This is what I did when there was a strip club right next to my work


("The Strip club" by Marc Levin)


The neon sign said, "Totally Nude," "Open Late." It belonged to The strip club, "Body Shop," our next-door neighbor.

While Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi was the first Japanese restaurant on Sunset Strip, Body Shop was the first all-nude strip club on the Strip. It opened its doors in the 1960s.

A totally nude establishment meant no alcohol allowed. That's a California law. So, many of the customers stopped at Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi to slam-dunk alcohol before walking into the Garden of Eden next door. They also made sure to have plenty of drinks because the Body Shop had a strict no re-entry policy.

If they wanted to drink more, they had to leave, come back to Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi, drink more, then pay another $20 cover to go back to the Body Shop again. Bad news for them, good news for us.

"Can we sit at the Sushi Bar? We just want some drinks," two young men asked Toshi. We all knew they were on their way next door, it was written all over their faces, though, they acted like they weren't.


"Of course, no problem," Toshi grinned at them.


They ordered two bottles of Sapporo and a warm Sake. They spent less than ten minutes drinking, paid the $25 bill, and left. A quick $5 tip for the Sushi Bar, without making a single piece of sushi.


"Great," Toshi said after they left. "I don't mind more customers like them. More drinks at the bar, the more tips for us. No need to make sushi."


For many of the girls who worked at the Body Shop, we offered a comfortable atmosphere for a quick sit-down meal or a to-go order. Most times, they just sat at the Sushi Bar by themselves, ordered a couple of rolls, ate, paid, and left a good tip.

Most of the girls spent about fifteen minutes at the Sushi Bar. By sitting there, they knew they could order directly from the Sushi Chefs for faster service. They were pretty quiet. No interaction with other guests.


I could tell who they were as soon as they walked in. They typically wore sweat pants and a sweatshirt and always had heavy makeup, perfume, and big, exaggerated hair. After seeing so many of them every day, I started to notice some patterns. They all walked a certain way. They all dressed a certain way. They all talked in a certain manner.

"I bet she works next door," Toshi said when a female customer in her twenties walked in.


"How can you tell so fast?" I asked.

"Well, I am not sure, but when you work here every day for eight years, it comes to you naturally," Toshi said, with a grin.

It's interesting how humans adapt to their environment and develop certain senses. We could also tell when a chef walked into the restaurant because of how he talked, how he behaved, and how he spoke. I wasn't exactly sure how we knew, but somehow we did. Similarly, we could tell if a professional escort walked in with a "date," though, we never asked them to confirm it.

*****


"So, have you ever gone out with your customers? Have you ever had sex with any of your customers?" I asked Tammy, a stripper from the Body Shop. She came and sat at the Sushi Bar at least a couple of times a week.


"Wrong idea," she just smiled.


Tammy was a tall brunette. A pretty, 23-year-old girl from Minnesota, who used to dance at Clubs in Vegas.


"I like the customers in L.A. better than the ones in Vegas."

"Why?" I asked, wondering. "Are you suggesting people in L.A. are actually nicer?"


"No, that is not what I am saying. I don't know if L.A. people are nicer than Vegas people. I don't think so. It's just that customers at strip clubs in Vegas are rude and demanding. They have the wrong idea that strippers are easy and willing to do anything for money," Tammy explained, as she took a bite of her Spicy Tuna Roll.


"They also think they can do whatever they want to do in Vegas. They think that if they offer lots of money, we'll meet them in their hotel. You see, only girls who are desperate for extra income would ever visit customers in hotels. It's very dangerous. I never did, and I never will. Here in L.A., the strip club customers are much nicer, they follow the rules, and are gentler, compared to the men in Vegas."

How shocking. Based on what she just told me, all of the young drunk Valley Boys and Frat House guys that came into Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi were actually nice? Did I have it all wrong? How could it be?

"So, you have never done a lap dance for your boyfriend, right?" I asked.

"Well, I've done it once or twice, but let me ask you this, do you always make sushi at home for your girlfriend?" Tammy asked me back.


"I don't have a girlfriend, so I don't make sushi at home," I joked. Tammy smiled and finished her Spicy Tuna.

"So, I'm guessing you don't eat that much sushi at home either, right?" Tammy asked.


I liked talking to her because she was quick and intelligent. I never asked about her education, but she was definitely street smart. In our conversations, she picked up on things that most people didn't.

"You are right. I rarely eat sushi at home because I see it and taste it every day here. Other Sushi Chefs are the same. When we go out, we eat Thai food, Ramen, Hamburgers, or Mexican food. I feel as if I don't need to eat sushi. I almost lost interest in eating it. Don't get me wrong. I still love sushi," I said.

"I understand what you are saying, Kaz. You see, it's the same for me. I don't think about sex and naked women because that's what I see every day. So, I don't feel the need to think about it when I'm not working," Tammy winked at me. "Work is work."


She had a very charming smile. I really fancied her.

*****

Every day when I drove into the parking lot at work, I saw the neon sign. Every time I went outside to take a break, I saw the neon sign. The sign was enticing, and I couldn't escape it. I wanted to see Totally Nude at the Body Shop after work because they were Open Late. So, one day, I casually asked Toshi and Kai if they wanted to go with me.

They both showed a complete lack of enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, they both said they weren't interested in going there at all. I couldn't figure it out.


"You can go in there for free because you know the doorman, right?" I asked Toshi.

"Yup, we can. We've been there many times, and you know what? Nothing happens. You look at those naked girls, and then that's it. Nothing. Nada. Zip," Toshi told me.

"I know why you want to go there. I felt the same way before. But I am telling you, If you go there, you will be disappointed. It's like buying a Super Lotto Ticket for $100 million Jackpot. You think you will win, but you never will," Toshi said.

The logical part of my brain understood Toshi's words. Just like a casino in Vegas. The house always wins. Always. I knew he was right, but my testosterone didn't want to listen.

Several months went by, and one day, out of the blue, Toshi and Kai agreed to go with me to the Body Shop after work. I was thrilled! I changed out of my uniform and dashed to the bathroom to wash my hands. I always had to make sure my hands didn't smell like fish whenever I went out after work. Before we left, we each drank a bottle of Sapporo.

I felt just like one of the young men we made fun of.


We walked to the front door at the Body Shop.

"Hello, fellas. Welcome," the doorman greeted us and escorted us inside.

We didn't have to pay the cover charge. I already loved this place! We sat by the stage, ordered two $5 soft drinks, and watched five or six different girls dance on the stage.


But that was it.


A couple of the girls, including Tammy, recognized us and smiled while they were dancing in front of us.

Tammy stopped at our table to say hello, and we talked for a bit. After a few minutes, she announced,


"I've got to go. I have to make some money. I love talking to you, but talking doesn't pay the bills," she said.


She knew I was cheap. She knew I wasn't there to pay $115 for a 15-minute private dance, and so did the other girls. None of the strippers treated us any differently than anyone else. We kept watching the girls on the stage, and all of a sudden, I was bored, tired, and sleepy.

"What's wrong with me? I'm getting bored watching beautiful naked girls," I said to Toshi.


"See? Do you remember what I told you?"


"Yup, you were right. It was not what I expected," I said. But then again, what exactly did I expect anyhow?


After that night, we didn't go to the Body Shop for a long time. The entire experience, however, changed my opinion on a few things. I viewed strippers differently. I viewed women differently.


Before I worked at Rock‘n Hollywood Sushi, I looked at strippers as an object of desire. I only saw their naked bodies and wanted to have sex with them. I looked down on them. I thought their chosen profession was "dirty." I thought they sold sex.


And I was wrong about all of it. When the strippers came into the restaurant, they were just like any other customer, trying to make a living just like everyone else. Just like me. They deserved to be treated exactly the same as anyone else who walked through that door.

In fact, all the girls from the Body Shop liked being treated like everyone else. Sure they were strippers, but only at work, not when they ate at our restaurant. When I was at the Body Shop, they didn't treat me differently.

They treated me just like any other customer. I started to understand that every customer deserves respect, no matter who they were or what they did for a living. All of our customers came here for one thing, sushi. Their professions don't matter.


It's not my business at all.



Find more stories like this in "How I Became A Sushi Chef."




100 Pine Street | Suite 1250 | San Francisco | CA 94111 | 415.373.1023