stranger than the genital hydraulics of half an hour with a whore.

This evening at Club Fantasy, I dance with only one girl. Her name is Michelle. She has long black hair and a clean, fresh appearance. A second-generation Vietnamese-American, she tells me about how she's studying psychology at a junior college. She leans against me, rubbing her titties across my chest. At 23, she's 10 years younger than I am. Granted, that's nothing compared to the balding 60-something who's digging his hand into the ass of a young girl before me. Still, I feel like a dirty old man.

I walk Michelle back to the front of the room where I pay the house for her time and tip her. She thanks me, but I see a vague expression of disgust on her face as she takes the cash. That disgust is contagious. I leave, vowing never to return.

Stephen Lemons is a full-time writer and sex fiend who contributes frequently to New Times L.A., the Los Angeles Times, Art Connoisseur, and SOMA magazine.