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L.A. Story

From Marilyn Monroe in Camelot to Monica in a thong, those wayward, party-lovin' Democrats were America's last great cry against sexual repression. Not anymore.

By Will Harper

ON THE FIRST NIGHT of the Democratic National Convention, about a dozen or so guys sit around at Crazy Girls, a topless bar in Hollywood. Located a few miles west of the DNC's stronghold at the Staples Center, the bar also happens to be, coincidentally, one mile north of Clinton Street.

I'm strategically seated in a chair that gives me a decent view of the TV screen--which is playing convention coverage--and the live entertainment onstage.

Most of my colleagues in the alternative press who made it to the city are milling around the convention's demonstration area, waiting for riots and bloodshed. A good police brutality story should make their editors happy. But I came here to cover sex at the convention, not violence.

On TV, Hillary Clinton takes the podium dressed in a sensible blue blazer and a pearl necklace. As she orates, the DJ spins Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" while Freedom prepares for her set. The music blares loudly, but thanks to the technological miracle of closed-caption television, I can follow the First Lady's words: "And you know I still believe it takes a village."

The first few dancers, though beautiful, don't keep my attention. Neither does Hillary. My eyes wander from the stage, to Hillary, then to the Cubs game on the other TV set and back again. I absent-mindedly peel the label from my Bud Light bottle. Then the Crazy Girls emcee introduces Alexis, a short and busty blonde decked out in black leather.

Immediately, she struts toward me and flashes me a big smile. I stop picking at the Bud Light label. I am focused now. She retreats back to the center of the stage, giving me a sexy look over her shoulder. Of course, she can't ignore all the other pervs sitting near the stage if she wants tips, so she dances for them, too. But she doesn't want those guys. I can tell. I'm her man.

Sure enough, she comes back to me, this time flirtatiously pushing her breasts over the edge of the stage toward my face. She didn't do that for anyone else. I'm special. When she finishes her routine, I eagerly throw a few dollar bills onstage. And then I head to the bathroom.

In the mirror, I see why my little stripper was so interested in me: I'm still wearing my media credential around my neck. Where it reads "Press," she must have seen "Big-spending, convention-going sucker." I figure it's time to head out, save some cash and listen to President Clinton's speech while I drive back to my Koreatown hotel in my rented green Dodge Neon.

Driving down La Brea Boulevard, I soon realize Clinton's speech is a winner. At one point, he artfully co-opts the Reaganites' old slogan, "My fellow Americans, are we better off today than we were eight years ago?" After a few minutes, I'm already wistful, thinking of how I'll miss our great president.

When I turn into the parking lot of the Rotex Hotel, it dawns on me: Strippers and politicians are a lot alike.

Clinton had my vote and Alexis had my libido soaring for the same reason. They're masters of seduction, able to make their audiences feel like they have a special, unique bond with them. In 1992, during the recession, Clinton felt our pain, or at least told us he did.

Alexis, my lovely Alexis, promised to rescue me from lonely loserdom.

You could say Clinton has a little bit of Alexis in him. After he seduces us, we can't help but feel a little ashamed and stupid for falling for his shtick when the truth comes out. By then, however, he has already emptied our wallets and spent eight years in the White House. But when one's writhing on the witness stand and the other on a polished mirror floor, it's no contest--I'll take Alexis any day.

Leverage

IT'S NO SECRET THAT America is in bondage--and not in a fun-loving, whips-and-chains way. Four hundred years after the Puritans hit Plymouth Rock, we're still as obsessed and repressed about sexual behavior as ever. But if anyone was going to lead us into an age of enlightenment, one would hope it would be the Democrats. These are the guys who vote liberal--on women, on birth control and on porn (oh, OK, First Amendment rights). It was a Democratic president who lived every man's dream and slept with Marilyn Monroe.

But Clinton's cigar tricks with a chubby intern threw us right back into button-up shoes and pilgrim hats--remanding Bill to the stocks, and further, requiring the gelding of every last one of our male candidates.

"There's been a backlash," agrees Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington and the author of the recently released book Everything You Know About Love and Sex Is Wrong. "The voters are a little ashamed of themselves, probably because they didn't do anything nasty to the president before, and now they want to punish him.

"The Democrats are trying to say, 'That's over and that's done. There's no need to punish us because we have a great new moral team here."

However, the Dems are merely responding to a culture that can't make up its mind about carnality.

"We're a schizophrenic culture when it comes to sex," notes Scwartz. "Other cultures think we're ridiculous. They think ... that we squander our resources and attention on something they assume [is] the peccadilloes of powerful people. They don't understand why we want to get punitive about it."

At the funeral of former French President Francois Mitterrand, his widow Danielle and longtime mistress Anne Pingeot held hands and walked in the same funeral procession as an unsurprised nation and Al Gore watched. The news that Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel married an actress with nude movie credits drew some clucking but little more.

For Americans, however, no detail of Clinton's escapades could escape microscopic scrutiny. Perhaps we're still dealing with the inevitable shame that had to follow such wanton prurience on our part.

"The mere word 'sex' brings even the unconscious voter's mind back to what was a fascinating but embarrassing exercise," says Schwartz. "I study sex, but I didn't personally like being brought into the president's bedroom."

But when it comes to the Dems, it would still seem that getting the original party-down bad boys to turn their backs on knockin' boots was going to be a hard sell. And in the week before leaving, I had high hopes. At that point, Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez's fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion was still a go. The L.A. Daily News reported that in the weeks leading up to the convention, Hollywood vice police had seen a 25 to 50 percent increase in the number of "circuit prostitutes" in town looking for business.

Al Gore and Democratic Party leaders, of course, had other ideas. They wanted the convention to be an exercise in sexual repression, so nothing might remind voting viewers of interns, cigars or thong underwear. And for the most part, they succeeded.

Shortly before the convention started, Sanchez reluctantly agreed to cancel her event at the Playboy Mansion, foiling my plan to pitch annoying sexual questions to those attending. Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner later groused to talk show host Bryant Gumbel that the Democrats were turning into a bunch of right-wing prudes.

Although the DNC booked 77,000 hotel room nights for out-of-towners, Lt. Mike Felix of the LAPD's Organized Crime and Vice Division says there was no increased vice activity during the convention. Felix says a series of sweeps conducted throughout the city--including major downtown and airport hotels--in the weeks leading up to the convention, and an increased police presence during the event, scared hookers away.

"We basically cleaned the places out," Felix boasts. "The reason was word got out. We talked to tons of prostitutes [before the convention] and they knew [LAPD was going to be watching them]."

Even the strip clubs didn't seem to be getting any more patrons than usual.

A dancer from Sam's Hof Brau, located two miles from Staples, told me on Wednesday afternoon that she had yet to see Democrats flooding the club. But she still held out hope. "I think they're a little afraid," the buxom blonde speculated. "You know how the politicians are. They need a couple of days to warm up."

On a return visit to Crazy Girls late Wednesday night, I asked a pixielike dancer how business was going. "Yeah, we were expecting all these extra people," she told me, "but I haven't seen them."

Even the lefty protesters didn't seem to be getting any. Frighteningly earnest in their anti-this and anti-that T-shirts, they, too, seemed to have forgotten the main purpose of a convention: funny hats, loose morals and behavior only appropriate 2,000 miles from home.

"I've come here just to demonstrate," 19-year-old Tyler from Akron, Ohio, told me while getting ready for the anti-police-brutality march. "I don't have the money to party."

"I don't think there's as much intermingling among protesters," a 21-year-old guy from Atlanta reasoned when I asked him if he'd met any women. "I think they probably do that and it's a very social function, but it's always in the name of something else. So, you know, I'll hook up with, like, the Food Not Bombs people or the anarchists or whatever, and, you know, we all hang out and everything, but it's a very asexual kind of thing."

Personally, I wasn't doing much better. Unlike my protesting brothers, however, it was not from lack of trying.

One morning while waiting for a credential in the concourse area of the Marriott, an attractive, earthy-looking gal plopped down in a seat right by me. I decided to give it a go, trying to strike up a conversation by asking what news organization she was working for. Within two sentences she had invoked the phrase "my boyfriend," which, translated, means "access denied."

That, in a nutshell, described the whole week for me.

Sex in the City

TRY AS THEY MIGHT to keep romance and lust out of sight and mind, however, Democratic party-poopers couldn't keep the real La-La Land from popping up.

On my way to Staples Tuesday afternoon, grumbling to myself about the prevailing prudishness, I feel a tap on my shoulder as I'm waiting for the light to change on the corner of Figueroa and 11th streets. I turn around and can't believe my luck: A surgically enhanced platinum bombshell wearing a low-cut lavender top.

"Hey, honey, come to our club," she says, handing me a free pass to the Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen's Club. The front of the pass says "Welcome Democrats!" and has a picture of a naked sexpot.

The lavender pamphleteer says her name is Venice and that she's been here for about a half-hour with her sidekick, Ronda, trying to lure customers to the Rhino's Van Nuys location.

She hands a pass to one thirtysomething convention-goer and tries to tell him where the club is. "I know where it is," he interrupts.

Across the street, people from Spearmint Rhino's downtown location have set up a tent where they're handing out passes and free bottles of water to combat the relentless L.A. heat.

I head over and ask if they've had any success attracting convention-goers.

"We've seen some very interesting people," one of the female pass-peddlers says cryptically.

"You mean politicians?" I ask. She nods her head.

"How do you know they were politicians?"

"You could recognize them from their faces," she claims.

Admittedly, this was a dubious source, but I felt a shred of hope. Surely, the convention hadn't been entirely scrubbed of carnal desires. Then I spotted a street vendor hawking a "Lick Bush and Dick in 2000" T-shirt near the convention entrance.

This was Tinseltown, after all: home of Hollywood sex scandals, Larry Flynt's media empire and Charlie Sheen.

OK, so I didn't hear anything about Charlie Sheen making unwanted advances while I was there. But a pretty delegate from a western state did tell me that an actor from another famous Hollywood clan (think, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut) wasn't shy about flirting with the ladies, even the married ones, at the many star-studded parties during the week.

I also discovered a peculiar convention-related aphrodisiac: the credential. Dems who didn't have guest credentials were forced to either watch the events on TV or circulate among the rabble outside Staples. Thus, creds were a hot commodity.

A UC-Berkeley student told the Washington Times, "I was just hitting on a girl a couple of blocks north of the protest area outside Staples Center, and a producer she knew drove by and offered her a couple of passes. So I went in and watched Bill Bradley's speech."

(What a first date! A Bill Bradley speech--yep, that'll get you in the mood.)

A variant of the credential aphrodisiac was the party-access aphrodisiac. There were literally hundreds of parties during the week, and getting into them--especially those with movie stars or big-time politicians like Gov. Gray Davis--was nearly impossible without connections.

A UCLA prof told me over dinner that the night before, she found herself unable to get into an exclusive shindig at the Garden of Eden. She mentioned her predicament to a young businessman she barely knew, who magnanimously declared, "That's OK, you're with me now."

The prof accepted his gracious invitation, though she suspected he had ulterior motives. "Is this place all about getting laid or what?" she asked rhetorically.

If only.


Welcome to L.A.: Two liberal-minded 'delegates' from Sam's Hof Brau, a local strip joint, hand out passes to the club.

Deep Float

ONE DAY, I DECIDED I was going to test just how far DNC demagogues had gone to keep everyone thinking V-Chip-permissible thoughts. I went into the media lounge and snuggled up to an iMac, launched the web browser and entered www.hustler.com. In a few seconds, a pop-up ad appeared for something called Virgin, "a multimedia online magazine dedicated to helping legal teen virgins through their first-time experiences." The website started making some provocative noises and I desperately tried to close the window. Anyone who has visited a porn site before should sympathize with what happened next: Every time I tried to close a window, another porn site would appear (meanwhile, dozens of media hounds are milling around).

The guy sitting at the computer next to me, a DNC staffer named Adam, looked over and noticed my dilemma.

"I just wanted to see if they filtered out the porn sites," I said with obvious embarrassment. "Guess they didn't."

Adam, fortunately, didn't seem fazed. Maybe the Democrats aren't so uptight after all.

I even thought vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman--the religious man who rests on Friday nights and rails against the moral transgressions of the film industry--was letting loose during his Wednesday night speech when I heard him say, "Behind every successful man there's a surprise mother-in-law."

Did he really just say that? Reports had recently surfaced that Lieberman had been previously married and divorced, not exactly kosher fare for an Orthodox Jew. Could he have been poking fun at himself in his big speech in order to defuse the controversy?

Later, Heather Martin, the campaign manager for Rep. Sam Farr (D-Santa Cruz), set me straight. What Lieberman really said was, "Behind every successful man there's a surprised mother-in-law."

Oh.

Sweating It Out

BY THURSDAY, I HAD had it with Los Angeles and Democrats.
Temperatures all week hovered in the 90s and I was sweating more than Ned Beatty in Deliverance. As the hour grew closer to when Al Gore would deliver his big speech, I decided I had to get away and headed over to Patriotic Hall on Figueroa Street for another, less-publicized wingding--the Shadow Convention.

A brainchild of Arianna Huffington, the Zsa Zsa Gabor of American politics, this alternative convention of political misfits and comedians sliced, diced and skewered the main event relentlessly.

On the big screen above the audience (which had a heavy Naderite presence), Al Gore went on delivering the biggest speech of his life. Gore, the consummate moderate, surprised me by making so many liberal pronouncements on national TV. He would oppose school vouchers. He would defend affirmative action and abortion rights. He would raise the minimum wage and not give the wealthy a tax cut.

But liberalism was edged out at the finish line by perennial winner Family Values.

"As president, I will stand with you for a goal that I know we share: To give back more power to the parents, so that you can choose what your children are exposed to and pass on basic lessons of responsibility and decency."

And, of course, there was the line about judging him as his own man, a less-than-subtle way of saying, "Please don't punish me because that other guy is a sexual miscreant."

The Gore camp's strategy for dealing with "Clinton fatigue" isn't just distancing the veep from the boss, but also to turn him into a 21st century eunuch. Or as a KFI Radio commentator put it, Gore is "a person who won't sleep with anyone, not even his wife."

Gore and his crew are petrified that anything that could suggest ol' Al has a libido will doom him in November.

"We think [candidates] should be 'giving it up' while they're in office or running for it," says sociologist Schwartz. Bush, for example, was a partyer in college, but now he's a "good boy."

"At this very moment, you should be a William Bennett kind of guy," Schwartz adds.

Are people really that uptight about sex?

Yes and no.

"We're not alone with our double-sided approach to sexuality," sighs Schwartz. "But we do seem to be a world leader."

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From the August 23-30, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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