Partners for Pay

Young women taxi-dance for dollars, at the price of innocence lost

"On the one hand, you can't blame the young women for going to these places. It is a matter of survival," says Mir. "What upsets me the most is that these places are there. We have to, somehow, offer an alternative means of income."

City Councilman John F. Castillo, whose district includes La Luna and Fiesta, said that his office never received any complaints. He said any that came in would be referred to appropriate departments or agencies.

The district bordering the area is represented by Councilman Felix Fraga. He said he was unaware of problems and had received no complaints about the clubs. "I wasn't aware that young people were doing these things. I wish there was a way that this wasn't permitted."

Councilmembers also wince at the prospect of such clubs operating adjacent to the new baseball stadium. Fraga said, "It wouldn't be a neighborly thing to keep around." Castillo said the area should be used for "something more productive, like, an overnight hotel or something."

Austin, however, is firm in his response to questions about the future of his clubs -- there are no plans to move anywhere. "I will still be here when the stadium opens," he says with confidence.

Only feet away from a chain-link fence marking the stadium construction site, two drunken young women weave toward a cab, one of several taxis waiting for customers outside La Luna and Fiesta.

One female with short black hair is being held by her annoyed friend, the one with long brown hair in a slowly unraveling bun. They say they are students at Milby High School.

"This guy was buying her drinks all night," one says of her companion. "He got mad at her because she wouldn't go home with him after he spent a lot of money on her."

Inside the club, the mix of loud music and alcohol is also beginning to make its impact. A DJ retires for the night and a band begins playing bad versions of Miguel Salgado songs. Those who know Salgado's work realize this band cuts the songs short, apparently so more money can be exchanged for more dances. The man named Antonio is near the end of an hour of dancing with the young woman Diana. For that pleasure, he ran up a $30 bill with her.

Asked if she likes Antonio, Diana says, "Hell, no, but he pays me good." She then goes on to say how many times he told her she was pretty and that he wanted to take her home.

"What should I do?" she asks her friend Maria. "He's old!"
Jess, the girlfriend of Maria, gets disgusted with the man who had been paying her to dance. "It was so gross," she tells Maria. "He tried to grab me close to him and I felt his 'thingy' get hard." She says that his hands were sweaty and his breath smelled.

He follows her back to the table after the first dance, but it is clear that Jess wants him to get lost. After holding her hand and trying to flirt, he walks off.

Across the hall, an argument flares. A young girl yells at an older man as he laughs. The bouncer approaches the man and escorts him out with the help of another patron.

"Pendejo," Maria says, using derogatory Spanish slang. "Probably didn't pay her right."

As closing time approaches, some couples leave together. A few inebriated men hug on annoyed females as if begging to marry them. Some respond.

Antonio is doing the same to Diana, who is trying to get her friend Jess's attention so they can move next door to La Luna. Diana has no intention of leaving with Antonio, but she does accept one last dance.

Jess is left playing with an empty plastic cup. Her face, still childlike in many ways, tells strangers that she is a girl. She says she will spend the money she has made to buy clothes and indulge in teenage shopping sprees.

She is asked her opinion of the crusade by this former nun known as Sister Mary Jo, the one who wants to keep minors from dancing for dollars in these clubs.

"She's stupid. She is just trying to act like someone's mom," Jess says. And what does Jess's mother think of her work at such clubs?

Jess pauses, then says, "I don't got no mother."

E-mail Russell Contreras at russ_contreras@houstonpress.com.

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