Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Other Side of Washington

I'm so sorry. Once the drink hit The Chipster's system, it pulled a plug and he slept a good five hours.

It was probably for the best. Now my fingers are hitting all the right keys and I feel up to telling you what happens when a naive Welshman accepts an offer to perform in a place he doesn’t know. I should never have taken that job on the other side of Washington and I'm disappointed with myself for failing to heed the first rule of stripping: you should always get to know the person who has asked you to get naked.

As you might recall, I’d had some offers to do some freelance work here in the US after my spectacular success with the Neil Kinnock stripping routine the other day at the conference. Well, tonight I went to my first booking and it taught me a very important lesson in humility. I probably won’t leave my hotel room again until it’s time for tomorrow’s flight and I intend to stay here listening to my MP3 of Tom Jones singing about the green, green grass of home.

The offer of work came from a man I think it only wise to call ‘Bill’. He’d come up to me after my routine and offered me $5000 for a single performance. I won’t go into too many details but he appeared to be the typical good-hearted American. Pleasant. Dignified. Wholesome. He even claimed to have Welsh relatives. He was also tall, heavy, barrel chested, and fighting two losing battles with a heavy paunch of a stomach and what I guessed was a dwindling growth of hair on his head. He’d remedied the latter by shaving himself bald and the former by wearing loose fitting clothes. If you need to picture him more clearly, think of him as I thought began to think of him: as a bald Dom Deluise. Anyway, Bill bought me a drink after the show and explained how much money there is in ‘the Washington circuit’. And since I got on well with the guy, it was only natural that I would agree to do at least one of the gigs he’d set up for me.

The address he gave me was on the other side of the city. I never thought much about it at the time, but I did think that the address was unusual. Again, I have to be careful. I don’t want to spread rumours about people but the place didn’t sound like the typical club for exotic dancing. They usually have some exotic if slightly sleezy name attached but this was only an address.

At seven o’clock last night, I took a taxi from my hotel here in the centre of Washington DC and fifteen minutes later it arrived at the address on the city’s suburbs. It was only when I got there that I discovered the reason why the club lacked a name. It wasn’t a club at all. It was a private residential address.

I don’t want you to misunderstand me, though. I’m not saying it was a normal house. This was a private estate, sealed off behind iron gates. The taxi dropped me off just as a long black limo turned up and the white iron gates swung back. The music and laughter of a party drifted down to the road so I slipped inside, nearly catching my bag of clothes and props on the gates as they closed.

The house was what we’d call a mansion back home in the UK. Here it was one of the smaller places, in a few acres of lawns, tennis courts, swimming pools. I could see that Bill had done well for himself and thought many happy thoughts as I walked up to the house.

I was wondering what Gabby would say about my earning $5000 in a single night. I was so full of these thoughts, I didn’t hesitate when I reached the open front door. I just walked right in and made myself at home among the revellers.

After ten minutes of searching, I finally found Bill, who welcomed me with typical American sincerity. He threw his hands around me and dragged me to the bar where he poured me a drink of something brown and expensive.

‘So glad you could make it, Chipster!’ he cried. ‘We don’t often get somebody from the old country come to entertain us. Come on through and meet my friends. I’ve been telling them all about you and that great routine you did the other night.’

You’ll probably see why I was feeling so pleased with myself. This was just fantastic luck to make such a friend in my first visit Stateside, and it was only natural that I played the grateful guest. I smiled and fawned as I was introduced to more people than I can ever hope to remember. It probably amounted to about forty people, all of obvious wealth and all around Bill’s age, which put them in their early fifties. It all felt rather odd, given that I was there to perform an exotic dance,. but for $5000 I wasn’t looking to complain. I’ve said before what an open and tolerant society American appears to be.

‘So, when do you want me to perform?’ I asked Bill after about an hour of sitting chatting with his guests. I was still feeling slightly out of place among so much wealth. I still carried my bag of costumes and props and I wasn’t dressed for a party, stuck in my faded jeans and a Bangor tourist board t-shirt.

‘Oh, we want you to dance for us as ten o’clock on the dot,’ said Bill. Which relaxed me. It probably relaxed me too much. I knocked back my drink and then knocked back a few more as I spent another hour getting to know some of Washington’s elite.

When ten o’clock finally came round I was well oiled – in the alcoholic sense – and feeling extremely limber. I probably wasn’t in a fit state to dance but I had a job to do and there was still a small matter of $5000. Bill told me to go and get ready upstairs and promised to ring a bell when they wanted me. I was to come down the stairs and perform on the lower steps, which was good enough to me. For that much cash, I’d dance anywhere and in front of anyone. Excited by the prospect, I raced up the stairs and quickly changed into my Neil Kinnock gear. Then I waited for the bell to ring.

It felt like I waited ages before a strange electronic chime came echoing from out of the ceiling. Now, as you know, The Chipster rarely needs a cue to perform. It was showtime!

I came out of the bedroom and found the house in darkness. I got to the top of the staircase and looked down to where a circle of light illuminated the bottom steps. This was it. As I entered the light, it was at once unreal and yet so very familiar. Slightly drunk, I started my act. I missed a few of my moves, avoided the difficult turns, and without my prop lectern, I didn’t give them my ‘we’re alright’ opening. But still, I danced as well as I’ve ever danced when slightly drunk at a party.

And all was going well until the exact moment I pulled off my thong. I expected the usual roar of appreciation or a round of applause. Only, at that precise moment, just as I had reached the climax of my act, all of the lights suddenly came on!

I mean, every light.

The room was flooded with light.

Bright, bright light that left no place for neither shade nor shadow. But what was odder than anything was Bill. He came bouncing towards me, a huge grin on his face and the whole of huge corpulent body naked. Did I mention he was bouncing? Well he was bouncing. And not only was Bill bouncing along as naked as American’s faith of democracy, but every one of his guests was stark naked too. I was standing naked in front of forty naked Americans. You can imagine my horror. They don’t prepare you for moments like this in the Bangor boy scouts.

Luckily, they do prepare you for moments like this when you join the Lib Dems. I attribute my party membership with the reason why I kept some wits about me. I held onto my thong like my life depended on it, even as I recoiled at the sight of so much white flesh coming towards me. That’s when Bill grabbed me. I tried to move back up the stairs but his grip on my arm was too strong and grew stronger.

‘What’s the rush, Chippy, old pal!’ he said. I could feel him brush against my leg. I didn’t dare look down.

‘I’m not that kind of stripper!’ I protested.

He laughed. A broad kind hearted American laugh. Nothing on earth has every struck so much fear into me.

‘And what kind would that be, Chippy?’ he asked. ‘What kind of stripper are you?’

My mouth was thick with fear.

‘I have a Romanian girlfriend,’ I explained.

‘That’s good, Chippy,’ says he. ‘I’ve got somebody here with some Romanian blood inside them. Perhaps you’d like to meet him?’

The smell of alcohol and sweat was suddenly too much. My head began to spin as Bill guided me towards a female corner of the room that looked to have suffered particularly badly sagging in the five centuries they must have amassed together. ‘Don’t tell me that you men of Wales don’t know how to party!’ cried Bill and pushed me into the arms of his grateful guests.

The smell of rich perfume and aging desire brought me around. I dragged myself from the cloying arms, scrambling for a clear space. Hands had reached to but had slipped from the slight oil I always use before I perform. A women beside me screamed with delight, which only helped to work me free of my confusion. My situation was this: a door on the other side of the room stood open, but to get to it I would have to work my way through a throng of naked bodies including that of my host who was watching me with his arms spread as though ready for my dash for freedom. I looked the other way to where a window was open and looked out onto the garden. It was only open a foot or so but I could only see the green of the grass beyond it and in the distance, the gates to the estate. I didn’t waste a moment. I ran for the window.

I jumped head first through the narrow gap and I barely made it. A terrible pain bit into my loins as I caught myself on the sill. More pain came from my rear where the window catch scraped skin off my buttocks. Perhaps it was the drink, perhaps it was the fear, but I smiled at the pain. I was happy to feel alive, to feel the fresh air on my skin, and to hold my thong in my hand.

At this point, you must be wondering how it is that I always seem to find myself fleeing naked through the streets at night. Believe me, I’m beginning to wonder that too. Once I’d jumped through that window, I ran for the gates and without a thought about my modesty climbed over them. Only then did I stop and pull on my thong, and wearing only that, I carried on and ran for the highway.

Two hours later, dusty, scratched, mocked by passing drivers and having narrowly escaped some 'Texas fun' with some guy who drove a yellow pickup truck, I was worn out by running when I finally managed to flag down a police car and tell them my story. I had to make a complaint at the police station, though they’ve told me that there’s little chance of a prosecution since I’d gone to the house voluntarily. I think they didn’t want to get involved and looks were exchanged when I gave them Bill’s description. It wouldn't surprise me if he was something bif in the city and, in fact, the cops seemed only too happy to get rid of me. They gave me hot coffee and a pair of those white paper overalls they give suspects. And then they even drove me back to the hotel.

So I’m now back in my room and I’ll be glad to catch the plane back tomorrow. My Neil Kinnock costume is no more, lost out there in Washington DC’s suburbs. All I can say to you is if you live in Washington DC, or visit this city, and you do see a big fat bald man wearing a ginger wig with extensive bald patch, then don’t approach him. And for goodness sake, don’t accept an invitation to any of his parties.

It’s been a traumatic experience but I’ve just found an old copy of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ in the hotel foyer. I intend to read it until it’s time to come home. I don’t know what got me through this terrible episode but I’ll be glad to see Wales again. I’ve really missed Gabby, despite her habit of hoarding root vegetables. But I do think I’ve performed well and that I’ve been a credit to the country.

And in a strange way, though I think I’ve done you all proud, I think that Neil Kinnock would be proudest of all.

America really did love to see him get naked.

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