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The guy in the blue Volvo had one of those rubbery, expressive faces.
"You gonna take my picture?" he hollered, sounding a De Niro-ish mixture of invitation and threat as he leaned through the open window on the passenger side.
It was a moot question. Karen Kay Kristopher, who was standing on the sidewalk near the parking lot entrance of The Men's Club, had already hoisted her Nikon One Touch to eye level and fired.
The guy in the blue Volvo leaned farther out the window and belatedly mugged for the camera before cussing Kristopher and giving her the finger. As the Volvo wheeled away, he extended the same farewell to Kristopher's video camera-toting companion, who was stationed out on the median of the 3300 block of Sage.
Karen Kay Kristopher was unmoved. She'd already been planted in front of The Men's Club for more than an hour, and in that time, she figured, she had elicited 20 or so other upraised middle fingers.
Most of the customers, however, just stared or turned away. A few covered their faces. They seemed remarkably restrained, considering that some woman in a color-coordinated outfit -- khaki-green ball cap, khaki-green shirt, khaki-green leggings and khaki-green tennis shoes -- was out on the sidewalk in the noonday sun taking pictures of them as they were entering and leaving a legal business establishment.
Wasn't what she was doing, I asked Kristopher, an egregious invasion of these people's privacy?
"Taking pictures is a very legal thing," she replied, obviously disinclined to engage in a lengthy dialogue on the ethics of her newfound passion for photography.
She's right. It is a very legal thing. And if Karen Kay Kristopher were to follow through on her threat to "publish" her photos of customers coming and going from southwest-side gentlemen's clubs -- assuming she could find a venue for their publication -- that, too, would be legal, as long as it would be a truthful rendering of events and the images weren't being used for commercial purposes.
"We're recording who is financing the destruction of our families," explained Kristopher. "The owners of these clubs are using these men and women."
Karen Kay Kristopher is 49 ("But I look 39") and says that after she was divorced at 24, she had to raise her kids by herself. Beyond that and the fact that she runs a business that does legal research, she's not too keen on providing me with biographical details.
It was Kristopher's third appearance on the sidewalk outside of The Men's Club since she began "Operation Shutdown." She's also been snapping photos of customers at Centerfold's and Rick's Cabaret. At Rick's, she got a look at more than the ingressing and egressing clientele.
"She asked me if she could come inside," relates Rick's day manager Woody Salazar, "and I said usually we don't let ladies inside unless they have an escort, but I was being real nice, and said, 'Sure E.' She came in and looked around and asked, 'Where do they dance topless?' And I said, 'Anywhere they want to.' "
Kristopher -- who tells me several times that the owners of the establishments are "demon-possessed" -- claims Operation Shutdown is hurting the clubs' business. That assertion is difficult to independently verify, but Kristopher's presence "doesn't help [business] any," acknowledged Ron Greenroad, the general manager of Centerfold's.
During her previous engagement at The Men's Club, Kristopher had been arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge after an altercation that she claims began when a Men's Club executive grabbed her notebook and she tried to grab it back. (The executive didn't respond to a call for his side of the story.) Earlier, Kristopher says, somebody behind the wall that surrounds the club's parking lot tried to pour water on her and also rained down "a plant and some dirt." She had to spend a few hours in a holding tank at the city jail before she was sprung.
A short, stocky woman with a ready laugh, Kristopher told me she was back at The Men's Club working on behalf oR>fR> R>"conservative people."
You don't think there are any conservative people inside The Men's Club? I asked.
She wasn't buying that one. Then I pointed out there were a lot of expensive cars in The Men's Club lot, and suggested at least a few were probably registered to owners who regularly vote Republican. She wasn't buying that one, either.
On the other hand, she said, "I've seen husbands of my friends at The Men's Club." She's contemplating whether to inform their wives.
She believes that it was God who gave her the idea to take up photojournalism, after her "constituents" requested she do something about the city's topless bars and she "prayed and prayed" for guidance.
As I was asking Kristopher just who she claims as her constituency, a very tall, very blond and very attractive woman in a white halter top pulled her car up to exit the parking lot. She looked as if she were on her way to the gym.
"Can you come here?" she yelled after noticing that her image was being added to Kristopher's collection.
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