"It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a room full of suits, the naked chick holds all the cards."
Ever wonder what it would be like to walk in to the Men's Club and take your clothes off for an audition? Read the first eight pages of Stacey Keith's memoir Stripped Down: A Naked Memoir and you'll know.
The book details three years of Keith's life, from 19 to 22, from the time she gave up on trying to fit in in the office world and straight jobs to a torrid stretch that would see her chest in virtually every men's magazine of the day, working the stripper circuit as a "feature" act, and eventually coming into the orbs of some of porn's biggest and scuzziest names.
Stacey Keith was no ordinary child. "Raised," if raised is the word for it, by two self-absorbed rock-and-roll parents, her dad committed suicide by jumping off an LA freeway overpass on acid when she was just a a tyke. A strong-willed, precocious child, she ran away from school in the first grade after a teacher scolded her for her creativity (basically for not "coloring inside the lines"). She was molested by uncles and other relatives, and grew up with a deep mistrust of most people. She skipped school for a week when she was 16 to write her first historical novel, and by the end of high school she was on her own with little to fall back on but a nagging mother, a couple of close friends, and an unmatchable "endowment."
Keith wisely begins her book with her dramatic entry into the world of stripping, and, oh boy, did she ever start in the right place. Houston was the strip-club capital of the world, and the Men's Club was its crown jewel. By the time Keith finished her first night at the club, she was the golden girl, the chosen one, the girl with a chest every man had to see.
She dived into the table-dance hustle like a pig finding a nice mudhole.
"I brazen up to every table, offer every guy a dance, then smugly fold the money into my shoe. A dozen times I make a beeline for my locker, lay the bills flat to dry, then dash out to the floor again. I'm not even trying to keep track of my totals anymore. Complete annihilation of the competition is the only thing that will make me happy. I understand intuitively that money is status here and reflects my desirability as a female."
The other girls hated her immediately and to show their displeasure with the hot-stuff newcomer put crushed glass in her shoes while she was onstage. And so began her journey into the bowels of the American skin trade, in which she would learn to take care of herself if not so much her self esteem.
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Was Ms. Keith not so smart -- her IQ is around 140, and it shows in conversation and in her writing -- her book might just be a tawdry tale that includes an impromptu Malibu blowjob with Don Henley, surreal photo shoots with Hollywood creeps like Russ Meyer, and a near-rape by a construction crew. But Keith, who these days is the mother of two teenagers and stays busy with yoga, Pilates, and personal training work, has flash in her pen that separates her from the average memoirist.
In one of the book's many dark but funny moments, Keith is on a visit to Houston when, while in a Shell station to get a Diet Coke, she sees herself on the cover of a porn magazine that the Indian clerk is perusing. When the clerk asks her what is wrong, she tells him that it's her on the cover. But dressed in shorts and flip-flops with hair in a ponytail and no makeup on, the clerk doesn't believe her.
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Keith meets Houston lawyer/pornographer Ed Cox late on her first night at the Men's Club. He promises that he and his porn star girlfriend Tiffany Loren are going to make her a star. Before their first "feature" tour is over, Cox has brought his coke and his video camera to her motel room hoping to make a three-way porn video. Keith nimbly avoids the situation. (Loren died of an overdose some years back, and Cox's habits took him from lawyer to homeless Houston bum before he too died.)
Keith also gets a summons to Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion, where things are way freakier than most folks can imagine. Way freakier. She calls the famous grotto on the mansion grounds "a red-light fuck farm." Once again, her instincts and good sense get her out of what could have been an ugly situation. Hefner's goons actually have to protect her from a drunken James Caan at one point.
Another helping hand puts her in the world of Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione. She is invited to Guccione's New York townhome for dinner and ends up babbling about art after Guccione is stunned to learn that she actually knows the rare paintings so casually displayed on his walls. But her northern California photo shoot for Penthouse becomes a twisted nightmare as the photographer takes her to a refinery and has her climbing industrial towers naked in fifty-degree weather.
Like most memoir writers, Keith is trying as hard to get in touch with her self, her motivations, her blind spots, and the meaning of her past as she is trying to entertain or enlighten her readers. But entertain she does, with a wit that skewers jerks and crooks in her path like a Ginsu knife. Ever the smarty-pants, she wisely ends the book on a note that should put her book in the running for Oprah's Book-of-the-Month Club.