LOOKING FOR LITTLE EGYPT

Where to find the best bump and grind

The idea was born on a Saturday afternoon at LaFong’s. LaFong, a writer on popular music and culture, is a fan of the Coasters, the late Fifties rhythm and blues group that produced such standards as “Charlie Brown,” “Poison Ivy” and “Little Egypt.” Little Egypt, the classic ode to exotic dancers: “She came out struttin’/wearing nuttin’/ but a button and a bow.” LaFong was into a case of Shiner beer fairly deep, and he had played and sung along with Little Egypt until I was seeing pyramids. Opening another Shiner, he looked at me with a weird gleam. “You know, I bet Dallas has a Little Egypt.” Probably, I answered cautiously. “And I bet we could find her.” Well possibly, but. . . “Tonight.” usually can deal with LaFong. But I can’t deal with LaFong and Shiner. We headed for Industrial Boulevard. “This is the place,” said LaFong. “Look at that sign. An elegant simplicity in the name, no pedestrian cuteness.” He was pulling into the parking lot of a concrete-bunker building. Misspelled in neon over the black-painted plywood door: “Top less”. Inside, there was a problem with the light. There was none. It took a full five minutes for our eyes to adjust A full five minutes for our eyes to adjust to the red glow outlining the raised L-shaped runway. We had no such problem with the music. The jukebox was blaring “Urgent” and a well-endowed female was strutting her stuff, trying to be sexy to the music of Foreigner. Two males were seated at ringside, eyes ceilingward, seemingly transfixed by the bottle-blonde’s skills.

LaFong pulled me to the first available seats beside the runway. A waitress materialized out of the murk and took our orders. LaFong’s eyes never left the dancer. Finally, as the song ended and she left the stage, he turned to me. “This one’s only a dancer, and not a good one at that. Not a true ecdysiast at all.”

A true what?

“Ecdysiast. The late H.L. Mencken, muckraker extraordinaire and no stranger to the burlesque houses of Baltimore, coined the term. He didn’t just pull it out of a G-string, though. It comes from the Greek, from ecdysis, which refers to the process of shedding an outer layer. It’s based on duein, to put on, with the prefix ek-, which makes the word indicate the opposite. Of course, the Greeks were talking about snakes shedding their skin, and not dancers, though it was only a short hop across the Mediterranean, and maybe some fun-loving Greeks did make the trip to see the original Little Egypt and her pyramids.”

Beer and bull. LaFong was full of both.

Next on stage was a black girl, moving to some real dance music, and LaFong turned back to the job at hand. This girl could dance. Without missing a bump or a grind, LaFong said, “Give me a dollar.”

Huh?

“Give me a dollar. This one’s a real candidate, and I’ve got to find out her name. Give me a dollar.”

I handed him a dollar and he folded it lengthwise. The dancer saw the green and moved to our side of the stage. She did some suggestive steps and squatted in front of LaFong and his bill. He stuck it in her G-string and asked her name.

“Evelyn.”

“Evelyn, let’s see some real dancing,” LaFong said. Evelyn needed no further incentive. She bumped, she ground, she did everything but crawl on her belly like a reptile. Unfortunately, that was one of LaFong’s requirements. That and the triple somersault. As we were leaving, he reminded me of the song’s third verse: “She did a triple somersault/and then she turned around/She had a picture of a cowboy/tattooed on her spine/saying Phoenix, Arizona, 1949.”

We’ll never find that, I ventured.

“But we must try, we must try,” said LaFong, drunk and proud of it. We were headed for Harry Hines Boulevard and another series of joints. “Frequently,” said LaFong, slipping into his pompous and boring critic’s mode, “the pleasure is in the seeking rather than in the object of the search.”

In order to stall, and get help in case LaFong got inordinately out of hand or unleashed his pseudo-intellectualism on the boyfriend of a dancer, I suggested we stop and pick up Earl, a native East Tennessee mountain man, and, I assumed, a man acquainted with the finer points of bars.

“You are going to be initiated into the ecdysial arts,” said LaFong, conjugating Mencken.

“What’s he mean?” Earl asked me.

Just wait until we get inside, I said, pulling Earl through the darkened doorway. On the other side of the door, a burly, brown-tweeded, football-looking gentleman took our dollar-each admissions. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I saw that there were three stages: a large main runway with flashing lights and mirrors, and two smaller, simpler platforms. There was a girl dancing on each.

LaFong found seats along the runway of the main stage. A blonde was performing. “This lady seems to understand the more exquisite moves of the Dance of the Kookanoognas, an obscure art form usually found only on the midways of smalltown Oklahoma carnivals,” he told Earl. Though the dance didn’t look too different from what we had already seen, the dancer definitely was different. She would have brought a smile to the Sphinx. Her name, it turned out, was April. Her dance was finished much too soon, but she was followed by Tonya, a performer of only slightly less prowess. “The mother lode,” sighed LaFong. “Mamma’s cornbread,” said Earl.

April moved to the second stage, with LaFong soon following. Earl and I stayed with Tonya, I because I figured LaFong was headed for trouble, Earl because he was in love.

Tonya was about 6 feet tall and equipped with wonderful cheekbones, liquid eyes, heavy-cream skin, and legs that went all the way to Piano. All this was clad only in a G-string, a G-string covered with sequins arranged very creatively, I thought. Earl, the artist, obviously agreed. He was agog.

As Tonya’s first song ended, I handed Earl a dollar and explained what it was for. Earl folded it and made sure Tonya saw it. Soon he was counting the sequins, close-up. He reverently placed the bill in Tonya’s G-string, and she responded with a sweet kiss to his forehead. It was more than poor Earl could take. LaFong and I carried him out in a cold sweat. We gingerly parked him in the back seat and returned.

Six dancers later-Crystal, Carol, Kristin, Cherie, Stardust, the magnificent Robin-we joined the still-supine Earl in the car. Well? I asked LaFong.

“We’re closer,” he said. “For example, April is about as pretty a thing naked as I’ve ever seen. Robin’s as cute as a speckled pup in a little red wagon. And Tonya could teach Baryshnikov a move or two. And her legs…” He let it trail off.

Our next stop was Minsky’s, just up the road from Geno’s but, alas, miles behind in the ecdysial arts. Inside, we found Carolyn on the lone runway. She could dance, but nothing spectacular. Folding a dollar bill into her G-string, I asked if she had any tattoos. She smiled and kissed my bald head.

The rest of Harry Hines proved to be a bust, so to speak. A sign outside the Rawhide warned that no biker attire, knives or profanity would be tolerated. LaFong refused to enter: “I don’t go anywhere that doesn’t allow knives.”

At the Southern Belle, we stayed long enough to watch only one dancer, who looked as if she could have backed the line at A&M. “Little Egypt?” sniffed LaFong. “She’s bigger than Africa.” We pressed on.

Circus Circus on Mockingbird had a dancer who LaFong took a short-lived liking to. Her name was Jamie and she looked like Linda Ronstadt. “Reminds me of a teacher I had in the third grade,” said LaFong. “I always wondered what she would have looked like without clothes.” When I was in the third grade I was wondering whether to call my dog Blackie or Spot.

Next up was Crazy. She proved to be insane, and LaFong pulled me out the door. Time to move on. Our luck was no better at the French Quarter, or the Foxhunter. LaFong decided it was time to try something different. “There are some total-nudity places around. Let’s try ’em out.”

The Wild Hare on Lemmon Avenue charged us $5 each to get inside. They charged us $5 each for our beer. The waitresses, one for each of us, charged us $1 each for a tip, then sat down on our laps, perhaps to emphasize the friendliness of the service, the out-to-please attitude.

The dancer’s attitude, however, was not pleasing. Her nakedness did not mask her boredom. My waitress made light of her compadre onstage. “Wait’ll I dance, honey,” she said. “I’m the star.” I didn’t argue, but LaFong started to. Fortunately her turn came and she got away before he could get wound up. Toy, her nom de Hare, had a difficult time getting started, but that turned out to be a blessing. After a few clomping turns she shed her clothes in favor of a diaphanous strip of material. I looked at her, then at LaFong.

“There are times, my friend,” he said, “when nudity should not be total. This is one of those times.” He dumped Lilah from his lap, and we departed. But LaFong’s ire continued. “The Wild Hare is the kind of place that gives true ecdysial establishments a bad name. Rip-off, totally. I generally don’t volunteer information to the constabulary, but I may make an exception. The Wild Hare should be boarded up for indecent exposure.”

After some thought, LaFong decided we should return to the topless places.

I was doubtful, but I climbed into the car. It was late and useless to argue. We pulled into The Fare on University, off Greenville. The layout and operation are identical to Geno’s: main stage, two side stages, and three (count ’em, 3) girls dancing at all times. I had to admit it possessed a certain flair that had not been evident at most of the others. The cover was only a dollar, we were served beer by attractive waitresses clad in abbreviated ringmaster uniforms, and the beer price was no higher than in most other bars. The girls? They universally possessed a well-scrubbed sexiness, a kind of elan. LaFong, I could tell, was impressed.

“I don’t think I’m being premature, my friend,” he said, “when I say that our search has ended.” Jennifer was on the main stage, Crystal and Karin were on the others. They were gorgeous, they could dance, they all qualified as Little Egypt contenders. But there were others, each one more beautiful, a better dancer, sexier, than the one before. There was Cathy, a bouncy little package who giggled a lot. There was Anne, who managed an Oriental inscrutableness even while almost naked. There was Carmen, who I’m sure could have crawled on her belly like a reptile if the occasion had demanded it.

LaFong sat through them all, spending his dollar bills economically, singular in his attention to the question at hand. Each dancer got a thorough study. LaFong let no move go by unnoticed.

Finally, Linda appeared on stage one. Immediately LaFong’s demeanor changed. No longer was he a dedicated academic, looking for the ultimate ec-dysiast. His visage now reflected something much more basic. Lust, pure and simple. Forget the academics, the Menckenisms, the baloney. LaFong, like the rest of God’s children, was possessed of simple lust.

The object of his attention was deserving. Linda was long and lean, hair the color of the sun, eyes of green. I wanted to watch her act in its entirety, but I decided it was time to exit. LaFong didn’t notice my leaving. He was trying to talk Linda into attempting a triple somersault.

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