She strips to conquer

At a homecoming, Playmate shows off charm she hopes is ticket to big time

Out & About

April 14, 2002|By Kevin Eck | By Kevin Eck,Special to the Sun

Outside White Marsh Mall Tuesday, it was overcast and rainy. Inside, it was a seemingly routine weekday afternoon. Routine, that is, except inside one store on the second level, where Playboy Playmate Christi Shake was causing quite a stir.

Shortly before 3 p.m., a line of people formed inside the News Center magazine shop to meet Shake, the centerfold in the current issue of Playboy who also happens to be a 1998 graduate of Chesapeake High School in nearby Essex. By 3:30, the line had increased to 50 or so people, spilling out of the store toward Radio Shack and Cartoon Cuts.

Not surprisingly, most in the crowd were young men. But several women were also in line, clutching the May 2002 issue of the magazine labeled "entertainment for men."

Inside the News Center, Shake, a buxom blonde wearing a form-fitting, low-cut dress, was seated on a tiger-skin chair behind a table decorated with balloons, flowers and stuffed animals. With a smile on her face and a Sharpie marker in her right hand, Shake diligently began working her way through the procession, autographing her nude pinup, posing for pictures and engaging in small talk with her admirers.

Customers who were there for reasons other than to share a moment with Miss May shot curious looks at the spectacle, as did those passing by outside. A number of couples walked past hand-in-hand, the women typically glancing in and then turning away, their partners nearly getting whiplash trying to take a longer look.

It wasn't that long ago that Shake, 21, was a teen-ager hanging out at this very mall. "Everyone thinks I'm a celebrity, but I feel normal," she said, revealing a pierced tongue as she spoke. "I remember my roots."

Apparently, so do many admirers, says her 19-year-old brother, Jason Hranicka of Edgemere.

"People come up to me that I don't even know and tell me they saw my sister," said Hranicka, surrounded by several men ogling his sister's pictorial. "I've got a lot of friends that say, 'Hey, can I go out with your sister?' I say, 'Yeah, if you've got enough game that you can get her to go out with you.' "

Local pride

Robert Schapiro, a 45-year-old Cockeysville resident wearing a Ray Lewis football jersey, was one of those swelled with civic pride in the centerfold. "I've met ballplayers many times, but I never met a girl from Playboy," he said. "But it's not just a matter of waiting in line for a beautiful woman. It's a matter of meeting someone from our area who has really accomplished something."

A model since the age of 13 and a former beauty pageant contestant, Shake's career went on the fast track after she submitted photos to Playboy in 2000. A little over a year ago, she landed the cover of Playboy's "College Girls" issue, representing Essex Community College, where she was a part-time student.

Shortly thereafter, Shake moved to Los Angeles and became one of Playboy tycoon Hugh Hefner's harem of seven busty, blond girlfriends. The former resident of Sparrows Point lived at the infamous Playboy Mansion with the septuagenarian and the other girls for seven months.

Shake has since moved out of the mansion, but still resides in Los Angeles, where she is enrolled in acting school. Asked if she hoped to follow in the footsteps of Playmates-turned-actresses Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy, Shake was quick to answer. "No, I want to be a serious actress," she said. "I like working for Playboy, but I want to do things that most Playmates haven't done."

About 35 minutes into her scheduled two-hour appearance, Shake, who had signed at another appearance that morning, complained that her hand was getting numb. "I wish that I was left-handed," she said to no one in particular, "or that I could write with my toes. Actually, I can do that." There would be no displays of toe writing, however. Her shoes stayed on, just as they did throughout her pictorial (her only body parts not exposed in Playboy).

Fans and friends

The somewhat awkward situation of having a woman you've never met sign a nude picture of herself brought out the clumsy, geeky side in some. One guy who looked to be in his early 20s posed for a photo with Shake, but as his friend was about to snap the picture, she stopped him. "Your finger," she said, "it's over the lens."

During the entire meet and greet, two other men never left Shake's presence. To ensure that they were first in line for autographs, they had arrived at noon. After getting Shake's autograph and a picture taken with her, they continued to stand nearby, snapping pictures with a disposable camera at every opportunity. Shake was gracious, cocking her head slightly and smiling every time she noticed the camera pointed her way. The amateur lensmen kept shooting even when Shake trotted off to the restroom.

As for the women in attendance, almost all were there to get Shake's signature for the men in their lives -- husbands, boyfriends, even fathers. Twenty-year-old Jessica Diggs of Perry Hall got three copies signed, including one for her father in which Shake wrote: "To Big Daddy."

And then there were the occasional reunions. At one point, a young man wearing a black cap walked up to the table. "Do you remember me?" he asked. Shake smiled. "Of course. Eric, how are you?"

Twenty-six-year-old Eric Lea knew Shake long before she was Miss May. "My brother was Christi's mother's fiancee," he explained. "They used to go to bingo when Christi was about 12, and I would baby-sit her. I was surprised she recognized me right away. I haven't seen her since she was 16 or 17."

Suddenly, Playboy's object of desire was just plain old Christi from Sparrows Point again. "To the greatest baby-sitter I ever had," Shake wrote in Lea's magazine, adding: "Tell Grandma I said hi."

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