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The autonomy of the bathroom is both a blessing and a curse.
Though this particular bathroom happens to be at the Hustler Club—and George is endlessly grateful for the venue—it's not like he's clocking in. The contents of the tip bucket are his to keep (though he often tips out the barbacks who clean up the vomit, piss and other errant bodily fluids). He also occasionally gets a little extra from the strippers if he makes a serendipitous introduction.
But he's also responsible for keeping his bathroom stocked. He'll spend $100 or more on supplies and has to replenish multiple times during the week
"Cigarettes, breath mints, pain relievers. Those are the most popular." George says.
"Breath mints," agrees a balding gentleman in a polo. "When you've got a stripper on your lap, they're important."
George even gets his own soap and paper towels, though the Hustler Club has its own. His are higher quality, and mobile. He roams with his Dial Complete—the foam stuff—ready for action.
He acknowledges that there's sometimes awkwardness with attendants in bathrooms. People hate feeling like they have to tip, or don't know how much, especially because in Cleveland attendants are a rarer breed than in New York or L.A. It feels like a weird or misappropriated luxury.
Nonetheless, George's set-up is optimal. He worked at the Barley House bathroom in the brief interim after the Circus and before the Hustler Club was built in its current location on Center Street. He describes a cramped and claustrophobic atmosphere—"heavy volume"—where the money escalated in direct proportion with the drunkenness of the clientele.
But there's something substantively different about strip clubs.
"At adult entertainment venues, the men tend to be more predisposed," George says. "Even when they're sober, the wallets are a little looser."
He speaks the truth. The Washingtons are locked and loaded here. Everyone seems to have a billfold instead of a wallet to streamline their transactions. These men tip without even being rendered a service. It's like a toll.
"People sometimes ask how much I 'charge.'" George gestures at his little battalion of 5-Hour Energy shots. "It's always been my policy not to charge. I'll say, 'If you'd think of me in a generous way, I'd appreciate it. And it's always worked. Every so often, someone will stiff me, but I'll usually get $5 for [a 5-Hour]. I've gotten $20."
George takes a cab both ways ($25 per trip) and estimates that he needs about $100 to break even most nights. Some winter evenings, when the weather is bad and business is worse, he'll be lucky to close with $20 in his pocket. Other nights, when he sees familiar faces from his days at the Circus, he'll walk away a king.
"I made $300 last night," he says, leaning in. "I've made as much as $800."
But even the most profitable nights lack a certain pageantry. Eight hundred dollars is nothing to a man who once was on the receiving end of $3,000 bribes for reservations on The Circus' golf outing, an annual event that became a tri-annual sensation under George's stewardship.
"I once knew 40,000 people by name," says George of his impressive rolodex. "First and last name, job, drink preferences, everything. I wrote notes to remember them."
In one of the mostly empty bedrooms in George's apartment, he's still got hundreds of old business cards, rubber banded and paper clipped and bundled in plastic organizers. Presidents of local companies, visiting big-shots, media executives.
The room is also littered with those red journals with the year inscribed in gold on the cover. Old seating lists. George was in charge of reservations at the Circus and in many of the interior pages, he's drawn perfect circles to represent tables. Each night, each page, looks like a solar system, endlessly renewable and shiftable and entirely under Door George's control—hobbyist architect indeed.
He flips through the pages, stroking them with his arthritic fingers as if the contact somehow reactivates the past.
"The Flats!" Door George nearly shouts. These are the rhapsodies that come with ownership and with pride. "Millions of people came there. Millions! Every year."
"They were Cleveland places. They were Clevelanders, and there were a lot of characters," George says, without identifying himself as such. "But when the corporations started coming in, that changed it. There were some bad incidents, and the media blew it all out of proportion. There were a few brawls, a few stabbings. One of our girls got killed. And apparently she had been doing drugs. But the bad things got blown up."
Like George's own life.
On his fridge, there's a picture of a younger George and his girlfriend, murdered last year in a warehouse on St. Clair.
"I was with her for 20 years," says George when he returns for his beer. "And I didn't touch crack before I met her. The day I did...I don't know why. I don't know what happened. I was 53 years old."
And the man who once drove a new car every year, who bathed in the generosity of the show bar crowd, now lives in a crackhead's apartment, literally nursing his wounds and reliving his glory days to remind himself that they existed.
And each night, he returns. Above all, he is a man who has made hospitality his career. And he'll be damned if he won't earn his keep.
During a lull in the bathroom traffic on a relatively quiet Friday night, George considers whether or not the Wolstein project in the East Bank can revitalize the Flats.
"It has a chance," he says. "I certainly hope so."
He wipes the the sink despondently, eyeing himself in the mirror. He constantly examines himself as he works.
"It'll never be the same though," he says. "I miss the heydey."
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