Strip Mineby Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 12.01.2010
Famous brothers: the Krays, vicious East end gangsters, the Dardennes, morally bleak Cannes beloved film directors, the Coens, the brothers Grimm, writers of fables as unnerving as fever dreams. There’s something about brothers and the dark side. Didn’t biblical Joseph’s brothers throw him down a well or tear up his Technicolor dream coat? He was asking for it, showing up in a dream coat. That’s the last thing you should do around your brothers. Put on airs, seem flash. The Karamazov brothers, in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, search fruitlessly for meaning. I’m eagerly awaiting the Jonas Brothers’ discovery of heroin and their consequently frazzled, death-ridden concept album, a teenybopper Exile on Main Street, called Disney Wants to Kill Me, or something. Cain, of course, and Abel. Brothers are vengeful, unyielding, competitive and extreme. They’re always vying for dominance. It is, at least, open warfare. Whereas sisters, more clandestine, more underhand, work each other over long-term like termites do a house, until, whomp, it collapses, and nobody talks to each other for ten years. It’s tough, being related.
I’m currently estranged from my brother. He’s younger. My half-brother. We have different fathers. Growing up he seemed prized over me. Got nicer things. Was better supported. That was my perception. So I punished him. Bullied him, belittled him, cut him next to zero slack. So it goes, right. We’ve had our windows of mutual understanding down the years. A weary kind of tolerance bloomed as we shared a beer and talked about music. He was seriously ill for a while and showed remarkable courage to come through. He’s a good person. I love him.
Once, when I was visiting, back home, in Durban, and we were still talking, we ended up going to a strip club. We’d been out with the family, to a steak house, and hopped up on red meat and cold beer, the prospect of ogling young flesh had its charms. Now I once endured a Gender studies course back in the early Nineties. I was the only male. It was great. I was fearless back then, flush with ease. It didn’t pass my mind that male oppression had much to do with me. I was one of the good guys. We read scary Dworkin, Judith Butler, and wrote essays on abortion and contraceptive drugs. So that part of my brain was paging through the mental file for analogues of terms like, “objectification”. I was even considering relaying the finer points of, “the male gaze”. When something deeper held me. This was a communion. Here was a way to be together and share something, as brothers. The ethics of bonding over exposed flesh became secondary. We needed this. This is what brothers do. So we parked alongside a club, got patted down for weapons like OG’s in Lil’ Wayne’s entourage, parted the curtains, and entered.
It was shaped like a T-square, the whole place. A bar tucked away to one side and the stage with its pole and ramp jutting into the audience. The clientele was diverse. Race-wise. Suits, shorts and slops. The lighting was suitably David Lynch. A cold baby blue fusing to orange with the red of the stage, where a young woman had her hands on both thighs, leaning over backwards, naked. My brother grinned. He’d been here before. “The first ten minutes are the best,” he said. He was right. What gets to you is the incongruity, the glaring incongruity of nudes in a room. There’s a shock affect. You have a forensic impulse to stare hard, an erotic impulse to stare harder, and a polite counter-urge to look away. It’s complicated and enlivening.
“They’re definitely, definitely naked,” I kept saying, like a country mouse, like Rainman. Beautiful, naked women at large! A duo of blondes approached us. The dainty one in my brother’s lap, the sturdier, sporty one in mine. She was incredible. Muscled and replete, smelling of work, and make-up and heat – I didn’t know where to look. My unease spurred her on. “Want a table dance?” It’s extra. I made a face. My brother said, “Maybe later.” They went away. “Did you think they came over cos they liked us?” I had. I really, really had. We were definitely sharing something. But what? The force of nudity had lessened to a kind of uniform. Flesh is what they were wearing. There the breasts are, the hips, the ribs, the thrilling dip and swell between the thighs. It is a body. There’s a basic sadness to it. Bodies are innocent, its what we ascribe to them, and make them do, that gets us into trouble. It was amazing how quickly the erotic charge of nakedness gave way. These women were ‘working it’. We were watching professionals. It was about as erotic as watching a Formula One team fuel and re-tyre a Ferrari. We might have gone bowling. My brother saw he was losing me.
The dainty blonde was back and suddenly on our table. She was from the Ukraine, she said. She was something. Really, perfectly made. Lean and supple, smooth and a-glimmer in the roving strobes. I remember looking right into her, no kidding, into the sanctum of her body – for a couple of hundreds.
Walter Benjamin: “Certainly the whore’s love is for sale. But not her client’s shame. The latter seeks some hiding place… and finds the most genial: in money.”
We paid to see her and in exchange she pretends not to see us. She hides her true feelings from us for money. We’re paying for her silence. Anyway, I wasn’t enjoying myself any more. It was time to go.
On the silent drive back, I thought of the afternoon my brother and I were closest. It was a warm afternoon, barely in our teens, and we climbed over the fence of a nearby school closed for the holidays. We swam in the pool together. It was still and lovely with the sun setting and the water clean and cold. I better call him.
Image © and courtesy Jason Bronkhorst check out his steady steez here.