Kash and I are both martial artists, but with different backgrounds. He first trained in Brazillian jiu-jitsu, and then added Muay Thai kickboxing when he competed in mixed martial art, later blending in Russian sambo and kali/eskrima. During his formative military years he invented STT, Strike Trap Throw, awarding himself a gray belt because he was a perfectionist.
I, on the other hand, have a red belt in tae kwon do, a blue belt in aikido, and a black belt in hapkido. Studying jeet kune do concepts gave me experience in ground fighting and American-style boxing. So our fighting techniques are similar, but different. Also, he's an assassin, a mercenary for the US military under Special Operations, and an Army Ranger, while I'm a content editor for the NSA.
But although I wasn't working in Special Forces, I could still tell when a bouncer was in over his head.
Falco's Pub is a small karaoke bar in Hazelwood off Mall 205. It's the southern section of a larger building spanning between Stark and Washington housing the Mystic strip club, not to be confused with Club 205, which was a strip club next-door, just on the north side of Washington Street. And Club 205, the strip bar, was itself often confused with the Club 205 branch of Cascade Athletic, the Gresham-based gym/health club located just on the other side of I-205. Go figure.
With so many taverns in the Greater Portland Area specializing in nude dancing, it's difficult to keep track of them all. And with all the competition, it's a wonder how many are able to stay in business. Strip bars offer a service that regular bars don't, but unless you're there to watch the artistry of their dance, you're generally not going to get the service you're hoping for. I mean, you might actually meet a woman in a regular bar and get laid, whereas in a strip bar that would never happen. The difference between a regular bar and one with nude dancers is like the difference between a regular apple and an organic one. The latter is more expensive, but you're not getting anything more...unless, of course, you believe that you are. In short, the success of a strip bar is based mostly in marketing, and what they're primarily selling is blue sky, the psychological concept of what could be. This is why, when I stepped into Mystic, I was a bit disappointed.
Lots of purple. Too much purple paint on the walls, in layered tones of lavender and blue. The word “Mystic” was painted several places in large and gaudy font, 80s-era bubble letters outlined in silver, that gave the interior the general look of being vandalized by pre-teen taggers. The place looked clean, as in swept and wiped down, but the overall atmosphere they were going for was “dirty.” But the lighting just wasn't right.
The odd contrast was that, with all the dark, moody paint and interior decorations, the lights were too bright. There were blue, red, and purple lights providing a color-themed ascetic, but too much white light came in near the front door, that side of the building consisting of too many of glass windows painted on the inside. One bouncer stood just inside the door, checking ID, and along a short railing was the music booth and PA system where the DJ announced what girl was up next. They looked like security guards, but they were basically girl handlers, and they totally ruined the aesthetic.
When I left Falco's, where my friend was KJ-ing (karaoke jockeying), and went over to the front door of Mystic, the fat bald guy with a goatee was a little too serious about seeing my identification, as if this was a high security area, or something. I joked around with him a little, but he didn't seem very relaxed. I was just there for a drink, to check the place out and bask in the irony that seven linear feet and one plywood wall from the couple from Minneapolis in their 60s singing “Someone Like You,” a 19-year-old professional dancer named Sabrina provided a three-dimensional show of her vulva with a display of jazz hands.
I went over to the one bar at the end of the room, opposite of the wall that joined the karaoke bar next-door, and got a seasonal draft from one of the strippers working behind it. They were polite, but short with me verbally, naturally suspicious when a single guy walks in that doesn't look like a transient. The beer, from one of the popular Bend breweries, had a delicate complexity that I enjoyed, and I turned to lean back against the bar with the whole place laid out before me.
The center of the room featured the main stage, a raised circular dais with one pole in the middle and chairs set around it. There were two smaller stages behind that, one on each side of the room, each with their own pole. And just behind those two stages was the back wall, on the other side of which was part of the kitchen and the karaoke station of Falco's Pub. The rest of the place was just a smattering of empty chairs, with a handful of patrons here and there looking on. I watched the bouncers watching the dancers and the other customers, but nothing interesting was happening with them yet.
I started a conversation with the only other person at the bar, a woman who was leaning against it, like me, watching the action. Young, and with several tattoos, I figured she was a dancer in-between sets. She took her drink to the main stage, inviting me along. Her name was Dusty.
I tossed a couple ones on the stage and took a seat beside Dusty, who really had a lot of ink showing on her arms, legs, and neck. The girl on the stage, in pigtails and sparkling red shoes, was named Dorothy, and every time the announcer mentioned her name he had to add that she wasn't in Kansas anymore. I didn't know how long this had been going on, but I figured something like that had to get old quick. Dorothy is such an old-fashioned name that there's not much else you can do with it; she should have picked something with a modicum of longevity, like Daisy. She also had a fair amount of tattoos.
“The pole doesn't spin,” I said to Dusty, the stripper sipping her drink next to me.
“That one doesn't spin,” she said. “The two in the back spin, but that one is fixed.”
“Isn't that more difficult?” I said.
“No,” she said. “It's just different.”
Dorothy did a partial back flip by hooking one arm around the pole and bracing against it to pull herself legs up, and then paused mid-air to hook one leg around the non-spinning pole.
“Can you do that?” Dusty asked me.
“Sure, but this part is difficult,” I said, pointing to the dancer who slowly lowered her legs down in a pike position. And this is when I heard a commotion among the bouncers at the front door. The fat guy with a goatee was speaking animatedly with a woman dressed in a bikini under a red flannel shirt. Her hair was long and bouncy in curls, but her jaw was set, her eyes scanning the room. She pushed him aside with the palm of her hand and stalked across the floor, behind the main stage and toward one corner.
A tall, mostly-nude blonde jumped down from one of the back stages and ran at the flannel-shirted woman with the bouncy-curly hair, shouting,“Fucking bitch!” They locked arms, swatted at each other, and then locked arms again before the fat, goatee'd bouncer grabbed the flannel-shirted woman from behind, his arms around her waist in a bear hug.
But here's the thing: they just kept fighting. The bouncer had held her loosely with both arms, careful not to grab too low or too high, and she just kept swatting and punching at the other stripper. After a couple blows landed the girls started wrestling, the fat bouncer's look turning from amusement to concern, as he was beginning to breathe heavily.
The DJ/announcer then jumped over the barrier and grabbed the other stripper by the arm, but she easily slid out of his grasp, gracefully squatting and snaking her torso in a move that perfectly matched the music still playing. All the dancers who were performing kept dancing, and watched the fight with a smirk on their faces. The DJ bent over and reached again, but grabbed thin air, falling to the ground. The fat bouncer had crashed to his side, his grasp broken when he tried to get a better hold, and now had both hands on her ankle. It didn't help the bouncers that both women were well-oiled, with little clothing to grab on to, as well as being in better shape than the two men put together.
Here's the thing about martial art: it's singular, not plural. In a philosophical sense, all martial art is one. What is known as different “martial arts” are simply different forms of practicing the one art. Once you put the gloves on and step into the ring or octagon, or step onto the mat, all the forms work the same, according to the laws of physics and the level and efficiency of training. The rules are different according to the parameters of the competition, or, in the case of self-defense or warfare, there might not be any rules.
And most importantly, martial art is a science. It's not magical, and it's not mystical. Martial art isn't merely some ancient thing, nor is it an Asian thing, any more than, say, mathematics. Science is universal.
Although the fight up to this point had all happened within several seconds, it was now getting serious between the two women, with straight punches glancing off the temple and jaw. The left eye of one was starting to swell, and the lip of the other was bleeding. They fell to the ground again in the clutch as two more guys ran into the room from a door behind me, a small office door behind the bar. One was a large, muscular guy in a button-down, black shirt, and the other wore a white shirt with a tie. Both women were wrestling on the floor, the blonde going for a rear naked choke, when the two men running in reached them.
Both women instantly let go of each other and stood up, and that's when shit got real for those guys, because the woman in the bikini and flannel shirt kicked one guy in the nuts like she was punting a football, lifting him off the ground several inches, while the tall blonde punched the other guy in the throat, and then kicked him in the nutsack.
The DJ stood cautiously, his hands out in front of him in a mime, as the fat bouncer sat on the floor, crying. The fat one had pulled out his pepper spray in the tussle, and it had gone off in his own face. His eyes shut and swollen, he wiped his hands over his face, smearing red-stained tears and mucous. The flannel-shirted dancer suddenly turned and walked out, ending the conflict as the other went to the dressing room through a door at the back wall.
“She was messing around with her ex-boyfriend,” Dusty said as she stood beside me, readying herself to go on stage next. She had just downed her drink and was putting her hair up.
“That sort of thing must happen a lot,” I said.
“All the fucking time,” she said.