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GUEST COLUMN: Strip club was an eye-opener

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Norma West Linder

I’ve had some strange writing assignments throughout the years, but one of the strangest that comes to mind took place in what was commonly referred to as a “strip club.”

Norma West Linder
Norma West Linder

In the 1980s, I freelanced for a monthly business magazine called Trends. It was then edited by Heather Rath, a friend and fellow writer. She always passed on to me the assignments she thought I’d find most interesting.

I interviewed dozens of people – from ship builders to hairdressers. In 1989, she asked me to do an article about Cheri Champagne – owner and manager of what was then one of our city’s high profile girlie palaces. Cheri caused quite a scandal with a mural she commissioned for the side of the building – that of a scantily clad gal relaxing in a huge champagne glass.

Years earlier, I’d gone to see exotic dancers in Toronto with my fun-loving husband. I considered myself reasonably sophisticated in such matters. I had my eyes opened in short order – both literally and figuratively.

Cheri, a personable young entrepreneur, bought me a beer, and we took ringside seats for the afternoon show. I was expecting the dancers to be wearing G-strings and pasties after a slow shedding of outer garments. Something along the lines of Gypsy Rose Lee.

My first surprise was that all costumes came off with something surpassing the speed of light. My second was seeing the women totally naked. And the third surprise was observing the dancers antics with life-sized male puppets exhibiting highly exaggerated physical features. I almost choked my beer.

Cheri was very co-operative, but I had trouble concentrating. Nevertheless, I asked questions and jotted down her answers in the aquarium lighting of that upstairs lounge.

A few male customers glanced my way as though wondering what in the world a motherly looking woman was doing in their midst. I’m certain I made their afternoon considerably less enjoyable. As for me, I felt for the first time that I was truly earning my fifty-dollar fee.

Though my bar-hopping days are over, I still recall with a smile the day I interviewed Cheri Champagne, and I’m certain I still have that issue of the magazine around somewhere. With my filing system, however, it might be years before I come across it.

Norma West Linder is an internationally published poet and novelist living in Sarnia

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