The last thing I would've expected to see on a Friday night at Crobar was a roomful of tie-wearing business dudes booty-humping to Candyman. But there they were, shirts tucked in and gyrating en masse.
Turns out it was the tail end of the private holiday party for Mesirow Financial, a local investment-management firm. As at all good holiday parties in the history of the world, everyone seemed well past the point of good judgment. One silver fox decided to wiggle his gut on my 23-year-old friend, and he wasn't the only gent who made a beeline for the young'uns as soon as the clock struck 10:30 and us commonfolk were let in the door.
I was kicking myself for not knowing this was happening and trying to weasel in sooner. A humongous anonymous holiday party for wealthy corporados is all it takes to stock the fridge for several days. Dress up a little more than you should, smile a lot but don't make too much conversation, and pray no one notices you dumping platterfuls of dainty finger foods into the Ziploc baggies and/or Tupperware you've stashed in your fabulous oversize handbag. (Skip the crostini--it won't keep.)
But what I got to see later that evening more than made up for missing out on the holiday hijinks. VH1 was holding an open casting call for a forthcoming reality show called American Guys, where "wholesome, attractive guys with big personalities" will become part of a traveling male strip troupe. "Are you ready to take it (almost) all off?" says the Web site, where you could sign up to audition. "Eight lucky men will earn lucrative contracts and a once in a lifetime chance to entertain throngs of screaming women on a six-month tour of the U.S."
I'm not sure why VH1 picked Crobar, since the auditions weren't held on the main floor or even in the VIP room but rather in a small, brightly lit room adjacent to the coat check where the music was barely audible. My two girlfriends and I were the only nonemployees allowed in to watch.
After taping an orange-swirled backdrop to the wall, casting agent Cindy Blissit called in the first three of the eleven men who'd shown up. Ron, an insurance salesman and aspiring actor who wore Polarfleece and carpenter jeans, was having a steak dinner in Park Ridge when a buddy who works as a bouncer at Crobar called and told him to get his butt down there. He started off narrating his dance moves ("How 'bout a little bit of this?"), clapped as he shuffled around in a circle, then pulled his foot behind him and jokingly jacked his leg back and forth. When cameraman Drew Lesser told him to lose the shirt, he threw it right at me and I sorta whooped in appreciation so he wouldn't feel bad. "I was just screwing around," he said later. "I didn't realize they wanted me to be sexy."
Jeff wore black pleated dress pants and a short-sleeved pistachio-colored button-down shirt. "What could be sexier than implementing software?" he asked the camera. "How 'bout me taking my clothes off? Let's find out!" He started unbuttoning his shirt, then stopped and looked around. "I need an assistant!" he proclaimed, then grabbed my hand, and dragged me close. Rubbing my cheeks in a circular motion with both hands, he said, "This is the best date I've had in weeks."
"We don't have a release form for her," Lesser said in the same tone of voice he'd been using to tell the guys to "drop it like it's hot" and "pop it."
Slightly shaken, I walked away while Jeff, now shirtless, dropped trou, exposing Tommy Hilfiger boxer briefs. Then those went down, and Blissit, wide-eyed, tried to explain that this was a family show. But Jeff wasn't having it. Holding his shirt in front of his crotch he grinned and writhed, first forward then backward.
After a couple long minutes Blissit asked him to put his pants back on, but he was having a hard time because he hadn't removed his shoes. He tried to balance himself on a nearby chair and knocked over a glass. Later he told me he was trying to differentiate himself from the others. "I'm not the best looking or the best dancer," he said, "but I'm always trying to have fun."
Next came Kevin and Brock, who I privately nicknamed Hot and Cute, then an awkward dark-haired man who asked me not to use his name. I stepped outside to talk to the few guys still in line.
Keith was a soft-spoken retail manager from Evanston. "My wife put me up to this," he said, smiling at the blond woman next to him, who was wearing a slinky black top slit down past her navel. "I got a call from VH1 asking if I like to dance, and I just went with it like I knew what I was talking about." When he got off the phone she confessed that she'd signed him up online.
By the time I got back in the room, the anonymous guy was doing a sort of demi-plie in his tighty-whities. He dropped to all fours, struck a panther pose, and curled his lip into a demi-snarl a la Betty Page. I had to give him props for not giving a shit about his super hairy legs and back--some of the other guys had even shaved their armpits.
Cal, a real-life exotic dancer, was up next. He'd decided to audition because he was trying to break into acting. He's only appeared in student films so far, though he says he had one line in Road to Perdition that got cut. ("Tom Hanks isn't half the actor you think he is," he informed me.)
Cal started by slowly removing his shirt, then put his hands down the front of his pants and made an orgasm face. He ran his hands through his hair, got down on his knees, leaned backward, and humped the air. I asked if slow and sensual was his signature style. "I'm everything," he replied. "I can be romantic, sensual, gentle, take girls out for a candlelight dinner, then I'll fucking throw 'em against the wall, rip their clothes off, and fuck them."
He's straight but not homophobic, so he'll perform for men too; he claims his best client is a gay multimillionaire who likes to rent out the penthouse of a downtown hotel. Cal says he places seven-inch-high stacks of benjamins around the room and tells him, Whatever money you see is yours--just hang out and party with me for a few hours.
When Keith was called in his wife, Amelia, came along. "I'm sorry," Blissit said, "but your girlfriend's gonna have to leave." Amelia visibly chafed at the word girlfriend. "Otherwise you'll be dancing for her and not the camera."
Keith took a deep breath and carefully removed his shoes. ("Always a good sign," Blissit remarked.) With shaky hands he untucked his shirt. He kind of nodded from side to side. "You like penguins?" he asked the camera, then pulled down his pants to reveal penguin-printed boxers. While he was thrusting his pelvis around, a bit of bright red peeked out of the fly and we all kind of flinched. Then he eased down his shorts.
Everyone burst out laughing--Keith was wearing a satin G-string where his balls sat in an elephant's face and his penis hung out in the trunk. And the red elephant had blue ears with white stars--a Republican G-string! "I'm not Republican," Keith told me later, but he thought it would give Amelia a good chuckle.
Outside Amelia couldn't see him, but she was smiling, like she just knew he was kicking ass.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.