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Taking Off

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David twists and swivels to the music onstage and whips off his white sleeveless undershirt. Now he's down to his leather shorts and dog tags.

Before David was a guy named Mark. Five o'clock shadow, jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt. Now that guy was an amateur. He probably just did it on a dare. You'd think that the first thing you'd learn in Stripping 101 would be to take your shoes off before your pants, but he didn't do that. So there he was with the music playing, hopping around on one leg, his pants around his ankles and stuck there. So finally he laid down on his back and his girlfriend stepped up to the stage and pulled them off of him.

That's probably why David wore shorts, to avoid the embarrassment of ankle block. He pulls them down just low enough to expose his cheeks, then executes a few push-ups. Then he springs to his feet and drops them and they come off in one smooth motion. He's got his own G-string, which is another mark of experience. No one told Mark it was BYO. He only got down to his white jockey shorts, which in the black light glowed whiter than white.

Here's another reason your mother could list for why you should never leave the house with dirty underwear. What if you're in a gay bar and an amateur strip show breaks out?

Our host at Berlin's open-stage night is a drag queen version of Dolly Parton named Paula Sinclair. She opened the show lip-synching Dolly singing "Great Balls of Fire." "Are there any straight people here? " she asked the crowd afterward. And when Mark's girlfriend shrieked and applauded Paula said to her, "I liked your work on Green Acres, or was that another pig? Just kidding! You know I love you!"

The next stripper is Francisco, the "poisonous romantic" Paula says. "Is your snake venomous? Francisco wears silky black from head to toe. With his el diablo he looks like a black Zorro. When he too develops an ankle block he tries to alleviate it subtly working a high marching step into his choreography. But he's marching and marching in place I like he's stuck in hot tar and finally Paula yells from offstage, "Somebody help him. You just stand there like a gapers' block!"

You can tell Francisco takes this seriously by his game face and his crushed velvet G-string. Two men come up to the stage and hang dollar bills on it as he does pushups. That seems to be the second lesson of Stripping 101: When in doubt, do push-ups.

After Francisco comes Chili. "I think I'll change my name to Caviar," Paula says by way of introduction, "so people will eat me on special occasions." Chili wears a sports warm-up suit-nylon jacket and pants. He starts with a frantic hotfoot, like someone's shooting at his feet.

As he unzips and whips off the jacket he's gleaming with sweat. He slides off the nylon pants smoothly, without an ankle block, and you begin to wonder why he never made the majors. But he's wearing the tiniest G-string you ever saw, a little black comma of a thing, and he isn't exactly bursting to fit into it. Not good for scoring points.

Rounds of applause decide the winner--clearly David. He gets an envelope containing $75. It's about even for the other three, so the bartender decides Mark is the first runner-up. I guess that means that if for any reason David is unable to fulfill his duties as amateur strip champion, Mark will complete his reign. Mark wins $25.

They all leave the stage and Chili heads to a dark corner to rejoin his companion, an older man with a considerable dusting of white hair. Chili zips up his jacket, flings a garment bag over his shoulder, and departs saying, "I was robbed!"

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