On the Road

By Rasa Von Werder, May 10th, 2021
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ME 19 (2)

Chapter 1   Kenosha, Wisconsin  

 

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Where do I begin? I shall start with a place I remember clearly because I was HAPPY there. When I explain it it’s revealed what makes me happy – what does not. It will be the OPPOSITE of what folks imagine, how most people think. Let me just say it, cut the wordiness.

 

The owner first tells me I’m UNDERPAID. He said,

 

“Your salary doesn’t make sense. It goes from $500 a week, then it jumps to $1,000 a week – there’s no in between. Your agent asked for $600, but if you are Miss Nude Universe, you should be getting $1,000. When your agent told me $600, I thought what is wrong with her? She’s Miss Nude Universe from Playboy, I got the picture, you’re perfect – he isn’t representing you properly.”

 

Story of my life, perpetually underpaid. How did I know how things worked in this area of show biz? It was my first lifetime being a stripper, so that’s how it works? So give me that extra $400, but of course, he didn’t, I got the six hundred & that was that.

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Now he puts me in a building that can only be described as ‘desolate.’ No fancy hotel, no comfy motel, a building where I’m on the third floor, the only occupant. Everything is wood; walls, floors, lacquered black. The hallway is lit with one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, no shade on it. My room is small, the bare necessities, {no sheets or blanket, I had to improvise. It’s been like that before in rooms provided by club owners} but somehow charming though bleak – the bathroom is down the hall.

 

At first, when going to the rest room I was nervous as to were there any occupants {men} who would see me partially dressed & present a danger? But I never, in the entire week, saw one other soul in any room. I had the whole three floor building to myself.

 

The placement of the building was not in a ‘city’ but a town that you might walk several blocks before finding any sort of business or restaurant. The first day I decided to go look for a restaurant. The owner or his managers gave me no accommodation as to where I’d be fed, no instructions, hints or ideas how I was to eat. And that was the day way before cell phones or iPhone – what year was it? It was early in my stripping career, I retained no documentation from there as I could not get to the press, so I think it was around 1972-73 – {when you’re on the road it can become a BLUR}. I could discover nothing until I went out there. {This treatment of a dancer, even a ‘star’ is typical – they mostly tell you nothing, take you nowhere, do not give you a driver to help you shop or eat – they DON’T HELP. There were exceptions that I will explain as I go along.}

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So I don my clothes & stepping out I see I have NOT prepared well. I believe I was coming from California, not thinking how cold it would be in other places & I DID NOT BRING SOCKS to put into my shoes! The shoes weren’t bad, I remember them well, black with chunky 2” heels, but in the snow, as I waded through some banks, the snow got into the shoes & froze my feet.

 

I recall being scared. I saw a person walking down the street – just one – & failed to ask him where was the nearest restaurant. After walking a few blocks I gave up, went back to the building. As I said, I saw no businesses, convenient places I could enter & ask for info.

 

So the rest of the week went like this. There’s no phone in the building, no cell phone, but I know at a certain time a driver will pick me up nightly. Yes, I recall those stairs, he sometimes waits in a large room, like a ballroom, below me, I go there & we drive to the club.

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        Now mind you, I have had no breakfast or lunch, no coffee, nothing. It’s night – perhaps 8 or 9 pm. Across the street from the club on the corner is a LIQUOR STORE. Ah, there’s FOOD! You know the snacks they have on a rack – nuts, candies, pretzels, potato chips, I get a few packs of those – that’s my food & the only food I’ll have the whole day & week. Can’t recall what I drink, if it was juice or soda or just water, definitely not alcohol as I didn’t drink then.

 

Now the deprivation of my situation, the isolation of the building, lack of amenities, conversation & food, was like being in a monastery on ‘bread & water.’ I felt close to God. There were no distractions. That is to say, in the absence of outside attraction, entertainment or diversion, one centers upon oneself, & inside of me is God. So I was communicating with & aware of God more than usual. So therefore, when I danced, the Presence of God was strong & I created a sensation. The audience brought the roof down, it was like I was the Second Coming, like I was the greatest star they had ever seen, it was spooky. What I understood, simply, was that God’s Light was shining through me, it was reaching the audience. I was a bridge, a conduit. It wasn’t me they were responding to, it was God.

 

When I returned to my bleak monastic room at night I felt the presence of celestial beings & those on the other side of the veil. Marilyn Monroe, for instance, spoke to me. She said,

        “Kellie, be a movie star – it’s easy.”

        She also said,

        “Love everyone.”

YASMEEN

At the time I didn’t know what she meant, this had to be then, long ago. I thought she meant like have sex with all the guys she did, because she had to please men to get ahead in the business. I told her loving everyone would get me into trouble.

        But the most poignant was Elvis Presley’s mom. She appeared strongly & said,

        “Contact Elvis. I want him to get back to his roots.”

        But how on earth could I contact Elvis? I wrote to his manager but of course, did not get an answer.

        I told her I had been infatuated with Elvis, would I be able to date him? She said,

        “You’re too GOOD for him. He needs a girl HE CAN HAVE FUN WITH.”

        She used the word ‘good’ in the sense of ‘virtuous.’ When I repeated it to a journalist he looked at me like I was crazy. I was a stripper, how could I be ‘good?’

        So much for Kenosha.

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Chapter 2   Lexington, Kentucky & Pizza for 2 weeks

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        Before this I had been at this organization’s other club where I laid a bomb. I think it was Chattanooga, TN. My music & act, some of it, did not go over with the audience. Much of the time I was experimenting & some of my tastes run ESOTERIC. You DO NOT want to pull any unusual music, different styles, new ideas, on the road. You’ll get fired or be a flop. I tried out some Latin style 1940’s music that was not orchestral, just a small band, like ‘the Peanut Vendor’ or something with a Mexican outfit, not that glamorous or sexy, & the audience was dead silent, & then one guy called out,

        “Go back to Mexico!”

        I learned I could do ANYTHING in New York City, my headquarters then, where they all knew me like a sister & accepted all that I did – plus NY was a MELTING POT where every stripe of person was in the audience, Black, white, Asian, Latino, European – so they weren’t narrow minded or prejudiced.

        But in the boondocks you have hillbillies, country folk who are narrow minded & prejudiced – they suspect & often DISLIKE anything from the norm; it has to be mainstream popular or country – nothing else.

        Then I also danced regular go-go to the jukebox in between shows, for free, just because I felt like it, & that stole the THUNDER away from my act, made me look ORDINARY if you catch my drift. I was not introduced as the star nor did I wear fancy clothes, I appeared like a house girl. And so, there was too much confusion in who I was & what I was doing – experiments are just that; you learn by your mistakes. So I left this place kind of with my tail between my legs. {Lucky they didn’t fire me!}

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        The next place, Lexington, I was ready to blow them away & I did. I had my most SUPERB music, with a dynamic intro & exit. I tried no more weird shticks, I stuck to the mainstream type glamour; I had my act together. They were in awe of me. The owner said,

 

        “What happened to you in Chattanooga? You didn’t go over, but you’re terrific now.”

        And one of the dancers said to me {she was a classy ballerina with an exquisite act – I don’t know how she managed all her props but the husband helped}

        “When you come out it’s like a supernatural event – an incredible feeling comes out of you.”

        However, we were in a Mall & there was only one restaurant. I tried to go elsewhere to eat, but it was far away, getting a cab there & back was so expensive it was a waste of money. And so, I ate mostly pizza every day for whatever meals I ate, two weeks, daily pizza. After that I could not eat pizza for two years.

 

Chapter 3   Kansas City, Kansas

 

        1972 was my first gig ‘On the Road’ as a stripper. I had been doing go-go & nightclub work in Southern California from 1966 up until then, but now I left California. {Oh yes, there was a job in Colorado I will speak of later}

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        Go go dancing vs stripping, in Southern California, was not what I pursued because the pay to strip was measly. Go go dancing was harder, more time on stage, you had to be YOUNG to do it – I was told the women over 35 didn’t have the ENERGY. So let’s say you could make $300 a week or more doing go go, but the offers for stripping ran to $150 a week. To strip was easier, but I could not afford that, as I was the sole support of two people.

 

        Why did go go take so much energy? You were on the stage 45 minutes during each hour, with 15 minutes to change outfits, fix makeup, go to the rest room etc. There was little time to REST. In my case, I preferred to dance only to FAST music, so it took even more energy.

 

        Now the stripper would do maybe three shows a night, each show lasted 9 to 15 minutes. She was on stage, therefore, in a five hour period, 9 to 2 am, 27 to 45 minutes. Whereas the go go dancer during 5 hours was on stage for a staggering 225 minutes – almost 4 hours.

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        Expense wise, the stripper spent more money on costumes than did the go go dancer, but it was also a pain in the ass to constantly get new go go bikinis & shoes – the shoes wore out fast. Most go go dancers got custom made sequin, rhinestone, fancy bikini shorts – nothing shoddy. But there was no stripping so in most cases, you got on the stage covered somewhat, took off the top, & were topless the rest of the show. The drama of stripping was missing.

 

        I started my career out as a belly dancer – took lessons with a pro, got costumes made, & then, at the two places I auditioned, the pay was $7 a night – if you worked six nights, $42 per week, impossible to live on – it had to be a hobby. {Today’s money $42 would be about $250, which is 1K a month} – add to that go go dancers & belly dancers made tips, but strippers did not. Strippers also, some jobs they paid your room, some did not, that factors a lot into how much you made. Also did they pay your fare – plane, bus or gas money? That’s why people on the road get 2 or 3 times as much money as locals – your room & board costs money, transportation costs money.

 

        At the very END of my career {1986-87}, being famous, the pay I got was high AND they covered all costs, room at a good hotel & plane ticket. And so, $3,000 with all expenses, they were spending 5K. That totals out to about $12,000 in 2021. Of course, I did not work EVERY WEEK, I would have been RICH, but these kind of jobs I only obtained about 5 of them PER YEAR. And I did not keep the money spent on my room or tickets, so it’s less money than appears. My highest take home pay I ever made, then, was about, in today’s money, $36,250. I was never rich from stripping. {I will explain how God graced me with wealth in another book.}

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        OK my first gig is Kansas City. Surprised how UGLY the dancers were, one in particular. This female was out of shape, big belly, face like an orangutan, & she was VILE in her movements. I guess she appealed to the lower nature of men in order to offset her looks.

 

        The manager of the theater – yes – first time I worked in a theater, was also vile. He called me into the office & said,

        “Sit your fucking ass down!”

        What was his problem? I had invited a male onto the premises who I thought was a nice person. He said it was an undercover cop. So why was he afraid? Were they doing anything illegal? Apparently so. Here’s the story with a twist.

 

        The star of the following week appeared at the end of my gig who wanted to buy my blonde wig. I had a couple of them so I sold it to her. Later on I bumped into her on the road again, & she told me this story:

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        “The week after you left, the cops raided the place. Everyone was arrested, the management & dancers, except me. I was wearing your wig – they just let me walk past them & out the door.”

        Hardy har har, the manager who was so rude to me got himself arrested, but the girl they thought was me was the only one they let go. Some kind of karma?

  PS  I forgot to mention that in between our shows, they played vile porno movies.  This happened a lot on the ‘Baker-Berger Circuit’.  That’s the ‘circuit’ I was on now, it went to about 7-8 states, a regular gig I was on back & forth for a while.

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