"You've been scooped, buddy." These were the words of Armand, the man who answered the phone at an establishment named HunkOMania. I'm not much of a strip club aficionado, and my knowledge of male dancers is pretty much limited to one scene in Mr. Mom and the SNL Chippendales sketch starring Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley. Still, I didn't expect to feel so crestfallen during a phone conversation with a representative of a male strip club. I mean, all I wanted was an informed employee to accompany me to a screening of Steven Soderbergh's new movie Magic Mike to compare and contrast fiction versus reality. It was my colleagues who started calling it "my date with a male stripper."
I had the idea of hiring a male stripper to attend Magic Mike with me a few weeks ago, during a screening of Madagascar 3, of all things. That's so clever, me, I thought. (I wasn't clever at all, as it turns out.) Not knowing how to go about this, I Googled "male strip club New York nice." (Because if I'm going to spend an evening with a male stripper, I do want him to be nice, as opposed to mean.) But when I called HunkOMania, Armand informed me, "The New York Daily News already called. Are you still interested?" I responded, "No. Well, maybe. I think ... fuck it, O.K."
Armand assured me that his strippers were 100-percent straight, which struck me as odd since I had never asked. Regardless, someone, he promised, would meet me at the AMC Lincoln Square on Manhattan's Upper West Side on Tuesday night.
I arrived at our meeting spot a little bit early. I was nervous. I found myself actually wanting to make a good impression. I wasn't happy with my attire. I realized that I was wearing a Transformers: Dark of the Moon T-shirt. Why would I do that? He was going to hate me, whoever he was.
There was a, let's say, well-built adult male on the corner who seemed like he was waiting for someone, too. I started doing that little eye-contact song and dance, then finally pointed at him. As in, "Are you you?" The problem was, I didn't know the name of the person I was meeting. I gathered the courage to say something: "Are you the stripper I called?" As soon as I said these words, I realized I had made an awful, awful mistake in every possible way. No, he was not at all "the stripper I called." This was not going well.
Twenty minutes after our scheduled meeting time, I received a text from Armand: "You'll see us, we're in the Mania Mobile :)" At the time of this writing, I still don't know what the "Mania Mobile" is. (Though, if nothing else, the smiley-face emoticon confirmed for me the wisdom of adding "nice" to my Google search.)
A few minutes later, I saw a group of four men, all wearing HunkOMania tank tops, enter the theater. (Apparently, I was now one of at least four people who'd had this idea.) I approached. Tank tops notwithstanding, I was too afraid to say anything -- I wasn't going down that road again. "Are you Mike?," one man asked me. I nodded. "I'm Vincent. Armand told me that I'm with you."
I tried to make small talk, but I had no idea what to say to this man with the action-figure arms. On the escalator up to the theater, a woman asked both of us, "Are you two strippers?" Realizing that this would be the only time in my life when someone would ask if I'm a stripper, I said, "Yes, I am." Vincent replied, "No, I'm not." We both laughed. We had just made our first inside joke.
We took our seats. Vincent stated he was thirsty and, gentleman that he is, asked if I wanted anything from the concession stand. "Nonsense," I said. "You're my guest, I will get you a beverage. Besides, I can expense it," I boasted. (I have no idea if that's true.) When I returned, Vincent was chatting with a woman sitting to his right. I felt a strange sense of jealousy. Hey, who just bought Vincent a large bottle of water? Yeah, that's right, me. Nice try, woman to Vincent's right.
During the film, I felt a strange sense of anxiety. I mean, Vincent seemed so nice. And I really wanted him to have a nice time. I mean, sure, we had our little moment on the escalator, but I wouldn't say we were hitting it off. This is why movies are terrible venues for first dates. It was at least three weeks into my relationship with my girlfriend before we watched a movie together. I mean, I had just met Vincent, yet here we were, sitting next to each other in silence. So close, yet miles apart.
At one point in Magic Mike, someone scolds Channing Tatum's character, saying, "You're a bullshit 30-year-old stripper." I felt some unease to my right. I could tell this line made Vincent feel uncomfortable, or perhaps angry. This made me feel uncomfortable. As the end credits rolled, Vincent bellowed, "What a fucking terrible movie." (For the record, I disagree with that review.)
After the film, I asked Vincent if he had time for a drink. You know, to talk about what we had just seen. His time was short, but he agreed. As I walked up Broadway with Vincent, I saw the looks. I know people were thinking, Why is this very good-looking man in the HunkOMania tank top with ... that guy? Actually, I have no idea if that's what people were thinking, but I imagined it to be true. And it hurt.
We sat at a table at an Irish pub at 72nd and Broadway. I ordered a light beer; Vincent ordered water. (I had known him for only two hours and already I knew his favorite drink.) I asked him about the "bullshit 30-year-old stripper" line. Vincent said there are already negative connotations associated with his profession, and a line like that -- and a movie like this, with its rampant drinking and drug use -- would only make things worse. "I get that all the time," he admitted. "It's very disrespectful."
Vincent acknowledged that, yes, when he first started, he would often drink before shows -- to ease his nerves. But after three months, he stopped. He realized that to truly become better, he had to stop.
Vincent did like one character in the film: Adam (Alex Pettyfer), the new guy - or "Kid" - at the club. Just like Adam, Vincent had once been embarrassed when his sister discovered all of his costumes: a policeman's uniform, a fireman's uniform, a pizza delivery uniform. (I can only guess that this third option ranks pretty low on the male stripper costume totem pole.) Adam's sister accused Adam of being gay. Vincent's sister accused Vincent of being really into role-playing. Alas.
Vincent's phone rang. It was Armand. Vincent had to go. Before he walked out of my life forever, I asked him to give Magic Mike a grade between 1 and 10. Vincent rated the movie a 5, which seemed quite a bit better than "fucking terrible." Vincent admitted that he really enjoyed the first half. He liked the shy nervousness of Adam's character, before he went down the clichéd road of drugs and booze. The first half was filled with spectacle -- and he had to admit that Channing Tatum was good. So good, in fact, he could walk through the door of HunkOMania tomorrow and headline his own show.
I wrote a "5" in my notebook and thanked Vincent for his time, and then we said our goodbyes, forever.
As I started writing this piece, I began thinking about the absurdity of inviting a male stripper with me to Magic Mike. The absurdity that quite a few of us would do such a thing. I mean, I didn't ask a high school outcast to accompany me to The Amazing Spider-Man. I didn't ask a Navy veteran to accompany me to Battleship. Maybe Vincent was right. Maybe the only reason that I asked him to attend with me to begin with was because of the negative connotation. I was still contemplating this when Vincent walked back into the bar. Maybe he'd been thinking the same thing. Maybe he was going to let me know just what he thought of this whole stunt.
As it turned out, he had forgotten his tank top. (He'd changed his shirt shortly after we walked into the bar.) We said our goodbyes again. But, this time, at least for me, it felt different.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact him directly on Twitter.