Well, it happened. I suppose it was inevitable. The referendum to put issue 1, the so-called “no-touch” rule for Ohio’s exotic dancers, up for public vote, has failed miserably. The signatures needed to allow this to happen were, apparently, mostly fraudulent. The ‘CCS‘ and ‘Dancers For Democracy,’ the business organizations made of dancers and club owners, spearheaded the the attempt to defeat the new law. Hopes were high when they announced on September 4th that they had collected enough signatures for the referendum. Not so much now. My first reaction was a snide remark about strippers and math. But, I know that’s not fair. They’re not the first to have a little counting problem when it comes to votes. And the way it’s been going, they won’t be the last. It always seems in every vote in the last decade, more and more votes don’t count for some reason, regardless of who’s collecting them. The reasons for denial always sound valid afterward, but I can’t help but notice the pattern. The CCS has resorted to court battles but the prospects look dim, if not just simply pathetic.

When I started this series I was struck by the lack of concern. Only a couple of girls had knowledge, and a genuine worry of, this new law. It could potentially be enforced in such a way as to completely shut-down any club targeted. Any contact, incidental or otherwise, between dancer and customer could result in jail time for both. Someone brushes past you, a handshake, a touch on the shoulder, it’s over. I decided to go back and see what havoc this has caused. I expected to see vacant clubs, jukeboxes instead of Dee-jay’s, cola instead of Chivas. I expected to see one or two haggard and half-drunk girls who couldn’t find work elsewhere. I expected the worst.

Honestly, I set myself up. A cold Monday afternoon should have been enough to keep anyone away. I know a busy summer Saturday would be the best test, but frankly, its hard to talk in a crowd. This small Cleveland club was a shadow of it’s former glory, but it was still drew a respectable crowd before the law. It should be a good example for today. I prepared myself for the ensuing depression that is standard issue upon entering some shady dive-bar. That kind of embarrassed reticence that envelops one upon entering any bar that you would never intentionally plan to meet someone in: It obvious to all you’ve come to get drunk, and that’s the sum of it. You walk in, sit on the stool, lay down a 20, and say “Well, lets go!”. Yes, now I was ready.

I must have looked lost when I walked in. I stopped in door mid-stride in surprise. There were about a dozen guys milling about. A bachelor party near the back; almost a full bar. Five girls, some on stage, some on the floor, worked the crowd. A new girl was waiting to go on stage to try out. This number may seem small, but it was more than adequate for this size club. As a matter of fact, this was more than I’d seen here before the law. I was a man with many questions now. And, Angel (that’s what we’ll call her) had some very good answers.

Angel knew very well about the law. Everyone did, apparently. Much time and care has been taken by management to instruct the girls on how to act during performances and in-between. The managers are just as worried as the girls. They know the law back-wards and forewords. And they know first hand what the vice cops will put up with. She began to rattle-off a list what was, and was-not, allowed under what particular circumstance. It was lengthy. It was confusing. I was in organic chemistry class all over again. I took another drink. ‘This makes sense to you?” I ask. “It’s just there to punish us. It doesn’t do anything! Ready for your dance?”

A private dance? Under the law, shouldn’t this be functionally imposable? I need to see this. How do I justify it? Journalistic integrity forces me to get the whole story on any subject. And, oh-boy, a whole story I got. It’s not as torrid or explicit as some might want to imagine. That doesn’t happen in real life. Or, at least, never to me. It was, however, the most compelling combination of sensuality and Ohio Revised Code you’ll ever get to see. In order to maintain compliance with it’s strictest interpretations, the clothes would come off as she moved away. When she strayed closer, the clothes would magically reappear. It was a performance that would have made Houdini proud. After a few minutes, I could almost hear the far-off bash of gavels, the cheesy chest-pounding and ‘save-the-children’ screams of representatives as they quarrel with each other over which one of them Jesus would have loved more; the sweaty ramblings of old hairy men in senate chambers recounting the lurid details of these heathen activities, of which I was now apparently involved. With all that bluster and harassment, they’ve only succeeded to changing something sensual into something silly. How much am I paying for this, again?

It’s not her fault- She’s beautiful and knows precisely how to use it. Back in the bar, we talked for better than an hour, only pausing so she could greet new arrivals and do her performances. Now that I’ve seen the revised act, I understand why she characterizes it as a form of punishment rather than a savior of women. The new law hasn’t decimated the industry, just made it more technically difficult and less lucrative. Rather than quit their jobs to find alternative employment (which was the intent of the law), these girls are now forced to work more hours over more days, and for less money. Interestingly, the amount of cash they have to pay in tips to the staff, and the mandatory fees they pay the club owners to dance (~$25-$35 a day), hasn’t gone down.

Admittedly, Angel takes a lot of pride in her profession- possibly too much. To hear her talk, one could easily forget she’s actually referring to stripping. Like many of her co-workers, she’s very knowledgeable in current state of the legal battle with issue 1 and active with the related organizations. And, she’s not shy about speaking out about the battle over her job. “All they (the CCV and state legislature) talk about is morals. How it it moral to force me to work more hours? How is it moral to keep me away for my child even more days?” Every law has unintended consequences. The state apparently underestimated the creativity of their subjects, allowing these clubs to continue operating. The state obviously didn’t expect these clubs to persevere at all.

This might be off-subject, but I have to mention it. I’m constantly amazed at the amount of girls who admit to having a boyfriend that is either out-of-work, can’t work, between jobs, or currently getting-a-job. My pity for these girls’ situations is tarnished by my fascination with these men. How do you get a beautiful, obviously-hard-working girl to come home and support you for years at a time? This is an almost celestial level of salesmanship (or prowess) that I’m not familiar with. It’s probably just the guitar.

Angel had just hopped-off stage and was discussing something intimately important with the floor manager. She suddenly rips-off her top and goes skipping around the bar kissing and hugging people along the way. Men, women, employees, patrons, everyone. She kisses her way back to be me. Sitting on the arm of the chair, she throws her arms around me and give me a big kiss on the cheek.

“You must be good luck!” she yells.

“What’s with you?”

“Vice stopped enforcing the rule tonight! Thank you! Oh..It’s great!”

I can’t explain how Cleveland vice squad can organize themselves to manipulate how laws are enforced on an hourly basis, or explain how some decrepit club owner would find-out so quickly. Vice guys usually work alone or in small teams. They decide what to do in that moment in that situation. And, I can’t see these fastidious club owners paying money to anybody for just information, even a police snitch. They could have identified the undercover vice-guy in the bar and got him drunk. They could have just been offering bullshit and hoping for the best. I still don’t know what happened, but everyone in the club seemed happy and I ‘m not going to judge. I may have walked out of the bar as confused as when I walked in, but now carrying a little more faith in the creativity and judgment of Ohio’s citizens.