Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 634   By: Robert E Martin

22nd March, 2007     0

"I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked, and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy."
- Oscar Wilde

"My method is basically the same as Masters & Johnson, only they charge thousands of dollars and it's called therapy. I charge fifty dollars and its called  immoral."                                                        
-Xaviera Hollander

"Hypocrisy - prejudice with a halo.                                                        
-Ambrose Bierce

The notion of 'Gentlemen's Clubs' in reality is as old as ancient history, pre-dating Rome and referenced as harems in classical literature such as Tales from the Arabian Nights.  Erudite authors such as James Joyce reputedly wrote erotic stories for wealthy members of the upper class to finance his forays into serious literature, while arguably it was none other than publisher Hugh Hefner that first popularized the contemporary conception of the adult nightclub with his Playboy Clubs in the early 1960s.

Yet even today, the topic still carries a stigma  - a kiss of 'taboo', if you will, upon the lips of moralists whom adhere deeply to the belief that human expression be confined to narrowly codified rules of behavior, and that nudity never be displayed amidst strangers, even if its from the skin of an Oscar winning actress shimmering down from the silver screen.

But as with most things in life, the devil is in the details. Between what we believe as truth and what in fact is reality often falls a shadow, which only the discerning eye of discourse can escort into the light of day.

Upon hearing that Saginaw Déjà vu was gearing up for its 20th Anniversary Celebration over the week of March 24 -31st, it seemed appropriate to investigate a little deeper into this entity that was born of humble beginnings in the conservative farmlands of Mid-Michigan, managed to play by the rules while also testing them, and in turn holds its head dignified and proud in a massive, newly constructed, and architecturally tasteful 8,000 square foot facility right next to Communications Family Credit Union on Bay Road.

In terms of background, Saginaw Déjà vu is the third of a trio of clubs built by Durand entrepreneur Harry Mohney back in the early 1980s. The first club was in Kalamazoo, followed by Lansing, and then came Saginaw.  Today there are over 70 clubs worldwide, including locations in Paris, Washington, D.C., and California.  Indeed, their iconic logo of a garter-clad leg is probably as recognizable to most tri-city residents as the neon Bean Bunny shining atop the grain silo on I-675, yet the mystique, and stigma, remains.

Karen Gay has managed the Saginaw Déjà vu for seven years, starting with the organization in Lansing while attending MSU. "I started as a waitress, and didn't even know what a Déjà vu was," admits Karen, "but was working in the cafeteria at college at the time and desperate for cash, as most students are.  Eventually I started dancing and made a ton of money, worked in a few other states, and eventually became a manager."

When I point out that this socially 'marginal' endeavor is nonetheless standing proud amidst highly successful national retail outlets in the heart of mid-Michigan's commercial hub, Karen admits a mazement at the achievement.

"Through my ears of the business a lot has evolved," she reflects. "I think it's become more of a 'norm'. Stigmas are still attached to it, but people are quickly adapting in terms of their attitudes.  There is a broad spectrum to the term 'entertainment'.  And throughout history, adult entertainment will always survive."

"Some people obviously think what we do here is nasty, filthy, and dirty, but times are always changing and more people are starting to understand and accept the niche that we fill," she elaborates.

So what niche is that?

"It's entertainment," laughs Karen. "It's fantasy. It's an escape for a lot of people, but its also fun at the same time.  It's on the edge and always has been, but many people are confronting that 'edge' now. We have mothers & daughters, from thin to heavy, enrolling in our Stripper Class 101 just to add a little excitement and exercise into their lives and see what its all about."

Over the tenure of her career, what are some of the misconceptions that Karen has witnessed evolving? "For one thing, I see a better class of people.  You'd be amazed who you see here - men, women, couples from all walks of life. Back when the club started, it was more on the edge of society and so were the people that helped run it. Now you see a lot of girls going to college, paying their tuition, making money. Twenty years ago this was a 'lifestyle' for most of the people working here, but I've witnessed a huge change in that."

"Honestly, this is the best job in the world if you're confident about yourself as a lady," continues Karen. "You only need to work three days a week and if I could go back, I would have danced longer because it's a wonderful job.  In terms of appearance, I always make sure the staff & dancers look nice, because you already have a predetermined 'bad' reputation, so you want to impress people. Do not give them what they expect."

In terms of demographics, would Karen estimate the majority of clientele consists of divorced men? "No," she laughs, "it's the married guy, the CEO, and everybody in-between. It depends upon the location, because in Saginaw you have more of a blue collar community; but here we get middle class people, mostly. The same is true in Lansing. But you do get your super-duper wealthy guys, too.

"You get all of it - all sectors of society."

And perhaps that is the key to the highway of this phenomenon built upon flesh, dream, and fantasy. For as the great writer Anais Nin once wrote, 'Ultimately, the only abnormality within man is the inability to love.'


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