Stripped Down: A Naked Memoir
by Stacey Keith Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
STRIPPED DOWN: A Naked Memoir is a look back at a surreal world kept carefully hidden from public view. This chronicle of life in the skin trade follows the meteoric rise of Stacey Keith, a girl scarcely out of her teens whose eye-popping assets launch her from wet T-shirt contests to the catwalks of Houston, strip bar capital of the world.
Almost overnight, she is discovered by a famous porn star, who Svengalis her onto the pages of Playboy, Penthouse, and dozens of other men’s magazines. While strutting her stuff onstage and across the country, Stacey makes the fateful decision to head to Hollywood. She’s got everything a girl could want: fame, attention, endless piles of cash...but no idea what awaits her.
With Internet porn overtaking men’s magazines, everyone from her Mafia-boss road manager to her smarmy talent agent pressures Stacey to do more than just flash her flesh. Uber-boob filmmaker Russ Meyer verbally abuses her; rocker Don Henley tries to use her. Yet through it all, from the warped misogyny of Playboy to the S&M dungeons of the Pacific Palisades, Stacey’s dark, self-deprecating humor will leave you laughing, crying and rooting for her at every step of the way.
For some reason, Carl wants to shoot at an oil refinery, which might be visually appealing with all the pipes and shit, but logistically, it’s a nightmare. First problem: a vicious, onshore wind that not only gives my hair that finger-in-a-light-socket look, but plunges the temperature to about fifty-five degrees. I’ve got no clothes on.
“Are you afraid of heights?” Carl says.
“Why? I ask suspiciously.
He points up. “I need you in that crow’s nest.”
Is he joking? The crow’s nest is maybe four hundred feet up and I would have to climb a ladder to get there. Naked. In heels. With about two dozen workers with binoculars watching me. They’ve been banished to the other part of the refinery but have actually gotten snacks and chairs.
Swallowing hard, I get my footing on the first rung and begin the ascent. How can something as glamorous as a photo shoot with Penthouse turn into a Bataan Death March? Wasn’t this supposed to be “my day,” proof positive that I was playing in the Big Leagues? The wind howls, making a tempest of my hair. My nipples are so hard, they could drill concrete. Every time I look down, my heart wants to burst out of my chest.
“All the way to the top!” Carl yells. He looks small and less menacing now, like one of the Keebler elves. A particularly evil one. At least the wind partially shields me from the sound of his voice. I make the terrifying transition from ladder to crow’s nest, which I cling to, exhausted and starved and freezing cold. I can’t imagine any amount of money being worth this. How could I have been dumb enough to think Penthouse would be different? It occurs to me that just because someone like Guccione is educated and blessed with artistic sensibilities, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a good person. Or that he’d want to make sure I was treated well.
“Are you there yet?” Carl calls from the distance.
Staggering to my feet, I peer over the side of the crow’s nest. Not good. The wind nearly knocks me down. I pose, white-knuckling any hand hold I can find while Carl yells at me to look less cold.
“Sexier!” he shouts.
I warm myself with thoughts of killing him. An open fire, perhaps, with Carl’s dick roasted on a spit. Carl trapped on an ant mound, being slowly devoured while I laugh. Better still, Carl duct-taped in Griselda’s dungeon with her foot up his butt. I could make a Hallmark card out of that one.
Mostly because of the wind and less because of my misery, Carl scraps the crow’s nest idea. When I climb down, he fires off about seventy shots of my pussy and ass. The look I give him is one of pure murder.
Outfitted now in a hard hat and blue vinyl bustier, I pretend to use a crescent wrench on a steam pipe. I can’t help but think how cheesy this is. What man, even one with a raging erection, can get past the improbability of a naked chick in a hard hat? Does horny automatically mean dumb?
Jan, who’s been huddling in her toasty car, ventures out to clue Carl in that the temperature has dropped to forty-nine degrees. Like I need her to tell me. My teeth have been chattering for hours. I have to clench my jaw so hard it aches.
Carl pushes on for another fifty minutes while I drift in and out of consciousness. We finally quit just before dark. Jan throws a blanket over my shoulders and helps me limp out to my car.
“That was the hardest shoot I have ever done,” I moan.
“I’ve got just the thing.” Jan gets into the passenger seat of my car. With a mischievous grin, she swings a little bag of white powder in front of me. “It’s crystal, sweetie. In thirty seconds, you’re not going to feel anything but great.”
Great isn’t a word I’d use to describe Jan. Her nostrils are redder than a Christmas reindeer’s. The meth explains a lot though. I find myself envying her energy, her unshakable optimism. Would it hurt to try?
I feel so beaten down. What’s so bad about a trip to the moon for an hour or so? To have a chemical vacation. To check out of the Hotel California.
Taking my silence for acquiescence, Jan grabs a book out of the footwell of my car and taps out a line. Her hands shake. She rolls up a twenty and explains how to do it. I watch, thinking how discombobulated she seems. But what do I know? Most of Hollywood is high as a kite. Maybe I’m wrong and they’re right. Maybe my determination to do this monastically sober is just silly. My whole life I’ve been offered drugs and turned them down, probably because I’ve seen nothing but the harm that comes from them. Even Zack getting blazed is no temptation, but he sure as hell couldn’t dare criticize me if I experimented. Just this once, I tell myself.
I take the rolled twenty and position it alongside the rail of powder. I’m not stupid—I know meth is a serious drug. But it’s a one time deal. No harm, no foul.
Yet somehow I can’t. The mind is willing, but the spirit balks.
Jan stares at me anxiously. All at once I realize why she’s here. Jan wants me to like it. She wants me to want more. And who would I buy from? Jan. It’s the simple economics of addiction.
I hand the book back to her. “I’ll pass.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Are you nuts? Why not?”
I give her a straight answer, one I hadn’t realized was true until just now. “It’s not who I am.”
Jan’s pupils are the size of pinheads. Her short red hair sticks up at all kinds of crazy angles. I get the distinct impression she thinks I’m a moron. “That’s a load of crap,” she says. “What, you’re going to get all morally superior on me?”
“I’m not trying to act superior.”
“Then what’s your problem?”
How am I going to explain this to someone who’s wound tighter than the inside of a golf ball? “It would be like you wearing a Swastika, Jan. You’re not a Nazi. That’s not who you are.”
“Are you calling me a Nazi?”
“No! Will you listen? What I’m saying is this. For most people, life is about breaking out of their boxes. I was born outside the box, so for me, life is about finding boundaries. And this, apparently, is one of them.”
Jan’s expression changes from irritation to pity. “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about? Because I don’t.”
“Yes, actually. I think I just came one step closer to knowing who I am.”
Stacey Keith is the award-winning author of the Dreams Come True series (Kensington Books), DREAM ON, SWEET DREAMS and DREAM LOVER, in addition to A WEDDING ON BLUEBIRD WAY with New York Times Bestseller authors Janet Dailey, Lori Wilde and the talented Allyson Charles.
Twice a Golden Heart finalist, Stacey has won a Maggie, two Silver Quills, a Jasmine, a Heart of the Rockies, and over fifteen other first-place finishes in Romance Writers of America contests.
An avid writer of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories, Stacey doesn’t own a television, but reads compulsively—and would, in fact, go stark raving bonkers without books, which are crammed into all corners of the house. She now lives in Civita Castellana, a medieval village in Italy that sits atop a cliff, and spends her days writing in a nearby abandoned 12th century church.
The two things she is most proud of are her ability to cook pasta alla genovese without burning down the kitchen and swearing volubly in Italian with all the appropriate hand gestures.
The great irony of being a stripper/centerfold/cover girl is that you — meaning me — spend all your hard-earned money getting a college degree so that you can aspire to a “better” job than taking your clothes off. You — meaning me — are still too young to grasp the reality of the situation, which is that no better jobs actually exist, even for college graduates, but especially those who are foolish enough to follow their passion and obtain a diploma attesting to their fluency in dead poets and obscure British limerick writers and other useless purveyors of word junk. I went full speed ahead, armed with a quiver full of good intentions.
So when rent came due that day in late August, and all my sweaty greenbacks had been dispatched to university coffers, I accepted an invite to do a “Boob Cruise.” Why not, I asked myself. It was $500 up front, plus whatever tips I could jiggle, and I wouldn’t be cast adrift without backup. Three other dancers had signed on, too. We were nautical entertainment for a bunch of middle-aged yachtsmen or air traffic controllers or what-have-you, I didn’t ask.
I was told we’d set sail out of Annapolis at 3pm. At 2:45, I parked my car and schlepped a bag containing heels, makeup, canister hairspray, and neon thongs up the gangplank. Sure enough, a phalanx of middle-aged white guys awaited me, all grinning. I could tell they were super pleased with themselves, these wearers of plaid golf vests and jaunty tam o’shanters, men in whose dentured mouths words like “gal” and “hepcat” found safe harbor. They’d hired strippers! Their wives didn’t know! They were bad boys who were about to have a naughty adventure on a boat!
After smiling through stale jokes about my “national endowments,” I was introduced to the man-of-the-hour, everyone’s favorite birthday boy: Cap’n. Cap’n wore a Captain’s hat and a navy jacket with gold braid epaulets, so it was easy to believe he’d been sailing the ocean blue since 1907. Now, he was relegated to a wheelchair. I gave him a kiss on the cheek. The guys went wild. One suggested I kiss his dick instead, which is when I widened my smile and beelined it for the dressing room.
The three other dancers were already in various stages of undress: one in bra and panties, one in bra, panties, and war paint, and the last one dressed and smoking. “Goddamn,” she said. “How much did you pay for those?”
Long experience had taught me not to bother defending myself, so I started with an introduction.
“I’m Candy,” she said. With her cigarette hand, she pointed to the others. “That’s Titi and Loris. Say, what are those anyway, a triple Z or something?”
First Rule of Stripping: always make friends with the other dancers. You can’t afford to to piss anybody off. Bad things happen to dancers who do. Dancers who piss off other dancers get smack said about them to customers. Things like, “She looks great, doesn’t she? You’d never know she’s had three kids.” Or, “Boy, I hope I look that good when I’m forty.”
Titi and Loris were experienced dancers, I could tell. Both were good looking and neither took this shit seriously. But Candy was clearly a mess. She had a tooth missing that you caught sight of when she laughed, which she did a lot of while I was undressing. She had bad home perm hair in color “Bozo.” Mostly, she had a long leather bullwhip. It went with the dominatrix outfit.
“Guys eat this shit up,” she bragged. “You’ll see. They’ll pretend to be scared when I’m out there whipping the shit out of them, but half of those fuckers will look me up later.”
“Look you up for what?” I asked, honestly confused.
“For sex, Barbie. Gee, what do you think?”
I was young and admittedly stupid. To me, sex was sex and stripping was stripping.
“What the hell are YOU wearing?” she asked, sneering a little.
“A dress,” she mimicked. “Fugly, if you ask me.”
On the way up to the deck for our show, Titi whispered to me, “Watch your step with that chick.”
“She hates your fucking guts.”
Loris danced first. We watched from the galley while Candy paced and smoked, the whip trailing behind her. “Don’t think for one minute anyone’s going to be impressed with your bolt-ons,” she told me.
Titi went on next, giving ole Cap’n an eyeful while he sat grinning in his hat, front and center where they’d parked him. The men cut loose with some cash for Titi. She had a way with them, a little bit flirty, a little bit naughty.
“Watch and learn, Boob Job.” Candy elbowed me aside and strutted her way onstage. Ker-whapp went the whip. All fifty men went silent.
Now, I hadn’t been dancing that long, but it didn’t take a ton of experience to see this wasn’t the right crowd for Candy’s Queen of Pain routine. They clearly didn’t want anything aggressive, tawdry, or overtly sexual. These guys wanted a cute young thing to prance around naked and make them feel not-invisible anymore, like maybe under different circumstances they might have had a chance. But Candy hadn’t bothered taking temperature of the room. She came out with her whip, chains, leather, and dog collar. She had a tattoo of something that looked like a demon baby on her thigh. And the quieter they got, the louder she became.
“I’m going to spank your ass hard,” she shouted. Ker-whapp.
Right in front of Cap’n, she bent over and waved to him from between her legs.Then she spun around and shoved her boobs in his face. “Like those, don’t you? Every inch of these babies are real.” She cracked her whip once, twice, and something terrible happened. She accidentally wrapped it around Cap’n’s neck.
“He’s choking!” someone yelled.
Cap’n’s eyes bugged out. His fingers clawed at the whip. He gagged. Candy tried to make it seem like part of her routine, but when all the guys started yelling and pulling, she pulled, too, which only made it tighter.
I could barely see what was going on now, there were so many guys waving their arms and rushing toward the wheelchair. Cap’n’s face was turning blue.
Yet instead of letting go, Candy panicked and yanked harder. Cap’n flew out of his chair. He landed face down on the floor. Candy screamed. Someone managed to pry the whip out of her hand. A dozen men set Cap’n back in his chair and peeled the whip off his mottled neck.
“Go away,” his friend growled at Candy. “We don’t want you dancing anymore.”
Candy yelled, “This is bullshit.”
She came at me full barrel, obviously intent on relieving her frustration by slicing me to ribbons.
Titi said, “Save yourself,” and pushed me onstage.
I looked at the men. The men looked at me.
“Listen,” I said. “I don’t have to dance. If you’d rather — ”
“Hell, gal, you come on down here,” a man said. “You’re the one we wanted anyway.”
Oh, please don’t say that, I pleaded silently, hoping Candy didn’t hear. I danced over to Cap’n, who still looked pretty dazed from his non-erotic asphyxiation. “Why don’t you take that dress off?” he rasped.
A flurry of bills rained down. I stepped out of my dress, and a second wave of bills fluttered all around me. But I knew Candy was watching and I knew she would make me pay.
I stayed and chatted with the men for as long as I could, knowing that Candy would stab me with a high heel the minute I set foot in the dressing room. But when I gathered my things, she was nowhere to be found.
“Man, is she pissed,” Loris told me with a gleam in her eye. “She said she’s going to make you wish you were dead.”
“Great,” I said.
“Her boyfriend is the head of some biker gang. Do you have a boyfriend?”
“You’d better get one fast.”
On the way out, the sponsor of this shindig, a guy who still wore his class ring, gave me my $500 base pay and $500 on top of that, “For being such a fun gal,” he said. I could feel Candy burning holes in me, but pretended not to notice her or the big scary leather vest-wearing dude who stared at me from the parking lot. He had two slightly less scary dudes right there with him. I knew they were going to take my money and anything else they felt like helping themselves to. But they weren’t going to jump me right away. They were going to be smart about it and wait until I was clear of the boat. I could see my car where I’d left it. The parking lot looked a lot more sinister at night. Or maybe it just seemed that way because I was about to get shanked.
Titi and Loris scattered like roaches. Who could blame them? Nobody wanted their money stolen. The Boob Cruise guys were dining onboard. I wouldn’t have asked them anyway, mostly because I was that kind of young, dumb, and stubborn. This was my money. I’d earned it. I was trying to buy my way up the educational food chain, and no way in hell was I was going to let some psycho-skank like Candy punk my dough.
I took my time walking to the car. My key was already in hand. I could feel them closing in. And I was still twenty feet from my car.
“You think you’re all that,” Candy huffed. “But you’re nothing but a stuck up bitch.”
“Hand over the cash,” Biker Guy said. His voice was a mismatch, higher than it should have been given that he looked like someone who ate people’s kidneys.
“That’s my money.” Candy seemed as though she might have believed her own bullshit. “She stole it from me.”
Of everything she’d said that night, this enraged me the most. I’d never stolen a thing in my life. I wanted to scream at her, punch her, beat her with her own whip.
I turned around and ran.
Candy was still in heels. Biker Guy may have been big, but he wasn’t fast. I had only one shot to line my key up and slide it into the lock. One shot. And I nailed it.
I threw myself into the car, slammed the door and locked it. All three bikers were pounding on my windshield. One smashed a spiderweb in the glass, but I got the car started and when I floored the gas, Candy at her boyfriend disappeared in a rooster tail of dust.
The experience served as a reminder of why I needed to stay in school. Not because a bright shiny future awaited me. It most certainly did not. I floundered like most people who are just getting started. College was valuable for other reasons. It reminded me that a street education could never be as effective or potent without a book education to balance it. You needed both. Street knowledge without an education, and you turned into some permutation of Candy. College without a working knowledge of the streets, and you turned into a prig.
But it took almost getting my ass handed back to me in order to learn that.
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!