A Tiger Show Has No Tigers
How far will two friends go to worship the god of fun?
When my friend Gina and I were in Bangkok, I jumped at the chance to see a Tiger Show. I’d watched Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and wanted to know if the ping pong scene was true. Gina, on the other hand, had to be convinced. It was night and Bangkok had an air of danger.
A Tiger Show has no tigers. What it does have is a lot of cooch. Cooch, nonnie, snatch, poon, hooey, vaj, cha cha, va jay jay. I suppose if we’d gone to the Tiger Show a few years later, we’d have nicknamed it The Mystical Vajorama, but cooch was still the slang du jour back then, so it became The Magic Cooch Show.
We were dropped off in an alley by our cab driver. Every cab driver we encountered had a friend who ran some sort of tourist show just beyond the city limits or owned a jewelry store — good bargain. He had a brochure to validate it. We asked the driver if he knew of any Tiger Shows. Of course he did.
“I don’t like this place,” said Gina.
The building looked no different than the rest — tan brick, no sign outside.
“Oh, it’s fine,” I said. “Look at all the people going in.”
We joined a queue of men.
Gina turned to leave. “Let’s get out of here. “ I not sure what made Gina more nervous — the threat of danger or the fact that she was about to see cooch.
“Come on,” I said.
I met Gina at a dance in the eighth grade at her school. I was in Catholic school next town over. I could see Gina felt it was her job to act as the ambassador of fun. She is the only person I remember meeting that night — permed hair the color of a new penny, a magnet for everyone’s attention.
Gina and I didn’t become friends until a few years later, at a time when both of us were between boyfriends. We vowed that we’d forget about boyfriends for our last year of high school and just have fun. To chase the fun, we drove a solid hour past corn, soy and wheat fields to a place called Hicksville advertised on the radio for its nightclub with FOUR. LEVELS. OF DANCING. Two of the four levels turned out to be stairs. We complained about being had then went back every weekend. There weren’t many dance clubs in Northwest Ohio.
After college, we both moved to Detroit and fun was taken to a new level. It was our second job. We were out to prove just how fun life could be. Partying til 5 on the weekends, afterhours clubs deep in Detroit where women danced in cages and patrons sucked on balloons. Jazz clubs, techno clubs, Irish pubs, Hamtramck, the Fox, Town Pump, Hockeytown, Greektown, Tigers games, new wave disco, swing dancing, house parties, boat parties, pool parties, ski parties. Annual trips to Miami where we danced til sunrise like cells of a larger organism.
One night as we headed out for another party, I asked Gina what she thought the point of life was.
“The point of life?” She thought for a moment. “The point of life is to have fun.”
That answer had never occurred to me. I was shocked by its plain truth. All I could do was nod and say, “Fun.”
“Yeah,” said Gina. “Life is about having fun.”
I’m pretty certain Gina and I are in agreement that our #1 all-time night of fun was in Munich. We were at a restaurant where not much was going on, so we decided to go somewhere else.
At Nachtcafé, a band was playing Sinatra songs. The place was packed — Germans, Russians, Spaniards, us — and everyone was singing Sinatra. You have to understand, we were all in a sentimental mood about Sinatra because he’d just died. Businessmen in suits came up to Gina and me and gave us roses and told us we were beautiful. We were, of course, 22 and in the prime of life. Smooth faces, flat stomachs, bright teeth. The story goes on for a while, but if I tried to explain all the reasons why that night was our best, it’d lose its magic.
Just inside the entrance of the Tiger Show was a room that was dank and smelled of urine. We passed through another door. Two naked women stood on a brightly lit stage that looked like a boxing ring. The stage corners had poles. The women were holding what looked like garland in each hand. The garland was wrapped around two poles. The women moved their hips back and forth and held the garland at their elbows, passing it through their hands like a boa. It took a minute to realize each woman’s garland started inside her.
The place was standing-room only. The rows of chairs surrounding the stage were mostly filled by men in traditional Saudi dress. The women on stage pulled strings of razor blades out of themselves, demonstrating first how sharp the blades were by cutting a piece of paper. Gina and I decided the razor-blade woman had stuck a piece of plastic tubing up there for protection. One woman opened a Coke bottle. Another spelled out ‘Welcome to Bangkok’ with a calligraphy brush. One pushed a banana out of herself. The ping pong trick wasn’t quite what I expected. She popped it out six inches, caught it, pushed it back in, popped and caught, popped and caught. It all went very fast. There was also a sex show at the end, which looked more like naked aerobics. Pump, pump, pump, switch! Pump, pump, pump, switch!
Later we learned we’d gone to the B grade Tiger Show. A guy we met had been to one where a woman popped balloons across the room with darts, which could only be a carnival trick.
It’s been over a decade since Gina and I stepped on different airplanes out of Detroit and landed on opposite coasts. The last trip we took together was B.C., before children, to New York City in 2008. On our final night in New York, Gina and I went from restaurant to restaurant to bar to bar. When we finally checked the time, we realized the sun would be up soon. We left the bar and got into a cab. The sun rose during our short cab ride. We walked out of the car into the dawn and said we hadn’t partied all night together since our days back in Detroit. I doubt Gina and I strolled arm in arm — that isn’t something we would do — but when I think back on that morning in New York with its streets cleaned by the rain, it feels like we did.
The more years that pass and more babies that arrive, the less time we’re able to spend together. Two years ago, we spent half a day together at the Detroit Zoo. This past Christmas we saw each other for an hour. Life is like that. Time becomes currency we have to break into loose change. And we all spend our change reluctantly like misers until