I had a visitor the other day. As soon as we sat down on the patio to enjoy a peaceful visit, she said: “Oh, there’s a new barker in the neighborhood!” Where I live in Atenas, Costa Rica, the rolling hills create an acoustic phenomenon much like that of the Sydney Opera House. The house below us at the bottom of the hill has a new tenant with a barking dog. He barks day and night, and it sounds like he is on the patio just outside the door of my house. I’m hoping the annoying sound will turn into white noise.
When my friend said “barker”, my mind did that swooney thing that took me back to the 70s in San Francisco. I had just moved to the city from the Virgin Islands. Actually, I took an apartment in Sausalito on Bridgeway, the main drag, because the dotted hillside reminded me of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, a similar dotted hillside overlooking the harbor. I was pounding the pavement of San Francisco looking for a job.
I had a folded up newspaper in my hand with several ads circled in blue pen. I don’t remember the exact dress I wore, but I do remember my shoes; white high heels – much too high for negotiating the steep San Francisco hills on foot. I would never admit that, of course. I held my head high, looked straight ahead, and wondered how I had gotten to this neighborhood of topless dance clubs. I was headed toward Broadway on Kearny Street to follow up on an ad in the “help wanted’ section.
There was an Italian looking guy lurking in a doorway trying to get my attention. “Eh!” he grunted. I looked straight ahead. “Hey, miss!” I kept trucking up the hill toward what I believed to be Broadway – my destination. I was looking for a place called “Enrico’s” which advertised for a waitress.
The guy in the doorway stepped forward into my pathway and smiled. I had no choice but to stop, and look at him. He looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy with a sweet demeanor, and a soft voice. “You lookin’ for a job?”
“Well, yeah”…as I held out my folded newspaper with the circled ads to prove it.
“My name is Bronco. I’m the manager here; we need a cocktail waitress.”
I looked at the photo display window behind him and said: “Wait a minute. This is one of those topless clubs, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah … but you won’t be topless. The uniform is a white angora dress with a turtleneck.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure, I’m sure. You’ll make a lotta dough. It’s easy. Carol Doda does a show here. There’s a 2-drink minimum. All you have to do is bring the 2 drinks at once, collect the money and get a big tip. They usually don’t order any more. Then you do it again for the second show, and you’re done for the night. The money’s good, I’m tellin’ ya! Wanna start tonight?”
“Are you sure it’s not topless? If I show up and it’s topless, I’m walking out the door.”
“You wanna see the uniform now?
“Yes, I do.”
O.K. come inside, take a look around and I’ll bring one of ’em out. You’ll see. We run a classy joint here. The only topless are on stage or on these round tables. None of our waitresses go topless.”
I was apprehensive, but Bronco (what a name) seemed innocuous and I was flat broke. Even if I only lasted one night, it would put some cash in my pocket if he was telling the truth. I said I would show up and give it a go. We agreed that if, after the trial, if I didn’t like it, that would be the end of it. It occurred to me that I wasn’t quite sure of where I was and If I could find the place after dark. “By the way, what’s the name of this place?”
“This is the Off Broadway Club. We was gonna name it the Carol Doda Club, but Gino, you know Gino del Prete, he owns the Condor. He don’t want to confuse people. See ya tonight.”
As I walked away, I wondered who this Carol Doda was. I didn’t have far to go to find out. I made it up the hill to Broadway, decided not to stop at Enrico’s, but to keep it in reserve in case this one didn’t work out. I continued up Broadway, and as I approached a major intersection, I looked up to see a giant sign on the corner of Broadway and Columbus. Ahhhh, that Carol Doda!
I hope they don’t make me go topless tonight. I won’t do it, that’s all. I walked down the street to the cacophony of the barkers touting their club’s wares. Suddenly, I snapped to as the new neighbor’s dog in Roca Verde barked me out of my reverie.
What happened at the Off Broadway? Part 2 coming soon!
If you missed part 1 see https://caroleconnolly.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/new-barker-in-the-neighborhood
I reported for my first shift at the Off Broadway Club at precisely 5:00 as instructed. I wore my sneakers, and carried my high heels, in case I had to bolt. Bronco, the combo manager and barker, was there to greet me with a big smile; there is a big difference between a leering grin and a smile. Bronco was smiling. I was starting to trust him. At this point, he was my only touchstone.
“Hey, glad ya made it! Come and meet the boys.” The “boys” of North Beach were soft-spoken, well-dressed Italian guys, seated at the bar; drink in one hand, cigarette in the other. “That’s George Di Bartolo behind the bar. This here is Gino; Voss, his wife Yvonne, and that’s Mario over there, and Carlo sittin’ next to him. What was your name again?”
I stammered, “Carole. Carole Jean.”
“Oh yeah, well that will have to change. There can only be one “Carol” here and that’s Carol Doda. Arright, you can be C J. C J Jordan. I’ll show you the dressing room. Change into your uniform and come down here for training. It’s easy. You won’t have no trouble.”
As I climbed the stairs to the dressing room, I was in a daze. Standing in the cocktail lounge, I couldn’t take my eyes off the woman, Yvonne, sitting at the bar with the men in the pin-striped suits and ties. She was stunning; a big-haired platinum blonde, with big pouty shiny lips, big perky chi-chis, a tiny waist, and big batting long-lashed piercing eyes. She spoke barely above a whisper; “Nice to meet you C J.” cooed the sex-kitten. Bronco said her name was Yvonne. I thought for sure that was Carol Doda, from the pictures I saw in the window display.
I changed into my white turtlenecked angora uniform, put my heels on, went to the bar for training and sat quietly waiting for the first customer to walk through the door. In walked another gorgeous big-boobed blonde with a raspy voice. She greeted the group sitting at the bar, and said: “I’ll be in my dressing room. See you onstage.”
A few more attractive ladies trickled in and went upstairs. I was just sitting there like a bump on a log. Suddenly, music blared through speakers, the lights dimmed, and there were topless girls dancing on round tables situated throughout the room. A few men came in off the street and Bronco gave me the nod. I stood up, went to the bar to pick up a tray and ordering pad, and George-the-bartender winked at me: Go get ’em C J!” I didn’t even think he knew I existed, let alone my name.
The place filled up to a sold-out audience. The show went on; Carol Doda came out, cajoled with the audience, sang a little, stripped a little, and mesmerized the mostly male audience. I did not go topless, at least not yet. I made a pile of money and couldn’t wait to come back for my next shift. At this rate, I could afford to live – well at least pay the rent. I might need another job to pay for food. Oh, and I would need tuition money. I planned to get my California teaching credential from San Francisco State. My New York credential was not recognized in the golden state. Oh well, I liked going to classes, and I had plenty of time during the day.
My degree from State University of New York at Cortland was in Physical Education with a minor in dance. I was about to get a physical education all right. The perfect opportunity presented itself when I was walking around in the Marina District a few days later. There was a “help wanted” sign in the window of the Marina Health Spa on Lombard Street. I popped in, asked for the owner, and a tall man was pointed out. “That’s Tom, the owner.”
“Hi. I would like to apply for the job. What is it?”
“Floor instructor. When can you start? I need somebody right away. Got any experience?”
“Now. I can start now. As long as it’s a day shift. I can only work days. I have a degree in phys ed.”
He didn’t ask why I could only work days, which was a good thing. “Well, we train you anyway. You just have to weigh, measure, and show the ladies how to to use the machines. How about you start tomorrow, 9:00? Fill out an application at the desk. See you in the morning.”
I looked around the club and recognized most of the equipment from the college gym at Cortland. I had no idea what the row of canvas belts attached to metal stands was for until I saw a hefty woman step onto the platform, unhook the strap, place it around her ample bottom, and flip a switch. Huh? It’s a vibrating machine? Does she really think vibrating that jiggling mass of blubber is going to make it go away? Oh well, I just work here.
That night at the “Off Broadway”, Bronco introduced me to yet another handsome Italian guy named Eddie Belasco. He was boisterous, loud and full of mischief; I like him immediately. He said: “Hi C J, I heard about you. You’re a dancer, eh?”
“Well, I did minor in dance in college. I am NOT a table dancer. I studied ballet, modern, jazz, and social dancing.”
“We got a show comin’ up at Bimbo’s. I’m the choreographer. Why don’t you come check it out this Friday? I’ll get you the night off from here. You might want to audition for it.”
“What’s Bimbo’s? Is it topless?”
“Well, yeah. But it ain’t dirty. It’s a revue. Like they got in Vegas. Bimbo’s is a big show hall on Columbus. Carol Doda sings out front on the stage and the girls dance behind her. It’s a good show. You’ll see.”
“Okay, I’ll come. But, I’m not trying out if it’s topless. I’ll just be in the audience.”
To be continued…
Link to part 1:
Bimbo’s? We were going to a place called Bimbo’s? Probably a bunch of bimbos in there is why it’s called that. I was part of Eddie, the choreographer’s, entourage. We arrived in a black stretch limo, which picked us up at the Off Broadway, just a few blocks away from Bimbo’s. As I exited the car and stepped onto the sidewalk in front of Bimbo’s, I had no idea what was behind those modest doors; I didn’t expect much.
I had never been to Las Vegas. I had just moved back to California from St. Thomas where I worked in a nightclub on Charlotte Amalie’s waterfront. Le Club was considered exclusive; it paled in comparison to the scene set before me. I felt a jolt of electricity flow through me and I just stood there taking it all in.
The stage grabbed my attention as I imagined what was about to happen there. I was shaken out of my trance by another new girl from the Off Broadway, Loretta, whose last job was shaking her booty for Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks. At the time, I had not heard of him, but she swore he was legit and she danced in the back-up group. And no, it wasn’t topless.
The house filled up, the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the curtains parted. Carol Doda strutted to center stage, and started her act fully clothed, as usual. Once she did her opening monologue kibitzing with the audience, the dancers came out and the energy was coursing through my veins! The costumes, the head-dresses, the magnificent ostrich plumes and glittering sequins; I was mesmerized. I had to be in this show. Oh, but wait, they’re topless!
What do I do now?
If I audition and get the part – and of course, I will get the part – I’m going to have to go topless. What’s the big deal anyway? Who decided nudity was a bad thing? The Puritans? African cultures don’t think twice about it; all those National Geographic photos proved it.
The truth was, I was embarrassed. Not only was I sparsely endowed, my right boobie was smaller than the left; much smaller. It was almost as though it got stuck in the trainer bra stage. I never let anybody see me naked. In romantic situations, I insisted on candle light and only whipped off the bra under the covers.
How badly did I want to be in this show?
I had performed in many dance recitals throughout college, starred in two high school plays: I played Mata Hari in Little Mary Sunshine, and played the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy. Okay, it was high school; high school counts. It was performing in front of a live audience on a stage. I sang, I danced, I loved it. Dancing was my forté; the singing, not so much. I had to carry off my songs with stage presence and personality. But the dancing, I loved. I was good at it, and I must be in this show! I would just have to dazzle them with my dancing, and distract them with my fine-looking butt, and a few peacock feathers.
I dug in and decided to just hold my head up high. I would dance my heart out and hope they didn’t notice my mismatched little lulus. I made it through the audition, I learned all the dance routines, I learned to pantomime words to the songs Carol Doda sang; “Something in the way he moves….” I can still hear her in my head. When you do the same show night after night, which was performed on a smaller scale than the Bimbo show I had initially seen, it becomes a rote performance. Eddie Belasco scaled it down and ran two shows a night at the smaller venue, the Off Broadway Club.
I became part of the North Beach scene. In between shows, I went to Enrico’s on Broadway and devoured a nightly hot fudge sundae while Jonathan Winters and Bill Cosby hung out at the bar. I got to know Carol Doda, the person, not the “Twin Peaks” celebrity version famous for going from a 34B to a 44 DD bra size, with the aid of silicon injections. Yeah, shots! This was before implants were invented.
I was surprised to learn she was a sweet, shy, lonely lady. We got to be friends of a sort; not too close as I was very busy holding down two jobs, plus attending San Francisco State to obtain my California teaching credential. Once a week or so Carol and I went to late suppers at New Joe’s or Vanessi’s on Broadway. I remember, she always ordered gnocchi, and I ordered seafood sauté.
It felt more like a family affair than anything associated with sex shows. Wherever we went in North Beach, the “boys” looked out for us. It wasn’t until later I had to get a body-guard to keep me alive after threats from the barker I briefly took up with.
Hear more about him in Part 4!
It was a clean show. Really, it was. After a while, you forget about being topless. When I first started in the show, I would “hide” behind a screen to get into costume. With the quick changes between numbers, that become impractical; no, impossible. So, forget the screen, just change and get back onstage before the music starts and you’re not there!
I invited my parents to the show. I felt like I was back in high school and it was opening night for the school play. I peeked through the stage curtains and there they were in the front row. I was happy about that because I didn’t want them to see the rows and rows of Japanese men with hats on their laps sitting behind them. Busloads of tourists came to North Beach and filled the clubs with non-English speaking visitors who probably didn’t care about the choreography or the fancy costumes.
Mom beamed as I did my solo, tour jeté-ing my way across the stage in my flowing chiffon halter dress. This was the only number in the show that was not topless. Looking back, I wonder if Eddie Belasco thought it best to keep me fully covered because of my unimpressive rack that would be more noticeable without the distraction of the other dancers, and of course, Carol Doda. When Carol took the stage, all eyes riveted to one spot, well, okay, two spots; we were nothing more than moving wallpaper. I think Mom was happy to see all those years of ballet lessons finally paying off.
I fell into a routine; Marina Health Spa by day, Off Broadway by night, with classes at San Francisco State in between. Boring! Oz Bach changed all that. When he came to work as a barker at the club, I was intrigued. His polished good looks, deep rich voice, and charming manner got my attention immediately. I saw him talking to Bronco, getting barking instructions. As soon as they broke apart, I walked up to him.
“Hi, I’m C J! You working here now? I’m in the show.”
“Well, hello C J. Nice to meet you. I’m Oz.”
“Oz? Like in the wizard of?”
“No. Oz, like in I’ll sell you an ounce of pot. Or, if you prefer hashish, I got that, too. And Silly-cybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, you name it.”
Well, I didn’t know what to say to that. I just smiled and said: “Well, I better get ready for the show. See ya.”
As the days went on we continued to flirt and tease, and then it happened. The drink after work, which led to the “come up for a night-cap”, and the “why don’t you spend the night?” And shortly after, “how about I move in and we split the rent?”
Everything was great in the beginning (isn’t it always?). His real name, I learned, was Paul Back from Paw Paw, West Virginia. He had been a musician with a folk-rock group called “Spanky and Our Gang”, for whom he played the bass guitar and sang back-up. He said he also filled in bass guitar for Linda Ronstadt’s “Stone Poneys” on occasion. I listened to the stories and took it all with a grain of salt. If he was such a hot-shot musician what was he doing barking for a topless club in North Beach?
We had the same two days off work at the club. He asked if I could request a couple of days extra so we could go on a road trip to Los Angeles. Los Angeles! I had never been there. I grew up in New York, I watching 77 Sunset Strip, and I fantasized about living in California where the sunny beaches, palm trees, and surfers came from. Yes! I wanted to go. Oz said he had some deliveries to make in Topanga Canyon, with a small detour to Mill Valley. I didn’t ask too many questions; I never do. I would find out soon enough.
We loaded up his dark green Volkswagen van and headed for Mill Valley. First stop, Marty Balin’s house. I didn’t know the name until we walked in with his package, and the two men started talking about problems with the Airplane – The Jefferson Airplane! I remained silent, but inside I was going: “Oh my God! This is the guy! The Jefferson Airplane guy. Grace Slick. White Rabbit. Somebody to Love. All that!” I don’t think I uttered a sound the entire time. I was trying to look cool; not like the star-struck quivering little girl I felt like.
We got back in the van and I asked “Now where?”
“Frank Zappa’s house in Topanga. You want a mushroom for the road?”
“A mushroom? Why would I want a mushroom? Oh, you mean one of those silly-cybin things you told me about. What does it do?”
“Makes you giggle a lot and see funny things. It’s nothing. The Indians take them all the time. It’s fun.”
“O.K. I’ll try it.’
By the time it kicked in we were still a few hours from Los Angeles. Good thing, too, ’cause I was like a laughing hyena. I calmed down by the time we got to Frank’s house. He met us outside, picked up his goods, and had a brief conversation with Oz. I never even got out of the van. He looked exactly like himself with his long, flowing locks. After a few more stops, I became more relaxed in the presence of the rock stars. Oz said the final stop was a surprise and we would spend the night there.
When the door opened and a large woman shouted: “Oz Bach! Git over here. Where you been?” She embraced him and he disappeared in her bear hug. I stood behind him, stunned.
Mama Cass?! We’re spending the night at Mama Cass’s house? When I was introduced, she gave me the once over, a clipped “Hi” and turned on her heel. She had the biggest face I’ve ever seen; it was a horse-face. She must have read my mind; she didn’t like me and I didn’t like her.
Okay. This was fun. Now I’m ready to back to my own world.
It was when I was straightening up the apartment on our return that I came across the doctor’s card with an appointment penned in; Langley Porter. I had heard of Langley Porter. Wasn’t that a mental hospital?
Part 5 coming …
Leap before you look! I did it again. Langley Porter? I was pretty sure that was the psychiatric division of the UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) right down the street on Parnassus. The card said Paul Back had an appointment at 3:30 that day. This was before I had an understanding about treatable chemical imbalances in the brain; ‘bi-polar disorder’ was not yet a household word, and the only reason anybody went to a psychiatrist was that they were CRAZY!
Oz had gone out to get a newspaper, and some Danish. I figured I had a few minutes before I heard the keys in the lock. My heart was racing as I picked up the card, and dialed the number. A receptionist answered and I asked to speak to the doctor. “Is this an emergency?” She asked.
“Yes!” I cried. “I need to know if I’m in danger. I just moved in with this guy and I found this card.”
I must have sounded like a ‘case’ myself, ’cause the doctor actually took the call. “Am I in danger?”
“I don’t know, are you?” he asked.
“Oh, right. I need to explain. I just moved in with this guy and I found this appointment card to see you at Langley Porter. His name is Oz Bach but on the card it says Paul Back. Is he crazy?”
“Well, he is a patient here, and this is a psychiatric hospital. That’s all I can tell you.”
“That’s all I need to know. Thanks.” I seemed calm, but my insides were clenched to the max.
When he returns, I will just tell him that I made a mistake and he should move out. I put the card back where I found it, tucked underneath a book. I would do the “It’s not you, it’s me” thing and hope he would understand. You know, where you say you’re just not ready for a relationship, jumped in too soon, and let’s just be friends. That always works, right?
Never! It never works. He was jumping out of his skin. “Leave? You want me to leave? You’re not ready for a relationship? Too late, girly! I will NOT leave. And YOU will NOT LEAVE ME! If you do, I will kill you! NOBODY leaves Oz Bach!”
That shut me up. Kill me? That’s a bit harsh after such a short relationship. I mean, we’re talking weeks here. Come on. “Alrighty then, never mind. I’m fine. No, not leaving after all. Oh no, I see your point. Everything is fine.”
Oh, boy. The Great and Wonderful Oz has spoken. I will not argue with the man behind the curtain. I’ll just call in sick one day next week and slip out the back, Jack. I’ll do the old ‘moonlight slip’. Daaad!!! Help!
My dad came to my rescue and together we shoved all of my worldly goods into black plastic garbage bags, loaded them in his car, and tore off to Walnut Creek in the night. I didn’t take a full breath until we crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge on our way to the family home in Alamo. I knew I would have to face Oz the next night at the Off Broadway Club, but I was planning to tell Bronco, the manager, about the threat on my life and hope they would fire him.
Bronco said they didn’t have a replacement ‘barker’ and couldn’t fire him yet, but they would have one of the bouncers from the Condor see me safely to my car at the end of my shift. I felt okay with that until I left my dressing room for the first show of the night. I heard a low, deep voice behind me: “You better watch your back, C.J. If I get a chance I will push you down the stairs. If that doesn’t kill you, I’ll wait in the alley with a knife. Nobody leaves Oz Bach, bitch.”
The shoulder shove he gave me from behind was full of anger. With that physical contact, my fear dissipated and my own anger surfaced. I knew I wouldn’t win if I turned around to fight, no matter how fast my blood was boiling. I want this guy outta here right now or I’m not going on stage. I went to George, the bartender, and told him the story. “Okay, don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. Go get ready for the show.”
I kept the body-guard escort for a couple of weeks, but I never saw hide nor hair of Oz again. Only once did the subject ever come up. A few days after the shoving incident George called me over to the bar: “Hey CJ, that jerk ain’t bothered you again, right? He ever comes near you, you come see me.”
“Thanks, George. I will.” (If I’m alive to tell about it.)
For a while, I stayed in the dressing room between shows, forgoing the hot fudge sundaes at Enrico’s. I brought my school books with me and used the time to study for my classes at San Francisco State.
Maybe it was time to quit “show business” and get a real job. I heard the airlines were hiring.
It wasn’t until a few years later that Carol Doda’s path crossed mine again… and it was a real doozy!
Part 6 – soon!
Ten years later, I was walking around San Francisco’s North Beach, and I ran into Carol Doda on the street. She was still going strong, doing her nightly routine on top of the hydraulic baby-grand piano that came down from the ceiling with her doing the swim or the frug to the delight of the audience. This still happened every night in spite of the unfortunate accident involving that couple in 1983; the well-publicized after-hours piano-top sexual encounter between the bouncer and the dancer.
We sat down to a cup of coffee to get caught up on old times. I invited her to my brother’s birthday party the following weekend. Although it was a forty-five minute drive from the city to Alamo, in the East Bay, she happily accepted! In spite of her fame and notoriety, she didn’t have many friends or social outlets. She spent her days taking voice lessons, working out at the gym, and rehearsing for the evening performance. In spite of the publicity celebrities receive, many lead dedicated, solitary lives.
One thing we had in common: the hunt for the perfect husband! When I last saw her in 2013, she was still looking.
I plan to visit San Francisco in the fall of this year. I will look for Carol at her lingerie boutique, Champagne and Lace located off Union St. If I can’t find her there, I will try to catch her at The Amante Lounge on Green Street. I last saw here there in 2007 when I was walking up Columbus Avenue after dinner at The Stinking Rose, and I heard a woman belting out a love song. I hadn’t seen her in many years, but I knew that voice. I peeked through the door, waited at the entrance of the lounge to catch a glimpse of the singer, and sure enough, there she was!
When the set ended, I walked up to her as she was leaning down toward the floor to adjust the microphone wires. I leaned over and said: “Hi. You probably don’t remember me, but I used to dance with you.” She hadn’t even looked up yet to study my face. She whipped her head around, looked me square in the eye and said: “C.J.! Where’s your red hair? Of course, I remember you! Did you ever get married?”
“Well, that’s a long story – yes and no. I’ll save it for another time. Let’s do lunch.”
A lot happened between the time I danced with her at the Off Broadway Club and now – including the incident at my brother’s birthday party; too much to tell here. The last time I checked, Carol Doda was still kicking around North Beach. I will try to see her in September and get her permission to tell all. If that doesn’t happen, I can just wait.
I wrote this story over a year ago. Carol is now singing with the angels (and no doubt giving them some attitude). I will write the rest of the story with love, humor, and respect for a dear departed soul. Carol Doda, rest in peace.