Backsides case illustrates how standards can slip

February 13, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

It comes to our attention that an exotic dance establishment known as Backsides exists on Pulaski Highway, in Rosedale, Baltimore County, and that your favorite newspaper, unzipping all previous cultural inhibitions, is unafraid to utter its very name.

Community standards, we called it in more innocent times, when we kept our editorial lips buttoned. We assumed a kind of maiden-aunt delicacy in such matters. We felt the mere mention of certain traditionally covered parts of the human anatomy was best left to the pages of Grace Metalious, author of "Peyton Place," or the cries of doormen on East Baltimore Street. But, what the h-ll, when you've got a restaurant chain known as H-ters, and a sports bar called B-lls, they're printing practically anything in the d-mned paper these days.

So let's talk about community standards. Let's talk about the thing going on at three places - not only Backsides, but Boomerang and Shakers - which are exotic dance clubs whose activities have roused sensitivities of Rosedale residents and the Baltimore County liquor board.

For a little perspective on such things, we turn first to my friend Albert, who is a citizen of the world. He once made a living in various gambling activities, and was considered an insider on The Block. Albert is a sport. Also, and this is not to be minimized, he lives in Rosedale and knows the circumstances involving these clubs. And here is what he has to say about these matters:

"Ugh."

And Albert is no prude, merely a resident.

"What the h-ll," he said yesterday, mincing no words because he knows this newspaper, having broken the prudism barrier with Backsides, will fearlessly print them. "You got this [verbing] going on inside the clubs, it's natural they're gonna bring in a certain [adjectival] element. Girls who are [bleeping]. Guys looking to get [bleeped] and [blooped]."

Which is exactly, give or take a bleep, the language used Monday when about 200 residents of Rosedale, plus clergy, all of them armed with a petition signed by nearly 1,300 of their neighbors, marched into a county liquor board hearing in Towson.

What they heard there both cheered and dismayed them. Two of the clubs, Boomerang and Shakers, were shut down for a week and fined a total of $750 for inappropriate conduct, administrative violations and allowing dancers to hustle customers for drinks.

(A hearing on the third club, Backsides, was postponed because its attorney, state Sen. Vernon Boozer, was busy in Annapolis that day with some guy named Clinton.) As for the penalties inflicted on Boomerang and Shakers, residents were (bleeped). Too light, they said. A slap on the wrists, they said. Over the course of three hours, there was testimony about dancers exposing their breasts, about encouraging patrons to buy them drinks for $10 or $15, about "hugging and kissing" patrons and receiving "tips" of dollar bills in their garters. Also, about a Boomerang dancer named Hope applying whipped cream to her body and allowing customers to lick it off for $1, and bare-breasted dancers at Shakers "circling" a man - at a bachelor party.

To which I say:

Yeah?

And?

Such establishments are known as exotic bars. They appeal to certain adult human beings, who enter at their own desire. These adults are "hugging"? Some are "kissing"? So? Such activities in a club may not be my style, but they're also not my business, or the business of any government. If it's behind closed doors, it's no one's business but those doing the hugging and kissing.

Where the line is drawn, however, is at two precise areas. There are allegations of dancers promising to spend the evening with customers in a booth, for $200. For such money, it is widely assumed customers were not asking for conversation.

Also, there is talk among Rosewood residents of dancers taking their activities outside after closing hours, thereby drawing in various men in search of sex, and some of this encouraging other activities such as drug traffic and violence.

And that's the problem with the things going on in these clubs. Some people don't seem to know where to draw the line. A kiss is not just a kiss; sometimes, it's foreplay. And, in the modern context, the foreplay becomes not only sexual but variously criminal.

Those 200 folks who went to the liquor board Monday aren't prudes. They know there are places for private adult sexual activities, called bedrooms, and places for public adult entertainment, which are nightclubs.

But the clubs sometimes draw men who are slobs, who don't know how to mind their manners or how to keep things discreetly indoors. They thus afflict a whole community, and there aren't enough police to keep them in line.

That's why Rosedale's angry. Two clubs are closed for a week, but what happens to their community standards after that?

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